Sunday, April 24, 2011

Another Romantic Romance

I recently read a post on The TV Addict by Tiffany Vogt entitled, "Is Romance Dead on Television?" which argued that there were only very few actual romances on contemporary television. Vogt defined a proper romance as, "a hint of a soft whisper, the briefest of caress, or a stolen look of desire," and noted Castle, Merlin and The Vampire Diaries as a few examples of shows with such romances. And while I can't speak for Castle (it's on my next to watch list), I just want to say... the Vampire Diaries, really?! In my opinion, the so-called romances in that show are as arbitrary and flaky, if not more so, than the ones found in 90210 or Gossip Girl. And those have some horrific romantic continuities. But I want to argue for another, major romance, which is very controversial (and thus, all the more fun)...



Yes. I'm going there!

I realise this blog hasn't been updated in a while, but I figure I'll continue to post on here whenever I write something I feel is relevant to the readers of Chaos - and anything Jate certainly is!

My blog, Out of the Box, is where I now post my television recaps, articles and news, so head on over there for everything else! And enjoy this post. :)

The kind of romance that was argued for in the aforementioned article was the Jane Austen type, the pure, eternal romance that wasn't about which random characters were going to hook up any given week, but about something "much more delicate and elusive." What I think happened in Lost, with the central love triangle which aggravated the viewers for years, was exactly the juxtaposition of these two types of love stories - which is why the majority of the audience did not necessarily pick up on it, or were fully supportive of the ultimate sway of the triangle.

I myself was one of the people who couldn't for the life of me decipher whether we were meant to root for Jack or Sawyer to get "the girl" (which was obviously Kate, despite the other female characters on the show) - but then, at that time I'd never read Jane Austen, and I am after all a big fan of television series, with their occasionally crappy romances and all. Maybe I just wasn't used to the type of romantic storytelling, and didn't see the careful construction of both pairings as archetypes. Certainly, in retrospect it is much clearer to see that the writers were intending to do something new with romance, something subtler and more artistic rather than in your face and sensational. But equally certain was the fact that the viewers, myself included, weren't ready for it, hence the negative backlash that the triangle and Kate's character received.

But let's take a look at how the relationships of Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Kate could be said to respectively represent the two different types of romance - the sensational and modern versus the subtle and classic.

Sawyer and Kate: the SENSATIONAL

I want to start with talking about Sawyer and Kate because I believe that this relationship was arguably the more apparent of the two, definitely the more active and perhaps even the more popular choice for indifferent/casual viewers. Why? Because Sawyer and Kate together was the obvious choice, the easy choice, and the in many ways expected direction for the characters to head in.

While the Kate and Jack relationship was highlighted at the very beginning of the show and thus often referred to as the "original" pairing, a possible Kate/Sawyer connection was hinted at already in the second half of the Pilot, and it was set in clear and purposeful juxtaposition to the sweet, quiet, instinctual connection Kate formed with Jack by being unexpected, dangerous and "wrong" in all the right ways. Sawyer and Kate's attraction blossomed and was fed by Kate and Sawyer's similar, dark pasts, the former's ironically the main factor in separating Kate and Jack and eclipsing the initial connection between them.

Kate and Sawyer were loved by scores of fans calling themselves "Skaters," who enjoyed their sizzling chemistry, their similar dark natures and the scandalous trouble they got into together. Kate and Sawyer were the first couple in the triangle to kiss, the first to sleep together, the first to - arguably - say "I love you," and it was all very, very physical, visual, and obvious. In other words, a typical television romance. Not to simplify a complex relationship, because as we know the best "typical" TV relationships are layered like an onion and more complicated than post-structuralism. There was plenty of reason for the Skaters to argue that their couple, as opposed to Jack and Kate, was the "right" one, the "best" one and the one which would ultimately, obviously be confirmed in canon at the end of the show.

Jack and Kate: the SUBTLE

On the flip side we had the slow and steady development of the Jack and Kate relationship, and if watching the two of them struggle with their emotions without a pre-existing wish to support the couple, it must have been harder to understand than the feelings of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet the first time you watch the Pride and Prejudice BBC miniseries. In that case, I know that I sure didn't get all the subtleties of the pair's growing and conflicted emotions before I'd read the novel, and then watched the series again. And well, Lost isn't even based on a book, so all the emotions have to come across in the performance. So if you don't already see it on your own, there's no reason that you'd bother to spend hours trying to work out what Kate and Jack could possibly be thinking to make them behave in the weird ways they seem to be behaving in. Especially in a trash TV culture where it's much more viable to suppose it is merely a case of bad writing and that the writers, actors and directors had no idea what the characters were thinking and were just trying to stave off the eventual romantic "choice" Kate allegedly had to make.

But taking into account Tiffany Vogt's article about true romances being so rare on television, I think it is not a far cry to suggest that the relationship between Jack and Kate, the subtleness, the uncertainty, the ambiguity, after all was said and done painted a much richer, much different and truly consistent picture of a romance than the usual, simplified and amplified TV show relationship.

