Cultural Junkdrawer – Redemption Arcs

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Cultural Junkdrawer

Redemption Arcs

 

 As a columnist on pop culture one of the things that is difficult to avoid is not inflating minor trends into an overarching commentary on culture at large. And yes, I consider myself a columnist, even though I haven’t paid my membership fee to the Cultural Commentators, Orators and NASCAR Ensemble or better known as CCOaNE in the last 3 years. I also don’t understand why most people laugh when I complain about paying for CCOaNE. My wife and 2 sisters are also members of the organization and they’re ok with it.

She don’t mind, she don’t mind, she don’t mind, CCOaNE.

 Anyway, looking at the big picture of culture at large, it’s easy to find a few different shows that maybe share a theme or two and see a commentary on where we’re headed. It’s a common trap to fall into. In fact it’s known in my circle as a common psychological affliction; Personal Organizational Themes or simply referred to as POT. And the writers suffering from the affliction are known as POTheads! I think it’s obvious that there are a lot of POTheads working in the cultural commentary racket. I also highly suspect there is a connection between the proliferation of POTheads and the shortage of Sour cream and onion pringles the nation is currently experiencing but there is no solid data. And I only market in conjecture when it comes to pop culture and not the supply chain shortages our nation faces.

 Suddenly I’m hungry. Lemme grab some sour cream and onion pringles.

 Ok as I was saying; it’s common for a cultural writer, dues paying or otherwise, to see a trend, whether real or not, and consider it fodder for a POTheaded take on where we’re going. But not me! I’m not a POThead! I’ll not take three to four different popular TV shows and write about how the theme of each show is the same and how that is a commentary on our collective unconscious and how we want to view ourselves as Americans!

 Look I’ll take four geek-centric shows that have dominated the cultural landscape in the last year, lessee… ok,”Resident Alien”, “Loki”, “Book of Boba Fett” and “Peacemaker” and I’m sure that I won’t see a unifying thread in these vastly different shows and therefore not consider that they are commentating on our culture at large.

 I won’t see that, boiled down, the main characters have all started out as villains but these shows add depth, nuance and greater characterization. I won’t see that, eventually, through a longer narrative form and (mostly) great writing these former bad guys make a transition from belligerent assholes to more thoughtful, even heroic personas. Making wrongheaded but still empathetic decisions for the betterment of their community. Their actions, at best, create a stay of execution in a desperate situation that mostly threatens to get worse.

 Um… yeah.

 And if I were a POThead I’d bring up something like; “This is reflective of America starting to come out of a Trump era hangover. Realizing that we, as Americans, have been the bad guy but honestly want to make the situation better.

 Dammit! Gimme that can of Pringles! Oh, we’re out? Figures. We got funyuns instead? 

 Also, in true CCOaNE fashion and pursuant to guidelines laid out in the 2019 Coalition of Reviewers and Cultural Commentators (also known as CRACC) symposium and timed elimination trials, I am required to warn you there are spoilers ahead for Resident Alien, Loki, Book of Boba Fett and Peacemaker. But I promise I won’t say anything about the JLA appearance on the season finale of Peacemaker.

 

 RESIDENT ALIEN – Debuting in Jan of 2021 on SYFY network (who remembered that their name stood for something other than wrestling and reality shows about ghosts hunters). Resident Alien stars the character actor’s character actor Alan Tyduck as a… you guessed it… space alien who is marooned on earth. He has assumed the form of a prestigious New York doctor who is hiding out in the sleepy town of Patience Colorado for unspecified but obviously dark and dangerous reasons. Fish out of water comedy is the foundation of this very fun and engaging show but the creators have infused a dark edge to the whole shebang. The alien has killed the good doctor “Harry” to assume his identity and spends the wintery days searching the mountain for the cargo of his spaceship. The cargo is, BTW, a bomb designed to wipe out the human race! 

 When the local doctor is murdered “Harry” is brought in to help solve the case and take up the healthcare slack for the town. Hilarity ensues!

 Thank god this didn’t take the angle of police procedural! The murder investigation is only one of several plot plates the show spins and one of the minor ones at that.  “Resident Alien” plays more like “Northern Exposure” meets “ET” if ET was a egocentric, murderous and terminally perplexed squidman with a genocidal endgame. Despite the genocide and murders hilarity does ensue! Harry spends a lot of time stalking/trying to kill the mayor’s son who is the only human in town that can see him in his true form. He also befriends Asta, his indiginous nurse, accidentally romances several of the women in town, temporarily reconciles with the human doctor’s estranged wife, eats a lot, watches Law & Order and constantly covers the tracks he’s left for the murder of the real Harry. “Harry’s” redemption grows organically through his association with Asta and begrudging detente with the kid. He eventually has to save the kid from a government organization hunting him and aborts his mission to wipe out the human race. At least for now.

 Resident Alien is, obviously, a showcase for Alan Tyduk’s quirk cavalcade. But it has a colorful assortment of characters, funny writing and, most importantly, justification for this alien to consider sparing the human race. Season two sees Harry walking back his mission, focusing more on saving only Asta, then trying to delay the human race’s destruction… only by 50 years.

