Posts tagged ‘insanity’

Kick-Ass: why?

Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl

a rare un-bloodied moment for Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl

“What works on the page doesn’t always work on the screen, asshole.” – Dave Lizewski

Of the two Kick-Ass texts, the comic is far more faithful to the world it depicts (one seemingly defined by a lack of Alan Moore). The fundamental difference is that the graphic novel blatantly loathes its audience – and is therefore able to more accurately and comically present that group’s foibles and masochistic fantasies – while the film abandons this worldview mid-Act 2 in favor of pandering to the demographic.

Dave Lizewski is an Asperger’s-esque teen who suffers from what he describes as “the perfect combination of loneliness and despair,” which drives him to nick an identity from the comics he adores (obsessively, of course – no fictional fan has any other interests). The film and comic diverge pretty quickly, despite a surface similarity. Both present the sudden but natural death of Dave’s mother as both a vague motivation and something to be resented for lacking a good revenge arc. Neither seems to mourn very much, only noting the effect it’s had on Dave’s dad, who would do well to attend a support group hosted by Charlie Swan. Movie-Dave is a lovable loser who tries to make friends with those even more socially outcast than his geek-clique and picks two men who’ve repeatedly mugged him as his first heroic effort. Comic-Dave seethes with resentment that others don’t see how wonderful he is and picks relatively harmless-looking graffiti taggers as his first target. Unexpectedly (for the genre), both Daves fail spectacularly and spend several months recovering in hospital, and both choose to continue putting their bereaved father through financially ruinous hell rather than give up their delusional identity.

Watchmen was one of the first in-universe texts to confront the fact that anyone who chose the vigilante lifestyle would not only be mentally disturbed but probably only make the world a more dangerous place through their efforts. Kick-Ass attempts to update this concept to the 21st century by using cell phone cameras and Myspace as a direct conduit to Coincidental Broadcasts, upping the childish cynicism by half, and lowering expectations of audience IQ by at least as much. One cover announces its mission statement for the slower readers:

Sickening Violence: Just the Way You Like It!

And yet the comic is less insulting than the film, which promises graphic deconstruction and provides Rambo-esque clichés. Dave gets beaten down, but then gets Real Mad and kills bad guys with a Gatling-enhanced jet pack and a rocket launcher (with no fear of the justice system). He gets the assigned most beautiful girl in school, after shamming as a GBF in order to amass the Nice Guy points that will make her owe him a relationship. He rescues one of the city’s only genuine superheroes and becomes he school “protector.”

All this with nary a synapse spark over committing mass murderer.

In a straight popcorn flick, this might be good enough, given that Kick-Ass was the hero of the movie named after him. But he’s not. He’s a mildly irritating prologue glommed onto Big Daddy and Hit-Girl’s star turn. From the moment the appear on screen or paper, , Kick-Ass becomes part of the audience. This works – on its own level – because the father-daughter team is both more competent and far more interesting than the talentless and asocial imitative fanboy. Watching real superheroes do their thing is his natural level. The film demands a suspension of disbelief and basic humanity appropriate to a later Die Hard sequel, then flings an affectless and brainwashed 11-year-old serial killer at us.

She hacks and slashes her way through a room full of stereotypical thugs – and there is something primal and wonderful about that sight familiar to any fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, just as it’s oddly heartwarming that a father would train his daughter to be tough rather than decorative, how not to freeze when faced with the physical threats a small and pretty girl is likely to encounter as she ventures into the world.

Kick-Ass, Big Daddy and Hit-Girl

Father-daughter bonding, Macready-style

But Buffy spent entire seasons mourning her lost potential of becoming someone who didn’t spend her nights killing other sentient beings. Hit-Girl and, more importantly, her father have no such qualms.

The film takes the easy route again by giving Big Daddy the standard Antihero’s Journey – a good cop framed by the Mob he refused to work for, which somehow leads to his wife’s suicide – and a clear mission of revenge. Comicverse Bid Daddy made this story up and picked a target at random. He was just an accountant, and obsessive comic book fan – an adult Dave Lizewski and obvious sociopath – who ran away from his career and wife into fantasy, kidnapping his daughter and raising her to live out his violent daydreams. He never comes near the bad guys, sending his daughter in alone and watching from a safe distance through the scope of a sniper rifle.

