The “token straight” character and queer fiction

Content Warning: Contains spoilers for “Bojack Horseman”, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, “She-Ra: Princesses of Power”, and “Night in the Woods”.

With The Last of Us 2 finally out and a large portion of the gaming community fighting about whether representation matters—again–it’s probably worth talking about Jackie from Night in the Woods. Remember Jackie? Probably not. Even those who’ve played the game might have completely missed this character. And those who played the game when it first came out and haven’t touched it since have likely completely forgotten about this character. For those who are totally blanking on Jackie, she’s a friend of Bea. The two of them are seen talking during the infamous party and she clearly has a problem with Mae. During the final Bea hangout, Mae and Bea attend Jackie’s party and Jackie makes it very clear that she dislikes Mae. Other than those brief interactions, we don’t really learn a lot about Jackie. However, one thing that is barely even mentioned in the game is the fact that Jackie is trans. And by “barely even mentioned”, I mean it’s literally never directly stated. There was originally going to be a line addressing it, but it got cut. It gets alluded to pretty directly in a line from Bea that was added in the Weird Autumn update as a kind of side note. But like a lot of the stuff in this game, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type line that requires you to get a particular scene, so I’m sure a lot of players just missed it. As far as trans rep goes, it’s the most subtle and Jackie is very much a side character who primarily exists outside of the main story. Most of the characters exist outside of the main story, so it’s not like Jackie was intentionally shuffled to the side. However, that does bring up a very interesting and completely unique part of Night in the Woods that a lot of people don’t seem to realize: this game was absolutely packed with queer representation. And Beatrice Santello is the only straight cisgender person in her group of friends.

Angus is gay, Gregg is gay, and Mae seems to be pansexual based on what she says in the graveyard scene. So where does Bea fall? Given that she only demonstrates attraction to the opposite gender—this is also brought up in the graveyard scene—it’s pretty safe to assume that she is intended to be straight. Which makes Bea the only straight person among the four of them. Why is this in any way worth talking about? Well, this isn’t something you often see in fiction. In fact, it’s never seen in fiction that doesn’t feature being queer as its central storyline—i.e. Kit from The L Word—and that makes sense. The “token gay character” has become such a staple of fiction that people don’t even really notice it anymore. Rosa and Captain Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, David from Schitt’s Creek, etc. There’s usually only allowed to be one queer character (or sometimes two like in the case of B99) per main cast. There can be a countless number of queer secondary or minor characters, although there’s usually only one or two. And in some rare cases—such as The Good Place—the main character themselves is queer and it’s not a focal point of the series. Yes, I’m talking about Eleanor Shellstrop. Even Bojack Horseman does this, with Todd being asexual and there being a minor reoccurring character who is a lesbian and a dead but often mentioned character who is a gay man.She-Ra: Princesses of Power and Steven Universe are notable exceptions to this rule, with a cast of mostly queer characters and very few “token” straight characters by comparison. Although She-Ra doesn’t exactly break the rule, as it is technically an overtly queer story that focuses heavily on Catra and Adora’s love story. Steven Universe does have three queer main characters and one non-queer main character, but the show also deals heavily with queerness as a topic in several ways and is widely considered a very queer-focused show.Night in the Woods is so far the only piece of fiction that does the absolute reverse of the “token gay” rule in a story that is not about being gay.

Are “token gay” characters a problem? Intrinsically, no. Brooklyn Nine-Nine handles Rosa’s bisexuality with incredible care, giving her an entire coming out arc that involves getting up the courage to tell her parents. Captain Holt’s sexuality is just another aspect of his character, but it’s never ignored or brushed under the rug. David from Schitt’s Creek openly talks about being pansexual and he ends up getting married at the end of the series. In fact, the term “token gay” doesn’t even really apply to these instances. Because “token gay” characters are a lot less common these days. “Token” implies that these characters are just there for woke points. But that would undermine the fact that these characters are multifaceted and very well-written.

Queer relationships in fiction need a little work

Spoilers for She-Ra: Princesses of Power and Life is Strange.

Content Warning: Discussion of homophobia

With the fifth and final season of She-Ra: Princesses of Power in the rear-view mirror and several gay little hearts full to bursting, I think it’s time to ask that age-old question: why the hell is virtually every queer relationship in animated fiction two girls? No, seriously, why? It became even more noticeable after the She-Ra finale, what with all the completely canon queer and straight relationships and only one blink-and-you-might-miss-it instance of a queer male relationship being confirmed. Of course there’s Bow’s dads, but a pre-established gay male relationship is pretty commonplace. When was the last time we saw one in animated fiction that was allowed to thrive, grow, and eventually come to fruition in the final season without fan inference? The answer is hardly ever. Steven Universe, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and She-Ra: Princesses of Power all dipped into the queer pot, but none of them came up with anything more substantial than a few lines of dialogue for a gay male relationship that wasn’t already perfectly up and running before the series started.

It’s a combination of things, the biggest one being how lesbian relationships rank on the acceptability scale. Hint: they are ranked a lot higher than any potential gay male romance in animated fiction (or any fiction really, but especially animated fiction). If we see a gay male relationship in fiction, it’s usually pre-established—two gay dads or something like that—and just needs to be there. That doesn’t mean the characters can’t have depth and interesting story lines, but we basically never see a gay male relationship in fiction that starts off the same way Catra and She-Ra did in Princesses of Power. Lesbians are—on average—a lot more “acceptable” than gay male relationships. Unfortunately, this is partly because of how lesbian relationships are viewed by a decent portion of society. They are viewed as “invalid” or “innocent”. So it seems more acceptable to portray these kinds of relationships in fiction, especially fiction aimed at families. But on the other hand, this misconception of lesbian relationships is actually a good reason why fiction needs these kinds of portrayals. We need to see these relationships develop, falter, and change so they become more valid and less sexualized by mainstream audiences. While people definitely still sexualize the absolute hell out of gay men—most mainstream yaoi does this—lesbian relationships often get the double whammy of being needlessly sexualized—mostly by straight men—and not taken seriously. A nuanced and non-sexualized portrayal of a lesbian relationship that does not lean on tropes helps combat these misconceptions.

