Let’s Talk About Plot Twists

The Sixth Sense

 

Warning: spoilers for multiple stories lie ahead.  Read at your own risk.

Love ’em or hate ’em, plot twists are an integral part of modern storytelling.  You know what I’m talking about…those moments in stories that make you go “HOLY CRAP” or “WHAT THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE!”  But the question is: when is a plot twist good and when is it bad?

For my personal taste, a good plot twist is one that makes you reevaluate what came before.  To start with, I’m going to use an example from something I’m betting not all that many people know about: the television show “Fringe”.

For those who’ve maybe never watched the show, it’s similar to “X-Files”, only instead of investigating weird, far-fetched supernatural stuff they investigate weird, far-fetched science stuff.  The basic premise is this: FBI agent Olivia Dunham investigates after everyone aboard a commercial airline flight is killed by a strange contagion that caused their skin to fall off (in spectacular, gooey fashion).  The case leads her to Dr. Walter Bishop, a man known for extreme experiments in science…who is also now in a mental health facility.  Because of the facility’s rule allowing only family members to visit, Olivia must track down Walter Bishop’s estranged son Peter.

 

Over the course of the first season, the three deal with bizarre and terrifying cases, ranging from killer computer viruses to a bio-engineered monstrous animal.  As the season progresses, an overarching plot involving parallel universes starts to unfold.  In the season finale, the trio stop a bad guy from crossing over into another universe to do bad things.  As things come to a close, we realize that the three have grown close together.  Peter finally starts to accept his father despite his failures.  And Walter has a poignant moment standing in front of-

 

 

…hi-his son’s grave.

……

Wait what?!

And this is where, if the twist is good, your mind goes into overdrive.  You start seeing the clues, putting the pieces together, realizing that certain little things you initially thought were innocuous actually hinted at a bigger truth.  In this case, the truth is that the Peter we know in the show actually belongs to a parallel universe.  And, in this case, your mind is likely to go back to a scene earlier in the season where Walter is talking to Peter and mentions a time when Peter was deathly ill.  Walter says he became consumed with saving him, but that Peter eventually just got better.  Obviously, with the twist at the end of season one, we know that’s not what happened and Walter’s version of Peter died.

There are also other, smaller hints throughout the season that you’d probably never catch on your first viewing.  For example, during one very early episode, Walter is rambling about eye color when he says Peter’s eyes are green.  But when we cut to Peter, we can clearly see that his eyes are blue.  Initially, you likely brushed it off as just Walter being not altogether there.  However, with the added information we get at the season’s close, it takes on a newer significance.  Same with another scene where Peter is holding a G.I. Joe toy and says something like “weird…I always remembered the scar being on the other side”.  Again, innocuous on its face, but hinting at a greater truth.

Another great instance of this kind of plot twist comes from “The Sixth Sense”.  I’m sure most, if not all of you, know the story by now: Bruce Willis plays a psychiatrist who helps a young boy that claims he can see ghosts.  Spoiler alert: Bruce Willis is actually dead the entire time.  He’s just another ghost that the kid can see.  But what’s genius about this twist is that unlike “Fringe”, where most of the clues are only really recognizable upon re-watching the first season, “Sixth Sense” actually replays snippets of scenes from earlier in the movie during the climactic reveal, giving them new meaning and context.  That scene with his wife in the restaurant?  It shifts from being the portrayal of a couple falling out of love to that of a widow grieving for her lost husband.

And it doesn’t even show all the clues the movie had in it.  There’s actually a scene where Bruce Willis is standing behind the kid as the kid reaches for a doorknob.  There’s a quick close-up shot of the knob that shows that Willis has no reflection.  It’s truly crazy how much foreshadowing the movie does right under your nose.

Now let’s move on to the other side of things.  When is a twist bad?  For my money, it’s simple: when the twist is done for pure shock value and offers very little payoff.  For example, one of the seasons of “24” reveals that the president of the United States (or former president at that point…I can’t remember for sure) is in league with the bad guys to do…something I guess.  I don’t remember if there was a good explanation for it.  What little I remember tells me it was more done for shock value than anything else.

