Ranking of “HIS DARK MATERIALS” Season One (2019) Episodes

Below is my ranking of the Season One episodes of “HIS DARK MATERIALS”, HBO’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s 1995 novel, “The Golden Compass” aka “Northern Lights” and the first part of his 1997 novel, “The Subtle Knife”. Written by Jack Thorne, the series stars Dafne Keen:

RANKING OF “HIS DARK MATERIALS” SEASON ONE (2019) Episodes

1. (1.02) “The Idea of North” – Orphan Lyra Belacqua starts a new life in London with the charming socialite, Mrs. Marisa Coulter; determined to find her missing friend, Roger Parslow. The Gyptians continue searching for their missing children and the elusive Gobblers, a group of government sanctioned child snatchers.

2. (1.06) “The Daemon-Cages” – Lyra discovers the horrific truth behind the Gobblers’ activities at a science station in the North called Bolvangar.

3. (1.08) “Betrayal” – As the Magesterium, a religious-political body, closes in; Lyra learns more about Lord Asriel’s rebellion. But her assistance to him comes at a great personal cost.

4. (1.01) “Lyra’s Jordan” – Lyra’s world at Jordan College in Oxford, is turned upside-down by the arrival of her long-absent uncle Lord Asriel from the North. Meanwhile, she meets the glamorous Mrs. Coulter for the first time.

5. (1.04) “Armour” – As Lyra and the Gyptians head up North, she searches for allies in her search for Lord Asriel. With the help of a balloonist named Lee Scoresby, she comes across an armored bear named Iorek Byrnison at a port town in Svalbard.

6. (1.03) “Spies” – Lyra is rescued from the clutches of the Gobblers by the Gyptians, who helps her piece together more about her past and keep her safe from the Magisterium.

7. (1.07) “Fight to the Death” – Separated from her friends and captured by the armoured bears ruled the usurper king Iofur Raknison, Lyra must use all of her methods of deception to thwart him in order to be rescued by Iorek Byrnison, the true king. Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter plots her next move.

8. (1.05) “The Lost Boy” – On their journey to the Bolvangar Station, Lyra and the Gyptians finally discover what the Gobblers have been doing to the missing children. In the alternate World, an adolescent named Will Parry and his mentally ill mother Elaine are being stalked by Magisterium official Lord Carlo Boreal, who seeks Will’s father, a missing explorer named John Parry.

“THE IRREGULARS” (2021) Photo Gallery

Below are images from the Netflix limited series, “THE IRREGULARS”. Based upon the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the series was created by Tom Birdwell:

“THE IRREGULARS” (2021) Photo Gallery

The Disappointment of “STAR TREK: PICARD” Season One Finale

THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF “STAR TREK: PICARD” SEASON ONE FINALE

The Season One finale for “STAR TREK: PICARD”, (1.10) “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”, was such a disappointment to me. To be honest, I did not foresee my negative reaction. Yes, I will admit that the entire season was not perfect. But I still managed to enjoy it . . . until I saw the season finale. Let me be frank. I had several issues with it.

My first disappointment from “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” proved to be the death of the synthetic individual known as Sutra. Despite being built up as a dangerous antagonist for retired Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard and his crew, her death proved to be so ridiculously anti-climatic that I found myself rolling my eyes. The moment Data’s creator, Dr. Noonian Soong, had discovered that she was responsible for the death of another synthetic and framed the Romulan spy Narek for it, he automatically shut her down. That was it. No conflict . . . nothing.

My second disappointment manifested in the appearances of both the Romulan and Starfleet fleets above the synthetics’ planet, Coppelius. Overdone much? I have not seen this many combatants appear for a single battle since Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films. Why did Starfleet Admiral (and Romulan mole) Oh sent such a large fleet of Romulan war birds against the planet? It was so unnecessary. And it made the ridiculously large fleet of Starfleet ships equally unnecessary to me. Which led me to another head scratcher . . . why was Will Riker in command of the Starfleet armada? Why? Aside from being a reservist officer, he had retired from full duty with Starfleet. Why would Starfleet send an reservist to a hot spot like Coppelius, when there were probably plenty of other competent on-duty commanders who could have led the armada to Coppelius?

My third disappointment was the fate of Dr. Agnes Jurati, a Daystrom Institute cyberneticist who had been recruited by Admiral Oh to spy on Picard. Why was she never turned over to Federation authority for the murder of her lover and fellow cyberneticist Dr. Bruce Maddox in (1.05) “Stardust City Rag”? She had confessed her crime to Picard and other members of the La Sierena crew, later in the season. Speaking of murder – did Picard and the others ever learn about the murder of black-marketeer Bjayzl at the hands of Seven-of-Nine, an ex-Borg and former member of the U.S.S. Voyager’s crew in the same episode? Seven had murdered her former lover for the torture and death of Seven’s protegee, ex-Borg and former Delta Quadrant resident, Icheb. If not, I can understand how she got away with murder. If Picard and the others had found out about Seven’s crime, why was she still free – like Agnes?

My fourth disappointment? Data’s death. Why was it necessary to relive his death in another STAR TREK production and in another setting? Was this scene all about Picard finally learning to accept his death? What made this ridiculous to me is that . . . Picard’s final acceptance of Data’s death had occurred within Picard’s consciousness following his own physical death. I mean . . . seriously? Besides, this entire scene was such a waste for me. I had learned to accept Data’s death after watching the 2002 movie, “STAR TREK: NEMESIS” for the first time.

My fifth disappointment? The Federation/Starfleet. The season had earlier hinted that the Federation was moving toward a less than ideal or less tolerant place. But this topic was never fully explored or exploited for that matter. And the showrunners reseted the organization’s status quo – much to my major disappointment – by sending Starfleet to come to the rescue of synthetics on Coppelia in the finale. Why? The Federation had spent most of Season One being hostile toward synthetics. How did the show runners suddenly do an 180-degree spin on this situation? They did this by having Picard expose Admiral Oh as a Romulan mole and the Romulans’ role in the destruction of the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards – an incident that led to the Federations’ hostility toward synthetics. Why did the show runners do this? I have no idea, but it is typical of the Star Trek franchise. When it comes to exploring the ugliness of humanity, the franchise always cops out in the end. Always.

My sixth disappointment with the episode? “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” featured a moment in its last scene in which Picard’s friend and former colleague Rafaella “Raffi” Musiker exchanged glances and held hands with Seven-of-Nine. Huh? When did that happen? This whole relationship had popped out from no where. Trek fans had spent years complaining about Seven’s last relationship with Voyager’s executive officer, Commander Chakotay, during the last few episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. I have come across very few complaints about the excessive speed of her romance with Raffi. Talk about queer baiting. What makes this so annoying is that this was the second time “PICARD” had pulled this stunt. Apparently, the series attempted to develop some kind of relationship between Agnes Jurati and the La Sirena’s captain and former Starfleet officer, Chris Rios. I hate to say this but Santiago Cabrera and Alison Pill have no screen chemistry whatsoever. And I have also noticed the lack of romantic interaction between the pair since their only on-screen kiss, earlier in the season.

