Warning: This post contains SPOILERS for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Proceed at your own risk.
So, there’s been some controversy about Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff’s backstory, specifically that her Brainwashed Soviet-Ish Killing Machine training was concluded with a routine sterilization and she feels un-good about this. As for the scene itself, I don’t see how it’s being framed as a gendered issue. Bruce Banner has already told Natasha about his own infertility, and they’re having the discussion in the first place because they’re seeing the family life that their male friend has deliberately created and likely gone through an insane amount of effort to keep.
I want to preface this review by saying I know virtually nothing about Daredevil lore. I know there’s Daredevil and he’s blind and lives in Hell’s Kitchen and his girlfriend is Sydney Bristow whose alias is Elektra and that’s pretty much it. I never saw the Ben Affleck movie. All my knowledge thereof comes from riff reviews like this one.
But, like billions of other nerdy pop culture consumers, I’m loving the new Marvel era, and I’ve enjoyed several of Netflix’s original series, so I had high hopes for this one. My hopes have been rewarded.
Our hero, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), is indeed a blind man headquartered in Hell’s Kitchen. He protects his innocent neighbors as a defense lawyer by day, and masked vigilante by night. He’s the son of a boxer who supported his family by taking falls in the ring. It’s every bit as noir as it sounds, and yet the show still injects just the right amount of optimism and levity to keep from feeling overwhelmingly bleak.
Murdock’s blindness is handled pretty well, imo. The same accident that took away his sight heightened his other senses, which is how he’s able to pull off his vigilante stunts. The scenes highlighting his superpowers do a great job of showing that he’s relying on senses other than sight. The staging and effects let us inside Murdock’s head where we feel him focus on the sound of a faraway cry for help, or the vibration of an attacker’s footfalls. Yet his lack of sight still comes across as a legitimate handicap; something that, as a disabled viewer, I feel is important to acknowledge in-story.
As of the second episode, Team Daredevil includes Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), Murdock’s pragmatically materialistic law partner; Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), Murdock’s former client and current office manager who I’ve since learned is a canon love interest; and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a Night Nurse who saves Murdock when he’s injured in a vigilante mission. Everyone in the cast inhabits their roles perfectly, and there’s a strong chemistry between the characters.
So far I only have one nitpick with the show. In a scene in the pilot where Murdock and Foggy are interrogating Karen Page, Murdock concludes that Karen’s improbable story is true because he hears her heart rate remain slow and steady while she’s telling it. In this scene, she’s also traumatized, stressed, crying, and in emotional and physical pain. It strikes me as totally reasonable for a person under those circumstances to have an elevated or irregular heart rate even if they were telling the truth, especially if they were stressed about being accused of lying. In real life, lie detection technology isn’t considered 100% reliable for exactly these reasons.
However, one problem with one scene isn’t enough to keep me from enjoying this show. If you’re a fan of the Daredevil comics, I don’t know what to tell you, but if you’re a fan of film noir, TV crime dramas, and the new Marvel cinematic universe, you should definitely check this out. All 13 episodes are currently streaming on Netflix. Here’s hoping life and my internet connection will finally let me binge-watch the rest of them.
You remember Agent Peggy Carter from the Captain America movies, right? And you know ABC gave her her own miniseries and scheduled it during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s winter break, right? And you saw its two-episode premiere last Tuesday because all of my readers live in the US and structure their lives around TV schedules, right? What??? OMG you aren’t hooked on Agent Carter yet??? Well, read on! I promise this won’t be too spoilery.
My biggest question about Agent Carter was whether it would feel more like a spin-off of the Captain America movies or the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series. The answer is both and neither. Like any of the individual series under the Avengers umbrella, Agent Carter draws from the franchise as a whole, but maintains its own distinct feel. And if you like a 1940’s aesthetic with a James Bond storyline, that feel is pretty freakin’ awesome.
One of my favorite things about Agent Carter is how it lets Peggy fill the Bond role while looking like a Bond girl. There are times when Peggy switches out her skirt suit for a pair of slacks, but she’s always got her perfectly-coiffed curls and her signature red lipstick. Do I think any of this should be a social requirement for real women in the real world like it was in days of yore? No and no. Is it how my fantasy self would be attired in my self-insert pulp fanfic? So very much yes.
