Month: January 2017
A couple of weeks ago, PBS aired The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, and while there were great moments in the miniseries, there were some not so great moments, chief of which being Benedict Cumberbatch’s Richard III.
I recently held a Google Hangout chat with Ramp Your Voice! founder Vilissa Thompson about the miniseries. As you’ll read below, we discuss the problematic portrayal of Richard, including how his outward appearance (due to a kpyhosis) became linked to villainy, and how King Henry’s (Tom Sturridge) exhibition of Highly Sensitive traits go unrecognized or looked down upon by other characters. We also talk about how Sophie Okonedo stole the show.
Vilissa Thompson (VT): Richard III is truly something else. I finished the rewatch of Part 3 today, and I wrote down some of the ableist things he said about himself, & what others said/referred to him as.
Monique Jones (MJ): Where do you want to start? I suppose we could start with his big speech at the end of Part 2. His first monologue was the beginning of the end for me.
VT: It was. To hear him call himself cursed, and describe the occurrences of his birth was troubling for me.
MJ: I found it fascinating in a macabre way how the same ableist sentiments he said about himself—about how no one loved him because of his appearance is why he’s evil, for instance—are the same tropes repeated today. I don’t know why I thought things would have been different back in the day, but I was shocked at how 21st century Richard’s speech still sounded, esp. when you compare it to movies like Split and Don’t Breathe.
VT: The ableism didn’t surprise me, but the fact that he became the evil he was seen as was like a self-fulfilling prophesy. And his fascination to acquire the crown was his means of obtaining “heaven,” which meant that people had to respect him, and he goes beyond the disdain reputation he has and internalized. The ableism of viewing oneself and disabled body as curses/inconveniences are real. That kind of internalization is so common in our community, and even harder to unlearn. It makes you wonder how many times Richard heard about the circumstances of his birth, and how that transformed him into the “monster” he was, in both body and brutality of violence.
MJ: Yeah. I did feel sympathy for him because his internal dialogue seemed like something that was internalized from what he’s heard from everyone else. He was actually a sad, broken soul who just decided to become what he felt everyone else viewed him as. His ambition is understandable—he wants the respect he’s never gotten from people, including his family–but I just wish there was 1) a character who actually wanted to get to know him 2) if Shakespeare had delved more into Richard’s character with more sympathy. What I hated was that there was no serious investigation into Richard as a person. He was just a plot device.
VT: I agree with you. I think the myths/superstitions surrounding the disabled prevented that closeness to occur. I think having a genuine and meaningful human relationship, even if platonic, would’ve changed things tremendously for him. He was. He was the misshapen being who was blood and power thirsty. There was no depth to his character besides what he desired.
MJ: I don’t know how you feel about Tyler Perry, but to me, Shakespeare is the Tyler Perry of the 1600s. He’s almost always comically broad with his characterizations. Benedict Cumberbatch’s broad acting didn’t help matters.
VT: I can see that comparison. The depiction does nothing to expand understanding of how complicated people are, or dispel stereotypes about people who are underrepresented on the stage (or big or small screen, in Perry’s art).
And the cripping up of the role by allowing Benedict to play Richard definitely doesn’t help at all.
MJ: Yeah. That reminds me: I really didn’t like how in an early part in Part 3 portrayed Richard as body horror. Like, how the camera was revolving around his naked torso in near darkness. Didn’t like that at all.
VT: That was a gross display of his body. That scene was solely to shock at his form; to pair with how you feel about his schemes for power. That scene was hard to look at – it made the disabled body look grotesque, when it’s not.
There is nothing sensational or horrifying about the disabled body.
MJ: Right. I was really turned off by the whole thing; I wish the director hadn’t gone that route. But the whole thing made me feel more sympathy for Richard; that’s the gaze the world has probably had on him his whole life.
VT: It does make you sympathize with him. I did feel for him; you can tell he hated himself and how that kind of hate manifested to hating people who had what he wanted – power, respect, love, a family – things that seemed unattainable to him.
MJ: Yep. What was the nail in the coffin for me was when everyone started calling him “The Dog.” It was much more about his appearance than his actual evil deeds as to why they were calling him that, and at that point, I was just like, “OKAY, SHOW, I GET IT.”
VT: They also called him a bunchbacked toad, a beast – all of these names stripped him of his mere humanness. The dehumanization of Richard with the name-calling was more disturbing than his actual plots.
All of the names we didn’t need to see how they saw him as a “thing” and not as a person.
MJ: Yep. What’s so aggravating is that everyone in the entire story are awful people (save for the kids), but he’s the only one put on a sub-human level. If he didn’t have his condition, he’d be accepted just like everyone else, despite the fact that he’s a killer. Case in point is how Margaret becomes allies with the new queen and the Queen Mother, even though Margaret killed the Queen Mother’s son and husband. But the past gripes go out the window just to get rid of “The Dog.”
VT: I agree. Focusing on Richard’s disability allowed them to separate their evil actions & doings from his – he’s evil because his body is deformed, & I’m better than him… though I’m not. The hypocrisy of all the characters was stark.
Honestly, that mentality about thinking you’re better than a disabled person, regardless of whether they’re a good person or not, is real. The “I may be this, but at least I’m not crippled/disfigured” thinking is common.
I think that Shakespeare perfectly illustrated ableism before the term existed.
MJ: Yep. I know we talked a little bit about Cumberbatch’s acting, but what did you think of his performance overall? I was a little let down, honestly. He’s much better in “Sherlock.”
VT: I wasn’t impressed at all. I think he was as evil in the role as he needed to be, but the cripping up factor made it more offensive and underwhelming for me. The fact that there is no true substance for Richard, & all you feel is pity/sympathy for him instead, makes the character very bad for disability representation. I’m not against disabled characters being evil or vicious, but I am against characters not having depth and relying solely on stereotypes/misconceptions about what having a disability is.
MJ: Yeah. The whole “putting on a disability as a costume” was bad, and Cumberbatch’s acting as a whole was Snidely Whiplash. I had expected him to at least add another layer of depth to the character, which is what a lot of actors do when they get 1D characters. But no, not him. He was just evil. The glimmers of another aspect to Richard weren’t explored nearly enough. And again, the “Creature Feature” aspect of the direction was gross.
VT: It was profoundly gross. To see that driven home by almost every character was hard to watch. Shakespeare’s embodied exactly why non-disabled writers/playwrights shouldn’t write disabled actors – their inability to add depth, humanness, and realism are deep. These depictions end up doing more harm to better seeing disabled people as equal and not curses or sub-human.
MJ: Indeed. The fact that this is supposed to be one of Shakespeare’s “greatest plays” makes me even more suspect of Shakespeare’s supposed mastery of the art of writing than I was before. I already side-eyed Shakespeare just because we are always taught literature from a Eurocentric point of view, but now I’m even more secure in my belief that Shakespeare isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. I do like Othello and Hamlet, but that’s about it.
VT: I feel the same. I think if we were to analyze his plays, we’d see a lot of problematic depictions, themes, and lack of masterful writing. Those are the two plays I like as well.
MJ: Is there anything we haven’t covered? I guess I do want to touch on King Henry a little bit; Henry’s arc was a lot more subtle than Richard’s, but it seemed like Henry was Richard’s foil in many ways–in temperament, but also in disability or perceived disability. Henry’s delicate mental state was often showcased as a detriment to his ability to rule, which could be some kind of commentary on mental disability or just a difference in thinking. Like, I read Henry as being Highly Sensitive (like me), which some people might perceive as a type of disability. I don’t think so, but a study is trying to place it on the autism spectrum [a 2011 theory on introversion also links it to the autism spectrum]. In any case, a big deal was made about the fact that he took things to heart more deeply than other people.
VT: Henry’s mental state and the criticism of how sensitive he was stood out to me too. I think his sensitivity made him more human than the rest of the characters – he held up a moral mirror of sorts to the evils they wanted to enact and justify. I think depicting him as weak because of his sensitive nature allowed for ableism to exist regarding his capabilities to lead. I think his attachment to religion compounded the ableism with his sensitive nature. Henry wasn’t perfect, but he did have a heart, moreso than the others.
