The Real Problem With “Jessica Jones”

“Jessica Jones” is a show I really liked when I first saw it, but it has joined that unfortunate category of works that I enjoyed the first time around and then disliked more and more the more I thought about them (also in this category: “The Force Awakens”). One personal issue I have with “Jessica Jones” is simply that I find the philosophy of feminism it happens to be promoting abhorrent; but this is something that not all will agree with me about by any means and is not a measure of the quality of the execution.

Another, politically neutral issue with “Jessica Jones” is that the plotting is deeply stupid. Episode ten of “Jessica Jones” is one of the stupidest episodes of television I have ever watched. Characters acted in wildly stupid ways, occasionally out of character, and certain things – like the way Kilgrave’s powers supposedly worked – were directly contradicted (something which, BTW, remained a major problem – if Kilgrave’s mind control works as a virus, then no matter how powerful he is a video of Kilgrave would have no effect on the watcher, and yet in later episodes there he is, mind-controlling people via video).

Now, the CONCEPT behind season one is legitimately excellent. An innocent girl has been forced to murder by Kilgrave, who can mind control anybody who hears his voice – and furthermore, the mind control is utterly absolute and almost impossible to resist in even a token manner. Jessica now must find and capture Kilgrave without actually hearing him speak, and upon finding him must prove he has the ability to control people’s minds without actually letting him do so. That’s a very strong concept!

The biggest problem of the series, even more than the bad plotting, lies in Jessica’s character development. It is botched, and badly. “Jessica Jones” starts the series in a very dark, low place: She is an alcoholic, she lives alone and shuns relationships with other people, and acts like a complete jerk to everyone around her. We learn quickly that she suffered extreme emotional trauma after being kept as a slave by Kilgrave for months before being forced to kill someone. This is a good place for her to start the series! When you start at the bottom there is a path forward from there: Up.

Jessica is ultimately drawn into conflict again with Kilgrave (who, by the way, is portrayed with a mesmerizing creepiness by David Tennant in the best performance of the show). In theory, Kilgrave is the source of her current status. The comics make this clear: Pre-Kilgrave comics version of Jessica was optimistic and upbeat. Then Kilgrave got to her and changed her into someone mean and cynical.

Part of the problem is that the show makes it clear that Jessica was ALWAYS an asshole. Even little child Jessica was an asshole. Orphan Jessica was an asshole. Sandwich saved me Jessica, when she first tries the superhero thing, was an asshole.

Jessica would have been a lot more sympathetic if Kilgrave turned her into this horrid person nobody wants to be around; what he actually did was turn her into a person who is both an asshole AND who tries her hardest to withdraw from the rest of the world as well. An issue that should have been solved with the end of her character arc in JJ.

But Jessica ends the series in exactly the same place as she started: A depressed alcoholic jerk who shuns contact with other people but will very reluctantly play the hero when really really pressed. She does not change. Why?

The answer is that “Jessica Jones” is a subtle but textbook example of placing your message above the needs of the story. Reviews and interviews make it clear that the director was trying to make a point: Just because you underwent trauma doesn’t mean you weren’t a jerk before that, and getting rid of your abuser doesn’t magically solve your problems.

This is a fine message, but “Jessica Jones” was telling a story. And because the showrunner had these pet issues she wanted to get across, the story was weakened. In fact, it wasn’t completed at all, which becomes even clearer when it is actually completed in “The Defenders”. The plot of “defeat the villain” was finished; the personal conflict, “Jessica overcomes her trauma” – which narratively makes the most sense if it is connected to Kilgrave, which it mostly is – is left dead in the water. The one should be intertwined with other, but they don’t affect each other at all. She ends the series in exactly the same place as where she started!

As a result finishing season 1 of “Jessica Jones” is a frustrating experience: You know how it should end, and it looks like the show is setting up for that ending, because it IS setting up for that ending…and then it doesn’t happen.

Because the showrunner was trying to make a point.

“Jessica Jones” had a lot going for it, including some really excellent episodes and great performances by both Ritter and Tennant, especially Tennant. But the show was undone by poor plotting and the sacrifice of the story in favor of the message.

Let it be a lesson to us all.

Book Review: Dangerous by Milo

Cross Posted form Marina’s Musings

I bought this book on principle because I wanted to support Milo, especially after Simon and Schuster pulled it from Amazon after the latest manufactured outrage proved too much for their tender corporate feelings. (And before you ask, yes, I’ve seen the infamous interview that precipitated the breach of contract from S&S. Considering this is the same company that published Lena Dunham, color me unimpressed.) Be that as it may, I forked over the big bucks for the hard cover, or rather had my husband pre-order it for me for our wedding anniversary, with the full expectation of having it in my book case as a conversation piece and not much more. After all, having gotten into the habit of listening to Milo’s broadcasts on Youtube while doing housework, I was very familiar with his views and could probably repeat most of his jokes verbatim.

