Category Archives: Thinking Out Loud

A Few Thoughts on Star Wars and The Last Jedi

The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi both receive ample criticism. The first new film was panned for being just a retread of A New Hope with fresh paint, while The Last Jedi was panned for being “too different” from all previous Star Wars installments. I won’t pretend that either of these movies is without flaw, but I liked that The Last Jedi felt challenging and self-critical. Not to mention stressful, with the Rebellion constantly a hair’s breadth away from total annihilation.

But one criticism that remains consistent with both films is that Rei, the main character, is a Mary Sue. Guys everywhere love to hate on her because she’s just so perfect and talented, whereas Anakin and Luke had to work to master their Jedi powers.

Well first, how does one define a Mary Sue? According to Wikipedia, “A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience.” As a connoisseur of bad fanfiction, I would also add that any flaws, imperfections, or tragic backstories displayed by a Mary Sue are usually exploited as ploys for sympathy, or pithy attempts to hand-wave away complaints of said perfection. And to be clear, the perfection is often relative to what other characters in the story think of the character; ex. the only people who don’t like the Mary Sue are either villains or portrayed as being bitter, immature, what-have-you.

I would argue that if Mary Suedom is true of Rei, it would be equally true of Luke and Anakin, but whatever. I’ll play your game.

Rei is impulsive, impatient, and honorable to a fault. She is also somewhat naïve regarding the First Order, while Finn is presented as something of a grounded coward. He knows the capabilities and cruelties of his previous employer, whereas Rei does not. Rei has an immediate, admittedly somewhat questionable aptitude for the Force, but the only difference between her and the Skywalkers, confirmed by The Last Jedi, is that she is a nobody. Her abandoning parents don’t pay off as great Jedi warriors; she’s not part of the grand space soap opera that somehow always designates Skywalker descendants to be chosen ones who are great at everything.

Personally, this makes Rei a more compelling character for me, and it makes sense that the Force would be less picky, and possibly more hurried, in this new Jedi-less era. Just like the darkness keeps coming back, the light side needs to regroup and come back as well, with or without practiced, spiritual trainers. Maybe Rei’s talent is all her own, or maybe the Force feels a sense of urgency in keeping the light’s influence from being effectively snuffed out forever, what with the First Order constantly bearing down on the Rebellion.

Either way, at least Rei’s not being hailed as a Messiah, and especially not before she’s even really done anything yet. *cough cough* Anakin *cough cough*

“I’m a pilot and a slave and a builder and a dreamer and poor and a racer and a Jedi and a chosen one who can’t act like any of those things!”

In the expanded universe, there exists the concept of the Light Sith; members who still supported the Sith cause while also caring about light and balance. There were also the Gray Jedi, who toed the line between light and dark without falling to the dark side or sucking up to the Jedi Council. Now in the movies, we are seeing a “good” character who can also lean towards the dark side, similar to Luke, and a “bad” character who struggled with being called to the light side, similar to later films’ Anakin. I like that it feels a little more fleshed out than the previous films’ general take of “light always good, dark always bad.” Not completely new, but heading in the right direction.

I think people get upset about Rei, Finn, Rose, and the trajectory of the new Star Wars films in general because they’re becoming less of a “boy’s club.” Outside of the expanded universe, female and other minority characters in the movies didn’t get a lot of lines or things to do, and now they’re taking the center stage away from overpowered white boys, who are basically there by the providence of Divine Right. The Skywalkers are cool because they just are, damn it, and no one else can be cool unless they know or are related to the Skywalkers in some way!

…Except for Leia, I guess. And sure, Leia saving herself from being blasted into space was kind of weird and awkward, but she’s a Skywalker and has been established in previous films as having a strong gift as well, even if it wasn’t really shown. Couldn’t Luke have given her some pointers before he ran off to be a hermit? Couldn’t she have possibly trained herself, or at the very least, have her great power triggered by distress or pure survival instincts?

I’m not saying that implying things offscreen can’t be cheap and lazy. I’m just saying that it’s odd and somewhat suspicious how so many people immediately got upset by a woman, even of Skywalker blood, displaying a mere moment of powerful Force ability, as if this came from absolutely nowhere.

Speaking of coming from nowhere, there’s a line in Rogue One about hyperspace tracking becoming a future possibility, so that wasn’t just a dramatic asspull either.

The prequel films, for all of their terrible writing, dialogue, story structure, direction, and overreliance on CGI, at the very least continued the story of the Skywalkers, and praised the Jedi blindly despite their many, many flaws while portraying the Sith as unambiguously evil and corrupt. The new films are still trying to capture the magic and fun of a galaxy far, far away, but they are being more inquisitive and critical of their own universe, and asking the audience to think a little bit. And also to be less exclusionary, guarding their precious franchise from newcomers and Disney! Oh, the horror!

