Alias S01E04-05: I said be aloof, not a doof!

In which our heroine has basically no idea what the right thing to do is, ever.

S01E04-05 Recap

When we left our cliffhanger!, Sydney and her archnemesis, Anna Espinosa, were vaguely cooperating, according to Jack’s plan, in the middle of a sporting arena (’cause Jack’s SD-6’s game theory expert, get it? game theory?) so they could get a look inside a box that’s got some secret Rambaldi stuff inside. They open the box to find a piece of paper with binary code written on it and vials filled with a strange green liquid, which immediately starts to leak out and destroy the paper, so they have to memorize the code super quick. There’s much whispering of 1100101100110 and such, then they return to their respective teams to recite the codes. Honestly, you guys, I can’t even remember why they weren’t allowed to bring in a camera or keep their mics on while they were opening the box so they wouldn’t have to risk something like this. I’m sure some explanation was made, though. I’m also sure it was no good. Sydney, understandably thinking she could easily give SD-6 the wrong code and chalk it up to a mistake, informs Vaughn of her plan. He orders her to give SD-6 the correct code.

So, let’s talk about a few things before we go any further. One, Sydney goes into the mission wired to 2 agencies and SD-6 doesn’t notice. On her way out of the stadium, she tells Dixon she’s going radio silent and she’s able to talk to Vaughn without SD-6 noticing. (I mean, they notice later, if I remember correctly, but at the moment Dixon doesn’t even ask her what went wrong that caused her to request radio silence.) Not just talk to Vaughn, though. No. All the secret talking-into-earpieces and whispering-in-corridors stuff on this show is pretty much always done while Sydney runs down a semi-enclosed – that is, echoey as hell – outdoor-ish – that is, likely to have bystanders – place screaming her fucking skull off. “DIXON! I’M GOING RADIO SILENT! *click* VAUGHN! HERE’S A BIG SECRET YOU NEED TO KNOW! WHAT’S THAT? NAH, BRO, SURE I’M PROJECTING MY VOICE STRAIGHT AHEAD AT TOP VOLUME WHILE RUNNING BASICALLY STRAIGHT AT DIXON, BUT NO ONE CAN HEAR ME, I WENT RADIO SILENT! JEESH!” This is stupid.

Two, Vaughn orders Sydney to give SD-6 the correct code because of course Anna will give K-Directorate the correct code and once SD-6 knew that they got the wrong code they would suspect Sydney of being a double agent. (They should already suspect her of being a double agent because the entire division of SD-6 dedicated to tracking its agents’ movements, which Sydney described as a pretty serious threat an episode or so back, should have been tracking her in episode 1, when she tied a big bow around her neck and delivered herself to the CIA, but we’ve been over that and I need to just deal and move on.) Remember 2 episodes ago when Vaughn was super mad at Sydney for turning the nuclear bomb over to SD-6? Remember how Sydney turning the bomb over to the CIA when SD-6 was expecting her to bring it home would have been a way more obvious thing to become suspicious over than a single digit out of place in a string of binary she had exactly 1 chance to memorize? But suddenly Vaughn’s all about giving SD-6 everything because apparently that’s always been the plan. One might start to suspect at this point that the writers just want Sydney-Vaughn conflict and will try to get it even at the expense of things making sense or the characters seeming consistent in any way for any length of time.

But anyway. Francie’s boyfriend, Charlie, is still acting suspiciously. Sydney and Francie follow him and see him with another woman. Sydney experiences nothing but angst over not telling the people in her life that she’s a spy, even though telling them that is a sure-fire way to get them killed, but she has no actual moral qualms over helping Francie spy on her boyfriend because just up and asking him what’s going on would be the wrong way to handle the situation. Our main character, ladies and gentlemen! Meanwhile, Will won’t quit invading Sydney’s privacy over Danny’s death. In fact, he takes his assholishness to a whole new level in this episode, when he abuses his power (as her boss? or just a more senior employee? or for all I know she’s an unpaid intern? I mean, she’s only 20) and invades his assistant’s privacy by trying to pimp her out for information! Seriously. He’s so determined to get information he has no legal right to on a story he’s been told to ignore by his boss and asked repeatedly by one of his best friends to just drop that he forces his assistant to say she’ll go out with a man in exchange for that man giving Will the name of the woman Danny was supposed to fly to Singapore with. Will is that gross, and he’s still just about my favorite character on the show. Because at least he’s consistent in his grossness.

