Monday, August 18, 2014

Precooked Solutions

I'm calling it now--Outlander won't last. Apparently Starz has already commissioned a second season, which seems damned premature in any case since the second episode only aired on Saturday. But maybe they figure this is as good as it's going to get in their competition with HBO. In any case, watching the second episode made me realise the show lacks something crucial that Game of Thrones exemplifies--everyone in Outlander is either perfectly good or perfectly evil. All the best, most successful dramas of the past several years have been about characters who are forced to make ethically difficult decisions and often we never know if a character did the "right" thing.

Outlander, in addition to Ronald D. Moore as showrunner, has Ronald D. Moore's fellow Star Trek Deep Space Nine writer Ira Steven Behr as producer. Deep Space Nine, which aimed for more moral ambiguity than Star Trek series up to that point, still had, compared to to-day's TV landscape, a very neatly polarised morality. Every now and then, Sisko or Kira on Deep Space Nine maybe had to choose between saving a society from destruction and preserving a peace treaty, something like that, but nothing like on Game of Thrones where people are being mutilated, people's friends and loved ones are constantly being killed, and chaos and morally uncertain violence seem like an integral part of getting from any point A to any point B.

Outlander features an older, gentler kind of wish fulfilment fantasy. Instead of a dream about a world where moral constraints go out the window, it's a dream about being morally certain. Claire, the psychologically flawless protagonist who for some reason didn't bug me in the first episode kind of bugged me in the second episode. But not nearly as much as Jamie (Sam Heughan), her love interest.

This physically perfect specimen accepts a beating in court as a champion for the cook's granddaughter, he has a backstory about how he was arrested for fighting tooth and nail to prevent his sister's rape. If this character were a cake, he wouldn't even be a cake, he'd just be a bowl of sugar and eggs with no other ingredients.

But wait, you may say, weren't you just singing the praises of Errol Flynn's Robin Hood a couple months ago? Well, he's another good point of contrast. Sure, Robin Hood rebels against unambiguous injustice. But he had style. He sauntered into Prince John's throne room, speaking treason "fluently" and smiling before even Maid Marian knew he had good reason to oppose Prince John. He gets in an honest fight with Little John and when he loses laughs and says, "I love a man who bests me!" Robin Hood is a do-gooder, but he made doing good cool instead of just safe.

I will hand this to Outlander, its locations are absolutely gorgeous.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the new Monogatari series, Hanamonogatari, premièred yesterday.

That's 花物語, "flower story," monogatari meaning story. It's a slightly confusing naming trend--the word monogatari hardly a new one to be included in any title. It was interesting in the first series, 化物語, Bakemonogatari, because it was a portmanteau combining bakemono (monster/ghost) with monogatari (story) with the kanji they had in common in the middle, 物 (mono).

The first series was also by far the best written one so far but the previous series ended in a surprisingly very satisfying way.

This new one, which focuses on Kanbaru, the athletic girl with the possessed monkey arm, has begun promisingly enough. Kanbaru, after reminiscing about her overbearing mother who constantly enforced her interpretation of the universe on others, finds herself confronting a mysterious "Demon Lord" who offers to help students in trouble "no matter what". It turns out the Demon Lord is a member of Kanbaru's former basketball team and her "no matter what" turns out to be just listening to students and letting their problems sort themselves out. The episode ends on a nicely uncertain note as we're left to wonder why Kanbaru finds this so troubling.

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