Actually, Arya and Sansa’s confrontation on ‘Game of Thrones’ was brilliant, heartbreaking, and full of lessons on feminism. Allow me to womansplain.

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After witnessing the tense, heated conversation between Stark sisters Sansa and Arya on last night’s episode of Game of Thrones (“Beyond the Wall”), I had only one thought:

That was the best scene in the entire show.

Don’t worry, I’ve softened my opinion after a night’s sleep. After all, there are too many contenders to count for that title – Daenerys burning down the patriarchy in Vaes Dothrak, Brienne and Arya’s scrimmage swordfight, Cersei’s Walk of Shame, Tommen’s tragic and silent death, Jon Snow punching Ramsay Bolton in the face again, and again, and again… and many more. The standout scenes on this show are memorable for a variety of reasons: some are shocking, some are satisfying, some are tender – and some are all three. There have been blips, of course (what even is the pacing in this season? Is time an illusion in Westeros?), but the show has always represented a paradigm of masterful storytelling. Not for nothing has Game of Thrones shattered Emmy Awards records and become a worldwide phenomenon over the past few years.

Scene-stealing dragons are great, but Game of Thrones has always thrived because of its character studies. Here is a patriarchal, medieval world of monarchies and magic, common folk and religion. How far would a woman go to secure for herself the power that her male family members and husband are awarded at birth? With whom would a calculating eunuch be willing to align in order to ensure that the next ruler of this world does the most possible good? What would it take for a spurned son to betray his entire family while following his conscience? And is it true that the good guy always gets beheaded finishes last?

For all of its accolades, Game of Thrones has also gotten a lot of flak for its depiction of female characters. With the exception of Sansa’s rape providing character development for a male character, I am honestly baffled by most of the criticism. Yes, the world of Westeros is far from a feminist utopia, and the cultural and socio-political attitudes actually reflect back on our real world much more than we’d like to admit. But that is exactly what makes the characters so engaging; that’s what makes their struggles so potent. After all, the tension between the ideal and the real is what gives our lives and actions meaning.  

Until the end of last season, Cersei cared about nothing but power and her children. (Now: just power?) The fact that Cersei is cruel and psychotic and wants to rule the world – a villainous personality usually reserved for men – but is also maternal and wants only the best for her children – a typically female personality – makes her a radically feminist character. Brienne and Arya are similar characters separated by a generation, but both have to contend with the way their dreams of becoming knights clash with society’s expectations of their roles as noblewomen. They, too, are feminist characters.

Women contain multitudes, and Game of Thrones does a fabulous job exploring these multitudes. And in my opinion, there is no more fascinating and complicated female character than that of Sansa Stark.

In brief, because this is an essay for another time (one that I hope to get paid for… any editors reading this?), Sansa was always a great character specifically because she was so unlikable. This assessment is partially a personal preference in that she was not the type of girl I would ever want to be, or even be friends with. Growing up in Winterfell, Sansa was vain, selfish, whiny, and privileged. She was content with the status quo, ready to live her life in comfort and ease, more than willing to conform to patriarchal plans for her future. For many of these reasons, Sansa is an objectively unlikable character as well; from a narrative standpoint, she served as a foil to rebellious Arya, the cool underdog that fans loved and rooted for. Arya is resourceful, athletic, determined, fierce, clever. Sansa is… pretty. Of course, this does not make Sansa any less worthy of life. And people like her certainly exist in our world. But to 21st century humans with progressive attitudes towards gender, her attitude is understandably antiquated, and therefore less relatable.

Arya and Sansa’s shared last name – and their shared gender – does not necessitate that their characters would ever see eye-to-eye or suddenly share the same values.

In their years apart, Arya and Sansa endure an immense amount of suffering. Both witnessed the murders of their family, and both thought, for a long time, that each was the last remaining Stark. Arya responded by training to become an assassin, fulfilling her dream of becoming a warrior. Sansa lived through physical abuse at the hands of Joffrey, emotional abuse from Cersei, unspeakable torment from Ramsay (including the infamous and controversial rape), and through an extended series of circumstances, she is now closer than ever to the dream future she imagined, as the Lady of Winterfell.

Arya and Sansa have always been very, very different – complete opposites, even – so their reunion at Winterfell this season was unsurprisingly awkward. Naturally, each was happy to see the other alive. But their shared last name – and their shared gender – does not, in any way, necessitate that their characters would ever see eye-to-eye or suddenly share the same values and dreams of the future. In fact, it would be poor writing, and reflect a poor understanding of the human psyche, if they did.

So, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about that scene in “Beyond the Wall.”

