Game of Thrones Wrap-Up: The Pack Survives, and the Starks May Win the Game

Starks

SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 7.

 

In winter, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.

And who would have guessed a few seasons ago that the strongest “pack” on Game of Thrones would be the Starks? Think about it. The Tyrells and the Martells are all dead, the Arryns and the Baratheons and the Tullys nearly so. Even the Lannisters are so decimated and fractured at this point that their strength may never recover. Jaime may never be able to pull away from Cersei completely, but as of the finale, he no longer seems to support her unchecked megalomania.

Meanwhile, the Starks have only grown stronger this season, as we saw in the finale. The show’s been playing on the rift between Sansa and Arya, and Bran’s apparent apathy toward the whole thing. But it was all a ruse to trap Littlefinger at his own game. Littlefinger’s own pretty, deceptive words came back to bite him in the end.

And with a bewildered face that has already launched 1,000 memes, Game of Thrones‘ most manipulative character has been removed from the game board. Chaos is a ladder, indeed. And sometimes people fall off.

But I think what’s important here is how Sansa and Arya have learned from their parents’ mistakes. Littlefinger’s machinations tore their mother and aunt apart and ultimately led to both their deaths. Sansa, Arya–and yes, even Bran–stood together, and took down one of their most formidable opponents.

(As for Bran…I’ve about halfway forgiven him from his season-long arc of douchiness that led to me calling for his death just a few days ago. When it counted, he stood with his family. It still doesn’t justify all of his behavior, but I’ll give him some credit.)

Each of the Stark children bring unique skills to the table: Sansa’s political savvy, Arya’s badass assassin training, Bran’s Three-Eyed Raven abilities. Apart, none of them could win this game, but together, they’ve really come into their own.

And we can’t forget about Jon Snow. We may have confirmation now that Jon is Aegon Targaryen, but his loyalties have always been to the Starks. (Jon really showed how much he takes after his adoptive father in the finale when he refused to pledge his loyalty to Cersei–a move that would have been politically savvy, but would have betrayed the oath he’d just made to Dany in the previous episode.)

Jon remains King in the North, and he’s forged a powerful alliance with Daenerys Targaryen. Of course, he’s put himself in a fraught position, both because the Northern lords are unlikely to accept Dany as their queen, and because he’s Dany’s nephew. Putting the ick factor of their incestuous relationship aside, Jon now has a better claim to the Iron Throne than Dany does. Jon is one of the few characters on the show that’s never wanted power; the power he’s gained has been pretty much thrust upon him. The same can’t be said for Dany. She wants the Iron Throne badly, and Jon is a threat.

But even with Dany’s armies and dragons, she’s going to have a hard time going up against the combined strength of the Stark clan. Let’s hope that Dany remembers that Jon Snow is not “just a bastard.” Whatever Jon’s DNA might say, he’s a Stark at heart, and the Starks have learned the one thing that the rest of the great families have failed to master: that they’re stronger together than alone.

 

Beth Woodward is the author of the contemporary fantasy novel, The Demon Within (Amazon; Barnes and Noble). The sequel, Embracing the Demon, will be released in March 2018.

 

Game of Thrones Wrap-Up: The White Walkers are stupid and boring, and I don’t want to watch them

Night King

SPOILERS for season 7 of Game of Thrones.

 

Jon Snow is right: the White Walkers are the biggest threat to Westeros right now. Regardless of who takes the Iron Throne, they present a threat to all of humanity.

But honestly, so what?

It’s been clear since the first episode that the show’s end game was going to have to involve the White Walkers somehow. They’ve always been there in the background, slaughtering people and amassing an army beyond the Wall while our heroes and villains were too busy playing musical monarchs to notice.

But if the White Walkers are going to be the focus of season 8, then the show has done itself a disservice. Because the truth is, they’re just not all that interesting. From a viewer perspective, watching Cersei manipulate her way into power and Dany burn it all down with dragon fire is just way more fun.

What do the White Walkers want? To kill people, I guess. We got one glimpse of the Night King in one of Bran’s visions, so we know he was human once. Does it matter? Apparently not.

Even the most sociopathic characters on Game of Thrones have needs and wants and desires: Joffrey wanted power and sexytime with Sansa and Margaery; Ramsay Bolton wanted approval and validation from his father.

And to the show’s credit, Joffrey and Ramsay are both dead, and the remaining characters–even the “bad” ones, are much more nuanced than that. Cersei may be ambitious and power-hungry, but she’s always wanted to protect her children. Now, with all three dead, Cersei’s lust for power is all that remains–even overtaking her lifelong love/forbidden romance for her brother, Jaime. We hate her, but we love watching her. I found myself holding my breath multiple times during Cersei’s tension-filled meet with Dany, Jon, and Tyrion–and then later, when Jaime confronts her after she makes clear she has no intention of honoring her promise to fight the White Walkers. Cersei will do anything to hold on to her power, and with only six episodes remaining, it’s all fair game. Hell, is she even really pregnant, or is this a ruse to manipulate both her brothers? This is the stuff drama is made of.