Jack and Kate moments were sparse throughout the series. They were ambiguous, they were often silent, and viewed on their own, the answer to whether they indicated any romantic feelings between the characters was highly subjective. Take an early scene in the first season, where Kate approaches Jack on the beach, tells him that she wants him to know what she did, only for him to refuse her, saying that "We should all be able to start over." They look at each other, and share a melancholy silence as they sit on the beach side by side. That's it. Or another moment, where Kate catches Jack looking at her while she is collecting seeds, and they share the infamous, but ultimately arbitrary, "guava seed" moment. Their first kiss was about desperation, confusion, and anger - but not necessarily romantic passion. When they get together for a brief period of time it is more symbolic to portray the characters in a certain way, rather than graphic and fulfilling for their long-suffering fans. Jack and Kate's scenes are tender, they are underplayed, there is more going on in the characters' heads than their actions portray - which is very in tune with Vogt's description of the "hint of a soft whisper, the briefest of caress, or a stolen look of desire" type of romance. These scenes stand in sharp contrast to heavily suggestive Sawyer/Kate scenes, which are all very sexually charged, and often times include intimate physical interaction - for example one of their first scenes together where Sawyer grabs Kate's arm and pulls her close, when they strip down and swim in the jungle spring, their subsequent game of I Never and of course their later passionate kisses and graphic sex scenes.

Scenes between Jack and Kate did not seem to exist to point out that "look, there's a possibility for romance between the two, and look, sexual tension." They existed to form a bond between the characters of a deeper nature than romantic attraction (deeper, as it turns out, than life itself), and to "plant the seeds", if you will, both for romance and conflict. Jack and Kate - or "Jate", as fans dubbed their relationship, was never simple and their feelings for each other were never straightforward - though feelings between them were always heavy, for better or worse. Their relationship was never about whether or not they were going to hook up, whatever battling shippers would proclaim. Their relationship was about their relationship - not just the romantic aspect. And this confused a lot of people, who did not tune in to the biggest mystery show on television to analyse feelings and relationships, and who were not used to these old-fashioned subtle romances because, as Vogt states, they are so few and far between.

Once the series finale rolled around, and Kate kissed Jack and declared that she loved him - and subsequently sought him out in Second Life and sat by him in the church of eternity - the long-awaited choice was clear. Some were elated cause they had thought it all along, while others were confused, angry and upset because they believed they had been misled to believe that Kate and Sawyer was the "true" pairing.

But ultimately, neither pairing was wrong, they were just different. Lost was confusing everybody because it was telling two love stories simultaneously: the classic romance, and the sensational, epic love story. Of course, the additional twist was that the show was telling these stories with the same female character - thus in a way symbolising the conflict in contemporary society between the old and the new, between the beautiful and the amplified. There is a general fear of losing the "high culture" in an over-saturated, media crazed society, and postmodernist television is (while brilliant in a lot of ways) dissolving the barrier the low and the high culture. Lost is taking this to a whole new level, by literally staging a battle for dominance between these two types of storytelling, these two different approaches to romance - using the characters Jack and Sawyer as champions for the two sides. Whether Jack and Kate ending up together signals a return to romance as it used to be, or whether it just shows it to be more eternal, lasting and memorable, is up for debate.

Good ship bad ship?

Perhaps one of the reasons why the Jaters and Skaters were infamous on the Internet for their childish fights, and detested by the Lost fanbase as a whole, was because their battle for that all important confirmation, or "endgame" status, became about more than just the dominance of their preferred male, but also for their respective preferred type of romance. And why the outcome was so hard to call, why each side would swear on all their families and friends that they were supporting the "right" side, was because neither side was decidedly wrong. Because who is to decide which art is more valid, the classic or the popular? Who can say what type of romance is more relevant in the 21st century, the traditional or the sensational?

As it was, Jack and Kate turned out to be the literal endgame, their souls for all intents and purposes uniting in death and moving into the light entwined, while Sawyer and Kate - important enough to each other to be in the church together but otherwise not shown to interact significantly - did not have as strong a romantic connection, each finding their ultimate companion in another.

What I think this means, in light of the TV Addict article about romance on television, is that in the case of Lost, traditional, "slow burning flame" type romance in the style of Darcy and Elizabeth and now Jack and Kate ultimately outlasts seasonal, "roaring fire" type love like Sawyer and Kate's. Still, one type of relationship is absolutely not more valid than another and I don't think the show was trying to make it appear so. Kate and Sawyer's love was real, and everything it was meant to be: passionate, intense, and short-lived. Jack and Kate's love was equally real. But subtler, slower, and eternal. And therefore, less popular in a 2-second attention span consumer society.

The shame is of course that this juxtaposition and message - intentional or not - was lost in a sea of pop culture and postmodernism, forgotten amongst the four-toed statues, hatches, smoke monsters and other in-your-face, larger than life objects of attention. The subtle characteristics and feelings of Kate not-a-coincidental-last-name Austen were overlooked in favour of far more interesting, big action characters like John Locke, Ben Linus and Jacob.

