Hello friends, blog readers, geeks far and wide! Today we are gathered here to celebrate a very important show. A show that is so insistently tense that it might as well be mainlining adrenaline directly into my veins. A show that represents relationships between women in all their strange and amazing multiplicity and complexity. A show that is smart and funny and idiosyncratic and bold. A show that, above all, provides a showcase for the brilliance of Sandra Oh, an actor so gifted that every tilt of her head conveys ten different emotions.
(Image Description: A gif of Eve and Villanelle lying in bed together, fully clothed. Villanelle cradles a gun and has a bloody lip. The caption says “Are you gonna kill me,” and represents lines spoken by Eve. Source: Giphy)
The show is Killing Eve, and as you can see, I’m only slightly excited about it. Based on the Codename Villanelle novella series by Luke Jennings, and adapted by the inimitable Phoebe Waller-Bridge (the mastermind behind the brilliant Fleabag and Crashing), Killing Eve follows the intersecting lives of two women who are each enmeshed in a plot to pursue each other. Sandra Oh’s Eve is an American transplant living in London, a bored MI-5 officer who has outgrown her role and whose innate curiosity and intellect ensure that she will always crave something more than the cozy, tidy life she has constructed for herself. Portrayed by Jodie Comer (equally amazing in a diametrically opposite way in the groundbreaking series My Mad Fat Diary), Villanelle, on the other hand, is an immensely talented assassin and diagnosed psychopath with a mysterious backstory. When Eve catches onto Villanelle’s trail of seemingly disconnected kills, she finds herself propelled down a quest to apprehend one mercurial, enigmatic, highly dangerous, and absolutely irresistible target – Villanelle – who, in turn, becomes equally obsessed with her dogged pursuer.
(Image Description: A gif of standing in her apartment with a bloody lip. The caption says “I think about you too.” Source: Giphy)
There is nothing easy in the relationship that develops between Eve and Villanelle. Fraught from its inception, stretched to the brink my their actions, it still manages to spark with a kind of palpable energy. Scenes with the two of them are kinetic and electrified, as impossible to pin down as they are to resist. Just as Eve and Villanelle cannot resist their mutual obsession, so too is the viewer implicated in their mesmerizing dynamic, unwilling to look away even when we know we should.
(Image Description: A gif of Eve and Villanelle. Eve looks terrified and holds a toilet brush out towards Villanelle in self defense. Source: Giphy)
It is important to note that, from its very first episodes, the show has been wholeheartedly embraced by the queer community. Deftly sidestepping the pitfalls of queerbaiting, homonormativity, and (perhaps counterintuitively) queer demonization that so often befall mainstream television, Killing Eve presents a central relationship that is unmistakably queer even as it defies easy categorization. Stripped of the trappings of a traditional onscreen relationship, the show still manages to depict a red-hot core of infatuation that not only gives what could have been a stale cat-and-mouse game a palpably fresh urgency, but also expands the possibilities of what queer representation in television (and beyond) can look like: intimate, thrilling, complex, and provocative.
(Image Description: A gif of Villanelle chewing and holding up a sandwich. The caption say “That is massively poignant.” Source: Giphy)
If you, like me, geek out about queer representation, about espionage, about people with British accents typing very quickly on keyboards and referencing CC-TV, or about Sandra Oh being the lead in one of the best TV series of our time, please allow Killing Eve to change your life. You won’t regret it.
(Image Description: A gif of Eve pleading with another character whose face isn’t shown. The caption says “I have to find her.” Source: Giphy)
Doctor Who and the holidays will always be intrinsically linked. This may be because of the annual holiday special the show airs every year. Or perhaps this sci-fi mainstay feels so full of festive because of its tone–it’s rare to find a show that is so unfailingly positive in its belief in humanity’s goodness.
Now that the most wonderful time of the year is upon us, it’s time for me to rundown the top five Doctor Who episodes to watch during the holidays.
