I’m near the younger end of my cousins. I have four cousins younger than me, and twelve that are older, so when I was a kid and we went back to Louisiana to visit them, I was almost always one of the youngest ones there. So sometimes, while my parents talked with their siblings, I ended up doing not-entirely-age-appropriate stuff to entertain myself. Like when I was seven or eight and ended up in my cousin Daniel’s bedroom digging through his X-Men and Spider-Man comics and reading them. I didn’t know anything about the X-Men canon. It was in the middle of Chris Claremont’s epic run on the series, and a lot of it went over my head, but a lot of it settled in my subconscious, and planted seeds in my memory. I certainly learned the names of Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and Jean Grey. When Fox started airing the X-Men animated show in 1992, I was all over that shit like white on rice. The universe became clearer, and I started reading X-Men comics more regularly (but still pretty piecemeal, since I didn’t have access to a comic book shop) and assembling the universe in my head. The X-Men and the Evil Brotherhood of Mutants. Sentinels. Senator Kelly. William Stryker.
(Note: It was a mystery to me what X-Men story I had read first, because all I had was a memory of a single panel: of Nightcrawler lying unconscious and bleeding from his ears while the other X-Men stand over him in concern and a vague understanding of mutants as an oppressed minority rather than a crew of superheroes. It wasn’t until recently that I read God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and realized that that was the comic I had read decades earlier at my cousin’s).
Early on in the Fox series, there’s a plotline in which two scientists discover a “cure” for mutantism. I forget how the X-Men find out about it, but they do, and their reactions all fit their personalities and personal histories. Wolverine immediately sees it as a tool to eliminate mutants’ powers and neutralize the perceived threat of mutantkind; Rogue, not so much. As one of the mutants whose powers are both an ability and a curse, Rogue (as well as Beast) tend to be the most ambivalent about their mutations, and tempted by the idea of a cure. Peaceful, optimistic Charles Xavier disagrees with the very premise. “Don’t say ‘cure,’ Moira. Being a mutant isn’t a disease. It’s something you’re born with,” he tells Moira McTaggert, one of the scientists. (This is the same plot line that Joss Whedon would handle for his run writing the Astonishing X-Men comics in 2005). It is, basically, the neurodiversity argument, only written in 1992 for a grade school-level audience.
I think it’s this storyline (and others like it), rather the ones that deal with a planet in danger or intergalactic space war, that drew me to the X-Men. Pretty early on, I picked up on threads that I translated into the X-Men being code for people with disabilities. One of the earliest questions that I remember being asked about my sister (besides “What’s wrong with her?” and “What’s it like having a sister with Down’s?”) had to do with whether I would change her if I could. Magically suck the extra chromosome out of every single one of her body’s cells. I don’t remember how young I was when I first heard about the high abortion rates for fetuses with Down’s, but it’s been in my head since at least middle school. And even though I never witnessed people being cruel to my sister, I did witness neurotypical classmates of mine being cruel to disabled kids at my school, and being mocking in general of anyone in special ed or remedial classes. It became really easy, in my head, to equate “Do mutants have the right to exist?” and “Do people with disabilities have the right to exist?” To see “retard” and “mutie” as linguistic cousins. The fear and hostility that mutants experience when they interact with regular Homo sapiens sometimes feels familiar when I hear people talk about people with disabilities. The parallel ran so deep in my head that I was honestly surprised when I got to high school and college and started talking about the X-Men with other people and realized that for them, the parallel was between straight people and queer people, or white people and people of color. That there might be many parallels had honestly never occurred to me, so deep and solid was my understanding that “mutant” was code for “disabled.” (This was before I read Chris Claremont’s statement that for him, mutants could stand in for any outsider population. In the introduction to the trade paperback version of God Loves, Man Kills, Claremont says, “Mutants in the Marvel Universe have always stood as a metaphor for the underclass, the outsiders; they represent the ultimate minority.”)
It crystallized slowly for me, over the course of years. Not all–or even most–storylines have to do with mutaphobia, after all. The X-Men fight against Magneto and fight against the Shi’ar (and fight with the Shi’ar), and there’s the Phoenix Saga and numerous interpersonal dramas and secondary mutations and all that. To read the X-Men is to get to know them from the inside first, their individual histories, their powers, how they feel about those powers, their flaws and foibles, their courage and tenacity, their creativity at solving (or blasting through) problems. You know the X-Men as individuals, make friends with them, and as the stories pile up it slips your mind that the rest of the comic universe world doesn’t see them as individuals, but as a blanket population. You don’t always have to be aware of the fact that a small but significant percentage of the non-mutant population hates mutants, fears them, and wants them dead.
I came to knowledge of my sister’s disability in much the same way. I was three–almost four–when she was born, so I didn’t have any concept of what Down syndrome was. She was just an eating, pooping, crying (and eventually giggling) machine. Your basic human baby. By the end of elementary school (when she would’ve been around seven and me around eleven), I had a pretty good handle on the definition of Down syndrome, but I had an even better knowledge of my sister. I knew how much she loved Barbie and Full House and that cheese was a fundamental dietary building block. I knew her love and her smiles and her stubbornness. I knew how much she was distressed by bees (and flies that might be bees) and automatic garage doors and anybody crying. I knew her. It’s hard to put all that aside and look at my sister from an outsider’s point of view and remember that there’s people who think that my sister is a waste of space. That she’s stupid. That she’s a burden on society and/or my family and that she shouldn’t exist. And there’s people out there who don’t think those things, but who are happy to tell me such things over the Internet because they know it’ll get to me.
I truly believe my sister is a gifted person, though not in the academic way that most people think of when they label kids “gifted.” Her gifts are of a more abstract sort: a deep and instinctive knowledge of chesed, of loving-kindness, of human joy. But the same genetic error that gave her those gifts also gets in the way, too. Gets in the way of her desire to live independently and have more friends. Gets in the way of my family’s desire that she live with economic stability and a reasonable amount of personal safety. Would she welcome the chance for a cure? I honestly don’t know. Like Rogue, her extra chromosome is both a gift and a curse. She can do many amazing things, but also misses out on a lot of opportunities that are easily available to “normals.”
It wasn’t until much, much later that I realized the other parallel. The angry one.
Because people with disabilities get abused at disturbingly, shockingly, unacceptably high rates in modern America. And every time I see it, in the news or wherever, it makes the muscles in my arms harden, and I stop breathing, and start looking for something to hit. Of course there’s never anything to hit. In those moments, though, I wish I was the mutant Pyro, so I could literally set the world on fire. In Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, when Dr. Rao announces a cure for the “mutant disease” on television, Wolverine’s claws come out and he can’t retract them. “She called us a disease. Do you know how that feels?” he says.
Yeah, Logan. I think I do, at least a little bit.
I would set the whole world on fire. I understand Magneto’s fury in the face of human intolerance and bigotry, and why he’s given up on humans and on Charles Xavier’s idealism. Xavier wants to teach people tolerance and compassion, but that is the long fucking way around the problem, and in the meantime people are straight up fucking dying and why do I have to talk to you about not calling people retards when those same people are getting murdered? I don’t have time for that bullshit. It would be so much easier, so much more satisfying, to just throw cars at people and silence them.
