I don’t know who they want me to be. Anything other than want they want is a disappointment. I’m always the reliable one. It’s suffocating.
It’s hard to keep track. You should know that. We try our best. Just forget sometimes. Yes. I know. Sorry.
Featured in Open Pen, Issue 19
‘Siobhan Denton provides a flash recollecting an occurrence in youth in which “the rumour long outlived the reality.”’
Given the current political and social climate, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale feels particularly prescient, arguably more so than ever. Taking a recognisable western society and transplanting it into a future in which women are merely used for their reproductive and domestic uses, does not feel entirely removed from our own current reality, and it is that familiarity that makes The Handmaid’s Tale so affecting.
Offred (Elizabeth Moss) is a handmaiden, a woman forced to offer her body in hopes of procreation. In this future, the birth rate has rapidly dropped, leaving those women who have previously demonstrated their ability to conceive to act as handmaidens (or be forced to a short life of painful, debilitating manual labour). Using flashbacks, the narrative interweaves multiple timelines:
- Offred’s life now, placed with the commander and Serena Joy, forced to offer her body to the commander as part of the reproductive ‘ceremony’.
- Offred’s life prior to the full installation of the regime, in which she, her husband and daughter attempt to escape to Canada.
- Offred’s life before the regime, in which she is a happy college student.
- Offred’s life in the early days of her indoctrination, in which she is compelled, through systematic threats and violence, to become a handmaiden.
In this patriarchal theocratic society, women have no rights, they have no sense of agency. This system of contributing to population growth is clearly loathed by Serena Joy, who feels threatened by the fertile Offred, yet she cannot question the events. Offred is forced to endure this treatment, determined to survive. She affords herself little opportunity to dwell on her situation, recognising that a propensity to reflection merely makes her life more difficult to withstand.
The adaptation takes the wise decision to avoid too much exposition. Thus, the audience is immediately thrown into narrative action as we witness Offred’s attempts to escape with her family. The scenes in which we are privy to Offred’s desperation and clear devotion to her daughter instantly create empathy. The audience is already on her side before we are introduced to the ways of her life now. This empathy is crucial, as it is Offred’s story that the audience is asked to invest in. Without the creation of a successful connection her plight, and the plight of all the women suffering under the regime, would not engage and in turn encourage analysis.
Much of the narrative thus far is formed through Offred’s compelling voiceover. Her description of the world around her, rather than lessening the action, actually invites audience partipation. Linguistic clues are casually used: the domestic housekeepers are referred to as ‘marthas’, Offred refers to people potentially being an ‘eye’, and she notes that Nick, the commander’s driver, is considered to be too low status to be provided with a woman.
As expected, Elizabeth Moss is sublime: her Offred is both vulnerable and utterly determined. Moss imbues Offred with humanity and intelligence as she struggles to navigate her day to day life without allowing its oppression to overcome her. Alexis Bledel is similarly effective as Ofglen, a fellow handmaiden. The pair’s interactions with one another, as they meet each day to complete the shopping for their respective households, convey the suspicion and guarded manner in which they now live their lives. Equally wary of each other, they converse in the regime’s rhetoric extolling the rehearsed lines as a means of protection.
The muted colour palette creates imagery that is both beautiful and horrifying, encouraging focus. The handmaids’ garb of red and white convey violence and vulnerability, consistently reminding the viewer of both the role of the handmaid and the danger with which they exist.
The first episode largely centres on introducing the viewer to this world, introducing reference points for the viewer to return to. We learn of Offred’s prior life, and her friendship with Moira (a brilliant Samira Wiley) as it was before the regime, and their relationship during their initiation process. Moira has existed within this world for longer than Offred, and helps her to negotiate her way through in order to ensure her survival. While we know little of the full extent of the government’s machinations, the first episode begins to imply its cruelty. This is an intelligent narrative device, allowing each detail – the ‘ceremony’, the hanging of those perceived as traitors to the state due to their sexuality or occupation – to resonate, without isolating. It is this level of detail that helps to create the diegesis of the narrative. This is a world that is both far removed from our own, yet presents as a vision of what could happen if those with such political leanings were afforded power.