So Luke made a mistake and became an old, grizzled bastard hermit to try and escape his failures. People try to downplay or escape their failures in real life all the time; it’s not just a dramatic plot device. So what if the casino scene ended up amounting to nothing? Not everything in life gets rewarded, even if you try really, really hard. So what if Porgs are annoying? They’re no more or less distracting than the Ewoks were.

At least the dialogue isn’t cringey. At least the new main characters only really whine when they have a reason to whine. At least Jar Jar Binks is gone.

So to those who say the prequel films are better than The Last Jedi, I’m going to have to disagree. Vehemently. Those things are terrible, and I can only look at them now as a cautionary tale about making men bury their emotions. Anakin’s whiny teenage impotence and sudden transition to violence is almost understandable when you look at it that way.

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Walter vs. Jimmy: Whose Fall Will Be More Tragic?

The entire premise of Breaking Bad was that life is like chemistry; changes happen all of the time, and sometimes they occur faster than you realize. A seemingly normal, likeable man snaps and becomes a cold, calculating, merciless crime lord, and yet you could also argue that maybe he was never that great of a guy in the first place. It could be that he was just waiting for the last straw to bring his demons out into the open.

It could also be a cautionary tale about society’s lauding of hyper-masculinity (and the derision of anything that differs form it), and how unchecked greed and pride can lead to bad, stupid choices.

Rewind now to the events of Better Call Saul. We saw a fully realized Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad (selfish, hollow, but immensely intelligent and crafty), and at the start of this prequel series, we saw Jimmy McGill, the man who will become Saul. Not the greatest guy, certainly, but still a likeable, charismatic, scrappy little defense lawyer trying to do what he thought was right.

Now, we are finally approaching the point of no return, as Jimmy’s disillusionment with his brother and society as a whole builds and he struggles to earn money and hold onto the love of his life, Kim, who is clearly stressed by the trial and Jimmy’s shady behavior. And in this week’s episode, right before the season finale, Jimmy does something that cannot be defended or spun in any sort of positive light: he convinces his former clients, a bunch of little old ladies, to turn against each other to force a settlement of their lawsuit, which gives him a quick and substantial payout.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill; group†- Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Fall” was the most painful episode to watch this season, other than “Chicanery.” Watching a sweet old lady get bullied by her friends as Jimmy played puppet master was, as another review put it, “like watching a puppy get kicked.” There was nothing noble about it whatsoever, and while the episode “Expenses” showed Jimmy at his emotional low point, “Fall” shows him at his moral low point so far. I feel bad for him, but that just makes this character degradation feel all the more tragic and wrong.

I watched the show entirely because of this eventual change, and now part of me is really regretting it. Not enough to quit Saul or denounce it, by any means, but I grew to really like Jimmy, despite his numerous flaws. Objectively, in just about every way, he was a better person than Saul Goodman.

 

Walter White, Jimmy McGill, and their respective criminal personas are intelligent in different ways. It’s clear that the two men could not switch places and succeed at one another’s jobs. They are also both brash and prideful, easily swayed by powerful emotions, and their sense of morality and justice often battle for dominance as they plan the way forward. Saul Goodman is a tamer but also more subtle kind of evil than Heisenberg; the latter breaks the law and hurts people directly and personally, while the former uses the law itself to his advantage. You can more readily guess and grasp at the consequences of Heisenberg’s actions, and yet Saul doubtlessly has his fingers (or ass, if you’d prefer) in way more pies.

Put that way, maybe Saul Goodman is worse than Heisenberg. How many criminals go free because of him? How many injustices are allowed to continue, all so this guy can make money?

For me, I think the tragedy comes from Jimmy’s fate already being known. Walter could have gone anywhere and done anything in Breaking Bad, and while his moral fall was inevitable, we couldn’t know to what extent or where it would ultimately lead him without following the show all the way to the end. We also saw how selfish he could be, and how minor snubs and hurts could lead to ridiculously stupid outbursts from him. Looking back now, I think Walter might actually have a lot in common with Chuck; maybe even more than he does with Jimmy.

 

But the audience of Better Call Saul has (more than likely) seen Breaking Bad, and knows what Saul Goodman is like. They may have liked his sleazy charm and the creative resolutions he had for various problems that popped up during Heisenberg’s reign, but now there is a sweeter, more naive version with a sad family backstory with which we can compare him. We have followed him as a protagonist, not a side character; we’ve seen his personal struggles, and identified with him on some level. His love and loyalty have been severely tested, and while you don’t want him to give up hope, you could conceivably understand why he’s losing the strength to care.

It’s genuinely hard to see Jimmy crossing over to the dark side in strides, and I didn’t realize just how hard it would be until Monday night. I’ve been losing track of things on and off throughout this series, because as I said, the fact that it’s prequel is not all that overt or distracting once you get into it. I knew from the very beginning where Jimmy would end up, both morally and the fate of his general person; I just didn’t know how or why, and I didn’t expect to like him as much as I do.