We learned in the previous episode, “Eastwatch,” that Littlefinger (*shakes fist*) is trying to play the Stark sisters against each other, so he ensured that Arya would find the letter to Robb that Sansa was coerced into writing back when she was a Lannister hostage. The letter contains Sansa’s entreaty for Robb to come to King’s Landing and swear fealty to King Joffrey, while also denouncing Stark patriarch Ned as a traitor. Naturally, Arya was none-too-pleased to learn that Sansa had, in Arya’s eyes, so willingly “betrayed” her family. Sansa tried to explain that she was just “a child” – terrified and naive – and that although she didn’t have a “knife at her throat,” as Arya blithely suggests, she was threatened all the same. Her explanation falls on deaf ears.

The way I understand it, viewers of Game of Thrones are angry because of Arya’s utter lack of empathy for her sister’s situation. But people seem to be conflating Arya’s lack of empathy for the male showrunners’ lack of empathy. If you think every character represents their creators, I have news for you: this is fiction. So, yes, I very much doubt that Dan Weiss and David Benioff are toasting cups of Dornish wine, crowing: “Ha ha! Sansa sucks because she got raped and also she is a weak, boring woman!”

In the context of the show, though, Arya’s coldness makes total narrative sense. Are we not supposed to understand, given the way Arya slaughtered pretty much the entirety of House Frey, that she is now utterly unhinged? That Arya, driven to this point by grief and anger and the freedom she’s always desired, has become a vengeful and rage-fueled monster? Though she made that pivotal choice to set off for Winterfell rather than continuing her single-minded murder crusade, she is still a very, very angry young woman. Indeed, Sansa picks up on this (gee, what gave it away?) and tries to rationalize Arya’s harsh judgement of her by telling Arya: “Sometimes anger makes people do unfortunate things.” After taunting Sansa for being afraid, Arya shoots right back at Sansa’s achilles heel: “Sometimes fear makes people do unfortunate things.”

Oof. Brutal.

The tension in this scene is so palpable because of what is said: Arya’s spiteful barbs demonstrate that she still views Sansa as a shallow airhead. Sansa’s responses, though delivered with startling calmness, show that she still views Arya as a little girl. But it is also brilliantly crafted to make us think of all that is not said. Sansa alludes to, but does not explicitly delineate, all of the horrific abuses she suffered at the hands of her various male counterparts (and, of course, Cersei). Even if Arya knew, though, I doubt she would be any more sympathetic. Arya’s rage – against everyone who specifically wronged her family, and against a society, represented by Sansa, that told her she couldn’t be the one thing she wanted to be – has fueled her for years. She is unmoved by fear and disgusted by weakness.

Sansa, meanwhile, is conventionally pretty, and she has always wanted conventional things. Arya believes that Sansa is “weak” because she doesn’t want to – as they say often on this show – “break the wheel,” and because she gave in to Lannister pressure when, let’s be honest, most of us would have done the same. But – and this is why I find her character so enlightening – her experience still matters. Her trauma still matters. It’s horrible, but Arya clearly thinks that Sansa doesn’t deserve to live because she’s not “strong” or “courageous” enough.  Arya views weakness as a moral failing.We know better.

There is a saying that’s been going around Tumblr for a while: “Are you brave? the devil asked. No, she answered, but I am alive. And sometimes those two things are the same.” This, I believe, represents Sansa to a tee – and it’s something I can relate to, as well. Sansa is no warrior. She is not particularly strong or cunning. She is not even particularly kind. But she is alive, she has suffered, and she is deserving of respect.

When Arya declares that “the rules were wrong,” she is effectively calling out the patriarchy: societal rules say that Arya cannot be a fighter because she is a girl. Arya stands here now, proof that the rules are wrong. From a culturally progressive perspective, Arya is right – the rules are wrong. But Arya own feminism is short-sighted – she believes that Sansa is worthy of scorn and derision simply because what Sansa wanted for her own life happened to align with what the patriarchal society wants for her. Arya’s resentment bleeds through into every word of their conversation, most notably when she describes seeing Sansa stand next to the Lannisters – “I remember the pretty dress you were wearing, I remember the fancy way you did your hair.”

And you know what? I used to resent Sansa for all that, too. But Sansa, who is not a mite-sized killing machine or a Three-Eyed Raven, has earned my grudging respect.

I’m seeing a lot of commentary on Twitter to the effect of: “THIS IS NOT HOW SISTERS WOULD ACT! MEN FAIL AT WRITING WOMEN!” And to be clear, I think it’s a huge problem that Game of Thrones has not employed a female writer or director since season four. In certain areas, the storytelling may have faltered because of that. (Plus, I obviously support any and all diversity initiatives regardless.) But this scene – this heartbreaking, gut-wrenching confrontation between Arya and Sansa, a focal point for discussions about gender, feminism, tragedy, and trauma –  is absolutely one of Game of Thrones’ strengths.

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The Rise of the Time Lady | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 11

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I completely fell for it.

