Warehouse 13: “Burnout” and Steampunk Technology

11 08 2009

“Pixels will never reflect the real thing.” — Artie to Claudia

One of the most appealing things to me about Warehouse 13 is the steampunk sensibility: there’s a warehouse full of the US’s most top secret artifacts, and it’s guarded not by plasma whozitwhats or iPod-esque oojahs, but by practically fossilized early-twentieth-century technology.

But if you stop to think about that for a second, it makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.

I mean, sure, I can think of reasons why this might be the case.  Maybe the Secret Service is afraid to upgrade the tech because they don’t know how the artifacts will respond.  Maybe there’s just no money.  Maybe it’s such a monumental task and the Warehouse is so chronically understaffed that it’s simply impossible.  But really, it just doesn’t make sense, from a plot perspective, if you don’t suspend your disbelief.

HOWEVER.

From a thematic perspective, it makes perfect sense.  The retro-chic technology fits in with the idea that there is something soulless about modern mass-produced technology, and the individualized and detail-oriented steampunk aesthetic works against this soullessness.  Just like the artifacts are unique relics of historical moments, the Farnsworths hand-crafted by the “father of television” himself, the Warehouse is a relic of a more ingenious and intellectually ambitious time.  (It’s not a coincidence that one of the artifacts that is most prominently featured during the theme song is a moon rock, along with the television and the Farnsworths and a disco ball — these are all inventions of the long golden age of both science and science fiction, the fifty years from the 1920s to the 1970s.)

On that level, the explicit comparison that Rebecca makes between the Warehouse and this week’s artifact, the parasitic and deadly electrocuting spine, suggests an ominous layer to the show that we haven’t really seen up to now.

Also, that was some serious scenery-chewing from Eddie McClintock, eh?  And good for little old Rebecca for calmly and efficiently saving the day when Myka couldn’t!  I want more of her!

But I’m not sure how I feel about their choice to make her the voice of negativity about the Warehouse.  Actually, let me revise that: I don’t like the way they chose to make her the voice of negativity.  From the writers’ perspective, there was no need to bring her back to the Warehouse except to make her have that last conversation with Myka.  And why have Artie give Rebecca the engagement ring that was lurking in one of Jack’s perfectly preserved drawers except to make it clear that she is warning Myka about the Warehouse not out of a generalized concern for her well-being, but specifically so that Myka can “have a life,” i.e., get married and have a family?

But Myka doesn’t seem to want to get married and have a family, and that’s okay!  I hope that we never see her turn into the stereotypical career woman with the ticking biological clock, desperately in search of a man.  And this show had certainly better not go the X-Files route.  Mulder and Scully together was a disaster, and so would Pete and Myka be.  Can’t we have one independent and fulfilled single woman on TV?  They exist in the real world, after all!

What did you think of this episode, esteemed reader?  On a scenery-chewing scale of 1 to 11 (yeah, it goes to 11), how would you rate it?





An Open Letter on the Occasion of the Psych Season Premiere

7 08 2009

Dear writers responsible for the bits of trivia on the Psych Countdown Calendar:

I love Psych.  I mean, really: I love that show.  It is hilarious and James Roday and Dulé Hill have awesome chemistry.  In general, you do such a fantastic job with the female characters: both Juliet and Chief Vick are excellent.

So it made me really sad to see this on the “Countdown Calendar” that was on the Psych website in preparation for tonight’s season premiere.

EXHIBIT A: Top Five Facts about Lassiter

Nice fish, Lassie

Nice fish, Lassie

Lassiter gets moderately funny jokes about what he does in his free time.

And what Top Five do we get for Juliet?  Well, check out Exhibit B:

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

Moderately funny jokes about whom Juliet might do in her free time.

PSYCH WRITERS.  LISTEN UP.  I really like Juliet!  I think you’ve done a great job with making her fun and giving her characteristics that are original and non-stereotypical.  I love that she is a great police officer who embraces her femininity, and that her femininity is an asset in her job.  I love that she is both a crack shot and an awesome dancer.  But seriously?  The best you can do for her top five is describe not her, but whom she’d date?  You write such a fantastic character, and then instead of telling us about her top five off-duty activities (which I bet would be just as entertaining, if not more so, than Lassiter’s!) you focus on what kind of man she wants?

I call shenanigans.

I’m still looking forward to the season premiere — I mean, what other procedural has a competent and awesome female police chief?  None that I know of (although I could be wrong; procedurals aren’t generally my cup of tea).  But the fact that I do love the show makes me all the more critical of stuff like this.  Please, please, please, don’t let this be a pattern.