Instead of picking episodes that all focus on the holiday season, I chose stories that combine thrilling plots, terrifying baddies, and heartwarming lessons to create the perfect “spirit of the season” blend.
So, let’s get to it! No time like the present, unless, of course, it’s the past. Love the past. Good place. You should visit sometime. Are you paying attention? Here we go.
Once the cold weather returns to my neck of the woods, I like to cuddle up with a blanket watch and science fiction. There’s something about the dark evening that sends my mind to a dreamy, speculative place.
While I’m always on the lookout for new shows, books, and movies, sometimes it’s nice to revisit old favorites. To kick things off, here are my picks for sci-fi shows to re-watch (or check out for the first time) this season.
Starring the incredible Tatiana Maslany in more than 14 different roles, this BBC America series is one of the best ongoing series around.
The plot revolves around Sarah Manning, a troubled British woman who wants to make amends with her daughter and adopted family. While waiting for the subway she encounters a crying woman who looks exactly like her. Before Sarah can confront her, the mysterious twin throws herself in front of an oncoming train. Sarah gets more than she bargained for when decides to assume the dead woman’s identity. The truth is that they are clones, and there are a lot more of them. As she is wound deeper into the mystery, Sarah must struggle to keep herself, her family, and her new-found sisters safe.
This near-future science fiction show has so much going for it that I don’t know where to start. The writing is superb, the characters talk like real people, and although the plot is complex, it’s always presented clearly. More than anything, the writers have an excellent understanding of voice, and they use it to full effect. Every character is three-dimensional, which is very important when you have one actor playing so many different roles.
American television has seen some recent changes from a casting and technical stance. These are not changes we should heed with warning, but rather welcome.
Lately, women of color have been attaining more lead character roles, directing opportunities, and writing positions. Some prime examples of women of color as main characters that are killing it are shows like The Get Down (Herizen Guardiola is mixed race), Jane the Virgin (Gina Rodriguez is Latina), and American Crime (Regina King is African-American).These shows portray women of color as real people, not some stereotype. They show the struggles they go through and give a realistic view of the world where not everyone is white and looks and dresses a certain way.
There are more shows taking the leap and casting women of color in main roles (such as Fresh Off the Boat, Empire and Blackish), but what this might mean is that America is finally changing its stance on white people being in charge. However, this does not seem to be the case when it comes to directing, writing, and producing.
I have a pretty established preference for the serious when it comes to T.V. drama. (TGIT, anyone?) However, one night, about a year ago, in a room-cleaning daze, I happened upon the silliest, most light-hearted, and most romance-novel romantic series I know of: Jane the Virgin. It’s the opposite of everything I’ve come to expect from a binge-worthy dramatic T.V. series and yet, I love it.
Jane the Virgin is about a woman, Jane, who, in the midst of finishing school, getting engaged, and suddenly reuniting with her long-lost superstar father, is accidentally artificially inseminated. The premise is loosely based on a Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la Virgen, and is a jarring but captivating juxtaposition of telenovela tropes and real characters and problems. The drama is decadent, the writing is masterful, and the characters are hilarious, but that’s not the reason I will recommend the show to anyone and everyone. That’s not what has caused me to write not one but two academic papers analyzing the story’s development. I love Jane the Virgin because I love Jane.
Written by Adrienne M. Roehrich, Manager of Editorial Services
Not too many weeks ago, GeekGirlCon ‘13 was held in Seattle, WA. ‘Geeks With Disabilities’ was a late addition to the programming at GeekGirlCon ‘13. Half-blind and half-deaf geek Elsa Sjunneson-Henry led the panel with ally Stevi Costa, a graduate student in literature who’s work focuses on disability in literature.
In case you missed the panel description on the Fresh Sheet: “From cosplay to comics to literature to superheroines, Geeks with Disabilities explores both the real life experiences of persons with disabilities (both visible and invisible) and their fictional media counterparts.”
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry in cosplay at GeekGirlCon ‘13. Image courtesy of Elsa Sjunneson-Henry.
