Breaks

Netflix is great and all but honestly, I miss commercial breaks. I can handle broadcast-TV-style “marathons” of a TV show (or at least, I used to be able to) but I can’t handle Netflix binge-watching. It’s just too long for me to listen to something– especially, I guess, something with a complicated, emotionally intense plot– without breaks to process, stand up and walk around, think about something else.

And commercial breaks served that purpose really well, and that makes me kind of sad that they’re kind of gone from the places where I actually watch TV. (I’m obviously also not a fan of Netflix’s “automatically start the next episode in ten seconds” thing.)

Today one of Sparkly’s favorite TV shows got a bunch of new episodes added to Netflix, and we watched three of them in quick succession, and then I spent about 20 minutes playing solitaire because anything more complicated felt like Too Many Things.

And it’s a good TV show! And I really like it! I just… can’t watch too much of it all at once. I hate this, it feels ridiculous, but apparently this is the current state of affairs for my brain.

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Post called on account of movie

I saw SWTFA tonight! Some very quick thoughts.

I really really understand why people ship Poe and Finn.

I sorta understand why people ship Rey and Finn, he definitely has the shinies for her but she didn’t seem to me to have the same kind of feelings about him.

Just on a “chemistry” level I really just don’t see why people ship Rey and Kylo Ren. Like, people told me that the scene where he interrogates her was either sexy or creepy, and to me it was neither? Like, the “I can take whatever I want” line, or whatever it was, taken by itself does sound creepy and sexual, I was totally on board with that until I actually heard Adam Driver say it. He really convinced me that Kylo Ren has zero thoughts in his head besides Darth Vader’s legacy and zero interest in Rey besides the information she knows.

A note to me, to write more later about Rey and independence and defining your own right way of doing things.

I’ve been thinking about cartoons I watched when I was younger

(this could have been longer but I’m tired.)

You know the style of comedy where the characters are sort of aggressively stupid? The punchlines, the parts where you laugh, may be slapstick-like, but instead of the characters being well-meaning people who may just be unlucky, they’re deliberately doing things that are harmful or make no sense.

I went to TVTropes looking for a word for this, and there are a bunch of sorta-duplicates: “the ditz,” “lethally stupid,” and others, but none of them exactly describe what I’m thinking about.

I really hated most of the shows that had this. The only one I ever willingly watched was The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, and now I’m asking myself why I liked it. Billy is pretty much everything I dislike in an obnoxious cartoon character. Was I just that excited about Mandy? Did it have more plot than other shows? I don’t know.

 

Sparkly watches true-crime shows, and I occasionally look over her shoulder and identify instrumentation and spectra by sight. I’m surpised by how distinctive I still find them. There’s a lot of mass spectrometry, of course, and some infrared. Today I explained to Sparkly about the secret hilarity of infrared spectra, which is that each spike in the signal represents a different part of the molecule wiggling or bouncing in a different way.

I had a silly realization about MFMM

I’ve found a decent number of people on Tumblr to follow who watch and talk about Miss Fisher. I now get to see a lot of lovely posts about how attractive Jack is. Earlier today I started wondering why I don’t see any similar posts about Phryne, or any of the other characters…

That’s probably because the people I follow are straight, huh? They’re all women and they’re probably all straight except for A, and that shouldn’t really surprise me! I’ve just gotten used to everyone being queer. Oops.

Stuff that bothers me about MFMM part 2

The other thing that bothers me: the show creates suspense and drama by invoking people’s biases and shitty assumptions.

Are we really supposed to believe that Dr. Macmillan killed the factory owner in “Death by Miss Adventure” (s1.10)?

Are we really supposed to believe that Arthur is the murderer in “Murder in the Dark” (s1.12)?

In both cases they’re innocent, and that’s good, but why are we expected to doubt them in the first place?