Hugs and kisses,

R.R.





Warehouse 13: “Elements” and Race Issues

5 08 2009
Warehouse 13: “Elements”
I started this episode with an audible “OH, NO.”  The scene opens with New Agey flute music and a generic Indian performing a generically Indian ceremony over some sort of tiny generic statuette in a generic cave under the surface of Manhatten.  Visually, this is not promising, but I really wonder what language he is speaking, and how well.  If the voiceover is relatively accurate, that’s something, at least.
Cut to present-day NYC, with someone pulling up the hood on what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes like a generically Indian  magic cloak that enables the wearer to walk through walls (and also carries its own hip-hop soundtrack, too!).  This is not a particularly sophisticated invocation of the Lenape: they’re figured, as First Nations people usual are, as mystical Others with a unique connection to the land.
Also, Artie takes one look at a <em>feather</em> and says “Looks Native American”?!  Because only the First Nations ever use feathers?  Later he gets more specific: we’re meant to be looking at a Lenape shaman or something in that first scene (did the Lenape have shamans?).  So that gets a bit better, I suppose, in acknowledging a tribe at the very least.
I do feel like Weaver’s repetition of “It’s not meant for you” in the climactic cave scene acknowledges the imperialist creepiness of
I also still really like Leena and I wish she were given a chance to talk about anything that does not involve helping  the white people ~*~understand themselves~*~!  For the first few minutes of the scene between Leena and Claudia, I thought we were going to pass the Bechdel test.  But I think it violates the spirit of the Bechdel test to have the two women characters talk about something that isn’t a man if one of them is still falling into skeevy racial stereotypes.
A note on terminology: I interchange “Indian” with “First Nations” because those are generally the terms that I have seen people of Native descent prefer to use themselves when they don’t use tribe names.  “Native American,” as I understand, is a term that was decided on by white people.

I started this episode with an audible “OH, NO.”  The scene opens with New Agey flute music and a generic American Indian performing a generically Indian ceremony over some sort of tiny generic statuette in a generic cave under the surface of Manhatten.  Visually, this is not promising, but I really wonder what language he is speaking, and how well.  If the voiceover is relatively accurate, that’s something, at least.

Cut to present-day NYC, with someone pulling up the hood on what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes like a generically “Indian”  magic cloak, which enables the wearer to walk through walls (and carries its own hip-hop soundtrack, too!).  This is not a particularly sophisticated invocation of the Lenape: they’re figured, as First Nations people usual are, as mystical Others with a unique connection to nature and the land.  In this case, that connection is so pure as to allow supernatural manipulation of the elements.

It all just seems so very stereotypical!  I am, of course, more than willing — excited, even — to be proven wrong.  I don’t know enough about Lenape culture to know how accurate any of the representations of Lenape art and language are.  But it all seems pretty generic to me.

Also problematic for me was when Artie takes one look at the feather and says “Looks Native American.”  Because only the First Nations ever use feathers?  Later, however, he at least acknowledges the name of the Lenape, which is one tiny step in the right direction.

I do feel like Weaver’s repetition of “It’s not meant for you” in the climactic cave scene acknowledges the imperialist creepiness of the white dudes collecting Lenape and Lenape-related artifacts in order to find the sacred cave and therefore master the elements.  We’ve had 500 years of fantasies of white domination already; without Weaver’s saying that, this episode really would feel like yet another un-self-conscious instance of it.  And yet the elements are themselves white fantasies: the Water of Eternal Life, in particular, plays into the same myth of the Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Léon kept pursuing.  In fact, the four “superpowers” bestowed by the four elements in the cave all represent what Europeans dreamed they would find in the New World, and the idea of there being a secret cave hidden underneath NYC that would provide all of those things only contributes to the notion that the Lenape and other tribes had Secret Knowledge about how to dominate the earth, but that they nobly safeguarded that knowledge (and therefore the earth) from the greedy rapaciousness of others.

It’s another aspect of the myth of the Noble Savage.  The problem is really that even though this story has an American Indian artifact at the center, the Lenape themselves don’t matter at all to the story.  The artifact is just a plot device, something to enable the white characters to work through conflict and save the day.  There’s no depth to the representations of non-white characters.

Which reminds me: I still really like Leena and I wish she were given a chance to talk about anything that does not involve helping  the white people ~*~understand themselves~*~!  I was so excited for the first few minutes of the scene between Leena and Claudia — I thought we were going to pass the Bechdel test at last!  But even though the two women only talked about Claudia, I think it violates the spirit of the Bechdel test to have the two women characters talk about something that isn’t a man if one of them is still falling into skeevy racial stereotypes.