Still, I hope that the shipper war has died down enough and the mythology fans have tempered down enough that we can begin to debate the relationships of Lost, their validity and their relevance to society at large, because I always felt that it was a sadly overlooked aspect of the incredibly deep, layered TV show, something which, if you took it seriously, it was impossible for others to take you seriously for.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Case for a Kurt and Finn Hook-up

In this post I am going to talk about Glee, and why I think a Kurt/Finn romance would be the best “New Direction” to take the show in next season. I’m just full of crackpot ships these days! It’s only going to be a short little post so I hope everyone will take the time to read and consider my points. :)


There are a number of stock storylines that pretty much all TV shows use at some point or another to “shock” the audience or blow life into a boring plot. Death, pregnancy, hookups, breakups and the gay revelation are some of the most common ones; they’re so common, in fact, that they’re more expected elements in a narrative than they are surprising.

Under the gay storyline category, there are two main subcategories: the character-turns-from-straight-to-gay-and-never-looks-back route ala Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the more soapy gay-affair route where a straight character has a same-sex encounter (usually done to boost ratings) before returning to their original love interest, as demonstrated by Marissa in The OC and most recently Adrianna in 90210. The common theme here is that usually, the characters that turn gay are women. Male gay characters in TV shows are almost always gay when they are introduced, usually secure in their sexuality, and their love interests are always characters brought in solely for this purpose. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I have never seen a male, straight character in a TV show suddenly experience an unexpected attraction to another man, pursue this attraction, and then go back to dating girls. Bisexuality is for whatever reason much more accepted with girls on TV, just as it’s more accepted for girls to wear trousers than men to wear skirts in real life – there’s probably a reason why this is the case; maybe the writers don’t want to risk demasculinizing the male characters or alienate the male viewers who identify with them. Women who sleep with women are empowered; men who sleep with men are less masculine than men who sleep with women – it’s a cruel, outdated stereotype, but it still seems to affect TV narratives. It’s one of those irksome things like black characters dating other black characters by default, with very few shows managing unobtrusive race-blindedness as it should be.

(Note: Torchwood is of course the obvious exception to this rule; I also don't take it into account because I think in general, Britain is far less excited by representations of sexuality, it's just not a big deal over here whereas in America it seems like every single diversion from "conventional" sexuality in the media is considered a political statement.)

So here’s my proposal for the envelope-pushing, boundary-crossing Glee: let’s change the stereotypes, let’s break out of the TV norms, and allow the male lead to feel attraction to another guy – and show that this is okay. And after this, let’s have Finn return to Rachel (I do ship them), and still be as much of a man as he’s ever been. Let him be curious about Kurt, and let him act on this curiosity, and then decide to be with Rachel not because she’s a girl but because he likes her more. Let it be like him choosing between Rachel and Quinn, but a bit more political. If any show can do it, it’s Glee!

So why not? It would be the perfect plot line to reinvent the show for season 2, a perfect way to extend the Rachel/Finn will-they-won't-they suspense and to spice up the romance. It would be surprising and unexpected, and it would just be way more interesting than Finn hooking up with a random girl or Kurt with a random guy (as I'm sure he will sooner or later). I don't see any reason that Glee could not do this ship, and I might judge them a little for not pursuing it just because they've got a chance to really take a step forward and take a stand in the gay rights campaign, and because it's Glee, it would be cool. It would also give Finn some much-needed depth, and probably audience sympathy.

Plus, although the show would never ever get the rights to it, couldn't you just see the duet now: "Something There" from Beauty and the Beast. It would be EPIC.

What would you say to a Finn/Kurt hook-up? Yay or nay?

EDIT: Holy crap, I wrote the above before seeing the last episode - how much are they hammering home the Finn/Kurt ship?! The duet? Damn, they're so close to heading in the right direction! :) Major angst... awesome.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shady Lady: The Perils of Shipping in FlashForward

FlashForward is pretty good. It’s not the post-Lost beacon of light that ABC was hoping would lead them forward, but it’s definitely getting better. It’s like the Artemis Fowl to Harry Potter – pretty good, but always marred by its inferiority.

But a word of caution to all who dare to ship in these unsteady waters.

WARNING: Spoilers for the latest episode.


To be fair, I think we shippers are quick to raise our expectations to TV shows, quick to forget the burns we’ve suffered in the past in the hope that this time, we’ll find that ultimate, perfect OTP who actually get their happy ending. When has that ever happened in a sci-fi drama? X-Files, sure, but how anticlimactic was that? Buffy, don’t even go there. In all honesty shipping is something the fans are pressing on the producers, who see romance as merely another plot device. But still we ship, in vain hope, and it mostly just brings us pain. No reason to think it’s gonna be different this time, yet I can’t help it. I have obsessive-compulsive shipping disorder.