MJ: Right. And also, women like Joan of Arc, who are in the same mental ballpark as Henry (Joan’s a little extreme, though) were seen as villains because of ableism and just because they were women.
VT: Exactly. Joan represented resistance to male power, & her religiosity was used against her to declare her mental state unstable. Sexism in Shakespeare’s plays are prevalent, and the status of women and those who are considered too strong or weak are well seen.
MJ: Yep. In a way, France comes out looking good because they actually allowed themselves to be led by Joan. But I wonder if that’s also some sly propagandized statement about what England thought about France—as weak-willed, frilly people.
VT: I think that’s an accurate guess. France, like women, got in their way of things, & needed to know their place.
MJ: To go back to Henry a bit, it’s unfortunate that Henry’s mindset is viewed as a detriment, esp. since that Henry’s way of thinking is still ridiculed today—Highly Sensitive People (HSP) are often told by Western societies specifically that they’re too weak, when our way of being is actually hardwired into us–our nervous systems that take in information a completely different way than non-HSPs. To write HSPs off in that way is completely erasing an entire population of people just because they feel things more intently. And often, folks who are sensitive make great leaders, so Henry had all the tools to be a terrific king.
VT: As someone who is sensitive, I think I had more sympathy for Henry than I did for Richard. I know for me, I try to hide how sensitive I can be to matters because of the fear of being misperceived incorrectly. To have the ability to see beyond yourself and to empathize with the world you live in is a powerful ability. My sensitivity makes me more conscious of suffering, pain, and how to support people who need it. I think Henry’s sensitivity was a gift that he wasn’t given the safe space to nurture in his role as King, and was chastised severely.
MJ: Yep. In many ways, he was a man ahead of his time. He existed in the wrong time period, to me. I mean, 2017 isn’t that equal for sensitive folks, either, but at least there’s more knowledge about sensitivity out there and more of a community and scientific study.
VT: I agree. Our society still isn’t safe to care for sensitive people, but is way better than the times Henry lived in, for sure. I think the hesitation to value sensitivity rests on the idea that if we’re in touch with our feelings, that relinquishes power and makes us vulnerable. I find that a lot of people who are anti-sensitivity are the main ones not comfortable with expressing themselves and allowing vulnerability to be seen by others.
MJ: Yeah. And in turn, that can make sensitive people internalize anti-vulnerability attitudes since (at least with some of my experiences) you feel like you’re going to get shunned anyway. I guess it goes back to Richard, too–if the world sees you in a certain way, then you’re going to start believing it’s true until someone else tells you otherwise or you yourself start realizing the world is full of BS.
VT: Preach it. I know that the fear of being shunned if I display my sensitivity is something I’m working on (esp when it comes opposite sex interactions). The internalization, whether due to disability, sensitivity, or both, can be detrimental to us in so many ways. Richard represented what that looked like regarding disability, & Henry represented what external forces look like for sensitive individuals.
MJ: Yeah, definitely. I can identify with Henry’s wish to just be left alone and study the Bible; I’ve actually thought “Maybe I should just become a nun” several times. At least my solitude would be seen as a noble thing and not a weird/hermit thing.The world gets too overwhelming sometimes, especially if you’re a sensitive person. But the world doesn’t respect the sensitive person’s boundaries or the fact that they’re just as capable of the loud extrovert.
Not that all extroverts are loud, but you get what I’m saying—it’s those qualities that are lauded more than contemplation.
VT: I agree. I go back and forth with being introverted and extroverted, but I do crave my alone time, especially when I’m feeling down. I need the space to vent feelings/emotions, but working it out in my head alone is how I cope with things. For me, because I’m a social person, it’s sometimes hard to tell people to back off & let me be. Being an only child, I’m used to being alone and it doesn’t bother me. There are times when I need a lot of noise & people, but when I need quiet & solitude, I have to have it or I can’t function.
MJ: I’ve always been introverted, some of it by my environment, but most of it is my personality. I’d rather be alone, writing or drawing, only choosing to be around people when I feel like it. People really drain me a lot. Henry looked pretty weary through most of the show, and I understand why—dealing with the demands of society is tough.
VT: It is. I could relate to that draining feeling he displayed. Though I love people, the older I’ve gotten, the more I can see myself drained. For someone who is a social worker, that’s part of the reason I’m not a traditional one – having to deal with people with such intensity would be too much emotionally (this is why I could never work with kids or the elderly, their needs are so great and I’d fear not saving them all). With Henry, he didn’t have the support he needed to be King effectively to his liking, or to his country. That added extra strain to an already stressful predicament.
MJ: And the one person who was there to help him, who seemed to realize he needed an extra arm, so to speak, to deal with the world was his uncle, who those scheming factions had killed. That left Henry even more defenseless.
VT: Exactly. Who knew that the Hollow Crown would have so many problematic layers?
MJ: Yep. It was even more problematic than I realized at first!
VT: I know!
MJ: I think we’ve about covered everything. Is there anything you think we left out of the conversation?
VT: I think we covered it all.
MJ: The reason it caught my interest was for the actress playing Queen Margaret, a Black woman in that role intrigued me greatly. She played her role well.
VT: I know it may sound scandalous, but I’m sure Somerset was the father of her son.
MJ: I totally think Somerset is the father, too!
VT: I don’t see her willingly engaging with Henry to give him a heir
MJ: Yeah, me neither!
VT: I wished something about the paternity of the son would’ve came up… Henry couldn’t have been that naive.
MJ: Right. There should have been a non-canonical thing thrown in there just to let us know that Henry knew. He had to have known.
VT: I think we got that inkling when Somerset was beheaded that he knew she wouldn’t have grieved for him as she did for Somerset… but that could’ve been easily missed if you weren’t paying attention. But I think not allowing that knowledge to be made public goes back to Henry being perceived as weak and not catching on to things. But Henry had to know, as we both indicated.
MJ: Yeah. I wish that line or Margaret’s reaction to that line were amplified in some way. Something just wasn’t explored like it needed to be. But I do have to say that Sophie Okonedo was the GOAT in that role. She really put her foot in it.
VT: She really did. You loved her, you hated her… perfect portrayal. But I agree—that scene should’ve been explored further, that could’ve given us that hint.
MJ: It seemed like she was the only one who got the right tone for Shakespearean play. She was broad/campy enough without going overboard, and she was just serious enough to make Margaret believable.
VT: And near the end, the haunting of Margaret as the prophetess was perfect.
MJ: Yeah, that was so good. Such a good role. I’d say Hugh Bonneville was great too. He’s always kinda Shakespearean in his acting. He really knows how to chew scenery.
VT: I agree. If it wasn’t for Queen Margaret/Sophie O playing that role, I don’t think the series would’ve held my attention as well as it did.
MJ: Yep. That was the only reason I kept tuning in, to see what she was going to do.
VT: Lol… me too girl. Glad it wasn’t just me!
MJ: Nope, definitely not! I could have just tuned out after the first episode once Hugh Bonneville died. But I remembered Sophie was going to be in all three parts, so I stuck with it.
VT: Thank god for Margaret, the real MVP of the Hollow Crown
MJ: When she killed Plantagenet, she was so amazingly cruel. Loved it.
VT: The villainess we needed. So unapologetic about it, too
MJ: The villainess who would have had all of England on lock if she had a chance to rule.
VT: Oh yes, Queen Margaret would’ve been legendary. Imagine her rule… goodness.
MJ: There needs to be a show like this! Someone needs to make a Queen Margaret show. I’d watch that every day.
MJ: I’ll have to put a pin in that–another idea I need to utilize my screenwriting abilities for.
VT: DO IT!!!! I need this in my life.
MJ: Maybe that’ll be my claim to fame! I’m totally getting some ideas now. WGA, here I come!
VT: Girl, go get that fame, & write!
MJ: YES! Well, with that, I think we’ve covered every inch of The Hollow Crown. Thanks so much for agreeing to do this! It was a lot of fun!
VT: It was! I had a true blast!
Sherlock Season 4 | “The Final Problem” | Aired Jan. 15, 2017
So…what was that?!