Sydney and Dixon are sent to Morocco for some eavesdropping. They are very excited to learn their dear old friend we’ve never heard of before will be their contact on this mission. Guess who’s not long for this world, folks! Also, guess who isn’t even gonna check his vitals when she finds him with bullet wounds! Yeah.

Francie confronts Charlie and makes it clear she feels that, as long as she’s not cheating on him, she’s earned the right to follow him and try to dig up secrets on him, and he has no right to complain but must simply answer all her questions immediately and in full. Charlie doesn’t like this, so Francie gets all pouty and leaves.

Sydney, who previously tried to replace her dead mom with her now-dead boyfriend, gets stood up by her father and immediately calls Vaughn to come make her feel better. Sydney has serious parent issues, you guys. They are not going to get resolved in the course of this series.

Finally, Sydney and Dixon are sent to Brazil to stop a UN delegate and peace prize winner from being tuned into a bomb by K-Directorate. Cliffhanger!

Because there’s always a cliffhanger. Every. single. episode. ends with a cliffhanger. And I get the need for that. The thing I don’t get is why J J Abrams decided the cliffhangers should work like they do on this show. Every plot takes just about an episode to run its course, so basically each episode starts midway through a plot, which resolves about halfway through the episode. Then a new plot starts and is halfway over when the episode ends. It’s cute once or twice, but ultimately I think it just makes it harder to keep track of what’s happening when. You can think of the show in terms of plots, or in terms of episodes, but not both at the same time.

Sydney and Dixon manage to remove the bomb from the peace prize winner about halfway through the episode.

Vaughn copies Jack’s CIA file and gives it to Sydney. That doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all. Nor does it seem like maybe Vaughn is a little too easily affected by Sydney crying and holding his hand. Sydney finds out that her father was under investigation by the FBI around the time of her mother’s death. She assumes – like you do – this means her father was, and likely still is, a KGB agent. She is so going to turn him in, you guys. And she does NOT want to hear why maybe letting the CIA know you’ve read their secret files you’re not supposed to have access to and/or assuming that the CIA and FBI collectively aren’t good enough to have properly investigated Jack in the first place is not a good idea, OK? In fact, before she even has a chance to let Vaughn try to get more information so she doesn’t go running to Jack’s boss looking all stupid, she decides the best thing to do is confront Jack about it in the SD-6 halls.

Sydney and Dixon are sent to Germany to extract a guy working on a bio-weapon vaccine. He’s been in contact with Sloane, thinking Sloane is CIA, and wants Sloane to get him to the U. S. in exchange for the vaccine. Sydney’s counter-mission from Vaughn is to swap out the real guy with a CIA impostor so the CIA can have the real guy (what he’s been working on isn’t totally legal, it would seem) and their guy can feed SD-6 bad information. Again with Vaughn not being able to decide whether Sydney’s job is to undermine SD-6’s work or to play along and feed them everything so the CIA can monitor it. Seriously, his position changes just about every episode, and this time it actually does put her under suspicion. (Also, when he changes position it is often, interestingly enough, to whatever position is the opposite of Sydney’s. How do men and women ever make it work?!)

Sydney wants to tell Dixon the truth at this point, because how the fuck else is she supposed to switch out a whole entire person without her partner noticing? Vaughn gets all lecture-y about how she can’t make that decision for Dixon, etc., etc., and Sydney has a moment of almost telling Dixon but then backing off. Then they get sent to destroy the plant where the vaccine prototypes are being made (after stealing the prototypes, of course). Sydney’s counter-mission is to hand SD-6 a fake prototype and sabotage Dixon’s bomb so the CIA team on site won’t die and stuff. Well, guess who’s not stupid and brought a backup bomb? And guess who takes more than a few seconds to set up and explain the backup bomb, giving Sydney plenty of time to save the lives of the CIA agents? But, nooooooo, she just sits there and watches, then get all torn up about it once she’s back home. They were in the middle of a forest! There would never have been a safer time or place to tell Dixon the truth! SD-6 wouldn’t overhear, if Dixon was in on the truth he’d just kill her right there and then, if he didn’t want to join the CIA he could have disappeared and Sydney could have made up a cover story, if he did want to join the CIA, well, there were a bunch of CIA agents right the hell there that could have taken him back with them. But then, you know, Sydney wouldn’t have yet still even more further things to feel bad about, so.

I am really looking forward to the day they finally take down SD-6 because I am getting a little sick of how Sydney just can’t get her shit together when it comes to who she does/does not tell the truth to and her generally poor decision making skills.

Yay-Boo Analysis

Yay!