Another example comes from the video game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”.  In the game, a character named General Shepherd sends one of the playable characters to an estate in the middle of a forest somewhere to retrieve data on the enemies operations and help stop World War III.  Only, at the end of the mission, Shepherd shoots and burns the playable character alive upon receiving the data, revealing that he was the mastermind behind it all and was just covering his tracks.  It’s a moment that screams “epic” at first, but once Shepherd reveals his motivation later on things fall apart quickly.

It’s as if the writers had to hamstring together an explanation last-minute.  Basically, there was a nuke that went off in the previous game, killing a whole bunch of soldiers.  This made General Shepherd mad or something, so he came up with a convoluted plan to start World War III in an effort to drive up recruitment and get more soldiers…

…who will then more than likely die in the ensuing global conflict, leaving General Shepherd with a far larger body count than he would have had otherwise.

It’s best not to think about it too much.

(If you’re curious, I did write an entire story analysis of Modern Warfare 2 over two years ago.)

Another example of a twist that underperforms is in “The Village”, another movie by M. Night Shyamalan.  For my part, I actually liked the twist itself.  But at the same time, I admit that it does have a lack of payoff for the story.

The plot of “The Village” is as follows: a colonial era village lives in fear of monsters that lurk in the woods around the town.  But later on, it’s revealed that the monsters are nothing more than the village elders wearing outfits in an effort to keep people from moving away from the village.  And the noises they keep hearing in the woods are made by things like wind chimes.  Then, at the very end, it is revealed that the movie actually takes place in modern times, with the village elders starting the village in the 1970’s as a way to escape the traumas they experienced in modern society.  They’re basically an Amish-like cult.

While the twist is cool, there’s very little payoff for it.  We already know that the spooky noises are fake and that the monsters are just old people in costume.  It does give us an explanation for why the elders did all those things, but it doesn’t feel very satisfying.  It feels…anti-climactic in a way.  Not only that, but the twist has some serious explanations with plausibility, the most notable of which being how did no one ever see a plane flying over the area?  The movie tries to explain this away by saying they set up a no-fly zone over the area the village is set in, but it still seems far-fetched.

I could talk about more plot twists, but that would make this post go on longer than it needs to.  And it’s already long as it is.  So to recap, for a plot twist to be good, it needs to redefine or alter the arc of the story in a way that makes sense.  Twists that are thrown in there for shock value (which is something broadcast television shows seem obsessed with these days) tend to collapse under the weight of their own implausibility.  The quality of twists can be highly subjective, but in the end I think most people would agree that it needs to be logical.  It needs to follow some sort of common sense.  Otherwise, its artificial nature is plainly obvious for everyone to see.

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Spotlight: Person of Interest

Television is changing.  With the advent of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, the way we watch our TV shows has shifted.  And now that these same streaming services have begun creating their own shows, the very format of a television show has changed as well.  The length of a television show season is usually around twenty-two episodes or thirteen episodes, depending on the network.  But with Netflix’s Stranger Things, we got a season that was only eight episodes long.  There’s more freedom now to create as short or as long a season as the creators need to or want to.  Shows on broadcast television networks, with their twenty-odd episodes in a season, are starting to feel outdated.

In a sense, you could consider Person of Interest to be a member of the “old guard”.  The show had its run on CBS, which meant that each season (with the exception of the fifth and final) was twenty-two to twenty-three episodes long.  Person of Interest is a procedural crime drama with a science-fiction flair and some spy thriller elements thrown in.  The premise of the show is as follows:

After the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001, the United States government began looking into creating a system that would monitor the public at all times.  They wanted a system that could alert them of any potential terrorist attacks before they happen, giving them a chance to stop them.  Their system is created by a man named Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), but it comes with an unexpected side effect.  The machine sees not just potential terrorist acts, but crimes of an everyday nature as well, crimes involving ordinary men and women.  To deal with this, the machine is programmed to split them into two categories: relevant and irrelevant.

When the show opens in 2011, Finch approaches ex-CIA agent John Reese (Jim Caviezel) and offers him a job: help him track down the irrelevant numbers, figure out whether they are a victim or perpetrator, and stop whatever crime is about to happen.