Peggy’s aesthetic suits her character, imo, because it’s one that requires a lot of effort, skill, and control; all traits we see her display in the field. Peggy is always in charge of whatever situation she’s in, whether her superiors realize it or not. Tell her to bring coffee, and she’ll gather all the intel from your top-secret meeting. Give her a sick day for “ladies’ problems” and she’ll work that case and find the MacGuffin in a disguise that has all her spy colleagues fooled.
Every good comic book hero needs a sidekick, and Peggy’s will be familiar to Iron Man fans: Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis (not to be confused with Tony Stark’s computer system). There’s no will-they-or-won’t-they tension between this dynamic duo, as Peggy isn’t over Steve Rogers, and Jarvis is steadfastly devoted to his unseen wife. Clearly he knows Mrs. Jarvis is the greatest good he’s ever going to get. Jarvis’ deadpan insistence on providing hero support is a perfect foil to Peggy’s obligatory insistence that she doesn’t need it.
Well, “obligatory” isn’t quite fair, since Peggy’s adamant independence is more than justified in-universe. She works in an environment where she has to prove herself twice as good as her male colleagues to earn half the respect. Jarvis recognizes this, and when he informs Peggy that he’s there to stay, he makes a point of saying that all heroes, whether male or female, need support, just like Captain America did when Peggy and Stark were providing it for him.
Which, imo, sums up the best thing about Agent Carter. In the first Captain America movie, I really wanted to love Peggy, but I mostly felt like she was an under-utilized character with great potential. For all her informed awesomeness, she was essentially just The Love Interest. The faded photograph that the real hero looked to for inspiration. In Agent Carter, their roles are reversed. Now Steve Rogers is the faded photograph, and Agent Peggy Carter is the lone hero in red, white, and blue.
And pumps, nylons, and red lipstick.
Agent Carter airs on ABC on Tuesday night at 9pm/8pm Central. You can watch full episodes online at ABC.com.
Once Upon a Time, in case you haven’t heard, is an ABC show currently in its third season. The best way to describe it is “Enchanted for grownups.” Or “the ultimate Disney crossover fanfiction.” Or “that show where Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter got knocked up by Rumpelstiltskin’s son and their kid got adopted by Snow White’s evil stepmother who was almost the lovechild of Rumpelstiltskin and the Miller’s Daughter and that’s just the beginning.”
Although Once‘s original pitch was classic fairy tale characters living in the modern world, it quickly became obvious that “classic fairy tale” = “anything either in the public domain or owned by Disney.” So far the world of the Enchanted Forest has intersected with Wonderland, Frankenstein, the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood, Neverland, and most recently, Oz. Which is AWESOME. Go big or go home, right? Once Upon a Time is almost sure to get a fourth season. Here are a few yet-untapped veins in the Disney properties and public domain gold mines.
5. SHERLOCK HOLMES
There’s always a mystery afoot in Storybrook. Who better than Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest public domain detective, to show up and solve one? Sadly, it’s unlikely that CBS or the BBC would loan Miller or Cumberbatch to a rival network. Just as well, though, since pulling Holmes and Watson out of 19th century London seems more in keeping with Once’s style. Most likely scenario: Sherlock must solve a paternity case, and he discovers that he himself is the Blue Fairy’s son, Aladdin’s brother, and Captain Hook’s father.
Srsrly tho, WHY have there not been vampires in Storybrook yet? Half of Regina’s Evil Queen costumes look like they were designed for a vampire (hmmm, maybe Carmilla would be better?). There could be this whole storyline about Dracula only being able to drink blood from someone if they have a heart, and Regina has to use her magic heart-stealing powers to save the whole town from being vampired, and Dracula is Jiminy Cricket’s son, Grumpy the Dwarf’s brother, and Mulan’s father.