Boo!

Why does Sydney think Vaughn can’t give her orders?

church fight!

Sydney telling Jack his plan was smart. I know – I KNOW! – it’s supposed to be her trying to apologize for thinking she had a better plan in the first place. But with all her “I am in charge of this op, ya’ll” in the rest of the show, it comes across as, “Wow, daddy, you did so. good. on that mission thingy! Awesome job, seriously! Thumbs up!”

Will’s stupid “let’s make out more and then it won’t be weird that we made out” thing backfiring. I’m super pro-Will for reasons that I can’t explain because he doesn’t deserve it – but I also love watching his life go straight downhill, and we are soooooo close to the top of the hill right now that I’m getting really excited just thinking about it.

…that stupid Bozo hair…” – what does Vaughn have against non-natural hair colors, exactly?

I love a good pen-in-the-neck!

Why do the bad guys not follow Sydney when she escapes through the pipe? Do they not know where the pipe goes, or would no one volunteer to follow her down it? Couldn’t they have at least walked around the building once? She’s found by a kid who just sort of stumbles across her the next morning. Those guys would have found her if they had even looked a little bit.

I don’t know why, but the fact that Sydney can steal an ambulance by pretending to faint makes me happy.

I know you’ve been trained…but can you really do this?” Sydney’s total lack of faith that anybody who isn’t her is capable of doing anything is just about her most annoying quality. See also:the thing with Jack above, and “Don’t look so surprised!” when she learns that Vaughn came up with a smart plan.

the amused looks every time Marshall speaks

Vaughn’s flip-flopping

Francie tells Will to stop looking into Danny’s death. The one time Francie is right about anything!

Jack is “useful in difficult situations”

Sydney’s bad decision making at the Badenweiler plant.

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Alias S01E02-03: When girls hang out, we don’t have pillow fights in our underwear.

So, a lot happened in that first episode. Spies! Secrets! Family drama! Dead douchebag doctors! But for the next two, Alias becomes…just a show. The pace slows considerably and the only really interesting stuff is in Sydney’s personal life, while the spy stuff just kind of plays out like any other spy show might. In fact, episodes 2 and 3 are great examples of something we talked about in the comments about the pilot: Sydney’s life and character traits are so fragmented that at times it’s hard to see her as the same character, or even to see Alias as the same show, from scene to scene.

As I said in the comments, I think this is typical of what I call the J. Oss. Whebrams Approach to Writing uh-the Ladies. Strong Female Characters (you know the type) can’t be all 3 things at once, because that’s too hard or against the law or something. So, Sydney is Strong when she’s running up a guy to kick him in the face, she’s Female when she’s crying softly in a bubble bath, and she gets her Character developed whenever the plot stops for a sec to reveal something tragic about her past. It’s extremely annoying and I don’t think the same approach is applied to the men on this show. Jack and Dixon in particular are allowed to do super bad-ass spy stuff and have Serious Feelings about their personal lives but we don’t have to have a totally separate scene of them in their jammies by candlelight for it to happen. Maybe it’s only jarring because Sydney’s the main character and so the show doesn’t really care about letting us see the other characters outside the context of the work environment, or maybe because Sydney’s the only woman in her work environment, but regardless it has the effect of making Sydney seem like the least developed character at times. Even if a character has several facets to their personality, only showing us one at a time still makes them seem flat.

 

S01E02-03 Recap

We start in a flashback, because of course we do. Sydney is describing some shady characters associated with SD-6 to Vaughn. They meet in a mobile blood donation van, which, combined with Sydney’s banker SD-6 cover career, makes me wonder how any of these spies get any spying done, what with people walking into the bank wanting to open accounts or looking for an ATM, or good-hearted college students wanting to donate blood because they’ve been thinking about it for a while now, especially since the donation van is always parked on the campus. I assume Vaughn had to be trained to draw blood. Do they donate it? Does the CIA just have a big biohazard container where Vaughn tosses all the blood he took at the end of his shift? Or does he – and does the bank – just turn people away, put up a closed sign? The practical implications of their cover stories confuse me, is all.

Also their decorating. If SD-6 is in a bank building, why can’t it look like a bank? What’s with the walls and posts that look like exposed, crumbling concrete?

Anyway. Sydney tells Vaughn about all these past bad guys and then those very same bad guys start doing bad guy things in the present, so SD-6 sends her after them.

I’m not even gonna talk about the rubber dress. That thing got enough press when it happened.