Look, let me say upfront for the diehard fans that there were parts of “The Final Problem” that actually started tugging at my heartstrings and had me visibly scared and tense. The treatment of Eurus’ tests was over-the-top (more on that), but the emotional effects, as shown through Sherlock, John and Mycroft’s conversations, were what sold the scenes. I do have to give it up to Benedict Cumberbatch for handling his share of volatile emotions in this episode. This was the episode where we finally saw Sherlock break down all of his walls to once again become that emotional little boy he was at his ancestral home many years ago.
But let’s get real, here—this episode was a head-to-toe mess. I read a Daily Mail review by Christopher Stevens, and he’s not wrong. This episode featured Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss at their most indulgent, most self-congratulatory, and possibly most offensive. Let’s go through each thing I’ve got to say with bullet points.
•The treatment of women: We already know Moffat has a record of strange treatment of his female characters. But I have to say that the treatment of women throughout this season in particular was largely rudimentary at absolute best, and paternally coddling at worst. I’m not sure if that last description gets truly at the heart of what I’m trying to put into words, but the jist of it is that the women characters in this season were mostly written to provide (as Eurus kept saying) emotional context to the men (and the default Stars-with-a-capital-S) of this series.
Every woman exists because of how they serve the emotional arc of a man. Mary was underwritten so as not to completely get in the way of John and Sherlock’s friendship/romance/bromance, but then she was also hilariously written as a spy. We never get to know her well enough to know why she ever fell in that line of work, which makes the whole “She’s a spy!” exercise pointless. Yes, there should be well-rounded, tough women on screen, but they can’t just be doing stuff for the sake of doing it; they have to be actual characters with 3D emotions. The case with Mary was that she was never made to be a well-rounded character. We never get to know her, her motivations, her likes or dislikes–all we know is that she loves John, impossibly and immediately loves Sherlock (even Sherlock came back from the dead during their date) and is besotted with the idea of matchmaking her husband to his best friend (like, what even was that last DVD message?). Does any of that make sense for a married woman’s emotional motivation or characterization? Not to me, it doesn’t. Then, to top it off, Mary’s death occurs to give John an emotional character moment and to bring John and Sherlock back together as a team (or more, seeing how Mary kept trying to get them together).
Mrs. Hudson is also loosely defined as a “tough” woman character, even though we never get to know her really. Like Mary, she’s largely an archetype, something that will play well on Tumblr and other social networks where the hardcore fans will eat up her mannerisms and almost non-sequiturs as witty British humor. IT’S NOT WITTY BRITISH HUMOR! It’s ill-defined characterization! As much as Mrs. Hudson might say she’s not their bloody houskeeper, she’s still their bloody housekeeper. More accurately, she’s their bloody mom. Her whole character is designed to take care of Sherlock without question. That’s such a limiting position to be in for her character.
Molly is much in the same vein, but to a more tragic degree. Molly is the person Sherlock has an emotionally abusive relationship with. For much of the earlier seasons, it seemed like he only took delight in making her upset. Now, we’re supposed to believe that Sherlock and Molly are all right? Especially after this particular episode, when Sherlock had to get Molly to say something she didn’t want to say because she didn’t want to get hurt? There’s no fallout from that?
Molly was in literal tears during this episode, and are we supposed to believe that even though she showed backbone during that scene and finally had enough of Sherlock’s games (at the wrong time, of course—Eurus was threatening to kill her) that Molly is still an eternal well of support and love for Sherlock at the very end of the episode? SIGH. All of the emotional depth she showed in that scene, which did define Molly as an individual character with feeling, got erased when we see her at the end, smiling, seemingly having forgotten all of the trauma Sherlock put her through (in order to save her, I know, but still…) It also puts Molly in the position of acting as a Female Companion to Prove Sherlock Is Not Straight, something I’ll get into later.
Even Eurus, who was the smartest woman in this series (even more so than Irene, who is also designed just to serve as an emotional counterpoint to Sherlock) ends up serving the men in this story. For much of the episode, we see Eurus as someone who can’t understand emotion and therefore creates horrifying games and experiments to study human interaction. For much of the episode, she’s completely in control. But when we actually need to get the mystery solved, she becomes a completely different character.
Sherlock finds out that all Eurus wants is her brother to pay attention to her, and her mind seems to regress back to the state of a child. But whereas we should be focusing more on Eurus’ mental distress, we’re focused more on how this news affects Sherlock. Eurus might be the killer here, but she’s also the one who’s been in mental distress for decades, locked in her own head, whereas Sherlock at least had the mercy of grief distorting his memories. While we hear Eurus talk about her distress, we always see Sherlock live his–we see his memories as he pieces them back together. We see through his eyes all the time. We only see Eurus, whether in adult or flashback kid form, as an observer looking in.
The women could have been written stronger, and I think this lack of character strength really brings down the entirety of the season. If you’re going to have women on your show, make them actually autonomous beings with their own end goals. Don’t make them solely serve the character arcs of the men.
•The treatment of mental illness: I’m saying upfront that I’m not clinician when it comes to mental illness, so forgive me if I get some things wrong, but I’m also someone who researches, so I’m linking to everything I’m using for this particular segment.
To me, it seems like there was a conflation of ideas when it came to autism and clinical psychopathy. First, let’s get into autism and autism spectrum disorder, which doesn’t have just one defined way of appearing in a person. As WebMD states:
Autism is a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is now called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Symptoms of autism include, according to WebMD:
Social interactions and relationships. Symptoms may include:
- Significant problems developing nonverbal communication skills, such as eye-to-eye gazing, facial expressions, and body posture.
- Failure to establish friendships with children the same age.
- Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people.
- Lack of empathy. People with autism may have difficulty understanding another person’s feelings, such as pain or sorrow.
Verbal and nonverbal communication. Symptoms may include:
- Delay in, or lack of, learning to talk. As many as 40% of people with autism never speak.1
- Problems taking steps to start a conversation. Also, people with autism have difficulties continuing a conversation after it has begun.
- Stereotyped and repetitive use of language. People with autism often repeat over and over a phrase they have heard previously (echolalia).
- Difficulty understanding their listener’s perspective. For example, a person with autism may not understand that someone is using humor. They may interpret the communication word for word and fail to catch the implied meaning.
Limited interests in activities or play. Symptoms may include:
An unusual focus on pieces. Younger children with autism often focus on parts of toys, such as the wheels on a car, rather than playing with the entire toy.
Preoccupation with certain topics. For example, older children and adults may be fascinated by video games, trading cards, or license plates.
A need for sameness and routines. For example, a child with autism may always need to eat bread before salad and insist on driving the same route every day to school.
Stereotyped behaviors. These may include body rocking and hand flapping.
You can also visit The Babble Out for more about autism, its symptoms, and management.
Conversely, clinical psychopathy is defined, according to William Hirstein, Ph.D of Psychology Today, involves these symptoms:
Being uncaring and showing a lack of empathy, exhibiting shallow or lack of emotion, such as guilt, embarrassment, fear, and shame, insincere speech (aka lying), the inability to take blame for their actions, overconfidence and a narrowing of attention. Kara Mayer Robinson for WebMD goes further and says that psychopaths, not sociopaths, don’t have a conscience.
A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” [L. Michael Tompkins, EdD. of the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center] says.
To me, it seems like the writing tried to make Eurus fall in between a flat reading of autism (what with Eurus saying several times that she has trouble reading emotions and body language) and psychopathy. In other words, the writing took the “greatest hits,” if you will, of both conditions and used that to create a villainous character that they tried to humanize by the end, despite the fact that her claim to villain fame was being a cold-blooded killer.
But did it have to be this way? It’s really a cliche at this point to make the psychopath or a sociopath a killer, when not everyone diagnosed as such becomes a criminal. Most of the time, they’re only out to meet their own needs or wants. To quote Robinson:
In movies and TV shows, psychopaths and sociopaths are usually the villains who kill or torture innocent people. In real life, some people with antisocial personality disorder can be violent, but most are not. Instead they use manipulation and reckless behavior to get what they want.