When Missy stepped out from behind the text of the 3W infomercial, planted a wet one on the Doctor, and revealed that she is a multifunction, interactive welcome droid, I felt a twinge of disappointment, but found no reason to doubt that “MISSY” really did stand for “Mobile Intelligence Systems Interface.” Sounds like as much of a mouthful as “Time And Relative Dimension In Space,” which is the longhand for “TARDIS.” (Though I suppose that should have been my first clue.)

However, I was concerned when Missy announced that she is programmed for “self-repair” and maintained by her own heart—the latter of which brought me back to her chilling proclamation at the end of “Flatline”: “Clara, my Clara. I have chosen well.” (The meaning of which has not yet become clear.) A droid that possesses freedom of choice? Now that’s alarming. The notion of self-repair raised a red flag as well: in the upcoming sci-fi flick Automata, AI beings are only kept in check by a law that expressly prevents robots from repairing themselves, the assumption being that only something with consciousness can be self-aware enough to engage in self-repair.

The ethics of robotics, kids. It’s a doozy.

Showrunner and episode writer Steven Moffat is not one to shy away from breaking storytelling rules and conventions (we’ll get to that in a moment), so I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had created a droid with consciousness (do we have any Blade Runner/Phillip K. Dick fans in the house?). But like I said—red flag. This should have been my second clue.

The Doctor seems to have known deep down who Missy really was as soon as he felt her heart(s), but he played the role of Doctor Idiot flawlessly throughout the remainder of the episode in order to make Missy spell it out for us in the most dramatic way possible. Each beat between “You know who I am,” “Please try and keep up,” and “It’s short for Mistress” ratcheted up the tension even more, bit by bit, until: “I couldn’t very well keep calling myself The Master, now, could I?”

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Those who have remained blissfully ignorant of this Missy = Master theory throughout the season no doubt received the shock of a lifetime at this big reveal. But those of us who have spent the past eleven weeks scouring Doctor Who comment boards and the like have been well aware of the most popular explanation of Missy’s mysterious identity since episode one, so the “big reveal” was exhilarating on a whole different level: in which the fandom enjoys a collective whoop of validation.

5 Obamacare Wins For Women

(And if you listen closely while Missy talks, you’ll hear an ominous drumbeat in the background. Good catch by kpower90!)

Since I spent the whole season assuming that the Master has, in fact, regenerated into a woman, I wasn’t blown away by the implications when it was finally confirmed. And I embody the precarious opinion that it shouldn’t be a big deal, but that it is. It shouldn’t be a big deal that after releasing 40 superhero movies starring white males, Marvel finally optioned a movie starring a black man (Black Panther) and another starring a woman (Captain Marvel)—but it is. It shouldn’t be a big deal that a traditionally male character has been reimagined as a female character, like Joan Watson in Elementary, or that a traditionally white character has been reimagined as black, like Quvenzhané Wallis’s Annie—but it is. And it shouldn’t be a big deal that another traditionally male character who ostensibly has the ability to regenerate into a female body but for whatever reason never has, finally did—but it is. Gender norms still exist, and it’ll take a hell of a lot of time, effort, and complete cultural overhaul to cut out the implicitly patriarchal bias of the English language. We like to think we live in a post-racial and gender-neutral society, but the reality is still far from the ideal.

I am pointing this out in order to be realistic, not discouraging. In fact, I’m proud of our progress as a human race, and I tentatively believe in the continued ascendant progress of humanity. So while I envision a distant future in which a comic series about a Muslim woman of color won’t make headlines because it won’t be out of the ordinary, I accept the fact that at this point in time, it is a big deal, and I will honor and support it as such. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all. And I will proudly celebrate every single one of humankind’s baby steps as we march forever upwards towards a land of rainbows and unicorns and Nutella and equality and acceptance for all.

One such baby step? Casting a regenerated Master as a woman. Full stop.

I’m seeing posts online of people viciously lambasting Steven Moffat for his particular choice of words in revealing Missy as a regenerated Master– “I couldn’t very well keep calling myself…The Master” (emphasis mine)– because it comes across as transphobic. I have two responses to that opinion: firstly, discrimination works both ways, and if Missy appears biologically female and identifies as female, who are we to judge? Plus, even if Moffat wrote the script, the character of Missy is the one who delivers the line; she is the subject of the sentence, not Steven Moffat. Maybe Missy is an anti-feminist megalomaniac like Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne…who knows.