The tragedy of exploring the past is that you see, by various degrees, how it could have been prevented. By contrast, the tragedy of seeing the future is that you (but more relevantly, the other characters) can’t do anything to prevent it. The sensation fills you with helplessness, because the situation gains more depth, more meaning, in the context of the original story/character. It adds to the weight of the loss of a man who might have been an asset to society, had he not taken this path.

 

Contrast this with someone like Mike, a smart man who had every opportunity to help people as a police officer, but fell pray to a corrupt community and let his morals be corroded by greed and self-preservation. He toes the line between right and wrong across both series, but with his added backstory in Saul, I have no doubt that, above all else, he does whatever he thinks is necessary to protect himself and his family. He utilizes the training and knowledge from his previous life, but his personal pride generally knows when to take a back seat (unlike Walter’s, for example).

Neither Walter nor Jimmy had enviable lifestyles, but at least in the latter’s case, he had a woman he loved who supported and challenged him, and he could find some degree of passion, even as a low-rate public defender. He had stress and discontent, sure, but he also had a seemingly loving and supportive brother, despite Chuck’s debatable illness. Walter, meanwhile, needlessly drove all of his friends and family away, all because he was disappointed with himself, too proud to seek help, and rendered reckless by the first real excitement he had ever felt in his life.

 

Walter’s situation seems more tragic…but only because of the countless (seen and unseen) victims of Heisenberg. He may never have had the capacity to help people, because deep down, he was proud, bitter, and greedy. Jimmy was no peach back in Season 1, but at least he seemed to genuinely want to help people. And his less legal antics were mostly harmless; they either backfired, netted him some minor success, or they screwed over people like the Kettlemans, who seemed to deserve it.

 

Plus, in the end, Walter admits that he liked being a meth lord and was good at it. Jimmy didn’t want any of the nonsense that tore him and his brother apart.

Losing Kim will probably be the final push for Jimmy, whether it’s by her death or social departure from his life. I can’t say for sure how it will happen, but just the idea of the latter makes me think of A Christmas Carol, in which Ebenezer Scrooge lets his fiancé walk out of his life with hardly a protest, and he subconsciously regrets that choice for the rest of his life. That is the impression I get from the brief scenes of future Saul, as he quietly manages some middle-of-nowhere Cinnabon.

I’d rather not have Kim die, but if they don’t do that, I’m sure the writers will make it feel as painful as if she had.

 

I’m eager to see what happens with Mike, Gus, Nacho, and Don Hector – even Howard and Chuck, if only because I want to latter to get knocked down a few pegs further – but now, anything involving Kim or Jimmy just fills me with dread. How crazy will this season finale be?

Love Potions: The Worst Concept Ever Created By Humans

As I said in my Pepé Le Pew post, times are constantly changing, and so too are our perceptions of their subjects. Pointing to derision, mocking, and stalking as evidence that a guy likes a girl is more readily scorned than in previous decades, and, more relevant to today’s discussion, the concept of the love potion becomes less charming and more…creepy, shall we say? Possibly even…the dreaded “R” word?

 

Some might say that the whole idea of love potions was never that great to begin with. After all, romance as a whole is hard to write well, and portraying two people hopeless infatuated with one another often becomes sickening, simplistic, saccharine drivel. It puts one, both, or even multiple characters into a kind of trance, which looks closer to lust than our modern concept of what love is supposed to be, and they digress into illogical, stupid beings with no sense of boundaries.

I would agree there. If a love potion “plot” could be written well, I have yet to see it for myself. But worse still is the still newly-emerging revelation that a character who would willing overlook the thoughts and feelings of another person and simply force them into being with them (explicitly in a sexual way or not) is, quite frankly, a terrible scumbag of a human being.

Think about it: it’s rape in a meta-ethical sense, if not a literal one. A person thinks to himself (or herself), “Gee, I really like this person, but they don’t like me for whatever reason. Let me see if I can override that, whether they like it or not.”

It’s never phrased that way, of course, but that’s the basic subtext.

To keep things even, let’s look at a few notable female examples of this thing being romanticized:

 

Look at something like The Craft. Robin Tunney’s character, Sarah, casts a spell on a guy she likes named Chris, in order to get him to fall in love with her. At one point, Chris becomes so obsessed that he tries to rape her, only for Sarah to escape and her fellow witch and then friend Nancy (played by Fairuza Balk) to come to exact revenge. But despite the despicable nature of this act he tried to commit, no one ever pauses to think that he had limited agency in the overall situation. And I don’t say that to be apologetic; he was literally forced into ‘loving’ Sarah, and the magic just escalated it too far. Chris is punished and killed for something he probably had no control over, but we probably instinctively root for the former (if not the latter) because of our visceral loathing for the act of rape.