The property rights situation on this one is complicated, but Disney distributed the Narnia movies, so I’m throwing it in here anyway. We’ve already seen several characters travel to and from Storybrook via wardrobe. Agrabah, a major location in the underrated Wonderland spinoff, could easily be part of the Calormen Empire. Come on, writers; I want a twisted, tangled backstory about the War of the Drobes in the land of Spare Oom. A story in which Mister Tumnus is revealed to be Red Riding Hood’s son, Ariel’s brother, and Mushu’s father.
Miss Piggy: “Mirror on moi’s dressing room wall, who’s the biggest diva of them all?”
Muppet mirror: “O Queen of Hams, if camp could kill, we’d all be slain by Regina Mills.”
Miss Piggy drags the Muppet crew to Storybrook to investigate. A battle royale between her and Regina ends in an accidental curse that turns everyone in Storybrook into Muppets. They spend the whole episode trying to put things back to normal. Chaos and random musical numbers ensue. All is put to right at the end, but not before it is discovered that Miss Piggy is Cora’s other long-lost daughter, Kermit the Frog is Princess Tiana’s brother, and Gonzo is Rumpelstiltskin’s grandfather.
A few random, spoilery musings on the women of Thor: The Dark World.
I cannot overstate Frigga’s awesomeness. Frigga pwns everyone forever. I shall henceforth consider the epithet friggin’ an oath invoking the wrath of Frigga. I’m terrible about crying over movies, books, tv shows, songs, gifs, etc., but I couldn’t cry over Frigga’s death. It was just too awesome. I felt like she died exactly how she wanted to, with a sword in hand, defending her realm and her family. To quote another famous space Viking, it was a good day to die.
I love Sif. Why does Sif have to love Thor? I mean, I know she and Jane Foster are both canon love interests in the comics, but why? Why does there have to be a love triangle at all? When two very different women who want very different things out of life are written as rivals for the same man, it reinforces the idea that all women ultimately want the same thing out of life. That thing being mating privileges with the Alpha Male. Can’t we just enjoy seeing a beautiful female warrior and a beautiful female scientist in the same movie without essentially making the hero declare one more desirable than the other? I have absolutely no problem with strong women wanting relationships (with men, even!), but there’s no lack of powerful male hotties in this story. Why bother making Sif and Jane compete when there’s enough to go around?
Oh, Darcy. Characters like her are why comic relief sidekicks are often my favorites. Especially when those sidekicks demand and procure their own sidekick. And then make out with that sidekick on an interdimensional battlefield because why not?
What I am about to say is my personal, visceral, subjective, emotional response to Jane’s characterization based on how I’ve been feeling lately. It is irrespective of tropes or conventions or social history. Here goes.
Jane is smart, curious, educated, accomplished, self-assured, and for most of the movie, ill. The movie lets her be all of these things at once. The Aether is in control until it can be destroyed. The most Jane can do is cooperate with the people who have the power to destroy it, Jane herself not being one of them. Her rational acknowledgement of this isn’t treated as “letting her illness beat her.” She’s still herself. Ever the scientist, she investigates the alien technology in the Asgardian hospital while she’s on the exam table, and learns all she can about the city and its people in between being examined, sleeping, and pursuing a treatment (that might kill her). But those three things do take most of her time, and she can’t help that. As someone who can identify with all of the above, it felt really good to see a woman like this at the center of an epic. Sure, Thor is the real protagonist and Jane is “just” his love interest, but…Jane is Thor’s love interest. Thor would literally move heaven and earth to save Jane even though she can’t reciprocate. I love the scene where Jane unsuccessfully tries to drag Thor out of the falling ship’s path and finally just throws herself on top of him. It’s so earnest, and so comically futile. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. And yet, Jane’s weakness doesn’t take away her agency. Thor protects and cares for her, but he doesn’t patronize or dominate her. Jane chooses to go along with Thor’s plan to destroy the Aether. She chooses to let Frigga, Sif, and other stronger people put themselves on the line for her. Which they all do willingly because Jane matters, if not intrinsically then at least in the sense that her best interests align with theirs. Is Jane Foster a damsel in distress? She does technically fit the trope. But I found this damsel engaging, encouraging, and dare I say, empowering.