That is the central conceit of the show.  Every week Finch and Reese receive a number (which equates to someone’s social security number), which leads them to a person.  They then do the work of finding that person and whatever it is they’ve gotten themselves involved with.  There is a greater plot thread in play, even during the initial seasons of the show, but it’s not very evident.  In fact, it’s not until near the end of the third season that a massive serialized arc takes shape.  If you’ve ever watched the show Fringe the format is pretty similar: procedural, standalone episodes detailing a “case of the week” and then the overarching episodes which impact the path the show takes as a whole.

The procedural aspect of the show is undoubtedly a product of the broadcast television format.  With twenty-odd episodes to make, it isn’t entirely possible to make them all about the main story, at least without making the main plot convoluted and overbearing.  This is the issue I expect most people to run into with this show, as it is the same issue I ran into later on when the main plot got to be really interesting.  There is a lot of filler in this show, episodes that have no real purpose whatsoever aside from being entertaining for that week.

Personally, I don’t mind procedural episodes that much as long as they’re well done, but I know that a lot of people get bored by them.  However, even when the show is at its most procedural, it is still a technically proficient one.  Gone are the days of X-Files, where one episode could be amazing and spellbinding, and then the next makes you question why you ever started watching the show in the first place.  At worst, the procedural episodes of Person of Interest can come across as bland and unoriginal.

And there are some really great procedural episodes in the show, ones that delve deeper into one of the characters.  For example, later on in the show there’s an episode that takes place almost entirely as one of the characters is dying from a gunshot wound.  At first, you don’t even know it either.  What you initially think is just a flashback to a conversation turns out to be a part of the character’s hallucination.  It’s a gripping episode and one of the show’s strongest in my opinion.  It goes to show that even procedural episodes can surprise you.

The show’s serial episodes are obviously what people are going to remember, and they are definitely riveting.  Initially, the show’s serial episodes focus on the nature of government surveillance, but later on the show’s science-fiction element takes center stage.  The show’s latter seasons focus on the power and dangers of artificial intelligence and grandiose reflections on the nature of humanity.  I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say that one side believes humanity needs to be forcibly guided while the other side believes humanity deserves to make its own choices.

Most of my complaints with the show are minor, although I did have one thing that kept nagging at me.  At times, the show’s procedural nature was at odds with its serialized plot.  This became increasingly evident in one of the later seasons.  Without spoiling too much, the events of one of the season finales requires that the main characters essentially go underground and keep a low profile.  And the first episode of the next season goes to great lengths to make that point, with Reese being scolded for doing what he normally does because it could blow his cover.  However, after all that, some of the procedural episodes seem to pretend that this isn’t even a problem.  Some episodes do make a point of it, with a character saying something along the lines of “you can’t just go in there and do that, you’ll risk exposing your cover!”  But then other episodes have them running into a place, shooting it up, beating the crap out of dudes and the like, and there is apparently no consequence for it.  It created this weird disjunction that once I noticed it I couldn’t stop noticing it.  Maybe I’m just nit-picking, but it really bothered me after a while.  I guess I just wanted to see more of the main plot instead of random, case-of-the-week episodes.

My other complaints are very minor.  Some of the episodes, particularly early on in the show, have weird abrupt endings that seem out of place.  The “plot bubble” effect in the show is strong, meaning that main characters (even bad guys) miraculously escape from harm because their pursuers suddenly have terrible aim with their weapons.  It just seems strange that John Reese can kneecap people with perfect accuracy but at other times can’t even manage to hit the person at all.

My only other complaint has to do with one of the main antagonists of the show.  At the end of one of the seasons, there’s a plot twist that reveals that he was basically planning things for years, working towards things from a time before the show even started.  Which makes no sense when you think about the fact that he had another plan a season earlier which utterly failed.  So that would mean that he knew his plan would fail or at the very least that he had a secondary plan in place in case he failed, which makes even less sense because that would mean he created a terrorist group for no reason.  It’s one of those things where when you start thinking about it, the bad guy’s “brilliant plan” actually ends up seeming really dumb.

In the end though, Person of Interest is a show that is definitely worth watching.  It takes a very nuanced approach to its themes (for the most part), and is consistently well-written.  It’s also not afraid to experiment.  One of the later episodes takes place mostly in the mind of the machine itself as it hypothesizes scenarios in an attempt to find an escape plan for our heroes.  At one point, the machine realizes it’s running out of time, so it simplifies the simulation.  This leads to a bizarrely funny bit where the characters are walking around speaking in strange placeholder dialogue like “flirty greeting” or “general statement of mission success”.