But with the White Walkers, there’s none of that. They apparently have no motivation besides the mass destruction of the human race. Watching a zombiefied dragon burn down the Wall with blue fire was pretty cool, but it can’t sustain an entire season.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the best White Walker battle we’ve seen so far was in season 5’s “Hardhome.” It was a massacre on an epic scale, and characters that we’d come to care about–even over the course of just that episode were slaughtered. (Wildling Karsi popping up at the end of the scene, now converted to a wight, remains chilling.)

Meanwhile, the White Walker battle in this season’s “Beyond the Wall” just didn’t have the same impact. Aside from the fact that it was ill-conceived and, to be honest, kind of silly (“Let’s go beyond the wall with a dozen men and try to kidnap a wight from an army of 100,000! That sounds like a great idea!”), the tension was never built up in a way that made you believe that any of the main characters were ever really in any danger. Sure, the Priest of Epic Man Buns bought it, but he was so unmemorable that I had to go look up his name. (It was Thoros of Myr, for what it’s worth.)

Compare that to the battle between the Lannister and Targaryen forces in “The Spoils of War.” The battle matters because we care about people on both sides: Jaime and Bron on the Lannister side, Dany and Tyrion on the Targaryen. You may be rooting for Dany, but you don’t want Jaime or Bron to die.

But who cares if Jon Snow slaughters one White Walker or a thousand? Spoiler: no one. (A White Walker has no name…)

Game of Thrones has always been at its best during its character moments. This season, while uneven in plotting, has given us a lot of great character growth. For the final season, I urge the Game of Thrones writers not to focus too much on those White Walkers, and remember why we’re really watching.

 

Beth Woodward is the author of the contemporary fantasy novel, The Demon Within (Amazon; Barnes and Noble). The sequel, Embracing the Demon, will be released in March 2018.

Game of Thrones Finale Countdown: Tyrion needs to check his privilege

tyrion dany

SPOILERS, obviously, if you’re not caught up on season 7.

 

So something’s been bothering me over the last few episodes of Game of Thrones.

After losing allies Olenna Tyrell and Elliara Sand to Cersei’s machinations, Dany attacks the Lannister’s supply convoy as it returns to Westeros. The result is one of the most epic battles in Game of Thrones history. The Lannister soldiers would have been decimated by Dany’s Dothraki army alone. But when you throw in being torched by a freakin’ dragon, the result is…pretty amazing. (Seriously. If you haven’t watched it, you need to do so immediately. And if you have watched it, you need to go back and watch it again.)

That’s not why I’m upset.

In the next episode, Dany tells the surviving Lannister soldiers that they must pledge their allegiance to her, or they will be killed. Most submit. A few refuse. Two of them are Randyll and (the unfortunately named) Dickon Tarly, better known as Samwell’s assholish father and brother. Randyll, in a speech laced with xenophobia and racism, says that he will never submit to a foreign queen with an army of savages. Dickon is less certain than his father, but he’s a daddy’s boy. So they both get torched.

The rest of the Lannister army, not surprisingly, decides to bend the knee.

Tyrion spends the next two episodes fretting about this. Dany was supposed to be different than this, right? She’s not supposed to be violent. Maybe she’s going crazy like her father, Mad King Aerys, who burned his subjects to death willy-nilly.

How quickly Tyrion forget that last season, he watched while Dany burned an entire hut full of Dothraki khals to the ground, gaining herself a Dothraki horde in the process. And unlike Randyll and Dickon Tarly, the khals never got the choice to bend the knee. But Tyrion never worried about that.

But I guess I can understand Tyrion’s angst. For better or worse, he grew up among the great families of Westeros. He probably had dinners and play dates with a Tarly or two, and Dickon Tarly looks an awful lot like Tyrion’s own brother, Jaime (who almost died in the flames of Dany’s dragon.) But what irritated me is that we, the viewers, are supposed to wonder whether Dany’s going crazy and/or abusing her power, too. When Tyrion talks to Varys–usually the voice of reason for putting entitled lords in their place–he tries to downplay his concerns by saying he can’t make Dany’s decisions for her. Varys’s response: “That’s what I used to tell myself about her father when he was burning everyone alive.”

Yikes.

But the truth is, Dany has always been judicious in her use of violence. If she’d wanted to take Westeros by force, she could have flown her dragons in and torched the Red Keep a long time ago. She hasn’t done that, because she wants to minimize the loss of innocent lives. And in killing Randyll and Dickon Tarly, she gains an asset she was sorely lacking before: a Westerosi army loyal to her.

But I don’t think the real problem is Tyrion, or Varys…it’s the show itself. The racial optics of Game of Thrones have always been troubling, especially Dany’s story. One scene in particular has always stuck out to me. In the season 3 finale, after Dany frees the slaves in Yunkai, they lift her up on their shoulders and call her “mhysa”–Ghiscari for “mother.” You can still see Dany’s blonde hair and pale skin as the camera pans out, the lone white savior among a sea of brown people. (Fast forward to about 3:55 in the video and then watch until the credits roll.)

For the first several seasons, the show didn’t even have any leading non-white characters. The only ones it has on the show now, Missandei and Grey Worm, are both former slaves who were, surprise surprise, freed by Dany.