Hit-Girl, the only real superhero (and innocent), is the only comic character who catches a break in the end.  She avenges her father’s completely deserved death and gives up mass murder in favour of a relatively normal (if bully-proof) life with her mother. Actually, Dave’s father, whom the comic never marginalises as much as the film does, also breaks even. His son gives up getting beat up and running up hospital bills, and he even begins to move on from his paralysing grief to begin dating again. Big Daddy and the local Mob branch all die badly, and Dave (thank god) is roundly rejected by the object of his obsession when he confesses his deception and “love.” He tries to comfort himself that he’s changed the world by inspiring a legion of mentally unbalances poseurs, but the last frame goes to one of these deluded souls, the Armenian about to become pavement pizza when his homemade wings fail twenty floors up.

The uncompromising comic is a far superior story…but neither is worth the time it takes to see – or review – them.

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Silo of traumatic kernels: Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"

The Nostalgia Critic’s Bum Review of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland sums up this film (and much of Tim Burton’s oeuvre) so well almost no other review is necessary: Seriously, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ looked great, but GOD was it stupid.

The overarching plot is pretty dire and derivative, even among the  ‘adolescent from the real world stumbles into fantasyland where he becomes Messiah-with-a-sword for the land’s darling anthropomorphic inhabitants’ genre. There are, however, a lot of nice touches underneath that made the film intermittently fascinating. For instance, Alice brings the fearsome bandersnatch over to her side by simply returning the eye taken from it in an earlier battle, one in which they’d been on opposite sides and the bandersnatch had given her a bad injury just beginning to fester. There’s no bargaining, no ‘I’ll return this if you let me get at that magic sword you’re guarding,’ only simple decency toward a dangerous enemy. After a night’s contemplation, the beast comes to the decision to disinfect her wound and hand over the key to the swordcase, and later helps her escape and partners up in battle. It wasn’t Hollywood ‘clever’ of Alice to make that gesture rather than using it as leverage, but it was quietly genuine and made for a real connection between the two.

This film also aces the Bechdel test, offering a variety of female characters who usually interact with each other in arguing about the right way to rescue Underland from the sociopathic Red Queen. Many of them are fairly complicated characters, as well, particularly the nominal white hats (some of them literally in white hats). The White Queen, for instance, has taken a mysterious but seemingly regretted vow to never hurt a living thing and swans about in an exaggerated Disney Princess posture – but she takes great glee in mixing up embiggening and ensmallening potions out of noxious or dead ingredients (which Alice, good sheltered daughter that she is, drinks down without hesitation even after seeking how they’re made). There’s a lingering worry that Underland will not fare much better under this differently-insane ruler, beautiful white dress or no.

Speaking of dress, Burton does a wonderful and almost subtle thing with the progression of Alice’s clothing. It is first a mark of her inability to truly fit into heteronormative standards, when her mother remarks in horror that she’s sneakily refused to wear her corset or stockings, items that make running or sweating difficult and uncomfortable.  She must improvise as she shrinks and grows, her pretty dress always an impractical inconvenience, progressing from a child’s pastel frills to a more punk-style red dress, to a tunic and trousers reminiscent of 1970s’ Maude, and finally into a suit of armor, coming to literally wear the pants in a gesture toward her future as a merchant businesswoman.

Still, that particular ending managed to be both anachronistic and out of date. A young woman choosing to guide her own future via a high-flying career hasn’t been cutting-edge feminism in generations, and no 19th-century lord would have taken on a female apprentice, no matter how much guilt he felt for not supporting her recently deceased father. And no person of any time period would choose a business heir immediately after she’d humiliated his son by publicly refusing his marriage proposal, alienated his bitter and domineering wife, and demonstrated a level head by literally running away from a decision, falling down a hole and knocking herself unconscious, and performing a pee-pee dance as dramatic punctuation to several condescending pronouncements to her various elders.

There’s also the awkward and quickly dumped romantic element with Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, something that was initially almost sweetly rueful despite its perfunctory arrival: “You’re always either too small or too tall for me” nicely encapsulates the difficult adjustments of a first serious love affair. Once they are the same size, however, I was quickly reminded of Alan Kirby‘s tenants of digimodernist aesthetics in terms of modern ‘epic’ films, the “foregrounding of children’s experiences” and specifically “an elision of the question of reproduction; sexualized love may be permitted, but in sublimated form”. (Digimodernism, 2009, p 127; I’d really hoped to find something more on this in his blog to link to specifically, as I’d love it if he’d expand on this idea more…particularly if he had any ideas where the re-sexualisation of these works in online fandom would fit in to this aesthetic, or as resistance against the aesthetic, or what have you…but there ya go.)