Secondly—and more in tune with my original argument—this is a baby step, and should be viewed—and celebrated!—as such. It would have been glorious to witness the debut of a Hispanic, Buddhist, transgendered Time Gallifreyan, but for whatever reason, Moffat chose not to. And I don’t think that reason has to be “BECAUSE HE’S A SEXIST BLOODY HACK.” A couple years ago, when the internet was aflame with who would replace Matt Smith as the next Doctor, some female names were thrown into the mix: Helen Mirren, Lara Pulver, et al. But Moffat said he only ever had one person, male or female or other, in mind (spoiler alert: it was Peter Capaldi), and that casting a woman “didn’t feel right to me, right now.” Fair enough—since he had just implied that if the one actor he had in mind had been a female version of Peter Capaldi, he would have cast her. He explained that it was an “aesthetic” decision rather than a “political” one—meaning, he was set on “Peter Capaldi,” not “Peter Capaldi The Heterosexual Male.”

Think about the whole concept of a species that can regenerate into different bodies—it positively screams gender fluidity, and tacitly supports the idea of the mosaic brain (fyi, clicking on link will play video), which teaches that human brains are made up of a composite of “male” and “female” traits. Moffat, Whovian fanboy that he is, is certainly aware of this idea.

But it’s what he said next that interests me: “I didn’t feel enough people wanted it [i.e., a female Time Lord].” And later, at the Edinburgh Television Festival: “Who knows, the more often it is talked about the more likely it is to happen someday.” In light of this, I’m curious to see if recasting the Master as the Mistress was Moffat’s way of testing the waters, to see how the fandom would react to a gender-bent Time Lord. So, instead of hurling unproductive vitriol his way, let’s show Moffat how psyched we are to see a Time Lady. Instead of finding fault with the Moff’s every creative decision, let’s rally behind this exciting new development and revel in the narrative possibilities.

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Only then will we get our Time Lady. And after that, Who knows?

Part II: The other 59.3 minutes of this episode…

An Ode to the Glimmering ‘Book of Life’

Amidst the grand, cosmic chaos of the universe, I am certain of at least one thing: 3D glasses were invented for the viewing of Jorge Gutierrez’s The Book of Life.

Words cannot do the dazzling animation justice; every scene pops like visual candy, every square inch pulsates with polychromatic pizzazz. The quirkily designed characters emit a distinctly Burtonesque aura, but even more exaggerated, more fantastical, and more elaborate. Some have complained that the movie fails as a glorification of Mexican culture because “the filmmakers literally put facial hair and sombreros on everything,” but this fixation on the clichéd is missing the point entirely; the tantalizing animation perfectly encapsulates the vibrancy of Mexican culture, while providing kids of all ethnicities with an exhilarating introduction to said culture through the lens of Mayan folklore.

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday (and the original title of the film) dedicated to celebrating rather than mourning the dearly departed, and The Book of Life kicks off with an exploration of the day’s festivities in the small town of San Angelo. The movie’s presentation of the holiday manages the rare feat of making the uncomfortable beautiful, embracing the sentimental without tipping over into the maudlin. The emotional tone is less “smile-because-it-happened” and more “smile-because-it-is-still-happening”; after all, a film that partly takes place in the realm of the dead uses the word “life” in the title for a reason. And when our young protagonist’s father tells him that the dead are always with us, it works, partly because of the delicate artistry of the spirits that appear onscreen just beside him, and partly because The Book of Life wears its heart on its sleeve (or, actually, inscribed on Manolo’s guitar), and that lends a pure beauty to the movie that surpasses even computer generated animation at its finest.

The most colorful characters—literally and figuratively—are the mythical gods who reign over the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten: La Muerte lords over the former, and Xibalba grudgingly claims dominion over the latter. The duo bicker over who should get to rule the “more fun” dominion (the Remembered sure know how to party hard), then decide to settle things with a good, old-fashioned wager. They observe a love triangle emerging between the strong-willed María and her two best friends—Joaquín, the big-headed, big-muscled warrior, and Manolo, the kind-hearted, doe-eyed musician—and decide to place a bet on which strapping young man will end up marrying the fair lady.

What follows is a relatively standard monomyth, or Hero’s Journey, but there’s no harm in embracing a familiar narrative—especially because it allows the ways in which The Book of Life diverts from the traditional to shine even more brightly by contrast. For one thing, María is no typical object of affection, and not just because she knows kung-fu. She is reminiscent of Meg from Disney’s Hercules, whose “I’m a damsel. I’m in distress. I can handle this” line serves as a retroactive counterexample to the one-dimensional archetype of the Strong Female Character. (Though her gender politics tend to be a bit, well, confused, Zoe Saldana, who voices María, is certainly on a roll with her choice of characters; between María and her roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek, Saldana has a knack for infusing her characters with a mixture of idealized badassery and realistic vulnerability.)

But while the feminism of María is fairly basic (she disparages the notion that she is obligated to cook her future husband dinner), the feminism invoked by the two main male characters teaches the more subtle takeaway message that hobbies and traits don’t have to be so rigidly gendered. Joaquín’s character is, at first, the once-heralded model of hyper-masculinity, as evidenced by  his pride over his mustache and his sword as well as his reliance on a medal that protects him from weakness. Manolo, meanwhile, espouses traditionally feminine traits such as sensitivity, aversion to violence, and devotion to music. In the end, both Joaquín and Manolo embrace a mixed identity that, above all, idealizes simple goodness.