There’s also the fact that most of these shows are being made by women—or in the case of Rebecca Sugar, a non-binary woman—and that effects the kinds of queer relationships we’re going to see. Creators put a lot of themselves into their work. Rebecca Sugar has stated in interviews that the show is very personal to her because the Gems are non-binary women—the Gems have no real gender or sex, but they refer to themselves by she/her pronouns and present themselves in a feminine way—and she relates to all of them. While Steven very easily could have been gay, that would have defeated the whole purpose of his character. Steven is meant to be an example of how a boy can embrace his femininity and how doing that doesn’t make him gay. But even in shows created by men—like Adventure Time—there are barely any gay male couples to be seen. So this excuse only holds up for a few examples.

But this problem is only unique to animated fiction. Video games actually have the opposite bias when it comes to queerness. Everyone talks about Chloe and Max in Life is Strange. But Chloe and Max are kind of outliers in the video game world when it comes to queer relationships. There’s a pretty decent balance sometimes, but very often the curve slants more in favor of gay male relationships. Angus and Gregg from Night in the Woods, the entire Dream Daddy dating sim, etc. This could possibly be reflective of the fact that the gaming community is still mostly male and therefore of course gay male relationships are going to be more common. Whatever the reason, the video game industry fills the gap. It’s not too difficult to find a game with a canon gay male relationship, regardless of your genre preferences. But even then, there is another massive difference between the queer relationship in Night in the Woods and the one in the Life is Strange. The games—put side by side—fall into the same familiar queer trope. Angus and Gregg are already fully established as a couple before the game starts. Life is Strange follows Max and Chloe’s adventures and the natural development of their relationship, culminating in either a passionate friendship or a romantic relationship based on the player’s decisions. They are fundamentally different games, but it’s worth looking at them as examples of how queer relationships are often handled in fiction.

Rambling about bad horror and good horror

Major spoilers for Doki Doki Literature Club ahead

Very few games, movies, etc. manage to squeeze themselves into the I didn’t see that coming genre without breaking a few bones. It’s just the nature of horror. As an audience, we’ve all seen it before. The only truly great twist can be something so out of left field that it literally destroys the plot from the inside out. And what is even the point of amazing twist endings? Most good twists get spoiled by online reviews—which some people watch before they actually see the movie for some reason—and there’s really nothing new or cool about squeezing a twist into something. In fact, a lot of the time it just ruins the whole thing. And the twist is hardly ever what would actually make the story stand out. Until Dawn attempts a cliché teen movie twist, but it kind of falls apart because it’s just so fucking predictable. Wow, the guy we’ve literally never gotten the chance to play as is the killer? The guy directly related to one of the girls who died? The one who arranged this entire thing? Who would have thought???!!! The answer is everyone. Very few people were caught off guard by that twist. The game actually has a somewhat better twist with the fact that the entire storyline is an amalgamation of supernatural and non-supernatural horror tropes. Now that is a good twist. But the game gets a pass because it’s literally one huge cliché on top of smaller cliches. It’s not supposed to be taken one hundred percent seriously. Why else would it be almost entirely comprised of teen horror movie tropes? It’s not a bad game, but it’s definitely not the best example of a “good twist”.

Doki Doki Literature Club understands horror in a way most games and movies don’t. It understands build-up, it understands misdirection, and it understands how to structure a story in such a way that barely anyone sees the twist coming. Because the twist is actually three different twists nestled inside each other. How many people were spoiled on this game being a horror game? Probably most of them, including me. Most of us went into this game knowing it was going to be scary. But very few of us knew the exact way it was going to scare us. There are two or three hours of build-up before the huge reveal. And when the reveal happens, it’s instantly actually a misdirect. When the game starts to really break down, the warnings at the beginning suddenly make perfect sense. Most players assume that the big twist is (massive spoiler) Sayori’s depression. It makes sense. We—the players—were likely spoiled that the game was darker than it looked. So when the seemingly true nature of the game is revealed, it makes perfect sense. But then we get to Sayori’s death scene and the whole thing falls apart. This is a game about mental illness, but it’s also a meta fourth-wall-shattering game in which the actual game files are being manipulated by what we’re led to believe is an “outside” source. Sayori’s death feels like it’s the twist, yet it’s only one twist nestled inside of a larger one. And it takes two or three hours of build-up to get to this point. The structure is almost perfect. The game masquerades as a normal dating sim, nose-dives into something dark, and finally reveals itself to be a meta horror game controlled primarily by J̩̃U͗̑ST̩̠̤̲͙ ͓̞̎̏̆ͅM̠̗̊ͫO͕͔̠̹̳͒ͤ̐̍͛N̤̱̙I̳̙͈̟̘͇͊̊̊͆̓͋ͮͅK͚̝̟̖̖ͭ͂̈͐͛Aͨ́. Hardly anyone saw that twist coming. And that’s how a good twist should be: it needs to catch us off guard. Otherwise what’s the point? If we see it coming a mile away, it’s not a twist.

The Invitation does this slightly less well, but it’s still an amazing movie. Throughout the entire movie, the constricted and oppressive atmosphere leads us—the viewer—to think something is very wrong. But it’s not the “Get out of there you stupid dumbasses” brand of wrong that most horror movies try. It’s more of a “there is clearly something going on, but all signs point to the opposite and that contradiction makes the build-up even more tense” kind of wrong. What makes this twist so effective is that it doesn’t feel like a twist until it suddenly is one. We keep expecting some nefarious plot to be revealed, but every lead runs the main character straight into a brick wall. It starts to seem like the main character really is having a mental break of some kind and he might end up being the one who snaps. With nothing really happening up until the end, it makes the twist more jarring. And somehow the movie manages to squeeze in another twist right before the credits roll. Awesome movie. Highly recommended. Not the kind of movie you can watch more than once.

Most horror movies and games are shitty because they’re trying to do things that they really shouldn’t be trying to do. And it’s not just terrible predictable twists. The new Blair Witch horror game—the one with the dog—could have been so good if it wasn’t a Blair Witch game. The witch adds barely anything to the storyline. She’s just an explanation for the horrifying events that take place in the woods. It’s not a shitty horror game, but it probably would have been better if it had either been a game about the Blair Witch tormenting a guy or a game about a man suffering from PTSD. Squashing those two together sort of took away from the game’s overall story. It was like there were two distinct games with their own plots running in tandem with each other, one character-driven and the other driven by the name of a well-known horror creature.

Speaking of horror games, how many horror games have tried to use mental illness as a “plot point”? Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with having a game based around or dealing with mental illness. Neverending Nightmares is one of the best horror games out there. I’m talking about games where the “twist” is that the character was mentally ill all along. Games that use “the character is mentally ill” as a justification for anything and everything, especially if it’s a thin justification for the character committing murder. It’s a very cheap and unimaginative way to justify a character’s actions or surreal imagery, especially if the exact nature of the mental illness is kept vague on purpose because the writers didn’t bother doing any research on the topic. Night in the Woods has a more nuanced and balanced approach to mental illness. But of course Night in the Woods isn’t technically a horror game.