 

Let me just say here that I don’t think that having an attraction (physically, emotionally, etc.) to someone is inherently bad or wrong. It’s what you do about it and how you treat that person as a result of it that can cause problems, and the fact that enough people fantasize about forcing someone to fall in love with them that it’s a popular trope in the media makes me very glad that love potions don’t actually exist. Our society would fall into chaos and debauchery, probably just like the golden calf scene in The Ten Commandments.

 

Let’s take another magic movie: Practical Magic. Sandra Bullock’s Sally has a curse that all men who truly love the women of her family will die before their time, and so, as a young girl, she casts a spell that seals her feelings entirely on a man that “doesn’t exist.” She gives him what she thinks are impossible and ridiculous qualities, just so they will never meet and fall in love. But, lo and behold, such a man does meet her over the course of the movie.

 

The idea that Gary is under the influence of a spell and may or may not actually love Sally is never really satisfyingly resolved; at one point, she reveals the truth about her curse and spell to him, and, despite everything he has seen, replies that curses are only real if people believe in them. Sally is still supposed to be likeable, if flawed, but she just decides to take their love on faith, and embraces the man whose agency she took away. He embraces her as well, and they all live happily ever after. The curse did get broken, no doubt allowing Gary to live to a ripe old age, but the spell that binds him to Sally is never really mentioned again. And it’s constantly implied to be romantic because of how sweet and tragic it is!

 

I have some issues with Practical Magic’s overall execution, but that is a review for another time.

In Ancient Athens, stories about infatuation and Aphrodite were regarded as a kind of madness, and the love was basically an object to be acted upon by the “lover.” Gods and other mythical beings mostly got involved with “love” to be dicks and mess with people

 

or because they were arrogant enough to think that they knew better than the people themselves (see A Midsummer Night’s Dream). And yet today, we still see a lot of love potion stories in which we are meant to sympathize with the instigator, for kids no less! (see Breadwinners “Love Loaf” episode and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for just three random but recent examples)

The “safest” method of execution is to have one or more characters try to bring two other characters together, because he/she/they think they should be.

 

Personally, I prefer Garnet’s approach to love in Steven Universe:

 

The gist:

“Love at first sight doesn’t exist. Love takes time and love takes work. At the very least you have to know the other person…”           

I think that’s a much healthier attitude to teach kids, and I wish it would catch on more in the adult world as well. The idea that love always has to be dramatic or turbulent, but “don’t worry because it’s all worth it in the end” frustrates me, but still more is the idea that wanting to control someone else to such a ludicrous extent isn’t abusive, sociopathic, or just straight up objectification. You don’t have to know the person; you just have to want them badly enough, and thus they deserve to be yours, especially if you’re the protagonist. And if you have a way to make it happen, you’ll do so with no second thoughts.

At least having those would be better than just thoughtlessly making it happen in two seconds.

 

Even the most mindless entertainment can actually change the way we view the world, if its messages are constantly reinforced and we don’t get any variation. Somebody has to challenge the current notions if they are ever going to change, and I know it’s difficult. It’s hard to be different, and it’s hard to discern between what you may be overthinking and what’s actually a problem.

Believe me, I know, but ultimately, thinking about it and demanding more from your entertainment can make things better.

In Defense of Cinderella

I’m not saying it’s the greatest movie ever made. I’m not even saying that Cinderella is that strong of a character. She isn’t, and that’s okay. Not every female character needs to be Gloria Steinem.

What I am saying is Cinderella (1950) and its eponymous character are not nearly as bad as people claim, and the 2015 live action remakes ultimately “updates” very little from it.

Keep in mind that I do still like the remake (for the most part), but much like with the new Beauty and the Beast, I think it gets praised more than it really deserves, especially in contrast to the hate heaped upon its predecessor.

To start off, let’s get a few things out of the way here:

 

Yes, the animated prince gets maybe 4 complete lines in the whole movie, one of which is, “Yawn.” And yes, he has no character.

 

Yes, the mice take up too much time. And yes, a female mouse does in fact say, “Leave the sewing to the women,” and isn’t that so anti-feminist?

 

Got that out of your system? Great. On we go then.

Here is my interpretation of animated Cinderella, backed up by quotes from the opening narration: Her father died when she was very young, and suddenly it’s revealed that her stepmother and stepsisters, her only remaining family, are self-centered, sadistic bitches; “it was upon the untimely death of this good gentleman, however, that the stepmother’s true nature was revealed. Cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous of Cinderella’s charm and beauty.” She is put to work as their house servant soon after, but their house still falls apart because the stepmother is too cheap to hire more help. To quote the movie again, “The chateau fell into disrepair, for the family fortune was squandered upon the vain and selfish stepsisters”.