When it was my own sister that got hurt, it didn’t feel like enough. Her getting hurt by somebody else felt like the end point of a long chain of dealing with the stupidity and apathy of “normals” and the inevitable vulnerability and invisibility that disabled people experience because of it. There had been decades of people asking, in so many words, “Why does your sister exist?” And then someone came along and decided that she existed to be his victim. He picked a vulnerable, invisible person, and he did it on purpose, because he knew he could get away with it. He thought she wouldn’t fight back. And he was largely right, because how do you teach somebody to defend herself when her default setting is that everyone is her friend?
And that is when I understand the anger that allows Magneto to channel enough power to lift an entire football stadium into the air.
That is when I understand the Scarlet Witch’s anger and desperation when she says, “No more mutants.”
That is when I understand Pyro throwing fireballs, because that’s what I would do, that’s what I wanted to do, to set the whole fucking world on fire for leaving my sister helpless and invisible and vulnerable to somebody who decided to hurt her.
I want to incinerate the world. I want claws like Wolverine’s. Because that’s the biggest thing that X-Men in the Marvel Universe have going for them, that’s their trump card. They can do astonishing things. Uncanny things. Amazing things. They can save the world when no one else can. And that’s a really good argument in favor of their right to exist. When all else fails, when morals and ethics and human compassion fails, mutant usefulness is still there. My sister, and people like her, aren’t stupendous. They aren’t awe-inspiring. They do not astonish, unless you’re willing to examine something quieter and more subtle than telekinesis. Given the chance, much as I like to imagine myself as one of Xavier’s noble X-Men, I’m probably closer to one of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. More interested in defending, in fighting, than explaining. At least where my sister is concerned. Because it makes me so, so angry, the way this world treats the most vulnerable people in it.
But there’s this: I think Magneto feels very alone. At least, on days when I want to blow up the world, that’s how I feel: like nobody cares about this–either not enough or not at all–except me. And if their apathy was neutral, it wouldn’t matter. But apathy isn’t neutral. In the vacuum of apathy, people like my sister get hurt. They die. They’re left all alone. And that is when I have to go for a walk and calm down until I can hear the Charles Xavier voice in my head again. The one that insists that normal humans are worth teaching. The one that believes that humans and mutants can co-exist. The one who would never commit genocide, even though he has the mental power to make everyone’s brains ooze out of their earholes. I remind myself that I’m not alone. That there’s a lot of people–and not just in my family, either–who love my sister, who want to help her, and who are helping her.
My sister loves me. And I love her. She never gives up trying to do anything you ask her to do. There is nothing on this earth that could shake her faith in me. And maybe that makes me selfish, to want to keep that. Almost certainly it is. No more selfish than keeping her around because she’s the only one powerful enough to fight the Brood, but hey. We haven’t had much luck with convincing the world that the ability to love is enough of a utility to exist in a capitalistic society.
Sometimes I think about Ian McKellan (who is, as far as I’m concerned, Magneto’s alter ego) and the fact that, despite dealing with homophobia on a personal and professional level his whole life, he has not himself turned into a supervillian. The fact that, in spite of all they’ve been put through, oppressed minorities in this country (whether it’s disabled folks, LGBTQ folks, mentally ill folks, people of color, etc etc) have, without exception, never turned into evil supervillians. (I know I’m generalizing here, but keep in mind that this is what I tell myself in order to not let my heart get eaten by a murderous rage that burns with the heat of a thousand suns and cut me some slack.) Sure, there’s warlords in Africa and drug cartels in Mexico and Kim Jung-un in North Korea, and they cause enormous amounts of heartache and human damage, but they’re not exactly on the world-endangering level of Dr. Doom or the Red Skull. From a power and world domination standpoint, Barack Obama is the closest thing we have to a supervillain. Maybe Donald Trump. From the oppressed minority contingent, we don’t get Magneto. We get Martin Luther King, Jr.; a human of intelligence and courage that we certainly did not ask for, let alone deserve, but are so fortunate to have had in our midst. We get Helen Keller and Harvey Milk and Nelson Mandela. Bayard Rustin and Vincent Harding and Temple Grandin. Artists like Toni Morrison, Leslie Feinberg, Maya Angelou, Jeremy Brett. We get the beautiful people that I know from the progressive/leftist/anarchist organizing community in Denver, who have taught me about putting love into action and validating and standing up for yourself and others. We get community groups like the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement and the AIDS Quilt and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. And that’s just in this past century. The world is full of thousands and thousands of heroes that we don’t deserve, and often don’t recognize while we have them among us. And that is the truly amazing, awe-inspiring, human superpower: The fact that, in the face of oppression and systematic violence and apathy, more often than not, humans choose to love and hope. They default to trying to teach other humans to be better. The fact that we have as many heroes as we do should send us all to our knees.
Thousands of Charles Xaviers walking among us, disguised as regular people. I like that.
Episode Four: Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s cover is blown! Oh noes! His life mission to anonymously bring Justice(!) to Starling City lasted like a month. Peter Parker is making Judgment Face at you, not-Chris-O’Donnell. Be ashamed.
Okay, so actually, not-Chris-O’Donnell’s bodyguard got shot, and so not-Chris-O’Donnell brought him to his Secret Justice Lair to fix him (because Starling City doesn’t have hospitals?), and the bodyguard’s immediate reaction (even though he’s been shot and poisoned and is still metabolizing an antidote) is to try and hit Ollie. Because everyone in this universe is pissed off at Ollie.
I must also point out this excellent dialogue without comment:
Not-Chris-O’Donnell: I found a couple things along the way.
Mr. Diggle: Like what, archery classes?
Not-Chris-O’Donnell: Clarity. Starling City is dying.
Mr. Diggle (I’m just going to call him by his actual name because it’s amazing) calls not-Chris-O’Donnell a criminal and a murderer and leaves him. All alone. So. Very. Alone. So not-Chris-O’Donnell goes back to his big empty house and puts on a suit, and after some unknown period of time Laurel comes to “check on him,” because she has excellent boundaries and is totally on top of all of her shit.
Apparently Laurel has decided to be not-Chris-O’Donnell’s mommy since his actual mom is kind of an emotionally absent sociopath. She guilts him into not telling his family that he was okay after getting shot at, which is totally legit, but she also calls him selfish (and other synonyms) to make him feel guilty. Because guilt is the best way to encourage people to change their behavior. At this point, Laurel is just lashing out, and should probably move on, but she won’t, because…something.
Oh, and the sister saw it all! Lucky not-Chris-O’Donnell isn’t wearing his Arrow hoodie or he would’ve been outed twice tonight. She seems understanding and calm…she’s probably stoned. She dispenses with advice like a reasonable person.
Okay, next morning, Mr. Diggle has phoned in his resignation, apparently effective immediately. I hope he sells his story to the tabloids, because it’s a good one. Also I hope he got medical attention because he got shot. So not-Chris-O’Donnell’s mom called Bodyguards R Us and had them send over another one. Not-Chris-O’Donnell immediately ditches him.
Not-Chris-O’Donnell is investigating his own Making A Murderer-esque miscarriage of justice into a convicted murderer. The convicted murderer is not on Oliver’s list of people who are murdering Starling City, but the name of his employer is, so not-Chris-O’Donnell concludes is that the convicted murderer was framed. Obviously. So not-Chris-O’Donnell goes and talks to Laurel (who is a lawyer, remember) about proving his innocence. Can I just point out again here that a hoodie is actually a terrible disguise? And he walks right up to Laurel like she can’t see his face and recognize him. (Also, you can tell that his Batman voice was done in the studio post-production and it’s very annoying.)