First up, they tackled, “Why we should be talking about disability in pop culture. Why is it important to us, why is it important to have at a con like this.”
The use of disability in mainstream media is often used as a narrative crutch or as inspiration porn, and is usually something that happens to a character, not as a birth trait (unless the character is supernatural or a superhero.) And then the focus is on overcoming the disability. Stevi points out that an able-bodied viewer then reads that as an inspiration for overcoming obstacles. Elsa says as a person with a disability, she “dreams about things I want to do, not the things I can’t do.”
This led into a discussion about Glee, a show they love to “hate-watch.” Glee was chosen as a place to start because it is promoting a neo-liberal, multi-diversity, body-positive, all-inclusive environment. Critiques included having an able-bodied person play the wheelchair using character, who, in one episode, gets out of his wheelchair and dances. The episode is doubly unfortunate because it completely obliterates the previous effort of the show up until that point of normalizing this situation.
In another episode, an outrageously expensive piece of equipment, the ReWalk, appears. This is an amazing tool that creates an odd juxtaposition that it is never seen in the series again. Elsa says, “If someone gave me a bionic eye for Christmas, you can be sure as hell I’d be wearing it every single day.”
Yet, they later do other things right. For instance, two paralyzed characters get together and crack what Stevi calls “a great joke afterwards that nobody gets unless they were a person with a disability or an ally in that community.”
Elsa points out the episode in The Glee Project where a music video about bullying was being made, and the cane of the blind character was taken away as a bullying moment. This moment was painful to Elsa, who has experienced the same situation where bullies have taken her cane away in order to make fun of her. In addition, the show handled it very poorly by not admonishing the actor who made this decision, which could have hurt his scene partner.
They moved onto the character Becky Jackson, a character with Down Syndrome played by an actor with Downs. Stevi particularly likes her sassiness. Her character was well-developed, and then inexplicably she becomes a school-shooter. Her action and motivation are inconsistent with the character. Her motivation is given as she is afraid to graduate, which implies there is no life for those with disabilities after they leave the support of high school. Elsa points out “I survived, I went to college, I did all of the things I wanted to do, and now I’m sitting in front of you because I actually have a profession.” She clarifies that she was afraid to leave her very supportive high school where she was given tools to excel, but that she went out into the world, and it didn’t require blowing fear out of proportion into harming those around her.
Comics were delved into, with specific mentions of Oracle, a character that had been paralyzed and then was cured in the reboot of her storyline. She is the most high profile woman in comics with a visible disability, and the creators took that away. Not only was she in a wheelchair, she was drawn correctly, which got a thumbs up. Daredevil was well-liked because he was blind and used a cane and was super awesome and had some extra-sensory stuff going on. Unfortunately, he never used his cane while in his superhero costume. Elsa wanted to see a superhero’s cane, so she had someone make her one. Notwithstanding, the movie, with its Braille credits, didn’t even keep Elsa viewing for more than the first couple minutes.
Photo by Tyler Pruitt.
This brought the panel into a discussion of disability and cosplay. “People with disabilities should be able to cosplay. We should be able to cosplay as whoever we want. And I believe we should not be told, ‘you cannot play that character because you are blind’,” says Elsa. When cosplaying, able-bodied people can fall into some issues. One of which is asking those with disabilties where they got their props – such as a cataracted eyeball. Elsa has been asked exactly this about her blind eye which she has from birth as a Rubella baby.
Another issue becomes that of cultural appropriation. While cosplay in cultures involving race and ethnicity has a voice, one that is still silent is that of disability. Disability does have a culture. So, when able-bodied people put on a disability, such as an eye patch, a cane, a wheelchair, as a costume, when they disable themselves for fashion or costuming, it makes Elsa and many of her friends very frustrated. They need legitimacy. They need to be recognized and read as people with disabilities. The more that able-bodied people use disability as a costume and fictionalize it, the more the disabled have to explain themselves. Elsa says, “Also, I really like it when people treat me like a human being and not like a fictional character.”