In FlashForward, I have three ships. They are all more or less doomed. They are also random, and unconventional, but in the name of full disclosure journalism I’m going to tell you what they are and let you judge me for it:

1. Bryce and Nicole

Probably the least unconventional and most likely, these two seem headed in the right direction after their unexpected kiss in ‘Queen Sacrifice, and I like the story that’s being told through these two: does Bryce follow the potential happiness that his flash showed him, or does he take the unbeaten path, choose the unknown future in order to be with the amazing girl he’s found and who seems perfect for him? And will Nicole be able to accept his love, knowing that he’s always going to be keeping one eye open for Keiko? I believe in the love that’s in front of you, and I think the audience in general is more invested in Bryce/Nicole because we’ve actually been given their buildup, so here’s hoping they actually stand a chance. But I’m thinking not, because that would be too easy: Nicole is still facing her drowning, and Bryce IS, I believe, going to meet Keiko in that restaurant. The twist I’m hoping for is of course that Nicole and Bryce went to the restaurant together and Bryce will come to Nicole’s rescue at the last minute… but it just seems too easy, and Keiko seems like she’s going to be more important as the episodes go on.

2. Lloyd and Olivia

Haha, seriously, I know I should ship Mark/Olivia, I just can’t. They have no chemistry, and Mark annoys me to no end… so hellooo Lloyd. Unlike most people I actually think that Lloyd is attractive, and Olivia and him are far more interesting! Mark and Olivia are in a marriage that’s falling apart, and Lloyd and Olivia are in the stages of bonding and crossing The Line, and that’s just a way more interesting story to me. But the fact that they got together this past episode kind of suggests to me that they’re not going to be endgame; Mark is the hero after all and I think they’ll work it out, if for nothing else then because of Charlie (random sidenote, Sonya Walger also has a child called Charlie in Lost. Coincidence?! Well, probably). I think Lloyd comparing himself to Lancelot last episode was hilarious, but very fitting: Mark is the one Olivia should be with, but Lloyd is the forbidden, the temptation, and the one she wants. Is it founded on anything but the knowledge that they will be together in the future? Maybe not, but then remember a few episodes ago when they talked about almost having met in college. There’s something fated about the two of them, and I can’t help ship them, as wrong as that is. I’m in the minority here, but I don’t care.

3. Demetri and Janis

TOLD YOU you would judge me! This ship isn’t even a ship. These two people are not even a possibility because a) Janis is gay, b) Demetri is getting married, c) Janis is evil apparently and d) Demetri is so gonna die. But I shipped them since the Pilot! Demetri is my favourite character, Zoe annoys me, and I liked the idea of Janis finding out she was going to be pregnant, and the big question was who the father would be. And I’m glad they didn’t abandon that question because it’s far more interesting to have it be someone we know rather than a sperm bank. Because they actually got together to make Willa, and that was just so shocking and unexpected and warming to my fragile shipper heart! Somehow, I knew that Demetri would end up being the father, and this is what drew me to the pairing... But of course, now we found out that Janis is the mole - which, can I just say, is so inconsistent for her character and a bad move on the writers’ part because we want people on the show we can trust and who we like, and Janis was becoming such a person. She’s pregnant, with Demetri’s child, and I have to believe that this will make her come back to the good side… but I don’t know. They’re having a child together and I’m excited about it, but the fact that Janis would betray her friends like that? Kind of puts a damper on the whole thing.

So. Am I doomed to disappointment with this show or what? I guess the funny thing is that what all these three couples have in common is that I actually didn’t in a million years think that they stood even the tiniest chance of validation. I’ve actually got more than I hoped for so far… I guess I should be thankful! But the truth is that FlashForward just isn't a show you watch for the romance. You watch for the surprises, like the reveal that Janis was the mole, and you're better off forgetting about OTPs and ultimate romantic happiness. One day maybe I'll learn my lesson.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lost: What Kate Does - LTDA

Kate and Sawyer had a moment... and I enjoyed it.
Among other things.

Off Island
Kate's Running
What always strikes me about Kate's 'fugitive' episodes is that they let you know she's this runaway fugitive, but she always risks her 'freedom' to save someone else. There's an ever-present dilemma between what she has to do to get away and what she knows is right and doing what's right seems to always win out in the end. She didn't have to go back for Claire, she certainly didn't have to go to the house with her, and without a doubt she should NOT have gone in with her at the hospital.

Kate could very well have dropped her off at the ER steps and driven away – a taxi driver fulfilling their fare. She even glances at police cars parked nearby and chooses to stay with Claire because she doesn't want this woman to have to be alone. A theme echoed on the island – no one should have to be alone, and maybe that's why she continually goes after Sawyer. If she didn't, who else would? Same reason she went after Locke at the hatch in season two. Same reason she always goes into the 'heart of darkness' after anyone. Jack's philosophy of 'live together; die alone' has been exemplified in no other character more often – and no other character, ironically, is hated more, than Kate.

Kate and Jack and Connections
There's always been this quote floating around Jater forums about Jack and Kate and it's always been attributed to JJ Abrams. I don't know whether he said it or not, but it's eerie that seasons later, the content is strikingly on target. It refers to them as being connected: that they have met before, that they were supposed to meet now, and that they would meet again in another life. It's romantically beautiful, this idea that some people are just destined to be together. So, while some would pass off Kate's watching Jack as she drove past him as mere recognition that this guy was the guy she snatched the pen from on the plane, and oppositely, his pause was the same, shipper or not, I think it's more than that.

