Sometimes Twitter just isn’t the appropriate platform to speak on the stories and issues that grab my attention so here in THOUGHTS n’ SHORTS I’ll put them under a little more focus, with maybe about the same amount of snark.
This week, news of a rewrite for Star Wars Episode IX hit the headlines, stoking the fires of speculation, whilst The CW’s boss found himself in a peculiar position, defending a controversial character on one of his network’s shows. And if you’re not up-to-date on the latest episode of Orphan Black, be sure to watch it before reading my spoiler-heavy thoughts on the latest major development in the series.
Rewrite ordered for Star Wars Episode IX
Do you remember your reaction when you heard the announcement that Star Wars Episode IX, the last installment in the franchise’s latest trilogy, is to be directed by Colin Trevorrow? Did you take to Twitter and Tumblr to voice your consternation? Did you experience a feeling of impending dread as you looked toward the uncertain future of the space opera epic? That’s certainly what a lot of Star Wars fans – particularly women – felt upon hearing the news.
Amidst the concerns that Trevorrow’s appointment was perpetuating the pattern of white, male directors with modest credits being ‘gambled’ on by studios for huge blockbuster projects to the detriment of their more experienced yet non-white and non-male peers*, there were also fears that he would not do the trilogy’s conclusion justice. Skepticism about his ability to craft a coherent story that would satiate audiences was only heightened when his latest film, The Book of Henry, was released earlier this summer to an onslaught of scathing reviews. The director subsequently defended his involvement in the as yet untitled Star Wars project with some pithy comments about the values of Star Wars that did little to illustrate how he is the right person for the job.
Now The Hollywood Reporter reveals that British screenwriter, Jack Thorne, has been hired to rework the script that Trevorrow and his writing partner, Derek Connolly, have produced, citing sources who say “a fresh set of eyes was needed”. Certainly this news fans the flames of speculation that Trevorrow is not a good fit for the project but with the film not scheduled for release until May 24th 2019, we’re a long way off from seeing just how founded these reservations are, and it is not currently clear how much reworking of the script is required.
Nonetheless the appointment of Thorne only further contributes to Disney and Lucasfilm’s over-reliance on hiring white men to write and direct their properties, and whilst some fans may be relieved to hear that a new voice has been brought in to streamline the story, it’s hard to not consider that the situation could have been avoided entirely if Trevorrow had not been handed the reins to the project in the first place. Personally, I’m still wary about his involvement, and the news of this rewrite has done nothing to assuage my desire to have somebody else in the director’s chair. There are absolutely no legitimate reasons for Disney to be hiring only white men for directing duties on the films in this franchise, and their resistance to nurturing underrepresented talent in this regard should not be ignored.
The CW boss doubles down on Supergirl’s Mon-El problem
Elsewhere in mediocre white men news: A strange scene unfolded at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Wednesday as Mark Pedowitz, president at The CW network, defended the return of polarising character, Mon-El (Chris Wood), on Supergirl’s upcoming third season, to which the critic whose question he had answered responded on-mic: “nobody wants that”. Numerous pieces have been written over recent months, outlining the reasons why the character has failed to resonate with many audience members (The AV Club, Autostraddle, The Fandomentals, The Workprint, Den Of Geek) and for many critics, the issues boil down to the character being poorly conceived, poorly utilised, and overexposed to the extent that the title character, Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) herself, did not seem to have a clear arc in the show’s second season, in deference to Mon-El’s own.
It is almost not surprising, then, to see these frustrations spilling into critics’ interactions with The Powers That Be, even if the voracity of the response from the mystery critic in question was a little unexpected. TVLine reports that after the Q&A, Pedowitz expressed awareness of the controversy surrounding the character: “I understand there is some backlash to [Mon-El],” he said. However this acknowledgement and his later, vague comment that “it’s the right way to tell a story” only serve to make it clear that those with creative control over Supergirl have little desire to engage with such concerns or even to address the criticisms raised about the show’s handling of the character. In fact, trying to spin the show’s direction positively rather than address the concerns raised comes across as a frustratingly cynical response. As Bridget Liszewski, Editor-in-Chief at The TV Junkies commented on Twitter: “A show shouldn’t have to work so hard to convince me I like a story. Great ones need no explaining because we just feel them.”
Pedowitz’s doubling down on Mon-El’s inclusion on the show – the third season of which will reportedly focus on his disappearance as its central mystery – only further alienates audiences who have been disappointed thus far with how the character has been handled. Not to mention, this is not the first time those associated with the show have courted controversy in recent weeks, following the cast’s boisterous appearance at last month’s San Diego Comic Con. Suffice it to say, the Supergirl team may be doing more harm than good right now in their off-season promotion. Only time will tell whether The CW chief is justified in his casual dismissal of Mon-El detractors and only another season will prove whether Supergirl can be course-corrected after its sophomore slump, or if we should be preparing for more bad things to come.
Orphan Black bids farewell to its matriarch
Fans of Orphan Black are reeling after the show’s most recent episode, 5.08 ‘Guillotines Decide’, closed with the death of beloved character, Mrs S/Siobhan Sadler (Maria Doyle Kennedy), after she spent the episode carrying out the final act of her plan to bring down the shadowy Neolution movement. Whilst her death was not entirely a shock – the series is wrapping up its final episodes, and major character deaths have always felt like a strong possibility, if not inevitable – it was no less affecting, thanks in part to a pitch-perfect performance from the seasoned Irish actress.
