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Pretty Girls in Stranger Things

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In Stranger Things, Nancy is the “pretty girl.” She’s set up in a kind of 80s teen movie protagonist role, both by Eleven and by the show itself. We meet her as the main boy’s older sister, and she ticks off so many tropes that we probably think we can predict where her story is going. She’s the girl who wants to be popular, with a jerk boyfriend, disagreements with her mom, and an awkward nerd guy waiting in the wings who she’s obviously destined to be with as a reward for his inevitable heroism.

She’s also the girl that Eleven borrows dresses and make-up from, the sort of girl that Eleven is apparently trying to emulate — and delighted about emulating — when the boys stick a wig on her and try and make her look “normal” for school.

And this “pretty” plotline seemed to annoy a lot of people. Eleven is, after all, simultaneously an extremely traumatized child and a paranormal-powered badass. We meet her as the polar opposite to Nancy –the supernatural experiment girl with a shaved head who grew up in a lab, and has always been used for other people’s ends. She doesn’t know words like “friends” and “promise,” but she does know “pretty,” and she seems to treasure the idea that it could ever apply to her.

But just as “friends” and “promise” take on great meaning over the course of the show, “pretty” to Eleven doesn’t really seem to mean “pretty.” It’s being “normal,” and, with it, being worthwhile.

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Game of Thrones’ “Girl Power”: Women on Top (and stabbing you while you’re down)

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After criticisms of Game of Thrones’ misogyny rose to a fever pitch last year, the show has been determined to tell us how very feminist it really is. From the obvious “Women on Top” feature in Entertainment Weekly to seemingly endless interviews with cast members (especially cast members who had previously hinted at criticism of the show, like Natalie Dormer) asserting how it’s the most feminist series on TV, the idea that the show is actually super empowering has practically been shoved down our throats.

And, to give the show credit, this wasn’t only a branding effort. As I said last week, this season of Game of Thrones did manage to be less overtly awful, where “less overtly awful” sometimes meant “holy crap, is this even the same show??” when we watched yet another episode without any blatant misogyny.

The show has been helped by the fact that critics can no longer compare its plotlines to events in the books and reach conclusions based on what the writers left in and what they chose to change. That hasn’t stopped those criticisms entirely — instead we’re just guessing what will probably happen or not happen in the books based on the series — but it gives the show more leeway in terms of exploring misogyny in the name of the plot.

But for all its apparently genuine efforts, the show is still clinging to the idea of “feminism” it’s had for many seasons, where strength and badassness mean callousness, cruelty, and killing without guilt or mercy.

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Criminal Empathy in Orange is the New Black

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This post contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 4 of Orange is the New Black.

Well. Season Four of Orange is the New Black sure messed me up.

I managed to get through it without being spoiled for anything, but I almost wish I had known what was going to happen. Or maybe I don’t, because I don’t think I would have watched certain scenes, or the season as a whole, if I’d known what to expect. The gradually building intensity of this season literally gave me a stress headache, but the most horrifying moments still completely shocked and disturbed me, in part because I never really saw them coming.

The season left me with a lot of thoughts and a lot of questions, but right now, let’s talk about show’s obsession with empathy.

Orange is the New Black always walks a fine line between critiquing issues like racism and misogyny and perpetuating them. The show has a clear message about abuse in the prison system, focussing particularly this season on the problems caused by privatisation, and it goes out of its way to humanize every character and paint even horrific acts with shades of grey.

Sometimes, this makes for an incredibly thought-provoking (if deeply upsetting) story. But when the show potentially extends its empathy to the abusers, as it did quite extensively this season, things become tricky. Is it nuanced to consider the humanity of all of the show’s characters, or is it simply feeding into a system where victims are ignored and abusers are given more sympathy than they could ever deserve?

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Game of Thrones: When “Shock” Stops Being Shocking

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Game of Thrones is in a bit of a bind.

It’s one of the most successful, talked about shows on TV, but it isn’t known for its intricate plot arcs or compelling characters. It’s famous for being shocking. And although this reputation gets people talking, it’s also destroying any integrity the show ever had.

Shock has to, by definition, be unexpected. If we expect a show to be shocking, we’re not shocked by it any more. So the series has to raise the stakes again and again, to be more and more extreme in order to keep shocking an audience that is anticipating that next big twist.

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The Two “Game of Thrones”

I have a problem: I kind of want to watch Game of Thrones again.

Not the actual show Game of Thrones, of course. I hate that show. But the imaginary Game of Thrones that I conjure up in my head, which is fun and dramatic and has these wonderful female characters that I love from the books. I really want to watch that show, especially since it now has new plotlines to offer.

This happens every year. The hiatus between seasons is long enough for me to forget how much I dislike the show, and instead imagine that it’s all the things I wanted it to be. It fades into pretty gif-sets on Tumblr, with book-related excitement filling in the gaps. And even though the show has beaten any optimism out of me at this point, I’m still curious. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time will be all Awesome Badass Moments, and not horrible misogyny and nonsensical plots.

