Over at SF Novelists, Marie Brennan talks about why ‘competence is hot,’ about the portrayal of various careers/jobs in fiction, and which ones work better than others. She also talks about wanting more heroines who get to be good at their job instead of merely hot.
Which is true, absolutely true, that there aren’t enough of those women in TV and especially movies. It reminds me of how excited the internet got about Women Fighters in Reasonable Armour and, in fact, that if you take a very attractive actress and put her in a practical outfit, and make her good at her job, she’s actually still going to be very attractive, in many cases MORE attractive than the glamorpuss in the tiny, implausibly unprofessional outfit, because it doesn’t look like she’s trying so hard.
In other words, you can have hot women on TV who are also fantastic role models for women, merely by putting more clothes on them, and treating their characters seriously. Who knew?
Some examples of iconic women in science fiction and fantasy television who are, in fact, awesome at their jobs:
Uhura (Star Trek) who may have mostly sat there and pushed buttons, but always looked like she was taking her job as communications officer seriously. Her aura of professional competence was impressive considering she was often given little to do in the script, and that’s down to the gravitas of the brilliant Nichelle Nichols, who gave a generation of African American kids hope that there was a place for them in the future. One of my favourite things about the movie remake of Star Trek is how they added weight to the job that Uhura (now played by Zoe Saldana) did – how much education she was required, and why she in particular was qualified for that really important position on the flagship. (in comparison, Kirk crashed into his job on a wing and a prayer, and seems to have been picked for “leadership qualities” that include “being a complete tool”).
Continue reading →
3.16 – When in Rome
Pompey the Magnus. Oh my yes.
I was excited to see this was a Rome episode and even more excited to realise it features Crassus, a historical character who has always interested me. But then Caesar turned up, stealing all the oxygen in the room, except that which is pinched by his rival and “ally,” Pompey THE Magnus. And I really stopped caring about Crassus.
Jeremy Callaghan, who will always be Brian from Police Rescue for me (last seen in an earlier Xena episode as a thug who might possibly have a heart of gold under his grubby armour), does a good job of balancing out Karl Urban’s shall we say High Acting, and has good sinister chemistry with Xena, too. He takes it a bit too far at times with the grape sucking and furniture chewing, but that sort of thing is what Xena is all about.
“So why do they call you the Warrior Princess?”
“Because ‘Caesar’ was taken.”
Continue reading →
3.12 – The Bitter Suite
I have listened to the soundtrack to this episode so many times that I think it’s imprinted on my skin somewhere. Fair warning, I really love this one, and it’s probably one of the episodes I have most rewatched, though not in recent years.
Xena and Gabrielle are broken apart, forever. Both are lost in grief and despair. What could possibly heal the rift between these two?
A kooky comedy musical!
In an era of brilliant kooky musical episodes (and other kooky gimmick episodes, remember Farscape’s animated episode, or the Angel muppet experiment), The Bitter Suite leaves Buffy’s Once More With Feeling in the dust. The music is bizarre and beautiful, the imagery is surreal, and the characters drag themselves through every painful emotion that they have.
We see Joxer come into his own in the opening scenes, trying to protect Gabrielle from a murderous Xena, who actually goes so far as to rope Gabrielle’s ankles and drag her in the mud behind her horse. But when they stop on a cliff’s edge, it’s Gabrielle – in touch with her own previously-suppressed anger thanks to her inner Callisto – who pushes her friend over the edge…
And into the pretty, song-obsessed fantasyland that is Illusia.
Continue reading →
10. Livia Drusilla
There are some historical characters you just become unreasonably attached to. Livia is my sweetie. Warning: you’re not going to get a balanced academic opinion on this one. (it was hard enough doing that in my thesis)
When Livia met Augustus, they were both married to other people. He had a daughter, and she was pregnant with her second son. Within a few months of meeting each other (round about the time Antony and Octavia were getting married), they had divorced their respective spouses and were shacked up together. They got married almost immediately after she had her baby.
Does that sound like a relationship that happened two thousand years ago? Nope, me neither.
Livia never bore Augustus any children. There is no cited reason for this – they had both had children with their previous spouses. But she did suffer a miscarriage early in their marriage, which could have led to physical complications. What is interesting is that despite Augustus’ desire for a male heir of his body, he never divorced Livia to get a wife who would bear him a son. She was far too useful to him as a wife. HEAR THAT, HENRY THE EIGHTH?
