After the Dark

What was that?

No, seriously, on any level, what was that? After the Dark is a movie that is bad on the level of The Room, with at least one performance so fundamentally terrible that it does rival Tommy Wiseau. I could not tell you why anything that happens in the movie happens. I could not begin to figure out any character motivations. And as individual points, I could tell you what happens on a scene-by-scene basis… I but I could not even begin to explain how those events actually form a plot. The movie is completely impenetrable, and yet breezily thinks it is portraying… something… deep.

The movie is guilty of what I like to call a double dutch narrative, which is when the fictional characters in a work are consumed by a fictional work within the context of the fictional world they live in. So the narrative skips back and forth between the fiction-within-the-fiction and the fiction itself. Sometimes that can be used satirically or to illustrate larger themes and points (such as the pirate comic in Watchmen). But a lot of the time it simply means the fictional characters care about something completely ridiculous, with zero stakes and is alienated from the audience because it is multiple layers of fiction on top of each other.

Okay. So. The movie is about a philosophy class (in the last five minutes of the movie they explain at random that the class are foreign students studying in Jakarta for some reason that is never made clear in the movie itself). It is their last day of school, and they are talking about thought experiments. So their professor, who is inexplicably an utter asshole, decides to try a new thought experiment. Each of the students (and he himself) will pull a card from a box with an occupation on it. In the scenario they have ten minutes before a nuclear war in order to pick ten people from their twenty person class to live in a radiation proof bunker for a year and then attempt to survive the post-apocalyptic world.

Which is a little convoluted, but okay. Noted genius Petra at first declines to participate in the experiment, but agrees when the professor threatens to lower her boyfriend’s grade if she leaves. This is the first of many examples of people taking this entire exercise way, way more seriously than it deserves. Why was she going to leave? Literally all that is going to happen is a debate about what jobs would be the best in a post-apocalyptic world? Secondly, she even flat out tells the professor that his threat is completely against the school’s policy (because, duh) and he’d be up against a review board if he tried it. So literally all of this is nonsense already.

At this point the movie switches to dramatizing the scenario… which while far more interesting, isn’t actually dramatic. The whole point of the scenario is to debate philosophical merits of each profession. Which already falls apart because the professor insists that they can only use a rational approach to life after a year. So they can’t (and don’t) debate any ethical or moral approaches other than “this person would be useful.” And the entire process is simply an up or down vote on each person, so we barely even get a moment of discussion of whether the person would be useful.

So we are already two levels deep into nonsense, but here’s where everything gets even more off the rails. Within the scenario the professor gets a gun from the bunker and murders the people voted out of the bunker, so the bunker people decide to shut the bunker with him outside and he reveals his job (which he kept hidden) was as the builder of bunkers, so only he has the exit code. And so they live out the year in the bunker only to die.

What? No, seriously, what? Who decided any of this? Who is in control and how is any of this happening? WHO IS NARRATING THIS! This is a fictional scenario. Did the professor literally just say, “I grab a gun and murder these people over here?” Did Petra just say, “I shut the door before you get in?” Why is there even a narrative after the vote? Literally the best guess I could make is that the professor decided before the scenario decided that there was a right answer and so would tell them if they got the combination of people right…. which sort of defeats the point of having a philosophical discussion about the scenario.

But this is where everything goes even more bananas, because they decide to rerun the scenario. This time everyone is given a secondary trait, and in the case of Petra’s boyfriend he is now a farmer who happens to be gay (this is important later). So, everything goes the same, except that a slightly different group of people wind up in the bunker. But where as the dramatization of the first scenario could just have been some overly descriptive versions of consequences… now the dramatization is in full on soap opera. The ones who are not picked run to some jeeps and attempt to out run the nuclear blasts, only to be incinerated (who decided all  these details? Did someone literally just say “we run to some jeeps and try to out run the blast!” and someone else says, “Nope, you die?”).

Petra’s gay farmer boyfriend assured the class that he could just have sex with a woman even if he wasn’t attracted to her outside of the dramatization of the scenario, but in the dramatization she walks in on him having sex with another guy in the bunker… How does that even work? Did one of them say, “We’re having sex now” or did Petra say, “I walk in on them having sex?” Does this movie realize this isn’t real to these people? Well, Petra’s boyfriend explains, in the dramatization, that he couldn’t have sex with a woman. Which, okay, it directly contradicts what he said literally a minute or two ago to the class, but it is the first actual attempt at a philosophical discussion, so I gave it a pass.

But then comes something so bizarre I can’t even comprehend what is supposed to be happening. The teacher declares no one has gotten pregnant and so they have to all switch sexual partners, one of the students refuses to, and so he gets a gun and, I guess, threatens to rape her. So a boy in her who was hiding in the corner of the room fights him and eventually stabs him in the ear with a pencil. And the teacher, bleeding, goes to the bunker door and opens it killing everyone.

…How did any of that happen? Why did any of that happen? What could possibly motivate this teacher to pretend threaten a student with rape in a fictional scenario…? Who decided no one got pregnant? How could the boy hide in a completely fictional room? This is a fictional scenario that is being made up in a classroom.

No, seriously, I want to see what actually happened in the classroom without the dramatization. Because that has to be unquestionably bizarre, with a lot of “well actually I was doing this the whole time!” type statements.

And then they do the scenario a third time.

This movie makes no sense. At one point Petra’s boyfriend asks the teacher why he made him a gay farmer. That it seems an extraordinarily petty act of revenge. The movie gives no answer because there can be no answer. Nothing that happens makes sense unless you consider that the story they are, effectively, writing is something deeply important… but it isn’t. It is nothing. It isn’t even a proper story, it is a silly scenario that features characters with two features.

And then there is Petra. Petra the philosophy genius. Petra who every single character in the movie is so invested in her grades that it is an overriding theme. I don’t know if asking Sophie Lowe to do an American accent is what did it… but she turns in one of the worst performances I have ever seen. She is vacuous, vacant, dead behind the eyes. She manages to convey a profound lack of thought in every wood line. I don’t know why they didn’t just switch her out for Bonnie Wright who has all the spunk and verve and intelligence that Lowe utterly lacks in her performance.

This movie is so bad….

The Babysitter



Marvel at this collection of 29-year-olds playing highschool students


It’s exhausting watching a movie that is so convinced of its own shit. This movie thinks it is hottest shit to ever grace the screen. This movie thinks everything it does is completely and utterly awesome. And it is convinced you are laughing hysterically alongside your mind being blown at it’s oppressive awesomeness.

There’s barely any plot, but the plot such as it is is that Cole is a twelve-year-old who likes his next door neighbor and has a hot, sexy, hot-sexy, sexy-hot baby sitter. He discovers she is leading a human sacrificing Satanic cult. And cut to Cole being chased by murderous cultists for two hours.

Really everything terrible about this movie boils down perfectly into one moment in one scene. The cult are ostensibly playing truth or dare, and Bee (Cole’s babysitter/cult leader) is dared to kiss everyone in the room. After some tiring performative lesbianism entirely for the benefit of the male gaze she then gets to kissing the clearly-out-of-place nerdy guy. And then out of nowhere stabs two knives into his skull, with the words “What the Fuck” superimposed onto the screen.

