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New Escapist Column! On “Cruella” and Overly Determined Origin Stories…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Cruella in theatres and on Disney+, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the trend towards overly deterministic origin stories.

The origin story has arguably always been around, even if the term itself only really entered the mainstream through comic books and then making the leap into film criticism with comic book movies. Nevertheless, the recent trend of overly-determined origin stories betrays something frustrating about the state of our collective imagination. One of the most disappointing aspects of Cruella is the way that the film takes a simple but weird figure and paints an origin that is completely and predictably by the numbers.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Jessica Jones – AKA The Sandwich Saved Me (Review)

It could be argued that Jessica Jones is at its strongest when it embraces its status as an anti-superhero story.

The weakest points in the first season come when Jessica Jones embraces its superhero elements too readily, like when AKA Crush Syndrome or AKA It’s Called Whiskey fixated upon the idea of Kilgrave’s “weakness” as if Jessica is going to pull a glowing purple rock out of her pocket that will solve everything or when AKA 99 Friends made a point to tie the show into the events of The Avengers. This is not a show that lends itself to those sorts of superhero conventions.

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Instead, Jessica Jones works best when it ignores many of the more common tropes of the genre. Kilgrave is particularly creepy for the fact that he doesn’t want to rule the world or destroy New York. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are more interesting for the fact that they cannot be reduced to a series of cause-and-effect chain of consequence. These are real and messy lives that just happen to exist in a world full of giant green rage monsters and Norse deities. The juxtaposition is part of the appeal.

In that respect, AKA The Sandwich Saved Me plays as something of a gleefully subversive origin story. It exists primarily as a negative space, a story that rejects enough of the preconceived notions of superhero tales that it fosters a compelling dissonance.

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The X-Files – Three of a Kind (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Unusual Suspects is perhaps an underrated episode.

The third episode broadcast of the fifth season is a light adventure that offers viewers an origin story of the Lone Gunman. Byers, Langley and Frohike have been around since E.B.E. towards the end of the first season, and have become an integral part of the show’s ensemble cast. Unusual Suspects is frequently written off as a piece of fluff designed to work around the limited availability of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson due to on-going production work on The X-Files: Fight the Future.

Viva Las Vegas...

Viva Las Vegas…

This seems dismissive of Vince Gilligan’s paranoid origin story, which is one of the few times that Gilligan engages directly with the themes that underpin the sprawling mythology at the heart of the show. Unusual Suspects is not a “mythology episode” in the way that gets episodes repackaged on DVD collections, but it does explore the idea of conspiracy and paranoia as a personal narrative. Unusual Suspects is a very sweet story about a lost and heartbroken man who builds a conspiracy mythology around himself because he has nothing else to do.

Three of a Kind is very much a sequel episode to Unusual Suspects, focusing again on the Lone Gunmen and bringing back Susanne Modeski. However, it is a much lighter and more disposable story. Barring the beautifully crafted prologue, Three of a Kind is an entirely disposable episode of television. It feels like filler. It is neither a beginning nor an end to the story of Byers or the Lone Gunmen. It is just a long middle, with the characters ending up back where they began. In a way, this makes it feel very much like a standard sixth season episode.

A man alone...

A man alone…

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