 

 LOKI – I shouldn’t have to recap this stellar series on a geek-centric website, so I won’t. I’ll just say that one of the most impressive things about this show is how it manages to get the insane, self-absorbed, imperialist, Thanos collaborating bad guy Loki of the 1st Avengers movie to the (arguably) rebellious, empathetic and heroic character in six hours. Loki’s arc through the Thor movies informs the transition of the TV Loki (a variant, remember) but never relies on it. We’ve seen the character Loki is capable of becoming (and so does variant Loki for that matter) but his redemption arc is still earned! His friendship with Mobius, weird romance with Sylvie and overcoming the challenges/temptations of confronting “He who Remains” all create a believable path for this damaged character to follow becoming (kinda) fixed along the way. As with Resident Alien we have an egotist laid low by circumstance and coming out more reflective and empathetic. His choice to keep the sacred timeline stemmed from a concern for what worse could happen to the multiverse if HWR is killed. Even denying the power for himself. Character growth. What will be the most interesting in season 2 is how the trickster god will deal with Kang running things now.

 

 The Book of Boba Fett (AKA: The Mandalorian season 2.5) – The Galaxy’s most feared Bounty Hunter becomes “The Godfather” via a detour through “Dances with Wolves”.  I’ve loved Boba Fett since he was first introduced as an action figure in 1979 (I’m old shut up!) a total bad-ass roaming the galaxy hunting down criminals for fun and profit. This show suffered from a few wrong decisions. First and foremost the flashback structure of the first few episodes completely undercut the narrative momentum at every turn. As a result you have to search for the throughline of Fett’s redemption arc. The time spent with the Tuskin Raiders and the effect on his character development gets muddled. The Pyke syndicate as the main antagonists also sputters through the season. And as great as it was to have The Madnolorian and Grogu all to ourselves for an episode and a half, it kinda communicated that even the creators of the show weren’t that interested in what Fett was doing. If that final showdown didn’t have Boba riding his pet Rancor I would’ve been broken hearted.  Also Ming-Na Wen as Fennec Shand was criminally underused. BoBF has a lot of cool ideas (Cad Bane in live action, Black F’n Krrsantan, Tuskin culture, hell, I even like the mods… sue me) with little to no connective tissue and even less internal logic (the citizens of Freetown decide to back one crime lord over another?). You can enjoy Fett walking around Mos Espa basking in the adulation of the people as they clean up the mess his war for power caused (including, I have no doubt, Rancor poop) but how does one become a benevolent crime lord?

 Finally “Peacemaker”! James Gunn’s first venture into TV had the monumental task of taking the heel turn Peacemaker had in “The Suicide Squad” and unheel turn him. Fortunately it’s James Gunn. Fortunately it’s John Cena. Fortunately Gunn knows how to not only tell a banging story but infuse it with comedy, violence, gore, heart, thematic resonance, a loveable weirdo team dynamic and a bitchin soundtrack!

 Peacemaker finished The Suicide Squad with a bullet in his neck and a building on top of him but he’s fine. Being teamed up with most of the tech support team from Suicide Squad. Chris “Peacemaker” Smith goes back to work for Amanda Waller and “Project Butterfly ” which turns out to be a lot more on the nose description than you might think. Cena plays the notes of Peacemaker with a genius turn! He manages to pack his character with equal parts lethal focus, naivete, horniess, wounded pride, goofy charm, glib humor and an emerging conscience. It is a landmark performance, utterly worthy of award wins if awards were given to these types of shows. Peacemaker’s redemption arc develops masterfully. His remorse for killing Flagg in “The Suicide Squad” haunts him, along with blaming himself for the death of his brother. His nerve snaps when faced with killing men, women and children for “peace” like he said in the movie. Having a dad that’s a white supremeist supervillain called “The White Dragon ” twists his moral conundrum even further. 

 His journey from villain to anti-hero(ish) works, Cena sells it with no small help from Gunn’s smart writing and so-good-it-looks-easy direction. At the end, when Peacemaker is faced with the choice of helping the alien invasion because they want to rule over us for our own good (a vow and objective similar to his original motivations) or save his friends. He chooses his friends. Possibly dooming the human race in the process but at least it’s our decision. Cena nails the character development, plays piano and somehow manages to not be overshadowed by the breakout character Vigilante and his pet eagle, Eagley. 

 All of these shows put in the work to give a “Bad guy” a new path.  As opposed to a popular show that changes gears for the antagonist because the actor is sick of being the bad guy or they’ve run out of ideas for the characters. Character growth is the whole point of each story.  But here is the question and the POThead take: With more of these “redemption arcs” popping up in our collective consciousness does it signal a change in attitude? Is it a harbinger of a shift in America’s role on the world stage? From self-absorbed ass-hat, who is the hero of their own fiction but antagonist to everybody else? To realizing that there is a world outside of their self imposed blinders? And the world needs us to realize this to survive? Also, as the narrative of all these shows plays out, is it too little too late?

 Maybe we just want to like our characters and it’s harder if they are bad guys and my POThead is just looking for some other reason? I guess only time and possibly a lot of CCOaNE will tell.

 

Things tangential to the main work but I couldn’t fit in organically

 

 A few other organizations I am avoiding paying dues for: The League of Social Deconstructionists or LSD and I had started out in the Party of Columnist Proteges or, for short, PCP.

 I ain’t kidding about the Boba Fett love here is a pic of my collection

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