When I say out of nowhere, I mean literally that. She is not holding knives. There’s nowhere for the knives to be hidden. No one gives her knives. The knives teleport into her hands off screen so you are only left with the impact of the scene and not of the details of setting it up. Over and over and over and over and over throughout the film people and objects teleport about to places they clearly could not possibly be in order to make the most dramatic impact possible.

But the incessant off screen and impossible movement of things is emblematic of all the flaws in the movie. The director can’t be bothered with the tedious work of set up. If it isn’t the tyrannical boot heel of cool being slammed into the audience’s face, he isn’t interested. All the details and consistencies the make narratives work are simply thrown away.

At least twice in the movie Cole manages to cleanly escape from the cult. They aren’t in the middle of the woods, they’re in suburbia. Any direction he chose to walk in would result in multiple people who could have helped in within a range of about thirty feet. Instead he simply returns to his house because…? Even more puzzling at various points the cult members simply let him go. Again, because…? But don’t worry, they only cease pursuing him for the exact length of time it takes for the movie to make some insipid jokes about Cole and then the movie decides the cult probably should keep pursuing him.

The ending of the movie is entirely invested in Cole’s emotional stakes with both the girl-next-door and his (formerly) beloved babysitter. Which ignores that the movie had almost gleefully mocked the very concept of having emotional investment in its characters.

Nothing in this movie is cool, edgy, transgressive, funny, awesome or even generally competent. But what makes it so grating to watch isn’t merely that it lacks all those qualities… it is that it is so convinced it is overflowing with them. If the film managed to have some degree of perspective on the material, it would at least be tolerable. Instead it is the movie that expects you to find the cheerleader whose sole personality trait is that complains about being shot in the breast hilarious.

Saints Row and Social Justice Warriors

For some reason a certain segment of gamers think what they like about video games happens to be under attack from a group of vicious harpies intent on destroying all joy in the virtual world. Those gamers should play Saints Row, a hyper-violent, overly sexualized video game franchise that is generally beloved by their ideological and political opponents.

Your protagonists

Saints Row started off its life as a rip off of Grand Theft Auto that mistook making everything about about GTA more extreme with being satirical. It was a game where the player becomes the leader of a gang called the Third Street Saints by taking over the territories of rival gangs. However, Saints Row the Third took the franchise in a deliriously oddball direction, with the Third Street Saints becoming world famous celebrity gangsters and (in the opening of the game) robbing banks disguised as themselves. Suddenly the satire was sharp and the jokes hilarious.

Saints Row IV took an already absurd franchise to new levels of silliness by turning into a game long parody of Mass Effect. Remember how you were a low level gangster trying to steal territory from rival gangs? Well now you are the president of the United States fighting aliens with your superpowers. It’s brilliant. Oh, and in the follow up to Saints Row IV the Saints take over hell.


You fly around hell on angel wings and kill people with guns

But even as it got more zany, the franchise never stopped being as violent and sexual as it always was. One of the DLCs for Saints Row IV is “Enter the Dominetrix” which features the player character investigating a sex club (completely nude of course), leading to a city destroying fire fight with tanks shaped like giant penises. The character creation screen has a bar labeled “Sex Appeal” that determines how big the breasts are for a female character, and how big the dick is for a male character. It’s juvenile, but hilarious.

The point is that the Saints Row games give the players all the big breasted and sex crazed women, over-the-top violence, and low brow juvenile humor that gamers are claiming they want (and that is supposedly under threat). But it also gives them a boldly progressive context to wrap all of it in.


The President of the United States and His or Her Cabinet

The game features a vast and multi-racial cast. The flagship character is Daniel Dae Kim’s Johnny Gat. Asha Odakar is an ethnically South Asian UK citizen working for MI6. Pierce Washington, Benjamin King, and mother fucking Keith David as himself are all black men on your team. And the player character has the option of being voiced by several different races and genders. The Third Street Saints are basically a hyper-violent post-racial society, and it should be pointed out that the games traditionally have the opposing gangs be of a single race. The Saints are ending virtual segregation by shooting it with rocket launchers.

By the fourth game the franchise doesn’t even make any assumptions about who the player wants to sleep with. The games always were on the easier side to make a sexy male player character (a consistent complaint I have with video games). And the game isn’t shy about sexing up anyone, and therefore made its male characters unusually attractive. However it always presumed the player was interested in women, hence why the hideouts had strippers all over the place, and some of them included a minigame about having sex with prostitutes. But by Saints Row IV the player can have sex with anyone in their gang, including the genderless floating robot orb. And, in fact, the player is deliberately baited to have sex since there are achievements specific to having sex with your entire gang. Oh, how it fills my heart with glee to imagine a homophobic completionist having to decide between not getting an achievement or watching the Boss make out with Matt Miller and Johnny Gat.

And, of course, there are the women. While Shaundi in Saints Row II was so useless that at one point the Boss tells her she is only superior to a character who is already dead at that point… by Saints Row IV the female characters have become vital and dynamic, with Kenzie becoming almost as an iconic and indelible a figure in the franchise as Johnny Gat. Saints Row IV has two different versions of Shaundi (and if you get the “Saints Save Christmas” DLC, three), and a huge portion of the game is about getting them to resolve their differences and becoming friends. Kenzie is, of course, awesome, and both your near constant companion via her voice in your ear while also constantly giving the Boss shit. And then there is Asha, a walking parody of the Metal Gear games. And while both Shaundi and Kenzi are highly sexualized, it is always on their terms as characters (and their sexualization is contrasted with Asha’s lack of sexualization).

I never would have expected that the game where you run around hitting people with a dildo bat would be the one that was also about positive female representation, racial diversity and harmony, and embracing sexual orientation. But that’s the point. Nothing about what made the game great was sacrificed in order to achieve those goals. It is still the game franchise where you run naked out of a sex club and hop into a tank shaped like a penis and then blow up a city. And that’s why Saints Row is such a special franchise. It is loopy and hilarious and wacky and fun, but the barriers that would prevent people from embracing it for joyous violent experience it is are completely gone. It is a game for everyone.

And the game ends with  Soul Train dance line! Including the main villain of the game doing the worm! Still the best ending in all of video games.

Transformers and Gender and Homosexuality

The Transformers franchise is weird about gender.

Very weird. You can actually see whole theoretical concepts about gender as basically the purest possible examples if you delve into the Transformers franchise. When IDW picked up the Transformers license, writer Simon Furman insisted that Transformers didn’t have gender, and so female Transformers would not appear unless he could find a way for them to make logical sense to him. Let that one sink in for a bit. Despite the fact that the Transformers are voiced by men, despite the fact that they are visually obviously male, despite the fact that they use the pronoun “he,” despite the fact that they have “brothers” they don’t have a gender.

Men are such a societal default that no matter how gendered they are, they don’t have a gender.


Behold how genderless they are!

Of course there is a very popular female Transformer that appears regularly and has many toys of her. So, eventually, she’d have to show up in the IDW’s comics, right? Well Furman’s story depicting how she came to be was… troublesome. The Cybertronian mad scientist Jhiaxus took a protoform and introduced female source code just (more or less) to see what would happen. The end result was Arcee, who was driven insane by the experience and became notably homicidal. I suppose women as rabid serial killers is a step up from damsels in distress and sex objects… but it doesn’t really feel like one.

