Thursday, 31 August 2017

Reading List: August.


Ytasha Womack: Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture.


Yiyun Li: The Vagrants. 
Viet Thanh Nguyen: The Refugees.
N.K. Jemisin: The Stone Sky.
Michelle Tea: Black Wave.


Top of the Lake, Season 2.
Game of Thrones, Season 5 and 6.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Orphan Black - Table of Contents

Season One. 

Season Two: 

Nature Under Constraint and Vexed.
Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion.
Mingling Its Own Nature With It.
Governed as It Were by Chance.
Ipsa Scientia Potestas.
To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings.
Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things.
Variable and Full of Perturbation.
Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done.
By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried.

Season Three: 

The Weight of This Combination.
Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis.
Formalized, Complex, and Costly.
Newer Elements of Our Defense.
Scarred By Many Past Frustrations.
Certain Agony of the Battlefield. 
Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate. 
Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method. 
Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow. 
History Yet to Be Written. 

Season Four: 

The Collapse of Nature.
Transgressive Border Crossing.
The Stigmata of Progress.
From Instinct to Rational Control.
Human Raw Material.
The Scandal of Altruism.
The Antisocialism of Sex.
The Redesign of Natural Objects. 
The Mitigation of Competition. 
From Dancing Mice to Psychopaths.

Season Five: 

The Few Who Dare.
Clutch of Greed.
Beneath Her Heart.
Let the Children and Childbearers Toil.
Ease for Idle Millionaires.
Manacled Slim Wrists.
Gag or Throttle.
Guillotines Decide.
One Fettered Slave.
To Right the Wrongs of Many.

Orphan Black – Freedom looks different to everyone.

Orphan Black: 5x10 To Right the Wrongs of Many.

Five years of this, and what I can find are disconnected thoughts on what Orphan Black was – and how it accomplished to forge its own path, to end on its own terms, something that is so often not possible for ambitious stories told in this particular format. It was a long time ago, but I started watching the show – as did, I think, quite a few other people – in the aftermath of Bomb Girls being cancelled prematurely, and tragically never being able to tell this story that should have lasted well beyond the end of WW2. 

I think the thing that stands out to me the most in this final episode titled To Right the Wrongs of Many is how eloquently it concedes that the strong point of Orphan Black was never the great fight scenes, or the moments in which the monsters finally perished. The most obvious example of this is Leekie’s rather inglorious demise at the hands of a panicked Donnie Hendrix, shot more by accident than anything else by an incompetent man who didn’t know his gun safety procedures, and then buried under a garage, to finally end as nothing more than a McGuffin. If the deaths of individual monsters made much of a difference, this would be an entirely different show, but in many ways, they simply served as stand-ins for the ideologies that the Sisters had to battle against to truly be free. Here, Westmoreland has already lost before he even goes into his final battle against Sarah Manning. He is an ailing old man, gaining temporary energy from shooting medical grade methamphetamines, which only serve to showcase how grotesque he has become. The source of his power – his myth, his island, his followers – has already been stripped from him. So he can still do damage as a person, the way any man raging over having lost his privilege can, but his eventual and again, rather unceremonious death, isn’t the point of this episode, or the grand end point of this journey. It’s a perfunctory necessity that Sarah performs quickly, with a gas canister to the head, because it doesn’t take much more to end the man who was just the most recent impersonation of an idea that stretched back centuries before his birth. 

The same goes for Virginia Coady, who by all rights should have been dead this whole time, along with her failed Castor programme and the sons she so readily sacrificed for the cause. Her contribution to Neolution was in many ways what eventually brought the entire monstrous thing down in the first place – the idea of inserting genocide to purify the human race. Before this, and without it, there is an alternative version of the show and everything that Sarah and her sisters along with Felix, Siobhan, Adele, Scott and Art accomplished where Neolution so neatly transformed itself from a mid-Victorian eugenics society into a 21st century corporate conglomerate that absolutely nothing could have removed them from the future of human history. I still find this particular idea too unexplored on the show – that Neolution, and Dyad, transformed themselves along with capitalism itself into the 21st century, that they perfectly adapted themselves into business and corporate structures that look acceptable and normal. They had a board, PR people, and their hands in every modern industry, ticking all the boxes. If it hadn’t been for Virginia’s attempt to include her genocidal rage into all of this, I wonder how much of a difference Delphine and Cosima leaking all of that corporate information truly would have made (or rather, the most horrifying thought that this show allows – that the public may have found out about the fact that Dyad copyrighted human beings and made them corporate property and wouldn’t have cared, because it fits in so very neatly with how we understand capitalism to work). 