 

So it can be reasonably inferred that Cinderella was brainwashed and manipulated from a young age. The fact that she hasn’t left home probably means that she can’t, as it would probably leave her homeless and starving (which can sadly happen to runaways in the real world as well, even in modern day). The movie supports this theory with its framing of shots, showing Cinderella constantly inside or at the very least confined to the surrounding property. Aside from the panning shot over the castle, town, and chateau during the opening, we virtually never see the rest of the land (unlike in the remake, if you’ll remember).

It surprises me how many people fail to see the logical flow of events like these. They would prefer to call Cinderella stupid or weak, but I wonder if they could comfortably say the same of abuse victims in the real world, especially children raised in such environments? Think about it.

Anyway, the next thing people love to criticize Cindy for is being boring and simple. A helpless waif with no character and no drive to better herself. Well, aside from referring you back to my interpretation above, let’s look at Cinderella in the movie. She is forced to do every chore in the house every single day of her life, but while she doesn’t let it twist her into someone bitter and truly unkind, she clearly strains her patience very often. Just look at how the animators drew her face, albeit in brief moments:

 

Cinderella doesn’t say much sometimes, and she tends to be pretty reserved, but much like Belle, she conveys a surprising amount through her expressions. You can also hear frustration and determination in her voice, such as when she’s trying to convince herself that the prince’s ball wouldn’t have been that much fun anyway.

I also like how she not-so-subtlety mocks her stepsisters’ performances at their music lesson.

 

See guys? She’s not a complete goody-two-shoes doormat after all. She just copes like every other woman does….quietly and bitchily.

The classic Cinderella moral has always been “work hard and be good and good things will come to you;” essentially “don’t give up.” But I think an even better lesson would be, “don’t let bad experiences change you negatively as a person,” which incidentally would have been a better moral for the new Cinderella as well, retroactively-speaking. Cinderella as a character doesn’t just work hard; she saves the mice, who are even lower on the social food chain than she is, and unlike the rest of her family, she treats those who are lower than her with respect and humanity.

 

She does try to argue with the stepmother (however futile that might ultimately be), so it’s not like she has no backbone. She’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, whether by trying to assert herself, trying to stay positive, or just being silly.

 

In a world of talking mice, horrible relatives, and fairy godmothers, what else can you do but yell at your alarm clock like it’s a person?

When Cinderella talks about the ball prior to going, at no point does she mention the prince or the opportunity to get with him aside from when she was reading the invitation. It sounds more like she just really wanted the excuse to put on a nice dress and have a fun night out. Even after she runs away at midnight, she doesn’t think that the man she danced with was the prince, and later, she is so startled by that revelation that she drops a tea tray.

 

Face it: Cinderella just wanted to get pretty and go to a party. She met a guy while she was there, somehow not realizing he was the prince, and that just made the evening better. Unlike in the remake, the writers don’t explicitly say that Cinderella has no chance with the man she danced with, but I feel like Cinderella would already know that and just have quietly appreciated the experience.

Then, the next day, when she finds out that not only can she be with him, but he’s the prince of the entire country, her first thought is to go clean up and make herself presentable. Her daydreaming blinds her to caution, sure, but she’s clearly elated to be able to marry the man she “fell in love with” (it’s a fairytale. Whatever) and escape her abusive, exploitative family.

And last but not least, do you remember her reaction when the stepmother locks her in her room? She gets upset. She beats on her door and tries to pull it open.

 

When she sees that her mice friends are coming to help and bringing her the key, she encourages them, and despite her usual policy of trying to be nice to Lucifer, she asks the birds to get Bruno the dog just to scare him away.

What was remake Cinderella’s reaction again?…Oh yeah, I remember. She twirled around her room daydreaming about the prince and the ball, singing to herself and totally not caring about what the stepmother might be planning to do to her. Because that’s really smart and empowering, right?

 

Remake Cinderella could ride a horse, speak several languages fluently, was an adult when the step family came into her life, and was shown numerous times to be able to leave the chateau and visit friends, who would probably take her in for a little bit if she asked them to. Hello! The filmmakers love to talk her up like she’s some feminist paragon, and by implication how backwards and weak old Cinderella is, but the climax of the movie completely ruins the image of the former for multiple reasons. The most relevant of which is that she doesn’t even try to get out or help herself, unlike the animated Cinderella. Just because 1950’s Cindy failed to get out on her own doesn’t negate the fact that she actually tried to.

 

That’s all I’m trying to say here. Both movies have their respective flaws and strengths, but the older version is not as bad for little girls as many people would have you believe. And as I always say, you could help your children understand context by watching it with them and talking to them about it, letting them know that it was made 70 years ago and lots of things change in all that time. It’s a little magical thing called context, and it works wonders.

Except maybe things don’t change much over 70+ years, because the remake updates so little and creates more issues than it ultimately fixes, all so that Disney could cash in on nostalgia and modern sensibilities simultaneously.

 

That’s what it’s all about; dress porn for little girls and girls at heart. At least 50’s Cinderella’s was less gratuitous…and way shorter. And less radioactive-looking.