And my final complaint about “STAR TREK: PICARD”? The death of Jean-Luc Picard. Was it really necessary? Surely the series’ show runners could have saved this scenario for the series finale? As for moving Picard’s consciousness into a golem construct of his body . . . I was disgusted. I was disgusted that Dr. Soong and Agnes had committed this act without Picard’s consent. I would equate this action to Willow Rosenberg bringing Buffy Summers back from dead in Season Six of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. What I found even more disgusting is that Picard had never condemned either Soong and Agnes for fiddling with his consciousness – his self – without his consent. Many fans may have been thrilled by this action. I was not. Someone had pointed out that earlier in the season, Picard had expressed a desire to survive ailment that would eventually kill him. But I do not recall Picard giving anyone permission – verbal or written – to have his consciousness transferred from his dying body to an android or any other entity. To commit such a major act without any thought to or discussion about the moral consequences is just abhorrent to me. And lazy writing.For me, it was an act of violation of a person’s individuality. I hope that the series would address this issue in Season Two. But I suspect they will not.

Overall, I did enjoy Season One of “STAR TREK: PICARD”. But I can honestly say that I did not find it particularly mind-blowing. I also felt that it had a few episodes that seemed more of a miss than a hit. But for me, the biggest miss or disappointment was its finale, “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”. I hope that the series does a better job in its second season.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1810s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set during the 1810s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1810s

1. “Pride and Prejudice” (1995) – Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth starred in this award winning adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Simon Langton.

2. “Emma” (2009) – Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller and Michael Gambon starred in this excellent adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. The four-part miniseries was adapted by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon.

3. “Vanity Fair” (1987) – Eve Matheson starred in this superb adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel. The sixteen-part miniseries was directed by Diarmuid Lawrence and Michael Owen Morris; and adapted by Alexander Baron.

4. “Pride and Prejudice” (1980) – Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The five-part miniseries was adapted by Fay Weldon and directed by Cyril Coke.

5. “War and Peace” (2016) – Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton starred in this excellent adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Harper.

6. “Vanity Fair” (1998) – Natasha Little starred in this award winning adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel. The six-part miniseries was directed by Marc Munden and adapted by Andrew Davies.

7. “Emma” (1972) – Doran Godwin and John Carson starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Denis Constanduros and directed by John Glenister.

8. “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1956) – This sequel to the 1955 television movie, “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier”, conveyed the experiences of Davy Crockett and George Russel with keelboat riverman Mike Fink and river pirates along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Picturesque and a lot of fun. Directed by Norman Foster, the TV movie starred Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen and Jeff York.

9. “War and Peace” (1972) – Anthony Hopkins, Morag Hood and Alan Dobie starred in this superb adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel. The twenty-part miniseries was adapted by Jack Pulman and directed by John Davies.

10. “Poldark” (1996) – John Bowe and Mel Martin starred in this television adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1981 novel from his Poldark series, “The Stranger From the Sea”. The television movie was directed by Richard Laxton and adapted by Robin Mukherjee.

“TAP ROOTS” (1948) Review

“TAP ROOT” (1948) Review

I am sure that many are aware of Mississippi-born Confederate soldier-turned-Unionist Newton Knight and his formation of the “Free State of Jones”, which opposed Confederate forces during the U.S. Civil War. I first heard about Knight and his men while watching Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary, “THE CIVIL WAR”. But I had no idea that knowledge of this little corner of Civil War history went back even further.

Recently, Hollywood released a movie version about Knight and his followers in the 2016 historical drama, “FREE STATE OF JONES”. However . . . some seventy-four years earlier, a novel titled “Tap Roots”, which had been written by James H. Street, hit the bookstores. It told the story of a cotton planter, his family and a newspaper publisher; who had decided to remain neutral during the first year of the Civil War. Unfortunately, their decision to remain neutral led to disastrous consequences for the planter and his family, along with other local men who decided to follow them. Six years later in 1948, Universal Pictures made a movie adaptation of Street’s novel.

In a nutshell . . . “TAP ROOT” begins in the fall of 1860. Northern Mississippi plantation owner Big Sam Dabney and his son Hoab express concern over Abraham Lincoln’s election as the 16th president and the possibility of Southern states seceding from the Union. Both men begin to consider having Levington County in Lebanon Valley, location of the family’s cotton plantation, remain neutral if a civil war breaks out. Meanwhile, Hoab’s older daughter, Morna Dabney, becomes engaged with Army officer, Clay McIvor. Younger sister Aven is jealous, due to also being in love with Clay. As for Morna, local newspaper owner Keith Alexander becomes attracted to her.

Before 1860 ends, Big Sam dies, leaving Hoab in full control of the family’s neutral stance. And poor Morna has a riding accident, leaving her physically disabled and her engagement to Clay in jeopardy. Apparently, the latter is unable to maintain interest in a disabled woman and transforms his sexual interest to Morna’s younger sister, Aven. This gives Keith the opportunity to court Morna and help her recover from Clay’s rejection. However, Mississippi secedes from the Union, driving Hoab, Keith and the Dabney family’s Choctaw friend, Tishomingo, to organize Levington County’s neutral stance and secession from Mississippi.

There are aspects of “TAP ROOTS” that I found admirable. Alexander Golitzen’s production designs for a Northern Mississippi community between 1860 and 1861 struck me as pretty admirable, if not mind blowing. I could say the same about Yvonne Wood’s costume designs. However, there were some signs of 1940s fashion getting in the way, especially in the men’s costumes. The shoulders for Van Heflin’s jackets struck me as so wide that I found myself wondering if he had portrayed a time traveler from the 1940s. On the other hand, I found Winton C. Hooch and Lionel Lindon’s photography of the Southern California and North Carolina locations rather beautiful, thanks to its sharp color. And I thought director George Marshall did an admirable job with the film’s action scenes. I was especially impressed by the final conflict between Levington County’s “rebels” and the local Confederate forces. Between Marshall’s direction, Hooch and Lindon’s photography, and Milton Carruth’s editing, that final action sequence proved to be one of the film’s finer aspects.

If I must be honest, I did not have any problems with the performances featured in “TAP ROOTS”. Well . . . with most of the performances. Van Heflin gave an entertaining, yet commanding performance as the cynical newspaper editor Keith Alexander. Susan Hayward was equally commanding as Southern belle Moana Dabney, who endured her own trials while her own personal life fell apart. I did not care for the character of Clay McIvor, who struck me as something of a jerk; but I cannot deny that Whitfield Connor did a solid job in bringing his character to life. A very young Julie London really held her own as Moana’s younger sister, Aven Dabney, who managed to win Clay’s love from Moana, following the latter’s riding accident. Russell Simpson gave a entertaining performance as Moana’s colorful grandfather, Big Sam Dabney. Ruby Dandridge, mother of Dorothy Dandridge, gave a solid performance as the Dabneys’ housekeeper, Dabby. And I can say the same about Richard Long’s portrayal of Moana’s younger brother, Bruce Dabney; Arthur Shields as Reverend Kirkland; and Sondra Rogers as Shellie Dabney.