In any case – Helena is the one who gets a chance at that particular double- (or triple-) tap, putting an end to Virginia Coady even though she is heavily in labour with two twins, because these women save themselves, and each other, and all these friends, lovers and associates help out of adoration and admiration for them. Art stands by, watching the scene unfolding with a mixture of horror and delight, which is exactly how we will look back at Helena, now that the show is over. 

Which is as good a segue as any: I wonder if Helena was always conceptualised for this trajectory, or originally intended as nothing more than the horror of a clone brought up into hatred for her own, indoctrinated into an ideology of self-hatred that translated into murder, meant to perish at the end of season one to never be seen again. And then the inevitable happened and Tatiana Maslany’s genius made her into a character too good to be lost. The other side to the story of Orphan Black’s creators having the opportunity to tell the story on their own terms, and to plan so far ahead, is that none of it would ever have been possible without an actress who could carry the burden of the brilliant concept at the heart of the show. Tatiana Maslany personified the idea that nurture can shape women with the same genetic make-up into entirely different people, that individuality and personality exist in spite of a shared biology. Apart from the still unimaginable physical effort of spending five years on a show where she was in almost every scene, often as more than one character, the sheer acting accomplishment of creating so many diverse and completely unique characters, maintaining their uniqueness throughout to a level where it was often easy to forget that they weren’t played by different actresses, is a feat for the ages that is probably unparalleled in television history. 

This final episode isn’t the story of Neolution in its death throes, and all of its defenders finally perishing, even if it is deeply satisfying to see Westmoreland end where the ideology that has so long sustained him began – in an old Victorian building, that has been closed down and is ready to be demolished. It’s about what it means for the Sisters that the people who have claimed them as their property have finally lost and no longer have a place in the world where they can exercise their power. More than that, this moment also contains one of the most important lines of the whole show: “You’ve got nothing to do with who we are”. Sarah is denying that these people who have meddled and fought so hard to cage them have much to do with who they are, as people – that their status as the scientists behind their creation gives them no power over who each and every one of them has become on their own. 
It’s about the moment of walking into the light, the “what now” of the aftermath. It’s beautiful that even before that, the show goes back to a Sarah Manning who didn’t know what she was yet, and made a choice that changed her entire life, sitting in a car with her mother Siobhan in front of a Planned Parenthood building, debating whether to have Kira or not. Sarah remembers, as she helps her sister Helena give birth to her twins. It’s the ultimate symbol of a new beginning, twins born into a freedom that their mother and aunts haven’t known until this moment. 

I have a well-documented dislike of epilogues, especially when they glance over the impact that all of these terrible experiences and losses have had. There is a reason why the “what now” is rarely part of the main story, especially when the characters have been shaped by their fight. What comes after walking away from the crater of the Hellmouth? Imagine, for example, a Sarah Connor who no longer has to fight the end of humanity, or prepare her son for the coming apocalypse. It’s impossible to imagine such a moment ever occurring in TSCC (as sad as it is that the show ended so prematurely), but even harder to imagine who Sarah Connor would be if she ever found her peace. 

Sarah, the very reluctant heroine who in the end, helped save her sisters and herself, hasn’t had a chance to grieve the loss of her mother, and the urge to run is still as deeply engraved in her being as ever. It’s not possible anymore now, both because she has Kira, and because her sisters and their extended families (which include Art and his daughter, Charlotte, Scott – a big, chosen family that has survived impossible things and is now stronger for it) keep her rooted in this place. The downside is that she lives in the house that Siobhan died in and that there is no way to outrun her memories and her grief anymore. 
She still tries, though. She runs away from sitting her GEDs. She packs up the boxes and puts the house up for sale. She sulks through Helena’s baby shower – as always, the grumpy woman clad in black finishing a bottle of beer too quickly, standing out like a sore thumb in Alison’s beautifully decorated suburban home in Bailey Downs (where Helena raises her two sons, Orange and Purple, in the Hendrixes’ garage). 
After overcoming everything, after fighting for her life and that of her sisters, after gaining independence from a worldwide conglomerate of entrenched corporate power, all that is left for Sarah to do is confront the demons that never had to do anything with Dyad or Leekie, with Neolution or being a clone. It is still the moment in the car, with Siobhan, deciding to have Kira, and then finding herself unable to carry the consequences. Sarah hasn’t forgiven herself for running away, or thought about the fact that she isn’t the same person anymore who used to run away, that the automatic flight instinct no longer applies here, as much as it comes back to her like muscle memory. She didn’t do it when she realised what they were all up against, after taking over Beth’s life. The hardest part now, in the aftermath, is figuring out how she can carry that bravery and all the things she has learned about herself into a normal, everyday life, in which so many other skills that she has acquired no longer apply. She is like a soldier with PTSD, reintegrating into civilian life but more than that, writing a story about herself in which she is the kind of person that deserves a normal life. 
Sarah: I carry around all these mistakes. I don’t know how to be happy. There’s no one left to fight, and I’m still a shit mom.
The only way that all of this loss and grief was worth it if it led to them all being together, and the greatest conclusion is that the aftermath isn’t easy, because even when life is stripped of the obvious villains, it still doesn’t come easily and without burdens. The sisters try to explain to Sarah that motherhood isn’t easy even without the constant threat of Neolution, that it is part of the process to often feel like you’re failing. 