Let’s not forget that the show’s creators, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, are also in the process of creating an alternate history series, Confederate, in which the south wins the Civil War–and they were shocked, shocked I tell you, to realize that people might not think it was such a great idea. (For the record…I think it could be an interesting concept, if executed correctly. I just don’t think Benioff and Weiss are the ones to do it.)

Dany’s behavior–particularly, her use of violence–hasn’t changed much in the last few seasons. Hell, she showed herself willing to burn people alive all the way back in season 1. If it’s a problem now, it was a problem before. But the show never called it out, because it assumes we will care about white people more.

 

Beth Woodward is the author of the contemporary fantasy novel, The Demon Within (Amazon; Barnes and Noble). The sequel, Embracing the Demon, will be released in March 2018.

Game of Thrones Finale Countdown: Will Someone Please Kill Bran Stark Already?

BranStark

SPOILERS, obviously, if you’re not caught up on season 7.

 

Dear David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, George R.R. Martin, and anyone else who might be in a position to make these decisions:

Please, for the love of the old gods and the new, kill Bran Stark already.

I get it. He’s the Three-Eyed Raven now, although–much like Sansa and Arya, I still don’t know exactly what that means. Apparently, part of what it means is that he turned into a gigantic douche.

A few weeks ago, Bran reunited with his sister, Sansa, for the first time in years. He tries to convince her that he’s a basically omnipotent being that can project himself into animals’ minds and is apparently also a raven with three eyes…yeah, I don’t really blame her for being skeptical. But then, in an apparent effort to prove it, he says, basically, this:

Sansa, I was spying on you with my mad omnipotent powers on your wedding night. It was snowing. You looked hot. I watched while you got brutally raped by your husband multiple times. That must have sucked.

Now, imagine that with even less emotion and empathy, and you pretty much have Bran. Apparently, petty human emotion is beneath the Three-Eyed Raven, even when discussing your host’s sister’s spousal rape.

Bran also knows that Littlefinger is up to something–he threw Littlefinger’s season 3 “Chaos is a Ladder” speech back in his face a few episodes ago.

Littlefinger was shook up that the youngest Stark knew something he had no way of knowing–but not shook enough to stop sowing conflict between Sansa and Arya. One would think the oh-so-omnipotent Bran might mention to his sisters that Littlefinger is playing them like fiddles, but apparently he can’t be bothered. He’s too busy…being omnipotent? Staring at trees? I’m not really sure.

Bran’s story has always been the least interesting of the Stark siblings, but at least I felt invested in him as a character. But now that character is gone, replaced by the shell that the Three-Eyed Raven seems to be. Unlike the boy he replaced, Raven Bran lacks empathy and humility. (Interestingly, the previous Three-Eyed Raven didn’t seem to be a giant douche. But maybe that has something to do with the fact that he was played by Max von Sydow, an actor who could probably turn in an Oscar-worthy performance doing antacid commercials. I have nothing against Isaac Hempstead Wright, but he’s not Max von Sydow.)

Granted, Game of Thrones isn’t lacking for characters without empathy or humility–Cersei Lannister’s still kicking, for now–but at least those other characters are interesting and fun to watch. Raven Bran isn’t.

To top it off, the transition between scared teenager and omnipotent super-being seems…unearned. Is Bran Stark really gone? Because when Bran initially became the Three-Eyed Raven last season, he didn’t seem so emotionless. Traumatized and frightened, yes, but not emotionless.

So when did Raven Bran, as we know him now, happen? Is this some kind of PTSD thing? That would make sense, given everything that Bran’s been through? Or did the Three-Eyed Raven take over Bran’s psyche and disappear Bran entirely, a la Illyria taking over Fred on Angel. But in the latter case, we at least got some transition, and a heartbreaking death scene for a beloved character. But in Bran’s case…nothing.

Long story short: omnipotence is a plot device, not a character trait.

So please, put us all out of our misery and have Raven Bran tell Sansa and Arya that Littlefinger is playing them. Then have him send a raven up down to Dragonstone to let Jon Snow know he’s about to get it on with his aunt. And then kill him quickly.

 

Beth Woodward is the author of the contemporary fantasy novel, The Demon Within (Amazon; Barnes and Noble). The sequel, Embracing the Demon, will be released in March 2018.

Stranger Things: Eight Burning Questions Season 2 Needs to Answer

strangerthings

I loved “Stranger Things,” this summer’s sleeper Netflix hit. I loved the 80s nostalgia, loved the mystery and horror, loved the endearingly realistic pre-teen and teen characters. I especially loved Eleven. The bald, fragile-looking 12 year old who is actually the most badass character on the show. How can I not love Eleven?

(Also Barb. Poor Barb.)

And now, we know there will be a season 2! (Yay!) But season 1 left me with a lot of questions. I’ve seen some of these questions discussed in great depth in various online forums, but others…not so much. So for this blog entry, I’m ignoring the obvious questions (Is Eleven Alive? Is Hopper in league with the Department of Energy folks?) and focusing on the ones I haven’t heard too many people talking about.

1) If Eleven is the 11th super-powered child, where are One through Ten?