Once Alice and the Hatter are the same size, their connection fizzes into flat lemonade, becoming generic, sexless Wuv. Any remotely realistic complexity is immediately jettisoned, despite it being exactly the messy aspect of adulthood a 19-year-old first defined as a marriage-ready almost-woman should thematically be facing and beginning to control. The somewhat positive adult-becoming of beginning a career instead becomes a retreat from Underland’s potential for adult sexuality (and the mixed blessing of a devoted and creative paramour with the face of Johnny Depp but mercury-warped sanity and gametes) to the safe protection of a substitute father-figure standing between her and the big dangerous world – even after she’s slain a skyscraper-sized monster!

He, She, and it: Antichrist

Antichrist - Eden

Antichrist is not an enjoyable experience, but it does make a small and permanent place in your brain afterward.  Lars von Trier wrote the script in the middle of a profound depression, and I’d comfortably wager much of the audience response splits between those who’ve gone through depression or intense mourning and those who’ve yet to have the pleasure.

In the interpretation that makes sense to me, much of the film comes down to the struggle between the Lacanian/Zizekian Symbolic and the Real.  The Real in this definition (as least what I’ve grasped of it) is impenetrable, only perceived as chaos.  We experience it as traumatic kernels hiding within the symbolic order – think of a basic life definition, which this film plays with like a feral cat with a dead mouse: Man and Woman.  Individuals with male genitalia are Men, defined by a set of attributes and (more importantly) their lack of another set of attributes that have been assigned to those with female genitalia, who are Women because they lack the male-assigned attributes.

These gendered definitions usually work well enough, as most people don’t encounter many others who don’t make the effort to fit them.  But picture their discomfort and even disgust at meeting a male or female transvestite, or outright horror if they were to learn someone they were close to had been born of the opposite gender or hermaphroditic.  Hello, traumatic kernel.

The general response – the psychologically healthy one, you could argue – to one of these kernels is to either reject them out of hand as something perverse and thus unworthy of attention, or to examine the sense of disquiet and eventually incorporate the disturbing thing into a more complicated definition of life’s essential truths.  Neither approach gets a person closer to the Real, of course, but the Real is made of madness and should be avoided.  That space is left blank on purpose, as the form tells us.

The fact that the laws of physics we experience on Earth seem to be consistent across as much of the universe as we’ve been able to observe convinces me that there’s probably some overarching logic or meaning to the universe (thank you, Carl Sagan).  What that meaning might be, no human has any hope of grasping.  It’s too big, and too impersonal, and frankly as terrifying as it is comforting.  So, for my own sanity, I generally stop at ‘there’s some order out there.’

The film, like nearly all organised religions since a breed of sociopathic prehistoric apes lost some body hair, takes on reproduction and death, two forces in human existence that shred the boundaries between the relatively comfortable Symbolic order and the Real.  It seems that whoever can take those living nightmares and trap them in a logical order will win the big prize, but no one’s claimed it yet.  The Antichrist of the title, a couple’s very young son, escapes from his crib and falls to his death while his parents are distracted with passionate lovemaking, plunging the two of them into intolerable torment.  Sex and Death, Freud’s chocolate and peanut butter, in beautiful slow-motion.

He seeks to escape his grief by focusing on that of his wife.  He’s a medication-hating psychiatrist, the embodiment of order imposed upon the chaos of human experience.  She’s younger and an academic, already half driven mad by her own intense study of witch hunts.  Her grief is mostly insanity, directly staring into the Real, and her guilt doesn’t allow her to contextualise that ugliness back into the Symbolic’s order without some crushing punishment.  She’s probably wise to accept her doctor’s deadening medication, providing the only reprieve possible, but accepts her husband’s judgement that he can fix her with words, instead.

Her state of mind was familiar to me.  When I was a teenager, my only sibling committed suicide.  Already struggling with many of the same issues that drove him to it, I was simultaneously thrust into a terrifying adult world in which anyone can die at any time and suddenly expected to live up to every family expectation in order to make up for his death – my resounding success in every area (and production of grandchildren) would make his suicide, and the inherent rebuke to their parenting, symbolically nullified.