Person of Interest manages to surprise many times throughout its run.  It’s an action-heavy show that’s fun to watch but also has a lot of depth to it.  And I must say that the series finale is one of the most immensely satisfying and powerful finales I have seen in a long time.  It’s definitely worth a watch.  And hey, it’s all streamable on Netflix.  Isn’t that convenient?

Now I’m going to get out of here before I start sounding like a spokesperson for Netflix…

 

Well thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

Media Evolution: The Rise of Serialized Storytelling in Television

Most of us have watched or at least know of Breaking Bad, the gritty television show about a high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin following a cancer diagnosis.  It’s probably one of the most acclaimed shows of the last decade.  But how does a show like Breaking Bad come about?  What laid the groundwork for the so-called “golden age” of serialized television?

Serialized drama is nothing new to storytelling as a whole.  You can probably trace the origins of it back at least a few centuries.  But serialized television is a relatively new thing, brought about only in the last decade or two.  Most television shows of the past (such as The Fugitive or Quantum Leap) had a basic, underlying premise that unified the show, but the episodes themselves were largely standalone affairs, with maybe a two-part episode here and there.  A big reason for this was due to the time-based nature of television.  If you wanted to keep up with a show back in those days, you would either have to be available at a specific time on a specific day to watch it or have a friend catch you up on any episode you missed.  Thus, television shows were very much “story of the week” type affairs, with the hero arriving somewhere and doing something (usually to help out some distressed person) for that episode before taking off.

Nowadays, things are different.  Shows are more likely to build an undercurrent mythology that runs through the entire series, allowing fans to dig deeper into its world.  And this is something that probably started in the late ’80s, early ’90s.

The first show I can really remember having grander serialized elements was Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG for short) which ran from 1987 to 1994.  It was one of those defining television shows of the time, changing the way television was done from characters and storytelling all the way to the practical effects (early on whenever the ship shook the actors had to jiggle back and forth to simulate the effect, whereas later in the show they had a mechanical set that would shake back and forth on command, making a much more believable effect).  In terms of storytelling it was one of the first I had seen that actually had lots of recurring elements (Romulans, the Borg, Q, and so on).  Most television shows beforehand maybe had a single recurring villain or theme, but outside the main cast of characters nothing really stayed the same from week to week.  TNG was still very much an episodic or standalone type of show, but often standalone episodes would include those recurring elements, helping to build the sense that the show was part of a larger universe.  But while it may have started the trend (and I honestly can’t be certain on that one…the history of television storytelling is a very murky affair at times), it took other shows to really give it a boost.

One of the biggest influences on this type of storytelling was The X-Files.  I recently talked about the X-Files‘ return to television after a fourteen year hiatus, and one of the things I noticed is how it felt locked in the ’90s.  It felt archaic in its storytelling, especially compared to more modern shows that improved the formula it helped start.  X-Files had two types of episodes.  The first type was standalone episodes dealing with a mysterious occurrence of the week that Mulder and Scully would have to investigate.  The second type was known as “mythology episodes” and dealt with a grand government conspiracy regarding the existence of alien life.  The show was highly influential, building interest in the idea of a singular, recurring story within a show (Fringe, among many other shows, would copy this format later on).  But in the end, X-Files left a bittersweet taste in people’s mouths because it simply went on for a bit too long, leaving to most people becoming frustrated with the lack of progression in the show’s main arc.

In an article for The American Reader, David Auerbach calls X-Files out on this, complaining that it wasn’t planned out from the start.  He says this about a lot of other shows as well, including the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galatica (well worth watching if you’re a fan of dark sci-fi).  I wasn’t a major fan of this article, mainly because I feel as though the writer went out of his way to criticize popular television shows while praising shows like Veronica Mars (a name which, unless you’re a member of the cult fan base, probably has you saying “oh yeah…that was a show that existed at one point”).  The thing Auerbach doesn’t seem to take into account is the time period a lot of these shows were in.  Yes, X-Files suffers in later seasons due to being on for so long, but it also aired in the ’90s before serialized shows were big.  It deserves some leeway for being the inspiration for a lot of the serialized storytelling we enjoy in television today.  Sure, if the show hadn’t aired back then and was thrown on TV now, it wouldn’t look nearly as good.  But historical context can carry a lot of weight.