Are they dead or alive? Are they still at the DOE facility? Are they off fighting the Russians? Are their powers as strong as Eleven’s? Could they be even stronger? Seriously, how is no one talking about this?

2) Is it weird to ‘ship a romance between two 12 year olds when you’re a grown-ass adult?

Because I do. I completely do. The budding, innocent romance between Mike and Eleven was one of my favorite things about the show. (The moment where Mike assures Eleven that she’s still pretty even after she’s lost her wig melts my heart.) I just want Mike and Eleven to go to the Snow Ball together. If Eleven can go through the night without snapping the arms of all the mouth-breathers, it will be a success.

3) Why doesn’t anyone ever offer Eleven a tissue?

I could attribute this to the fact that her best friends are 12-year-old boys, and they probably wipe their noses on their sleeves/pants/the dirt/whatever happens to be convenient, but c’mon! There must have been a little old lady in Hawkins somewhere who would have taught Eleven to stuff a few into the sleeve of Nancy’s dress.

4) Does Eleven have a connection to Chief Hopper’s deceased daughter?

We see flashbacks of Chief Hopper’s daughter in the final episode when she’s dying of cancer. She’s bald from chemo. Eleven has a shaved head. Could be a coincidence. Or maybe not. Also, Hopper seems to be leaving “presents” for Eleven in the woods–Eggo Waffles, mostly. Could this have something to do with whatever deal he made with the Department of Energy folks to get him and Joyce released from custody? Or is it more personal?

 5) Were 80s parents really this negligent?

In 2016, our helicopter-parent inclinations get a lot of shit, but if this show’s parents are actually representative of what parenting was like in the 1980s, I can see why we went in the other direction.

 

strangerthingsbarb

Sadly, I think I had that shirt in high school. Hell, I think I might still have that shirt now.

When Barb disappears, Nancy has the following conversation with Barb’s mom:

 

NANCY: Have you seen Barb today?
BARB’S MOM [sounding worried]: No, I thought she was with you!
NANCY: Uh, oh yeah. I think she’s, uh…at the library.
BARB’S MOM: Oh, okay! [Blithely goes about her day.]

Then when the Hawkins PD (more on them later) conclude that Barb’s run away from home, we hear not word one from Barb’s family. I guess it was no big deal for your teenager to disappear without a trace in the pre-Amber Alert era. I mean, she can take care of herself, right? She’s almost graduated from high school. Never mind that she’s busy being eaten by a monster slug from the inside out.

But maybe Barb’s family was just crappy, right? Except Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler, the picture of nuclear family perfection, are so oblivious that they fail to notice that their teenage daughter has snuck two different boys into her bedroom in one week, and that their pre-teen son has a girl living in their basement. (And it’s not like Mike tries very hard to hide her. At least Elliot made the effort to keep E.T. in the closet!)

Joyce Byers is obviously a devoted mom, clinging to her sureness that her younger son is alive when everyone else thinks she’s crazy. But she’s so busy chopping holes into her walls and talking to Christmas lights that she fails to notice her older son has been stockpiling ammo and bear traps.

With parents like that, it’s a wonder any of us survived to adulthood.

6) How the hell are the Hawkins PD’s deputies still employed?

Because they must be the most moronic, incompetent—not to mention insensitive—police officers of all time. Seriously.

First, a 12-year-old kid disappears, and they act like it’s no big deal. Whatever. He’s probably around here somewhere. Maybe he ran away? Could he be hiding somewhere? Is he with his deadbeat dad? Anyway, he’ll turn up eventually. Probably.

But even after Chief Hopper realizes that this isn’t just a case of childish mischief, his deputies continue to act like the douchiest of all the douches. (Describing a frantic mother with a missing child as “crazy” is just not cool, and also kind of sexist.)

And then, there was their reaction to Barb’s disappearance. After literally no investigation at all, they conclude that she’s run away. Yes, because socially awkward teenagers with big glasses and mom jeans run away all the time. As a former socially awkward teenager with big glasses and mom jeans, I can tell you that we were way more likely to be doing extra homework or hanging out at the library on a Saturday night than running away to parts unknown. I mean, c’mon…this is a girl who almost cut her hand off while trying to shotgun a beer. (Sidenote: That is also totally something that would happen to me.) Do you really think she just decided to ditch her car at the bus station and take off? Fifteen years after my high school graduation, I have yet to do anything that badass.

strangerthingssteve7) Did the cool, popular boys back in 1983 really have Steve’s hair?

Because seriously, it looks like a Flock of Seagulls reject had a baby with an Elvis impersonator. Just how much mousse does it take to get it looking like that every morning, Steve? How many hours do you spend with your hair dryer? Makes me kind of glad I was still in diapers in 83.

8) Why did the monster kill Barb, but spare Will Byers?

Because seriously, it’s not like hiding in his clubhouse amounted to some mad survival skills on Will’s part. Of course, given that bloody slug Will puked up into the sink during Thanksgiving dinner, maybe he didn’t survive after all…

“Gilmore Girls”: Why Rory Gilmore Needs to Remain Single

GilmoreGirlsLike many of you, I am psyched about the “Gilmore Girls” revival. “Gilmore Girls” was staple TV viewing for me during the early aughts, and one of the few shows I managed to keep up with during college. (Do you know how difficult it is to keep up with a weekly TV show when you should be studying and/or drinking?) I always felt a kinship with Rory. I was a little bit older than Rory, but a little bit younger than her portrayer, Alexis Bledel. Like Rory, I was bookish, ambitious, and kind of nerdy. Also like Rory, I was a serial monogamist during my high school/college years.