The gorgeous visuals often outweigh every other aspect of the film (and that’s not a bad thing), but the soundtrack and the script deserve accolades as well. The humor is more often than not aimed at the younger audience members, but older audiences will recognize the influence of The Princess Bride, as the main story is narrated to a (hilariously delinquent) group of kids, punctuated throughout by their commentary and interjections. Add to that the protagonist’s experience with being “mostly dead,” as well as an unmistakable utterance of “as you wish.”  The soulful music also enhances the visually stunning and narratively engaging adventure. Along with several original songs, co-written by Gustavo Santaolalla and Paul Williams, a handful of timeless classics (“Can’t Help Falling in Love”) and contemporary hits (“I Will Wait”) are featured—and given a thematically appropriate mariachi-band spin.

With its weighty focus on death and its adherence to age-old tales, The Book of Life seems to at the same time treat kids as adults and adults as kids. If nothing else, the gorgeous animation alone is a reason to take the whole family to the theater. But The Book of Life is also the rare movie that glistens with a post-postmodernist optimism, savoring the victory of the lover over the fighter, and rejoicing in the vitality of storytelling. And you don’t need your 3D glasses to see that.

“It’s Your Moon, Womankind” | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 7

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Who needs a full recap when we can sum up this episode with five words from a Beyonce song?

Guess my work here is done. Laterz.

Juuuuuuust kidding! “Kill the Moon” was beyond epic, in my humble opinion, and that means I’m going to spend hours explicating its many merits, including but not limited to the skyrocketing success of wombynkind. Which is totally unconnected to the fact that the Doctor—the only male who was present in more than two scenes and made it out alive by the end of this episode—demonstrated that he can be an utter celestial douchebag.

The episodes opens up back at Coal Hill, with Clara talking to her “space dad” about Miss Courtney “Disruptive Influence” Woods. These days, Courtney is lashing out because the Doctor allegedly told her she wasn’t special. “You say something like that to somebody and it hurts,” Clara insists. “Especially if you’re somebody of her age, and especially if you’re you.”

Thirty seconds into the post-credits part of the episode, and we’ve already hit on two specific points of interest for me. Clara’s job as a teacher is, on one level, to relay pertinent information to students about a particular subject. But on another (less clearly delineated but certainly more important) level, her job is to inspire each student to reach his or her highest potential—in other words, to convince each student that they are special. And what is the figure of the Doctor if not the ultimate teacher? Doctor Who was originally established, back in 1963, as an educational television program that uses time travel to explore historical and scientific facts and figures, and the Doctor has always been at the helm of this journey. But here—and at the end of this episode—we have Clara teaching the Doctor what’s what, exposing the fact that Twelve may know many of the secrets of the universe, but he’s woefully ignorant when it comes to the many secrets of human nature.

Clara’s insistence that the Doctor tell Courtney that she’s “special” makes me wonder if the BBC has been reading my emails to thursdayj, because this is exactly what has been bothering me so much about the Twelfth Doctor versus Doctors Nine through Eleven. Inspiring, oft-quoted lines such as Ten’s “It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person” and Eleven’s “In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important” preach a Seussian ideal of individual uniqueness, a message that we can all benefit from on a daily basis. And yet Twelve has consistently defied this uplifting motto. Nine, Ten, and Eleven made me feel special, when it’s so easy to be lost and alone in this massive universe. But if I were to ever encounter Twelve, he’d probably crush my spirit by informing me that I am an absolute speck of nothingness. Which is something I’d really rather not think about, tbh. And neither, apparently, would Courtney Woods.

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The second idea focuses on the paradoxically fragile-yet-admirably strong mind of a teenage girl, a topic that Pixar deemed notable enough to turn into the plot of the upcoming movie Inside Out. As Amy Poehler put it, “The brain of a young girl is a funny, complex, and miraculous thing.” We’ve all been there—even if you’re not, or never have been, a teenage girl—and this is another lesson the Doctor needs to internalize. Good thing we’ve got Miss Oswald channeling her inner Amy Poehler (among several other feminist goddesses) to sort him out!