We get to experience some more Aliastime when Sydney tracks down someone said to be guarding a nuclear bomb. The address turns out to be a cemetery, so of course she has to dig up the guy’s coffin. She arrives mid-afternoon and by the time she has dug up the grave it is…mid-afternoon. I mean, the sun has not moved at all. Now, I get most of my science from Mythbusters, so I know for a fact that it takes over 2 hours to dig a grave 2 feet deep. Accounting for the height of the coffin, that means Sydney’s been digging for a good 4 hours at least. (Also the coffin would have started caving in a few minutes after the burial, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.) It turns out there’s no body in the coffin, just a nuclear bomb, which immediately starts ticking down, because of course it does. Sydney panics and calls Marshall instead of Vaughn. Later, Vaughn gets super pissed at her, but, really, how was she supposed to not tell SD-6 she’d found the bomb? SD-6 sent her there looking for a nuclear bomb! If she went there, found it, called Vaughn for help defusing it, turned it over to the CIA for safekeeping, then went back to SD-6 all, “Yeah, that guy you wanted me to talk to? He’s…he’s dead, man. Idunno. Win some, lose some, I guess. Better luck next time!” Sloane would have shot her in the face himself right there in front of her dad and everything. But if Vaughn had understood any of this, then we wouldn’t have some more loves-me-not fuel for the Sydney-Vaughn will they/won’t they plot. And we wouldn’t want them to fall in love because they’re not total assholes to each other from the moment they meet but instead treat each other with the respect a coworker deserves and eventually come to respect each other’s intelligence, competence, and downright pleasant facial features, would we? Goodness, no!

So, SD-6 has a nuke, they give it to one of the flashback guys from the beginning, and Sydney has to retrieve it. Cliffhanger! But, no worries, guys, she totally wins.

Episode 3 is all about Rambaldi devices, which don’t seem important right now, but they will be SO IMPORTANT soon! And then they will take over the show for a few seasons! And then the show will be all like WHATEVER DON’T GIVE A FUCK RAMBWHO? OH OK MAYBE WE’LL DO A BIT ON THAT FOR THE LAST 3 MINUTES EVER OF THE SHOW* IF WE’RE OUT OF IDEAS OR SOMETHING!

Sydney needs to get a code from a thing but her archnemesis has the key to Sydney’s box or something, so they have to meet in a football field to open it. Cliffhanger!

 

Meanwhile, Francie has a boyfriend who acts suspiciously and Will is kind of a pushy asshole with no respect for Sydney’s clearly stated boundaries. He’s decided there’s just something he doesn’t like about Danny’s death, so he starts digging, despite Sydney telling him several times (I think there are 3 different scenes about this in just these two episodes?) to back the fuck off. He does find out that Danny was booked on a flight to Singapore the night of his murder. Sydney confronts Jack about it and Jack reveals he had tried to save Danny by getting him out of the country and was going to have Sydney rerouted off her Taipei party mission to join him, but he got there too late. Guess you feel pretty stupid for not giving him a chance to elaborate and instead just slapping him earlier when you asked if he knew they were gonna kill Danny, huh, Sydney?

How much would I have enjoyed the alternate reality show where Jack got there in time to get Danny onto the plane to Singapore? I would watch the hell out of a show about Sydney and Danny running from SD-6 all over the world forever. Don’t get me wrong, I think Danny was disgusting and I’m glad he got murdered, but I really like the thought of him being forced to confront Sydney’s reality and maybe – maybe by season 12 or something – start to see her has something beyond just his future-baby incubator.

Final thoughts: maybe it’s just that he has rather small, dark eyes, but I feel like we never really see Victor Garber’s eyes on this show, that they’re always in shadow. That seems significant somehow, but not necessarily to these episodes. Also, I’ve hit the first noticeably different music cue in the Netflix versions. I’m pretty sure the drunk ice cream make outs should be set to “La Cienega Just Smiled” and whatever they played instead just felt weird. Considering how much this show is about the soundtrack telling you what to think and feel, I expect this continue to be off-putting throughout the whole series.

 

Yay-Boo Analysis

Yay!

Boo!

Sydney flinches and hides her face when Hassan kills his assistant guy. This scene is set 6 mos ago – after she’s been doing this for 6.5 years. She’s never seen anybody get shot up close before?

Sydney thinks Vaughn is too young to be doing what he’s doing but she’s there to tell him how it’s all gonna go down? How old is Vaughn supposed to be? Michael Vartan is 4 years older than Jennifer Garner.