 

You can still like something while admitting it has problematic elements to it. That’s how I can comfortably like both versions of this story. I just see so many people trying to pretend that one Cinderella is way worse than the other, when really, it’s two halves of the same whole. It’s too much selective outrage and modern sensibility, without actually addressing any of the problems they claim so deeply upset them.

Cindy’s not a bad person. Maybe all we need to do is see her in full light.

 

*None of the gifs or pictures in this post belong to me. They all belong to Disney. 

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Sunk Costs and Chuck McGill

Note: This post contains minimal spoilers for Better Call Saul season 3, episode 3: “Sunk Costs.” Go watch it if you haven’t already.

 

Just when you think you couldn’t hate Chuck any more than you already did…

Last night’s episode “Sunk Costs” picks up right where we left off last time, for both the main plot and sub plot. Jimmy waits patiently for the police to arrive after his bull-headed breaking and entering. Mike finally encounters Gustavo Fring, who informs him (in his patented “Gus” way) that while he is free to screw with Hector Salamanca’s business to his heart’s content, the man’s life is not an option. Yet.

As usual, we have another stellar episode from the writers, cast, and crew of Better Call Saul. I particularly like the cinematography; how the camera always shows you something seemingly innocuous, or focuses on what appears to be the least important thing in the shot, but not only does this get elaborated further into the episode, it also gives you subtle, even symbolic hints about the characters present. Even the short title sequences at the start of every episode do this to a certain extent; not with characters, but with the tone. Pretty much every one tells me that the traditional “American” ideal of justice will be ignored or bastardized in some way, and good old fashioned vigilante justice will prevail, even in the darkest shadows.

Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, I would just like to elaborate what I said at the start, as well as in my character study: Chuck continues to reach new lows as a character. It astounds me that someone who seems like an unambiguous “good guy” can become not just unlikable, but downright loathsome. Especially in comparison to a glorified con artist.

His frustrating, pretentious assertions of moral superiority and perhaps somewhat unconscious decision to do everything that he can to punish and hinder Jimmy is exacerbated by the fact that he maintains a façade of innocence and concern for everyone else around them, and he uses that to his advantage. In the last season, Chuck even used it against Jimmy himself, causing his younger brother to worry enough for his sanity that he blurted out a confession to a felony in order to reassure him. A confession which Chuck was counting on, and thus secretly taped.

 

I’m not condoning or forgiving Jimmy’s actions; in fact, during last week’s episode, I was shaking my head at the T.V., beginning him not to do yet another stupid thing (in this case, playing right into Chuck’s hands). But Jimmy’s fall is inevitable; we already know the end result, so all we can do now is look at what precisely pushes him over the edge.

While personal choice should not be ignored or downplayed, Chuck is helping to create the ideal environment, and the irritating thing is that he acts like he’s so much better than Jimmy, when really, they are two sides of the same coin. Flashbacks have shown us pretty clearly that Chuck is jealousy and resentful of Jimmy, and his insistence that Jimmy should do everything his way now seems less about “doing the right thing” and more about the fact that Chuck believes he deserves success and security more than his younger brother. For all of his posturing, the older McGill brother is, at the end of the day, a proud man, and while he is no Walter White, that quality of Chuck’s certainly makes him arrogant and entitled, feeding his insecurities rather than putting them to rest.

 

In “Sunk Costs”, I see even more of Chuck’s insidious, calculating side being revealed, and it’s the subtlety of it that makes it even worse. He is doing whatever he can to isolate Jimmy and take his desires away from him, all under the guise of wisdom and help. Any genuine care he had for Jimmy’s “best interests”  is long dead; it’s about revenge, plain and simple, and though Jimmy is upset, he’s not oversimplifying anymore. He knows exactly what he’s looking at, and his response is the epitome of, “You’re dead to me.”

Granted, Jimmy should be punished for his illegal actions, but he wasn’t doing them just to be petty or superior, and to be so thoroughly used, betrayed, and antagonized by his own brother, his only remaining family – whom he has taken great pains to care for in Chuck’s time of need, I might add – is too harsh. It’s unjust, and I can pretty much guarantee that Chuck is going to be the main reason Jimmy officially breaks bad. Kim may have something to do with it, but if so, I have a feeling she will just be the final nail in the coffin. Officially sealing the deal, but not the killing blow or funeral prep by any means.

But we’ll just have to wait and see.

A Few Thoughts on Fans and Fandoms

It’s a damn shame and a sad fact of life: sometimes a fandom is enough to ruin your enjoyment of the thing itself.

You would think that meeting fellow fans of something is a great way to make friends with like-minded people, but just as often, if not more so, it just angers or disheartens you. It’s not just about alternate interpretations and theories; with a series like Steven Universe, for example, it’s the idea that people would take a show with a message of love, kindness, and acceptance and use it as a justification to bully someone that they don’t agree with. However wrong you think that person might be, it does not excuse you and your despicable actions.