So that was the state of Cybertron for years: an all male race except for the science experiment that was obsessed with killing her creator. Then IDW did something so outrageous it shouldn’t have worked: they ended the war. Every version of the Transformers brand is predicated upon there being a war between Autobots and Decepticons, even switching out the names to (for example) Maximals and Predicons still falls squarely into that one premise. Without a war, what is even the point of Transformers?


Behold the Autobots pretty pink psychopath

The Autobots won the war, and IDW launched two books reaching out boldly into this new direction, both of them excellent. Robots in Disguise followed Bumblebee as he attempted negotiate what the future of Cybertron would be (and how completely unprepared and ill-suited the Autobots were to winning the war they fought for four million years). Meanwhile More Than Meets the Eye would follow Rodimus as he took a large number of Autobots out into space on a quest, mostly due to the fact that they simply couldn’t adjust to life without a war.

Part of this new premise was that a signal had gone out at the end of the war alerting everyone to the fact that it was now safe to return to Cybertron, which had long been abandoned by anyone except the Autobots and Decepticons. The vast majority of Cybertronians were refugees attempting to stay one step ahead of the endless war.

What happened next is something that so rarely happens it is essentially a quantum miracle. Hasbro decided to have a “Fan Built Bot” contest. They created a poll with a series of options to allow fans to create a brand new character for the Transformers brand. Fans could pick everything from her faction (they chose Autobot over Decepticon), her alt-mode (jet over car, tank, or a few others) and all sorts of other aspects to the character. Among those choices was gender, and they picked female. The end product was Windblade.


Windblade has arrived

Hasbro gave Windblade a big push. Possibly the biggest in the entire history of Transformers merchandise. In four years of existence, Hasbro has released nine toys of her and she appeared as a major character in their new cartoon, Robots in Disguise. As part of that huge push Hasbro needed even more promotional material, including material to insert in packaging along with the toys. Since IDW has the Transformers’ licence that meant they had to start producing a lot of Windblade-centric material. However a fundamental part of IDW’s Transformers stories is “No Chicks Allowed (except the Bride of Frankenstein).” But as always with Transformers, when the artistic intent clashes with the need to sell toys, the art loses.

Suddenly, in the comics, at the tail end of the rule of the 13 Primes, the surviving Primes and their followers left Cybertron in massive colony ships that could produce their own hot spots of new sparks. Windblade was from one of these colonies, where female Transformers were just a normal part of society. In fact, female Transformers existed on all the lost colonies of Cybertron. The Transformers were (via-retcon) never a genderless species that happens to all be male, but rather a multi-gendered species. But due to some lost or forgotten incident in Cybertron’s distant past, all the female Cybertronians had either died or left the planet, leaving the remaining male Cybertronians to forget they even existed. And Jhiaxus wasn’t just messing around on a whim to see what he could make, but rather recreating something vital to the Transformer species that had been lost long ago.

So here is something you will likely never hear again: an editorial mandate made strictly on the basis of selling more toys was a brilliant idea that created a whole slew of excellent stories.

But what’s more interesting, when someone decides to give you lemons (or in this case a single gender species of alien robots) some writers decide to make lemonade. Or, in this case, throw their hands up in the air and say, “fuck it, they’re all gay.” By banning even the possibility of heterosexual romance, Furman blew up the Transformer closet and outed the entire species.

Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye began with Rodimus Prime flying off into space with a crew of misfits on a quest no one had any expectation of ever completing. Among his crew were Rewind and Chromedome, who were very explicitly married. Transformer marriage being called Conjunx Endura. And Rewind and Chromedome’s relationship formed the heart and soul of the comic. Their insecurities and tragedies and travails provided the pathos as the counterpoint to all the comedy in the title.


I am sorely tempted to just finish this out with pictures of Rewind and Chromedome being adorable.

The comic took their relationship incredibly seriously, and always was very clear that this was a relationship between two men. It explicitly went out of its way to deny that the Transformers were genderless, or any implication that this wasn’t a gay relationship. It introduced the concept of Amica Endura, or a best friends ritual, in order to ensure that everyone knew Conjunx Endura was a romantic marriage. It introduced the idea of “holomatter avatars” where the Transformers use holograms to disguise themselves as human (usually operating them remotely), and the holograms are supposed to reveal a Transformer’s true self. Rewind and Chromedome are both drawn very clearly as men. The comic deftly cut off any possibility of considering their relationship other than a marriage between gay men.



But it wasn’t done there. While Chromedome and Rewind had been married for millions of years (while fighting in the never ending civil wars that plagued Cybertron), Cyclonus was trapped in a parallel universe and Tailgate was trapped underground. Both were saved, and through a series of accidents wound up rooming together on Rodimus’s ship. Over the course of fifty issues they are slowly drawn into their own romance, one even complicated by a love triangle with the Transformer Getaway. Furthermore Cyclonus’s holomatter avatar is explicitly female allowing for the interpretation that either their long love story is between two men or between a man and a transwoman (or even between two transwomen depending upon your interpretation of some artwork).

Of course there were two Transformers comics being written at this time. And while More Than Meets the Eye placed homosexuality as one of its most forefront elements, Robots in Disguise certainly didn’t shy away from it either. Towards the beginning of the run Soundwave faked Bumblebee killing a Decpeticon named Horri-bull as part of a complex plan to turn Cybertron against the Autobots (only a few people knew Soundwave had actually killed him, most everyone, including Bumblebee himself, thought the Autobot had killed him). This led to a slow burnning plot where Horri-bull’s Conjunx Endura, Needlenose, rises up the Decpeticon ranks to become the leader of a faction of Decepticons on Cybertron. He specifically did so to get revenge upon his husband’s killer, and Soundwave is blackmailed into working with the Autobots lest Needlenose find out what really happened.

Now, if you think the introduction of female Transformers into the comics would cause all these gay relationships to fall into the background for heterosexual relationships… well you haven’t been paying attention. Once the Transformers became known for gay relationships, then the writers felt free to just keep adding more. So the addition of female transformers simply introduced lesbians to the comics. Two parts of the all female combiner Victorian, Dustup and Jumpstream are Conjunx Endura. As are Anode and Lug. And just for funsies they also stuck Knock Out in a gay relationship with Breakdown. Also Tigatron and Airazor were also introduced in a relationship, making them the only heterosexual relationship depicted in any of IDW’s comics.



And while originally while Conjunx Endura were presented as something close to a sexless platonic ideal of love… well it became increasingly more obvious that Transformers had something very much akin to sex. And that the Transformers were having lots and lots of it. So much so that Sentinel Prime, in the midst of his rant about all the degraded and decadent elements of post-war Cybertron made note of Conjunx Endura exchanging Energon in public.


Sentinel Prime is just the worst

If you had asked me five years ago what comic book line would offer a caring, sensitive portrayal of many different kinds of gay relationships, all of which would be deeply important to the plot… well the one about alien robots who turn into cars ‘n’ things wouldn’t have been the one I thought of. But here we are. So there’s an important lesson in the fact that slamming the door on progress in one area sometime opens a giant hole in the wall for unexpected progress in other areas.