Why is Sydney so stupid? Telling Vaughn she’ll bring down SD-6 in “record time”? Did she miss the part where Jack has been doing what she thinks she can do in 2 months for, like, her entire fucking life at least? I’m also not a huge fan of how her speech just seems to be meant to set her up for Vaughn to put her in her place, either, but still she’s being really stupid.

How often do people slap each other and say, “Don’t you ever speak to me again,” like that in real life, though?

secret spy ring!

secret tool glasses!

Sydney is like an expert with a lock pick but she can’t make a bed properly?

run up a guy and kick him in the face!

no, but seriously this show had great fight scenes

Hey, have you met Balls of Steel?” Weiss remains about the only character with a decent handle on what’s going on throughout almost the entire series. I have a HUGE GRIPE about him at the end, but that can wait.

Sydney’s 20-Minute gravedigging

11 whole seconds left when she defuses the bomb!

Every time Sydney just super hates her father on a whole new level, she almost immediately finds out something that shows her everything she thought was wrong and really everything Jack ever does is for her sake. That gets old.

Brilliant plan, Sydney, showing up at your secret double-agent dad’s SD-6 cover job to talk (out loud and outside) about all this spy shit. Do you not even where he lives or his phone number? Or, I don’t know, you’re a spy, couldn’t you find out? Or at least speak in code?

Why does she have to write “So, what’s my counter-mission?” on every single paper bag? The entire fucking point of the paper bags is to get Vaughn enough info that he can design her counter-mission.Does she think he’s going to forget why he’s reading somebody’s trash?

 

Still kinda heavy on the boos, I see. Maybe I should do a Weighted Yay-Boo Analysis, to better display my level of (lack of) enjoyment for each entry. Because, really, every time Sydney runs up a guy’s chest to kick him in the face is enough to get me to put up with at least two Sarah McLachlan songs telling me what to feel.

 

*Though, of course, this never happened because the end of the show happened about 5 minutes before the closing credits on the season 4 finale for some strange reason that has never been adequately explained. But I bet if there had been a season 5, nothing stupid would have happened and all the Rambaldi stuff would have been the main focus of the show and it would have been wrapped up very neatly and the ending would have been so satisfying that there would be no need for anyone to ever pretend like it just plain didn’t happen. Or something.

Alias S01E01: I’m happy for him. She could do better.

Let’s talk about Alias. Because was there ever a more awesomeawful show? I mean, really. If you’ve ever wanted to see a woman (one woman, just one!) who can be a super total bad-ass spy who travels around the world kicking ass and taking shit from no one just like the guy spies do, but who then comes home, fights with her roommate over how they never have girl time anymore, then eats ice cream all night and drunk-makes out with her guy friend while crying about her mom just like women do all the time, amIrightfellas, well, this is totally the show for you.

S01E01 Recap

Felicity Sydney Bristow is a grad student (studying what? who cares!) and also a super secret spy chick. But, wait, when the episode starts we don’t actually know that yet, because J J Abrams is not really so much into the linear storytelling thing.

When the episode starts, Felicity Sydney Bristow has bright red hair and is being tortured. Lucky for us, her torturers like to give her a break every now and again so she can flash back to important expositional moments in her recent life.

In flashback, we learn that Felicity Sydney Bristow is a grad student and her doctor boyfriend, Danny, proposes and then she believes that her entire life will be so wonderful. Oh, if only her dead mom were around (is that foreshadowing I hear?) to be proud of her! But instead she just has her grumpy dad who only cares about his boring job (no, seriously, foreshadowing, shut up, I am trying to watch the show). She hides her engagement ring when she goes to her bank job the next day because – surprise! – her bank job is just a cover for her super secret spy job where apparently fraternization without the boss’s OK is not allowed even though her partner, Dixon (fuck yeah Carl Lumbly!), has been married for 12 years, but whatever.

This super secret CIA branch has a nerdy, awkward tech guy who talks too fast and gets so lost in the minutiae of his work that he forgets there are even other people in the room. I’ve never seen a character like this before, how delightful! (No, but, seriously, Kevin Weisman was really good in the role. I would hate Marshall if it weren’t for Kevin Weisman.) He loads Sydney and Dixon up with gender-appropriate gadgets like lighters and lipstick, which have cameras and lasers and whateverthefuck else a spy needs hidden inside.