 

 

Another issue, though generally less reprehensible, is when you feel that avowing your fan identity lumps you in with the less savory parts of the community. For example, while there are many “bronies” who are reasonable, well-adjusted grown men or women who just happen to genuinely, un-ironically like a cartoon made for children, the world at large will always focus on the numerous fans who post creepy fetish stories and pictures for My Little Pony. The fans who, while maybe not actual pedophiles, still clutter up yours and your children’s Google searches with unwanted content that can’t be unseen, if you ever accidentally left the NSFW filters off.

 

The less you have to see those sides of the fan community, the better.

Or how about the jerks who suddenly swarm out of the woodwork to complain every time a character doesn’t fit with their worldview?

 

 

Personally, I also dislike people who insist that what they love is perfect, because in my opinion, a true fan of something can enjoy it without blindly worshiping the ground upon which it and its creators tread. I love The Lord of the Rings (both the book and movie iterations), but I’m not afraid to look at them critically and admit where aspects could be improved. I’m definitely not afraid to criticize Peter Jackson for his choices in making The Hobbit movies, even though they are parts of an established world and mythos that I love.

I realize this argument smacks of No True Scotsman, but that is just how I look at things. As always, you are welcome to disagree with me, but have you ever heard the phrase “media digestion”? To me, there are those who wolf down food and those who actually eat it. It’s the difference between gorging on autopilot, caring more about the good taste than if it might be bad for you, and taking the time to chew, swallow, and actually enjoy the food, and maybe making a few notes to better the recipes for the next time around.

My personal fan pet peeves are weeaboos, a.k.a. hard core anime fans who behave like cutesy cartoon characters come to life, and who usually assert that they “speak Japanese” when they only know 5 words tops (and all of which they learned from watching T.V.). But they are by no means the worst kind of fans ever. They tend to be bullied more than they bully others, at least.

 

But generally speaking, it’s irritating that the ‘extreme examples” of anything (fans, politicians, etc.) become the immediate, quintessential image of that entire group in the public consciousness.

 

I’ve said before that some escapism can and should be mindless, and sometimes all it needs to do is make you feel a cathartic emotion. Movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, or video games like Mario Kart and Mario Party, don’t have a lot of application outside of their original, intended purposes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have value. But I also believe that skepticism and criticism are important to have, whether you are a kid, an adult, or somewhere in between, and sometimes the flaws of something can just make you love it all the more. Just look at cult classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show; it makes no sense and amounts to basically nothing by the end, but its unorthodox storytelling and utter shamelessness, among other things, making it an enjoyable watch, especially at special group showings.

In a similar vein, I get tired of being told that I expect too much out of my media diet. That may be true from time to time, but what is so wrong with asking for better quality stuff? I’m not just bickering for the sake of being contrary.

It seems to be coming from the same people who always argue that kids are stupid, and therefore it’s okay when the things we make for them are stupid too. Or those who complain when a movie or T.V. show is too “high brow” or “artsy” to be good .Most of these folks clearly mean well, but the bones of that message seem awfully familiar somehow…

 

Hmmm…I’ll figure it out one of these days…

Anyway, when fans and content makers can embrace the flaws of their favorite works and take them in stride, and argue their points respectfully with other people in the community, that makes a fandom great. More importantly, it doesn’t drive new and casual fans away by getting all up in their face right off the bat, then refusing to leave them alone. Sometimes, that actually just inspires an equal and opposite reaction.

Why does it seem like moderation is the key to everything?

If you do have a serious axe to grind, however, try not to be a belligerent ass about it, and always make sure you sincerely follow this advice. I try to.

 

*The images in this post do not belong to me.

“Stop Touching My Hair!” A Short Rant From a Curlicue Woman

Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!

So, taking a break from movies and whatnot…here’s an issue facing some women I know. A lesser one when compared to many, mind you, but still obnoxious:

“I wish I had hair like yours.”

Trust me, ladies. No you don’t.

The first Disney Princess with realistic-looking hair, let alone curly.

Having other women tell you how much they’re lusting after your “luscious curls” is well-meaning, but about as annoying as hearing, “When are you going to have children?” Or hearing an attached person groan about minor relationship problems when you  yourself are unhappily single.

The first two phrases are often used as “small talk”, but I try to give the former a little bit more credit. After all, it comes with genuine admiration, and tends to evoke less of a “none of your business” reaction on the part of the receiver.

That is, until people start touching your hair without so much as a “by your leave”.

 

This is probably why I’ve started to dislike the comment “I want your hair”: the handsy-ness that accompanies it. Having curls means adjusting to friends and sometimes even total strangers playing with your hair when it suits them, much like how some people seem to think they are entitled to touch a pregnant woman’s belly, just by virtue of it existing.