Transformers as envisioned by Michael Bay vs. as envisioned in the comics

The Magicians, “The Cock Barrens”

The problem with serialized television is that sometimes an episode comes along that is so bad… the show can’t ever recover from it. Marvel and DC comics have an entire toolkit to deal with such problems, but TV can’t really do it. Sure an entire season of Dallas was all just a dream, and an entire season of Community was the result of a gas leak… but mostly shows have to simply keep going forward lugging some sort of show-wrecking piece of continuity or characterization behind it.


The Magicians was always a precarious balancing act. It was good, great even, but it was always a paper-thin. The story telling was always about to fall apart, the characterizations devolve, the messiness of the first few episodes come back. The second season made up for a lot of structural problems scattered throughout all the different plotlines by making individual scenes stand out as jubilant. But that can only last for as long as the scenes can surpass all the problems lurking just underneath. The moment those monster rear up from the muck, everything falls apart. Welcome to “The Cock Barrens.”

The season has driven the characters pretty far apart at this point. Alice was turned into a combination of a demon and a ghost made of magic and is effectively dead. Quentin, her ex-boyfriend, has left to attend her funeral. Julia is both attempting to get a magical abortion and looking for a way to banish Reynard the Fox God from Earth. In Fillory, Eliot’s wife is pregnant and she also turned out to be a member of a militant group of terrorists.

So the episode starts off with everyone not particularly in a good place, and then only manages to take those plot lines and shoves them right into that muck that I was talking about earlier.


Julia’s rape by Reynard was the most questionable thing in the book series. And it remained the most questionable thing in the TV show. Making her pregnant from that rape, something which didn’t happen in the books, is just as questionable. However last episode managed to make it work by turning her inability to get an abortion into a miniature horror movie (remember what I said about individual scenes making you overlook the flaws in the narrative?). The episode opens with Julia attempting to find a woman who banished Reynard in 1976.

After being invited into her home, Julia is then knocked out by a bat to the head and wakes up chained to the wall in the woman’s torture basement. Also chained to the wall is a giant man clothed only in a diaper and a black bag over his face. He also poops in a giant litter box. It’s almost audacious in what an utterly terrible choice it is. While everything else in the episode is terrible, this almost reaches a level of absurdity as to be enjoyable for how awful it is. At lest until you consider it is even more abuse heaped on Julia, a character who has been abused and violated since the very first episode. Maybe if Margo was the one down there it would feel different, but with Julia it just seems grotesque.

Quentin gets the closest thing to a good storyline out of anything in this episode (not saying much). He spends the episode hanging out with Alice’s horrible parents, and being haunted by Alice. Nothing actually objectionable happens in the storyline, even the ending where it is revealed Alice is trapped inside the tattoo on his back (yes, I am serious), but the entire storyline is fairly languid, just showing us once more that Alice’s parents manage to be just decent enough to want to save their daughter, but not decent enough to do a good job of it.


And then there is Margo and Eliot. Now, I said Julia was in a grotesque situation, but at least she gets out of it by the episode’s end. Eliot and Margo are going to be stuck with what happens this episode for the entire rest of the series.

Filorian Royal Court is visited by emissaries from Lauria, the country to the north. They demand access to Fillory’s magic and to marry their prince off to “Queen Margo, the virgin.” Now, I don’t know how anyone could confuse Margo for being a virgin, either in Fillory or anywhere else. Initially Margo, obviously, wholly rejects the Lorian’s proposal. But then the prince uses reverse psychology, insinuating she was bad in bed, in order to convince her to sleep with him. That’s right, she got negged and fell for it.

The Magicians has always been prudishly sex-negative. Sex is always partaken under terrible circumstances and if the sex itself isn’t punishment (and it often is), then the participants are normally punished immediately after for indulging. In addition to Julia’s rape there was Alice and Quentin being literally animals when they had sex (foxes), Quentin’s threesome with Margo and Eliot under the combined effects of magic and alcohal resulting in his break up with Alice, Alice having sex with Penny just to spite Quentin, Eliot having to slit his boyfriend’s throat because he was an actual demon, everything involving Eliot’s marriage, Quentin and Emily transforming into each other’s ex-partners to have sad, sad sex… it just goes on and on and on. But through it all, Margo has been sexually empowered and with total agency. Well, up until now when she fell for some obvious and idiotic pick up artist bullshit. So good job The Magicians for continuing to make sex the real enemy.

And finally there is Eliot. Oh how I miss happy, funny, gay Eliot from season one. Eliot has been on the downhill since right around the time he slew his boyfriend and went from functional alcoholic to sloppy, depressed drunk always punishing himself. Every so often there is a reminder of why Eliot used to be a great character, but being stuck in the worst plot in the whole show really isn’t helping. In the first season finale, Eliot was revealed to be the next high king of Fillory. In order to get the God-killing blade, the group had agreed that whichever one of them was the high king would marry the knife maker’s daughter. And, of course, due to marriage being magical in Fillory the participants can’t ever divorce or cheat on each other. And, being that he was deep into self-flagellation at the time, Eliot agreed.

Which was gross in and of itself. TV has a very, very, very long history of marrying gay men to women. And by long I mean going all the way back Jodie on Soap in the ’70s, and including virtually every gay male character up until the ’00s. It was how you included gay characters while keeping gay sexuality out of the show. And the plotline just got even more gross the longer it went on. There were about three or four episodes of jokes about Eliot being unable to rise to the occasion of consummating his marriage. Followed by Eliot putting his mind into a golem in order to travel to Earth and while there using the golem to have sex with a man, at which point his wife walked in, allowing him to have sex with her at the same time as part of a fairly gross threesome (or foursome if you consider Eliot’s mind the golem on Earth to be different from Eliot’s body in Fillory). Naturally she got pregnant.

So pretty much everything involving Eliot and his marriage has just been a pile of terrible ideas. Terrible ideas headed towards a particularly terrible (and obvious) place. So of course “The Cock Barrens” decides to make it even worse. Eliot reveals that his problem isn’t that his wife is a woman, but rather he just doesn’t want to be in a monogamous relationship. Seriously… what the fuck? We’ve had five episodes of erratic and irrational behavior, including an inter-dimensional astral-projection threesome, in order to have sex with this woman (and her singular personality characteristic up until it was revealed she was a terrorist, was that she wanted to fuck Eliot)… only for him to just casually mention he just didn’t want to be stuck having sex with her and only her? What the hell was the point of all that shit leading up to this episode?

It’s generally just gross to stick the only gay character in a heterosexual relationship for (apparently) the entire season. But it is hideously socially irresponsible that the show basically then comes down on the side that gay conversion therapy actually does work, that gay men really do just need to marry the right woman. It isn’t merely that the message of the episode is as disgusting as it is, it’s that the show apparently didn’t even realize what it was saying. It fills me with an unfathomable degree of rage.