Even then, it wasn’t really until Lost aired that shows really began to make use of serialized stories.  Lost aired in 2004 and quickly became a cultural phenomenon.  Sure, the series ending polarized a lot of the fan base (as a fan of the show, I can tell you that I found the finale to be incredibly disappointing in a lot of ways), but the show was influential in creating a base for deep, character-based storytelling.  In the first season of the show, many of the episodes would center around one particular character, giving us their backstory through flashbacks and explaining how they ended up in the plane which eventually crashed on the island.  And they continued to use this format, telling stories about the characters that took place before the island and giving us an in-depth look rarely seen on television up to that point, if at all.  It made character deaths seem far more poignant because of this focus on their backstories.  The show may have been flawed and the writers may have pulled a fast one on their fans by claiming they had the end planned out when they totally didn’t, but to simply dismiss the influence it had because of these complaints would be ridiculous (but of course there will always be those people who insisted that the show was trash and that they knew it was trash the whole time because hipsters and stuff).

Serialized storytelling is still evolving, just like television as a whole.  And oftentimes, it will suffer due to the way television works (many shows don’t get a good heads up on their ending date, leaving them to either scramble to put together a finale or end the show on a cliffhanger).  But judging by the general preference for serialized television shows (as evidenced by the success of Breaking BadMad MenGame of Thrones and other shows), they are here to stay.  They allow for a greater sense of investment, one that we don’t often get in this era of viral videos and social media trends.  Things come and go, often faster than we can react.  Sometimes it’s nice to have something that we can stick with for a long time, because it gives us a sense of substance, of meaning.  It may not always work out in the end (many shows have trouble resolving everything into a satisfying and conclusive finale), but for many of us it is the journey that truly counts.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

The Truth is Still Out There: A Reaction to the X-Files Revival

Note: spoilers for all of X-Files, new and old, follow.  Read at your own risk.

Few television show themes can claim the same fame as The X-Files.  It’s one of the most recognizable themes ever, with people being able to pick up on it only a second or two in.  It was a show that helped reshape television in the ’90s, airing from 1993 to 2002.  It was the longest running science-fiction television show until it was eclipsed by Stargate SG-1.  It holds a special place in many people’s hearts, myself included.  I can credit the show with being a major part of the reason I’m a fan of the horror and science-fiction genres.

But that was then.  And this is now.

Ever since the news about the show’s revival, fans have been patiently waiting to see how it would all turn out.  Other shows had been given the revival treatment and done well afterwards, heralding what many believed would be a return to form for what they consider one of the greatest shows to ever grace their screens.

I found myself underwhelmed by this new season.  It’s hard to fight the feeling that it might just be too late for X-Files.

 

Let’s start off by discussing the format they decided to take with this season.  They were given six episodes to work with, which doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for having filler content.  So what ends up happening is this: we get four standalone episodes and two episodes that deal with the overarching plot.  The standalone episodes are sandwiched in between the serialized episodes.  It’s what would you expect from the X-Files back in the ’90s.

And that’s exactly the problem.

X-Files debuted in a time when suspicion of the government was a common thing and conspiracy theories were widespread.  It sat comfortably in an era where the government was not to be trusted.  But things are different.  And now, the show feels like it’s trying too hard.  In the second episode, the dead person Mulder and Scully are investigating is revealed to have had a secret gay lover.  That’s fine.  It’s a real thing that happens, and served as a decent red herring leading to an amusingly awkward moment.  But later on in the episode Scully makes a pointed remark about how strange it is that the man would have to hide his sexual preferences in the year 2016.  That’s when it started to hit me.  The writers were deliberately saying to the audience “hey look, we’re topical…look at us we’re still relevant!”  And it became even more obvious in the next episode when Mulder and Scully interview a transgender person about a monster they saw.  At that point, I said to myself “you guys aren’t even trying to be subtle anymore.”

Then they did the Muslim bomber episode.  Because apparently you can’t have an investigation show without an episode about Islamic terrorists…

Not to mention that the episode is easily the weakest of the bunch.  The tone of the episode veers off all over the place.  First it’s about the debate over Muslims in the United States.  And then it’s about two quirky FBI agents who are basically younger versions of Mulder and Scully.  And then it’s about the allure of revenge, of getting back at the terrorists who commit such acts.  But hey, look over there!  Mulder’s tripping on some magic mushrooms ha ha ha let’s laugh at that for five minutes straight (it is admittedly amusing).