The world slowed down (and by that, I mean the pacing of the scene) and some sort of recognition did take place, but it was more than just, "I saw this person on the plane." The elevator ride with "James" yielded exactly the opposite results – Kate's nonchalant staring at the ceiling, a few eye rolls, and a wry grin as she left. She encouraged the cab driver to simply run over Artz's stuff. The same way Jack recognized something in himself on the plane, I think they recognized something in each other and I'm curious to see where Kate's 'running' takes her in the next few side-flashes.

Kate, Claire, and Aaron
In the same vein of thought, Kate's rummaging through Claire's luggage didn't seem to click with her until she pulled out that stuffed whale – the same one a toddler Aaron held while she argued with Jack just before he left them in the normal timeline. Though I believe she would have taken the stuff back to Claire anyways, and she would have gone back and been there for Claire, there's something in her connected to Aaron as well. The mention of his name gave her pause, and the strong suggestion that Claire keep her boy were not just the words of a stranger.

Interestingly, because of what has occurred in the actual timeline, Kate is back on the island to get Claire and reunited her with Aaron. If Claire, in the alternate timeline, DOES keep Aaron and raise him as her own, will this somehow impact the actual timeline? Does it fulfill both of the psychic's visions, or is this WHY the psychic had two "visions" – one of Claire raising her own child and another of "a couple in Los Angeles" raising Aaron. More on that later.

On Island
Sawyer, Kate, and Juliet
Sawyer's happiest time, when he felt most complete and most compelled to be a better person, were his three years spent with Juliet. That he walked in a rage from the temple back to their abode in Othersville only to tear up floorboards and remove a single engagement ring should say a lot about where his heart truly lies. And the following scene with Kate is probably the most adult either of them have ever been with one another because those three years they spent apart allowed them both to experience and lose their true love.

Their talk on the dock, where Kate accepts the blame for Juliet's death and James looks past his anger at Jack and takes on part of the blame himself, shows a level of growth on both of their parts that they would never have achieved together. No more shacking up in tents or trading mix tapes in the sand like juvenile delinquents. Of course, the more they've grown, the more they've realized that they've grown apart. Where Sawyer throws his ring into the ocean and declares himself an island nomad; Kate breaks down – partially because of the conversation with Sawyer about Juliet, about how it didn't work out how they wanted it to, and about being alone maybe being a destiny in itself; partially because the man who gave Kate a diamond ring and asked her to marry him, their relationship didn't work out how THEY wanted it to and he's back in a temple fulfilling a destiny she's not sure she's a part of anymore – and is left to sort out her problems with a clearer understanding of what she stands to lose.

The Test, The Infection, The "Cure"
Last week I figured they were testing Sayid to see if he was inhabited by Smokey. Now we know, definitively, what being "Infected" means – to be 'marked' by the Man in Black. But what does it mean? Can he control you? Or are you just evil; the way small children are born innocent and then 'touched' by the sins of adulthood… and can one repent. The idea of repenting isn't new to Lost so it stands to reason that one who has been infected CAN be cleansed. Speaking religiously, will Echo's 'church' have something to do with it? And if it does, should we finally declare this a war between God and the devil himself? Or smaller minions playing a 'travel size' version of the same game.

What exactly denotes one who is 'marked'? And how do they become infected? What about HOW he was shot lead to it? What part did Jack play? Are we looking at his character all wrong? Some postulate that Jack is somehow related to the island, and the idea is that he's always been related to Jacob, but what if his lineage goes back somewhere sinister?

But if it did, would Dogen have leapt up to keep him from swallowing the poison pill? Or might the pill have had some other effect on Jack? I guess it depends on how much we trust Dogen.

Connecting the Side-Flashes
Recently I read a quote from Darlton saying the Side Flashes are more important than the Island stories. It might have been a joke, but, curiously, what if it's somehow true. What happens in the side flashes IS more important because, at some point, the two lines have to converge?

My theory on the imaginary timeline is that it is 'course correction'. Obviously you can't change something in the past. If they'd detonated the bomb and their plane had never crashed, they'd never have been on the path to be on the island to detonate a bomb, so another course – another timeline – was created to rectify the damage. Someone mentioned last night that everyone's characters, in both timelines, felt like they were MISSING something. I concur. They were missing a part of themselves. The eventual merging of their normal self and their alternate universe self might just be the cleansing ritual needed for those infected to become uninfected, and for those searching for their destinies to finally fulfill them.

Only time will tell.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chuck: What the Chuck?

When I ate my Subways Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich, demanding a third season of Chuck, never in a million years would I have thought that I was buying into the one thing I absolutely loathe about television series as a whole.

This insane notion that, as a viewer, what I find most interesting is the amount of time they can keep two destined characters apart insults me seasonally, but that alone is not enough to incur my wrath because it's actually fairly typical and usually acceptable when there's an end in sight – something writers of ALL series should find BEFORE they start their tinkering – because I'm really watching for the, you know, plot.