The first series of Master of None was certainly enjoyable. Well-written, with an engaging narrative, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s depiction of Dev (Ansari) and his life in New York, was an interesting and progressive concept, focusing on a positive portrayal of a young Muslim in contemporary society. Dealing with a number of prescient issues, including rape culture and the treatment and depiction of race in the media, the series largely felt fresh despite the intermittent reliance on tropes such as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
This month saw the release of the second season. A season which demonstrates Ansari and Yang’s writing potential. The series is far more inventive, and the pair, with the backing of Netflix, have been able to experiment and play around with form and narrative. Thus the season, while containing an overarching narrative focusing on Dev’s relationship with the enigmatic Francesca, is given the freedom to focus on the development of minor characters, or at times entirely abandon its focus on Dev.
In this season Dev, after the breakdown of his relationship with Rachel, visits Italy, living there for several months as an apprentice in a pasta shop. Learning the craft, he also immerses himself in local life, and struggles with the decision to return to New York. Upon his return, he gains employment as the host of a reality TV cookery show entitled Clash of the Cupcakes. Dev’s ease in earning this role, and indeed his entire lack of apparent financial worries, does at times force the viewer to suspend disbelief, especially given the current economic climate.
The depiction of women too, is worthy of interrogation at times. Francesca’s Italian nature feels fetishized at times. Her difficulty in fully understanding English is, on occasion, held up for comedic purposes, or even as a patronising means of endearment. Her intelligence is only depicted through cultural signifiers (she regularly visits museums and art galleries and expresses her enjoyment of them) yet we learn little of her own interests or desires. As Dev battles with his feelings for her, there is very little sense that he is aware of what she wants or needs.
Despite this, there is much to be lauded about the series. Its handling of sexual harassment is timely, and Dev’s interaction with those that have experienced the harassment is positive. There is no question of the validity of the account that he hears, and when it is made public he quickly distances himself from those involved. Arguably he could have confronted the accused, but even this is more realistic and helps to highlight the difficulty for the women involved in that, while listened to, those allied to them may not always act quickly enough to condemn.
All ten episodes, with their varying duration, are worthy of praise, but three episodes in particular, through their form and narrative focus, are to be noted.
The episode centres around a number of dates that Dev procures through the use of a popular dating app. The narrative intercuts from date to date, allowing for direct comparisons between each dating experience. Some of the dates are laughably bad, and the connection between Dev and the date is non-existent, others show a superficial connection which is frequently rapidly undercut once the date continues outside of the restaurant. Importantly, we are shown each of the women deciding to go on the date with Dev, affording them a life outside of the narrative focus. Each woman is allowed the opportunity to make her voice heard, and they feel both real and recognisable. The experience itself, relying on viewer familiarity with the scenario, is acutely drawn.
New York I Love You
Using the form of the film of the same name, New York I Love You is perhaps the most experimental episode of the series. Beginning with Dev, Denise and Arnold embarking on a trip to the cinema to see the latest Nicholas Cage blockbuster ‘Death Castle’, the narrative focus quickly shifts to the various inhabitants of New York. Thus the viewer is shown the relationship between two hearing impaired people, with the entirety of their narrative featuring subtitles (and allowing the episode to play around with sound and music); the life of an immigrant taxi driver who embarks on a night out with his fellow taxi drivers; and a doorman who is poorly treated by those living in the building. Each narrative arc is held together by the aforementioned blockbuster, with almost every character expressing a desire to see the film. Each character arc, while only afforded a section of narrative space, is still given the opportunity to grow and thus engage. The life of the taxi driver in particular is subtle, highlighting the cramped living conditions he is forced to ensure, as well as the ill-treatment he receives due to his ethnicity.
Dev, not celebrating Thanksgiving with his family, spends each year with Denise and her family. The episode highlights the strength and depth of their friendship, as it follows Denise negotiating her sexuality. Struggling to broach the topic with her family, she attends the family celebration each year hoping to find support from her mother. Revisiting the same day on different years can, when handled poorly, quickly feel tired. Here however, the device allows for character development and engagement resulting in a truly affecting episode.
This post was written for, and appears on The 405.
This post was written for, and appears on, Bitch Flicks.
This post was written for, and appears on, Bitch Flicks.
Since going online only BBC3 has clearly strengthened its brand identity. Before, seen as a channel which produced throw away reality programmes aimed at teenagers, it is fast becoming a platform for new and emerging talent. Perhaps it is because of this online move that the channel seems able to offer new writers the opportunity to hone their skill. Following on from last year’s well-received Thirteen, which focused on a female victim of kidnapping and her subsequent re-emergence into society, Clique looks set to continue the welcome trend of female-centric drama.
Billed as a psychological thriller, it focuses on Holly (Synnove Karsen) and Georgina (Aisling Franciosi, two childhood friends who find that university life and a mysterious internship begins to drive a wedge between them.