Despite the solid performances that permeated “TAP ROOTS”, two of them proved to be problematic for me. First, there was Ward Bond’s portrayal of Hoab Dabney, the Mississippi planter who not only inherit the family’s cotton plantation following his father’s death, but also the latter’s plans for a neutral Mississippi. I might as well say it. I found Bond’s performance to be an exercise in histrionics. I found this surprising since Bond has never struck me as a hammy acting. I wish that director George Marshall had found a way to rein in his acting – especially in one scene in which Hoab came into conflict with Moana over her past relationship with Clay McIvor. Alas, I thought Bond gave his hammiest performance in that one scene. The other problematic performance came from Boris Karloff, who portrayed the Dabney family’s Choctaw friend and retainer, Tishomingo. Mind you, Karloff gave a competent and subtle performance as one of the few sensible characters in this movie. And although many may have been put off by a British actor portraying a Native American, I was surprised to discover that Karloff had possessed both English and East Indian ancestry from both of his parents. I do not know if that gave the actor a pass, considering he still lacked any Native American ancestry. But if I really had a problem with Karloff’s performance is that he had portrayed Tishomingo as if the character was an Englishman. Even if Karloff had been portraying a white American, I still would have found his performance slightly problematic.

And what about the narrative for “TAP ROOTS”? Did I like it? Honestly? No. For me, the 1948 movie had failed to impress me. And this is a pity. I believe the problem stemmed from the movie’s original source, the 1942 novel. Author James H. Street had claimed he was inspired by the life of Newton Knight, when he wrote his novel. However, out of fear that Knight’s life was too controversial – namely his common-law marriage to former slave Rachel Knight – Street changed the nature of Knight’s story. The leading characters of “TAP ROOTS” were portrayed as members of Mississippi’s planter class. They opposed slavery – at least one or two characters had claimed this – but also owned slaves. But aside from the Dabneys’ “faithful” housekeeper Dabby, all other slaves were minor characters who barely spoke. If a movie is going to have its main characters claim to be anti-slavery, why ignore the topic for the rest of the film? Newton Knight’s grandfather was a major slave owner in northern Mississippi during the early 19th century. But Knight and his father had opposed slavery and became yeoman farmers who never owned slaves. Knight had been an Army deserter and managed to successfully opposed the Confederate authority in Jones County between 1863 and 1865. The Daubey family and Keith Alexander had no such success in “TAP ROOTS”. And I never understood this. Why did Street and later, the movie’s writers did not follow Knight’s Civil War experiences? What was the point of creating this story if they were not willing to closely follow Knight’s conflict with the Confederate authorities? Why not allow the Daubey family to be yeoman farmers who opposed slavery? Street and the filmmakers could have still kept out Newton Knight’s relationship with Rachel Knight.

Instead, I found myself watching a movie in which the main protagonists claimed they opposed slavery, yet practiced it and barely touched upon the subject for most of the film. The movie literally dragged its feet between Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. And although I disliked Moana Dabney’s romance with the unworthy Clay McIvor, I found Keith Alexander’s “courtship” of her rather troubling. In Keith’s attempt to get Moana to forget about Clay, he resorted to bouts of manhandling her that seemed to border on sexual assault. For some reason, this reminded me of the Scarlett O’Hara/Rhett Butler relationship from “GONE WITH THE WIND”. And not in a good way. I also had a problem with the film’s portrayal of Lebanon Valley’s citizens. I noticed that the film seemed to portray them as mindless citizens who followed the Dabneys’ anti-Confederate stance without any real explanation. Like the Dabney slaves, Hoab’s followers lacked any real agency. Did author James Street, along with the filmmakers of this movie really lacked the courage to convey a story about how a Southern-born yeoman farmer and others from his class had successfully fought against the Confederacy? Or even exploring his anti-slavery stance? Back in the 1940s?

In the end, this is my real problem with “TAP ROOTS”. James Street and producer Walter Wanger took a historical event from the Civil War and used fiction – a novel and its Hollywood adaptation – to render it toothless. Its main historical figure Newton Knight had been transformed into a borderline hysterical and controlling cotton planter and member of the elite. The story failed to explore what led many of the planter’s combatants to follow him. The story barely touched upon the topic of anti-slavery, while including slaves as minor and background characters. And the movie dumped some tepid attempt at a “GONE WITH THE WIND” clone romance to keep movie goers interested. The movie had some virtues. But in the end, the movie vague adaptation of Newton Knight’s Civil War experiences simply fell flat. I hope and pray I am never inclined to watch this film again.

Favorite Episodes of “OUTLANDER” Season One (2014-2015)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “OUTLANDER”, STARZ’s adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel and literary series of the same name. Developed by Ronald D. Moore, the series stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan:

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “OUTLANDER” SEASON ONE (2014-2015)

1. (1.02) “Castle Leoch” – Former World War II nurse and time traveler Claire Beauchamp Randall is brought to Castle Leoch by a group of Highlanders that include Jamie Fraser and his maternal uncle Dougal MacKenzie. The Highlanders suspect she might be an English spy. Discovering she had traveled back to 1743, Claire tries to arrange travel back to the standing stones.

2. (1.11) “The Devil’s Mark” – Claire and the wife of the local procurator fiscal, Geillis Duncan, stand trial for witchcraft. Claire also learns a secret about Geillis’ past.

3. (1.08) “Both Sides Now” – Back in 1945, Claire’s husband, Frank Randall, continues to search for her; but he starts to lose hope of ever finding her. Meanwhile, Claire is trying to come to terms with her marriage to Jamie in 1743 Scotland.

4. (1.05) “Rent” – Claire joins Jamie and Dougal on the road with other members of Clan MacKenzie, as they collect the tenants’ rent on behalf their laird, Colum MacKenzie. She becomes aware of Dougal’s involvement in trying to raise money for the Jacobite rebellion.

5. (1.01) “Sassenach” – In this series premiere, Claire and Frank reunite after five years of war apart in 1945. Their second honeymoon in Scotland goes awry when she falls back through time to the 1740s.

Honorable Mention: (1.12) “Lallybroch” – Old family wounds reopen when Jamie returns to his family estate, Lallybroch, with new wife Claire in tow.

Five Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season Three (1996-1997)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Three of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor; the series starred Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK VOYAGER” SEASON THREE (1996-1997)

1 - 3.16 Blood Fever

1. (3.16) “Blood Fever” – While enduring pon farr, a lovesick Ensign Vorik unexpectedly passes it to Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres, affecting her relationship with Chief Helmsman Tom Paris during an Away mission. Alexander Enberg guest-starred.