Okay, so why are horror games so crappy a lot of the time? Why is the horror genre in particular so susceptible to this bad writing? Honestly, if I had to guess, it’s most likely because the horror genre is very over-hyped and over-saturated. Creating a horror game is so ridiculously easy nowadays. Creating a good horror game is a unique challenge that many developers just aren’t up for. Why bother creating an actual good game if you can just download one of those pre-made environments, slap in some jump scares, and give an intentionally vague back story? Of course indie game development is—mostly–one of the best creations of the modern era and most of the good indie games are fantastic. But it’s a double-edged sword. For every amazing thought-provoking indie game that comes out, dozens of terrible games are created and released. Games trying to mimic the success of Five Nights at Freddy’s without understanding what made any of those iconic games good in the first place. It’s unfortunate, but it’s just how the horror genre is. Everyone remembers when horror movies became repetitive and every franchise started getting a thousand sequels and remakes. Horror lends itself to tropes more than any other genre. It’s all about what the audience finds scary. Whether it gets implemented in a unique way doesn’t always matter.

Steven Universe and the hero’s journey

Spoilers for Steven Universe Future, Steven Universe, and How to Train Your Dragon.

The Hero’s Journey is the most important—and most used—trope in fiction. It’s basically a catch-all term for the trials, tribulations, and challenges faced by the protagonist. It’s usually a very simple story told in three distinct acts over the course of a movie, show, or book series: The hero learns they’re special, they train under a wise master and/or masters, and eventually they defeat the story’s designated Big Bad. Roll credits. That’s how its been done since basically the beginning of fiction. But sometimes writers like to shake it up. Sometimes writers like to completely break apart the whole concept of the Hero’s Journey and examine every piece under a modern lens. And one of those sometimes was the show Steven Universe and—more relevant—the follow-up mini-series Steven Universe Future. Have you ever wanted to see the complete destruction of the Hero’s Journey? Well, here it is! Sucrose delivers.

The show actually sticks to the regular formula rather well in the first Act. Steven realizes he has a magical destiny—Connie even says it out loud just in case we’ve all missed it—and he trains under three masters—Garnet, Amethyst, and Peaaarl—before coming up against the Big Bad. But the show has multiple Big Bads, all leading Steven to the Biggest and Baddest. And how does Steven defeat the Ultimate Bad? By (huge spoiler) being himself and delivering the sickest burn in animated history. That’s one huge thing that separates Steven from most male protagonists. When it’s time for Steven to face his demons—both real and metaphorical—he uses his words, not his fists. In fact, Steven can’t use his fists because his Gem weapon is a shield. And there we have the entire crux of Steven’s character. In the typical Hero’s Journey, it’s all about getting stronger and thrashing the Big Bad. It’s all about physical strength and leveling up in combat. But Steven’s story is all about him leveling up in emotion. His powers are literally controlled by how he feels and expressing his emotions makes him better-equipped to face any threats that show up on his radar. And when Steven is faced with a villain he can’t talk with, someone who won’t listen to reason? Steven defeats them just by being Steven. He doesn’t compromise his morals and character development, even after being backed into a corner. Well, not yet. That comes later. The point is that Steven basically defeats White Diamond by wielding the strong sense of self-identity he’s built up over the seasons. This isn’t something we normally see in a Hero’s Journey. In fact, a Hero’s Journey usually comes with a distinct loss of identity. If the character starts out weak and unable to fight, they’re mocked by both the narrative and the people around them until they get stronger. They’re trained to be stoic, to repress how they really feel, to use the full extent of their power. Emotional growth tends to get a focus, but it’s never in the spotlight. If anything, it’s secondary. Just look at Harry Potter, the most famous example of this trope: Harry discovers he has a magical destiny and spends basically all of the books training to fight the Big Bad. The closest the series ever comes to making emotional growth an important part of Harry’s journey is in Book Five, when Harry is forced to learn Occulumency to prevent his mind from being compromised. Keep in mind that Harry is taught this by Snape, an emotionally abusive asshole who is using the skill mainly to help in his spying. And rather than focusing on emotional maturity, it’s all about Harry emptying his mind and using forceful methods to keep Snape out. So it doesn’t really count.

By the end of Future, Steven is suffering from some pretty bad PTSD and in desperate need of help after all the shit he’s gone through. This complete vulnerability is pretty much unknown in a Hero’s Journey, since the Hero’s Journey is usually supposed to involve some kind of emotional repression that somehow doesn’t totally fuck up the protagonist. We rarely get to see the results of all the trauma. At the end of the Harry Potter series, we see Harry and his new family. Is there any hint of trauma or PTSD or anything? Nope. Harry is perfectly happy because his scar hasn’t hurt in a long time. His journey is over, the Big Bad is dead, and he has a family. Everything is fine, even though Harry should be emotionally scarred and seeing a therapist at least twice a week after all the insane stuff he went through as a child. But in the short epilogue, Harry is showing no adverse effects to being betrayed, having a magical destiny basically forced on him from a very young age, living and fighting through a war, facing the most evil wizard in existence on a 1v1 battlefield, being targeted by the Ministry of Magic, having several of his friends die or almost die in front of him, getting slightly soul-sucked by Dementors, having his mind invaded several times, being possessed very briefly, almost torturing someone, living with his abusive relatives…and the list goes on. Laying it all out like that, it sure does sound like Harry’s “happy ending” really shouldn’t have been happy. Or at the very least, we should have seen a bit of his recovery and how he got to this point in his life. Was it therapy? Was it magical drugs? Probably the latter. And not seeing any of Harry’s trauma kind of undermines the whole narrative because it seems to suggest that Harry somehow wasn’t effected by everything that happened to him. And that’s impossible, because even a grown adult would have been seriously messed up by going through all of that in just seven short years. Harry was eleven when he first almost died and younger than that when he was being abused by the Dursleys. And yet the Harry we see at the very end of the series has a happy family and doesn’t seem at all concerned with the fact that he’s passively working for the same Ministry that tried to smear him when he was a teenager. If Harry has any trauma, we never see it and we instead get the impression that he is somehow a one hundred percent well-adjusted person. Because of course there had to be a happy ending. That is an important part of the Hero’s Journey: the Happy Ending. Everything works out, the dead are mourned, and ultimately the survivors go on to live their best lives. While writing that kind of ending is perfectly fine, it’s also unintentionally deceptive. Because the emotional state and the consequences of trauma are important aspects of the hero narrative, especially for male protagonists. Male protagonists don’t often get to experience trauma in a significant way within the narrative. Lasting physical effects are there to show how strong and badass the male protagonist is, while all lasting mental effects are ignored. Are there any hints of—for example—Harry freaking out every time someone points a wand at him and having horrible flashbacks to that intense final fight? Or Harry having nightmares about the fact that he basically died? Of course not. Because that would disrupt the Happy Ending. This is mainly because we actually don’t get to see Harry’s life in the interim or his recovery. We jump straight to the next stage of life and we don’t get a good look at anything that happened between then and now. Basically we go from all the bad and traumatic pieces of the story straight to presumably after Harry has recovered and is living his best life.