Written by Jess Brittain, best known for her work on the later series of Skins, Clique focuses on university life, depicting the various entanglements of university with a darker edge. Having only watched the first episode thus far, it seems apparent that Clique isn’t entirely sure what kind of show it wants to be, but it perhaps all the better for it, allowing Brittain to experiment with form and generic conventions. There are certainly strains of Skins apparent, with the improbably glossy-haired, impeccably turned out university students adding to a sense of hyperreality.
Brittain has created a strange dichotomy in Clique focusing on both the reality and recognisable moments of university life. She references the entanglements of Fresher’s week and the time spent in the library, as well as alluding to this hyperbolic lifestyle that the proposed internship affords. Georgina, making friends with the current batch of interns who have been billed as the brightest and the best, admires the hedonistic lifestyle that it enables, and desires to become an intern herself. Holly, choosing to largely observe, notes that the internship seems to be more than simple photocopying and making cups of tea. To her, it is clear that this internship is potentially questionable and in turn dangerous. It’s not yet clear just what this internship entails, and presumably it is this that will form much of the narrative of the remaining five episodes.
Thus far, Clique has shown itself to be well-paced, with a talented cast. Despite or perhaps because of its tendency towards melodrama, the first episode at least, is engaging and relatively immersive.
To the undiscerning, Netflix’s Love may appear, at first glance, to be nothing more than a lazy, clichéd romantic comedy in which the geeky male protagonist improbably forms a relationship with the attractive female protagonist. Starring Gillian Jacobs as Mickey, and Paul Rust as Gus, the series focuses on the pair’s developing relationship, from initial meet-cute, in which Mickey asks Gus to pay for her cigarettes, to their eventual and inevitable hook-up.
Certainly its detractors have pointed out the unlikeliness of the relationship between Gus and Mickey yet to highlight the disparity between the two involves only taking the characters at face value. One dimensionally, Mickey is far more attractive than Gus. She is largely successful in her career, whereas Gus, desperate to write his own screenplay, struggles with his role as an onset tutor (and often does a terrible job). Yet both characters have their unlikeable and difficult qualities which help to both develop and deepen their characterisation.
Mickey is, in part due to her various addictions (love, sex, alcohol, drugs), often selfish and thoughtless. In forming a relationship with her housemate Bertie, she relies on her for emotional support yet, at least initially, offers little in return. Mickey knows that she is often controlled by her addictions, but in turn, recognises that Gus, despite his perceived affable nature, is just as damaged and selfish as her. It is here, in this characterisation of Gus as the supposed nice guy, which helps to elevate Love beyond the standard rom-com and enables it to be both a thoughtful rendering of a burgeoning relationship and an effective depiction of individual damaged characters.
Gus, despite his apparent niceness and largely positive interactions (he has a plethora of quirky friends) is, in actuality, pseudo-nice. What makes his ‘niceness’ all the more damaging is the fact that he believes it in so earnestly. He truly believes that he is a good guy, who deserves to be recognised for his niceness. He doesn’t understand why his first girlfriend found his thoughtfulness and sincerity so suffocating. For Mickey, his congeniality is, at least initially, refreshing when compared to her past relationships, but she quickly realises that Gus’ presentation of himself belies his true nature.
Much of Gus’ life feels set up and constructed, down to his comical interactions with his students, to his ritual of writing movie theme songs with his friends for songs that don’t have theme songs (Carlito’s Way for example). This concentrated construction stops Gus from confronting his true desires, and when approached by an attractive co-worker, he finds that he is unable to resist the opportunity at playing another role. It is this that makes Gus and Mickey so ideal for one another. They bring out the truth and reality in one another, and only then can they begin to accept who they are. This is not to suggest that Mickey and Gus are reliant on one another in the manner of a co-dependent relationship, but rather, that their relationship with each other affords both the opportunity to try out different roles for themselves without the fear of being judged or treated differently.
In fact, despite Gus and Mickey’s attraction to one another, they spend much of the series apart. Indeed in one episode, Gus and Mickey make plans to see one another, but due to work commitments and social interests, the pair fail to see one another, showing that their characters can and do exist independently from one another. Gus and Mickey don’t need one another, they want one another, and this is an important distinction to make. It is this assertion that helps set Love apart. It features two protagonists who are fully realised, and developed in their own right. Each leads interesting and entertaining lives, and while many of these events mirror each other (with both struggling with issues at work for example) they are separate.
Season two of Love is released on the 10th March 2017.