That doesn't mean screwing with the relationships doesn't piss me off.

A little separation, a few obstacles, the idea that you have to wait just a little bit longer to see that these characters are being written OBVIOUSLY on their way towards coupledom is one thing… UST is a magical thing. UST, or Unresolved Sexual Tension for those not acronymically inclined, is a driving force with romantically linked characters.

For most shows, there is a pair of leads – traditionally male and female – and part of the fun of watching the show is that beyond whatever happens contained to any specific episode, there is a relationship that develops within the overall arch of the series, generally hinting at – and eventually coming to – romance. Chuck, aside from the spy games, has at its core this constant almost-there relationship between Chuck and his spy-handler Sarah.

Sarah is the ex-partner/girlfriend of Chuck's old best friend Bryce and for a good part of season one, while Chuck had a growing infatuation with Sarah, her constant reminder to him was that falling in love with a spy was dangerous and she insisted the feelings were NOT mutual. Though the audience could tell otherwise, it was believable that she would resist this relationship, given that Bryce was presumed dead, so why WOULD Sarah want to begin a new relationship with Chuck.

Season two seemed to have these two characters coming to grips with the fact that yes, their feelings were reciprocated, and that maybe, just maybe it could work, but each week reminded them that it couldn't. Not as long as they were spies. And then they brought in Chuck's ex-girlfriend who turned out to be a bad guy, no one seemed to care, it was awkward, and they wrapped that storyline up quicker than you could say, "Chuck this." Oh, and there was that spy who got his ass kicked and Sarah was, like, "Psht."

Fans fought for a third season. They fought for the right to see the storyline – which ended with Chuck uploading a newer version of the intersect that gave him instant access to knowledge like… oh… Kung Fu – progress and also, to see these characters progress, since they'd never been given a proper coupling. As an aside, I say, if you're not watching a television show with at least a little hint of 'shipper' in you, you will never be satisfied with the ending of a show; if you outright reject a ship, you will never be satisfied with a show period. Ships are part of the shows we watch and as humans we should root for them.

So we get this third season, opening with Chuck having been whisked away to a secret location to learn to use his new intersect to become a Real Spy, as opposed to the lucky idiot he's been portrayed to be during spy missions thus far. This idea has real potential because it's now what Chuck wants, because of Sarah. BUT, now Sarah wants nothing to do with the spy business – she wants to leave it for good, and she wants Chuck to join her. Creatively, this is amazing and believable and heart wrenching at the same time, but in the way that's lovely to watch.

Of course, it’s not enough. We've now been introduced to two new characters, Hannah and CIA Special Agent Daniel Shaw who serve as potential love interests for Chuck and Sarah, respectively. And I've got one question: Why?

With Chuck advancing in his skills, it makes sense for them to send in a new agent to further his training, and possibly serve as an annoyance to the existing team – proving how well they work together – but to also make him a love interest for Sarah… Sarah, who just decided she wanted to leave the spy game altogether to pursue a normal life with Chuck. Sarah, who spent two seasons fighting her feelings for Chuck because of Bryce's death. I'm supposed to believe she's just going to fall into a relationship with this guy she's known a month because she's… jealous? Poisoned? Really really dumb?

Hannah's introduction, aside from my Kristin Kreuk bias (by the time the Smallville scribes pulled their heads out of Lana's punani they'd destroyed the show… I hear they've rebounded beautifully in her absence), makes even less sense. Does she serve as a reminder to Chuck that he DOESN'T want to be a spy, only a few episodes after he's decided to run the gauntlet? Will she prove to be another spy? She's overqualified for the Buy More, under qualified for Chuck, and nothing more than a nuisance to the storyline already established.

The obstacle that made sense, the one they'd introduced believably at the beginning of the season, was Chuck eschewing a relationship with Sarah to become a real spy, and it's an idea that I looked forward to seeing Chuck and Sarah struggle with. Instead we get televisions newest Love Quadrangle and unfortunately 'Chuck versus the Mask' left me with a very sour taste in my mouth… one that not even a million Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwiches can cure.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fringe: Balancing the Equation

It was something my fellow classmates had a hard time grasping in chemistry, the idea that each side of the equation must be equal or something would go terribly wrong. For Fringe, this balance exists between two universes, and when Newton – the newly re-headed bad guy – attempts to open a doorway to the other universe, the results are disastrous.

The doorway, it seems, allowed a building – and all of its occupants – to travel into our dimension, fusing with the building – and all of its occupants – already in existence in a mishmash of parts and personalities. Through the memory of an old experiment, Walter realizes that he already knows what is going to occur: Something from our universe must travel into the other to re-establish the balance that was thrown off by Newton's experiment.