But wait no, that’s all wrong.  The episode is REALLY about the power of love vs. hatred or some other philosophical hoopla.  It’s like here’s point A, here’s point B, and the line in the middle is a scribbled mess similar to a child’s early attempt at drawing.

You know what?  I’ll draw it out for you.

 

I am the best at art. Don't you try to deny it.

I am the best at art. Don’t you try to deny it.

 

But I digress.  All of this topical stuff wouldn’t feel so out of place if it wasn’t  X-Files.  X-Files was about supernatural mystery.  It was about conspiracy.  It was about the pursuit of the truth.  It didn’t need to shine a light on the issues of its era.  It didn’t need to be so heavy-handed.  In essence, it seems that the show is playing catch up, trying its best to handle all of the big subjects that passed it by when it was off the air.

This becomes increasingly evident when you look at the mythology episodes (the episodes dealing with the serialized story arc).

If you were a fan of the show back in the day, you’ll likely remember that the main story arc of X-Files dealt with a massive government cover-up of the existence of alien life.  As the show got deeper and deeper into its run, a main antagonist was revealed in the form of a cabal of super-rich people with ties to the government.  Their main goal was to ensure their survival in a post-alien invasion world.  They agreed to cooperate with the aliens to ensure a smooth colonization of Earth as long as they and their families were spared the aliens’ wrath.  And all of this, as the series finale revealed, was set to happen in December of 2012.  The show ended without resolving the major plot, promising (or at the very least implying) that all would be brought to an end in a future movie.

And then they made the movie and it had nothing to do with the overall alien plot, leaving the fans unfulfilled.

But now, with the new season, the writers apparently decided “screw all that” and completely rewrote the entire mythology of the show.  I wish I was joking.  Basically in the first episode Mulder stumbles on this revelation that all their years on the X-Files were just an elaborate ruse to cover up an even greater conspiracy.  Apparently the aliens never wanted to invade at all.  They were only showing up because humanity finally had the capacity to wipe itself out with nuclear weapons.  They were worried about mankind, and the government used technology and medical data obtained at the Roswell crash to set up this elaborate conspiracy to wipe out all humans except for a chosen few.

And the plot starts sounding so absurd.  “They’re using satellites to control the weather,” the characters say.  “They’re militarizing the police force!  They’re controlling the food and water supply.  They’re controlling us with healthcare!  They’re using the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act to oppress the poor!  They’re slipping things into our vaccines!  They’re using microwave towers as a means to trigger a super virus, destroying our immune systems and culling the planet!”  It’s like they took all the conspiracy theories they could get their hands on and threw them in a blender.  In all fairness, part of the problem is that they only had two episodes dealing with the main story, so it ends up feeling rushed because of that.  Honestly they should have taken the entire six episodes and wrote one long arc for the entire season instead of trying to cram a bunch of standalone plots in there as well.  People don’t want that anymore.  People like their serialized shows.  They like Breaking Bad.  They like Game of Thrones.  By comparison, X-Files‘ structure ends up feeling archaic.

In a lot of ways, the new X-Files is a shambling zombie, limping behind its livelier counterparts in the television world.  It’s ironic, because X-Files helped define the kind of serialized storytelling that modern TV shows employ.  But now it’s caught between evolving and holding on to the remnants of its past.  It tries to be topical and deal with modern subject matter, but it also retains too much of the ’90s quirk (especially in the third episode, which while funny can be seriously off-putting for some).  Television is different now.  A show like X-Files can’t find great success in the same way it did back then.  If the show wants to stick around, it needs to evolve.  It needs to show audiences that it has something new to offer.  Granted, it’s hard to judge from only six episodes, but if the trend continues it could be bad for the show.

And yet, despite all that, I don’t hate the new season.  I never found myself overcome with an urge to simply stop watching.  Part of that might be due to my nostalgia, but I’d like to believe that the show still has a lot of life in it.  Despite my gripes about the new mythology and how it basically ignores a lot of what occurred in previous seasons, it still has a compelling atmosphere to it.  I found myself intrigued about where it will go from here.  And looking at how the season ends with a giant cliffhanger (that, fittingly enough, would feel squarely at home in a ’90s television show), it’s obvious that the creators have plans to keep the show going for a little while at least.