“At worst, they’re cold, calculating killers,” [Aaron Kipnis, PhD, author of The Midas Complex] says. Others, he says, are skilled at climbing their way up the corporate ladder, even if they have to hurt someone to get there.
The stereotype of the clinical psychopath as a killer is pervasive in our culture. Now, I’m not saying we have to excuse behavior, but it would be cool of a show decided to not make their killer have some kind of mental issue or, as you’ll see below, be linked to queerness.
•The treatment of high- and low-key LGBT themes in this episode and throughout the entire four seasons: I could go into deep detail about every moment in the series that queerbaits the audience, but this season both provides Johnlock shippers with a Johnlock ending while still providing the men with women-as-beards (yet again utilizing women as props for the men’s character development). This season, we have Molly that becomes the last beard for Sherlock (of course, there’s still Irene, who’s mentioned in this episode in relation to love) and the last beard for this series.
There’s no way Sherlock actually loves Molly outside of friendship, and there’s no way Sherlock and Irene would ever make sense as a couple, just like Mary and John’s relationship made no sense. First, it doesn’t help that the women are written within cookie-cutter parameters. But what also doesn’t help is how Mark Gatiss himself has said that he indulges in teasing the audience about the will-they/won’t-they aspect of Sherlock and John’s relationship. Or better yet, he indulges in teasing about whether John realizes he is along a sexual spectrum and how okay he is with that. As I wrote recently, Irene’s conversation with John in Season 2 basically acted as a canonical way of telling John that he does, in fact, have feelings for Sherlock. The fact that this conversation is never brought up again is a character development moment that went undefined.
But outside of John and Sherlock’s relationship, we have Moriarty, who has been confirmed as being, if not gay, bisexual or pansexual. Also, Sherlock insinuates that Eurus may have raped a female guard. First, the fact that rape is casually discussed in this season is appalling by itself. But also disturbing is how LGBT characters are linked to criminality and violence, once again associating queerness with villainy. That’s a trope that has long been beaten to death, so it’s sad that it’s happening in a show of supposedly high caliber as Sherlock.
Lastly, the seeming dismissal of the fans by the creators is little irritating. You can’t bait the audience and then get mad when they don’t get what they were expecting. There is a reason Sherlock Holmes books and this show are at the center of queer media critique, and there should be a level of respect for that type of decades-long scholarship.
•The actual episode itself: Overall, I think the characters were largely all over the place. Perhaps the most consistent character was Mycroft, but that’s also because he’s broad. But Sherlock was uncharacteristically emotional, even considering the fact that his proverbial walls were coming down, and John was back to the old John before Mary, which seemed to show just how throwaway Mary ended up being as a character.
The editing tried to make up for the fact that there were gaping plotholes in the plot. How do they survive the jump from 221B after the explosion? How did they end up on that boat? How did Eurus get the glass removed and suspend the signs? How could Sherlock not realize there wasn’t glass when there were never reflections? How did things like that get past the writers? And why were the transitions, which were clearly made to distract you from the bad plot, so bad? Particularly bad was that transition after John gets pistolwhipped after Eurus tried to first kill Sherlock. The screen spins around as if it was an Adam West Batman sequence. I was floored. Equally floored was the freeze-frame ending featuring John and Sherlock running towards the next case. I have seen bad stuff before, but that was horrendous. Worse, it was lazy, for all of the effort put into it.
Final thoughts (since this might be the series finale): The acting is the only thing that carried this finale through. But the treatment of the characters, particularly Sherlock, is really sad. If you think back to the first-ever episode, you can tell how well-defined the characters are. They are also characters defined by the real world; there would have never been an Eurus who can control people (how?) and seemingly electronics (again, how??). Instead, what we had was Sherlock who was tied to his mobile phone, Mycroft and his assistant, disaffected government officials who also live on their phones. Lestrade and his police crew who can’t live with Sherlock and can’t live without him. All of these characters, even Sherlock, seem like someone you could possibly run into (perhaps you might only run into someone like Sherlock or Mycroft at a MENSA meeting or something, but that’s also me devolving into stereotype). What I’m saying is they were relatable, regardless of how extraordinary they were. They were human and they were developed characters.
What we’ve gotten now is a show that is so satisfied with itself that it’s gotten lazy. For me the coup the grace was the level of nepotism involved in the later seasons’ cast. Cumberbatch’s parents as Sherlock’s parents, Amanda Abbington—Martin Freeman’s partner—as Mary, and Gatiss, one of the co-writers as one of the main secondary characters? That’s a lot. The writing also seems to take itself too seriously, thinking it’s so funny, so insightful, so witty. The gag is that the script isn’t saying anything new, even though it thinks it is. It’s just an exercise in ego. As Stevens said in his review, the show has become twee, to an antagonizing degree.
Overall, this last episode was largely crap, with only golden moments clumped together towards the middle. It’s a sad way to end the series.
Update: Information on autism now from WebMD to reflect concerns over the ethics of AutismSpeaks
Sherlock Season 4 | “The Lying Detective” | Aired Jan. 8, 2017
Talk about an episode!
I really liked this second episode of Sherlock Season 4, “The Lying Detective”. The pacing and the amount of story depth took me right back to earlier seasons, and for that I couldn’t be happier. Also great: The Dynamic Duo are back together again, both a little worse for wear, but still in fighting form.
Let’s talk about the big bad of this episode, Culverton Smith, who I think rivals Jim Moriarty in terms of villainy. Culverton, though is a little scarier to me than Moriarty actually; Moriarty was a broad villain. But Culverton is someone who loves existing in plain sight (as Sherlock said twice in this episode). He’s a philanthropist billionaire who also loves awful puns at his own expense. If I’m being accused of murder, I wouldn’t then think to brand myself “the cereal killer” to sell what looks like a box of straight-up oats. But then again, I’m not Culverton, who thinks he can get away with anything…even murder (said with a Dr. Evil-esque hand gesture to the mouth).
Also, there was something a bit more eerily human about Culverton’s villainy. I feel like there could be an argument made about whether Culverton is another villainous portrayal of someone with narcissistic disorder, which could go in line with other stereotypes of people with mental disorders (see the upcoming movie Split for another depiction of a villain with a mental disorder). This could be its own post, since many villains throughout media history have been portrayed as such because of a general fear of mental illness. Of course, I’m not excusing Culverton’s penchant for killing people; he is a murderer and should be in jail. But I’m just raising a point to think about.
In any case, Culverton is someone who relishes in being a serial killer, or does he? He does seem to have a bit of conflict about killing people, even though he enjoys it. As he tells Sherlock, it’s something he’s just compelled to do; it makes him happy. That’s already disturbing, and even more disturbing is how excited he is to tell Lestrade all about it. What he craves is power and glory, and becoming a world-famous serial killer is something that appeals to that narcissistic side of himself (again, we’re going back to a clinical mental disorder as a trait of villainy).
What I found most intriguing about this episode is how it was actually John’s time to grow as a character, not Sherlock. What I’ve found is that over the course of these seasons, some episodes are just set up to have Sherlock act as the emotional McGuffin, leaving us to forget, then be surprised by, John’s own mental turmoil that he has to work through. This time, Sherlock-as-McGuffin was for us to see how much Sherlock’s been affected by John’s absence to a theatrically expansive degree, only to be surprised to remember how much John has been quietly suffering over his choice to have a texting affair with the woman on the bus. John’s grief, while not as explosive as Sherlock’s, is just as deep, if not more so, and we finally see John reach the depths of his sorrow when he finally admits to Mary’s ghost (inside his head) that he cheated on her. Seeing Sherlock console John is just what this episode needed; Sherlock might be the star of the show, but he’s come far enough to learn when to give someone else an emotional moment. It was nice to see that growth within the character. It’s nice to see how much Sherlock actually cares for John.