Their story is an embroidery with many beginnings, and no ends, like Helena’s story, Orphan Black, which begins with Sarah, seeing a spitting image of herself jumping off a train platform. It’s a story about Rachel Duncan who grew up comparing herself and measuring herself by all these women, always trying to come up on top because that was the only game she was ever taught to play, handing over a file of all of the clones so that Cosima and Delphine can save them, but not being allowed inside, because she has caused too much grief, too much harm, to ever be part of this family. It’s the story of Delphine, spending the rest of her life keeping her promise that she will try to save and love each and all of Cosima’s sisters. It’s the story of Alison, who will raise her own extended family of adopted children with her husband Donnie, who I guess she loves. And more than that, it’s the story of all these people who fell in love with the Sisters, who were thrown into a fight that wasn’t their own and yet gave it their all, sometimes sacrificing everything. It was all for this – for all of these children, all of these other women, never having to do what they did. 

Random notes: 

There is a lot that remains to be said about this show, but for now – in the back of my head, I’m just thinking about how much of this year’s television history has been about heroic motherhood, and mothers fighting unbelievable fights. And also, because Orphan Black was allowed to end on its own terms, I think there is no better time than to campaign for Underground to be given the same grace. 

THAT PORTRAIT OF SIOBHAN WITH THE TEA CUP AND THE GUN. If I ever spend a lot of money on a television prop, that would be it. 

“This is Yusef, my Uber driver”.

Delphine Cormier will save all of them and like a solid 20% will flirt with her. Cosima understands and accepts. 

In the end, it doesn’t take much at all to overwhelm Enger. All of these monsters are stripped of their power quite easily. 

A sidenote, at the end here: does anyone want to comment on how they feel about Cosima and Delphine curing all the other clones, but not telling them anything about their history? Should they know? Do they have a right to know about their own history? It’s obviously not as blatant a violation as that much-quoted other ending was (is it really the great feminist revolution to force all the potentials to become slayers if the very way in which slayers were first created was an act of patriarchal misogynist brutality against a woman?), but still, a bit more problematic than I’m comfortable with. 

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Das Lied zum Sonntag

Alice Glass - Without Love

[via Dazed]
Jessy Lanza - I Talk BB

Don’t look when you talk to me, oh

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Pretty Little Liars – Because without fear, there can be no courage.

What if we chose to interpret the ending of this show, seven or eight years in the making, differently from what is obviously expected of us? What if the conclusion that it is entirely okay and happy to marry your first high school loves, your bullies and tormentors, the paedophile teachers who spun your love falsely into a tragic love story, was entirely false and a lie, somehow brought to life and sustained by a network lacking the courage to allow this theory to be brought to full fruition? I choose to believe that these two version of Pretty Little Liars, which have coexisted from the beginning, still do so, that there are two entirely different readings of what unfolds here which are both valid, but force the individual reader to emerge from entirely different tunnels if they choose to follow that path. 