Much speculation has been made of the fact that all of Rory’s beaux—”Nice Guy” Dean, bad boy with a brain Jess, and WASPy Logan—will return for the miniseries. Who will Rory end up with?

Which brings me to the crux of this blog entry: I am very much hoping that, at the end of this miniseries, Rory Gilmore is single. I don’t mean that adult Rory should join a convent or anything like that. But when the final credits roll, I’m hoping that Rory is not married, not in a relationship, and doesn’t have any serious romantic prospects on the horizon—and she’s just fine with that.

There’s a lot of arguments I could make to this. But the main thing it comes down to is this: it seems like every movie I see, every book I read, every TV show I watch, featuring a protagonist that is a Woman of a Certain Age revolves around said woman’s quest to find herself a man, and how she’ll be a pathetic, lonely cat-lady if she doesn’t. For the record, the median “certain age” seems to be about 27. We don’t even get to make it to our 30th birthdays without hearing about biological clocks and how all the “good ones” are either married or gay.

Rory was 16 when the show debuted in 2000, which means she’ll be about 32—the same age Lorelai was when the show premiered—during the revival (God, I feel old now!), putting her squarely into Woman of a Certain Age category.

Young Rory was no stranger to dating and relationships. But that was never what drove her character. Instead, she worked her ass off to get into Harvard (even though she ultimately chose Yale) and to become a journalist like Christine Amanpour. She rejected a marriage proposal from Logan after her college graduation and instead accepted a job offer as a reporter covering Barack Obama’s campaign.

(Sidenote: I remember that, at the time of “Gilmore Girls” finale, Obama still seemed like a longshot. I wondered what would happen to Rory after the campaign inevitably ended. Guess we all know how that turned out!)

I’d like to think that adult Rory will be very much the same way. That’s not to say that she won’t date or that she’s taken a vow of celibacy, but that it isn’t at the top of her list of priorities. And if her former boyfriends waltz back into her life and turn her head again, I want her to have a Kelly Taylor/“90210” moment and say, “I choose me.” (Of course, unlike Kelly, Rory isn’t going to end up with a cokehead three weeks later.)

Millennials are getting married later and later, and some are choosing not to get married at all. And yet, women are still bombarded with media—not to mention well-meaning family and friends—who seem to think that the Hallmark Channel Original Movie way of life is the ideal. But it’s just not for everyone. And we’ve got to stop teaching young women that being with someone—anyone—is better than being alone, because it’s not.

So that’s what I want Rory to be: a role model for young women who haven’t met their special someones yet or maybe don’t want to get married at all or maybe just don’t care one way or another. At the end of the “Gilmore Girls” revival, I want Rory to ride off into the sunset alone and be just fine with that.

Bruce Campbell on “Doctor Who?”

On April Fools’ Day, Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell pranked both “Doctor Who” lovers and his own fans hard by posting this on Twitter:

Bruce Campbell Doctor Who

When a friend of mine posted it on Facebook, so many thoughts whirled through my head: Does this mean Bruce Campbell is going to be the new Doctor? Or are they creating an American version of the show? How will this affect the continuity of the show? But wait, are they throwing over Peter Capaldi? They can’t throw over Peter Capaldi! Peter Capaldi is amazing!

 Those thoughts were shortly followed by: Maybe I should wait until April 2 to worry about this…

Either way, Campbell probably didn’t expect the reaction he got. Basically, fans—both on the “Doctor Who” side and the Evil Dead side—were super excited about the possibility that Campbell might come to the show. (My fiancé, who is a huge Evil Dead series fan, got almost giddy—until I pointed out that it was most likely an April Fools’ joke.)

But just because it started as an April Fools’ joke doesn’t mean it has to stay that way, right? (I’m still holding out hope for that Hugh D’Ambray book that Ilona Andrews—sorta—promised us.) Plus, BBC has, allegedly, been looking for ways to drum up excitement about the 11-year-old series (not including Original Recipe “Who”) as viewership has started to decline. This could be a good way to do that!

So here’s how I think it could be done:

For over 2,000 years, a man in a blue box has wandered the universe. Sometimes a protector. Sometimes a warrior. Sometimes a hero. But always a Doctor.

But on Christmas Day, two timelines will collide, and the Doctor will run into another man in another blue box. A man who made different choices. A man who is a very different Doctor. He’s brash. He’s angry. He’s violent. He’s American.

What happens when the only person who can save the universe is the person you always feared you’d become? What happens when your worst enemy is…yourself?

Okay, it’s clunky, but you get the idea.

Basically, what I’m picturing is that Bruce Campbell could guest star in the Christmas episode of “Doctor Who” as…the Doctor. I’m thinking that at some point in the Doctor’s history, he made a very critical choice, and his timeline essentially split in two. One timeline progressed in the direction we know and love, leading to the charmingly grumpy Peter Capaldi Doctor. The other timeline led the Doctor to become much darker and more violent, leading to the Bruce Campbell Doctor.