A few weeks ago, while chatting with a friend who was getting her hair done (I wasn’t), I was only partially surprised by one of the other stylists appearing suddenly behind me, hands buried firmly in my ‘do’.

Scrunch scrunch. “I’m sorry,” she said happily once I had noticed her, not retreating in the slightest. “I just love the way you did your hair. These are natural, aren’t they?” Scrunch scrunch.

At one point in my youth, I might have asked back, “I’m sorry, are we talking about hair or breasts?” It would have seemed equally as impertinent of a question, if only because of the hands.

Instead, I smiled. “Yep, it’s natural. Sorry if it feels a little sticky. I gel the crap out of it just to keep its shape.”

Not that I felt that bad if she got stuff on her hands. If you choose to stick your foot on a mousetrap, it shouldn’t surprise you when it snaps down on your toes. 

Hell, why was I even apologizing to her? “Sorry if you touched my hair without permission and didn’t like what you felt”?! How cowed am I?
She shook her head, not visibly put-off at all.

“Are you one with the curls?” she then murmured in a distinctly cult-y way, along with several other things like that. She made my hair sound like a state of being, rather than something that was on my head.

“Of course!” I tried to laugh jokingly, taking it in stride as I have for my whole life. As I said, that’s what it means to have curls for me.

In school, friends would bat at my ponytail, because it was “so soft and fluffy!” I was often pet on the head like a dog, as if my hair was actually some cute little animal. But hey, at least I knew who they were, and most of them asked first. 

 

Having curls, for me, means being told I look “unprofessional,” or, at best, “cute”. The other day, one person actually used the word “precious”.

Women who aren’t white might hear the former or worse, just because they want to work with what they were born with. I don’t know who decided that straight hair obviously translates to having one’s life together, but I can tell you this: at the shortest (about shoulder-length), my hair takes nearly two hours to straighten. Unless I want that look on a given day, why spend all that time burning myself and my hair?

Having curls has often meant hating my hair on most days, because after a shower, my curls are good for precisely one, and then they become a tangled rats’ nest if I don’t sleep on them exactly the right way. And even then, as I mentioned, it takes a lot of product to hold them in the hellishly-oppressive humidity that naturally occurs where I live.

After one good brushing, my hair becomes a frizzy, wavy pyramid. Huzzah

Source here.

Having curls meant being bullied occasionally, because in addition to wearing glasses, I had weird, loopy, frizzy hair while most other girls had straight or wavy locks. Having curls also means being told by some of those same little girls how much they want my hair as grown women.

Oh, to hear what they’d do if they had it…

Having curls means tangles and snags, often painful to remove. I end up pulling it back after I inevitably exhaust all known tactics to try and tame it, and after people see it down for the first time, they remark what a shame it is that I don’t wear it that way more often.

If only I could.   

Having curls means wanting to have your hair instead, because even if you say“Oh, no!  It’s too flat”, “oily”, or “thin”, at least it’s under control. Trust me; I could make it work.  Nice hair costs time and money, as I learn every time I go for a haircut.

If you’re shy, good luck not being noticed with curly hair. Corkscrews make a statement whether you’re trying to or not, so marvels and coos are sure to follow. And yet no one really exclaims at straight hair that looks like it’s straight out of a shampoo commercial, all sleek and shiny and gorgeous.

Imagine if curly girls started doing the same thing to straight-haired girls. Would this seem weird to you?

Source here.

Having curls means reading magazines and watching movies and TV shows where straight hair is dominant or the only style shown, subtly reinforcing the idea that there must be wrong with my hair.

And before you start rolling your eyes, yes, I’ll admit that this is a mentality carried over from childhood. Which makes it hard to shake off, even as an adult. In 2015, a report by Common Sense Media found that “more than half of girls and one-third of boys as young as 6 to 8” have already developed issues with self-image, particularly that of body weight.

Even the more neutral excuse, “Curly hair is just not as marketable,” is an implicit dis that leaves many girls feeling like they have to change their hair, in order to be beautiful and fit in. The times are getting way better thankfully, but still. 

It’s not like head hair is linked to obesity or anything. It doesn’t change much about you for the better if you burn it or perm it or shave it all off.

…Look, I’m not trying to be bitter, or bash other women with naturally straight hair. I know this is just yet another poorly thought out nicety that people pepper into conversations to be complimentary, polite, or just generally social. It’s not wrong to long for some simple human contact, even from people you don’t know, and sometimes we’re all just scrambling for ideas about how to start.

Or maybe you feel compelled to say something, anything, just to acknowledge that someone is, in fact, there.

 

What I’m trying to say is the same basic thing people mean when they beg you not to pry into their number of children, marital status, health conditions, etc.: don’t just assume, and try to think before you speak. Or in this case, touch.

It took me a long time to accept my hair, let alone love it.
*These images do not belong to me.