Having spent most of the episode scheming in secret with her daughter Sarah (Tatiana Maslany)’s antagonistic clone, Rachel Duncan (also Maslany), Mrs S made sure she also spent time with Sarah and Felix (Jordan Gavaris), and their friends at Felix’s art installation party. During the party, Felix paid tribute to the women who had shaped his life with a speech that also served as a poignant ode to the family that has been central to the show throughout its five seasons:
“My sister and I are orphans, you see. And we could have ended up anywhere. We could’ve ended up in any family. And if we had, we would have been entirely different people. But my mum, Siobhan, this woman, she chose us as her own. We are who we are because she carried two little London urchins on her wings to Canada. Watching her raise my sister, watching my sister raise her own daughter, finding my biological sister – it’s quite mad. It’s taught me that we are all mysterious works of chance. Of choice. Of nature vs. nurture. So to my galaxy of women: thank you for the nurture.”
The touching moment foreshadowed a darker development looming, and sure enough, Mrs S soon got word that one loose thread in her master-plan was still left dangling: Ferdinand (James Frain), the man she had just enabled Rachel Duncan to double-cross. Without saying a word to anyone, S slipped away from the celebrations to face the vindictive misogynist in her own home. It seems safe to say Siobhan was ready for a showdown she wouldn’t necessarily survive, given she had been seen tearfully writing what looked like goodbye letters earlier in the episode, and certainly the guns she had stashed in different locations around her living room spoke to how prepared she was for trouble. Of course, the one thing she could not control was Ferdinand’s own arsenal, and he ultimately got the drop on her with a single shot to the left lung.
Co-creator and writer, Graeme Manson, said of the decision to kill Siobhan off: “At that crux point of the season, you kind of want two things: … a sense of victory, and you want something terrible to happen.” The episode’s final scene achieved both, for whilst Mrs S’ death was indeed terrible, she also rid her childrens’ lives of the threat of Ferdinand’s brutality by killing him. Luring him into a false sense of security, she shot him in the throat to leave him flailing futilely around on her living room floor. “You know, as a woman I’m 14% more likely to survive a gunshot wound than you are,” S told him defiantly, even as she knew the odds were not in her favour on this occasion. From a woman who had previously suggested he choke on his own vomit, it’s a final ‘fuck you’ to the man who had caused her family so much misery and pain.
It is fitting that the show’s great matriarch was the one to bring down such a toxic product of the patriarchy, and whilst the decision to kill off Mrs S may be called into question, the scene’s focus on her rather than her killer did it justice. Ferdinand died first, leaving S to focus on what mattered most to her. In her final moments, she grasped a framed photo of Sarah and Felix and looked upon their faces one more time, gasping out an aggrieved “chickens” before drawing her last breath. With just the one word (‘chicken’ being a pet-name the character used for her loved ones) Doyle Kennedy conveyed so much frustration, pride, and pain, delivering a truly stand-out performance on a show that is jam-packed full of outstanding actors.
With just two episodes left before the series draws to a close, Sarah, Felix, and their loved ones will undoubtedly be left reeling by the death. As series lead, Tatiana Maslany, said: “To lose her is enormous. It’s an enormous growing thing for Sarah and Felix and [Sarah’s daughter] Kira, to lose that matriarch that they could always rely on. … They could still be children because they had somebody who was taking care of them, and now they don’t have that.” It remains to be seen if the status quo is yet to be further altered in the penultimate or final episodes but no matter what else happens on Orphan Black, Siobhan Sadler’s stoic heroism and grim determination shall never be forgotten.
And now for something completely different
It’s said you should never judge a book by its cover, and certainly this is a sensible philosophy to apply more metaphorically in other contexts. But in the world of publishing, covers are a hugely important ingredient in the marketability of a book, and considering the amount of work that goes into producing a great cover, it seems unfair to purposefully not engage with a book’s appearance for the sake of following the advice of a popular idiom.
Just this week, I found myself browsing the bestseller shelves in a well-known bookstore chain, and my attention was caught by Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism.
It wasn’t a book I had heard of before but the VHS case-inspired design ticked all of my boxes aesthetic-wise, and I later looked up the book on Goodreads to get an idea of the general consensus about the story and whether it would appeal to me beyond the remit of its cover design. Happy with what I had read about it, I then ordered My Best Friend’s Exorcism from an independent bookseller and now eagerly await its arrival. Maybe the story won’t satisfy me as much as the cover design did, but honestly I’ll be happy with it sitting on my bookshelf just because of how cool it looks. Is it shallow to buy a book simply for the #aesthetic? Perhaps but the fact that I was compelled to purchase the book based on how it looked means that the publishers have done their job successfully. At the end of the day, the publishers will be happy and I will be happy, and in this wild, unpredictable world we live in, it’s important to indulge in a little happiness just for the sake of it, every now and again.
* Trevorrow became a known entity when he was hired to helm the [financially successful but critically panned] Jurassic World (2015) following his only previous feature film credit, indie flick Safety Not Guaranteed (2012).