With Arthur it’s a really straightforward use of really shitty stereotypes, the ideas that anyone with any kind of mental difference may turn out to be a ~deranged murderer~, and that any kind of disability should inspire disgust and suspicion. When it comes to Mac, I feel like I have less justification for being upset, but still, Mac being a murderer should never have been a serious possibility– certainly not in the audience’s eyes, at least. But the show presents it like we should really wonder if she did it, and I can’t help but feel like it’s playing on an assumption that same-sex relationships are just not meant to be, that they mess people up and end in tragedy.

We shouldn’t need proof and a dramatic reveal to not feel all skin-crawly and suspicious about Arthur. We shouldn’t feel that way in the first place. We shouldn’t think that her attraction to women erases everything else we know about Mac.

This got pretty long, so I’m saving “Death by Miss Adventure” for the next post.

1. Arthur in “Murder in the Dark”

(a) Why doesn’t it make sense?

I. Let’s consider the murder that actually takes place during the episode, Marigold Brown, the girl found in the pool.

  • She didn’t die by drowning, she was strangled and then put in the water
  • Phryne didn’t find any signs of struggle near the pool, so she was carried some significant distance to be put there

There should be at least some doubt that Arthur would be physically capable of committing this murder. We know he walks with a limp, and has some difficulty holding a pen– does it seem likely that he could physically overpower this girl, strangle her, carry her some distance, and throw her into the pool, without splashing water all over himself or getting his clothes mussed?

In fact, on re-watching this episode, the very incident that makes Arthur seem the most dangerous also makes it clear that he’s not, physically, that dangerous. After the party, when the guy in the pirate costume Guy Stanley is accusing Arthur of the murders and saying he should be put in an asylum– when Arthur is angry, and scared, and attacks him– Arthur grabs Guy’s throat, with one hand. If there were ever a time he’d use his full strength, you’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you? He’s being threatened with the very real possibility of being locked up indefinitely in a place that’s probably worse than some prisons, for a crime he didn’t commit. He has every reason to be both angry and terrified, and when he, understandably, lashes out, he can only do it with one hand.

It takes a while to strangle someone to death. Even if you’re strong enough to completely cut off their breathing, it takes a while– on the order of 3-4 minutes– for lack of oxygen to even begin to harm the brain. It takes a significant amount of strength and determination to actually strange someone to death.

Phryne and his other relatives, you’d think, would have had plenty of other, less stressful opportunities to know what Arthur can do and what he can’t. There’s no real reason for them to suspect him, and it would be easy for one of them to say at some previous point “Don’t think Arthur could have done it. You may not trust him, but he just isn’t strong enough.” But nobody does.

II. Where did he get the toffee apples from? I mean, they’re not something you’d have sitting around the house. They’re sticky. You eat them when they’re fresh. And Arthur mentions that he isn’t supposed to have candy.

Could he have somehow gotten them himself?
This is an assumption, but I doubt he’s allowed to come and go as he pleases, and even if he could sneak out, I doubt he gets given pocket money. More than that, if Arthur walked into a candy store, looking and acting the way he does, do you think the owner would treat him like any other customer? I suspect the average person’s thought process on seeing Arthur try to buy a toffee apple, even if he did have money, would be more like “This poor, confused [insert well-meaning but offensive term] has wandered away from his keeper. I’d better make sure he gets back where he belongs.”

(b) Why it’s really clearly shitty: the costume party

Why is he wearing a creepy wolf costume? Why is he writing people creepy notes?

Because he realized he’s not wanted at the party, so he needs a costume that hides his face. Because he and Jane were already planning to wear coordinating costumes– Hansel and Gretel– so now they’re still going to wear coordinating costumes, but as Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. When the (admittedly, truly creepy-looking) wolf waves at Jane at the party, she smiles and waves back and goes to join him– she clearly isn’t scared. She knows it’s Arthur. They must have planned this together. Yet the tremolo violins want us to think that Arthur-in-a-mask is totally sinister and creepy.  When it’s clear that there must be someone else involved.