So yeah. This episode is going to be stuck like a millstone around the neck of the series forever. They can’t actually undo the alterations it made to Margo and Eliot’s characters, and it heaps even more abuse on Julia. The worst themes, subtexts, and messages all were pushed right to the front of the show, and all in a butchered and idiotic way. Honestly, I think I am done with it. While there are all sorts of good elements to the show, they are so deeply mired in the morass of terrible storytelling, it just isn’t worth it any longer.

Ordinary Sinner

I have no idea what the hell this movie is about. I barely understand the plot of the movie, and I have no clue what is going on with the characterization of anyone. And I can’t even begin to explain the ending. But Elizabeth Banks is in it, so that’s a win!


Everyone loves threesomes, until someone dies!

So here’s the plot as near as I can figure, including spoilers for the ending because it makes so little sense that to “spoil” it is seems likely impossible. Brendan Hines plays Peter, a former seminary student who lost his faith and is now working at a pizza parlor. He has two friends Alex, played by Kris Park, and Rachel, Elizabeth Banks in one of her very first roles. And he’s really good friends with gay Episcopalian priest, A Martinez. So Peter left seminary because he was friends with a gay guy who accidentally killed someone who was bullying or harassing him or something (I think it was supposed to be homophobic bullying, but the movie was not particularly clear on this point, or any points). Peter and Rachel start having sex, and then Alex seemingly starts pushing for the threesome. There’s also a subplot about anti-gay hate crimes taking place in the town. Then the priest is murdered because someone put piles of rocks in the part of a lake where the priest likes to dive. And, I swear to you, his death is done so subtly that I didn’t realize he had died until at least fifteen minutes after the fact. At least put some blood in the lake! Everyone thinks it was whomever was behind the anti-gay hate crimes, but eventually it turns out to be Alex because he thought the priest would convince Peter to go back to seminary and not have threesomes (I kid you not). Then Alex commits suicide in a way that doesn’t actually make it seem like he is dead (it’s like this movie is deliberately homaging the Friday the 13th films). And then everyone goes home.

To say I am baffled by this movie would be an understatement. What the hell was all of that? I guess homophobia was just a red herring? And I have no clue if we’re supposed to think Alex is gay and in love with Peter (in which case why isn’t he killing Rachel), or maybe bisexual and in love with both of them, or who knows what?

I barely understand these plot points as just narrative moments that exist, let alone how they interact and reach whatever the hell that was as the climax. And I’m not sure there’s a theme to be found considering the film spends a lot of time talking about small town homophobia only for it to be completely irrelevant in the end. But hey, Elizabeth Banks gives a decent enough performance even though she has almost nothing to do except have sex with Brendan Hines and then listen to him talk about dead gay guys he’s friends with.

Fuller House – Season Two Liveblog

One of the weirdest conversations of my life was when a co-worker said to me, “Did you check out Fuller House on Netflix? It was so lame” (his word, not mine). To which I responded, “Well… I mean did you watch Full House?” And then he said, “Yeah, but not this lame.”

As a grown man who has, for some reason, voluntarily watched plenty of episodes of Full House I can attest that it is very, very bad. Fuller House, the sequel series that a lot of people obviously wanted (why?) actually is a drastic improvement upon the original. It actually has jokes! It occasionally even comes shockingly close to pathos and catharsis! It’s still terrible, but terrible perfectly enjoyable way.

Hence why when I decided to binge watch the season today I didn’t feel the shame at my terrible life choices that I do when accidentally discover and then watch Full House reruns on TV. But as there is nothing particularly culturally significant, intellectually interesting, or insightful about Fuller House, I just kept a live blog of my reactions. So here’s your context free analysis of Fuller House!

  • Out of no where Fuller House turns into a full on Bernie Sanders progressive and takes some accidentally good pot shots at Trump…
  • Now there’s been some male nudity. Fuller House is somehow becoming a woke Two and a Half Men.
  • Oh God. Alan Thicke just showed up… and now I am crying…
  • The subtext to this entire scene is that Matt and Steve’s new girlfriends openly hate DJ.
  • The show tip toes up to the line of openly admitting that Stephanie is just fucking tons of dudes every night. And you know what? Good for her.
  • Despite the fact that everyone dresses like the early ’90s, you can tell it is happening now because they all have smart phones.
  • And now they’ve made a bunch of gay jokes about DJ’s eight-year-old son.
  • This whole plot can be summed up as “Fuller House reenacts Wedding Crashers in order to get DJ laid.”
  • DJ’s bang partner just came out of the closet to Stephanie.
  • “We know gay, we grew up in a house, actually, with three dads. Yeah, one was obsessed with his hair, one was obsessed with cleaning, and the other one had a woodchuck puppet. I had a confusing childhood, but there was a lot of love.” – Stephanie summing up 8 seasons of Full House.
  • And because this show loves its ’90s nostalgia Stephanie and DJ have a conversation while doing Riverdance. Also Stephanie just outed the guy DJ have been trying to fuck all episode to his entire family.
  • I like how Fuller House feels free to shit all over Kevin Hart.
  • And flashbacks to all of their first kisses. And I thought the Fuller House style was bad…
  • Fuller House is doing an homage to I Love Lucy. I guess the show is appealing to people who nostalgically remember Nick at Night in the ’90s.
  • This show really, really likes gay jokes…. and yet rarely the very, very obvious ones.
  • Oh hey, now they are just traumatizing children.
  • One thing I appreciate about this show is how they constantly mention that Stephanie is a lazy mooch… something they never acknowledged about Joey or Jesse in the original series.
  • I assume this is a special guest star? I think he might be from Dancing With the Stars, a well they’ve already gone to on this show.
  • I can’t tell if this dancing is supposed to be amazing or horrible.
  • Metatextual slam on Jodie Sweetin!
  • Wait, they have a balcony inside their house?
  • Well, it looks like this is going to be the “Let’s get everyone from the original series back together episode.” They even named dropped Full House.
  • Oh, this is just embarrassing…
  • Welp Jesse and Becky are not banging tonight.
  • So Joey is as bad a parent as… he was already a bad parent.
  • Oh hey, Danny and Jesse cuddling. Because of course.
  • “Today is about family, don’t let our family ruin that.” – Stephanie Tanner, showing her great wisdom. Also a great lack of self-awareness, given just how often that family ruins things.
  • And now DJ is giving that traditional Full House speech on family values to Danny.
  • Okay this reference to the original show is so obscure I actually needed the flashback.
  • “It sounds like a terrible idea, but let’s do it.” – Stephanie, summing up the thinking process behind Fuller House.
  • And more breaking of the fourth wall to talk about Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.
  • So, I realize the entire point of this show is ’90s nostalgia, but even this is over kill. And I like how it immediately segues into redoing the “Stephanie feels peer pressure to smoke” plot. Even if they call it out (and they do) it is still pretty damn silly.
  • And Fuller House teaches us all a valuable lesson about respecting women.
  • So Stephanie found a brand new band in the span of one episode? I would say implausible, but it’s been established that the only time she leaves the house is to hit the clubs to find more lovers. So maybe she met them there?

    Also sort of creepy she sang her love song… to her family.