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The Doctor, as per his wont, deflects Clara’s outright demand for insincere encouragement and instead asks Courtney how she would like to be the first woman on the moon, in order to lend actual, empirical support to her claim of “specialness.” For a moment I thought the BBC had made a massive gaffe, because there must have already been a woman on the moon, right? Wrong! replied Google. We’re apparently still living in the Neolithic Age. Not so in the Whoniverse, where Courtney “Disruptive Influence” Woods leapfrogs ahead of the other women on board the space shuttle in order to claim the title and triumphantly proclaim: “One small thing for a thing! One enormous thing for a thingie thing!” If you weren’t in love with this kid beforehand, her eloquent adaptation of Neil Armstrong’s immortal first words on the moon probably sealed the deal. (In fairness, Courtney, I also tend to mix up the words “step” and “leap” as well as “man” and “mankind.” Also: Sooooo gendered.) As of now, no creepy aliens have hijacked Courtney’s momentous speech. Those Tumblr photos, though…I foresee a seriously terrifying force of destruction emerging from Courtney’s Tumblr account…

When Clara, Courtney, and the Doctor exit the TARDIS, they realize that the Doctor has undershot their moon landing a bit—they land on a shuttle en route  to the moon, rather than on the moon itself. No matter: time to make some new frenemies while tossing out (…sometimes literally) a couple fun throwbacks to the Fourth Doctor’s era: Twelve ascertains that the date is 2049 judging by “the prototype version of the Bennett Oscillator,” which was mentioned by the Fourth Doctor in 1975’s “The Ark in Space,” which itself was a nod to the episode’s director, Rodney Bennett. So, yes, Doctor Who did, in fact, just get all meta-self-referential on us.

But wait, there’s more! The Twelfth Doctor’s yo-yo usage was undoubtedly a callback to the entire Tom Baker era, but more specifically to that very same episode, in which the Fourth Doctor also uses his yo-yo to measure gravity readings. In fact, it seems like the set-up of “Kill the Moon” bears a striking resemblance to the critically acclaimed “Ark in Space.” Here’s the brief synopsis of the latter episode from the Doctor Who Wiki:

The TARDIS lands on a space station orbiting Earth in the distant future. It’s seemingly deserted, but the Doctor, Sarah and Harry soon discover that they are not alone. …  A parasitic insect race – the Wirrn – have taken control and threaten the very future of mankind…

Well, showrunner Steven Moffat has mentioned that “Ark” is his favorite episode from the Baker era. Hmmm. Curiouser and curiouser. However, this episode quickly takes on a life of its own (no pun intended, as we’ll see soon enough), helped along in no small part by Murray Gold’s ever-fabulous musical score. Though Eleven’s “I Am the Doctor” will forever be a fandom favorite, Twelve’s theme music—most noticeable when the Doctor first takes off for the moon and when he makes his rousing speech on the beach—is quickly growing on me, and has certainly morphed into one of the highlights of this season.

So: Having established  that something fishy is going on, the three amigos team up with a couple of astronauts in order to figure out what to do about the moon situation, which according to the locals from 2049, is causing Really Bad Stuff to happen down on Earth. It turns out that Really Bad Stuff is happening on the moon as well, because two of the lead astronaut’s companions are promptly devoured by ginormous arachnids. The remaining astronaut, a hardened woman by the name of Lundvik, laments the loss of the one called Duke—he had recently had a granddaughter; he was Lundvik’s teacher, taught her how to fly, etc. Much sad. Very tragedy. The Doctor is having none of it.

The Doctor leads the remaining crew out to investigate an abandoned moon base, at which they discover the desiccated skeletons of a Mexican group that had landed on the moon ten years previously. Why hadn’t a rescue attempt been organized sooner? Because the only space shuttle available was currently on display in a museum, and the the global space program was effectively kaput. “We’d stopped going into space,” Lundvik explains, because “nobody cared.” Over in the good ol’ U.S.A, this prognostication is frighteningly realistic.

It’s around this point in time that Clara realizes that she’s probably going to get her miniskirts pants sued off if anything happens to Courtney, a situation that is a distinct possibility given that they are currently wandering around a future, carnivorous moon 238,900 miles from England. So she petitions the Doctor to take Courtney home, but the Doctor is just starting to have fun, and he once again balks at Clara’s request. “She’s fine!” he insists. “What are you, 35?” (Even though Clara has simply had it up to here with the Doctor’s lack of age discrimination, I personally think it’s one of this season’s most hilarious running gags.) They compromise by locking Courtney in the TARDIS until everything is safe and sound, at which point she flounces into a chair and promptly beings uploading pictures to Tumblr, which, let’s be real, is definitely what would happen if any one of us actually ended up riding along in the TARDIS. Courtney Woods, you are us. Love you too, BBC.

Soon afterwards, the Doctor pulls an Arnold Schwarzenegger and then promptly geronimos into a pit of amniotic fluid, leaving Clara and Lundvik to engage in an exasperated session of eye-rolling over the Doctor’s behav…

…wait, amniotic fluid? That’s right: as the Doctor reveals upon his return to the shuttle, the moon is breaking apart because it’s an egg—and it’s hatching. “Is it a chicken?” Courtney asks, “Because for a chicken to have laid an egg—“ and though the Doctor immediately cuts her off, I wondered at the significance of this chicken-and-egg comparison, especially given the brief mention of chicken at the beginning of the episode as well. As the well-worn question goes: “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” Though often considered quite literally, this question also calls to mind the matter of how/when life begins, as well as the issue of the causality of time, both of which are featured heavily in this week’s episode.