It was also interesting to see how Sherlock completely deteriorated because John wasn’t in his life, and his deterioration also acted as a self-punishment because he felt like he killed Mary. I’m glad John finally tells him he didn’t actually kill Mary, because he didn’t. I found it personally amusing that when Sherlock shows up at John’s therapist’s house, and John eventually asks him what’s wrong, Sherlock’s answer is that he’s “burning up.” There’s a fanfiction I read that had Sherlock saying kinda the same thing and for a similar reason—he was apart from John because of a big boo boo—but the line in the fanfiction, “I’m on fire,” was because Sherlock was in love with John and couldn’t stand to be a day without him, much less weeks. I doubt Steven Moffat read that fanfiction and decided to paraphrase the scenario of Sherlock pushing John away from him by accident, but that’s what the scene in this episode reminded me of. Long aside, I’m sure, but that moment in the show just tickled me.
I have to say, though, that the storyline bugs the longer I think about it, despite my being thoroughly entertained. It made for great drama, sure, but when you start thinking about it, it gets kinda How to Get Away with Murder-ish; it’s entertaining, but does it make any sense for real? Not really. Why did Sherlock have to save John by nearly killing himself? Why go through such lengths to nearly be offed by a serial killer? That’s a lot for a friendship. But, of course, Sherlock isn’t about normal people salvaging their friendship by telling each other “You’re not at fault for your wife’s death.” Otherwise, we might as well watch something like This Is Us, right?
What also still bugs me is that Mary is still advocating for Sherlock and John to be together, if not in a romantic sense (which the show is going through great pains to make clear), in a platonic-soulmate sense. But why? Mary didn’t really know Sherlock that long or that well. Why is Mary always advocating for John to be with Sherlock? Even weirder—why is Mary-in-John’s-head advocating for him to be with Sherlock?
To me, this show is once again going through a lot of hoops to say “Sherlock and John aren’t gay for each other.” Okay, I guess. I mean, yeah, John got married and and yeah, Sherlock’s supposedly still texting Irene Adler. But did the women in their lives really mean anything aside from giving certain fearful audience members an excuse to believe that Sherlock and John don’t have some underlying tension? On the surface, I get that they’re really good friends, but even without the romantic element, their souls are two that are tied to be together in some way, shape or form. I wish the show didn’t feel like it had to rely on women characters to allow for John and Sherlock to be close, whether that’s in a brothers-in-arms type of way or an actual romantic way. Two men can be close; the world won’t fall apart because Sherlock’s hugging John.
In any event, the show isn’t helping itself by having John have an affair with the woman on the bus, who turned out to be John’s new therapists, who turned out to be none other than Sherlock and Mycroft’s long lost sister. John is having an affair with the female version of Sherlock. Let that sink in.
Again I ask: Why is this show so afraid of same-sex attraction and homoeroticism? Having “the sister” of a male character as the love interest for the best friend of that male character is a little beyond cliché, don’t you think?
However, John did beat Sherlock up over Mary out of grief, so I don’t know how a relationship, much less a friendship, can recover from that.
Anyways, they’re back together because they can’t leave each other alone, and we the audience are better for it. We wouldn’t be able to take a lot of moping John and moping Sherlock because seeing them apart is no fun. Without John, Sherlock acts like a maniac and without Sherlock, John acts like a boring, normal person, like the rest of us.
Even still, I have to assert my disappointment with the treatment of Mary. Much like Irene in this episode (who thankfully didn’t make a guest appearance), Mary is a fridged woman, only there to help the man move on and surge ahead in his life. Even after John admits his dalliance to her, what does Mary-in-John’s-head say? Something to the effect of, “Well, you best get moving along.” Okay….what? Couldn’t fake Mary be mad at least, not sad-yet-understanding? Understanding of what, pray tell? That your husband cheated on you while you were taking care of your baby? Sigh.
And for Sherlock to tell John that it was only texting? Well…it’s only texting if you don’t have anybody, like how Sherlock texts Irene. But John was emotionally cheating on his wife, and while it wasn’t physical, it was still cheating. John is right to chide himself because he’s completely in the wrong.
And can we talk about Mycroft possibly having a love connection? No. That shouldn’t be happening in my book. Why?
It sounds like I didn’t like this episode, but I actually did. I thought the writing was much tighter than the first episode of this season, there were much less of the strange transitions, and I think Toby Jones played Culverton spectacularly. I’m intrigued to see how Sherlock and Mycroft’s sister will be handled in the next episode. Hopefully she won’t become a fridged woman as well.
What did you think of this episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
As you might have read from my Rogue One review, I enjoyed it very much. But with the good comes the bad, and I had some gripes with it. One gripe I forgot to mention in my review was the uber-aggressive Arab world coding they were doing in it. It had gotten so aggressive on Jedha that I was literally taken out of the movie at points and was like, “Where’d they film this?!”
I was reminded of my distaste for these films when I saw Twitter user Dina’s thread on the subject. Key takeaways:
From garb to environment to “primitive devout culture”, all of the usual suspects of stereotyping and denigrating arabs are there.
— Dina✨ (@PetiteMistress) December 28, 2016
Seriously, are you kidding me? From color palette to sand to cables and chaos, every “savage Arab” stereotype coded right in. pic.twitter.com/GwZfXNj4IF
— Dina✨ (@PetiteMistress) December 28, 2016
For reference how Hollywood “codes arab” and “actually Arab” are completely different things. Like this from Homeland (the series). pic.twitter.com/lFdLLev2M0
— Dina✨ (@PetiteMistress) December 28, 2016
On left is what media wants you to think the Middle East looks like, carefully curated (shot in Israel), on the right is the real Hamra st.
— Dina✨ (@PetiteMistress) December 28, 2016
I’m Lebanese born and bred. I’ve hung out in Hamra, gone shopping, met friends for drinks. It’s a lovely, normal street in the Middle East.
— Dina✨ (@PetiteMistress) December 28, 2016
So key questions to ask here are 1) Why did the film get this aggressive with its coding, 2) How hurtful is it to the average American’s international knowledge, and 3) How can Hollywood wean themselves away from projecting the same stereotypes on foreign places?
1: Why did the film get this aggressive with its coding?
Star Wars has a history of being slightly aggressive with coding planets with real world analogs. Tatooine is basically the Sahara Desert, but was actually filmed in Tunisia and America’s Death Valley. Yavin 4 is a lush jungle planet, which was represented by Guatemala’s Tikal ruins and the forests the ruins reside in. For every planet, there’s a real world place. But beyond just the filming locations, other parts of the planets crib from real life as well. For instance, George Lucas got the name “Tatooine” from the real Tunisian city Tataouine. Similarly, as Dina points out, The planet Jedha gets its name from Jeddah, a city in Saudi Arabia.
Of course, seeing how this film is made by terrestrial humans who have never been to space, much less to other galaxies and off-world terrains, it’s understandable why the planets (which, if we’re being honest, act more like moons than actual planets with different continents and climates) feel familiar to us. It’s because they, in many ways, are familiar. They’re a collection of earth’s coolest/most awe-inspiring places, launched into a space opera.
However, using a desert for a desert planet is benign. When you start cribbing parts of cultures while layering stereotypical imagery onto planet’s people, then we have a problem.
Let’s get into what makes Jedha troublesome.
• Jedha as Mecca: The official description of Jedha is that it’s a holy city for those who are disciples of the Force. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards has described it, quite literally, as Mecca. To quote him (via MTV News):
“If A New Hope is kind of like the story of Jesus, there must be a whole religion beyond that,” he said. “We felt like, for 1,000 generations, the Jedi were kind of these leaders of the spiritual belief system. It’s got to be like a Mecca or a Jerusalem, but in the Star Wars world.”
In the story of Star Wars, it makes sense that there should be a holy city. But does it have to be quite literally a city that takes all of the stereotypes of the Arab world and mash them together? Take a look at these pictures, culled from various press junkets and collections of official Star Wars images and screenshots:
Do these images seem familiar? Well, you might have seen some of their other brothers in Raiders of the Lost Ark:
and The Phantom Menace.
There are other tropes like this found throughout film and television. Dina notes Homeland, which is a great example, as well as Season 4 of Sherlock:
And Lawrence of Arabia:
And many more.
Hollywood’s fascination with what I’m calling “the bazaar aesthetic” is something that’s throughout film, and sure, bazaars exist throughout the Middle East and India, as shown below. But even then, there’s varying difference between bazaars; they don’t all look the same.