Sydney can’t take the pressure of lying to Danny anymore so she tells him she works for the CIA. She also tells him she has a trip to San Diego but that’s a lie because she’s actually going to Taipei and, I mean, how long is she supposed to be in San Diego when she says something like that? What even is her cover job at the fake bank that would require her to travel so often for so long? She would spend about 26 hours just on the flight to Taipei and back, let alone time for the mission, and how jet lagged would she be when she got back, so why does she think San Diego is a good cover for that? And how exactly does time work in the Aliasverse, anyway, because – OF COURSE – Danny pretty much immediately blows the whole thing and gets himself killed by Sydney’s boss while she’s on her mission and it sort of looks like it all happens in one day? She says she’s going to San Diego in the afternoon, Danny calls her and leaves a drunken, rambly “hey baby it’s OK you’re a spy and whatevs cuz I still loooooooovvvvve yooooouuuuu I mean as long as you quit someday and start pumping out my spawn Deeebbbbiiiiieeee I punched a window in for ya baby” message while she’s at her Taipei party mission and it’s nighttime for both of them, the agency springs into action immediately, then she gets home and he’s dead in the tub and it’s nighttime (again? still?). Has it been a week, or 6-8 hours? Do time zones exist here? Whatever. I don’t care.

She tries to quit because, (picture it in a Clint Eastwood voice), “You killed the man I love.” “No, agent Bristow,” says her evil boss, “you did.” (ooooooooh, shit, Syd) Then her evil boss tries to kill her so she has to go on a dangerous secret mission to regain his trust. She gets caught and tortured and finally we have caught up to the opening scene and if you’re feeling a little, “Well, that was weird. I’m glad we won’t be seeing that again!” then, yeah, maybe you should just get out while you can.

Oh, wait, sorry, and also she finds out her dad is a super secret spy working for the same agency but they’ve never run into each other in the halls because he’s, like, the only spy in the organization that doesn’t fake work at the fake bank. And, um, she doesn’t actually work for the CIA, she just works for a bunch of evil criminal masterminds who are very very good at making people think they work for the CIA. And, so does her dad, except he’s sort of also one of the criminal masterminds.

So, anyway, she turns herself in to the really real CIA so she can be a double agent. And, amazingly, no one from her recently-so-suspicious-of-her-loyalties-that-they-killed-her-fiancé-and-tried-to-kill-her agency follows her fire-engine-red-haired, bruised-and-swollen-face-from-where-they-pulled-out-her-teeth, and basically-super-fucking-obvious-is-what-I-am-saying ass down the street in broad daylight as she walks right in the front goddamn door of the CIA to turn herself in.

And then, of course, it turns out her dad is a double agent too but also she hates him FOREVER because he knew they were going to kill Danny. Also she has midterms, because she’s Felicity.

So do I hate it or love it?

I’ve watched the whole series* through probably at least a dozen times, no joke, but not in years. I started over the other night and I’m feeling a strong urge to catalog my thoughts as I go. Because it’s so awesomeawful, I have a hard time sometimes knowing exactly how I feel about it – and you guys just don’t even know how badly I need to know exactly how I feel about everything so there can be no mistakes – so I’m taking a slightly scientific approach this time around with the use of something I like to call a Yay-Boo Analysis.

 

Yay!

Boo!

No subtitles in the opening scene. Thanks for trusting us enough to figure out what’s going on instead of literally spelling it out for us!
Public proposals are disgusting.
Danny gets the lyrics to “Build Me Up Buttercup” wrong, which is a tragedy because that is the greatest song ever written.
Sydney has terrible taste in music.

 

tumblr_md7ox4dthP1qa3emao10_r1_250

  Danny asks Jack for permission to marry Sydney.
Jack has the only sensible reaction to Danny’s bullshit permission thing.  
Fuck yeah Carl Lumbly!  
  the weird making-out-with-her-belly because “someday there’s gonna be a baby in there” thing
  Danny’s her substitute mother and a way better substitute mother than the CIA which was her first substitute mother and ohmygod I think I need to throw up.
  What is with Danny’s need to butt in on Sydney’s answering machine message so everybody knows she has a boyfriend? And then he corrects her for not being polite enough? What is this shit?
  Also how fucking stupid is Danny? What’s so hard to understand about “covert branch of the CIA you can’t tell anybody”? Why would anyone leave this guy in charge of their children’s health? He’s so fucking stupid!
I really, truly, unashamedly love that when Sydney finds Danny’s body she does the opposite of the “fall to your knees and scream NOOOOOOO” which we’re all quite sick of, I’m sure. The slow, controlled sinking to the floor while she can’t even make a sound for a really long time seems way more real to me.  
  No Man’s Woman” playing while Sydney runs away with the loot for SD-6. Sydney’s entire deal is that she wanted to marry Danny but Danny got his stupid ass killed. She wants basically nothing more at this moment than to be some man’s woman. What the fuck, soundtrack, seriously.