By which I’m saying, people respond to grief with varying levels of insanity, and I believe the way that Death is removed from ordinary life in the modern world, something to be shoved aside and spoken of in hushed, almost ashamed tones, has only made those responses crazier.

He looks for ways to bring her away from the terror of loss and the absence of any mental safety by imposing a Symbolic order, represented by a pyramid of words – at the top will be her true fear, which he will force her to confront, and then, badda bing, she’ll be back in the orderly land with him.  It’s quite likely he’s aware on some level that this is an impossible task, and hopes it’ll be a lifelong quest that keeps him safely in the role of carer, not grieving father.

She confesses her nightmares of their rustic cabin and the woods surrounding it, so he takes her there.  Even as he sees the harshness she justifiably fears (a beautiful deer which turns to reveal a malformed, stillborn fawn still half-trapped inside, a fox consuming itself which informs him that “chaos reigns”), he insists more stridently on his sense of order, seeing her as the chaos she confronts.

In a key moment, she tells him that the acorns constantly raining down on the tin roof make her unbearably sad, because an oak tree only needs one of these in a hundred years to germinate in order to propagate itself.  The abundance of acorns, except for that one in a billion, exist solely to be consumed by other life, by the other ones in a billion that were able to go from potential to actual.  It’s obvious she sees her son, and herself, as those extraneous acorns.  In my experience, the only way to get through this state of mind – which is not inaccurate, just impossible to sustain while retaining sanity – is to stay away from sharp things while looking at the chaos until it loses all meaning, until the inadequate descriptive words allow the Symbolic to mercifully creep up over it.

Her husband, instead, tells her that’s the dumbest thing he’s ever heard, and tries to make her accept nature by walking in the tall grass outside the cabin.  His desperate need to save his shattered wife and unacknowledged bruised ego (after all, as the older and more educated partner, he’s right, she should listen and accept his view) merge into a disastrous effort to force order onto grief, even as he loses his own grip.

Unfortunately, it soon comes out that she had started to lose her sanity several months before their son’s death, in that cabin, confronting the Real more distantly: the hysteria that drove entire communities to torture and murder their own neighbors.  She began with the assertion that it was “gynocide,” the killing of women, the attempt to destroy subversive femininity via the symbolic murder of these real women and leave behind only the cowed and controlled.  In isolation, with only her pre-verbal son and these images for company, her view began to shift – if these men were evil, because humanity is at its dark heart a nasty brutal thing, are not woman, as human beings, equally evil?  In that sense, didn’t those tortured women deserve death, as things equally evil to the men putting them to death?

Thus we get our second example of why it’s a Very Bad Thing to try to contextualise the harsh chaos of the Real into a neat philosophical context.  Logic is just as brutal, in its own way, as nature.

For instance, it might be logical to move from this discussion of the sad but sane-ish chapters to the brutal one Antichrist is infamous for by defining the maiming and murder as the abandonment of the Symbolic order for the immediate physical experience, a closer approximation of the Real.  I’d argue, however, that the torture and murder only go deeper into the Symbolic order, to the depths of the human soul that believe in sacrifice to appease forces beyond their control.

Destroying part, perhaps the best part, of what a person valued was a way to let destructive chaos into the small area of imposed order in the hopes that this would fill some cosmic chaos quota, and leave the rest of the life untouched.  When this impulse provokes more psychopathic impulses, like the torture or ritual murder of a chosen victim, the meaning behind it was more direct, simply an attempt to provoke a reaction from the indifferent beyond by violating the consciously and unconsciously held rules: look what we’ve done, respond to us, even if it’s to fry us all with lightening.  Don’t withhold meaning any longer.

This new level begins as she seems to have turned a corner, begun to reconstruct a sense of life and her place in it that keeps the terror of reality at bay.  He turns spiteful, from lack of control over this breakthrough and from the fear that he’ll now have to face his own grief, and viciously attacks her with words.  This escalates quickly, from forced sexual intercourse (her on him, as many of their sexual encounters have been throughout the grieving process) to torture, to attempted murder and actual murder.  They visit horrors on each other, and hers in particular spiral as each act, so terrible and transgressive it must force a response from the powers that be and end her torment, provokes nothing.  No punishment and thus no meaning falls from the sky or crawls up from the earth.

In the end, all reproductive possibilities brutally destroyed in both, there is only survival.  The final scene, his vision of a crowd of faceless women streaming past him to Eden, has been decried as misogyny, of admittance that she was right, that women are evil and will return to a primal horror that lives in their base souls if men push too close.  Putting aside the question of big-E Evil, I think it’s more interesting that this is his vision, women like his wife who he can not only not save but now not even comprehend simple facial expressions.