Laurel is now investigating the murder, because apparently there is still a hope to get a new trial declared? Stay of execution? Commuted sentence? I’m totally unclear on the legal process here. Is she even his lawyer?
Okay. I got distracted. Not-Chris-O’Donnell went to talk to Mr. Diggle to try and enlist him, again, into joining Team Vigilante For Justice. Roommate wants me to point out how creepy not-Chris-O’Donnell is when talking to the waitress who is also Mr. Diggle’s family member (which not-Chris-O’Donnell knows, I’m assuming, because he went snooping through Mr. Diggle’s personal life. You know, like friends do). Mr Diggle is not amused, and does not want to join Team Vigilante for Justice, and so Oliver uses emotional blackmail by telling him that the assassin that he “stopped” the other night had murdered Mr. Diggle’s brother. This is a compelling argument because…reasons? I feel like people who are against vigilante justice feel that way because they believe in the legal process, and justice, and staying within the law. Not because they have a stake (personal or otherwise) in deciding whether the vigilante’s victims deserve to be targeted or not. But that’s just me. Maybe there’s people out there who think that vigilantes only kill innocent people and are fine when they find out that vigilantes only kill people who deserve it?
Not-Chris-O’Donnell seems to rely on force of will and non-sequiters to persuade people to his arguments. Mr. Diggle says he doesn’t respect him, and not-Chris-O’Donnell responds by pulling his dad’s journal out of his pocket and shows it to him because…I don’t even know. Not-Chris-O’Donnell makes a lot of anti-capitalist arguments, and portrays the plight of the underprivileged in shockingly bad Batman voice, and argues that the plight of the underprivileged can only be avenged by murder. (Also if, as Roommate argues, Starling City’s manifestation of a capitalist system is not unusual–that is, that exploitative capitalism is a feature and not a bug–not-Chris-O’Donnell is really just getting started at just getting started. I look forward to the Starling City/Gotham crossover, and after that…the world!) “People like my father, they see nothing wrong with raising themselves up while stepping on other people’s throats.” Was this kid reading Trotsky on his desert island?
OKAY NEW THEORY: The show so far hasn’t actually done a fantastic job of showing us the human cost of living under the heel of the evil Starling City capitalists/evil doers. Like, watching any number of Batman movies or reading Batman comics, I totally understand, really quickly, why Gotham is not a great city to live in. I totally understand the human cost that the corrupt police department and rampant crime has cost that city. I don’t have that sense with Arrow, so far, which leads me to the entirely reasonable conclusion that Ollie actually went mad on the island and is enacting some kind of insane murderous delusion that he thinks is saving the city. We only have his word and his dad’s that the city is being poisoned from the inside out, after all. (Also, poison? Has it gotten into the water supply?).
Okay. We need to pause and talk about torture…
……So. Who wants to start?
Skipping over a couple of scenes of the B plot that don’t matter, Arrow has gotten information from Laurel about the murder victim’s boss, who testified at the husband’s trial that the victim had never reported fraud to him (or whatever she reported) (the husband was convicted of his wife’s murder; Arrow is attempting to prove that the murderer was actually the wife’s employer. Arrow says that they have to get him to testify (again, AT WHAT? The trial is done, the execution is scheduled, there are no more hearings to testify at.) Not-Chris-O’Donnell basically says that he’ll do whatever it takes to get the boss to confess to perjury, and then channels his inner Spider-Man and sort of…grapple-arrows his way across the downtown Starling City skyline.
Not-Chris-O’Donnell then kidnaps the boss and chains him to a train track and threatens to put Boss on the 10:15 to “Bloodhaven” (is that an actual city that exists in comics or was not-Chris-O’Donnell making a funny?). Boss confesses to keeping evidence of corporate wrongdoing and murder in his desk. At work. His corporate bosses, who had his subordinate murdered, are working in the same building where he keeps evidence of her murder and their corporate wrongdoing. Also this evidence is three years old, and just hanging out in his desk.
Oh, and torture. If there’s anything that I’ve learned from the last 15 years of the existence of Guantanamo Bay, it’s that torture works. As not-Chris-O’Donnell is demonstrating here with his murder train.
We detour to a bad wig flashback. A random man is rescuing not-Chris-O’Donnell, sort of, except his method of rescue is to give not-Chris-O’Donnell a caged live bird for him to kill and eat himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell does not want to kill the bird, and it’s the saddest thing in the world. Poor sad, uncorrupted, innocent not-Chris-O’Donnell. Also the kid who is shipwrecked on a desert island has his shirt buttoned all the way up to his neck and it’s making me really uncomfortable.
Roommate wants to talk about the awesomely-written dialogue for a moment. Specifically the line, when Arrow hands her evidence that he stole after committing a violent felony that nearly ended in train murder, that, “as a lawyer, [she] never would have gotten a file like this.” Minds are changing as we watch, guys. You can see her opinions changing right in front of her eyes and it’s clearly a confusing experience for her. Like, of course you never would have gotten a file like this as a lawyer. Know why? Because it’s ILLEGAL AS FUCK AND NOT ADMISSABLE IN COURT. Laurel. Come on. You’re supposed to be the smart, down-to-earth one here.
I’m derailing talk of the amazing dialogue to talk about the legal system: We have illegally obtained files that are about corporate wrongdoing (not murder!) that Laurel can apparently use in the execution hearing that doesn’t exist to get a convicted murderer freed. Also she’s not even his lawyer. Also the files were stolen! From a guy who almost got murdered by a train! What is this justice system that exists!
You guys there’s still 17 minutes left in the episode and I’m getting really exhausted by this whole thing. Things are happening and half an hour ago I would’ve told you about them but I just can’t. Not-Chris-O’Donnell has frolicked off to torture a confession out of a corporate magnate and I just don’t care. Torture. Meh.
Final fight scene is the worst ever. I can’t even. There’s still ten minutes left in the episode but I’m done. Guy in prison gets magically released. Laurel is falling in love with the masked vigilante. The end.
Roommate says: “If I could fart right now, I would.”
This episode is called, “Emo and Dramatic.” I’m pretty sure that’s the official title.
So now, in episode three, I’m starting to become suspicious of not-Chris-O’Donnell’s methods. Maybe because we open with a super dark monologue/intro about how Starling City is controlled by corrupt bureaucrats who kill people with bureaucracy and who infect Starling City like a cancer. There’s lots of talk about cancer. Maybe this monologue would work if it wasn’t VO’d over shots of not-Chris-O’Donnell readying his arrows, because all I can think about is how you don’t shoot cancer with arrows, and that if the cancer is as entrenched and pervasive as not-Chris-O’Donnell says that it is, then killing individual people who perpetuate it will do nothing to eradicate the actual system that exists. To do that I think you need to avail yourself of the police, district attorney, and media outlets in your town (all of whom, so far at least, appear to be relatively non-corrupt). Corruption, at its core, is a social and systemic issue. I googled, and none of the typical methods of fighting corruption in business and government use arrows. (A casual perusal of a couple years of data also seems to suggest that global governmental corruption is increasing, though, so who am I to cast aspersions on new strategies?)
Oh Jesus. Know what I just realized? I just realized what Oliver’s doing. He’s murdering the competition. I know he says he doesn’t want to be part of the Queen Corporation, but that’s only because he hasn’t gotten to that part of his plan yet. He’s killing all of his rival manor lords, and protecting the little people of the city, and when all of the rival nobles are destroyed he will take his place on the throne of the Queen Corp and rule like a king in a castle. And all the serfs in the Glades will give him a measure of their bread every year and everything will be happy. He’s assembling a serfdom, you guys. Feudalism lives!