Continue reading →
3.9 – Warrior, Priestess, Tramp
The small gene pool of the ancient world has struck gold again, with yet another perfect replica of Xena running around impersonating her. Princess Diana has been retired due to being a bit dull, and instead we have the British, lisping Hestian virgin Leah.
Actually, I want to know how come there are so many sets of Xena’s armour lying around, available for purchase… she should totally be getting a royalty for all sales.
Leah’s rather cute in a judgemental kind of way – I rather love the way she calls Xena and Gabrielle wanton strumpets and replies to Gabrielle’s defense that she was married at the time with “well, we all have our little excuses, don’t we?”
And of course we get Meg again, the raunchy lush who is always up to something dodgy. In this case, we have a mystery surrounding the Hestian virgins and a conspiracy against the head priestess. It’s a pretty slight mystery, though, and mostly there as an excuse for lots of bawdy jokes and an entertaining musical number when we see Joxer being greeted as a regular in Meg’s tavern.
When I say ‘tavern’ of course, it’s blatantly a brothel, though the usual Xena Curtain of Subtext is lowered so that the transactions are referred to quite obliquely, the working girls are all terribly jolly and adore their work, and the whole thing is there largely so we can laugh at the prudish priestess’s reactions.
Continue reading →
New episode up on iTunes! Grab it from iTunes, by direct download or stream it on the site.
In which we defend Mary Sues everywhere, point at superheroes with their pants down, plan a Hugo Twitterparti and reveal which of the three of us is secretly a hardcore horror fan. But most importantly, Alex is watching Blake’s 7 completely unspoiled and she loves Avon the best, hooray!
The Mary Sue Conversation:
Sarah Rees Brennan
“Sometimes a book is about a female character because there are female people in the world.”
What if Male Superheroes posed like Wonder Woman?
Gender Bent Justice League
Bonus, superheroes without pants (except Wonder Woman):
Cat Valente steps down from Apex Magazine as fiction editor, Lynne M Thomas steps up.
Alex wants to be in Reno.
Watch the Hugos!
Join @GalacticSuburbs in whatever the right time zone is and Twitterparti the Hugos with us!
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa – The Hunger Games, Life on Mars UK, The Women’s Hour Podcast, Doctor Who
Tansy – Lords & Ladies, Terry Pratchett; Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, Rob Shearman; Rob on the Big Finish Podcast, Xena & the mystical pregnancy
Alex – Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi; Blake’s 7; Across the Universe, Beth Revis.
Grant Watson (as well as our producer) pointed out to Tansy that Jason Todd died in “A Death in the Family” and not “The Killing Joke.” She is very sorry.
Kirstyn McDermott took us to task over our dismissive attitude to horror, and we decided to address her concerns and chew over our complicated relationship with the darker side of spec fic.
Please send feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!
Sorry, this is a long one! I might have to start doing one post per episode if they get any longer…
3.5 – Gabrielle’s Hope.
Yes, it’s been a long time between drinks. I think I put this one off because it’s a very emotionally tough episode, and one I never particularly enjoyed. Apart from anything, there are – violence and pregnancy and baby themes in this one. When it comes to SF/fantasy TV, that’s rarely a good thing.
The episode opens with a moment of deep hurt/comfort. Gabrielle is disturbed by dreams of her first kill from the previous episode – and has turned the whole thing around in her head so her victim was a sweet, innocent flower as opposed to a calculating religious obsessive who tricked Gabrielle into taking her life. Gab’s reaction is not just emotional, but physical – she keeps feeling nauseated. Xena is certain this is a normal part of the healing process.
But then things start getting screwy. Banshees attack them, only to profess worship of Gabrielle. Villagers gather, determined to burn Gabrielle as a witch… and, oh yes. She has food cravings. Weird, icky food cravings.
Can anyone else see where this is going?
Yes, Gabrielle is great with child – one of those speedy demon babies who whips through the system in under 24 hours (oh, the STRETCH MARKS) and isn’t going to stick around long. Unlike Deanna Troi in Star Trek: Next Gen though, this one is going to have long, long ramifications.
[Note to all, the review for this ep was written a million years ago, or possibly about six months, but it ties in beautifully with the discussion we had on the last Galactic Suburbia about mystical pregnancy, so yay!]
Continue reading →
Season Three is upon us! Is it me, or is Gabrielle’s top getting tinier? Also, her boots this season are awesome.