See, here’s the thing: I don’t think the Doctor could exist as an American hero. He’s just so outside of our John Wayne/Bruce Willis hero paradigm (i.e. an armed-to-the-teeth cowboy with a quick trigger finger) that an American version of the Doctor—a pacifist who refuses to carry a gun and prefers to defeat his enemies with his wit—just wouldn’t fit here. Which is why I would never advocate an American version of the show. I think, if the show became an American production, the Doctor’s personality would change, become more Americanized.

Bruce Campbell’s Evil Dead character is pretty much the epitome of the American hero ideology. Ash is a character who chopped off his own hand and attached a chainsaw to it so he could go plow through some more zombies. Yeah. Very not-Doctorlike.

But in creating an alternate timeline Doctor, the show could play with this very idea. One of the primary tensions of the Doctor’s character is that he could be the violent, Bruce Campbell-esque hero…but that he’s chosen not to be. And sometimes he seems to question whether that path was the right one. And in having the two timelines converge, the Doctor has to reckon with his own baser impulses, with the person he could have been.

I wouldn’t want Bruce Campbell’s Doctor to be a “bad guy,” but he’d be very different than the Doctor we know and love—though still with that core Doctorness there. He’d still talk a lot, and like to show off his intelligence. But I think he’d be a lot more suave and slick than the current Doctor. Take the effortless cool of the 9th Doctor, the charisma and charm of 10, and the devil-may-care attitude of 11. Mix that in with a hell of a lot of arrogance, and you’d get the Bruce Campbell Doctor.

And I think his path would prove tempting to the Peter Capaldi Doctor, like maybe this other guy has done better at the whole Doctor thing than he has. Of course, by the end of the show, Bruce Campbell’s Doctor would see that the real Doctor’s path is the better one.

Basically, it’s “Doctor Who” meets Sliding Doors.

Steven Moffat, if you’re listening, I’m totally available as a writer, story consultant, or just a fangirl who squeals loudly whenever Peter Capaldi walks into the room. Whatever.

“Lucifer” Needs to Embrace the Supernatural

lucifer

Given that I am the author of an urban fantasy series that casts a demon as its heroine, and the angels as the bad guys, it makes sense that I was crazy excited about the new Fox series “Lucifer.”

Note: I’ve heard the Neil Gaiman/Sandman comics referenced a lot when talking about this show–specifically how much the show has digressed from the source material. I’m not familiar with the comics–oversight on my part, I know–so I’m going to focus exclusively on the show, and how I think it could improve.

The premise is simple: Lucifer Moringstar (Tom Ellis), the devil himself, has gotten burned-out (no pun intended…okay, maybe a little pun intended) on the whole Hell thing. So he quits, moves to Los Angeles, and becomes a club owner. He ends up, through unbelievably contrived circumstances that I won’t bother to get into here, working as a civilian consultant for the LAPD, partnering with Chloe Decker (Lauren German), a former actress turned outcast detective.

The show’s got a charismatic leading man, oodles of sexual tension, plenty of humor, and a murder of the week. Problem is, I’ve seen this show before. It’s called “Castle.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love “Castle.” It’s one of my go-to comfort food shows, when I want to sit back and relax and not think about anything. But the “Castle”-like aspects of “Lucifer” are the show’s weakest. For some reason, the powers-that-be have decided to take a supernatural fantasy and try to shove it into a cop procedural. And, not surprisingly, it’s not working.

My thought is this: “Lucifer” needs to move away from the cop show device and embrace its supernatural side.

Last week’s episode was the best of the series, so far, because the murder of the week was more of an afterthought. A security guard at a self-storage company is killed, and a container is stolen–a container belonging to none other than Lucifer himself.

Lucifer won’t reveal the contents of the container to Chloe–who doesn’t believe Lucifer is who he says he is–and she struggles with her attraction, her urge to trust him, and her rational mind telling her she shouldn’t. Lauren German has always felt like the weakest link in the cast to me. As Chloe, her range of emotions seems limited to “mildly irritated” and “I just smelled a fart.” But after last week, I’m wondering if she just hasn’t been given good enough material to work with, because Chloe’s struggle between belief and disbelief added some nuances to the character that I hadn’t seen before. She’s still my least favorite part of the cast, but hopefully we’ll be seeing some development of the character soon.

We also got to see Amenadiel flirt with  Lucifer’s therapist, Linda (Rachel Harris, making the best of a thankless role), trying to covertly worm his way into Lucifer’s head to get him to return to Hell. In the last couple of episodes, Amenadiel has gone from being a one-note character to someone I want to see more of, and I give most of the credit here to D.B. Woodside, who you may remember as Principal Wood in season 7 of “Buffy,” among other things. We know his flirtation with Linda is fake and calculated. But as Amenadiel has acted more human, he’s felt more human to me. And I want more of this. Is it all an act, or is Earth beginning to wear down the self-righteous angel, too.