  • Oh hey, it’s a Netflix reference.
  • More Trump references.
  • And now they are getting metatextual about the reaction to Fuller House.
  • That’s a hilariously fake spider.
  • I find it quite amusing that DJ’s archnemisis is an 8-year-old boy. Girl, you are 39. Handle yo’ shit.
  • Well they turned Stephanie’s love song about the guy she’s fucking currently into being about her infant nephew. The incest is strong on this show.
  • Well, the Tanners are behaving horribly unprofessional… again…. or rather, as always.
  • Literally none of these people should ever be employed.
  • Did they seriously not think of “climb the fence” until now?
  • In case you were wondering the current nostalgia levels of Fuller House, they are now doing a plotline about New Kids on the Block. Joey McIntyre, you used to be better than this! And Donnie Whalberg you were in four Saw movies!
  • Oh hey, Donnie Whalberg was too good to do this show.
  • Oh good lord, this is yet another “famous band shows up at the Full House.
  • And now they are talking about Laurie Laughlin movies.
  • Wow, this 12-year-old girl is really excited to meet the New Kids on the Block (and can apparently recognize them by sight).
  • The endless “Band comes to the house” plotlines on Full House never fail to be horribly awkward and embarrassing for everyone involved.
  • It is, however, pretty amusing that the band being embarrassed to be doing this is an important part of the plot this time.Way to show more dignity than the Beach Boys, New Kids on the Block!
  • Did they just kidnap the New Kids on the Block… a second time?
  • Watch DJ sexually assault Joey McIntyre tonight on a brand new Fuller House.
  • And it looks like Donnie Whalberg wasn’t to good to do this after all. He was willing to film about thirty seconds of singing “Happy Birthday” to show on an iPad screen. Whalberg, I’ve lost more respect for you than I did when I saw Saw IV!
  • Wow, Fuller House really does like pushing the idea that DJ’s boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend are going to hook up.
  • That’s a hilariously fake concert venue.
  • If this was taking place in the real world, as opposed a universe where literally everything revolves around the residents of one particular house, DJ would have just ruined the concert for thousands and thousands of people.
  • think I would be filing a complaint card if the band I paid (according to the text of the show) a weirdly large amount of money to see somehow got roped into Facetiming themselves from some weird chick’s cell phone so her family can dance along to the concert from their home.
  • The one thing I can’t restate enough about this episode (and sort of redeems everything) is that the New Kids on the Block were presented as pretty openly loathing the Tanners.
  • “Our entire lives are a ’90s theme party.” – Kimmie Gibbler

    She gets it. She really, really gets it.

  • “Here’s our highschool yearbook! I was voted most likely to succeed, most likely to use ‘Gosh’ in a sentence, and most likely to marry Lance Bass. Gosh they were wrong about that.” -DJ

    Now would this count as a ’90s gay joke since NSYNC debuted in the ’90s or a ’00s gay joke since Lance Bass came out mid-’00s?

    Remember when Lance Bass was going to go to space? That was wacky.

  • Did they seriously choreograph a dance to “Can’t Touch This” before the reunion?
  • So these eight-year-olds  both love Titanic?
  • So Max is suddenly heterosexual? That goes against dozens of jokes the show has made. Such as being an eight-year-old boy whose favorite movie is Titanic.
  • DJ is dressing like Kelly Bundy on Married With Children.
  • Wow, DJ is horny.
  • Everyone’s reactions to Joey are on point.
  • And now they are just shitting all over Full House. Wow, they’re actually calling out all of Full House‘s shit.
  • Wow, this is the first lesbian joke all season.
  • Yet one more gay joke to close out the season.
  • Are they seriously going to drag this love triangle out for another season? Fuller House you are too serialized.

Sense8 – A Christmas Special


Party like you are secretly eight people

Towards the end of the newly released Christmas episode of Sense8 a minor character delivers a monologue about his virtual family. Across the globe he has people he has deep and profound connections to, people who know him better than anyone in his real life. And thus the special makes explicitly text what Sense8 has always been about. It is a TV show about the internet.

If you watch any movie about the internet in the ’90s (or ’00s or often today) the internet is a cesspool of the most depraved impulses humanity has to offer. MTV managed to get an entire TV show out of serial killers using the internet to find victims (the so-bad-it-is-brilliant Eyecandy). But that’s not how people actually use the internet. Twenty years ago no one predicted that most people would use the internet to look at videos of cats. And few would have predicted that people would start to develop these intense interpersonal connections with other people, people whom they would likely never meet offline. Across the planet is a global web of friendships, compassion, love, wisdom, and communal experience.

Sense8 might be a sci-fi show about a telepathic hivemind, but it is ultimately about how we as humans now reach out across cultures, genders, sexualities, religions, races, everything that separates us and create communities.

The first season of Sense8 slowly dribbled out the details of what the show was about. So slowly that some characters had barely met by the end of the season. So slowly that lots of people gave up on it after that first episode. But now having firmly established its own premise, the special can charge forward with kinetic fury.

For only being the thirteenth episode of the series, the special manages to cram a truly spectacular amount of fan service into its two hour run time. There’s an extraordinarily long birthday party montage (which I never wanted to end), there’s a new telepathic orgy, Wolfgang and Lito team up, Sun gets multiple fight sequences. But mostly the episode acts as a prelude to the upcoming season. Storylines are gently started and characters are moved around the global setting.

But ultimately the episode is positively jubilant, rather fittingly for a series as exuberant as Sense8 tends to be. For all its ruminations on how nasty, hostile, and alienating humanity can be (at one point the characters literally look at deeply personal hate speech graffitied on a wall), it always falls down on how we’re all connected and how great that is. Sense8 is always uplifting, always joyful, always sincere.


And damn is it not one of the most beautiful pieces of television out there. The Wachowskis have always been brilliant visual artists, working in comics even before becoming prolific directors, and Sense8 allows their remarkable talent for beautiful visuals to reach an apex. The location shooting might be a budgetary nightmare, but it has created a show that not only feels global, but also of the globe. It isn’t a show about people in different places, but a show about how humans are inextricably tied to the majesty of Earth.

Sense8 really is the greatest work the Wachowskis have produced. It ties all of their signature themes and unique visual style into a deeply emotional, deeply humane story. It’s a show that gets under your skin, and forces you to ruminate upon it. The Christmas special is such a poignant opening for what is likely to be a magnificent new season premiering in May. And if we can’t have a third season, can we at least get a spin off about Lito, Wolfgang, and Sun getting into and out of scrapes and mischief?

10 Best TV Shows of 2016

2016 was an okay year for TV. The landscape featured less superb television than in years past, but a greater depth and variety. In the world of Peak TV, every individual is able to be fully nourished by what is offered. And that is a deeply welcome change from how things used to be. Everyone is now welcome and everyone is now catered to.

What 2016 brought, in a way that does feel significantly different from even just 2015, is that no matter who you are, what you need to feel catharsis, what stimulates your intellect, there was something on TV targeted for you. Since the beginning of the film industry (and who knows, possibly the beginning of the newspaper industry) these annual top ten lists are always prefaced by qualifying how they simply reflect one specific point of view. But now it has become incredibly obvious just how much the annual top ten lists simply reflect one individual’s tastes. Guess what? On some cable channel right now is TV show that no one has ever mentioned to you, but you would absolutely love. Go find it.