2 - 3.24 Displaced

2. (3.24) “Displaced” – A mystery develops when Voyager crew members are replaced, one-by-one, with aliens from an unknown race.

3 - 3.25 Worst Case Scenario

3. (3.25) “Worst Case Scenario” – When Torres discovers a hidden holodeck program in which the ship’s Maquis crewmen stage an insurrection, members of the Voyager crew begin clandestinely participating in it, with surprising dangerous results for Paris and Security Chief Tuvok. Martha Hackett guest-starred.

4 - 3.17 Unity

4. (3.17) “Unity” – Voyager’s First Officer, Commander Chakotay, crashes on a planet with a community of unassimilated Borg drones from all over the galaxy. Meanwhile, the ship encounters a Borg cube that is “dead in space”.

5 - 3.02 The Chute

5. (3.02) “The Chute” – While on leave on the Akritirian homeworld, Paris and Operations Chief Harry Kim are falsely accused of a terrorist bombing. While the two men struggle to survive in a brutal prison, Captain Kathryn Janeway and Voyager’s crew race against time to prove their innocence.

HM - 3.14 Alter Ego

Honorable Mention: (3.14) “Alter Ego” – Kim falls in love with a holodeck character from Neelix’s Polynesian resort program named Marayna. But when he seeks help from Tuvok to get over his “crush”, Marayna begins to behave strangely when she develops an obsession toward the Vulcan Security Chief.

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” (2019) Review

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” (2019) Review

Despite its success at the box office, the second film in the Disney STAR WARS Sequel Trilogy, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”, proved to be something of a publicity disaster. Many film critics loved it. An even greater number of moviegoers disliked it. Many have attributed this schism within the STAR WARS fandom as a contributing factor to the box office failure of “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY”. To regain the universal love of the fandom, Disney Studios and Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm brought back J.J. Abrams, who had directed “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”, to handled the trilogy’s third entry, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”.

Disney Studios and Lucasfilm heralded “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” as not only the end of the franchise’s Sequel Trilogy, but also the end of the Skywalker family saga, which began under George Lucas. The 2019 movie began a year after “THE LAST JEDI”. The Resistance under Leia Organa has been hiding from the ever growing threat of the First Order, which has been ruled by her son, Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo. Leia has also been training Force acolyte Rey, while orchestrating the Resistance’s attempts to rebuild the organization and form contacts with other worlds and factions throughout the Galaxy. However, the film’s opening crawl reveals that Emperor Sheev Palpatine is still alive, despite being tossed down the second Death Star’s reactor shaft by Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader, while being electrocuted in “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Palpatine vows revenge against the Galaxy for its rejection of him and his power. Leia charges Poe Dameron, Finn and Rey to search for Palpatine and destroy him. Kylo Ren also seeks Palpatine with the intent to kill the latter and maintain his own supremacy of the First Order. Kylo Ren eventually manages to find Palpatine on the remote planet of Exegol. He learns that his former master, Snoke, had merely been a puppet of Palpatine. And the former Emperor wants him to find Rey and kill her in order to remove any possible threat to the resurgence of the Sith Order.

When I learned that J.J. Abrams would return to the “STAR WARS” franchise to conclude the Sequel Trilogy, my reactions were mixed. On one hand, I disliked his handling of “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. On the other hand, I completely loathed what Rian Johnson had done with “THE LAST JEDI”. And when Abrams had promised to do right by the Finn character, which had been so badly mishandled by Johnson . . . well, some part of me did not know whether to welcome Abrams’ return or be leery of it.

There were aspects of “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” that I liked. I was impressed by Dan Mindel’s cinematography for the movie, especially in scenes that featured the planet of Pasaana. I thought Mindel did an excellent job of utilizing the country of Jordan for those scenes, as shown below:

I was also impressed how Mindel shot the visual effects for the last duel between Rey and Kylo Ren among the second Death Star ruins on the Endor moon. Some of the film’s action sequences struck me as pretty memorable, thanks to Abrams’ direction, Mindel’s cinematography and stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart. I am referring to those scenes that feature the heroes’ occasional encounters with the First Order on Psaana and aboard the First Order star ship. I was also relieved to see the trilogy’s three protagonists – Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron – and Chewbacca spend a great deal of the movie together. The four characters managed to create a pretty solid dynamic, thanks to the performances of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Joonas Suotamo and it is a shame that audiences never got a chance to experience this dynamic in the trilogy’s other two films.

There was an aspect of the film’s narrative that delivered a great deal of satisfaction to me. It is a small matter, but involved Rey’s Jedi training. I am very relieved that Abrams finally allowed Rey to receive substantial training from a mentor, who happened to be Leia. A year had passed between “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Rey’s first scene established that Leia had been training her during that year. The movie also established in a flashback that Leia had received her training from her brother Luke Skywalker. Why did I find this satisfying? Most of Luke’s own Jedi training had also occurred during the period of a year – between the events of “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. And during this period, he had received his training from . . . you know, I have no idea on how Luke managed to complete his training. Even after so many years. To this day, it is a mystery. And this is why I am grateful that Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio had made it clear that Leia had continued Rey’s training between “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”.

The performances featured in the movie struck me as pretty solid, especially from the leads – Ridley, Boyega, Isaac and Adam Driver. The movie also featured solid, yet brief performances from returning cast members such as Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Billie Lourd, Lupita Nyong’o, and the late Carrie Fisher. Dominic Monaghan, Naomie Ackie, Keri Russell and Richard E. Grant all made nice additions to the trilogy. It was great to see Billy Dee Williams reprise his role as Lando Calrissian. He was one of the bright spots of this film. Hell, it was even nice to see Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles again, despite his brief appearance. But if I must be honest, I was not particularly blown away by any of them – including the usually outstanding Boyega. Actually, I take that back. There was one cast member who provided a moment of superb acting. I refer to Joonas Suotamo, who did an excellent job in conveying a true moment of grief and despair for Chewbacca’s character in the film’s second half.

But I do have a complaint about one particular performance. And it came, from all people, Ian McDiarmid who portrayed the surprisingly alive Emperor Palpatine. How can I put this? This Palpatine seemed like a ghost of his former self. No. Wait. That was phrased wrong. What I meant to say is that McDiarmid’s portrayal of Palpatine in this film seemed like an exaggeration in compare to his performances in the Original and Prequel Trilogy films. Exaggerated . . . ham-fisted. I found McDiarmid’s scenes so wince-inducing that I could barely watch them. However, aware of McDiarmid’s true skills as an actor, I finally realized that his bad performance may have been a result of J.J. Abrams’ direction. The latter’s failure as a director in Palpatine’s scenes and failure to visualize the character as a subtle and manipulative villain really impeded McDiarmid’s performance.

Unfortunately, McDiarmid’s performance was not my only problem with “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. I had a host of others. Many film critics have bashed J.J. Abrams for trying to reject what Rian Johnson had set up in “THE LAST JEDI”. I find this criticism ironic, considering that Johnson had rejected a great deal of what Abrams had set up in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. Not that it really matters to me. I disliked “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. I disliked “THE LAST JEDI”. And if I must be brutally honest, I disliked “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Like the other two films, I thought the 2019 movie was pretty bad.