But Lucifer is at its best when its squarely on the shoulders of its star, Tom Ellis. And in last week’s episode, we got to see him pivot from apathy to rage to joy to despair. And he was brilliant. The more the show focuses on Lucifer’s struggle between his King of Hell side and his emerging mortal conscience, the better it is. We’re also starting to get some hints about Lucifer’s backstory, about how God’s favorite son was exhiled to Hell.

And I love to see Lucifer’s conflict about his own role in the heavenly saga. He continually affirms that humans make their own choices to do good or evil, that he doesn’t influence them as often believed. He says he left Hell because he was tired of punishing people all the time, yet he seems to enjoy punishing the guilty. At the same time, he’s capable of showing mercy and restraint. It’s an interesting conflict, and I want to delve much, much deeper into this character than we have so far. Ellis is great when he’s playing arrogant, cocksure Lucifer, but I think he’s better when he’s playing enraged, despairing Lucifer.

And this is the interesting stuff, what I’m really tuning in to see. I don’t care about the murder of the week. If I wanted that, there are sixteen versions of “Law and Order” running in perpetuity on TNT. (Plus the aforementioned “Castle.”) But supernatural intrigue? An angel who may be playacting human a little too well? The burned-out King of Hell developing a conscience? That’s what I want to see!

(Not to mention that Amenadiel keeps warning Lucifer that bad things will happen if he doesn’t return to Hell. Lucifer has apparently been in Los Angeles long enough to be a fixture there. And so far…no bad things. No wonder Lucifer is having trouble taking Amenadiel seriously–so am I! If there genuinely are consequences to Lucifer’s abandonment of his post, we need to see them. Maybe this is the long game the writers are playing? Maybe this is end-of-season stuff? Either way, we need something that make Amenadiel’s warnings seem less like empty threats–not to mention that it will add higher stakes to the drama.)

“Lucifer” still seems to be coming into its own–like I said, last week’s episode was great, and this week looks like a continuation of that–but I hope, in doing so, it’ll jettison the cop show premise altogether. It’s just not necessary. Instead, “Lucifer” needs to embrace its supernatural side and let Lucifer really delve into his inner conflict: to reign in Hell or run a trendy nightclub on Earth. And it also needs to up the stakes, big time.

“Lucifer” is still a show worth watching…but it could be so much better.

 

Panelists Needed to Discuss “Women of Doctor Who”

Doctor Who Women

Do you know the women of “Doctor Who?” Would you like to geek out in front of a live audience? If so, I am looking for you!

On March 18-20, I will be attending Wizard World Comic-Con in Las Vegas, where I will be moderating a panel on “Women of ‘Doctor Who.’” We will be talking about all our favorite females (Rose Tyler! River Song! Missy!) and whether the criticisms of gender depictions in the show are justified. And of course, we will be addressing the most important question: should the next Doctor be cast as a female?

I’m looking for people who know and love “Doctor Who,” but aren’t afraid to criticize it. You also need to be comfortable speaking in front of an audience.

My area of expertise is the “regenerated” (post-2005) “Who,” so that’s going to be the primary focus of the panel, but I would love to get some people who are more familiar with the classic series so we can talk about that as a basis of comparison. I also want this panel to be as diverse and inclusive as possible.

Right now, I don’t know when the panel will take place, but I should have this information soon and will let you know as soon as possible.

As a presenter, your conference admission will be covered, but your transportation and hotel will not, so you will need to make your own arrangements to get out to Vegas.

If you are interested, please contact me via e-mail—bethwoodwardwriter [at] gmail [dot] com. Tell me a) what interests you about this panel; and b) who your favorite female character on “Doctor Who” is and why.

If you have any media presence, or anything you’d like to publicize at the panel—books, comics, artwork, movies, a blog, etc.—send that information along as well, with links if possible.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

“Doctor Who” Series 9 Wrap-Up

Doctor Clara pic

Wow. So that was quite a season.

On the plus side, I got almost everything I wanted. More callbacks to earlier seasons, including those that weren’t written by Steven Moffat? Check. The amazingness of Maisie Williams’ character? Peter Capaldi really being given a chance to shine? HUGE check. Clara’s exit? I think we’re checking that one twice. We’ll get into that in a second.

But first, I’ve got to give a shout-out to Peter Capaldi, who was friggin’ amazing this season. If anyone remained unsure whether Capaldi could embody the Doctor the way, say, David Tennant did, this season should have answered that question. I could never get into Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. While there were some standout episodes (“Amy’s Choice”; “Vincent and the Doctor”), I just couldn’t connect with him the way I did with Tennant. But I think that had more to do with Moffat’s more fairy tale style of writing–following Russell T. Davies grimmer take–than Smith’s performance.

So I was a little concerned when Smith transitioned into Capaldi. But in the 12th Doctor’s era, Moffat’s direction has taken a darker tone, and I like it. But Moffat is, I think, kind of an optimist at heart, and so while individual stories might be dark, the ultimate trajectory will be more hopeful.

Shhh! Spoilers…

Which brings me to Clara’s departure.