More than that, I choose to believe that the show encourages this reading of itself. For what other reason would we start this finale with Mona’s glimpse of a snowball, with five girls still trapped in the small town of their birth, with no means of escape, constantly making more decisions that will trap them there? Looking back at these seven seasons, maybe that was the point all along: all those paths that potentially led out of Rosewood, the big-city careers, the lovers who left for other colleges, the fianc├ęs from other countries: at each of these forks in the road, the girls chose a path that led them straight back to Rosewood, as if the world outside didn’t even truly exist as an option. In the end, does it even matter that A bound them there, that the central mystery of their lives brought them back again and again, if that choice itself over time became one that each of them made willingly? Because each of them had options that took them away from Rosewood which bear considering now, at the end of the long road. Emily could have followed Paige where she went, wherever she managed to stay alive. Spencer could have gone anywhere, with her grades. Aria was an editor and could have edited anyone but her high school teacher, who has groomed her into a bride to be. Hanna designed fashion, which could be done so easily from anywhere else but Rosewood. But still, here they are: back in the old haunting grounds, trapped in this place forever. 

If we choose to deliberately change or perspective of this entire show, then this is the story of one girl, solving a mystery, getting on top of things, ready to sacrifice anything just to be able to write her own story. What if Pretty Little Liars was only a story with a happy ending if we had to accept Mona’s point of view as the valid one? What if the girl who, in the end, has finally made it out of Rosewood, to Paris, won the game and everything else that was at stake? It’s one thing to marry your high school sweetheart and to raise children together, and another altogether to best the villain for good and manage to trap them in a dollhouse of your own making. These are two entirely separate paths and only one of them leads out of Rosewood, into the world beyond. 

The five girls will always exist this way, and there is no way out of it. Maybe the positive way of reading it is that nobody outside their circle will ever understand their suffering, the story of their lives: that nobody but Ali, Toby, Caleb and Ezra will ever comprehend what it means to grow up in this war, with those sacrifices. But the other reading is that only Mona truly won the game, because she truly faced her demons, and came out on top, trapping the thing that had trapped her for so many years in a dollhouse: that only Mona gets to leave, because she won the game in the end. And none of that even mentions the core of the mystery, which in the end, maybe was never the point at all. 

The girl was jealous, more than anything, of the closeness, of the affection, of the fact that these four or sometimes five girls were willing to die for each other, for their friendship. She was seething with jealousy. She had been brought to a different continent, but nothing ever made her feel this close, this understood. 

And I think nothing will ever make up for the fact that this show, in the end, decided to go down this path – a last minute decision that Spencer would have the twin, not Ali, that the way the books would be paid homage to would be for Spencer, and Troian, to perform in that way. It’s hard to even conceive at what point this decision was made, and how much this show has lost just based on avoiding all the things that the viewers may have predicted. Maybe a better course would have been to think things through from the beginning, but then, perhaps it is interesting that this is where it ended up with. There was never a way out from Ali and Emily, regardless of any kind of objection that someone might have had regarding the complete rewriting of Ali’s character, or the problematic fact that Ali, for many seasons, was written as Emily’s tormentor, someone who ridiculed her for who she was, and more than that, tortured her girlfriend almost to suicide: and that wasn’t even the worst of it, because it doesn’t take into account that Ezra Fitz was forgiven for preying on teenage girls who were also his students, for spying on them, and being fully aware of the reality they faced, yet doing nothing to save them except writing a good story about them. In the end, Ezra has come full circle by marrying the student he preyed on, and becoming the topic of discussion in a high school English class led by Ali DiLaurentis. It’s very hard to find a way back from this, or to somehow salvage seven years of storytelling, a few of which arguably earned the title of best show on television (for a few episodes, for a few, hopeful moments, where Pretty Little Liars didn’t shy away from what it could be). 

Spencer’s twin watched, and grew more and more jealousy of the intimacy of a close friendships, of sacrifice. And then she chose to intervene, and somehow managed to pass as Spencer herself, because maybe, in the spur of the moment, and maybe that’s the truest story PLL has ever told, the girls were too self-involved to realise that one of their best friends had been transplanted by a stranger. As Troian Bellisario tries to master these strange vowels (and fails, which is the hardest lesson out of this – that wanting to be Tatiana Maslany can be the ruin of an entire show, that acting can measure up, but voice-lessons sometimes don’t), the show descents into its last moments of madness. It’s a good conclusion, in a way, that this whole time, a fake Truman-show version of Rosewood existed that imprisons those who set foot in it, that looks so very much like the real thing, yet isn’t quite there, and is inescapable. It’s a Dollhouse of sorts, for those who never make it out alive. Hanna and Caleb are deeply unhappy in their marriage, because Hanna is still willing to sacrifice all for Mona, and nothing, not even the child, will make up for it. Ali will always have been the girl who tortured not just Emily, but all of Rosewood High. Ezra will never not be a pathetic high school teacher who so eloquently seduced an underage girl that he is now married to her, and basing an entire career on writing about what a special little snowflake he is. Toby recognised Alex Drake as not Spencer not from making love to her, but from the lack of personal marks on Spencer’s favourite collection of poems. 
There is nothing much to be said here. Seven or eight years, with the potential of being one of the most eloquent story about the horrors of patriarchy, traded away for whatever travesty this final few seasons chose to be. There are glimpses, still – glimpses that I thoroughly have to believe Marlene King was aware of, when she had Mona play with her dolls, in the end, the only person who truly got what she had always wanted. 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Orphan Black - Come on meathead, stay with me.