Of course, with all that being said, my list is objectively correct and inarguable fact.

10. Eyewitness

It is interesting that a show could make a triple homicide into a metaphor for being in the closet. USA’s Eyewitness deftly walks the tightrope of keeping the two boys central to the plot sympathetic despite the fact that their refusal to come out of the closet has an impressive body count. And while there were missteps here and there across the first season, the characterization and thematic weight of the series was some of the best of the year. Both watching Philip and Lukas’s struggles with their sexuality and their romance, alongside Sheriff Helen Torrance’s struggles with her past and her difficulties trying to build a family, made for some intensely personal and strong story telling. Eyewitness was the show this year that I have rewatched the most. While the central murder case never ceases to be interesting, the main draw of the show is watching these tragically flawed characters try to overcome their weaknesses and be a family.

9. This Life

The first season of the CBC’s cancer drama had some strange pacing, introducing major characters in odd places and only slowly unfolding the conflicts in the family’s lives. But with the characters established, the show’s second season was able to slowly unwind them. Unique for this particular style of family drama, This Life is willing to let the kinds of decades of resentment that actual families have bubble to the surface. There wasn’t a finer, juicier scene this year than when the four siblings attempt to stage an intervention for Oliver, the gay and bi-polar brother, only to have it fall apart completely as all of them begin to attack each  other. When the show shifts into sentimental mode, it can do so because it is willing to let its character drag themselves to their darkest places.

8. Skam

The Norwegian drama Skam uniquely has each season told strictly from a single character’s point of view. There are vast oceans to the world of Skam but the audience is only ever privy to few jagged rocks the point of view character knows about. While the first two seasons were slightly slow, the third season, centered on Isak, barreled forward more like a wrecking ball. He fitfully tests the waters, peaks out of the closet, goes back in, gets mad, tries to date someone, watches his nascent relationship fall apart and eventually finds peace with himself all in Skam‘s signature understated style. The season really works because Tarjei Sandvik Moe’s cherubic face is able to so perfectly express sweetness and shame equally. Also I feel like pointing out, with great amusement, that the trailer for season three contains the least subtle symbolism I have ever seen.

7. Steven Universe

I still can’t believe that Steven Universe exists, nor that it is as wildly popular as it is. We live in a country where a cartoon that is explicitly about lesbians, and features some blatant metaphors for lesbian sex, is watched by a million and a half people. And on top of that it is just incredibly good. There is a level of melancholy to the show that is rare in the sorts of children’s cartoons that Steven Universe hails from. While Steven’s mother’s death happens long before the first episode, grief is so central to every character’s heart. The show is always willing to take time out from alien invasions and monsters to examine the depth of its characters’ pain.

6. The Good Place

What does it mean to be a good person? NBC’s comedy has managed to get a remarkable amount of comedy out of what is essentially a philosophical treatise on morality. Kristen Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who, “kinda sucks, but in a fun, chill way.” After her death she has mistakenly been sent to “The Good Place,” and more or less has learn how to fit in with people who are considered the best of the best that humanity has to offer. Her moral lapses cause existential destruction to her new supernatural living space, so she has to learn ethics before she literally destroys the universe.It shouldn’t be as downright hilarious as it is, but somehow The Good Place makes episodes dedicated to Kant’s philosophy rolling on the floor funny.

5. BoJack Horseman

The unique trick that BoJack Horseman pulls is that it gives its protagonist everything he wants, and then reveals how much worse that is than if he hadn’t gotten it at all. In season two he got the role he spent his whole life chasing, the main character in a biopic based on Secretariat. Season three picks up with BoJack doing the awards show circuit, in the hopes of eventually winning an Oscar. But, as is with everything in BoJack’s life, that doesn’t make him happy and only leads to another self-destructive spiral. I don’t think any show has presented as realistic a depiction of depression as this animated comedy about talking animals. BoJack is always incredibly fragile, and always on verge of destroying everything good in his life with his terrible choices motivated by terrible pain. While the highlight of the show is a sumptuous, nearly silent under water episode, the emotional climax of the penultimate episode is one of the most devastating things I have watched.

4. American Crime

The second season of American Crime never actually tells the audience what happened that night. Just drops enough hints to allow for any number of equally valid theories (my own interpretation I will acknowledge is based on the fact that I happen to like both characters involved). But the fallout from that incident spirals into a devastating critique of the educational system. Pulling on decades of incidents taking place at both public and private schools the show constructs a season about sexual assault, homophobia, school shootings, wealth and privilege, race and racism, school athletics, the criminal justice system, suicide, religion. The season’s primary villain, Felicity Huffman’s headmistress Leslie Graham, spends the season focused entirely upon PR spin for her school without giving a shit about any of the students involved. However even she eventually succumbs to the tragedy, and her own role in it. But really the true villain of the season is the instinct to cover your own ass. No one ever gets the help they need, the kind of help that would have stopped the exponentially expanding series of tragedies, because a compassionate response might open them up to liability. Special mention should go to Connor Jessup and Joey Pollari who both play teenagers forced out of the closet by the investigation and have two very different, but both self-destructive and tragic reactions to it.

3. The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story/O.J.: Made in America

This is sort of a cheat, but these two series perfectly complement each other and should be watched in tandem. Race relations in America are fraying to points we haven’t seen since the L.A. riots. But how did we get here? Ryan Murphy’s limited series on the O.J. trial points to that historical event as the foreshadowing of everything our culture became and an example of how things went wrong. Filled with brilliant performances, it delves into the fraught drama of the most well publicized trail in history. But even the show had its limitations. ESPN’s documentary was able to contextualize the trail in a way a drama, even a good one, could not. The first two episode of the series contrasted O.J. Simpson’s rise to stardom with the social forces impacting African-Americas in L.A. The O.J. Simpson trial didn’t just happen, even if the actual murders did just happen. Rather the trail was part of a decades long history of L.A.’s race relations. Even if the jury came to an obviously stupid conclusion (and there are actual interviews with jurors where they admit both that they were completely wrong and that they voted for reasons that had little to do with the trial), it was part of that long history. Parts two and three of the documentary cover the trail, and the final part covers everything that happened after it. O.J. Simpson is never less than a villain in documentary, but he could have lived out his life in comfort. However he simply could not accept not being famous. All of his subsequent problems arose from his insatiable desire for fame.

2. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

2016 was a bad year. I do not doubt that 2017 will be worse. But what made 2016 bearable was that we got Samantha Bee. If there is one criticism of Jon Stewart, it is that he did care very deeply about his role as “the sanest man in America,” leading him to a very detached and overly cautious version of The Daily Show. It was better than any other news organization, and always willing to call out bullshit, but it couldn’t ever be angry. Samantha Bee is angry. Very angry. Her tongue is dripping with venom and fury. And she does not care about pretense, she cares about justice. Her commentary is scathing and she has no mercy for idiocy. Now is a time to be angry, so now is a time to be thankful that Sammy Bee is on our TVs.

1. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Towards the end of its first season Rebecca Bunch, the titular crazy ex-girlfriend played by the incomparable Rachel Bloom, realizes she might actually be the villain. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend showed that there can still be a truly great anti-hero TV show, but instead of yet another man doing morally dubious things, it should be a musical comedy. The show is interested in exploring the emotional lives of the stereotypical characters in romantic comedies, with Rebecca always casting herself as the beautiful protagonist only for her romanticized ideals (as in literal musical numbers) to crash into reality. The second season somehow managed to make her even deeper and more complex by centering the season on the dissolution of her main friendship, and how painful two people growing apart can be. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a deeply humane series, taking an incredibly heightened reality (again, musical numbers) and using them to illuminate some of the most complicated and complex human emotions. It is impossible to articulate how astute its character work is without ever losing its wacky nature. It was the best TV show last year and remains the best one this year.

It also produced the single best song of the year with the impeccable “You Stupid Bitch.”

House of M

…Okay, let’s do this.


Why would I torture myself like this?

House of M is bad. It’s really bad. There’s no overstating how bad it is. But in a weird way, it’s kind of adorable. Given just how terrible Civil War and Avengers vs. X-Men are, House of M just does not rise to the level soul crushingly awful. It’s the sort of bad that you just want to pinch its cheeks.

Part of why it is bad is that it is a spine story. There are generally two types of crossovers. The first is sequential. With those crossovers each part is laid out in direct order, you read part one in one book and then part two in a different book. Spines are different. The core series forms the spine of the skeleton, with the tie ins building off of it like bones build off the body. In these crossovers, theoretically, you can skip any stories you are not interested in, and not miss anything. But that also makes them unwieldy, messy and flabby. The tie in series can intersect with the main series at any point in the narrative, and so lots and lots of time has to be dedicated to a holding pattern where nothing much is going on, lest some tie in spoil a major plot point. It also means the middle section of the main series is basically just an advertisement for a dozen different books (“If you want to see why Doctor Doom is mad at Magneto, see House of M: Fantastic Four #1 on sale now!”). So yeah, it’s not a style that usually delivers great material.

But anyway when we last left off, the Avengers had given the insane, reality warping, murderous Scarlet Witch to her father who also happens to be the world’s most infamous terrorist. Not really willing to admit just how poorly conceived that idea was, the Avengers invite over the X-Men to have joint discussion on the fate of the woman they no longer even have access to. Emma Frost suggest killing her, an idea everyone hates. Then Wolverine suggest killing her, and everyone is pretty much sold on that idea. Captain America decides they should go have a talk with her, even though (and I shit you not) she’s already talking to Doctor Strange and Professor Xavier. What, exactly, Captain America thinks he can accomplish that two doctors with the most relevant powers to the situation can’t is left unsaid. So the gang travels to Genosha and the world suddenly goes bonkerballs.


The very happy royal family

Magneto is now king of Earth and everyone else gets free ice cream because their greatest dreams all come true. And then… nothing happens for many, many issues. Well, I suppose not “nothing,” a little girl, who is nothing more than a walking plot device because she has the convenient powers to make everyone remember the world as it originally was, shows up. So we are treated to Wolverine individually recruiting every member of the X-Men and Avengers because it is an eight issue comic and nothing important can happen before issue seven.

The whole series is just fairly banal trip through an alternate reality. The highlight of the crossover really is House of M: Fantastic Four as it does dig deep into what Doctor Doom could possibly want, and the sad truth it finds is that it isn’t possible for him to feel happy. But most of the rest of the tie ins are exactly what you would expect if you gave a writer the directive to write what each characters’ fantasy world would be. It’s all horribly tedious and dull. Do we really need to revisit the idea that Spider-Man is married to Gwen Stacy and his uncle Ben is alive?

And, for the most part, no one even does anything with the setting. The world is run by mutants. A talented writer could run with the utopian or dystopian views of what that could mean. But no one really contemplates any consequences that would flow from placing Magneto as king of the world (other than the occasional mention of monarchy being a resurgent form of government).


How I always wanted a crossover to end

I suppose the series can’t be analyzed without looking at the ending. The Scarlet Witch, still insane, decides to magically genocide mutants out of existence by literally saying “no more mutants.” Due to a combined magical/telepathic protection spell by Doctor Strange and Emma Frost, a small number of mutants (originally stated to be 198, but regularly fluctuating both up and down over the next decade) the mutants in their general vicinity were protected (so they could justify the X-Men’s biggest loss to depowerment being Jubilee). It remains a baffling and terrible ending. First off, it comes at the close of a silly little story where Wanda’s powers were presented as just putting wallpaper over existence. There’s no justification for why House of M was not really real, but this is really real. And more importantly, just having a major superhero casually magical genocide an entire minority out of existence… is a pretty dark resolution to what was, as I said, a pretty silly story.

Even more puzzling was how it played out in the real world. House of M was the baby of Avengers writer Brian Michael Bendis. It was supposed to be the big resolution to the steaming pile of dog excrement that was Avengers Disassembled. It didn’t particularly resolve anything, it just added more shit on the shit sandwich. And it was left to Bendis to explain what happened. His justification was nonsense, he claimed the ending was because he felt mutants weren’t special enough now that they had become a more of an actual minority with millions of people. But once more… why the fuck was an Avengers writer who had no plans to write the X-Men making vast sweeping editorial decisions for the X-books? We can never know what went on in the offices of Marvel, and maybe the ending of House of M originated with the X-Men writers and Bendis simply had to explain it because he happened to write the main series. But also it could have been his idea all along. Either way, it was unsatisfying, particularly since it undid decades of work, in particular Grant Morrison’s much beloved X-Men run.

And the X-books didn’t really even have a handle on the story they were given. It would be one thing if Decimation (the X-books line wide title for how each book dealt with the fallout from House of M) was uniformly excellent. Then it could be dismissed as a painfully bad piece of table setting to get things where they needed to be. But for every X-Factor vol. 3, there was a The 198 that was just terrible. And for the most part the X-books were just listlessly sluging along in that aftermath. Eventually writers took over who legitimately did have story ideas for the new status quo, and the X-books snapped back into an unheard of line wide excellence. At least until the garbage dump that was Avengers vs. X-Men.


This could never end badly.

What the X-books did do correctly right from the start, was that they didn’t shy away from the horror of what happened. Many, many people died when their powers suddenly didn’t work. And many more people were left deformed because while energy manipulating abilities could simply vanish, Wanda wasn’t so great at making physiological powers simply go away. It was presented uniformly as a horrifying, traumatic tragedy, in direct contrast to the more sedate versions of the various cures. And as the storyline played out, the X-books shifted to being about an incredibly fragile ethnic minority that was always one bad day away from ceasing to exist. The books almost prognosticated the existence of groups like ISIS and how they treat groups like the Yazidis (which, I mean, granted its not like history isn’t full of similar stories).

At the time House of M felt apocalyptically bad. But that was without knowing something as terrible as Civil War was on the horizon. In retrospect it seems like a fairly banal and bloated crossover that had a particularly bad ending. It’s hard to even properly hate it anymore, now that stuff as excellent as Messiah Complex and stuff as atrocious as Avengers vs. X-Men exist. It’s neither, it’s just kind of bad.