X-Files was revolutionary back in its heyday.  Let’s see if it can’t recapture some of that magic.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

False Progress: Why I Dislike the Idea of the Ocean’s 11 Reboot

Earlier in the year it was announced that a reboot of the classic Ghostbusters movie was in production featuring an all-female cast for the trio of Ghostbusters.  At the time, I didn’t really think a whole lot of it.  Sure it was weird, but free expression and all that.  Well now what were previously rumors have been confirmed.  There is a reboot of Ocean’s 11 in the works featuring yet again an all-female cast, spearheaded by Sandra Bullock herself.

Now I’m starting to take issue with this.

I don’t necessarily have an issue with the fact that this is being done.  Like I said, freedom of expression.  Where I start having problems is with how this kind of thing is treated in the media.  The news latches on to these stories and then these projects are hailed as some kind of progressive icon.  But that just begs the question: are these movies actually being progressive?  Or is there a more insidious undertone going on here, one that even the people spearheading these projects might not be aware of themselves?

Let me put it bluntly.  If we encourage this, the implication becomes that there are no good roles for women.  This isn’t progressiveness.  If anything, it’s regression, taking us back to a time when women’s roles were heavily stereotyped as the caretaker of the house and children.

The problem isn’t necessarily that there aren’t good roles for women in movies.  It’s that people don’t write them.  Instead, they seem to want to take the lazy way out, recasting a role originally written for a man.  And that’s exactly what’s happening with Ocean’s 11.  It’s not a completely new movie.  George Clooney himself opted to help recast his lead role for Sandra Bullock.

I’m not against the idea of an all-female heist movie.  I think that would be great.  But I don’t like the implication going on here.  I hate that it feels like movie studios are trying to capitalize on the popularity of the gender equality and feminist movements.  I hate that these movies are held up as a step forward, when it really feels like all we’re doing is taking a step back.  Instead of recasting roles for women, we should be writing roles for women from the ground up.

And there are great female roles out there.  Does anyone remember Ellen Ripley from Alien?  Her character was credited with helping challenge gender norms, particularly in the science fiction and horror genres, and that was all the way back in the 1970’s.  Here we had a female character who was tough as nails and carried the central action of the movie.

And what about Dana Scully from the X-Files?  She’s another character who proved that she can be a fully fleshed out and tough character (even if she is sometimes obnoxiously skeptical of everything Mulder says).  And continuing with that kind of trend, we have Olivia Dunham from Fringe, who is the only one of the central three characters who works in law enforcement and carries a gun on her nearly at all times.  Fully fleshed out female characters are out there, even if they are admittedly not always as prevalent as male ones.

But that’s just the point.  We shouldn’t be recasting men’s roles for women, because that doesn’t help us further along gender equality.  I mean what’s next, a reboot of Mrs. Doubtfire where instead of a man dressing up as a women, we have a women dressing up as a man?

Besides, no one can replace Robin Williams.  NO ONE.

I won’t automatically assume bad intentions on the part of those making these movies, because that would just be unfair of me, but even so they are responsible for the precedent they may be creating.  There are only these two major examples so far, but if the trend continues, it will become a problem.

Have you ever heard of the Bechdel test, or Bechdel-Wallace test?  It’s a test that asks whether a work of fiction includes at least two women who talk to each other about something that isn’t just another man.  The test has often been criticized because it doesn’t tell us if a film is a good model for gender equality or even if it has well-written, fleshed out female characters.  It’s too limited in that regard.  Walt Hickey from the polling aggregate site FiveThirtyEight observed this about the test, but also wrote that, “it’s the best test on gender equity in film we have — and, perhaps more important …, the only test we have data on”.  This indicates an issue surrounding the discourse on gender equality in movies.

A while back I wrote a post about Gamergate and female characters in video games.  And in it, I remarked on how the issue isn’t always that female characters in video games are overtly sexualized or relegated to background roles, but rather that the criticism surrounding them seems to be a little nitpicky, taking things out of context.  I feel like the same thing happens with the Bechdel test.  It limits itself to such a strict set of criteria that it doesn’t give us a good sense for how well a movie deals with the different genders.  And it doesn’t always take things in their proper context.  Sure, a woman may be relegated to working in the kitchen in a certain movie, but if that movie takes place in the 1950’s then it makes sense for it to be that way because that was the reality of things back then.