My first problem with “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” was its main narrative. Basically, the entire story revolved around the heroes and the First Order’s search for the now alive Palpatine. The film’s opening crawl pretty much announced to movie audiences that Palpatine was alive without bothering presenting this revelation as a surprise. It is simply the old case of “tell and not show” that has hampered a great number of fictional works throughout time. I believe this narrative device especially does not suit a plot for a motion picture or a television series, because it comes off as a cheat. It is lazy writing. Worse, most of the main characters spend a great deal of the movie searching for Palpatine. And when they finally discover him, no one bothered to ask how he had escaped death after being allegedly killed by Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader in “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. How did Palpatine survive being tossed to his death, while being electrocuted by Force lightning? Well, STAR WARS fans finally learned the truth in the film’s novelization written by Rae Carson. The only major character who immediately managed to find Palpatine was Kylo Ren, who used a Sith wayfinder . . . or compass. Meanwhile, Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewbacca had to resort to following clues to lead to first a Sith dagger, and later, a Sith wayfinder – traveling from one planet to another at a dizzying speed. This whole search for a wayfinder and Palpatine struck me as unnecessarily rushed. I do not think it is a good thing when a person complains about the fast pacing of a movie with a 142 minutes running time. For me, this exposed the hollow nature of the movie’s narrative.

As I had earlier stated, the majority of the film’s narrative is centered around the protagonists’ determination to find Palpatine. A part of me wonders how did the Resistance and the First Order had planned to kill him, once he was discovered. And yes, the First Order’s leader, Kylo Ren, also wanted Palpatine’s dead. But how did any of them plan to kill him? The movie never conveyed any of the other characters’ plans. Worse, this search for Palpatine had transformed the movie into some space opera version of both the INDIANA JONES and NATIONAL TREASURE movie franchises. Was that why Abrams had decided to expose Palpatine’s return or resurrection in the film’s opening crawl? So he could have his major characters embark on this “Indiana Jones” style hunt for Palpatine from the get go? Or relive the whole “map to Luke Skywalker” search from “THE FORCE AWAKENS” that proved to be so irrelevant? Well guess what? The “Search for Palpatine” proved to be equally irrelevant. Watching Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewbacca hunt down artifacts that would lead them to Palpatine was one of the more ridiculous aspects of this film. I felt as if I had watched a hybrid STAR WARS/INDIANA JONES/NATIONAL TREASURE movie. It was fucking exhausting.

Returning to Palpatine, I was unpleasantly shocked to learn that during the thirty years he was missing, he had created a new fleet of Star Destroyers, each ship equipped with a planet-killing laser. Thirty years. Is that how long it took Palpatine (or his clone) to create a fleet of planet killing Star Destroyers? Is that why he had taken so long construct these ships? If one Star Destroyer can destroy a planet, why did he bother to wait so long to use any of them to re-take the Galaxy? Three decades? I wish I could say more, but I do not see the point. Is a Star Destroyer strong enough to be used as a “base” for a laser powerful enough to destroy a planet?

I have also noticed that the lightsaber duels featured in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” . . . well, they were bad. Quite a travesty, if I must be honest. I have never been that impressed by the lightsaber duels in the Sequel Trilogy, but even I must admit that Kylo Ren’s duels with both Finn and Rey in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” were somewhat better than the Obi-Wan Kenobi/Darth Vader duel in “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. But after the 2015 movie . . . dear God. Rey and Kylo Ren’s fight against Snoke’s guards in “THE LAST JEDI” struck me as something of a joke. But Rey and Kylo Ren’s duels in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” were simply abysmal. Dan Mindel’s cinematography and the movie’s visual effects team could do nothing to hide the laughable nature of the duels. Both Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver seemed to spend a great deal of their time slashing at each with no semblance of swordsmanship whatsoever. Where is Nick Gillard when you need him?

Not surprisingly, “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” revealed a number of Force abilities that appeared for the first (or second time) in the STAR WARS franchise. The Force bond between Rey and Kylo Ren, which was created by Snoke in the previous film; allowed the First Order leader to snatch a necklace from the Resistance fighter’s neck in a violent manner – despite the fact that the pair was thousands of miles from each other. And in another scene, while Rey faced Palpatine and Kylo Ren faced the Knights of the Ren, she was able to hand over a lightsaber to him – despite being miles apart. How did they do this? I have not the foggiest idea. I do not even understand how Abrams and Terrio managed to create this ability in the first place. And frankly, I find it rather stupid and implausible. Force healing. For the first time in the history of the franchise, a Force user has the ability to heal. How did this come about? I have not the foggiest idea. If this had been the case during the events of the Prequel Trilogy, chances are Anakin Skywalker would have never become a Sith Lord. The Force healing ability made its debut in the Disney Plus series, “THE MANDALORIAN” . . . I think. However, Kylo Ren had the ability to use Force healing. So did Rey. I do not know who taught them or how . . . fuck it! I will just treat this as another plot device that came out of Lucasfilm’s ass. “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” also revealed that the “resurrected” Palpatine had the ability to transfer one person’s essence into the body of another. How? More contrived writing.

Speaking of contrivance, there is the matter of one Leia Organa. Although a part of me still believes Lucasfilm should have killed off Leia Organa in “THE LAST JEDI”, in the wake of Carrie Fisher’s death a year before the film’s release; I must admit that Abrams did an admirable job in utilizing old footage of the actress from “THE FORCE AWAKENS”, digital special effects and Billie Lourd as a body double for some of Leia’s scenes. But I hated the way Leia was finally killed off. It was similar to Luke’s ludicrous death in “THE LAST JEDI”. I HATE how Disney Studios and Lucasfilm portray the Force as some kind of energy that can kill an individual if it was used too long or too hard. As if the Force user was some kind of goddamn battery. I really hate that. And this is why I dislike Leia’s death just as much as I disliked Luke’s.

In fact, this movie seemed to be filled with contrived writing. As for the Rebel Alli . . . I mean the Resistance, I noticed that their numbers had grown since the end of “THE LAST JEDI”. Had Leia managed to recruit new members for the Resistance’s cause during the year between the two films? If so, “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” did not hint one way or the other. I mean there were barely enough Resistance members to crowd the Millennium Falcon in the last film’s finale. And the narrative for “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” seemed to hint that aside from Maz Kanata, hardly anyone new had bothered to join the Resistance during that year between the two films. So . . . if this is true, why did the number of Resistance members seemed to have tripled during that year between the two movies? Among the new members is one Beaumont Kin, portrayed by “LOST” alumni Dominic Monaghan.