Steven Universe does the exact opposite. We see how much Steven is hurting in Future, how much all of the messed up crap he’s been through has destroyed his mental state. And most importantly, we see how much worse off he is because he’s been repressing his negative emotions. Rather than being stoic and violent being painted as positive traits for a fictional male hero, Steven’s descent into violence is directly connected to how bad he is at processing his own emotions at this point in the narrative. When he finally embraces his full power and lets himself go, he ends up hurting someone he cares about and causing himself further trauma. Steven ultimately learns that all emotions—positive or negative—need to be in moderation. Ironically, Future actually gives us some elements of the typical Hero’s Journey, specifically Steven leveling up his strength. Except the Big Bad is Steven’s own emotional problems and the only one he ends up “defeating” is himself. It’s more realistic because there are real consequences for Steven being forced into this magical destiny from a young age. Rather than giving us a happy ending where everything works out perfectly in the end, Steven realizes that he needs to move on to the next stage in his life if he really wants to grow. He leaves everything and everyone behind, giving the entire finale a kind of bittersweet feeling. Imagine if at the end of the Harry Potter series, Harry had decided he was sick of the wizarding world and its various flaws—most of which were directly responsible for Voldemort’s rise to power—and distanced himself from it, leaving all of his friends behind so he could deal with his trauma. A bittersweet ending to the series that actually addressed the main character’s emotions. Steven manages to get something that very few well-known male protagonists ever have: a chance to grow and heal after being repeatedly thrust into traumatic situations since he was very young. Open-ended endings are one thing, but a resounding Everything is fine feels very fake and almost like fan service at the end of the story.

A good companion to this is How to Train Your Dragon, one of the first examples of a male protagonist using empathy and emotional maturity to defeat a Big Bad. Rather than becoming stronger through combat, Hiccup learns the truth about dragons by refusing to attack and instead befriending the scary murder beast. And the scary murder beast turns out to be a lot less scary and murdery than Hiccup was led to believe. Rather than being punished for his “weaknesses”, Hiccup is rewarded for being sensitive and understanding. This is such a rarity in fiction that it’s worth pointing out. And in another unexpected bit of role reversal, the female love interest—Astrid—is the violent “brute” who needs to be taught empathy by the kind and sensitive male main character. The movie kind of off-sets some of its more bold and genre-defying elements by leaning into a few tired tropes, but it’s honestly not one of the worst offenders and it’s a wonderful subversion of the normal Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey is very much rooted in traditional masculinity, based around this idea that a boy’s journey into manhood involves leveling up physically, scoring an attractive girl, and suppressing his “weaknesses”–i.e. his normal human emotions—so he can defeat the Big Bad. In almost any other series, Steven would be the comic relief or “sidekick” character who exists to make the Hero look manlier by comparison.

David Rose and traditional masculinity in fiction

The word “masculine” has kind of gone through a transition in fiction—and in real life, but that’s another topic altogether—because the definition has never really been completely static. We all—or a lot of us anyway—still love the Indiana Jones movies, even if most of us realize how problematic—and also downright fucking creepy—those movies are by today’s standards. The same goes for James Bond and other popular franchises. The saga of the Manly Movie Man has officially ended and now writers are trying to approach the whole idea of “good likable male character” from a different angle. There’s nothing more masculine than being completely comfortable with your sexuality and open to expressing your emotions. A good example of this brand new era of male characters is Todd Brotzman from Dirk Gently’s Detective Agency, because I haven’t actually talked about Todd before except in relation to Dirk. But all by himself? Todd is kind of awkward, he’s complex, he has a very strong platonic—“platonic” as far as we know, given that the series was canceled—love for Dirk, and—most importantly—he doesn’t get away with shit. There are actual consequences for Todd being an asshole to Amanda. Even after Amanda partially forgives him, she still doesn’t let him completely off the hook and she’d much rather live her own life away from him. It’s complicated and surprisingly well-written. But enough about Todd, as much as I love Elijah Wood’s stunning performance. It’s time to talk about David Rose from Schitt’s Creek.

David is an interesting character. He has the general mannerisms of a stereotypical flamboyant gay man, right down to the overly dramatic hand gestures. If this show had been made less than a decade earlier, David would have been a punchline. He has pretty much all of the personality traits that have been used to define and mock gay male characters in fiction for literal decades. But what sets David apart from all those demeaning depictions of gay male characters is that David isn’t really mocked for how he acts. While David being over-dramatic is often used as a punchline in itself—like when he ran away from home that one time—he’s actually not nearly as over-dramatic as his mother Moira. Being over-dramatic seems more like something that runs in his family because David was born into a social caste of spoiled rich people. David mellows out a little as the series goes on and he slowly stops freaking out so much over little things. And David’s effeminate behavior is never mocked for being, well, effeminate behavior. Usually it’s the opposite. When male characters show any hint of femininity—even something as simple as an interest in cooking—it’s often used as the punchline to a joke, as both the characters and the narrative itself urges him to “man up”. Basically male characters who don’t perform their masculinity well enough tend to be scorned, mocked, and kicked around by the narrative until they conform, even if the character himself is perfectly content. David is never subjected to this. His character arc is not about him embracing traditional masculinity, it’s about him becoming less self-absorbed and narcissistic. And David is never demonized for being the way he is or talked down to. He doesn’t get told to “man up” by those close to him. Because David is content with himself and he doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone.