But that’s not all to the Middle East. Take for instance Jordan, where some of the Jedha desert scenes were filmed. What Rogue One used were Jordan’s deserts for the outskirts of Jedha. That’s cool. But let’s also look at what else Jordan has to offer in the real world aside from its deserts:
Of course, the main Jedha scenes were shot at Pinewood Studios in London, but I’m using these images of modern Jordan because the tropes of Jedha reflect on the Middle East as a whole. Hollywood would have you believe that the Middle East is all desert and open-air markets, but surprise! The Middle East is just like the rest of the world; full of paved roads, cars, and buildings.
• Seriously aggressive sartorial references to the Middle East: It’s worth pointing out that the headscarves and ceremonial robes found in Jedha reference today’s headscarves, hijabs, niqabs, and burkas worn in various parts of the Middle East. Not that there wouldn’t be an outer space city that might have a cultural tie to head coverings, but it’s especially noteworthy that a place designed to be Space Mecca also has clothing with such overt references to Islam. Did the allegory have to be taken this far in Star Wars, to the point that we forget a little that we’re watching a film about distant planets?
Also, the act of using Islamic sartorial choices goes along with Star Wars‘ other practice of cribbing cultural and ethnic styles and arranging them in a mish-mash to “create” something otherworldly. This practice goes all the way back to Princess Leia’s “cinnamon buns,” the style stemming from Lucas supposedly using Revolutionary-era Mexican women freedom fighters, or soldaderas, as inspiration. However, there’s been contention with that statement, and some now link Leia’s hairstyle to the hairstyles worn by the women of the Hopi tribe. But the appropriation-as-inspiration practice was at its height during the years of the Star Wars prequels, in which Padme/Queen Amidala had styles ranging from Japanese geisha to ancient Mongolian elite, to African updo to actual Hopi hair buns.
Inspiration: Mongolian headdress
Inspiration: Hopi hairstyle
Inspiration: The hairstyles of the Mangbetu women of the Congo
I get that these styles are “cool,” but they aren’t just cool for cool’s sake; there’s are complete cultures these styles are attached to, and to rob them of their actual context by putting them in a “cultureless” space opera whitewashes these styles to a certain degree.
2: How hurtful is it to the average American’s international knowledge?
The answer is simple: Americans already believe in too many stereotypes as it is. Due to what the media tells us about foreign locales, we believe that cities that aren’t in the Western world are behind the times or haven’t been affected (for better or worse) by westernization and capitalism.
Another example of a modern movie casting a “noble savage” light on a foreign place: Doctor Strange. As I wrote in my review of the film, the film posits Nepal as a place that still hasn’t been touched by the effects of the 21st century.
The film portrayed Nepal as some mystical place without roads or modern transportation. Everyone looked like they were mere seconds away from getting on their knees to pray. Religion might be a huge part of a country, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the country have to look like devotees. The film shows a side of Nepal that looks like this:
This picture looks similar to the types of crowds Stephen Strange came upon as he was looking for The Ancient One. But Nepal also looks like this:
The point is there’s a lot more to Nepal, to just Kathmandu, than the film suggests. Is there time to visit every locale in Nepal? Of course not. But there was enough time to not give Nepal the “noble savage” treatment, which means, according to Wikipedia:
A noble savage is a literary stock character who embodies the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore symbolizes humanity’s innate goodness. In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden‘s heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672), wherein it was used in reference to newly created man. “Savage” at that time could mean “wild beast” as well as “wild man”. The phrase later became identified with the idealized picture of “nature’s gentleman”, which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism. The noble savage achieved prominence as an oxymoronic rhetorical device after 1851, when used sarcastically as the title for a satirical essay by English novelist Charles Dickens, whom some believe may have wished to disassociate himself from what he viewed as the “feminine” sentimentality of 18th and early 19th-century romantic primitivism.[a]
Even though the film didn’t have any of the extras speak, it clearly showcased Kathmandu as an idealistically mystical, Othered space, with closeups on holy men and temples. The extras also weren’t wearing Western clothes, something that further separated them from actual depictions of 21st century Nepalese people. Western exports have made their way all around the globe, including Nepal, and as you can see in the above pictures, folks are wearing leather jackets, hoodies, polo shirts, slacks and jeans. Even the woman with the shawl on in the first picture is wearing Westernized sandals, a long-sleeved red shirt and some green pants, and one of the men buying her wares, the guy with the leather jacket, has an iPod. If you took a shot of the extras in the Kathmandu sequence and put it in black and white, it could act as a shot from a film about Nepal in the 1800s, not the 21st century. This is not to say that portraying Nepalese people wearing traditional clothing is anachronistic; what I am saying is that painting a picture of the Nepalese as a people who haven’t been affected by world commerce and capitalism is a false picture.
The “noble savage” idea wasn’t explicit, but it was very subtly implied in order to make Kathmandu seem like a perfect place for The Ancient One and to act as further contrast to Stephen’s New York sensibilities and, indeed, his whiteness.
When movies decide to portray places in a stereotypical fashion, it’s too easy for the stereotype to be accepted as the truth. It’s even more dangerous to use stereotypes in science fiction; when a place can look like anything and be anything, why rely on stereotypes? But when stereotypes get used in science fiction or fantasy, they’re usually couched in the excuse of “Well, it’s not real anyway! It can look however the creator wants it to look.” But when we’re limiting what’s possible in the imagination, we’re also dulling our senses to what actually exists in reality.
3: How can Hollywood wean themselves away from projecting the same stereotypes on foreign places?
The quickest answer is for Hollywood to start using a bit more imagination when coming up with a look for a futuristic place. Too often, science fiction relies on stereotypes or cultures-as-backdrop to do much of the heavy lifting in a scene. For instance, Blade Runner, in which an aggressive Japanese undercurrent can be seen in futuristic San Francisco.
Of course, it can be explained away that San Francisco has a high Japanese population, so perhaps San Francisco would embrace more of Japan the more futuristic it gets. However, there’s hardly an Asian person in Blade Runner–Alexis Rhee, who is the billboard geisha, and James Hong as Hannibal Chew, round out the film’s Asian population. So the whole effect comes off as a cynical costume for a huge audience payoff.
Currently, we have Ghost in the Shell coming in where the original Blade Runner left off, using Japan itself as a costume for a film lacking in Japanese characters.
Hollywood has got to stop relying on tired tropes like these. It only helps keep America in the dark about its neighbors, and it keeps movies themselves from having an even greater impact than they could have.
Star Wars images: Lucasfilm/Disney
If there’s one thing I’ve thought a lot about, it’s how to be a fighter for social justice while being a “perfect” person. In other words, how does one become the perfect symbol of resistance without having a few issues you have to fix within yourself?
This thought came to a head this week, as I thought it an opportune moment to admit that even though I have a website dedicated to representation in entertainment, I too have some work to do.
In a small Twitter thread, I wrote about how I realized that I still harbored some fear-based ableism around blindness. As a small child, I was scared stiff of going blind because of my own near-sightedness. An elementary school nurse had scared me into wearing my glasses, and after school, I thought, “What if I don’t wear my glasses and go blind?” I was afraid of the dark, which I equated with blindness. And what took root was a fear of blindness I never truly resolved, despite my conscious knowledge of ableism and how it’s not right.
Something that’s always taught me about life, for better or worse, is entertainment, and it took something like Rogue One to make me confront that neglected part of myself.
Sometimes I write fanfiction to practice “writing for real.” Have I published anything outside of what I publish on this blog? Nope. But I write fanfiction just the same. This time, I was trying my hand at a Chirrut Imwe/Baze Malbus Rogue One modern day alternate universe story (Why alternate universe? Because I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan and I don’t feel like looking things up every five minutes.) The thing I didn’t know how to depict was blindness. So I decided I needed to do some research. Of course, I’d never be able to accurately portray blindness, since I didn’t live it, but I wanted to write something beyond the standard “he saw darkness” line.
What I learned was, in short, that what I thought I knew about blindness was not at all right. Darkness is not all that blind people see. It’s a much more layered experience than that, and it varies depending on the person and their type of blindness. But a development that is just as important is that I had come face-to-face with my own ableism, and I was fairly annoyed at myself. Since I’m a semi-public figure, I thought this was a good teaching moment to share.