Unlike most nonfiction from popular commentators, however, Dangerous is not simply a “best of” collection from previous speeches and blog posts. It’s a combination of a personal manifesto and solid cultural analysis, complete with references and statistics, and it flows seamlessly from hilariously irreverent to deadly serious. Much as I enjoyed this book, I wish Milo would consider writing fiction because oh my does he have a way with words.

Dangerous is  divided into three parts. The first (Foreword, Preamble and Prologue) is an introduction to who Milo is, what he does, and why so many consider him dangerous. Prone as he is to exaggerations, the claim is absolutely true. Mention his name in mixed company and you’re likely to encounter an equivalent of the Kingsman finale minus the pretty fireworks.

Personally I think he nails it with the following:

“I am a threat because I don’t belong to anyone. I am unaffiliated.”

This goes beyond identity politics, which insists on putting people in neat little boxes and proceeds to predict everything from the food they should eat to books they should read to politicians and causes they support. In addition to being impossible to classify, Milo is also immune to social and peer pressure. The fools who rejoiced at him resigning from Breitbart (where he already had essentially free hand) didn’t realize that he would become even more unstoppable with private funding and self-made platform. This is one scalp not up for the taking by Social Justice Brigades, and it has to drive them insane.

The second part is eleven chapters, nine of which are titled “Why [insert a group here] Hate Me.” If you believe the adage of knowing the man by his enemies, the list is impressive (or should I say fabulous?):

Progressive Left
Alt-Right
Twitter
Feminists
Black Lives Matter
The Media
Establishment Gays
Establishment Republicans
and finally…
Muslims

Some on this list hate because they should be able to control him and claim him as one of their own, but can’t. Some because he is the only one pointing out the unspeakable truths in a way that’s actually accessible, therefore reaching the audience most others can’t. Some because he’s a direct threat to their comfort and power. It’s a mix-and-match kind of thing with a lot of overlap. He does not hate all of the groups back, by the way, cutting some of them more slack than I would do personally, but the nuance is not reciprocated by the other side. No matter. The haters don’t win, and their attempts only result in getting him more followers and better hair products.

These chapters are useful not just as a recap of Milo’s detractors, but also provide a refresher on the history and current state of each group,  and whether or not there’s  hope that one or some of them would ever turn towards the light, so to speak. He has surprising amount of respect for intellectuals, considering how vocally he had been denounced by nearly every Conservative pundit. And, as he points out at the end of the Establishment Republicans chapter, “No movement has ever survived with just moderates and intellectual, and no movement has ever survived with just hellraisers. If we want to win, we need both.” To which I say, Amen. In spite of the current frictions, the two sides of the pro-freedom coin need not be at odds.

There are two additional chapters dedicated to the folks who DON’T hate him: Gamergate and college kids who love free speech. If you’re still unfamiliar with Gamergate, this chapter provides and excellent summary. And apparently we have Allum Bokhari of Breitbart to thank (or blame) for kickstarting Milo’s career by sending him information on Gamergate. Or should we more accurately thank Zoe Quinn? Well, you get the idea.

The chapter on college tours gives me hope. The protesters and general therapy-dog-demanding whiners get all the attention, but Milo would not BE doing college tours to begin with if there weren’t large groups of students eager to see and support him. Perhaps there’s no need to be overly down on the new generation after all. There’s a lot of free thought and bravery to be found among the current crop of college students, and they could very well fix the world we of the Gen X allowed so carelessly to slide in the wrong direction.

The third pard, Epilogue, has a title I will leave for you to discover. Suffice it to say, it’s essentially a call to action, and a guide on how to be successful if you want to try your luck as a Milo-style Culture Warrior. While there’s only one Milo, the field is wide open for ambitious copycats.
The gist of the advice is as simple as it is challenging: work hard and be fearless.

Not everyone can be hot.
Not everyone can be outrageous and funny.
Not everyone can risk denouncement and loss of employment.
But everyone can do something.
Find that something.
Then do it.

In the meantime, go read the book.

Superversion on the Game Board: Firefly the Game

Superversive stories deal with moral choices and taking the higher road. Tabletop board games usually don’t offer that option. In a zero sum game any action you take to benefit yourself hurts another player. Chess players don’t consider the morality of taking a pawn. Firefly the Game is one that does present moral choices to the players, and subtly encourages them to take the high road.

Firefly the Game in action.