There’s also the matter of David’s sexuality, which gets discussed fairly early in the series after he sleeps with Stevie. Stevie tells David that she thought he was gay and David explains—using wine as a metaphor—that he’s pansexual. As well as being the first openly pansexual character on a mainstream television series, David’s sexuality isn’t brushed under the rug as soon as it comes up. Despite ending up with Patrick—a man—the show doesn’t dismiss or ignore David’s sexuality, which is often a problem. It is referenced more than once that David is still attracted to women, non-binary people, etc. despite currently being in a relationship with a man. And just as a side note, Patrick is actually the exact opposite of David personality-wise. This is incredibly important: having two gay characters with different or opposite personalities in the narrative and showcasing that it’s fine to adhere to stereotypes—like David—and it’s also fine to be the exact opposite of most stereotypes. It’s important because shaming men—including gay men—for being flamboyant has been traditional both in fictional media and in real life. It’s unfortunate, because there’s nothing wrong with men—gay or otherwise—being feminine, but gay men tend to be pressured into performing traditional masculinity. There are elements of internalized homophobia in this, as overly masculine gay men will sometimes perpetuate this as well by making fun of their fellow gay men if they act, well, like David. Having a character like David is actually pretty revolutionary and it shows how far fictional media has come in terms of redefining masculinity.

Schitt’s Creek is a huge recommendation of mine and that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It has everything a modern sitcom should: good queer representation, amazing memorable characters, and great writing. It’s just a good show.

iCarly teaches us about toxic relationships

Content Warning: Discussions of physical/emotional abuse, unhealthy relationship dynamics, and generally toxic behaviour in a kids’ show.

Toxic relationships in fiction are tricky to talk about, because often you run up against the obvious “But it’s not supposed to be a healthy relationship!” argument. There’s nothing inherently bad about portraying an unhealthy relationship in fiction. But there’s something problematic about presenting a clearly toxic relationship as romantic or attainable. Especially in a piece of media aimed primarily at young kids and teenagers, two key demographics most likely to be negatively influenced by seeing unhealthy relationships portrayed as “goals”. Sometimes it’s a mistake, other times it’s a misunderstanding. And sometimes it’s just shitty writing. So what category do Sam and Freddie from iCarly fall into?

In my endless quest to crap all over everything I loved as a kid, I decided to re-examine one of my biggest OTPs. Back in the day, Sam and Freddie were definitely goals. An angry girl and a tech-savvy guy with an intense love-hate relationship? Hilarious and cute. What more could anyone ask for? But as with most stuff that seemed harmless and fun back in the day, it really wasn’t either of those things. In fact, Sam and Freddie’s relationship was so horrendously toxic that I’m surprised people don’t talk about it more post-iCarly. But that sort of makes sense, because most people who grew up watching that show haven’t thought about it since the finale. Or if they have, they only remember the good parts, the stuff that made them laugh. And of course it was a funny show, very vibrant and full of fun little storylines. And more than anything else, everything was overblown for the sake of comedy. It was ridiculous, random, and bursting with Internet culture from a bygone era. The show was never meant to be taken seriously. But at the same time, I can’t help but look at Sam and Freddie’s relationship under a microscope because it was just so glaringly unhealthy. Unhealthy to the point that—in hindsight—it was actually kind of terrifying. The rampant physical abuse—mostly on Sam’s side—and the emotional abuse. Of course it was all a big joke, because violence against men as perpetuated by women in fiction is hardly ever not played for laughs. That’s a problem in its own right. But even ignoring the wider implications of this running “gag”, there’s something deeply uncomfortable about watching those scenes again and seeing just how much of Sam and Freddie’s relationship was legitimate abuse and nothing else. One particular episode stands out: the one where Freddie insults Fred Figglehorn. Yes, that Fred Figglehorn, if anyone even remembers when he was more widely known for his YouTube channel and not for his short-lived rise to TV fame. Just like the first season of iCarly, Fred feels like a relic from a bygone era of Internet culture. In any case, Freddie refuses to apologize for his comment and Sam ends up beating the shit out of him—off-screen–until he agrees to give a false apology. Fred remarks that the two of them are “cute”. Yes, cute. After Sam just beat the crap out of Freddie multiple times for refusing to change his opinion. It’s a rough scene to watch after the nostalgia wears off.

The show wasn’t exactly known for having good takes. There’s literally an episode in which Carly breaks up with a guy for collecting stuffed animals. The show never really had what anyone would call good or sane views on relationships, but that was partially okay because the characters are teenagers. At the same time, the toxic aspects of Sam and Freddie’s relationship are never seriously addressed. It’s all just used as a punchline. Of course Sam being overly violent and angry all the time is a key part of her character. Just like Freddie being a nerd and Carly having a really bad case of Main Character Syndrome, the characters are built to be joke factories. But even knowing that, it’s really hard to understand why anyone would root for Freddie and Sam’s relationship. Because quite frankly, the running joke was never funny in the first place. It’s yet another example of a very old trope being milked for laughs.

Is there anything positive to say about Sam and Freddie’s relationship? Not really. It was unhealthy from start to finish, neither of them learned anything, and character development was pretty much nonexistent in the show. The Schneider-verse was great to experience as a kid, but then you grow up and realize that—as good as the shows were—there was also some really bad stuff that we were all too young to recognize as fucked up. This might be true for a lot of shows, but Sam and Freddie’s relationship is an especially glaring example. Even kids deserve to see good healthy relationships in their media.

The L Word is even worse than I remembered

Content Warning: Mentions of/implied rape, gender dysphoria, and implied transphobia.

Of all the characters who get significantly worse on a second viewing, Tina Kinnard from The L Word is maybe the least talked about outside of the show’s general audience. It makes sense: The L Word was aimed at a specific demographic and really only those within the demographic spend any huge amount of time poring over episodes and discussing just how terrible the show was. But there’s a lot to talk about in regards to what the show did wrong. In fact, you could literally write ten entire essays about all the particularly shitty missteps the show took during its six-season run. As far as representation goes, it definitely helped shape and grow the landscape of queer television. But as far as actual story, characters, etc.? Definitely a product of its time. Even most die-hard fans agree that the show was actually pretty terrible, especially compared to today’s queer television landscape. Arguably, the largest gripes everyone has with the show have to do with its soap opera portrayal of queer life. It’s not a good show. But amazing for a casual hate-watch if you don’t take anything seriously. A great way to burn some time if you want to binge something and you’re fully prepared to get pissed off at the characters.