He’s a man who’s dedicated his life to penetrating the human psyche, a grief-stricken father who felt confident he could not only understand but fix his wife’s internal workings.  Here, he emerges as a broken person who has walked into and – barely – out of his own and his wife’s hearts of darkness.  The truly crushing realisation: he has gained no understanding of deeper truths, only new grief, and has lost the ordered structure that gave life any meaning at all.

portents and blowflies

And the Ass Saw the Angel
Nick Cave
1989

In his only novel, Australian Nick Cave out-Southern Gothics William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor with his ur-swamp tale of total corruption, the degradation of all life and complexity into unthinking muck. The primal swamp lies in Ukulore Valley, which travellers and the march of history avoid even before the apocalyptic three-year rain. Despite spanning the 1930s through the 50s (arguably beginning even earlier, when Euchrist’s father is born in 1890), the valley is untouched by wars and social progression.

This rift in the land nurtures both sugar cane and the most repellent consanguineous tribes of people on earth. One is the Ukulites, the minority ruling class population in the valley who follow the 1861 bible written by an excommunicated Baptist. The other is the Morton clan, sometimes cannibalistic inbred hillfolk who prey on travellers, and are nearly wiped out by lawmen in the novel’s early chapters. One, Ezra Eucrow, whose tangled genes are revelled only in his shuddering light blue eyes, escapes before the slaughter and settles with the town’s outcast moonshiner, Crow Jane. Jane gives birth in the burnt corpse of a Chevy to twin boys, badly damaged by their tangled genetic code, fetal alcohol syndrome, and congenital disease. The firstborn, luckier twin dies soon after; the second, Eucrid, grows into a twisted and desperate young man who lacks the power of speech.

Despite its religious focus, Cave insists And the Ass Saw the Angel is not an allegory. Nevertheless, it is packed with possible thematic markers and symbols that blend to ultimately form little more than a message of abject wretchedness. Breaks in this despair are rare and exist sole as lights to be snuffed out by the next horror and leave the darkness that much deeper.

Euchrid’s insane parents avenge his terrible beating by throwing his persecutors into a patch of nasty thorns, where he later hides from his pursuers. Before her own mob assault, the town’s heroin-addicted whore treats Eucrid kindly, establishing an internal heaven in his mind made up of her perfumes and soft breasts. From this safe mental haven come his worst heavenly commands to build himself a fort of horrors and plan the murder of the town’s young Virgin Mary. The town’s disgraced minister adopts and sincerely loves this foundling girl, but allows the parishioners to “prime Beth for sainthood” in return for their care and cooking.

In Ukulore Valley, individual yearnings toward the spark of divinity lead only to mass abuse and profanity. God’s plans figure heavily in every character’s thoughts, albeit in twisted and self-serving fanaticisms. For Euchrid in particular it shapes his formless need for acceptance into a targeted and devastating vengeance on his small world. The Ukulites scramble to keep hold of their faith in the face of a hard rain that for three years destroys their cane crops and keeps them inside. They briefly fall under the sway of wayward preacher Abie Poe, who moves them to symbolically destroy the corruption in the community by brutally beating the whore Cosey Mo and to clense themselves in the fetid swamp. They reject him after the aborted mass baptism—crippling an innocent is fine, but humiliating the parishioners is right out.

Euchrist and the townspeople descend separately into mad religiosity after the discovery of Cosey’s abandoned infant coincides with the return of the sun. Euchrist lurks on the fringes, abused by all who spy him there, escaping into dreams of his angel that cover and entwine with masturbation (he notes the “ectoplasm” left on his hand from the angel as proof of her presence). He thinks of himself as “a Voyeur to the Lord.” Meanwhile the townspeople venerate Beth as the womb of Christ’s return, medically verifying her virginity and impatiently waiting for her to conceive. Beth retreats into the same staring fits that marked Ezra’s mountain lineage and pathetic religious visions similar to Euchrist’s, implying Ezra had a progenitive relationship with Cosey, whose body he secretly buried with tenderness.