Peter's eventual conclusion is that some building of equal mass must travel to the other side and the episode's main charge is finding that building and evacuating all of its occupants. The question of how falls on Walter, who presumes it can be located by someone who can see the opening window to the other side – something he is sure Olivia can do, if she can only re-activate another one of her abilities: seeing the things in our world that do not belong… the things that come from the other reality. This catapults our heroine on a journey back to the place where this ability began – the titular 'Jacksonville'.

Previously mentioned as a smaller cell of a larger study, Walter informs us that it was the only place where the Cortexiphan injected into small children worked, giving them special abilities. The strongest of those children, Olivia – then known as Olive– Dunham, arrives and observes that despite her "freakish" memory, she has absolutely no recollection of the Day Care Center in which the experiments took place.

As an aside, did the parents consent to this secret testing? Olivia had mentioned her father had been in the army, stationed for a short while in Jacksonville – if he did consent, were these trials part of some larger government testing? Creating a soldier who can destroy an enemy with their mind would be valuable to a government looking to eradicate losses, both personal and political.

The key to reconciling Olivia with her previous perceptive powers, says Walter, lies in their ties to strong emotions. With the help of another dose of Cortexiphan and Walter's special blend of drugs, Walter sends Olivia into a dream-like place where she soon finds she's not alone. A small child argues with Olivia that she doesn't want to do this anymore and that she has to make them stop. Olivia catches the child, comforting her before asking her name. "Olive."

Confronted with herself, she's lost in that fear and the child disappears from her arms, only to appear a foot away with eerily bright blue eyes, scaring Olivia enough to wake her from her dream no more able to see the things out-of-place than she was before. The emotion Walter was shooting for, he explains upon re-watching the video we previous saw of Olive sitting in the pristine center of a scorched room, was fear. Of course, Olivia isn't afraid of anything anymore and Walter presumes that without the particularly strong emotion of fear she will never see what she needs to see.

Returning to Manhattan more jarred than enlightened, the team sets out to solve the riddle of which building will be transported using the only piece of information they do have – it must be of equal mass to the building that came from the other side. Of course, the closer it draws to the moment of truth (as Walter calculates they had roughly 40 hours from the time the original building came through), the more helpless Olivia feels.

As the only known person to have had this ability, she feels responsible and approaches Peter with this fear. In comforting her, the duo lean in for their first shared kiss and Olivia realizes, she's afraid. She bolts from the room, looks out over the city, and sees a building shimmering in the distance. The occupants of the building are evacuated and the building gets sucked violently from sight, something Olivia knows the conspiracy theorists will have a field day with.

Of course, the fans can have a field day with this episode. Did Olivia's FEAR of not finding the building trigger her ability (an emotion *I* would have classified closer to disappointment, or frustration), or did her fear of what was about to occur right in front of her – being approached by Peter in a more-than-friendly capacity – flop her gut in a less than fearful and more like love kind of way. Walter only stated that it had to be a strong emotion; he assumed it was fear because of what worked with the children – particularly, Olive. For a child, a strong emotion can be anything; as an adult, it's harder to stimulate love than fear, and it is definitely the greater of the two emotions.

There's also now the question of Peter. Before departing on their first 'date', Olivia is able to see Peter shimmer in much the same way she was able to see the building in the city, clueing her into the fact that he is not part of this reality. Of course, given the information we received throughout this episode, for Peter to have come into our world, something (or someone) of equal mass must have gone into the other.

Did Walter deposit Peter's dead body into alt-Peter's bed, for his parents to find and mourn? Or, given his curiously saddened response to Astrid's proclamation that the alt-people just vanished and their loved ones would never know where they went, did he simply steal Peter, leaving alt-Peter's parents to wonder forever what happened to their son. Is that the reason for this "war" of the worlds? Alt-Walter might not have changed as much as our Walter has and his vengeance may be a great behemoth of scientific catastrophe waiting to happen.

It also begs the question, William Bell is too large to have 'replaced' Peter in the alt-world so whom did he replace? Or, as Walter mentioned, Peter was more rotund as a child, possibly Bell would have been a lanky fellow and WAS his replacement. And where does Nina fit into all of this? Did she help orchestrate Peter's substitution and 'rehabilitation'? Is travelling to the other universe how she lost her right arm?

And, given the dangers of temporal displacement, though Olivia seems pleased that they saved the occupants of the hotel in OUR universe, she gave little thought to the consequence of said building merging with its mirror in the OTHER universe. Presumably this mystery is being solved by Alt-Olivia, with or without the aid of Alt-Walter. From a previous episode we know she's still working in a 'Fringe' division with Broyles and Agent Francis.

Which brings us back to Peter, the one element that – no matter the sequence of events – increasingly seems to be at the heart of the imbalance bringing these two universes crashing into one another. Does total balance between the universes require that he be returned? Does it require that of William Bell as well? Or is there something else, some other piece of the puzzle yet to be revealed. Can Olivia's abilities seal the gateways permanently, or would it require some greater event?

I envision a finale that involves alt-Peter asking alt-Walter to let him go, to stop trying to get him back because he's made a home where he is. I also envision Olivia encircling herself and Peter in a fiery wall of protection, mirroring what happened to her as a child, but this time using her powers out of not fear, but love. But something tells me we're in for something far greater.