Orphan Black: 5x09 One Fettered Slave.

Just remember my lads. Death is nothing at all, I’ve only slipped into the next room. You can call me by my old familiar name, put no sorrow in your tone. I promise we will laugh at this difficult passing when we meet again. All my love, S.
There isn’t much that can be said about this almost-last episode of Orphan Black. It’s a visceral experience to look at Helena’s childhood and see how she came to be, the little orphan girl who made the error of looking behind the veil and seeing power fail, the danger of holding incriminating information over people who hold power – a little girl who stole chocolate from a drawer, watched something she wasn’t supposed to, and was punished severely. It’s not made clear here if this is how Tomas found her, or if he would have found her in any case, but it makes it clear that Helena’s life has always been about surviving in the face of odds that were stacked against her. Even trapped in the cellar, with her head drenched in bleach, she still eats the stolen delights. 

Tomas turned this little girl into a weapon by depriving her of any context, any outside world. He poisoned her with a strict ideology that she only came to understand fully when she finished her first mission – when she realised that the copies that she is killing because they are an abomination against Tomas’ god look exactly like her. It takes a new story, a new set of lies, to explain this to her, to make her believe that she is the original, the one who is still in god’s grace. Somehow, she will escape all of this, and somehow, she will understand that each and every one of her sisters (save maybe Rachel, but she’s had a hard life too) is the light. The point here is maybe that every person before Sarah, Cosima and Alison that she has trusted has lied to her, has constructed stories that kept her trapped in a small room. It leads to Virginia Coady, telling her she would not be a good mother to a child, where for a moment we think that lie leads to absolute capitulation, to Helena giving up and slitting her wrists, until it all lines up into a brilliant plan (that only succeeds because of a few gods in the machine) to save herself. Presumably, she knows how to cut herself without dying. Presumably, she guessed that her beloved sister would come to save her, because she has promised to make up for not loving her enough only recently. 
This is how a seemingly hopeless situation is suddenly turned on its head, with Scott and Comic Book Shop Guy (who apparently worked security – at Dyad?) and Art and Felix doing their best to save Helena while Sarah grieves for her mother and takes care of her grieving daughter. They figure out that Helena hasn’t been taken to the island, because the island is now lost to Westmoreland, he is on his last leg, and has carved out a new burrow in the old research building (which fittingly used to be an asylum) right next to the now police-swarmed Dyad institute. Helena’s children are a last-ditch hope for his survival, now that his life’s work, or any pretence that it was ever about anything but his own eternal life and reputation and power, are falling apart entirely. Virginia Coady is starting to doubt him, too, but not early enough for Mark, who she mercy-kills shockingly, the last of her children to go, and not early enough for her not to bear Helena’s full wrath for calling her a bad mother, and proving to be just another person ready to trap her in a cage. 
This is also the story of her life – the sister whose transgression she witnessed, where she got punished because she had realised that someone else wasn’t infallible, the insane Prolethean who raised her knowing absolutely nothing himself about the world he despised, and finally, Virginia Coady, the monster mother who killed her own children and yet argued she was the one not fit for motherhood. 

One monster is left to slay, and a few henchmen, but the substance of hundreds of years of Neolution is crumbling into dust. 

Random notes: 

As said before, this was a visceral episode more than anything, so it’s hard to really talk about the threads coming together – the other major point here was maybe that Art is at the brink as well, and kills for the sisters, finally stepping out of his role as a law-abiding police officer, when he gets rid of Frontenac. 
Al-Khatib: I told you, I don’t know where he has taken the science.
Rachel: Her name is Helena.
I’ve been quietly amazed by the choices this show had made with Detective Engers, just fascinated by the kind of brain that would come up with someone so freaking terrifyingly weird.

In a season titled with poetry, the one S chose for her own funeral seems very fitting - Death is Nothing At All by Henry Scott-Holland, "Whatever we were to each other, that we are still".