So to sum things up, the issue to me isn’t that there aren’t good female roles, it’s that we either don’t know how to write them or we spend too much time trying to find issues where there might not be any.  And if we keep looking in the wrong places, then we miss the problems that are in the right places.

 

And that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

Life Among the Stars: The Possibility of Aliens

Let’s set the mood with some music.  Why?  Don’t ask questions.

 

 

The setting?  Roswell, New Mexico.  The year?  1947.

It’s a clear, starry night in New Mexico when a strange object crashes near a ranch.  It is said to be circular in shape.  The government denies its existence, claiming that the debris was merely the remnants of a weather balloon.  But what really happened there all those years ago?  What really crashed in the middle of the desert?  Was there more than one?  Were the bodies recovered?  No one really knows…except for the ALIENS!

They’ve been watching us for a long time now…waiting…biding their time until they can enact their master plan.  They’ve been poking, prodding, abducting…looking for strategic weaknesses (because beings with the technology to travel to Earth would totally need to do that).  The government and the military have been trying to hold them back for decades, but their grasp on the situation is weakening.  Their efforts aren’t enough to save us.  It’s too late.

The invasion has already begun.

At least, that’s what some people like to think.  I am not one of them fortunately.

You can uh……you can turn off the music now.  If you haven’t already.

 

Being a big fan of science-fiction it’s no wonder that the idea of extraterrestrial life would be fascinating to me.  But there’s so many different perspectives on the idea of alien life that the question has to be answered: where do I lie on the spectrum?

Personally I believe that the universe is far too large for there not to be intelligent life out there somewhere.  Even considering the numerous factors that have to be taken into account for a world to be within the “Goldilocks zone” (the habitable zone near a star), there are far too many stars and galaxies out there that I can’t fathom the idea that Earth would be the only planet in all of existence to produce intelligent life.  So yes, I believe there is intelligent life somewhere out there in the universe.  Will we encounter aliens within my lifetime?  Probably not.  Considering the immense amount of space that has to be traversed in order to get from planet to planet, and how advanced they would be when they got here, I highly doubt they would care about us.  They’d probably just make a note of us and continue on their way.

So no, I don’t believe that aliens have already visited us.  There’s no evidence to support any claims like that.  Sure, we have plenty of conspiracy theories, but none of them have any solid ground to stand on.  Take the Roswell incident.  Sure, something odd happened in that desert in 1947, but nothing that screams “aliens”.  And sure, the government did deliberately hide things from the public, but documents released decades later show that it was little more than an Air Force project that went awry.  So, basically, no aliens.  Sorry guys.

I’m a Star Trek fan, so my idea of aliens is more along the lines of “people with their own problems and concerns” as compared to the “BLARG monster kill” version that we see so often in Hollywood movies these days.  I find it strangely funny how all of these alien invasion movies hinge on the fact that aliens would for some reason feel compelled to come down and smack the living crap out of us.  Maybe they get off on it or something, who knows?

The interesting thing about alien invasion movies is that they usually reflect our cultural attitudes at the time.  Take War of the Worlds for instance.  In the old 1950’s version, the aliens come from Mars, which was a reflection of how the Soviet Union was considered the enemy at the time.  We knew who our foe was.  But in the 2005 remake, the origin of the aliens is left unknown.  Instead of the tripods coming down on meteors like in the ’50s version, the machines were already there to begin with, buried under the Earth since before humanity even existed.  In this sense, it reflected our fear of being subverted from within, of the enemy already being among us (i.e. terrorists).

In any case I think that our imagination of aliens is probably going to be far from the reality.  Realistically, the chance of finding alien life in a humanoid form is pretty slim (not impossible, but slim).  So probably no Greys, no Romulans, and certainly no freaking Gungans (nobody likes you Jar Jar…NOBODY).  There’s also the chance that if we do encounter alien life, we might not even recognize it as life.

But until we are actually able to venture out among the stars and explore the universe in full, we’ll have to be content with our imaginations.

 

That’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everyone.