Speaking of characters – the arcs for the major characters have proven to be as disastrous as those featured in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and especially “THE LAST JEDI”. I was surprised to see Maz Kanata as a member of the Resistance. Her recruitment into the organization was never seen on screen. Even worse, the former smuggler and tavern owner was basically reduced to a background character with one or two lines. Actress Lupita Nyong’o’s time was certainly wasted for this film. Although I thought Rose Tico was a promising character, I never liked how Rian Johnson had used her as a very unnecessary mentor for Finn in “THE LAST JEDI”. However, my hopes that J.J. Abrams would do her character justice in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” proved to be fruitless. In this film, Rose had been reduced from supporting character to minor character, who spent most of her appearances interacting with Monaghan’s Beaumont Kin in three or four scenes. What a damn waste! Speaking of waste . . . poor Domhnall Gleeson. His character, General Armitage Hux, was another character whose presence was wasted in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Audiences learned in the film’s second half that he had become a mole for the Resistance, supplying the group information on the First Order’s movements. The problem with this scenario is that film had Hux explained that he was simply betraying his leader, Kylo Ren. But his reason for this betrayal was never fully explained, let alone developed. Harrison Ford returned in a brief cameo appearance as the ghost of Han Solo. Wait a minute. Let me re-phrase that. Ford returned as a figment of Kylo Ren’s imagination . . . as Han Solo. How was his performance? Unmemorable.

“THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” also featured a good number of new characters. Probably too many. I have already mentioned Resistance fighter Beaumont Kim. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio also introduced Jannah, a former stormtrooper who had deserted from the First Order like Finn. When she was introduced, I had assumed that Finn’s background would finally be explored. Never happened. Worse, Abrams only allowed Jannah – a new character – to speculate on her background in one line spoken to Lando Calrissian. And nothing else. Next, there was Zorri Bliss, a smuggler and former paramour of Poe Dameron’s, who provided the Resistance with information on how to interpret the Sith dagger in their possession. Aside from this task, Bliss managed to miraculously survive the destruction of Kijimi, her homeworld to participate in the final battle against Palpatine and the First Order. Through her, audiences learned that Poe was a former spice smuggler . . . a drug smuggler. More on this, later. And finally, we have Allegiant General Enric Pryde, who came out of no where to become Kylo Ren’s top commander. It occurred to me that Pryde turned out to be the Sequel Trilogy’s General Grievous. I love the Prequel Trilogy, but I never liked Grievous. He should have been introduced a lot earlier than the Prequel Trilogy’s last film. And Enric Pryde should have been introduced earlier than “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. It would have made his brief conflict with Hux a lot more believable.

I read somewhere that the character of Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo is the most popular in the Sequel Trilogy. I am a firm admirer of actor Adam Driver and I thought he gave a solid performance as Kylo Ren. But . . . the character has never been a favorite of mine. I could complain that Kylo Ren is bad written, but I can honestly say the same about the other major (and minor) characters. Yet for some reason, Lucasfilm, a good number of the STAR WARS and media seemed to think the stars shined on Kylo Ren’s ass. I hate it when the glorification of a story or character is unearned and then shoved down the throats of the public. In “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”, Kylo Ren’s character arc proved to be just as rushed and full of writing contrivances as his relationship arc in “THE LAST JEDI”. Honestly. Unlike Anakin Skywalker in the Original Trilogy, Kylo Ren’s redemption was never properly set up in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. It merely sprung up in the film’s last third act so that Abrams (the unoriginal storyteller that he is) could allow him to mimic his grandfather’s arc. Looking back on Kylo Ren’s character, he should have continued his arc from the end of “THE LAST JEDI” – as the main villain. Instead, Abrams and Lucasfilm brought back Palpatine so they could have Kylo Ren repeat Anakin’s arc and avoid dying as the film’s Big Bad. This decision only brought about bad writing. And then we have Poe Dameron. In some ways, Poe proved to be the worst written character in this trilogy. It almost seemed as if Lucasfilm, Abrams and Rian Johnson did not know what to do with him. His death was initially set up in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and he spent most of that film off-screen, only to make a miraculous re-appearance near the end, with no real explanation how he had survived the crash on Jakku. In “THE LAST JEDI”, Johnson had transformed Poe into some hot-headed Latino stereotype, who questioned the decisions of the Resistance’s two female leaders – Leia and Admiral Holdo. And “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” made another revision to Poe’s character. The movie revealed that Poe had a past romance with the smuggler Zorri Bliss and was a spice runner (drug smuggler). How quaint. Abrams and Terrio took the only leading character in the Sequel Trilogy portrayed by a Latino actor and transformed him into a drug lord. Where the two writers watching “NARCO” or old reruns of “MIAMI VICE” when they made this decision to Poe’s character? God only knows. I do know that in my eyes, this was another mark of racism on Lucasfilm’s belt.

Speaking of racism . . . what on earth happened to Finn? Following Rian Johnson’s shoddy treatment of his character in “THE LAST JEDI”, J.J. Abrams had assured the franchise’s fans that he would do justice to Finn. And he failed. Spectacularly. Did Finn even have a character arc in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”? The former stormtrooper spent most of the film either participating in the search for Palpatine, while keeping one eye on the constantly distracted Rey, like some lovesick puppy. He seemed to lack his own story in this film. “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” could have provided the perfect opportunity for Lucasfilm to further explore his background as a former stormtrooper. With the creation of Jannah, I thought it would finally happen. Instead, the movie focused more on Jannah’s questions about her origins. And Lucasfilm and Abrams wasted the chance to even consider at subplot regarding Finn and the First Order’s stormtroopers. Boyega also spent most of the film hinting that he had something important to tell Rey. Many believe he was trying to confess that he loved her. That is because the movie DID NOT allow him to finally make his confession. Even worse, audiences learned that he wanted to confess his suspicions that he might be Force sensitive. And Lucasfilm confirmed this. Why on earth could they NOT confirm Finn’s Force sensitivity on film? Why? What was the point in keeping this a secret until AFTER the film’s release?

I also noticed one other disturbing aspect about Finn . . . or John Boyega. I just discovered that John Boyega had been demoted by Disney Studios and Lucasfilm from leading actor to supporting actor. Only this had happened a lot sooner that I thought. In the studio’s Academy Awards campaign for “THE FORCE AWAKENS”, it pushed Boyega for a Best Actor nomination. But in both “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”, the studio pushed him for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Yet, for all three movies, Lucasfilm and Disney also pushed a white actor for Best Actor. They pushed Harrison Ford (along with Boyega) “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. They pushed Mark Hamill for Best Actor in “THE LAST JEDI”. Yet, both Ford and Hamill were clearly part of the supporting cast. And they pushed Adam Driver for Best Actor for “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Hmmmm . . . Driver went from supporting actor to lead actor, while Boyega was demoted from lead actor to supporting actor. A few more notches in Lucasfilm/Disney’s racist belt. God, I am sick to my stomach. And poor John Boyega. He was poorly misused by Lucasfilm, Disney Studios, Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams.