Two weeks ago, I praised “Face the Raven” for doing what very few “Who” episodes have been bold enough to do: kill a companion. It was a brutal episode that left me inconsolable. It was also a fitting end to Clara’s character: the mortal woman who aspired to be the Doctor finally overplayed her hand. The callback to Danny Pink was so appropriate for her character, and you get it: Clara had never really stopped mourning Danny, and to hide from her pain she threw herself into her adventures with the Doctor with total recklessness. That recklessness ultimately gets her killed.

Last week’s episode, “Heaven Sent” was just a brilliant piece of television. Hands down. It will go down as one of the best episodes in “Who” history, of any season. Peter Capaldi did almost the whole episode solo, and you see his grief, his pain, his fury, his fear, all rolled up into this wibbly wobbly timey wimey Doctor-y ball.

And this week, in “Hell Bent,” we get to see how that all played out. The Doctor spent 4.5 billion years stuck in his own confession dial, for one reason and one reason only: to save Clara.

I’m not going to recap the episode–but if you’re curious, you can read about it here. I, personally, have mixed feelings about it. Moffat, ever the optimist, manages to (sort of) resurrect Clara. When last we see her, she’s traipsing the universe in a 1960s diner-shaped TARDIS, with Maisie Williams’ Ashildr/Me as her companion. She’s frozen in time, stuck in the moment right before her last heartbeat. (Amazing that she’s not a little bit pissed at Ashildr, since it was her harebrained plan that got Clara in that whole “death” mess to begin with.)

On an emotional level, it’s a pretty powerful episode. While the message is more hopeful than “Face the Raven” or “Heaven Sent,” Clara’s pseudo-death is not without consequences. Both the Doctor and Clara realize how bad they are for one another–the Doctor having nearly destroyed the universe to save her–and so in a callback to Donna Noble’s tragic departure, he resolves to erase her memory and deposit her back into her normal life. But in a twist, it’s the Doctor’s memory that gets erased, which makes those diner scenes all that much more terrible: he knows he’s missing something, but not what. And for once, it’s not the Doctor being left behind with just the memories.

But Clara will live, in this frozen state, having resolved to go back to Gallifrey to return to her death “the long way around.” I’m not sure whether it’s a cop-out or not, on Moffat’s part–maybe a little, but not entirely. The loss was still there, if not as profoundly as before. That’s not the main problem I had with the episode.

This episode was like a sweater (or a jumper, if we’re being British about it) with a piece of yarn hanging off of it. Once you start pulling on that yarn, the whole thing falls apart.

Writing wise, story wise, the episode crumbles. Clara gets her happy ending, but at what cost? Will the universe ultimately start destroying itself because she isn’t really dead? Does that mean she can come back? (Please don’t, Moffat. Let’s not cheapen this departure by bringing her back dozens of times, one of my pet peeves of the Davies era.) And now that the Doctor has ousted the president of Gallifrey, who takes over? And what happened to the hybrid? If the Doctor/Clara combo really was the hybrid, as was implied, doesn’t that mean that Clara’s newfound adventures will cost billions of lives? Is the show just going to ignore this??? And was Ashildr brought onto the show just to be faux-Doctor Clara’s companion? Would the Doctor’s fledging memories of Clara–he got a picture, after all–be enough to cause that universe-destroying rift?

And finally…the Doctor has lost companions before. Many of them. We even get a callback in this episode to Amy and Rory. He wouldn’t destroy the universe for Rose Tyler. He wouldn’t create final paradox for Amy Pond. So not only would he destroy the universe for Clara, he’d do something completely antithetical to his persona–pick up a gun and shoot someone.

But maybe that’s just the conceit of “Doctor Who.” Each companion becomes the most important being in the Doctor’s universe…for a time. But the companion changes, and the Doctor endures, which is why he is so lonely. Maybe in forgetting Clara, he got the good side of the deal after all.

Ugh.

But…I guess I can’t complain too much. This series gave us some amazing episodes. Besides “Heaven Sent,” which should immediately be propelled into the legendary category, we had “The Girl Who Died”/”The Woman Who Lived.” And then of course, “The Zygon Invasion”/”The Zygon Inversion,” which gave us the Capaldi monologue which, for better or worse, has never looked more profound than in recent weeks.

It was a pretty amazing season overall, with an amazing actor playing the Doctor. And we get River Song back for Christmas. Who could ask for more?

Final Thoughts

*Moffat, if you ever manage to get Coleman back, even if just for a short (especially just for a short), please, please, please show her having sexytimes with Jane Austen.

*Funny that two of the series (and the show’s) best episodes came after one of the show’s all-time worst: “Sleep No More” sucked. Big time.

*The sonic screwdriver is back!

*I wish we had seen more Missy, and I hope she’s back next season. She basically walked away with the first two episodes of the season, so much so that I worried that the Doctor/Clara combo alone just wouldn’t be interesting enough anymore. That was for about two seconds. Capaldi and Coleman nailed it this year.

*I’m glad that this season was Capaldi’s season, but I feel like a lot of Clara’s arc was neglected instead. Whatever happened to Orson Pink? Did that change because of Danny’s death? And the connection between Danny’s death and Clara’s recklessness was never explicit enough for me.

*Peter Capaldi has come to rival David Tennant as my all-time favorite Doctor. Just…wow.