However, after posting about it, I soon started having dread. What if everyone who followed me began to hate me because I admitted to a fault I needed to correct? What if I started being seen as the dreaded “P” word—problematic?
I didn’t want to be problematic. Not only would I become an internet pariah, but any chance at a lucrative blogging career would be gone. (Or at least, the chance the blogging career I’d like to have.)
The term “problematic” is something I’ve always disliked, simply because it’s often used as a way to block others from sitting at the proverbial “Cool Kids Table.” It’s a way to create an in crowd, a bureaucracy of sorts, and if you’re not in the in crowd, then you’re a nobody. I haven’t liked how in many cases, online “wokeness” involves someone elevating themselves to a loftier position and never revealing when they themselves have been “problematic.” To admit that would be faced with being kicked out of the Cool Kids group.
The term “problematic” is also associated solely with clearly racist or discriminatory people. It’s easy to call them problematic, but what about everyday problematic things, like casual misogyny, or like my personal example of being afraid of blindness? Aren’t well-meaning folks and folks who do their part to advance society in a positive direction also capable of being problematic? Of course.
The fact is that we are all “problematic” on some level. We have all said or done something that we are not proud of. We have all marginalized someone, even if that someone is just ourselves. We all have something to work on. For me, some of that work includes snuffing out some remaining ableism as I continue on the quest to become a more inclusive person in both thought and action. While we all strive to be at the Cool Kids Table, we’ll definitely all have a seat at the Problematic Table. If you’re alive and making mistakes, there’ll be no way you can escape that hot seat, so we might as well become at peace with that fact. I know I have to come to terms with that, regardless of how right I try to be.
But just because we disappoint ourselves sometimes doesn’t mean we’re intrinsically problematic, though. All it means is that we are human, and as humans, we are going to fail. But what’s truly problematic is if we don’t learn from our mistakes and strive to do better in the future. If you can learn and work on becoming more aware of your own biases, then that’s the road towards socially-conscious success. I’m taking my own advice, especially since I’m on the visually-impaired spectrum myself. If anyone should have more sensitivity about sight-based disabilities, it should be me.
I’m sharing my thoughts with you to show that yes, even those of us who fight for representation make mistakes too. I, like everyone in this fight, am an imperfect messenger. But hopefully the message I want to spread is coming through, despite my imperfection. If you want to spread the message of social justice, but are afraid of doing something that could be seen as problematic, don’t feel scared to try to fight the good fight; just embrace the fact that you will do something “problematic.” But if you can learn from it and become better for it, then you can have a seat at the Cool Kids Table, too.
“Sherlock” Season 4 | “The Six Thatchers” | Aired Jan. 1, 2017
When the Season 4 premiere of Sherlock, “The Six Thatchers,” finished, I tweeted that I thought it was a “solid episode.” But nearly 24 hours later, I’m rethinking what I saw and what some of the problems were that were forgotten in the midst of John’s surprising indiscretions and the emotional ending.
If you are here reading this and you don’t want any spoilers, first, why are you reading a recap? Second, you might want to leave and come back to this when you’ve watched the episode.
Mary’s death was something that I was hoping for since last season, if I’m being honest. It’s not so much that she’s a woman as to why I was hoping she’d die–I feel like I must point this out, because her death goes along with so many other fridged women in entertainment. Did I think she ruined the dynamic between John and Sherlock by marrying John? Yeah. But I wanted her to die for two reasons:
1) It was canonical, and if they kept her around to keep the show “Happy Fun Times,” then it wouldn’t be a Sherlock Holmes show. The amount of happy fun times in Season 3 was jarring and irritating enough as it was; I didn’t want happy fun times to be dragged into the next season.
2) Mary as a character was weirdly conceived, and that’s a real shame, since on some level, it seems like she was only built up the way she was only for her character’s death to have the most impact for John, and not so much for us the audience when looking back on her life.
I’ve never really liked Mary’s backstory—something about it has always felt false to me. I feel like as a relatively blank character, there was a lot Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss could have come up with. But they decide to make Mary a spy? An unrealistic one, at that? They also decide that John should have yet another person close to him to lie to his face?
Look, Mary didn’t have to be an agency-less person, but making the extreme jump from basically nothing to international spy is a quite a leap. Also, it’s a leap that could have been made successfully if there weren’t so many jarring aspects to her and John’s relationship. In effect, Mary lied throughout their entire courtship. That should have made John angry as f***! In fact, it did make him angry as f***, but the writing for the scene in which John forgives Mary is so…disturbing in how easily John decides to brush stuff under the rug.
I’m thinking to myself as I’m writing this if I would still feel this way about Mary’s double life if Mary were a man. I think I would, and I have proof of this—Moriarty himself. During the first season, he pretended to be Molly’s boyfriend just to get close to Sherlock. When I found out that was Moriarty, I was devastated for Molly, who only wants love in her life, and angry at Moriarty for breaking poor Molly’s heart. Similarly, I feel devastated for John, who only wants love and normalcy to balance out his wild ride with Sherlock.
What irks me is that John does deserve some normal moments in his life; he clearly gets overwhelmed by all the zaniness around him even though he does crave it sometimes. Mary could have been that. She could have been normal, but just off-kilter enough to mesh with Sherlock’s Sherlock-isms. The fact that John has no one in his inner circle willing to share their whole selves with him, including his own wife, is really disconcerting.
Equally disconcerting is when John randomly decides to cheat on Mary. We hadn’t seen them quarrel or anything, and you don’t have to have quarreled to cheat on someone, but what was the impetus for John’s decision? Was it because he felt like he really didn’t know his wife after all? Was it because she was spending too much time bonding with his best friend Sherlock? (Was it because he actually wants to be in a relationship with Sherlock but can’t handle outing himself so he acts out his lust on other women?) WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?! John has never acted so out-of-pocket before, so this woman has to mean something to the story further down the line. Otherwise, the writing room needs to check themselves before they wreck themselves like this again.
Onto the comedy. Or “comedy.” Was it comedy? Or was it just very annoying attempts at comedy that didn’t really gel well with the rest of the proceedings? I think what was supposed to be “comedy” became a lot of comedic-sounding padding to fill out a movie-length show. Did we need to see all of those mini-cases? Did we need to have the banter between John, Mary and Sherlock happening as much as it did? I don’t know what I’m saying here, but what I’m getting at is that the first season, as most first seasons of most shows are, was the most concise and succinct version of Sherlock we’ve seen. It knew what it wanted to do and it did it. Now that we’re three seasons in and in the fourth season, the writing has become relaxed to the point of a dramedy that leans too much on “sitcom” than it does “drama.” If the writing can get back to just focusing more on the cases, that’d be cool.
There were also a lot of weird transitions. Again, it seemed like a lot of padding for the time allotted. We didn’t need all of those weird wipes and artful transitions. All together, it made the episode seem even more disjointed, like it didn’t know where it wanted to go or what story it wanted to tell.
So now the real question: How much culpability does Sherlock have in Mary’s death? One might say, “none,” and indeed, that’s what I said to myself when the deed actually happened. But Mary’s death also informed Sherlock’s emotional growth, too (once again, the woman’s death helps only the men in the story). Sherlock finally learned that his braggadocios lifestyle could actually get someone he cared about hurt or, in this case, killed. He has thought himself to be in control of everything, and finally, just as the therapist said, his world is crashing around him. He didn’t have to take it that far with that old secretary; he and Mary already knew the old woman was the culprit. But Sherlock, being who he is, had to take it to that next deadly step.
So what did I think about this episode overall? Well, I thought that even though I didn’t like Mary, I feel really bad for her. She was always going to be a sacrificial lamb, unfortunately. But I wish Mary had been treated with a little more care throughout the last season and the beginning of this one. Mary always seemed like a character that was meant to be both an avatar for the most rabid of fangirls who love to Tumblr-squee over John and Sherlock (which is something Mary did to a certain extent), and a sketch of a woman who could be John’s wife and could be a second sidekick to Sherlock, but was never solidly thought out as either.