Speaking of characters, does anyone remember Lisa? Lisa, a character from Season 1 who was Alice’s love interest for a while when she got sick of dating lesbians? Except Lisa turned out to be—in Alice’s words—just as bad as a lesbian. But while Lisa’s feminine behavior wasn’t really the focal point of Alice’s dislike for him, Lisa was definitely meant to be a “joke” character. We weren’t intended to take him seriously because he was just so “weird” and “bizarre”, what with his whole “male lesbian” thing. Right? Lisa’s gender identity is never discussed because the show wasn’t the least bit interested in exploring a “fringe” gender identity. And as proven with Max, the show was actually kind of dog-shit at it anyway. Lisa seems to be genderqueer in some way or another and he seems to also be suffering from some measure of gender dysphoria, as evidenced from that entire scene with Alice on the boat. And in case anyone wants to dredge up that horrible memory, here’s a rundown of that scene: Alice wants to have sex with Lisa. Lisa says he “has something” and pulls out a plastic phallus (probably a strap-on). Alice gets annoyed, pointing out that Lisa already has a penis. Lisa becomes upset and insists that they use the strap-on because he’s not comfortable using his penis. Alice ignores his protest and gets mad at him, causing a very uncomfortable scene in which she forces Lisa to have sex in a way he’s clearly uncomfortable with. Later when Lisa storms out of the room, Alice rolls her eyes at him and says that he “enjoyed himself”. Lisa is clearly mad at her and Alice doesn’t seem to understand what she did wrong. In a bubble, this isn’t necessarily a bad scene. Uncomfortable to watch and horrific when you think about it, but not necessarily bad. The problem is that Alice is clearly supposed to be in the right. Because Lisa isn’t a character we are meant to take seriously, so his behavior is framed as if he’s being unreasonable. Lisa is supposed to be a punchline, something for Alice to be exasperated about as she flails around in pursuit of a worthwhile relationship. That is Alice’s entire character, isn’t it? Flailing around for a worthwhile relationship while burning through a series of strange and eccentric people within the queer world. That’s the entire crux of her character. Even when the show pairs her with someone level-headed for once—like Tasha or Dana—Alice ends up finding some way to make her life more exciting. Lisa is one of the first examples of this: he exists for the audience to gawk and/or laugh at and then he’s quickly discarded after the plot is finished making fun of him. He’s just another weird person for Alice to date. The main problem with this is that—regardless of how the show frames him—Lisa is clearly the one we should sympathize with. He’s as much a character as anyone else in the show, even though he’s never a main character. And everything that happens to him is more tragic than funny. There are numerous problems with how Lisa is portrayed and how the show clearly wants us to see him.

Lisa’s experience is pretty much a light precursor to what happens with Max later, although Lisa’s entire storyline is more tragic because it’s never resolved or really addressed again. And unlike Max, Lisa literally never does anything wrong. Yet the writers clearly want us to think Lisa is “doing something wrong” simply by inconveniencing Alice with his existence. Lisa wants to live and exist in a way that Alice clearly doesn’t approve of and we—the audience—are meant to side with Alice. Or at the very least, we’re meant to have sympathy for Alice because of how frustrated she is. But how can we have sympathy for someone who ignores someone’s bodily autonomy, ignores consent, and feels she’s entitled to someone’s body just because it’s what she wants? Alice never had to force Lisa if she didn’t want to. She could have respected his boundaries, respected the fact that he didn’t want her to touch his genitals. But getting her way was more important than any of those things and we—the audience—are meant to think this is funny. This connects to a broader issue about how consent is often handled in fiction, especially consent that has to do with men. Pop Culture Detective actually has an excellent two-part series addressing this. But ignoring that for a moment because it’s a whole other topic, Lisa’s actual gender identity is casually danced around within the storyline. Is he genderqueer? Is he trans? Or is he just gender non-conforming? It’s seemingly left ambiguous on purpose, although Lisa’s obvious dysphoria about his own body, his insistence on being called a “lesbian”, etc. seems to suggest that it’s a little more than just “non-conforming”. And the show never even attempts to address this, using Lisa’s entire existence as the punchline to a joke that was never funny.

It’s a huge shame. Lisa’s entire storyline could have been an interesting way of introducing the whole concept of genderqueer to an audience who’d probably never heard of it before. This show did a lot for proving that queer-focused television is profitable—although at what cost?–and it helped introduce the general concept of queer lives and queer relationships to an audience in a time when queer-focused entertainment was just barely a thing. But it also committed several grave sins when it comes to representation. The show was never obligated to represent the entire queer community. But it seemed like the writers weren’t sure how to address anything that wasn’t heterosexual or lesbian-focused. They tried their best, but instead of decent representation there were characters like Lisa and Max. Max wasn’t the worst representation anyone could have asked for—especially at that point in time—but there are some glaring wrongs with his character that could have easily been prevented. At its core, the problem with the show was that it tried so hard to start drama at every turn. Surprise pregnancies, cheating, shameful secrets, etc. No character was free from pointless drama for the sake of it. No one was allowed to have a perfectly happy relationship without something going horribly wrong. Everyone—other than Dana and later Tasha—were completely toxic to one another. Not to mention the show swung wildly between wanting to be taken seriously and being ridiculously cheesy. That in itself isn’t bad, but the tonal shift often came out of nowhere.

It’s kind of doubly unfortunate, because The L Word had so many decent characters who would have worked well outside of the show (Jodi, Helena, etc.). Characters who could have carried a more interesting and nuanced portrayal of queer life all on their own. In other words, this show had oodles of spin-off material. That’s one of the largest problems with the show that never really gets talked about: it had a ton of good one-off and side characters who never got to spread their wings. If I had the choice, I would have watched an entire spin-off about Jodi, Papi, or even just Alan Cummings’ character. There was so much meat to this show, so many plot lines and characters. It’s difficult to hate this show because there was so much in it and not all of it was shitty. For example, Jenny’s whole character arc—upon review—is actually a very interesting look at mental health, self-hatred, toxic relationships, compulsive heterosexuality, and the effects of trauma. Jenny is overall a very tragic character worthy of study. But as the show goes on, the writers seemingly become less and less interested in portraying Jenny as anything other than a sad and broken shell of a woman whose actions trend towards malicious. Jenny becomes more and more unlikable, leading to the writers deciding to kill her off in the last season. While a hopeful or positive resolution to Jenny’s character arc was becoming less possible with every passing episode, it honestly feels like the writers just enjoyed making Jenny suffer and making everyone around her suffer for no good reason. And there’s no awareness to it, because we’re clearly supposed to feel sorry for her sometimes—like when her movie gets stolen by Adele—and yet it’s nearly impossible because Jenny has shown herself to be incapable of empathy. At the very least, Jenny is fun to watch. Her terrible behavior is actually really entertaining because she’s so over the top. That’s more than can be said for most of the characters. Jenny is so blatantly a soap opera character that it’s almost satire.