For those readers not familiar with it, the short-lived Firefly TV series followed a band of underdogs evading an oppressive government as they smuggled cargos and stole from the rich. The conflict between law and justice drove many episodes, such as when Captain Mal Reynolds stole a government shipment but returned it to the townsfolk when he found it contained badly-needed medicine.

In the game players start with a ship and captain. They can hire crew and buy gear at specific planets. Other planets have contacts who will hand out jobs. Easy jobs just require picking up some legal cargo and transporting it to its destination. Smuggling contraband or fugitives is harder. The toughest jobs, such as robbing banks, require passing tests assigned by “Misbehave” cards. The goal depends on which “story card” the players are using, which range from a simple race to earn a specific amount of money to elaborate quests.

When hiring crew players look at their skills and special abilities. Some crew and captains are marked as “MORAL.” They’ll object if asked to do nasty jobs, such as robbing innocent townsfolk or smuggling slaves. The job cards they have a problem with are marked “IMMORAL” in red. Make a moral crewman work an immoral job and they’ll be Disgruntled (signified with a sad face counter). If you can’t cheer them up they’ll quit. Other challenges such as Misbehaving during a job or random encounters while traveling can become tests of morality.

The game doesn’t urge moral behavior on players. Forming a crew of conscienceless hirelings and focusing on the worst jobs available is a viable strategy for the game, depending on the goal. The “First Time In the Captain’s Chair” story card doesn’t give much scope for crime to pay. The “Wanted Men” card almost requires it.

What Firefly the Game does do is show how choosing one path makes it harder to switch to the other. Hire one moral crew and you have an incentive to do only moral jobs–which makes it easier to decide to hire more moral crew and do more moral jobs. Conversely, the more you stick to unprincipled crew doing nasty work, the harder it is to justify hiring a moral mechanic or taking on a lower-paying moral job.

The old sermons about virtue and sin becoming easier with practice are demonstrated in this game. You soon reach the point where Macbeth said, “I am in blood. Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” And it’s easier to get my kids to play the game than pay attention to the sermons.

How is it as a game, aside from demonstrating moral lessons? I love it, and so do enough other people to support eight expansions.

  • PROS:
    – Does a splendid job of capturing the feel of the Firefly TV series.
    – Provides range of actions from simple cargo delivery to committing complex capers.
    – Different story cards let every game have a different objective.
    – Expansions add variety.
    – Supports solo play.
    – Family friendly, I’ve had pre-teen kids playing.
  • CONS:
    – There is a learning curve for new players. Seeing a dozen separate decks of cards surrounding the board is intimidating until you learn you only need to pay attention to one or two at a time.
    – Lots of fiddly bits.
    – Not much direct player interaction unless you get the Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion for PvP action.

If your group enjoys racing each other to collect enough money or firepower to meet a goal, or has serious Browncoats, I strongly recommend this game. The moral lessons will teach themselves.

The Superversive in Film: Flash Gordon

The zeitgeist that the original Star Wars created in the late 1970s pushed a lot of studios and production companies to grab every possible property comparable and get a movie out the door. In 1980 this got us a feature film version of one of the classics of Pulp SF: Flash Gordon.

My father took me to see this film in one of the few remaining neighborhood single-screen theaters at the time,
and we both had a good time. Since then it’s become one of those films I enjoy watching from time to time, and as I get older I appreciate the earnest and sincere quality of its Romanticism and heroism (especially as the rest of society goes increasingly insane and dyscivic).

Yes, it’s campy. That’s its charm, and because of that camp approach its sincerity and earnestness gets a pass by a lot of hipsters and other wanna-bee cool kids. The storytelling is solid, and the performances played straight- thanks to the timely intervention early on of Max von Sydow taking the cast aside and advising them to do just that if they wanted to have a career after they wrapped. (They did. It works. It really works. Save for the lead, they did- some for decades thereafter.)

You’re in for a great time with this film, and the soundtrack by Queen nails the mood perfectly. (Get the soundtrack.) Flash does his best John Carter impression, Dale her best Dejah Thoris, and every major character is someone you love to love (or hate). Boredom is not an issue here, and neither is the way that the heroes succeed because of their moral qualities (and the villains fail accordingly). This is one of the most blatantly Pulp and Superversive films I’ve yet written about here, and if you want to see that old-school style presented in all its glory then this film delivers. Recommended. You should have a copy in your media library.

But wait, there’s more.

If you like the film, chances are also good that you’ll like the animated series put out at that time. It came out the year before (1979), and ran for one season; the techniques Filmation used for this series would go on to become their signature style and be employed for He-Man, She-Ra, Blackstar, and Bravestar. The presentation of Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and the rest of the cast is no less Pulp or Superversive but the differences are enough to make it engaging and it is very entertaining.