While I’m thinking about that, not-Chris-O’Donnell goes to shake down a rival nobleman, but before he can finish with his shakedown speech a sniper shoots the evil gangster capitalist. Oliver also takes a bullet to the arm before he escapes to his lair, the bullet turns out to be poisoned, Oliver takes an antidote just in time to not die but still spends most of the night unconscious.
Not-Chris-O’Donnell wakes up and rushes home to find his mother talking to cops, and immediately somehow intuits that the cops aren’t there to find him (son who’s been shipwrecked for five years and already kidnapped once and who has been missing all night and shown a tendency to slip his security detail, who is in fact here in the room with mom, and who also hasn’t seen not-Chris-O’Donnell all night).
“You look like crap,” says Lil Sis to not-Chris-O’Donnell. No he doesn’t! He looks chiseled and hot and impassive LIKE IN EVERY SCENE EVER. “He actually seems to have more color than usual,” says my roommate. Lil Sis leaves the room and Oliver steps up to give his mom parenting advice, which is another thing he picked up on the island (a list that so far includes: ninja fighting, archery, computer hacking, and a master’s in business administration).
And here we find out that Oliver speaks Russian. Something else he learned on the island, I suppose. He passes himself off as a member of the Russian mafia, or something, to get the other mafia guy to find the guy who shot the Lord of the Rival Manor. Mafia guy threatens to kill not-Chris-O’Donnell and his entire family. I think not-Chris-O’Donnell might be getting to the point where that’d be okay with him. His sister is now openly abusing drugs and alcohol and mocking anyone who says offensive things like, “Hey, stop getting drunk and go to school, you’re seventeen.”
We are also discovering through flashbacks that not-Chris-O’Donnell wasn’t alone on his desert island. Instead he was captured by a sadistic madman and tortured into what I can only assume, at this point, is some kind of epic-level Stockholm syndrome madness. Maybe he’s a sleeper agent. Maybe he’s a brainwashed automaton who’s been programmed to destroy Starling City. ANYTHING COULD BE GOING ON AT THIS POINT, GUYS.
Also in this episode we are introduced to a murderous psychopath sniper who tattoos the names of his victims on his own body, but who otherwise leaves no trace of evidence against himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell brings an arrow to a gunfight and, unsurprisingly, fails to murder. He does steal the assassin’s computer, though. So maybe that’ll give him the information he needs until he can get a look at the dude’s body and take notes from his tattoos. He takes the computer to an IT worker at the Queen Corporation who looks like ADA Alex Cabot from Law & Order: SVU and who I will be referring to as not-Alex-Cabot if she becomes a regular cast member.
Lil Sis has really good grammar when she’s mouthing off to her mother. “Important to whom?!”
Not-Chris-O’Donnell figures out that the reason why the Manor Lord was murdered was actually just a ploy to be able to murder all the other Starling City Manor Lords, who are all showing up at an auction to buy Manor Lord’s assets. Not-Chris-O’Donnell also realizes that there’s no way he can protect 50+ capitalist gangsters who are all trying to buy stuff, so instead of calling Starling Police Department’s anonymous tip line or some such, he slams Detective Dad into a parked car and tells him he needs to provide security for the auction. Detective Dad does what he’s told, since this is concerned citizenry’s usual method for reporting planned crimes.
Also Murderous Tattoo Assassin Dude has a gun mounted on his wrist like a Transformer or something. This does not actually seem like the best idea (Assassin Dude is undoubtedly more coordinated than me. I would shoot off my own hand). It does him no good, though, because not-Chris-O’Donnell shoots him in the face with an arrow because nobody gets to kill corrupt manor lords except himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s security guard is unexpectedly let in on not-Chris-O’Donnell secret identity, because he gets shot with a poisoned bullet and not-Chris-O’Donnell can’t let him die. (I really should learn security guy’s name, he’s definitely one of the least obnoxious characters so far.)
In case you missed the first post, me and Roommate are watching the WB series Arrow and I’m blogging about it until it gets good. Well, and potentially after it gets good, if I’m going to spend internet space making fun of it, I should, in fairness, also devote internet space when it gets awesome. If it gets awesome. In the last episode, a character who looks suspiciously like Chris O’Donnell got rescued from a tropical island, was reunited with his family, everyone got mad at him, he DIY’ed a secret lair from which to dispense JUSTICE(!), attempted to blackmail a nefarious businessman but ended up shooting him with arrows instead, and dispersed said stolen millions to the masses. Let us continue with our (anti) hero’s adventures in this, episode two.
We start this episode with not-Chris-O’Donnell violently avenging/blackmailing a rich corrupt person who I’m sure has been economically abusing the helpless. (How did we get the rich corrupt person on top of a rooftop? Not important.) “My family’s wealth is built on the suffering of others” Oliver tells us via voiceover. I know you’re referring to general abuse and corruption, not-Chris-O’Donnell, but this just makes me think that you don’t know how capitalism works.
We then cut to not-Chris-O’Donnell getting declared un-dead (zombie-not-Chris-O’Donnell?), which I thought was only a thing you could do in India, and involves a lot of flashbacks of Oliver’s dad shooting himself and seeing the island for the first time and a terrible castaway wig that I’m sure we’ll get to see again. And probably again. Laurel is at the courthouse, because she’s a lawyer, and she’s mad at Oliver again, which I totally support. You enforce those boundaries, girlfriend.
We see enough of a courtroom scene to see that Laurel is also fighting for justice (JUSTICE!), and then we cut to a sexy exercising montage with voiceover from Oliver about justice and carrying out his father’s dying wish. Apparently his father gave him a list of all the people in Starling City who deserve to die. How convenient. Also, excellent parenting, Dad. Most excellent.
Of course, in order to get to sexy exercising montage, not-Chris-O’Donnell had to slip away from his bodyguard again, which is starting to annoy his mother. She tells him she’s afraid he’s going to get kidnapped (which is either totally justified, because he already got kidnapped once, or totally baseless, because he’s already been kidnapped so it would seem that particular danger is past), which I think we all agree would be completely terrible because she might have to hug her son a second time or something. That would just be awkward. We must be really careful to stay away from creating situations that might make people feel things. Or have to pretend to feel things.
Lil Sis is still mad at Oliver (sorry, I mean not-Chris-O’Donnell. The actor’s actual name is Stephen Amell. The character’s name is Oliver), because he’s been home a week and all he’s done is avoid the family. He’s been home a week and all you’ve done is go to parties and be mad at him, so um, I’m not really feeling you on the “my older brother doesn’t want to hang out with me while I drink and do drugs” poutyness.
Detective Dad (that is, Laurel’s dad, who is a member of the Starling City Police) is meeting with Guy Who Owns the Port, who is the guy that was getting shot at in the opening scene. They argue about whether the police have the right to enforce laws, or if Detective Dad is just acting out of some kind of personal agenda. “I’m pretty good at keeping my emotions in check.” No, you’re not, Detective Dad. You’re really, really not.