These two insanities come together as Beth misapprehends the mute and wild Euchrist as the Holy Spirit come to enact the Big Plan the townswomen have groomed her for. Euchrist, in a very concrete Freudian slip, comes to kill the teenaged Beth (as a false prophet and devil) and instead has sex with her, an act lost in the delusional muck of his perceptions. As the Ukulites hunt him down and destroy his hideaway of horrors on the suspicion he’s assaulted Beth, he succeeds in plunging his scythe into her in the town square (this time, not metaphorically). As the townspeople kill Euchrist in revenge, the rain once again begins to fall.

The final image is of the core fundamentalist women gathering around their newborn Christ. The labor has killed Beth, who narrowly survived Euchrist’s attack. With Ezra’s “shivering, pale blue eyes,” Beth’s son is the consanguineous grandchild of the despised town rejects brought to the very heart of the community. Euchrist has proved not a cancer to be removed from the town’s body (in which his mother’s moonshine is shown repeatedly to be the blood) but a testicle, the literal distillation of their shared nature producing the next generational evolution.

The fanatic Ukulites and the twisted, dying clans will descend into fruitless entropy together.

prozzies and other respectable women

Ashes to Ashes 1.03

Ashes to Ashes continues, hitting many of the same notes as Sam’s stint in Gene Hunt’s world.  Since the pilot, Alex has reliably featured moments of headdesking stupidity in the presence of her mother and her mother’s law firm partner (in 2008, the godfather of her daughter).  Abandoning her ‘you are all figments’ stance, she alternates between amazed gawping and craven attempts to elicit approval.  Rather than backing away slowly from the crazy woman, they offer brief but meaningful insights into their perspectives that inadvertently guide Alex through her hallucinatory new world.  Again like Sam, the gang surprisingly takes her lapses of cranial continence in stride while being horrified by her minor futuristic faux pas…but I suppose without this contractual genre blindness (or just plot-induced stupidity?), the show would be called Special Woman Is Instantly Institutionalised and Spends Thirteen Episodes Heavily Sedated.

Still, it bugs me.  Almost as much as Alex’s club-appropriate workwear, set in a time when a female professional, let alone a detective, would have been strapped into restrictive chin-to-knees pseudo-Victorian armor, heavily featuring those awful high-necked blouses with sewn-in bows and boxy pleated wool skirts.  A few years later, she’d be clad in a solid-color power suit with shoulder pads up to her ears.  Professional specifically did not equal sexy, outside of fetishes similar to those surrounding schoolgirl uniforms (and bearing as much relation to the reality).  A white-collar female was an impenetrable tank.

Margaret Thatcher

Despite this incongruity, the show is starting to play with a more complex morality.  Along the lines of the impenetrable tank…after subtly hitting on Gene and being shot down, Alex lets herself be picked up by a red suspender wearing Thatcherite, who she drunkenly boffs to the energetic beats of Bucks Fizz.  Her coworkers start out teasing her when she drags herself into work the following day, hungover and exhausted, but she reacts the way a modern woman working in a chauvinist environment should: yes, I’m dead tired because I was up all night shagging a total stranger, and it was bloody fantastic.  No shame, no cringing, just one of the boys.

Unfortunately…1981 wasn’t quite modern enough for that, or at least for these blokes.  No matter what Aaron Spelling and his Starsky & Hutch taught us in the late 70s, a confident, pretty woman interested in getting laid wasn’t a great girl but someone who should be far more discrete.  The men are uncomfortable, Gene is furious and offering the hard truth that she won’t be respected if she’s known to have sex—part advice for someone working beneath him who needs the respect of his crew, part fury that a woman who’d made herself ‘his’ in some vague but definite way by hitting on him had flipped over to someone who wouldn’t look after her.

This is set in an episode focusing on prostitutes, specifically whether one can be raped, as she claims.  Gene & Co display the sentiments that continue to linger in many minds today—prostitutes, as people who sell their bodies for sex, cease to be properly human.  A woman who doesn’t strenuously resist having sex with men, let alone chasing them for her own pleasure, becomes something closer to a prostitute.  These aren’t rational preconceptions, by any means, but divisions usually instilled before a child hits puberty and are rarely challenged.

Ray, however, possibly the thickest member of Gene’s squad, does rise to the challenge.  He befriends a traumatised young woman and, while he’s obviously disturbed by her revelation that she’s a ‘lady of the night,’ it leads him to the second moral quandary of the episode—framing the man who raped and assaulted her for cocaine possession.  Ray is now unable to accept that a man could go unpunished for violating just a prostitute, and betrays the law he is sworn to uphold in a satisfying but disturbing way.