Ouran High School Host Club destroys the gender binary

That’s right. Due to this anime from several years ago, gender is no more.

Does anyone outside of certain anime circles even know this show exists? It wasn’t exactly a flash in the pan, but people also aren’t discussing it daily like some of the classics. As a former card-carrying weeb, this show was my jam. There was something so charming about the story and the characters and how the show handled common anime tropes. But more important than that, Haruhi Fujioka is a very interesting character study.

The show is first and foremost a romantic comedy, but it plays fast and loose with the concepts of gender identity, gender expression etc. Haruhi is the most obvious example, but there are also smaller examples of the show fucking with the entire perception of gender. In fact, gender fuckery is a huge part of the entire storyline, starting with our protagonist Haruhi. There are many indications throughout the series that Haruhi might be genderfluid or something similar, due to how she—and she actually says this—doesn’t care about gender. Her gender expression fluctuates between feminine and masculine. Of course most promotional art for the series features her wearing that iconic host uniform with the other—male—members of the club. In more casual promotional material, Haruhi is usually depicted in feminine clothing while all the boys wear masculine outfits. As far as gender identity goes in both the anime and manga, it’s very clear that Haruhi isn’t simply a “tomboy”. She responds to both masculine and feminine pronouns, but she also doesn’t particularly mind being called “daughter”. Haruhi never outright states her gender identity as anything other than cis, but she doesn’t really have to. The interpretation is there for anyone who wants to use it. And yet it’s one of the less talked about aspects of Haruhi as a character, probably because it isn’t spelled out so bluntly in the anime.

So what if Haruhi is genderfluid? What does that mean for the series? Why the hell does it matter? Well, as the series (and the manga) ended a long time ago, Haruhi’s gender identity doesn’t really mean very much in the year of our lord 2020. But at the same time, it’s an interesting topic to look into. Gender fluidity gets treated as a joke or a punchline very often in media, if it even gets mentioned. I get it. It’s a difficult concept to grasp. But Haruhi—as a character—actually gives some pretty good groundwork for understanding what being genderfluid means. While “Who cares about gender?” is a nebulous statement that could mean anything to the person saying it, Haruhi’s use of the phrase bears itself out as a true statement of who she is as a person. And yes, there are genderfluid/non-binary/etc. people who refer to themselves by “she/her” pronouns. It’s up to individual choice. “I don’t care about gender” or “my gender doesn’t really matter” or anything similar are common phrases used by those who fall under the non-binary umbrella either before or after realizing their identity.

A huge problem with the representation of non-binary people in media is the fact that so many of these characters aren’t human. Stevonnie from Steven Universe is at least part-human, but they are also part-alien and also an impossible fusion of a boy and a girl. While Stevonnie is their own separate person completely independent of Steven and Connie, they are still a part-alien fusion whose gender identity can be explained away by their components. Not that Stevonnie isn’t an amazing character and wonderful representation. But at the same time, that’s a very low bar. The series does a little better with Shep—who is an actual human—even though they barely get any screen time. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has Double Trouble, a shapeshifter. For the most part, characters who are identified as falling outside of the common gender binary are usually assigned a gender—male or female—or they are a non-human creature who falls outside of the gender binary for some fantasy or sci-fi reason. For example, robots can easily identify as “non-binary” because there is no reason—in most stories—for a robot to have a gender. The same goes for a shapeshifter or a part-alien part-human hybrid who is made up of two gendered components (and also their own person, to be fair). It is extremely rare to see a character who is completely one hundred percent human and also very clearly under the non-binary umbrella. Haruhi fits into this gap very nicely, as both a main protagonist with plenty of screen time and a completely human character who doesn’t live in a magical fantasy world.

Cheers to all the people who were helped along in their own journey of self-discovery thanks to Haruhi Fujioka and this series in general.

Some cute little links for the curious:

https://gender.wikia.org/wiki/Non-binary

https://nonbinary.wiki/wiki/Research

Infinity Train teaches us how to write a good protagonist

Spoilers for Season Two of Infinity Train and Steven Universe Future. Read at your own risk. Also some Harry Potter ranting/fanficcy idea stuff.

Infinity Train just finished up its second season a while ago. And honestly, it was a ride. Adventure Time really raised the bar for animated programming. Pretty much every major animated show conceived after Adventure Time has been trying to live up to the last one. And for the most part, they’ve been knocking it out of the park. Fans are starting to hold animated shows to a much higher standard. Although it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see another Adventure Time or Steven Universe in our lifetime, Infinity Train fills that massive gap left by Gravity Falls and the end of the original Steven Universe series. Put simply, it’s a good show with good writing and good characters.

“Finding yourself” is a common theme in pretty much every type of media. The Hero’s Journey, learning to be yourself, etc. Infinity Train tackles this in Season 2 with Lake. That’s literally Lake’s entire storyline. But the show also gives us something we’re definitely not used to seeing in media aimed at a younger audience: a protagonist who commits murder. Actual literal murder. It’s not sugarcoated or overlooked or ambiguous. Lake kills a guy. But instead of spiraling down into a hero-into-villain arc, Lake’s entire storyline resolves itself in the end and they get their happy ending. Of course the ending is left open-ended and we probably won’t ever know what happened to them. However, Lake achieves their ultimate goal and doesn’t turn into a supervillain. Why is this important? Because in most narratives, murder is a strict no-no for a protagonist. We all know how Batman doesn’t kill people—except sometimes in specific iterations that tend to make people upset—because he’s a good guy. This black and white approach to morality is a familiar trope in most stories, Harry Potter being one of the best examples. Harry’s whole thing is that he prefers a disarming spell—Expelliarmus—while Voldemort’s signature move is the Killing Curse. This entire contrast between them—Harry being the Good Guy and Voldemort being the Big Bad—is an important part of the narrative. Throughout the story, Harry rarely hurts someone unless he absolutely has to. In fact, he’s almost incapable of harming anyone, even people who might conceivably deserve it. In Book Five, Harry attempts to cast the torture spell on Bellatrix after she murders his godfather, but it doesn’t work because Harry is just too much of a Good Guy to ever use an Unforgivable Curse on anyone even in a fit of rage. Never killing or causing great harm is a major tenet of the Good Guy brand. It’s rare to see a protagonist—especially a protagonist in a kid-friendly piece of media—who doesn’t adhere to this strict rule.