3.1 – The Furies
Unlike last season, which ran through a few ‘meh’ episodes before hitting its stride, season three opens with a bang, presenting us with a powerful story that shows Xena in a whole new light, and potentially adds a whole lot of baggage to her mythos, while drawing a sharp line under one previously important element of her backstory.
Ares, that sexy snarky bastard, sics the Furies on Xena. Reimagined as a trio of New Romantic stripper babes with spiky hairdos, the Furies curse Xena with madness until she brings justice against a member of her family whose death was never avenged: her father.
The madness plotline is where the story could really have gone off the rails. Indeed it looks at first like they are going that route, with Lucy Lawless enacting her “madness” in a manic eyerolling, pantomime style. They make up for this unpromising start with some quieter scenes between Xena and Gabrielle as Xena tries to make sense of what is happening to her, and particularly where Gabrielle takes on the role of carer to her confused, hallucinating friend.
It is worth noting that, as with Callisto, Xena’s state of sanity/insanity is conveyed through the degree to which her hair is unbrushed.
Continue reading →
2.20 The Price
This is an episode I remember hugely disliking and being bored by on my first run through season 2, and never watching again. All I remember is it being one of those that’s all peril and no humour, but looking at it now I can see other reasons that would have turned me off, even if I wasn’t alert to the reason why.
The Horde are basically voiceless savages, and while I enjoy Xena facing her past and a bit of grim backstory, I much prefer it when she has to face antagonists with personality to them. And, you know, dialogue. I am a fiend for awesome dialogue and I have a tendency to bounce completely off stories that have none. This is a very male-heavy action story which has nothing about it that feels especially ‘Xena’ and offers nothing to our female leads other than the opportunity to act tough or look horrified.
Also there’s something grotesque and pretty damned offensive about the racial stereotype of the growling, murderous savage, and little is done to mitigate the using of this antiquated trope. (this is I think later addressed in the far better episode Daughter of Pomira though I didn’t love that one either) I found it interesting that the use of Maori costume and iconography with the all-male Horde is used to emphasise them as being violent, ugly and terrifying – the contrast being the way that the costume and iconography were used to add to the mystique of the Amazons, who also have a scary, dramatic appearance but are shown to have complex characters, a history and society rather than just being “monsters”.
Okay, it is kind of cool to see Xena taking on the responsibility of yelling at a bedraggled, heartsick Athenian troop of soldiers to shape them into a force capable of fighting the villainous Horde, and I can see the main point of the story is how easily Xena can slip into her own war-hungry maniac self when the threat is bad enough. Seeing Gabrielle’s calm competence in getting a sickbay organised, and later standing up against Badass Xena to be merciful to the wounded Horde, effectively shows how far she has come. But the whole thing is so shouty and violent, I still can’t love it.
Continue reading →
2.16 For Him the Bell Tolls
This is the episode that really shows what Ted Raimi can do – a homage to Danny Kaye’s classic performance in The Court Jester, it sets up a situation where Joxer is charmed to become a Hero with a capital H every time a bell rings – and then returns to his own bumbling self when it rings again.
Ted Raimi carries the story off with aplomb, making it that bit more special than its Hercules-lite plot really deserves, and his ‘swashbuckling hero’ persona is both hilarious and weirdly convincing.
Also, damn that man can fence.
This episode also marks the first appearance in Xena of the goddess Aphrodite played by Alexandra Tydings, whose bubbly, bitchy surfer babe persona was one of the highlights of the Hercules series from quite early on, along with her cranky, who-oiled-those-chest-muscles, bleached blond son Cupid, played by… um, Karl Urban.
One of my favourite things about the Herc-and-Xenaverse is the way that the same actors appear over and over, often playing several different characters. It lends a certain theatre rep feel to the whole production, and there is great fun to be had in spotting the reappearance of a favourite performer. Sometimes an actor used in a minor role is cast later in a major or more iconic one (Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor, for example, both played less significant roles in the Hercverse before being cast as Xena and Gabrielle) and often it ends up that the same actor plays a different major roles in each “verse”. The actress who plays Gabrielle’s sister, for instance, has a recurring role as the daughter of one of Hercules’ Argonaut friends, and Gina Torres appears as Cleopatra in the Xenaverse, and pirate/Sumerian queen Nebula in the Hercverse.
Continue reading →