Even more jolting, this takes place during the denouement, and Alex and the police watching the rapist being arrested on an obviously bogus drug possession charge applaud and congratulate Ray.  None of them acknowledges Ray’s legal violation or suggests there was a better, legal way to go after him—ideally by following the bugger and establishing relationships with the local prostitutes to catch him repeating his crime, rather than bunging him up on a charge that will likely fall apart in court.

This department feels that, together, they can answer to a higher morality than the law when the law fails them.  What terrifying disaster awaits this crew of celibate ersatz Dark Knights if they continue to follow this ‘higher’ calling?

fire up the quattro!

Ashes to Ashes:1.01
2008

The spin-off from the acclaimed (if sometimes excruciating) Life on Mars is self-consciously extreme, with both the drama and dark humor ratcheted up to the appropriate 80s excess.  This year’s timetraveller-slash-madman is DI Alex Drake, a police psychiatrist and single mother who has been investigating the suicide of Sam Tyler.  Familiar with Sam’s fantasy world and characters that suddenly surround her after being shot in the face by druglord-cum-vagrant Arthur Layton, she believes she’s having an elaborate hallucination in the seconds before she dies, but still fights to wake up from it and return to her demanding, impulsive daughter.

Ray Carling, who BBC informs us is now “The Bear,” tells her with regret that her acquaintance Sam Tyler died with the 70s a year earlier, crashing his car into a river after leaving Gene behind on a police chase.  His body was never found, allowing speculation on his Schrödingeresque state to rampage on.  He tells Alex that they key to surviving is to stay with Gene, not only expressing his own philosophy of life but possibly offering a key to why the two officers have been drawn back into the past.

The pilot was a conscious retread of the Life on Mars pilot.  Set-up of current life in the present, spotlighting the few personal connections?  Check.  Introductory Make Ass Of Self scene?  Check.  Enigmatic flashbacks in old-film filter?  Check.  Parent issues centring around that year?  Check.  There’s even similar avatars of hostile knowledge in the form of different childhood icons (which, lacking a UK childhood, had no more significance to me than ‘sort of like Sesame Street’ and ‘some freaky Euro-clown’).  The subject is partly aware of this reality—or only thinks she is—and seeks out the missing signifiers from Sam’s reports.  Unfortunately, phones, radios, and tvs give her nothing; her only communications come in dreams and visions.

Most of the direct communication from the hostile avatars in fact goes over her head, couched in subtle visuals only the viewers see—such as the clown’s head on a shelf in Layton’s junk store, or its reflection looming over her shoulder in a shiny interview table.  While Life on Mars followed Sam’s point of view, DI Drake of more an active object of the mystery than an identification figure.  The audience has more pieces of the puzzle.

Alex thus far seems to be a less sympathetic character than Sam, but a more confident timetraveler-slash-madman, hopefully less likely to likely to commit the forehead-smackingly boneheaded moves that Tyler’s run included at least once per episode.  Instead of acting generally unhinged in a manner that would leave most professionals escorted by security carrying a box of personal belongings, Alex calmly treats the others as both people and figments in turn and with equal sangfroid expects to be treated with respect while stuck wearing uncomfortably revealing clothes.  She also gains a few points by getting drunk with the team and groping Gene on her very first night in the past, thus ensuring they’ll overlook a greater proportion of weird behaviour than if she’d remained in the remote and dismissive pose Sam initially chose.

This spinoff so far seems to retain the parent show’s flaws, particularly in the imbalanced drama/comedy tone.  Particularly, scenes and setups still misfire as often as they catch.  The “A-Team”’s emergence in the gunfight via speedboat with machine guns, while a good visual gag, destroys the delicate dream vs time-travel question.  That could only be a modern person’s fantasy moment.  When scenes catch, though, they really really catch.  When Ray tells of Sam’s death, he is a man more comfortable with his place in life than the resentful demoted DI of the earlier decade.  Gene’s frustration while on the phone to his superior shows a big man who’s time has passed, and knows it.  And entire shows could take place in their new hangout, a wine bar where a long-suffering Magical Italian possibly takes Nelson’s place as the wise bartender.

There is one unbearable bit, though.  I don’t know how I’ll get through a season of an entire cast in those terrible pleated trousers and white jeans.  For the love of Oxford Street, let no lazy designers take those on as this fall’s new look!