Mom wants not-Chris-O’Donnell to take a leadership role in the company that the family owns. Not-Chris-O’Donnell, shockingly, doesn’t want to. Mom is disappointed. Very disappointed. I think she’s re-thinking being happy about having her son home. Maybe you should’ve just stayed on that island until you were ready to take over a multi-billion dollar company, not-Chris-O’Donnell. You mastered archery, computer hacking, and ninja fighting skills on the island. I’m sure the MBA was just about to come to you (Oliver actually makes a joke about getting an MBA while being stuck on the island. I might start to like this show).
The members of the press in this town apparently have nothing to do besides mob not-Chris-O’Donnell every time he steps outside. Is this what life was like for Andrew Carnegie? Bill Gates? Because it’s pretty intense. So far no members of the media seem to be investigating why Starling City’s most prominent and wealthy citizens are getting attacked with arrows, but maybe the police are keeping a lid on it.
Nineteen minutes into the episode and we discover what it’s about: Guy Who Owns The Port has been allowing a drug smuggler to use his port. Oliver is shooting arrows at GWOTP to get him to stop. Drug Smuggler’s Henchmen killed Blonde Girl’s Dad, who worked at the port and found out about the drug smuggling. Lawyer Laurel is prosecuting the Drug Smuggling Henchmen for murder but you know how hard it is with murderous conspiracy gangs. Drug Smuggler Supreme (a blonde Asian lady who is called China White because this is comics) obviously doesn’t want her henchmen convicted, and proposes killing the blonde girl who just lost her dad, because in this city it is apparently the victim’s family who controls the district attorney’s office. GWOTP says that that will bring down the formidable wrath of Laurel, so China White logically proposes that they just kill Laurel. The solution to problems with murder….is more murder! Yay.
See? Everything is totally simple and straightforward, guys.
Back in the house of awkward, Thea (that is, Lil Sis) has decided that the best way to express her pain to her brother about what she went through while he was gone is to bring him to the tombstones that his mom had erected out on the grounds that have his and his dad’s names on them. Holy shit, guys. That’s a selfish and kind of mindfucky thing to do to someone. He told you he was traumatized and not ready to talk about what happened on the island, and your response is to take him to his own memorial site and say, “I know it was hell there, but it was hell here too.” I know you’re a selfish 17-year-old, Thea, but your brother isn’t actually obligated to…I don’t even know what you want him to do. I guess he’s not shouldering his near-death experience in a way that is acceptable to you? Apologize for the absolute lack of control he was able to exert over his situation and subsequent stressing you out? How do you expect him to be all open and confiding when you act pissed off at him all the time?
Ollie feels super stressed out and guilty, so he takes his sadness to…Laurel. Who doesn’t want to let him into her apartment. I wholeheartedly support this decision. And she…oh, not-Chris-O’Donnell is acting sad, so we’re letting him in. No, this is a bad plan, Laurel, no, Laurel, don’t you remember your boundaries?
Cut to Laurel and Oliver sitting in her apartment and eating ice cream. No boundaries, then. Okay. Laurel tells Ollie to act like an adult to his mommy. This actually kind of reasonable discussion is interrupted by intruders with guns, and China White, who apparently carries out her own hits. That’s my kind of gangster kingpin. Not-Chris-O’Donnell and his bodyguard work together and foil the attack. They call the police (as you do), and Detective Dad is angry because the attack happened in Laurel’s apartment. Detective Dad wants to lock Laurel up rather than have her be in danger because of either not-Chris-O’Donnell or the drug mafia she’s prosecuting, even though….he’s a cop who’s in danger pretty much all the time. So it’s okay for her to fear for her dad’s life every day he’s at work, but he can’t handle it in reverse. Also, literally locking your daughter up is a healthy and productive way to deal with parental fear for one’s offspring. Okay.
In the meantime, Robin Hood(/Oliver/Arrow) is busy breaking up criminal gangs all by himself. My roommate points out that he’s been home a week and has already broken up like three crime rings, which makes me wonder exactly how the police force has been spending their time while he’s been away. China White and not-Chris-O’Donnell get in a fight, which is interrupted by the cops, so they break off and run away, and not-Chris-O’Donnell is stopped by Detective Dad, and he gives Dad an arrow that is also a digital recorder that recorded GWOTP’s confession to ordering the murder of Whistleblowing Stevedore Man/Blonde Girl’s Dad.
We end with not-Chris-O’Donnell interrupting a ground-breaking ceremony to tell people to stop expecting him to be his dad, which confuses me because I don’t think anyone was forcing him to say anything at this ceremony, or expecting him to be his dad at all. But he had to re-establish his reputation as a drunk, shallow playboy, I suppose. We also end with dark emo not-Chris-O’Donnell eyes and a flashback of bad-castaway-wig-Oliver burying his dad on the deserted island, and the revelation that Mom is part of the criminal conspiracy that apparently murdered her husband and son (not-Chris-O’Donnell doesn’t know this, only us). Oh, and then we end again with Oliver removing his and his dad’s tombstones from the ground. And then we end again (really this time) with another flashback to the island and Oliver getting shot with an arrow. ARROWS! I bet that ends up being significant somehow.
People keep telling me and my friend (henceforth referred to as Roommate) that the WB* show Arrow gets good. People whose tastes I want to respect tell me this. I got about eight episodes through season one and couldn’t take the emo angsty-ness anymore, and quit apparently “just before it gets good.”
So. I’m trying to suffer through season one and to make it to season two (which is good?). TRYING SO HARD, INTERNET. (Except now the people who tell me that season two is really good are telling me that season three is not so much. Dammit.) Blogging makes suffering bearable.
Also I want to say this disclaimer at the outset: If you like Arrow (even from the very first episode), that is all well and good and fine. I do not judge people who like the things they like. I want to say this now, and directly, because I know that when somebody is insulting and laughing at a show that you like, it’s easy to take that personally. Hell, I like Supernatural. We all like shows that other people think are dumb. I (so far at least) don’t like this show, and I’m not hiding that I don’t like the show; that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t deserve to be liked by other people. Okay? Okay.
Episode One: The Mighty Ragamuffin.
We open with Oliver Queen, who looks suspiciously like Chris O’Donnell, getting rescued from a desert island that he’s been stranded on. The mighty ragamuffin’s body is very (20%!) scarred, but otherwise not-Chris-O’Donnell is totally healthy and well-toned and not malnourished at all. He’s taken to a hospital somewhere, and his family is flown in, and his mom has a weird lack of urgency about needing to greet or hug her son, instead spending the bulk of the scene talking to the doctor in the hallway and not to her long-lost, presumed-dead son. There’s also a younger sister who I’m sure will become annoying in true WB fashion in short order.
New scene! We meet Laurel, an assistant district attorney (?) who is working in the law firm that Matthew Murdock probably should have joined rather than starting his own law firm in Hell’s Kitchen. She’s upset that not-Chris-O’Donnell has been found. Why? I’m sure it will be explained. At length. In greater depth than necessary.
Also, I will spend at least the next four episodes confusing Laurel and the sister, because we can only cast willowy female brunettes in this show and all white people look the same.
“After five years, everything that was once familiar is now unrecognizable.” That is some brilliant fucking voiceover script right there. Well done, writing staff. Not-Chris-O’Donnell is checking out his awesome hot body that is covered in scars. Awesome hotness that is covered in scars? POOR WOUNDED BOY. ME AND MY INNER EMO TEENAGE GIRL WILL FIX YOU.