You could imagine that Arthur is acting as the murderer’s accomplice for some reason, luring Jane into danger. Except that we already know that Arthur recognizes the murderer as a murderer, as the person responsible for Marigold’s death and Phryne’s sister Janey’s disappearance. It doesn’t seem likely that he’d let that person convince him to do anything. And Arthur doesn’t want to harm Jane or anyone else, unless he’s been putting on an act both during this episode and for years (Aunt Prudence says he’s never gotten over Janey’s disappearance and still has nightmares about it.)

So, the immediate catalyst for everyone chasing off after Arthur is the envelope he put under Phryne’s door, which had Janey’s hair ribbon in it from the day she disappeared. There’s no reason that should put him under suspicion.  It’s not news that he was there when Janey disappeared. He’s already said that he was there. I think Phryne has already mentioned that he was there.

Phryne says “It must be him,” thinking that the murderer sent her the ribbon, and the fact that several other people– Arthur and Aunt Prudence– were at both the scene of the disappearance and the party should contradict the idea that the murderer is in the house sending Phryne little envelopes. Arthur was friends with Janey and was devastated by her death. He would have picked up her ribbon for the same reasons Phryne kept the other one. It isn’t even that weird that he’d choose to give it to Phryne that day and in that manner, if you accept that he’s not likely to do it in a socially normal way. He’s been thinking and talking about Janey’s disappearance a lot lately, so it’s on his mind. He decides Phryne should have the ribbon as a keepsake– he may not know she has the other one. Replace Arthur with a hypothetical nondisabled cousin, who can take Phryne aside and quietly explain, “I found this the day Janey disappeared, I’ve kept it all this time, but now I think you should have it,” and it would be 0% weird. By no stretch of the imagination does it indicate that he’s the murderer. It just indicates that he doesn’t know how to have delicate conversations. Jack and Phryne act like it’s a shocking, scary revelation, but it isn’t suspicious and it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. (To be fair, Phryne keeps saying that Arthur wouldn’t hurt anyone, and she has reason to be shaken by anything related to Janey’s death, actual shocking revelation or no. But Jack’s response to “And Arthur was there” is to run off and search for him.)

There is absolutely no reason to think that Arthur is dangerous.

Unless you think his disability makes him inherently creepy.

That’s why I don’t think it’s particularly impressive that Arthur turns out to be innocent. It’s a step up from having him be a murderer, of course, but part of the plot literally does not make sense unless you allow “Arthur has an intellectual disability”–> “Arthur sometimes does slightly unusual things” to equal “Arthur is probably dangerous”. The show uses that stereotype, that bigotry, it encourages you to feel that way for a while, and although you turn out to be on the wrong track, it doesn’t say you were wrong to feel it in the first place.

This could have been a story about how Jack Is Wrong to suspect Arthur, but it’s not. Arthur’s wolf mask didn’t have to look as scary as it does. The background music certainly doesn’t need to go all dramatic high-pitched violin tremolo when Arthur appears on screen. The show wants us to feel like he’s dangerous, even though the facts of the story don’t support it. We’re supposed to feel that thrill of fear and disgust and creepiness, and then find out it wasn’t Arthur after all, and immediately refocus on tension about what the real murderer is doing. There’s nothing to tell us we should feel bad for suspecting Arthur, nothing to show it’s any more wrong than any other wrong lead. There’s no real explanation of his point of view and how he did what he did for innocent reasons, like you might expect from some kinds of mystery story– all this stuff I’ve said about why he’d give Phryne the ribbon and why he’d wear the wolf costume is reading between the lines. It makes perfect sense, and the foundation is there, but the show doesn’t put it together for you. You get to walk out of the theater, so to speak, with the impression that Arthur did a bunch of creepy things. All he actually did was have a disability. That’s not okay.

MFMM- tangential thoughts

I’m re-watching Death by Miss Adveture.

most people would want to lock her up just for that

“She did unnatural things with Daisy. Most people would want to lock her up just for that.”

How hard do you have to be, to deliberately call down the same bigotry that harms you on someone else’s head?