 

So, that’s 4 Yays and 9 Boos. Not looking good so far, though I suspect the longer we go with Danny dead the more things might even out. Maybe not, though. Sydney makes terrible life decisions.

 

 

*The whole series being seasons 1-4 because as far as this blog is concerned, there never was a season 5, you got that? There will be no mention of season 5. We draw a veil over season 5. When anyone mentions season 5, we do the Chandler finger snap and move on with our lives, OK?

We Are Doing THAT Again: Further Thoughts on Mamma Mia!

This is part 2 in a potentially infinite but really probably only 3-part series in which I aim to break the film adaptation of Mamma Mia! down into its component parts (component parts of AWESOMENESS, let it be known) and examine each one at length. Part 1 is here.

To recap: I love Mamma Mia! because friendly people, good parents, and men willing not only to rearrange their lives to accommodate the needs of the women they love but to do it with joyous hearts and without complaint.

But, oh, there is so much more to love! There’s the casting. I mean, how do you watch Julie Walters and not think about both Educating Rita and Billy Elliot and then just have all these ideas about self-determination and being who you want to be and not fitting into the role that society sets for you swirling around in your head informing your interpretation of whatever else you’re watching her in? No, seriously, tell me how, because I don’t think you can, and I think it’s so important to think about exactly those things while you watch this movie. There’s the fact that this movie is only saved from failing the reverse Bechdel Test by one brief exchange between Harry and Bill about Bill’s job as a travel writer. Oh! And there’s the whole part where there are women in their 50’s who can do splits and put their legs behind their heads and, I mean, come on, when was the last time you saw that in a movie? Then, of course, there are the songs (The songs, Jim! The songs! Ah, they’d blister your face.).

I mean, how much do I love the “Super Trouper” scene, for example, where Donna and the Dynamos reunite to perform during Sophie’s bachelorette party. For one thing, I just like what the song’s about. It’s a very low-stress love song, not a “need you forever or I will literally die” kind of deal. With lyrics like, “I was sick and tired of everything/When I called you last night from Glasgow…So I’ll be there when you arrive/The sight of you will prove to me I’m still alive,” it works as a song Donna could have sung about a man 20 years ago but can also sing about her daughter now. In contrast to the “Honey Honey” scene, in which Sophie enthusiastically sings lines like “I feel like I wanna sing when you do your…THING!” while reading from her mom’s old diary, this scene provides a welcome lack of squick. (I do have a theory that mitigates the squick factor, though. We’ll get into it in more detail in the next post, but basically any time I feel like something doesn’t quite make sense with a song in this movie, I just assume it’s an old Dynamos song and the characters are constrained by the original lyrics. Sophie doesn’t really want to be so excited to sing a line like “And, honey, to say the least, you’re a dog-gone beast!” about her potential father, but she has to because the song says. I really need for this to be true. Moving on.)

I also like what the scene is about, and this goes back to my feelings on how the movie handles intergenerational friendships and parents earning respect as well. Sophie and her friends get super excited when they realize the Dynamos are about to perform. Sophie is really moved by this performance and it’s a very sweet moment between mother and daughter. With Meryl Streep as Donna it’s hard not to contrast this scene with the “You Don’t Know Me”/“I’m Still Here” scene from Postcards From the Edge. But this is so not a movie where a mother would push her daughter into providing the perfect opportunity for her mother to upstage her.

Then there’s the “Does Your Mother Know” scene. There’s a rather young man – IMDb tells me his name is Pepper but that’s never actually said in the movie as far as I can tell – who’s very interested in Tanya and for the most part she is having none of it. I’m a bit of a sucker for things that twist stereotypical gender roles in a way that doesn’t reinforce the stereotypes (and all the better if it manages to comment on them a bit). So, just the fact that this movie has a younger man-older woman pairing at all, and especially the fact that it does not contain the reverse, makes me happy. The original song is from the point of view of a man singing to a much younger woman. It comes off as very condescending and I’m-here-to-police-your-sexuality-because-obviously-you-don’t-know-your-own-body-and-also-I-want-to-make-sure-your-parents-are-properly-policing-it-too. The original song is kind of gross, is what I’m saying. And in general I would say any older person telling a much younger person “I can see what you want/But you seem pretty young to be searching for that kind of fun” is inappropriate regardless of the gender mix or relationship between the two people. Not being interested in dating far outside one’s own age group is fine, but there’s no need to be a jerk about it when the opportunity presents itself. Somehow this movie manages to make it so that what would be condescending and inappropriate coming from a man sounds powerful coming from a woman. There are so many ways that could be problematic, assuming that controlling male behavior is the standard and therefore it’s OK when a woman imitates it and elevates herself to the level of a man, but for me that’s offset by the focus throughout the whole movie on how Tanya just isn’t interested. She’s not trying to control Pepper’s behavior, she just kind of wants him to leave her alone and maybe she has to be a little blunt to get that done