As for Rey . . . I am completely over her as a character. Although I found her Mary Sue qualities annoying, I found her arc in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” a complete mess. The only good that came from her arc was the fact that Leia had trained her in the ways of the Force for a year. Otherwise, I had to grit my teeth and watch her behave in this chaotic manner throughout the entire film. Every time she and her friends were in the middle of some situation, she would get distracted by Kylo Ren’s presence and break away. Why? So she could kill him . . . I guess. Apparently, killing Kylo Ren was more important to her than completing a mission for the Resistance. Why? I have no idea. The movie’s narrative never explained this behavior of hers. And it gets worse. Rey eventually learns that she is Palpatine’s granddaughter. Granddaughter. Palpatine managed to knock up some woman years ago and conceive a son after he had become Emperor. That son conceived Rey with her mother before dying. Palpatine, who had been alive all of these years, never bothered to get his hands on Rey . . . until this movie. Why? I have no idea.

During Rey and Kylo Ren’s final duel, she managed to shove her lightsaber blade into his gut. And then she used the Force to heal him. Why? Perhaps she felt guilty for nearly killing him. Who knows? Later, she is killed by Palpatine (who could not make up his mind on whether he wanted her alive or dead) before Kylo Ren Force healed her. And then she planted a big wet kiss on his pucker. Lucasfilm and Disney claimed that the kiss was an act of gratitude on her part. I did not realize that gratitude could be so sexual. Nevertheless, Lucasfilm and Disney ensured that the only leading male that Rey would exchange bodily fluids with was one who shared her white skin. Despite the fact that this . . . man had more or less abused her – mentally and physically – since “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. There was no real development that led to this sexual kiss of gratitude. But I guess Disney and Lucasfilm were determined that Rey would not exchange a kiss with the two non-white men. Another notch on Lucasfilm/Disney’s racist belt. Oh . . . and by the way, the film or Lucasfilm had established that Rey and Kylo Ren were part of some Force dyad. What is a Force dyad? Two Force-sensitive people who had created a Force bond, making them one in the Force. And this happened because Rey and Kylo Ren were grandchildren of Sith Lords. I have never heard of anything so ludicrous in my life, especially since it was established in “THE LAST JEDI” that Snoke – a creation of Palpatine, by the way – had created their mental bond. How he did that I have no idea.

You know what? I could go on and on about “STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. But I now realize it would take a goddamn essay to explain why I dislike this movie so much. I should have realized that J.J. Abrams’ promises that he would fix the problems of “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI” was worth shit in the wind. He, Chris Terrio, Disney Studios and Lucasfilm only made the Sequel Trilogy worse . . . as if that was possible. Not only was “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” a waste of my time, so was the entire Sequel Trilogy. And it wasted the acting skills of its talented cast led by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver for so many years.

Five Favorite Episodes of “GAME OF THRONES” Season Two (2012)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of “GAME OF THRONES”, HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s 1998 novel from his A Song of Ice and Fire series, “A Clash of Kings”. The series was created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “GAME OF THRONES” SEASON TWO (2012)

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1. (2.09) “Blackwater” – King Robert Baratheon’s younger brother, Stannis Baratheon, arrives at Westeros’ capital, King’s Landing, to battle for the city and the Iron Throne.

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2. (2.06) “The Old Gods and the New” – Former Stark hostage Theon Greyjoy seizes control of Winterfell to please his father, Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. Jon Snow captures a wildling named Ygritte. And the people of King’s Landing begin to turn against King Joffrey during a riot in the capital’s streets. Daenerys Targaryen looks to buy ships to sail for the Seven Kingdoms.

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3. (2.10) “Valar Morghulis” – In this season finale, Joffrey ends his engagement to Sansa Stark in favor for an engagement to Renley Baratheon’s widow, Margery Tyrell, in the wake of the Lannisters’ new alliance with her family. Daenerys seeks to rescue her baby dragons from the warlocks of Qarth.

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4. (2.05) “The Ghost of Harrenhal” – Temporary Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister investigates a secret weapon that King Joffrey and his mother, Queen Cersei, plan to use against Stannis’ invasion force. Meanwhile, as a token to Arya for saving his life on the road from King’s Landing, an assassin named Jaqen H’ghar offers to kill three people that she chooses.

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5. (2.04) “Garden of Bones” – Sansa is nearly punished by Joffrey following her brother Robb Stark’s latest victory over the Lannister forces. Lord Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish arrives at Renly’s camp just before the latter can face off against Stannis. Daenerys and her company are welcomed into the city of Qarth. Arya and her travel companions – Gendry and Hot Pie – find themselves imprisoned at Harrenhal Castle.

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Sexist Tropes in “POLDARK” (2015-2019)

SEXIST TROPES IN “POLDARK” (2015-2019)

After watching the recent “POLDARK” television series for the past few years and reading the commentaries on these episodes and especially two particular characters – Demelza Carne Poldark and Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan – I have come to a disturbing conclusion. Despite the advent of the feminist movement, we still live a sexist society. Because our society remains sexist to this day, many people – women included – tend to view female fictional characters from a sexist view. This was especially apparent with the opinions of the two major female characters in “POLDARK”.

I have noticed that producer Debbie Horsfield and many of the series’ fans and critics seemed hellbent upon viewing both Demelza and Elizabeth through some Whore/Madonna trope. The situation regarding Demelza and Elizabeth strikes me as rather ironic. In many works of fiction and sometimes in real life, women of working-class backgrounds are usually perceived as sexually permissive or a “whore”. And women from a middle-class or upper-class background are usually perceived as virtuous or “the Madonna”. Not only do a good number of men apply this type of categorization upon women, other women do as well.

What made this trope ironic in “POLDARK”? The low-born Demelza – a miner’s daughter who became main protagonist Ross Polark’s servant and later, wife – has been regarded by many fans as virtuous or . . . “the Madonna”. In contrast, Elizabeth Chynoweth, a landowner’s daughter, has been more less labeled as a “whore” by said fans. Elizabeth, who had originally been courted by Ross before he left to serve in the British Army during the American Revolution, ended up marrying his cousin Francis Poldark. She later married Ross’ neighbor and nemesis, George Warleggan after Francis’ death.

I suspect that if Demelza had not married Ross and become the main protagonist, she would not have become so highly regarded by the fans. After all, she was low born. And she had sex with Ross, while serving his household as a kitchen maid. Right before their marriage. Ross ended up coercing her into marrying him in order to put a stop to the rumors about them. But I believe what really saved Demelza from being labeled “the whore” by readers and television viewers was the presence of the one woman she regarded as her nemesis – namely her cousin-in-law and Ross’ first love, Elizabeth Poldark Warleggan née Chynoweth. In the fans’ eyes, Elizabeth had made the mistake of rejecting Ross upon his return from the American Revolutionary War and marrying his cousin Francis. The literary Elizabeth honestly thought she had loved Francis and felt that Ross would not be the right husband for her. The recent series depicted Elizabeth as a woman torn by her feelings for Ross and slightly coerced into marrying Francis by her mother. To make matters worse, following Francis’ death, Elizabeth had married Ross’ nemesis, banker George Warleggan for his money. She needed his money to save the Trenwith estate for hers and Francis’ son, Geoffrey Charles.