Awkward family dinner time! The sister (or maybe Laurel, though I think Laurel doesn’t talk to anyone from the Queen family) asks what it was like on the island, which is apparently an inappropriate question and leads to awkward silence. Not-Chris-O’Donnell guesses that Walter is sleeping with his mom, at which point she tells him that she married Walter, and HOW IS THIS NOT THE FIRST THING YOU TELL YOUR SON WHEN YOU SAW HIM IN THE HOSPITAL THREE SCENES AGO. He found out about the past five years of Superbowl winners before he found out his mom remarried. That’s fucked up.
Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s friend wants to plan a party. Instead (in addition?) not-Chris-O’Donnell visits Laurel, who it turns out is upset because not-Chris-O’Donnell was her boyfriend until he took her sister on a yacht to screw her and then the yacht crash and her sister died and so did not-Chris-O’Donnell (except he didn’t). Okay. That’s actually a totally solid reason to not want to see a person ever again. I’m sure she will remain in this state of totally understandable aversion to his existence for at least three episodes.
Kidnapping! Guns! Guys in scary masks! Not-Chris-O’Donnell kicks their asses all on his own, then tells the detective (who is being all kinds of victim-blamey to a guy who just got kidnapped. But it’s fine because not-Chris-O’Donnell’s pre-desert island self was apparently a jerk, and the detective is just being a professional. Also this town only has twelve people in it) that a man in a hood rescued him. Sneaky devil. I assume his mom called the cops but that isn’t really explained. Also how long was he gone for? Did they realize he’d been kidnapped before he got back to his house? Maybe his friend (who also got kidnapped) insisted on calling the cops?
Best not to think about it. Not-Chris-O’Donnell is unfazed by being kidnapped, and so are we. He ducks away from the personal security his mom has hired and escapes to an abandoned factory that belongs to his family and builds himself a secret lair/personal home gym in the space of two hours and with only a band saw to assist him. I admit to being totally jealous of the pull-up ladder thing he can do. Also, building your secret lair in your family’s abandoned factory is the best idea that can have no potential for unforeseen consequences and will definitely never be discovered. We also learn that not-Chris-O’Donnell is really good with arrows, and has a green hoodie that totally disguises his identity. And that he is after justice. JUSTICE.
Onward to the welcome home party for not-Chris-O’Donnell. He is trying to be the sexy playboy when people are looking at him and dark and emo when people look away. Good luck with that. He spots his sister (at least I’m pretty sure it’s his sister and not Laurel) and OH NO DRAMA. She’s angry. Angry at him for being dead? But he’s not dead. She’s angry that he’s still alive? She’s angry that he left her all alone, like he had some choice in the matter? Also she’s accusing him of “acting like the last five years didn’t happen,” or that everything’s hunky-dory now. Girl, I know you don’t know this, but your brother spent most of the day getting kidnapped and then building himself a secret lair to capture criminals with. Your brother is not fine. He thinks he’s the goddamn Batman. Are you mad that he’s acting like a protective older brother? Is that not what older brothers do? Did you expect him to hand you some Grey Goose and a gram of coke and tell you to have fun?
Oh good, Laurel’s at the party too. This is the best party, you guys.
Laurel offers to be a sympathetic ear if he needs to talk about what he’s been through. Well, I’m glad somebody has offered to be this person, because damn does this guy need some therapy, but Laurel, you should not be that person. You should be mad at him forever, or at least for like a week. You know what’s great, Laurel? Boundaries. I advise you to get you some.
Climactic fight scene. The corrupt business owner that not-Chris-O’Donnell was trying to blackmail (because JUSTICE) refuses to send the money to the place, so not-Chris-O’Donnell arrives to beat it out of him with arrows. A fight scene ensues, with lots of machine guns and breaking glass and not-Chris-O’Donnell hitting people and stuff, and it’s actually going pretty well (in terms of being just absolutely fun to watch, well-choreographed and well-edited) until not-Chris-O’Donnell throws an arrow into the barrel of the bad guy’s gun and makes it misfire while simultaneously leaping backwards over a couch. Roommate and I watched it twice to revel in the breaking of reality–both of the laws of physics allowing this farce and of the terrible CGI special effects that are supposed to lead us to believe that such a thing happened. This is no Legolas-surfing-down-the-stairs-on-a-shield-while-slaying-orcs, guys. This is just plain ridiculous.
Also, I gotta say, having a hood pulled down over your eyes while you’re trying to fight crime seems like putting yourself at a disadvantage. Maybe it’s okay though because he’s impervious to bullets. It’s his superpower.
Turns out that not-Chris-O’Donnell did somehow get the money he was after (“via an arrow” is the explanation that Roommate offers) and Robin Hoods it to the people who deserve it, because while stuck on the desert island becoming an expert in archery and hand-to-hand fighting he also learned all about hacking secure banking systems.
…Does anyone ever realize that the arrival of the vigilante in the hood on the scene exactly coincides with not-Chris-O’Donnell’s return to Starling City? I mean, seriously.
*I know it’s been the CW for like 20 years now. I don’t care. It’ll always be the Dawson’s Creek network to me.
1. Boys turn really ugly right when you go to kiss them.
3. You’re sitting on top of the Hellmouth. Go sit on some other mouth.
4. The town’s plumbing situation seems prone to emanating menstrual cycles.
5. Murderous invisible girls.
6. Questionable fashion choices.
7. The school administration seems either unwilling or unable to deal with the abnormally high rate of students and faculty who meet gruesome deaths while on school property.
8. The student population also appears to be eternally replaceable.
9. There’s only one nightclub in the whole town, and they allow minors inside, which means they can’t serve alcohol.
10. Demonic children. Seriously. I’m not sure if they start out deranged, or if the trauma of living in this town destroys their innocent little souls, but something is up with the kids ’round here.
11. Remember how Voldemort disappeared from history for like fifteen years after leaving Hogwarts? I’m pretty sure he went to Sunnydale.
12. The principal of Sunnydale High is really bad at his job. For example, a girl who confessed to stabbing a teacher with pruning sheers has been called to the principal’s office. Not to the local police station. And she is then given the job (along with Buffy, whom the principal says is “one of the worst students in the school”) of decorating the school cafeteria for Parent Day. Let me reiterate: the two worst students in the school, one of whom is a violent felon, has been tasked with impressing all of the parents of the school’s students.
Reasons to move to Sunnydale:
1. Invisible girls are hot.
2. The library has an armory.
3. Hot computer science teacher.
4. The internet is totally fine now.
5. Witty Slayer repartee.
6. People doing high kicks in very short skirts.
At the curvy road sign, I’m told, I’ll see a driveway, and I should turn left there. When I climb out of the car, I’m greeted with cool mountain smells, cricket chirps, and hugs. I’m handed a hamburger with swiss cheese melted on it, held between two English muffins, and pointed toward avocado, homemade basil pesto, and roasted onions to dress it up with. Still munching, I’m shuffled back into my shoes and taken for a stroll down near the river, handed St John’s Wort and tangy, minty weeds to taste. We go by a homemade trebuchet, but don’t fire it. I go across a pond on a log, stiff and cautious, and I have to crouch halfway across and take deep, relaxing breaths. My friend waits patiently on the other side, saying nothing, but waiting to make sure I get across okay.
Back at the house–safe and dry, and really, if I’d fallen, it would’ve been my own stiff clumsy fault, and not the log’s–I’m given another burger, this one lamb, and a beer, and a piece of yucca, which tastes kind of like dehydrated cucumber. Like if NASA wanted to make cucumber-flavored astronaut ice cream. The house is big, I suppose, but it’s hard to tell, because the floor plan is defined by the hill on which the house sits, so everything is around corners and up steps and through Jack-and-Jill bathrooms. There’s no cell service.