Lake breaks this signature rule by rejecting the core concept of black and white morality. At the end of the day, their ultimate goal is to get off the train and define their own life. They’re not a “hero” or a “villain”, they are simple a character in a story with their own motivations, ideals, and struggles. They’re not boxed in by a very basic understanding of what it means to be good. This narrative of the hero sparing the villain at the last second is so pervasive that it has almost become a cliché. One of the most obvious and well-known examples of this trope being turned on its head is in the first Deadpool movie, in which Wade (spoilers) decides he actually does want revenge, even if it makes him a bad guy. But of course Wade is an anti-hero, so he’s basically ground zero for morality. Wade lives by his own specific moral code.

Another abruptly relevant example is Steven, particularly Steven in Steven Universe Future. In Fragments, Steven—a character who has so far been characterized by his desire to remain a pacifist—finally unleashes his anger and ends up killing Jasper. He heals her soon afterward, but this moment—seemingly—marks a moral turning point for Steven. It is the first time Steven has caused intentional—and fatal—harm to a character. Of course he didn’t intend to shatter Jasper, but he did intend to hurt her and—based on the end of the episode—Steven realizes he messed up and that giving into his anger was maybe a bad idea. But Steven is not—has never been—a “hero in the story”. His entire Hero’s Journey was about him coming to terms with his identity. Of course there was a big bad evil villain to defeat, but the actual Big Bad throughout the series was always Steven’s inner demons. The same goes for Lake in Infinity Train. At the end of the day, Lake was trying to run away from—both literally and figuratively—the identity that was forced on them.

Black and white morality is, quite frankly, really cliché and kind of dumb. It doesn’t really make for good storytelling if your protagonist has zero real flaws or moments in which they go against their own established morals. How many times would Batman have been completely justified in killing Joker, rather than locking him up in an asylum that he knows Joker is going to escape from again? If anything, more narratives should show us a protagonist with a “no killing” policy dealing with the aftermath of compromising their morals. How much better would the Harry Potter series have been if Harry did successfully cast the torture spell on Bellatrix in Book Five? And what if he’d spent the rest of the series dealing with the aftermath of that? Of course it’s perfectly fine to have a character with a well-defined moral compass and a strict “No Killing” policy, just like it’s fine to have a protagonist who has neither of those. It’s also fine to have a protagonist who subverts expectations. What if Harry had snapped at the end of Book Four or Five and decided to join the Death Eaters? Wouldn’t that have made for a way more interesting and subversive narrative, a real twist to send the fiction world spinning? The Harry Potter series was subversive in places, but it did hold back and play it safe more often than not. The characters all get their respective happy endings, the Big Bad is defeated, and we don’t really get a glimpse of the aftermath of the war to spoil the image of our favorite characters being perfectly content.

So should you watch Infinity Train? Definitely. It does so many things well, especially Tulip’s back story in Season One. But so far, MT/Lake is my favorite protagonist. I didn’t expect to like them better than Tulip, but there it is. And Season Two deals with a lot of stuff about self-identity, peer pressure, etc. It’s all about finding yourself, but it does this familiar storyline in a far more nuanced way than we’re used to. Worth a look.

The OA was a very good show and everyone needs to watch it

I know I said I wouldn’t do reviews, but this show more than deserves it.

Netflix has a very long and very damning track history of axing good shows. You know this. I know this. Everyone knows this. It’s the bane of any subscriber’s existence, because it’s like having the sword of Damocles over our streaming experience at all times. At any moment, our favourite show could be on the chopping block and no amount of protest is going to save it. It’s an endless cycle: good show appears, good show gathers a small but enthusiastic following, Netflix guts the show after one or two seasons for monetary reasons, rinse and repeat. The OA was one of those shows. It amassed a medium-sized but very dedicated following of fans, leading to a massive protest and Internet crusade after it was gutted before the story could wrap up. Looking at it from the outside, I’m sure a lot of people saw this coming. But why was The OA such a big deal? Why do people—fans—talk about it with such reverence? What was the secret code that The OA cracked to amass such a cult-like following?

From the very beginning, The OA was an experience. It starts off strong and pulls you in with a compelling mystery. There are hints of the supernatural and the impossible, but these are only teases. You keep watching because you want to know how these little bits of story—these tiny threads—fit together in a way that makes sense. It’s a surreal experience the first time you watch through the first season. There is this otherworldly feeling that permeates the whole series from the beginning. And unlike a lot of movies and shows that try to be “artsy” over substance, The OA toes the line. It feels very human underneath all the “artsy”. It feels more real and down to earth than a show with this level of surrealism ever should. And it really works on your brain from the get-go. So many little details, hidden messages, and pieces of story that nearly fall through the cracks. If watching this show was an experience, watching it again and seeing all the foreshadowing and possibly important details you missed is a ride.

Season Two starts and everything makes less—and also somehow more—sense. The story keeps going and it gets more bizarre, yet it never crosses the line. It’s always grounded, even when we’re dealing with pure surrealism. There is a distinct focus on the people in the story, their lives, and how the events unfolding are effecting them as human beings. We see characters break down, characters suffering from PTSD, and characters mourning loss. It’s all exceptionally human, even as the story bends more towards the otherworldly. That is a big reason why so many people grabbed onto this show: the characters are remarkably real and you root for them. And that is kind of the point: the cast is diverse and each character has their own unique story, yet they fit into the central storyline like puzzle pieces. The show reminds us constantly that everyone has a life and a personality outside of the OA. It’s not all about this grand journey towards something greater. It’s also about small journeys towards something small, like acceptance or self-actualization. It’s a coming of age story. And it relies on the audience being smart and aware enough to notice the deeper themes without throwing anything in their face. There’s no such thing as a detail just for the sake of it. If something is there, it’s because it fits into the central plot in some way. The storyline never stops making sense for the sake of keeping people hooked or fabricating a mystery. It invites analysis with something that can actually be found.

The OA had the potential to be one of Netflix’s greatest shows. The fact that it got axed just when the story was truly starting to ramp up is a travesty. The writers never got to tell the story they’d planned out. It’s really a shame. At the very least, it was awesome while it lasted. Cheers to The OA, Tuca and Bertie, Santa Clarita Diet, and all the other cancelled Netflix originals that could have been amazing if they’d been given a real ending.

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