It won’t be. Of course it won’t be. The show has almost free rein this year, and we’ve seen what happens when it invents its own plotlines. It’s the nonsensical story chaos in Dorne. It’s shock over substance. The show is capable of developing interesting characters and stories — Shae in seasons two and three, for example — but it doesn’t seem to want to make the effort these days, when pointless shock-value misogyny comes so easily.

And it seems that I’m not the only one who has a huge disconnect between my idea of Game of Thrones and the actual show. People involved in making the series seem to have a similar problem.

Take Sansa, for example. Sophie Turner has said that this season is “probably Sansa’s best yet. It’s her really coming into her own…. Viewers will finally get that storyline you’ve been craving for the past five seasons.” Which sounds great, except that we’ve heard it before. Before season five, Sophie Turner said that Sansa “tries to take command and begins to manipulate the people who are keeping her prisoner,” while the showrunners said that “she’s either going to die or survive and become stronger. She’s chosen the latter option and she’s learned from an incredibly devious teacher.”

We all know how that turned out. In fact, that quote from the showrunners was from an interview after the horrific Sansa plotline aired last year. And that same interview tells us what the writers’ priorities will be now that they can truly do whatever they like. “Sansa is a character we care about almost more than any other,” they said, as they explained why they added a plotline where Ramsay Bolton repeatedly raped her. “There was a subplot we loved from the books, but it used a character that’s not in the show.” So instead of removing it, as they did with stories like Arianne Martell’s or the Iron Islands Kingsmoot, they decided to bring in one of their “leading ladies.”

And I just want to underline that statement again: they loved this subplot from the books. Let’s be generous and say that they loved Theon’s plotline in Book 5, how he struggles to refind himself and escape from Winterfell. But if that was the case, they didn’t need to keep the Jeyne Poole plotline. They could have had almost anything else happen in Winterfell. But they loved that plotline, so it became Sansa’s big moment for the season. Her chance to “grow” into a heroism role. Because don’t doubt, even if by some miracle she doesn’t have a horrific and violent plotline this season, she’s only “earned” it by undergoing that trauma and surviving it first.

The exciting, thoughtful, well-written Game of Thrones that most of us like to hope for doesn’t really exist. It’s a wonderful lie that has somehow taken hold. The show isn’t magically going to reach its potential, because the writers don’t want it to take that direction. The shock and misogyny is what they want to sell, and so they’ll continue to do so, no matter how many times we imagine that this time will be different.

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Sleepy Hollow’s Ex-Protagonist

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Sleepy Hollow has never understood its own appeal.

The first season was a fun, often-silly, sometimes spooky genre show, grounded in the relationship between pompous fish-out-of-water Ichabod Crane and kind and badass cop Abbie Mills. The second season suddenly took its mythos very seriously, and sidelined Abbie in favor of making Ichabod the hero, focussing on his relationship with his wife and his son. The third season… well, I don’t know what the third season’s done, because I quit watching around the mid-season break of season two.

Which is why this post is a weird one to write. I don’t, as a rule, write about things I haven’t personally watched or read. Second hand information is bad basis for analysis. But since I used to write about Sleepy Hollow on this blog, I thought I should at least acknowledge what happened in the show’s season finale. Because… well. Spoilers after the cut.

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Motherhood in Jane the Virgin

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Jane the Virgin has never shied away from the realities of motherhood. In between its more soap-opera-esque elements, it’s dedicated a lot of time in its second season to the difficulties Jane faces, from balancing Mateo with graduate school, to endless sleepless nights. She was the hero rushing from the hospital to save her son immediately after giving birth with adult diapers in tow. She threw any thought of “proper mothers don’t want epidurals” under a bus. She loves being a mom, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard a lot of the time.

And now there’s Petra, the unexpected frontrunner for Most Sympathetic Character in the show. Petra’s had her own difficult journey, from morning sickness that’s definitely not just in the morning to doctor-mandated bed rest, and she and Jane are so different that it’s natural they’d have different stories relating to their newborns.

At first this seemed like it would be a no-nonsense, work-focussed, to-do list oriented attitude. But instead, we’re seeing something I’ve never seen on TV before — a story of post-natal depression. The plotline built slowly over the past couple of episodes, first with Petra feeling a lack of connection to the babies, then her dazedness and insomnia, before the heartbreaking scene where she admitted that she thinks the twins would be better off without her.

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Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

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Recently, I’ve been watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Despite all the rave reviews it’s received, I was a bit reluctant to watch it. I’m not really a murder mystery person. I’m not a fan of procedural dramas or those shows where witty old ladies single-handedly tackle the frightening number of murders in their small English villages. It wasn’t going to be my thing. But everyone was really, really enthusiastic about it, so I figured I’d at least give the first episode a try.

Thank god I did. This show is a joy. Everything about it is fantastic.

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