There was a level of authenticity to her that I just never got. Maybe it’s because we came in on her and John’s relationship right when they got engaged. We never really got to know Mary the way I would have liked to. I feel like there was a lost opportunity with her character on some level. Even more saddening is that her brief life and death aided in the emotional exploration of the men in the episode instead of us getting closer to Mary through her life and her experiences, which would have allowed us to truly mourn her when she died.
My thoughts are jumbled. I turn it over to you; what did you think? Give your comments below!
Sherlock Season/Series 4 is upon us! I’m sure there are a ton of us excited for Sunday’s first episode of the new season on PBS Masterpiece, which I shall be livetweeting via my personal Twitter handle @moniqueblognet. But before we flip out as we watch the first movie-length episode, I need to flip out about some things I’m already annoyed with.
First, let’s watch the two teasers together.
Okay, so what am I flipping out about, you ask? First, Moriarty’s alive? Come on now. Now, I’m a beginner-to-intermediate fan of the Sherlock Holmes literature, but there are other villains aside from Moriarty, right? I know he’s the biggest big bad Sherlock’s ever faced, but since Sherlock diverges from the canon all the time, why not make some other lesser known villain a supreme big bad for the screen? I don’t know, just some thoughts. I just hate seeing story ideas/plot devices get repeated.
Also, isn’t the basic “Moriarty” character now typecasting Andrew Scott in the ultimate way? Almost every time I see or hear him lately, he’s playing a skeevy character. He’s been so typecast, that even when he was in Garrow’s Law as an actual victim, his character was still lying through his teeth. Sure, he was lying to protect his lover at the time, sure, since this show is set in the 1700s when same-sex relationships were outlawed, but still, the character still painted himself as a skeevy villain.
Anyways, this Moriarty thing isn’t even the biggest concern I have. My ultimate pet peeve right now is when shows decide to queerbait vulnerable audience members, and Sherlock is the British king of queerbaiting.
In the second trailer, you see Sherlock telling someone, “I love you.” Previous to that, you have Toby Jones’ Culverton Smith saying that Sherlock will have to reveal his deepest, darkest secret. For big fans of the show, and particularly big fans who are also well aware of Sherlock‘s gay subtext, the trailer wants you think that Sherlock’s biggest, deepest, darkest secret is that he’s in love with someone so meaningful to him, that if he tells this person his truest feelings, it could wreck their entire friendship and, indeed, Sherlock’s entire world. The only person who fits that description is John.
There was a time when I was quite heavy into exploring the subtextual story in both the original Sherlock Holmes literature and Sherlock the show. A lot of that scholarship (if you wish to call it such) is still available via the Wayback Machine. But the jist of it was discussing why the show indulges in queerbaiting when it doesn’t have to. With the UK being in the 21st century and with Mark Gatiss—a gay man who seems to understand the subtext of the subject matter—as 1/2 of the executive producing/writing duo, there’s no reason why Sherlock has to be coy about asserting the queerer aspects of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.
The most queerbaitiest of Sherlock episodes ISN’T the first episode ever, in which Sherlock thinks John is asking him out over a candelit Italian dinner, although that’s a popular example. The most queerbaitiest episode is actually the first episode of Season 2, when Irene Adler comes to town.
Irene is used as both a beard for Sherlock (by the writers) and as confirmation for the audience’s belief about/confusion surrounding John’s amorphous feelings over his friend and flatmate. Irene’s purpose as truth-teller to the audience comes when Irene realizes John is obviously jealous over Sherlock’s surprising interest in her.
Thanks to livejournal user bizarremain, we have the transcript of what exactly was said during this scene:
Irene: “You jealous?”
John: “We’re not a couple.”
Irene: “Yes, you are.”
John: “Who the hell knows about Sherlock Holmes? But, for the record, if anyone out there still cares, I’m not actually gay.”
Irene:”Well, I am. Look at the both of us.”
What she’s saying is that she and John are both two people who aren’t attracted to men. Yet, here they are, attracted to one man, not because he’s a man, because he’s this amazing being. What Irene was getting at is that it doesn’t matter what Sherlock is, it’s that he is who he is what’s so attractive and magnetic. It’s not so much that he’s the magical male that can change Irene into a heterosexual–the episode never says she’s changed to a heterosexual woman; it’s that she’s attracted to him, no matter what he is, and that’s what makes the whole thing interesting.
…By alluding to [sexual fluidity], Irene is also saying that John is in the same boat as she is. …Irene is saying to John that he needs to analyze what is going on with him and Sherlock and realize that even though he’s attracted to women (just like she is), he’s just as attracted to Sherlock. In fact, Irene is also intimating that Sherlock might be the one for John. Never once does she say that she’d actually like to have a relationship with Sherlock. She’s mostly just got a mixture of intrigue and lust when it comes to him. To me, Irene summed up John’s relationship with Sherlock in just a few words.
To piggy-back off that, John is getting a lot of hints from the universe that he is meant to be with Sherlock, whether as friends or as more-than-friends. Sherlock is naked in a sheet–John takes a look before even asking Sherlock if he’s naked under it. John’s new girlfriend breaks up with him–the umpteenth girlfriend to do so. She says to his face that he’s a better boyfriend to Sherlock than he is to her. The whole Irene scene I just blabbed on about. And, frankly, I think Irene herself is a big clue to John that there’s more to his relationship with Sherlock than he even realizes yet. By Irene constantly asking him if he’s jealous of her and telling him that he’s in a relationship with Sherlock, coupled with his string of bad relationships due to his dependence on Sherlock, John slowly seems to be mulling over how his relationship with his friend is perceived, which is interesting.
And yet, the season progresses without much mention of this illuminating moment again. After this, probably the most progressive moment in Sherlock, the writing seems to have swung towards a weird place where either the writers, the characters, or both are afraid of admitting that the subtext is more than likely text.
For instance, John’s wife Mary calls John out on treating Sherlock like his boyfriend all the time, such as when she clocks him for getting spruced up more often once Sherlock comes back from the dead. However, Mary is also unnervingly okay with this, which strikes me as a little disingenuous, particularly because her characterization was basically acting as an avatar for the Tumblrites who want to squee over John and Sherlock.
Also, Sherlock acts like he’s completely happy at John’s wedding, but later on, we see that he’s clearly not. That’s keeping with his own dependence on John as his soundboard and wingman-of-sorts, but then we later see him act wildly out of character, even for Sherlock, by “getting a girlfriend,” only to later use said girlfriend’s emotions to crack a case. Even Sherlock of Season 1 would think that was going a little too far. The writing in this season both provides Sherlock and John with beards, as if to say, “SEE, BBC VIEWERS!? THEY’RE TOTALLY NOT GAY!!” But when they are with their respective significant others, nothing about the relationships seem real (and in the case of Sherlock’s, it actually isn’t real).
(If I can go on a tangent—The writing for that season wasn’t particularly strong; it was more about filling out the character beats the Tumblr fans wanted, to me, than it was about properly building character and realistic character moments. Out of that season, the only person who came out looking sane was John, who was rightly frustrated with the fact that everyone around him has lied to him in some way. Talk about gaslighting! The mental abuse John suffered during the third season is another reason why I don’t like it.)
Now here we are with Season 4, with Sherlock telling someone that he loves them. Chances are it’s not John, and that’s not even because John is standing behind him when he says it. For all we know, “I love you” could be another “I am Sherlocked.” (Also: If Irene was worth her salt as a dominatrix hardcore woman, she would never use such teeny-bopper language as “I am Sherlocked” for a cell phone passcode.)
The show loves baiting its audience and has gotten good at raising expectations only to have them tied in knots later on. Gatiss has said that he likes playing with the latent homoeroticism in Sherlock, but there comes a point when playfully exploring a theme becomes hanging a dangling carrot over fans heads, only to yank it away each season. I say either the show decides Sherlock actually loves John, and not in a platonic brother-in-arms kind of way, or it quits using homoeroticism as a crutch to keep people tuned in. At this point in time, the media we ingest, including Sherlock, can no longer have it both ways.