We just have to wait two months to get to it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fringe: Advanced Eugenics

Last night we learned that a Robert Bischoff worked within the Nazi regime as a double agent who helped them with experiments and advancements in genetics while slipping information to the allies. During his time there he worked with a man named Alfred Hoffman on the idea of a heat activated poison gas that could target specific genetic traits – an attempted to succeed at Hitler's dream of a pure blooded Aryan race – but his work was hidden away in old German books, presumably kept safe when Robert immigrated to the United States and the Nazi rule was brought to an end.

So when only the Jewish members of a wedding party perish from asphyxiation with no apparent cause, Peter discovers a cinnamon scented candle that, when examined, leads Walter to a chemical formula marked with his father's Seahorse signature.

Of course the story is simple: a man seeks to complete the life (and by life, I mean LONG life) work he'd dedicated himself to – destroying anyone who did not fall into the Nazi ideal of having blue eyes and blonde hair – thus fulfilling the dreams of his leader. It would be curious to know how exactly Alfred stopped his aging, or rather, the appearance of aging as Walter was able to determine that he was at least one hundred years old from his DNA, but I doubt they'll return to that particular subject.

Alfred tested his poison on a Jewish family first, a sort of payback to the people he first sought to destroy, before taking the project to a larger scale that would involve killing possibly hundreds at a conference that promoted unity in the world. Of course, having seen Walter and identifying him as the son of Robert, Alfred created a side project – a poison that would specifically target Walter, and in this personal vengeance he laid the path for his own execution. After unsuccessfully murdering Walter, using his own lab, and his own notes, Walter was able to create a poison that would specifically target Alfred and killed him during the conference while Peter located the source of the toxins before they were ignited.

It's the implications of the story that are more complex. Peter's grandfather once worked with Nazi soldiers, and while his intentions in the end were to help the allies defeat them, he still created the formula to be able to do the things they wanted and willingly went through any number of other experiments in the name of science. His work, their goal, to create a better race of people through selectively studying and even killing others is not that far off from Walter's.

The Cortexiphan trials in Boston, Massachusetts (and its smaller cell study in Jacksonville, Florida) in the early 80's were essentially continuations of the experiments started in Robert's era. Walter selected groups of children because of specific genetic traits, secluding them in 'camps', and issued them an experimental drug in order to progress latent abilities – to create a more advanced race of people able to fend off enemies, the results of which we've seen bits and pieces of, generally consisting of adults with varied psychic powers, but most prominently with Olivia Dunham – the full extent of her abilities yet unknown.

So it's curious that the first conversational piece for our main characters in 'The Bishop Revival' was Walter speaking of Peter's marriage… specifically, to Olivia. As someone from the other dimension that Walter has eluded to, that Olivia has travelled to, and that William Bell is now a member of, Peter has seemed to possess some type of special abilities himself.

With an IQ of 190, being from the other dimension, and Walter's experimentation on him as a child, it wouldn't take a leap to wonder whether Peter, paired up with Olivia, would make some kind of super-Romeo-and-Juliet-couple. Many have made mention of the fact that Olivia was able to start turning off the lights in 'Ability' only after Peter returned and stood behind her, and many had also noticed in 'Bad Dreams', his knack for instantly calming her with just a touch.

It's also questionable whether, in 'August', Peter was able to use the special gun that the Observer was using because he was from the other side, or possessed some psychic ability similar to the Observers, and to Olivia. Or whether his aptitude for empathizing with others, allowing himself to become a sort of bridge between the human emotions a subject is feeling and the tactical questions Olivia and the FBI have to ask, is akin to the empathetic abilities of the small boy in 'Inner Child'.

Speaking to the future of the show, or the future of this idea (and possibly pandering, in a creative and logical way, to the shipper faction of the audience), it also wouldn't take a leap to wonder whether Walter, subconsciously, would want Peter and Olivia to pair up in order to breed a more perfect child. Not a child that had a specific hair color, or eye color, or skin color, but a certain set of abilities that would make them, essentially, evolved – the best that both universes have to offer.

We got a glimpse into the Walter of old a few weeks ago in 'Grey Matters', a methodical scientist with a lack of compassion and a mind fully invested in his experimentation. Knowing that his father was probably the same type of person, and that Walter's relationship with his father might have been similar to the one Walter had with his own young son, Peter, is curious. Walter's current explanation for the genetic secrets held within the German books is "protection" from the information landing in evil hands – but Peter admitted that as a child, Walter LOVED those books, probably more so than his him (the inherent jealousy of that fact the very emotion that lead Peter to sell the books later).

Was Walter protecting the books, or learning from them for his own experiments with the Cortexiphan trials, his own attempt at fulfilling his own dreams, deeming them superior than his father's faux leader's, to create a super human race. Delving deeper into his past, into those past motivations that have driven all of the events in the still-occurring Pattern of activity could yield some interesting answers into not only Walter, but Peter and Olivia, as separate entities and as partners, however you choose to perceive that notion.