There are other, older film adaptations, which are also fun, but eventually you should go back to the original comic strips. Now collected in coffee-table sized volumes, the 1980 film’s roots in the original material becomes clear once you feast your eyes on them. Alex Raymond–the creator–made a character no less a classic than Edgar Rice Burroughs or E.E. Smith did. Action, romance, heroism, adventure- everything that the film is the distilled essence of you get the full measure of here. Start here and read every volume thereafter. You’ll not be disappointed.

I’ll let Queen play this out.

The Superversive in Film: The Last Starfighter

We return once more to that period between the late ’70s and mid ’80s when that last flourish of old-school pulp sensibility arose in the form of feature films out of Hollywood done by then-rising names in the business. This time, it’s The Last Starfighter, another Space Opera made possible due to the success of Star Wars.

This film, like Tron, falls into that “Boy’s Own Adventure” style of adventure where our hero–although an adult–still speaks and acts like the boys this film is intended to entertain. That means the film’s style of presentation is in harmony with that audience also: earnest, sincere, and uncomplicated- but not simple.

The reason this is superversive is that this film’s story, as with many stories aimed at boys, is about the necessity of accepting responsibility- not just for yourself, but on behalf of those depending upon you. For an emerging generation of boys, soon to become men, this learning how to face difficult and dangerous realities even when you would rather run because if you don’t no one else will.

A careful review of the story’s narrative shows this to be the case. The critical events that make our hero into the titular character comes about due to succumbing to that very fear and running from the responsibility that his previous actions–qualifying as a Starfighter gunner–put upon him. Today some would cry about this being unfair,
or unjust. That doesn’t matter; it’s a job that men need to do, like it or not, because not doing it means far, far worse for everyone- man, woman, and child. Stories like this are necessary for boys, because this reality is their future as men in one form or another.

Which brings up another, understated but no less critical point: at no point does our hero get dumped on for taking up his burden and doing his duty. The others that benefit by his actions appreciate what he risked for their sake, and it is this acknowledgement that completes the superversive elements of this story. No one wants to risk life and limb for ingrates, and no society so ungrateful benefits from such deeds for long as it subverts that fundamental institution of any healthy society and culture. The audience of the day rewarded this handsomely, making it one of the latter day classics with lasting influence. It still holds up today. Recommended.

Review: A Pius Man by Declan Finn

A Pius Man has gotten a bit of an update and has been re-released by Silver Empire Press this month. It’s available in print and ebook on Amazon.com.

I thought the book was an great story back when I first reviewed it. It is amazing how some minor edits turned this great story into a “Wow! I’ve got to read this again” story. In fact, when I was checking back at scenes in the book while working on this review, I found myself getting lost in the pages again.

Re-reading books for fun is not something I normally do, because once I’ve read a book, I move on to the next one. I can’t help it with this one. I’m looking forward to re-reading A Pius Legacy.

—–

A murder at the Vatican sets in motion the wildest story you’ll ever read.

Dr. David Garrity uncovers a secret about Pope Pius XII’s actions during WWII, which gets him killed. An odd alliance forms between the head of Vatican security, an ex-stuntman, an American Secret Service agent, a member of Mossad, a spy and Pope Pius XIII, in order to find out who murdered him and why.

Set in Vatican City, the story is a mix of nonstop action and fascinating political intrigue that not only keeps you glued to the book, but it also corrects some of the falsehoods that have persisted about Pope Pius XII since his reign as pope.

Unlike Dan Brown’s novels which set off my BS meter on the facts, A Pius Man appears well researched. With Declan’s background, I’m not at all surprised that it’s historically accurate. The best part, though, is that the history doesn’t read like a text book, it is worked in between the gun fire, which adds to the drama and depth.

It’s got the fast paced action that the #PulpRev readers can appreciate as well as the battle of good/evil that the #Superversive crowd will love. It’s not just about action for action, it’s about action to defend the Pope, the Church and right the wrongs of history. And I might add, their is a Deus Volt vibe going on as well.

As far as the characterization, Declan does an excellent job of giving the large cast of characters distinct personalities and roles in the story. While most of the characters are a bit over the top, totally understandable for this genre, they are interesting. If these characters were real people, I think it’d be fun to hang out with Sean A.P. Ryan, even though I’d need to wear a kevlar vest because he is always getting shot at. I’d also be all over getting to hang out with Pope Pius XIII. You just can’t help love that character.

And the one story line that I’m partial to is the budding romance between Scott Murphy, a nondescript Mossad agent, and the beautiful spy, Manana Shushurin. They are the light spot in an otherwise heavy book. The two are so cute together.

Honestly, one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. I would put it on part with Michael Crichton’s State of Fear.