The movie walks a similarly fine line with Harry. For Harry, Donna represents the one time in his life he was spontaneous. She represents a sort of wildness that he’s never felt at any other time and clearly wishes he could recapture. He’s also openly gay and describes Donna as the first and last girl he ever loved. I think there could be a way to write a gay man looking back on the one relationship he ever had with a woman and having regrets about not living more of his life the way he lived it with her that could have some really unpleasant implications, but the script avoids that by having there be no real conflict over Harry’s sexuality (though there is an unnecessary reaction shot to a worried old man after Harry tells Donna he’s gay at the wedding). I think it frees up the movie to make his wistful longing over his Donna days be just about his boring current life vs. some excitement from his youth and I love that. He’s not regretting his chance to be straight, he’s regretting his chance to be excited by life. Honestly, I think this says more about how other movies have conditioned me to expect any depiction of homosexuality to be a BIGFUCK DEAL WE HAVE TO STOP THE MOVIE RIGHT NOW AND TALK/MAKE JOKES ABOUT than about Mamma Mia! itself. Other movies let me down all the time, you guys, and I don’t even notice until I’m surprised that a movie doesn’t.

You know what other song I love? “The Winner Takes it All,” because goddamn, Meryl Streep, be a little more amazing, please. Seriously. When she gets to, “Tell me does she kiss/Like I used to kiss you?/Does it feel the same/When she calls your name?” I just. fucking. die. It’s right up there with that scene in Before Sunset when Julie Delpy reaches out and almostohmygodsoclosebutthenshedoesn’t touches Ethan Hawke’s face.

And you know what else is great about that scene? It’s this amazing scene of Donna just letting out everything she’s felt for the last 20 years and through the whole thing Sam just has to stand there and listen to it. He doesn’t say a word, or even try, until the very end. He’s pretty much just a prop in Donna’s scene. I know I keep saying it but I cannot get enough of how this movie lets the women be out in front running things and the men are just there to serve a purpose when the plot demands.

Last on the list of scenes I love, we have “Dancing Queen.” Because let’s talk about this for a minute: the movie never judges Donna for having slept with 3 men right around the same time. Sophie never judges Donna, Donna’s friends never judge Donna, the 3 men themselves never judge Donna. Donna’s the only one who judges Donna. She’s always a little embarrassed about this part of her past and after she discovers the 3PDs in her hotel and just can’t cope with this situation, she laments to her friends that she “was a stupid, reckless little slut.” But Rosie and Tanya just will not let that sort of statement stand. First they admonish her for being so judgmental of herself (“Don’t you sound like your mother!” “It’s Catholic guilt!”) and then – and this is the part I really love, you guys, because I kind of wish something like this would happen in real life every time somebody was too down on themselves for something that really isn’t that big a deal – they sing “Dancing Queen” at her until she can’t stand it anymore and joins in. And then, just in case we didn’t get the point that women are free to be whatever they want to be in this movie, all 3 of them dance through the streets of town singing “Dancing Queen” until all the women in town can’t stand it anymore and they throw off their domestic tasks and join in and then all the women in town dance through the streets singing “Dancing Queen” while the men stand off to the side and watch and I just really love that idea is all.

Well. That almost covers every single little thing I love about this movie. Probably all the things I will write about here, though, because otherwise I would just be saying things like, “Oh, and I really like how she delivers that one line there,” or, “I don’t know, I just kind of think that moment is awesome,” and, really, we don’t have time for that sort of nonsense. There’s still one more Mamma Mia! post to come, however, because we really do need to talk about all the things that just don’t make sense about this movie. Or, well, I need to talk about those things. You might not care about those things, I don’t know, but I will be back soon to at least try to convince you that you should care. Because if we can’t make up stories to convince ourselves that our favorite things really are perfect and the writers didn’t make a mistake and really the continuity is totally there if you just look for it, then where would we be? Not in any kind of world I want to live in, I tell you.