(Okay, so the answer is she’s trying to avoid a murder charge. But no one actually suspects her yet.)

I feel like this isn’t supposed to be a big thing– it’s supposed to be straightforward deflecting of suspicion and damaging someone else’s reputation, something anyone might do on any topic. But to me, something like this has to be a Thing. It has to be a capital-D Decision. You can’t not feel morally squirmy about trying to profit off of bigotry against people like you— or even if you don’t feel like it’s wrong, you have to feel like you’re playing with a loaded gun, teasing a tiger, making a deal with the Devil. It could be someone else in that interview room saying literally word-for-word the same thing about her instead. That can’t not give you a chill.

——

“I didn’t kill him.”

“How long have we known each other?”

“Too bloody long.”

“Then you know there are some things that don’t need to be said.”

Mac is under a lot of stress, but apparetly she thought that Phryne actually suspected her.

—–

The letter Dot finds, as read by the voiceover:

Hetty, my dear, I don’t know how to begin this. I know you don’t want to hear this, but I can’t see you ever again. What happened was wrong and I could never feel like you do. Please leave me alone. I’m very sorry that I hurt you. Your friend, Daisy.

The letter as visible on screen:

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 9.54.47 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 9.55.04 PM

Hetty my dear, I don’t know how to begin this. I know you don’t want to hear me or see me ever again, but I am hoping you can read these words from me. You didn’t deserve what I did. Please find it in your heart, with time, to understand and forgive my rotten soul and don’t lose faith of all things. I’m very sorry that I hurt you. Your friend, Daisy.

Shall we say the voiceover is the canonical version? The letter seems to imply that things were the other way around from what the voiceover says– that Daisy came on too strong, and Hetty had moral qualms. I don’t know.

—-

Stuff I wasn’t clear on before, for future reference. Hetty says that Daisy falling into the machine was an accident. But she poisoned Gaskin in a deliberate attempt to frame Dr. Mac, for taking Daisy away.

Stuff that bothers me about MFMM part 1

This is not polished at all but I’m posting it anyway. I might do a better version later.

Stuff that bothers me:

  • Phryne Fisher the savior and spokesperson for all sorts of marginalized people, always saying the right things.

I’m going to start by talking about “The Blood of Juana the Mad” (s2.8) because I just saw it and it’s fresh in my mind.

So, first of all: I think Beatrice Mason is autistic. I could also see autism + OCD, or maybe OCD by itself, I don’t really know enough about OCD to have an opinion on that. But anyway, something along those lines.

One the one hand, I love that Phryne is understanding and tries to connect with Beatrice. And joining Beatrice in doing something “strange” (she was leaning her forehead against the wall, because she was tired and overwhelmed) is a great, simple, powerful way to do that. (It is literally what the essay of wonderfulness that I was just gushing over recommends– or part of it, anyway.) And I love that Mac stands up for her too– the gist of it being “she’s strange, but she is reliable, she is in touch with reality, and she does genuinely good work.” I love that Beatrice is right that people are following her and plotting to steal her research, that that’s not just paranoia.

I… not love, I guess, but approve, that she is bullied in very serious, scary ways, because that is realistic. It’s good to see bullying taken seriously and not written off as basically harmless. And oh, anti-skills! (as this blog calls them) “It’s polite to accept an invitation,” Beatrice says… an invitation from a bully, which was actually a malicious lie, and resulted in her spending the night on a couch in the men’s dorm, drugged unconscious, and having people accuse her of sexual impropriety. But it’s polite to accept an invitation, and she thought he might actually be serious about apologizing, so she went. Somebody taught her to accept invitations, and didn’t teach her that she might need to say no sometimes, or how to decide who to trust. Somebody thought they were teaching her social skills (though they might not have called it that in the 1910s) and they ended up teaching her the opposite of a skill.
…And someone who hadn’t already been exposed to that concept might not see it that way, yeah? They’d just see it as her being ridiculous and overly literal? I don’t know what to think about that. My sense is that we’re supposed to have sympathy with her over this, but it’s hard to tell.