Let’s begin with the latter: The Doctor pontificates on the fluxity (a word I just made up and will now be working into daily conversation as much as possible) of time throughout this episode, explaining to Clara that just because she’s been to the future and has seen the moon in the sky, it doesn’t mean that the future she has seen is set in stone. As the Doctors and River Song explain and then retract every other episode: “Time can be rewritten.”

But I’ll leave the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff to other Whovians, because I want to focus on the significance of a life. As an elated Doctor enlightens Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik on the nature of the being growing inside the eggshell of the moon: “I think that it’s unique. I think that it’s the only one of its kind in the universe. I think that that…is…utterly beautiful.”

Though the “last of its kind” trope has been overused ad nauseum as it relates to the Doctor, I can’t get enough of the “only one of its kind” theme; as I mentioned earlier, that’s what I loved about Doctors Ten and Eleven: they truly made everyone feel special. Though this Doctor is a bit more terse in expressing this idea—and certainly engages in a roundabout method of demonstrating this to Courtney, as per Clara’s request—I was ecstatic to see him finally subscribing to the “wide-eyed wonder” character trait of the Doctors before him. Its core message is certainly reminiscent of the Eleventh Doctor’s words of encouragement to young Merry Gallel in “The Rings of Akhaten”:

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Whether the Doctor meant that whatever is about to hatch from the moon-egg is unique as an individual or unique as a species, the consensus is clear: It’s “utterly beautiful.”

Without missing a beat, a steely-eyed Lundvik whispers: “How do we kill it?” The contrast is jarring. And the ensuing conversation is so reminiscent of the abortion debate, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least recap the buzzwords used to describe the situation at hand:

On the anti-abortion side, we have…

…the Doctor:

A living, vulnerable creature

It’ll never feel the sun on its back

[Something] trying to force its way out

Little, dead baby

It wouldn’t be very pretty—you’d have an enormous corpse floating in the sky.

…Courtney:

It’s just a little baby!

It’s not even been born!

 

…and Clara:

This is a life

You can’t blame a baby for kicking

 

With the pro-abortion stance, we have Lundvik:

It is killing people!

I don’t want to get into the politics of this extremely traumatizing and very real issue, but I do think the topic was strongly  alluded to (or, well, blatantly referenced) as a means of lending additional gravity* to the situation at hand. Because the way Clara put it at the opening of the episode– “An innocent life versus the future of all mankind”—made the decision seem pretty easy, albeit painful for the ones actually pushing the button. One life versus an untold infinity? Even the staunchest deontologist would have trouble debating the moral logic of deciding to knock off that single life. But putting the debate in these terms certainly makes it feel more personal and more daunting. The conversation took an even more significant turn when the topic of children comes up: “You might have some very difficult conversations to have with your kids,” the Doctor says, condescendingly, regarding the dead fetus hanging in the sky. “I don’t have any kids,” Lundvik replies. Later, as the debate rages on, Clara agonizes over “killing a baby” and Lundvik shoots back, “Oh you want to talk about babies? You’ve probably go babies down there! Do you want to have babies?” At which a tearful Clara responds—with an expression that has got to be one of the finest dramatic moments of Jenna Coleman’s career—“Yeah.” The two women discuss the fate of the human race in the context of a very female-centric issue, and they do so with sensitivity, clarity, and a very appropriate dose of anguish.

All because, of course, the Doctor PEACED THE HELL OUT the instant he realized an impossible decision was to be made, or because he knew it would all work out in the end, or whatever—all under the guise of helping the puny little humans “take the stabilizers off” of their bikes. “It’s your moon, womankind,” he all but sneers. “It’s your choice.”

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At which point I said, GOOD RIDDANCE, BRO.

I noticed early on that this episode was (pleasantly) very female-centric—the moon itself is an age-old symbol of femininity, the discussions about birth; and when the only two human males in “Kill the Moon” make their way to the Nethersphere (maybe), we’re left with the Doctor and three leading ladies to carry the plot to its finish, a gender imbalance that feels way too refreshing in light of the reversed ratio in most other sci-fi series. (The rebooted Doctor Who series has always been very attentive to this imbalance, and Russel T. Davies in particular was careful to put forth a diverse cast. In season 8, “Into the Dalek” has been by far the most progressive episode to date in this regard—until, perhaps, “Kill the Moon.”) And when the Doctor vacates the premises halfway through the episode, only Clara, Lundvik, and Courtney remain, and they’ve got the (fate of the) whole world in their hands. (Because apparently the female president of the United States is too busy running the world from down below at the moment.) The abortion debate could all boil down to the fact that what happens to a woman’s body should be her choice and her choice only; in this episode, what happens to the entire planet is the choice of three very different, very important, and very strong—in all variations of that term—women.