We dish up bowls of ice cream and go downstairs in stocking feet, spreading out on a couch and a bed. Sherlock, the BBC version, is projected onto a blank wall. There’s an electrical outlet on the wall that keeps wandering across my attention at odd moments.
I’ve seen “The Hounds of Baskerville,” but never watched it with people, and the funny moments are funnier, the startling moments are more startling because the person next to me is jumping in surprise. There’s conversation afterward. Explanation. Discussion of this episode vs Doyle’s originals. Plans for next time.
Outside afterward, on my way to my car, it’s gotten a bit cooler but not as much as you’d think, really. The canyon had already started to cool off when I arrived. I look up at the stars running riot across the sky, unobscured by city lights.
So this is one of the things that Sherlock–the stories in their entirety, not just the BBC version–has given me. Besides the amusement and the reassurance. It gives me moments like these. Hamburgers and hugs and good conversation. Comfortable faces. Moments away from life. This lonely man, Sherlock, who doesn’t have friends. Just one. Gives me nights like this.
I was listening to an episode of Fresh Air recently wherein Terry Gross interviewed Louis CK, mostly about his TV show Louie and his recent Beacon Theatre performance. It included a clip from the TV show, depicting a confrontation between Louis and a suicidal friend of his. The friend demands that Louis give him a reason to live, if Louis is going to try and talk him out of killing himself.
“No,” says Louis, “I got my reasons to live. I worked hard to figure out what they are. I’m not just handing ’em to you. You want a reason to live? Have a drink of water and get some sleep, wake up in the morning and try again like everyone else does…You know what, it’s not your life. It’s life. Life is bigger than you.”
Most of the time, we just sort of drift through the day to day, taking care of tasks and running errands and doing the things we need to do to remain alive and fed. But it’s worth stepping back, every now and again, and evaluating just what the hell it is you think you’re doing, and why. Especially when you’re coming out of (or think you’re coming out of) a depression that paused more or less everything in your life for almost two years. One of the problems with depression is that, in trying to hard to get yourself well, you do all kinds of things not because you want to, but because you feel that you should. You no longer go to parties or concerts because you want to or because they’re fun. You go because you recognize that these activities were fun once upon a time, so clearly, to continue to do the things that you once enjoyed is good for you. And even if they no longer bring you joy–even if you end up sitting in the back of the music hall crying for reasons you don’t understand and hoping that nobody notices or tries to talk to you–certainly, staying home isn’t going to make you better. Watching entire seasons of The Biggest Loser in one go and not getting out of bed for entire days clearly isn’t good for you. Compulsively playing Solitaire on your iPod isn’t good for you. Failing to sleep and not finishing school assignments isn’t good for you. So you force yourself to do things that are good for you. Fake it till you make it, right? You can act your way out of depression, right? If you keep doing the things that you used to love to do, someday they’ll regain their magic.
I don’t want to jinx myself. I think it’s finally getting better. I have a new job (well, two new jobs, which will hopefully someday be one complete job) with people I like, that pays almost enough to live off of, and sometimes I will pause and realize I’m enjoying myself. It’s like the first deep breath you take after an asthma attack, or after holding your breath underwater for too long. Or riding my bike and realizing I’m having fun. Feeling proud of myself after I’ve ridden for 20+ miles. Do you know the last time that I felt proud of myself for something? I don’t either. And sometimes I catch myself hanging out with friends and realizing that they do, in fact, want me around.
And oddly enough, that’s enough for now. Those single breaths where I feel okay. At the end of everything, it really doesn’t take much, finding your reasons to live.
If you know me, you know I’m kind of a snob about Sherlock Holmes. I’m a snob about pretty much any work of literature that’s adapted to film or television (except for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Yes, I know that’s the weirdest of all possible exceptions). And I love Sherlock, but–except for Jeremy Brett–I tend to get irritated by his on-screen versions. When I heard that Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law were starring in a Sherlock movie, my first reaction was that it had been cast backwards. Why wasn’t Jude Law playing Sherlock? Surely that made more sense? The movie allayed my suspicions somewhat (and, in all honesty, my one criticism of Brett’s Holmes is that he’s too much of a staid, inactive British gentleman, so I was happy to see Sherlock finally kicking some ass, as he does in the books), and Sherlock Holmes is enormous fun to watch, but I don’t see much of Arthur Conan Doyle’s world in Guy Ritchie’s interpretation. If the old Granada series, with Jeremy Brett, skewed Sherlock too much toward the brainiac, Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock skewed too much toward the action hero. There’s a couple of Holmes pastiches that I like, but for the most part, I don’t think they’re worthy of the character name Sherlock.
When I heard about the Moffat/Gatiss BBC adaptation, I was curious, and ready to be dismissive. Sherlock with a cell phone? With a DNA lab? Is this just going to be CSI in the London fog? So much of Sherlock’s ability to infer and deduce is dependent–at least in part–on the staid, predictable, class-defined society that was Victorian England. What would Sherlock do in a chaotic, modern metropolis? What would Moriarty do? Collude with Tony Soprano? But Sherlock redeemed itself, mostly on the strength of its incredible casting and acting. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman get the friendship of Holmes and Watson closest to right–by which I mean closest to what’s in my head.
But Hollywood isn’t done over saturating us with Holmes. It’s like it’s trying to make up for the previous twenty years of leaving us alone with Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. Now CBS is making its own series. Sherlock will fit right in with the rest of CBS’s stable of off-kilter geniuses who solve crime with various brands of genius and varying degrees of social hostility (Numb3rs, The Mentalist, Gil Grissom on CSI, etc). But it’s not so much Sherlock I’m suspicious of. Sherlock’s character, abrasive yet courteous, is relatively easy to grab onto and focus on the one or two aspects of his personality that a writer wants to focus on. Sometimes Sherlock–literary Sherlock–is oblivious to social norms and cues, and sometimes he isn’t. Sometimes he cares about offending people, sometimes he doesn’t. He’s impatient and efficient and doesn’t want to waste time with small talk or explanations (until it suits him). He likes to put people off their guard by making alarmingly personal observations about them prior to interviewing them about the problem he’ll be investigating. And that’s the sort of character that’s fun to play with and relatively easy to write, once you crawl into his head. But a character lurks in the background of the foreground, one much maligned and mistreated in previous adaptations, reduced to either comedic relief or source of expository dialogue. Much subtler, much slipperier, and much more beloved than Sherlock Holmes–at least as far as I’m concerned–is John Watson. Who, in CBS’s version, is now a woman.
For obvious reasons, adaptors of Conan Doyle’s work have trouble with the female characters. First of all, there aren’t any. Mrs. Hudson answers the door at 221B Bakes Street and Mrs. Watson shows up just often enough to tell her husband to ditch work and go hang out with Sherlock, and other than that, all the female characters are clients of Sherlock’s. So many adaptations have taken it upon themselves to inflate this client or that client’s importance and give them larger roles, usually Irene Adler, The Woman, the one who actually foiled Holmes, but whose role in the books is nowhere near as primary as it is in so many adaptations (both Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and the BBC’s Sherlock have her colluding with Moriarty, which is just flat wrong, especially when you consider that she isn’t even a criminal in her story, “A Scandal in Bohemia”). I wish I knew why nobody has thought to do anything with Helen Stoner from “TheAdventure of the Speckled Band” or Violet Hunter, the brave governess from “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.” Nobody’s interested in getting to know Watson’s wife (wives?) better, no, we want to watch Holmes bounce around and be obnoxious, but our late 20th century niceties won’t let us leave Mrs. Hudson all alone to represent her gender. So, turn Watson into a woman. Okay. Maybe it’ll be interesting, and maybe it’ll work narratively. It certainly gives the new series territory to explore. On the other hand, I wonder if CBS is using is progressiveness and creativity in one direction (yay strong female characters!) to cover up its conservatism in another, and avoiding the implication, or even the discussion, that Holmes and Watson might be gay.