From there, the discussion moved onto what happens when able-bodied actors play disabled characters and then are rewarded for doing so. It intensifies the fictionalization problem. Examples include Daniel Day Lewis playing Christy Brown in My Left Foot, Al Pacino’s oscar for playing a blind man (badly), and Tom Hanks who is rewarded for both Forrest Gump and Philadelphia.It is pointed out that there are many actors who have the disabilities these able-bodied actors are wearing, that directors could be using. When The Miracle Worker appeared on Broadway a few years ago, a call went out for visually impaired actresses to play Helen Keller. Unfortunately, they were slated to be an understudy for an able-bodied actress. This is problematic. An attendee mentioned that name recognition is a part of that cycle. Stevi says that the ‘cult of personality’ that arises around actors doesn’t happen with disabled actors because it is seen as a limitation.
The panel asks, Can we shift from seeing disability as a limitation to seeing what we can do with people of various bodies?
The panel moved onto discussing conventions (cons) and accessible spaces. GeekGirlCon got some kudos for having Introvert Alley, a place for people to go to relax and find some peace away from the crowds, and also because the community of GeekGirlCon is respectful. Elsa mentions seeing many people with disabilities present who seem pretty comfortable. She relates the story that someone recognized her SteamCane as a White Cane and moved someone out of the way for her, which was a novel experience for her at a con. Other cons were called out for a lack of accessibility. Cons can do well to think about things like how to get around, having ASL interpreters, having the hearing aid link into the sound system available, and including panels that discuss these things.
A question arose about how to read if a disability exists and if the tool that is being used is necessary. This discussion did spark a bit of ire in the attending group. Generally it came down to trust. It’s inappropriate to request someone disclose their disability – visible or invisible. Unfortunately, there is enough stigma surrounding having a disability requiring a tool, such as having a therapy dog present, that people are highly uncomfortable self-identifying with those disabilities. There becomes a line where someone who is trying to be an ally can cross into policing. Again, trusting people to be using a tool to take care of their own (likely invisible) disability, of which there are many, rather than abusing such a tool or putting on the tool as a way to get something they want, is necessary.
This transitioned into the topic of policing. We moved a little out of the realm of geek culture into life in general. Stevi brings up the topic of able-bodied people becoming angry at someone for using a handicap parking space who doesn’t appear to need it, but it isn’t really the place of an able-bodied person to take on that issue. There are those who don’t need their cane every single day. Just because Elsa can wear glasses and read her smart phone does not mean she isn’t blind. She is blind and having an able-bodied person ask her if she is really blind or pick up her white cane because he is curious infringes on her person. She says, “It isn’t okay.” It isn’t okay for any person to investigate her disability and inquire as to how she became disabled. (Disabled cred, anyone?) Generally, socially, people with disabilities are seen as public property, and not as the human beings they are.
Bringing it back into media, Stevi points out that much of the viewpoint of people with disabilities being investigated comes from the narrative of the able-bodied become disabled through some event is the dominant paradigm. So therefore people who are unaware of this cultural conditioning feel free to ask about this life event, regardless of if there is one or if it is appropriate to ask.
About this time, the panel opened the discussion up to the floor. While this post doesn’t cover all of the topics brought up by the floor, here are a few highlights:
“Covert Affairs” is mentioned, not as a good show, but because the character is blind and has a sexual storyline, which is rare and happens to be done correctly.
Yes, people with disabilities are sexy. Yes, they know they are sexy. How? As Stevi points out, Elsa has hands.
Back to cosplay – there’s no issue with those who have a disability cosplaying able-bodied characters. However, able-bodied people cosplaying characters with disabilities need to find a way to cosplay without using the character’s assistive devices, says Elsa. While Stevi says that intention and respect is important. She feels that one can use assistive devices in a respectful way, and a way that actually makes the device clearly not real. E.g., Jordi LaForge’s visor gets a pass because it isn’t a real assistive device.