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Ever the democrats, the adults in the room decide to put it to a vote on Earth, devising a totally impractical scheme so that all of Earth can signal its decision w/r/t to the unborn alien fetus inhabiting the moon-egg. The white smoke goes up—or, rather, doesn’t, as all of Earth’s lights are extinguished in order to signal mankind’s decision: kill it. #Scumbag earthlings.

Fortunately, Clara’s compassion kicks in and compels her to halt the detonation at the last possible second. Like clockwork, the Doctor reappears and pats them all on the back for a job well done.

Like Lundvik said: “What a prat.”

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Because Clara’s rant to the Doctor at the end of the episode was absolutely, 1000% spot-on. She felt insulted, she felt disrespected, she felt patronized, and she let. him. have it. And though as a viewer, I was thrilled by the moral dilemmas and psychological finagling that went on over the course of this episode, the Doctor did act irresponsibly, and he deserved  to be, as Clara colorfully put it, slapped so hard that he’d regenerate. Because this new regeneration will have been all for naught if he doesn’t learn a little something about taking responsibility.

Clara’s tirade was also exhilarating because it served as the climax of Jenna Coleman’s unparalleled performance in this episode. I have made no secret of my pervasive loathing for Clara, so know that I speak genuinely when I say that I was floored by Jenna Coleman’s portrayal of the character in “Kill the Moon.” I’ve heard it said that Clara is at her most sympathetic when interacting with children—it’s why she made such a great governess and such a great nanny in the many incarnations of her character—and, here, she has a wonderful dynamic with 15-year-old Courtney Woods. This relationship heightened her likability in my eyes by a millionfold, as she sticks up for her student (one she doesn’t even particularly like, by the way!) in front of the Doctor and strives to protect her physically and emotionally every step of the way. There was also this rather odd little exchange between the duo in which Clara tells Courtney to call her by her first name, and a bemused Courtney says something along the lines of, “I think I’ll stick to ‘Miss,’ Miss.” It’s almost as if Courtney was speaking on behalf of a dozen other voices by telling Clara to own her position of authority, and to hold firm in the face of (male) opposition. And at the end, Clara does so, sticking up for herself  in front of the over-pompous Doctor.

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Like Danny Pink predicted, the Doctor finally pushed her too far. And Clara, after months of meekly and rather blindly letting the Doctor tell her what to do, says: Enough.

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(x)

On a positive note, however, I did absolutely adore the scene on the beach. The setting, the echoing sound of the seagulls and then the swell of the musical score that accompanies the Doctor’s words, Peter Capaldi’s emotionally resonant presentation…To echo the Doctor earlier in the episode: Utterly beautiful.

In the mid-21st-century,  humankind starts creeping off into the stars, spreads its way through the galaxy, to the very edges of the universe, and it…endures till the end of time.  And it does all that because one day in the year 2049 when it stopped thinking about going to the stars, something occurred that made it look up, not down. It looked out there into the blackness and it saw something beautiful, something wonderful. that for once it didn’t want to destroy, and in that one moment the whole course of history was changed.

That, to me, is Doctor Who in a nutshell. Well, an eggshell. The show is only technically the story of a Time Lord; at its core, it is the story of humanity, in all of its glorious multitudes, and of the profound power and influence of the beauty of the imagination. And of course, there’s the metaphor of the moon-creature laying an egg as it departs, just as each Doctor, even when he leaves, regenerates into a new Doctor. And so Doctor Who will continue its cycle of life and death and life again, forever and ever, amen.

And if this episode was any indication, it’s high time we had a Time Lady take the reins as well. Amiright or amiright?

Oods and Ends:

  • Missy Watch – So, um, people died in this episode?
  • River Song Watch – Astronaut suits! Kickass female characters! Hanky-panky in the TARDIS! #Bring Back River Song
  • Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield was on the board in Clara’s classroom at the end. Any thoughts?
  • “Goodnight Earth” when Earth turned all of its lights out—I love the eerie parallel to the classic children’s tale Goodnight Moon.
  • Arguably the best line of the episode came up in the first few seconds: Clara complains that Courtney Woods is completely uncontrollable, and that she stole the Doctor’s psychic paper and is using it as a fake I.D. The Doctor: “To get into museums?” Bless your hearts, Doctor.
  • “I am a super-intelligent alien being who flies in time and space,” he says, as he jumps up and down like a total doofus and does a little wiggle dance in order to “test gravity.” Seems like he retained a tiny bit of Eleven’s quirkiness after all.
  • COURTNEY WOODS FOR PRESIDENT 2048

* In the immortal words of the Tenth Doctor: I am so, so sorry.