Full disclosure: I don’t believe that Holmes and Watson are gay. Arthur Conan Doyle–bluff, straightforward, blunt and upright British chap that he was–would never write such a thing. It wouldn’t even occur to him. But in the network television world, in the internet world, in the world of fanfic, it’s really hard to have a show centered around two characters and not have those two characters get it on eventually (the only exception I can think of is Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson from Law & Order: SVU). It’s easier to avoid sexual tension between two particular characters in an ensemble show (mostly because you can take up all your time using other combinations of people for sexual tension), but Holmes and Watson aren’t, and never can be, part of an ensemble. A female Watson allows the show to play with sexual tension in a way that’s socially acceptable. So we’ll see how this goes.
Watching the Elementary pilot, I kept waiting for that moment of recognition that I sometimes get watching a good adaptation. That moment when the character that you’re watching collides for a moment with the character in your head, and you think, “Ahh! There you are! I’ve missed you!” But it never really happened. There’s too much that’s different, and CBS doesn’t let us spend any time getting to know the characters in a way that isn’t combative (and, okay, Sherlock can be a pretty combative and manipulative conversationalist, but you couldn’t give us at least one scene where Sherlock and Joan weren’t trying to one-up each other?)
First of all, I am already annoyed by the premise of this relationship (Lucy has been hired by Sherlock’s father to be his constant companion to keep Sherlock sober, since he’s just out of rehab). I don’t know much about being sober–someone who is in recovery please help me out here–but a “sober companion,” seems like a really bad strategy for keeping somebody sober. People struggling with addiction don’t need babysitters. A definitive and slightly alarming character like Sherlock Holmes needs one even less. There is no possible way that, if he gets it into his head to have a relapse, Lucy Liu can stop Sherlock from going out and scoring. And at this point in their relationship, it’s clear that Holmes is not going to rely on her emotionally the way a sponsor would. He’s not going to call her if he feels tempted.
And Sherlock starts right out seemingly trying to alarm and brush off and confuse Lucy Liu. Oh, and I just realized, that woman, leaving the brownstone as Lucy came up the stoop? Probably a prostitute. If that’s true, we already have two things that Arthur Conan Doyle never envisioned: a deliberately rude Sherlock, and a sexual one (not an asexual one. A sexual one). Sherlock confirms this a few minutes later by explaining to Lucy (unnecessarily and unasked) that he actually finds sex distasteful, but “his brain and his body require it to function at optimal levels, so I feed them as needed.” Way to take statements that the literary Holmes makes about food and sleep and apply them to a subject that literary Holmes never even broached, CBS. Combined with the fact that he’s not wearing a shirt when he meets her and he’s trying to deliberately make her uncomfortable, I have to say that this series is going to have to watch itself before it treads unconsciously into misogyny. Making another man feel uncertain of his footing has a distinctly different undertone than doing the same thing to a woman, CBS, please tell me you understand this.
And Sherlock is putting on dirty laundry. Something else the real Sherlock would never do. And Sherlock apparently has an overprotective, overbearing father. I get that Sherlock Holmes is a fast-paced character (especially if you’re going to mimic Benedict Cumberbatch), but the show itself needs to slow down and set shit up better. Set up Watson. I watched an hour f this show, and I feel like I don’t know much of anything about either Watson or Holmes. I know their biographies, but I don’t know what matters to them, I don’t know if they’re happy, I don’t know what motivates either of them. So far we seem more enamored with setting up how Holmes is weird and Watson is troubled and less with figuring out whether we like them or care about them. This Sherlock seems to have more in common with Gregory House than he does Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes.
Ahhh, Sherlock keeps bees. Point to the producers of this series. I don’t think that any other adaptation has included the bees (mostly because in the canon, that’s what Sherlock does after retiring), but still, I’m happy to meet Holmes as an apiarist.
There are other little niggling things here and there. Sherlock asks, for the first time in any adaptation, a question that I feel is a stupid question. Why would a pretty person get plastic surgery? wonders Sherlock. I don’t know, Sherlock. Why are successful people depressed? Why do rich people commit suicide? Maybe she had body dysmorphia disorder. Maybe she didn’t know she was pretty. Only ugly people get plastic surgery? Really? That’s the basis you’re starting your logical deductions from?
So Sherlock talks really really fast, but is not on drugs. He says alarmingly personal things to Lucy Liu (who is still Lucy Liu to me, and not Joan Watson), and she doesn’t get pissed off, she doesn’t get alarmed. She doesn’t even escape the situation. She turns the subject back to him (seriously?) before leaving the room. Is she trying to hit him back? Is she trying to retaliate in kind? What the hell? There’s something gross to me, that I can’t quite pinpoint, about watching Watson engage with Holmes in this combative way. Holmes and Watson are supposed to balance each other (as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Martin Freeman’s Watson do, in which Watson either doesn’t engage in Holmes’ combative banter, or he reacts emotionally, not intellectually). The problem is, having a Watson that’s troubled and unhappy the way Lucy Liu’s Watson is, she’s surviving by trying to cut herself off from her emotions. You can’t have a Watson/Holmes pairing that’s entirely intellectual. Holmes is the head of the pair. Watson is the heart. A Watson who is trying to cut himself off from grief and guilt–who’s trying to not feel things–can’t bring anything to the relationship that Holmes himself doesn’t bring.
And then there’s the moment when Sherlock hangs up on the NYPD forensics guy, and there’s a dial tone. I don’t know that iPhones could do that.
The final thing that annoys me about the latest Holmes adaptation hasn’t even happened yet, but I have no doubt that it will (it happens in BBC’s version, in Guy Ritchie’s versions, everything except the Granada series, which faithfully adapted pretty much every story). It’s a part of the Sherlock stories that almost always overlooked–the fact that Holmes doesn’t always investigate murder. In fact, murders and deaths make up less than half the stories in the canon. A few times, Holmes investigates mysteries of “national importance” (lost treaties, lost naval plans, spies on British soil). He get clients who have received strange correspondance (either nonsensical or written in code, and on one memorable occasion, body parts), clients whose loved ones have disappeared, landlords who have strange or threatening tenants, professionals who have been asked to do strange and inexplicable things in the course of their employment (wear a bright blue dress, cut their hair, copy out the encyclopedia). He helps either prevent or solve jewel heists and bank robberies. Sometimes, he investigates problems only to find that nothing illegal has happened, and sometimes something illegal happens and he solves it outside of the boundaries of the law. Holmes investigates problems that are interesting–but interesting isn’t always synonymous with severe. But I feel pretty certain that, in Elementary, every single week we’re going to watch Holmes solve another impossible murder. Because that’s all network crime show writers think to write about.
The sad thing is, even given all of the above complaints, I’ll probably still end up watching Elementary. Because it’s Holmes. And because I’m weak.