But what do you think, friendly reader?

A note on terminology: I interchange “Indian” and “American Indian” with “First Nations” because those are generally the terms that I have seen people of Native descent prefer to use themselves when they don’t use tribe names.  “Native American,” as I understand, is a term that was decided on by white people.





The Women of Warehouse 13

1 08 2009

I have been pretty charmed by Warehouse 13. First, it’s a buddy cop show, and I have a weakness for lighthearted buddy cop shows. Second, there are three women who play important roles, and while I’m hoping they get more character depth than they currently have, I’m pleased just to see them!

First, there’s Myka, the Scully to Pete’s Mulder. … You know, I was going to say more here, but really, that pretty much sums it up. I never watched The X-Files much, but it seems like Pete is notably more obnoxious, in that frat-boy kind of way, than Mulder ever was. And Myka deals with it.

Then there’s Lena, the girl who can read auras. I appreciate that she’s there, and that she’s black/mixed race/multiracial (I use so many terms because I’m not sure how the actor prefers to identify). But unfortunately, she and the third important woman, the black Mrs. Frederick, are both Magical Negroes: Lena exists to fetch things, ask probing questions so that exposition can take place, and read auras; Mrs. Frederick has been magically alive forever and she mysteriously sets the entire plot in motion by recruiting Myka and Pete and keeping them on task.

I like the premise of the show: I’ve always loved the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, so an entire show structured around the wacky adventures of a team of artifact scavengers totally appeals to me. Its steampunk trappings are fun, too.

The show’s not going to break ground as particularly thought-provoking or innovative. It’s fluff entertainment, episodic in structure — not nearly as sophisticated as, say, LOST. Still, even though I’ve missed a few weeks, I’m looking forward to catching up on Hulu.

Up soon: I’ll be reviewing unaired episodes of Dollhouse.





Wacky search engine fun

1 08 2009

My favorite search terms by which people have arrived here:

  • dollhouse really distasteful misogyny
  • tim lahaye asshat
  • dollhouse the target lasagna

Most people who have shown up here have been looking for info about RaceFail 09 (the enormous conflict among science fiction and fantasy authors and readers which spanned the first several months of the year) or Dollhouse (unsurprisingly).  I guess I’m going to have to branch out a bit, eh?  Luckily I have some further posts brewing!

(Tim LaHaye really is a total asshat, though.  I’d provide evidence, but Slacktivist is already exhaustively documenting LaHaye and Jenkins’s manifold asshaberdashery.)





Quick Dollhouse Link

20 04 2009

This post on the complicated feminism of Dollhouse is one of the best analyses I’ve seen yet.  It took me a while to get on board with this show, but the last couple of episodes in particular have really convinced me that Whedon really is trying to address the issues that have been bothering me — and that those issues are meant to unsettle me.

Also, it seems like all I’ve been doing is posting about Dollhouse.  This is unfortunate, since I’ve also been reading a lot of Lois McMaster Bujold recently.  Jo Walton’s been posting over at Tor.com about the entire Vorkosigan series, and I recommend all the posts.  Bujold also turns up to comment, and just today Walton capped off the posts with an interview with Bujold, who tells us (among other things) that Miles dies at age 57.  Oh, Miles.  The thought of his death makes me far sadder than it ought.





Dollhouse 01×07: Echoes (SPOILERS)

28 03 2009

HERE is the Whedon I’ve been waiting for!  This episode grabbed me from the beginning.  It’s a premise that makes sense (except I kept wondering how her stockings stayed up), with emotional stakes that matter, and FINALLY we get the character conflicts that the show has been building up since the first episode.  It’s a shame that the first half of the season was so dreadful.  This is making even that part of it worthwhile.

Except — holy crap, why did it have to be the black guy who turned out to be the murderer?  Seriously?  Throughout most of the show I was so impressed that a black guy was cast as one of the grad students, and then he turned out to be less than honorable.  GAH.  They gave him a halfway decent motive — he wants to help his mother — but that doesn’t solve the problem.  And the fact that he is set up to become a new doll at the end of the show doesn’t really make it any better.  Is there a larger point here about certain experiences of black masculinity?  I’d like to think so, to see this as a condemnation of the structures that force young black men into untenable choices.  But I’m not sure that we get enough information about and sympathy for Sam’s character for that to be the best interpetation.

Still: best episode yet.