I have a confession. Originally, I had believed this sexist view of both women stemmed from Demelza being the saga’s main female protagonist and Elizabeth’s rejection of Ross and her decisions to marry Francis and George. While Demelza was portrayed as this near perfect woman, especially in the series by show runner Debbie Horsfield; she was constantly praised by fans and critics for not only being “ideal”, but also the “ideal” mate for Ross. Elizabeth was portrayed with a more negative tone. As I had stated earlier, Debbie Horsfield changed the nature of her reason for rejecting Ross and marrying Francis. Horsfield used Demelza’s class origin as some kind of “Cinderella” fairy tale. Elizabeth was subtlety criticized for being a member of the upper-class and marrying Francis to maintain the lifestyle she was accustomed to. She was also portrayed as a woman who could not make up her mind about whom she wanted to marry. And then came that night of May 9, 1793.

Any fan of Winston Graham’s novels or the two television adaptations of his saga knows what happened that month – Ross and Elizabeth conceived his third child and her second – Valentine Warleggan. For years, many fans have asserted that Valentine’s conception was an act of consensual sex between the pair. The 1975-1977 series had portrayed Ross raping Elizabeth before pretending that rape never happened. The 2015-2019 series proved to be worse. It had Ross assaulting Elizabeth and on the verge of raping her. Before he could, she consented to sex at the last moment, transforming their encounter into a “rape fantasy”. Only Winston Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan”, portrayed the encounter as rape. The author condemned Ross’ act for the rest of his literary series – something that many fans refuse to acknowledge.

Yet, even before the rape, Horsfield did her level best to set up sympathy toward Demelza and condemn Elizabeth at the same time. As in the novels, Ross had spent a good deal of time at Trenwith, helping the recently widowed Elizabeth deal with estate debts. But in the series, Demelza, her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark Blamey and the audience blamed Elizabeth instead of Ross; who seemed hellbent upon enjoying Elizabeth’s company as much as possible. Horsfield even added a scene in which Demelza made a snarky, yet hostile comment about Ross’ time at Trenwith that clearly blamed Elizabeth. And fans, to my utter disgust, cheered this moment of misogyny. Horsfield included another scene after the rape that featured an encounter between Demelza and Elizabeth in the woods (this also never happened in the novel) in which the former accused the latter of having a sexually illicit encounter with Ross. Again, I found myself disgusted by this obvious attempt by Horsfield to demonize Elizabeth for something that was never her fault. I felt equally disgusted by the fans’ cheers over Demelza’s words.

After the series’ adaptation of “Warleggan”, I thought I would see the last of this less than ambiguous handling of both Demelza and Elizabeth. I did not. Horsfield provided other examples of idealizing Demelza’s character and vilifying Elizabeth’s. In the novels that followed “Warleggan”, both women had committed major mistakes.

Elizabeth had supported her second husband George Warleggan’s attempt to force a marriage between her cousin Morwenna Chynoweth and a highborn vicar from Truro, the Reverend Osbourne Whitworth. Who proved to be an abusive husband. Mind you, Elizabeth was not solely to blame for this marriage. One, it was George’s idea and he was the one who finally coerced Morwenna into marrying Osbourne – at least in the series. Morwenna’s mother was the one who finally coerced her in the novel. But Elizabeth did support his action. It was probably the worst thing she truly ever did. Unfortunately, Horsfield felt this need to portray Elizabeth as a cold and scheming woman, who proved to be initially cold to her younger son Valentine. This never happened in the novel. Worse, Horsfield had transformed Elizabeth into both an morphine addict and alcoholic as a means to express the struggles she suffered as George’s wife. Again . . . this never happened in the novel. Why Horsfield thought this was necessary. I have no idea. The literary Elizabeth had found George’s paranoia over Ross rather stressful, but not to the point of her becoming an addict.

On the other hand, Horsfield had went out of her way to portray Demelza as this perfect lady, who sang whenever the screenplay allowed actress Eleanor Tomlinson to display her singing ability. There was a moment of Demelza racing across the countryside on horseback like some Harlequin Romance heroine in an effort to save her younger brother Drake Carne from being set upon by George’s bullies. Actually, some locals came to Drake’s rescue in the novel. There was also the matter of Demelza’s initial refusal to support her brother Drake romance with Morwenna. Demelza used the differences in Drake and Morwenna’s classes as an excuse for her lack of support, claiming she did not want to see both of them suffer in an unhappy marriage. I found this rather hypocritical, considering Demelza had married outside of her class. The series had went out of its way to avoid conveying Demelza’s unwillingness to contemplate the idea of Elizabeth’s cousin as her future sister-in-law. Although she had ended up supporting Drake and Morwenna’s relationship in the end, Demelza had never really let go of this wish of her brother marrying another woman of her choice instead of Morwenna, despite their happy marriage – at least in one of Winston Graham’s later novels. The one true terrible act that Demelza had committed was her brief affair with Royal Navy officer Hugh Armitage. Actually, they only had sex once. But once was enough, as far as I am concerned. Many viewers had excused Demelza’s infidelity as an act of bad writing from Graham or Horsfield. One blogger used Demelza’s rushed romance/marriage to Ross as excuse for her to experience an actual romance with someone of her age. And there were those who used Ross’ infidelity – namely the “eye for an eye” – as an excuse. Frankly, revenge sex has never struck me as a good excuse to cheat on one’s spouse, unless he was a serial abuser like the Justin LaMotte character from the “NORTH AND SOUTH” series . . . or Osbourne Whitworth. Ross may have been guilty of raping Elizabeth, but he had never ever abused Demelza in that manner. Also, I do not recall anyone slut shaming Demelza for her affair with Hugh.

I might as well be frank. Neither Demelza or Elizabeth were perfect. And neither were monsters. Both women possessed flaws and virtues. And yet . . . the fans and writer Debbie Horsfield seemed incapable of accepting both as complex women. Fans had behaved as if Demelza was the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel. They regarded Elizabeth as “the Whore of Babylon” or worse, a weak and manipulative woman. They seem incapable of facing Demelza’s faults – other than her naivety in late Season One. And they seem unwilling to acknowledge Elizabeth’s virtues. Horsfield’s writing for the series did a lot to support their reactions.

I find myself wondering if this inability to accept the ambiguity of both women stemmed from a refusal to acknowledge the idea of Ross Poldark harboring love for two different women at the same time. I do not know. Perhaps this scenario went against their ideals of “true love”, marriage and a Harlequin Romance-style story. The unfortunate thing is that producers like Debbie Horsfield of the current series and the producers of the 1970s series – Anthony Coburn and Morris Barry – had seemed more than willing to constantly feed this “Whore/Madonna” mentality regarding Demelza Poldark and Elizabeth Warleggan.