What I don’t love– well, that essay I mentioned is addressing parents dealing with toddlers. Doing that to an adult verges on being flippant and condescending. It could seem like Phryne expects this one largely empty gesture to do all the work of gaining Beatrice’s trust. And– I think Phryne says something like “You’re right, sometimes there are just too many people and too much noise, and this is relaxing”?– acting as if she feels the same way Beatrice does, when she clearly doesn’t, can seem like Phryne is belittling Beatrice’s situation.

The other thing I don’t love is Phryne’s impassioned speech near the end of the episode, about how wonderful Beatrice is and how she deserves to be in medical school. (I wish I remembered it more clearly/actually had the DVD myself, but I don’t, so I’m afraid I can’t go into too much detail.) I don’t like it for two reasons. I don’t like that Phryne is the one who gives it, as opposed to Beatrice speaking for herself or defending herself (and I think this is part of an overarching pattern, like I said way back at the top of this post.) Second, I don’t like that anyone gives a speech like this at all. For me, it’s answering a question that isn’t worthy of an answer. Obviously Beatrice deserves to be there. She got accepted in the first place, after all– despite the various biases the professors might have against her– and she is functioning as a student and passing her classes. Getting accepted, getting passing grades, and not doing anything flagrantly wrong, like cheating– that’s all the standard any of the other students are held to, to keep their positions. You do not need to be beautiful and wonderful and brilliant despite your flaws to get to stay in medical school. You just need to pass your fucking classes.

The fact that Beatrice is weird enough to get labelled as really off somehow, as crazy, despite the fact that she is basically successful at dealing with with her daily life and her classes, should not change that. No one should need to justify why she is there.

—–

Zoom out one step.

When I was liveblogging live taking-notes-on this episode, because I didn’t have internet access, I referred to Phryne as the Designated Idiot Whisperer as a pithy way of putting point number one, because I was also still thinking about her cousin (if I remember correctly?) Arthur from “Murder in the Dark” (s1.12).

Now, the way Phryne treats both of them is like 90% WONDERFUL. What I’d like is some more detail. Rather than Phryne just always being kind and insightful and Right and saying the Right Things and being an example to the other characters– I’d like to know why she feels the way she does about this. We can guess that it’s likely something to do with Arthur– she’s known him since she was little, he’s probably the first person with a mental illness/intellectual disability/etc. that she met. But, (as is important to point out on a regular basis, murders of disabled children being as common as they are) being related to someone who has a disability does not automatically give you sympathetic and positive feelings towards your relative or people like them. So, how did Phryne come to feel the way she does? What makes her so determined to be a friend to everyone who needs an understanding friend, even when she doesn’t have firsthand understanding of their situation?

I want to know because, first of all, it’s interesting! It’s background, it’s character development.

And second of all, because I think the story of someone who’s always right is far less helpful for changing people’s minds than a story about someone who learns how to do the right thing, and has reasons for what they do. Everything I said about the show dealing well with social issues– every time, Phryne is on the “right” side like it’s automatic, like of course she is, it’s obviously the right thing to do.  And from a certain point of view it is obvious and it should be automatic.

But getting to that point of view is not something everyone does.

Unlearning all the stuff that your society, your family, your literal teachers all teach you about which people are worth paying attention to and which problems are real is not easy, it is not automatic. It takes effort. It also takes a certain amount of letting go of Being Right and Always Doing the Right Thing in favor of listening to people who are different from you, and putting what they actually need and want ahead of your desire to be consistent and right.

Phryne is a great example of caring about bigotry and working against it. She’s no example at all of what to do when you accidentally make things worse instead, or when you come across a situation you don’t understand, or when the person you’re trying to help disagrees with you about what you should be doing– all things that, in the real world, will happen sooner or later, no matter how much you care, and no matter how much you try to be aware of what you should do.

 ——

Edit: So I sort of conflated what Phryne says to the murderer near the end of the episode, with what she says to one of the students earlier. Oops.