Sean P Carlin

Writer of things that go bump in the night

Pop-Culture Digest: Musings on Annalise Keating, Postnarrativity, and “Twilight”

Readers of this blog (I trust I’m not being quixotically presumptuous by my use of the plural form) have come to expect in-depth, long-form essays here, but today I’d like to try something different:  I thought I’d offer brief commentary on three unrelated pop-cultural developments that are directly relevant to articles I posted this past summer.

 

MURDER!

In my analysis of the first season of How to Get Away with Murder, I concluded by asserting that series creator Peter Nowalk left himself little choice but to reconfigure protagonist Annalise Keating’s psychological profile (yet again) on account of how carelessly he exhausted her backstory in the initial fifteen-episode run.  And, boy, he did not waste any time proving me correct.

Right in the season premiere, we learned (via one of several clunky pieces of exposition) that Annalise has a “wild-child” side (who knew?), and later we saw her partying the night away under the strobe lights of a dance club—with her students, no less!

No, sorry—that doesn’t play.  Here’s why:  It is a complete violation of one of her core traits (and a defense mechanism, at that)—“publicly composed and guarded.”

Now, I can certainly appreciate how a character that refuses to allow herself to be emotionally vulnerable in public would need an expressional outlet, but that would be indulged privately and anonymously, not in the presence of the very professional associations for whom the protective façade is intended.  Take, for instance, Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation:  Ron is a man’s man—intensely private, stoic to a T—who prides himself on his disdain for sentimentality and professes (quite falsely, it turns out) his disinterest in the personal lives of his colleagues.  Yet Ron secretly moonlights as an accomplished jazz saxophonist, with several albums and a fervent club following.  Jazz!  There is perhaps no musical genre more driven by feeling, by emotional improvisation—the very things he claims to scorn!  But, he performs only under pseudonym, and at venues far from his hometown of Pawnee.  Because a character that goes to such lengths to protect himself from emotional exposure isn’t going to suddenly and openly cut loose in front of those he perceives most capable of hurting him (inadvertently or otherwise).  Asking us to believe that Annalise is a latent clubber is a stretch in and of itself, but that she would unveil that side of herself to her law students is utterly incompatible with the character as previously established.

HTGAWM Annalise

But Nowalk wasn’t finished.  We also discovered that—wait for it—Annalise is bisexual!  Oh, boy.  I won’t suggest this revelation, like the “party girl” thing, is constitutionally contradictory, but it is certainly indicative of the kitchen-sink approach the creators of Murder have taken with this increasingly preposterous series.  The show’s “twists,” such as they are, are motivated purely by shock value—entirely manipulative, not remotely causal.  When Frank Underwood’s bisexuality was divulged midway through the first season of House of Cards, it was more enlightening than it was shocking—as though a piece of a puzzle we couldn’t quite put our finger on up till that point had finally clicked into place.  It made a certain sense, given how loyal he and his wife Claire were to one another, yet how oddly asexual their marriage often seemed.

There was no such foreshadowing on Murder.  And it isn’t the bisexuality that bothers me (live and let live, I say), but rather, in this instance, the stink of desperation on it—to be edgy, to be culturally relevant.  It’s a deeply misguided attempt to be “real,” even more so in light of how glossy and over-the-top this silly show otherwise is.  Because once again I’ve been hearing Viola Davis on the publicity trail insisting that the aspiration for Annalise is to render her as “messy”—as real—as possible.  Well, let me be the first to offer proper congratulations:  She’s a conceptual mess.  (And fictional characters aren’t real people—they don’t have all the layers and irreconcilable contradictions of an actual person; they are limited to five dependable traits as I’ve repeatedly demonstrated.)  One can’t keep recalibrating a protagonist on the fly like Nowalk has; consider how remarkably consistent—and yet consistently surprising—Jack Bauer remained through nine seasons of 24 (the most recent of which occurred after a four-year hiatus in which the writers could have very plausibly amended his backstory to allow for a different trait or two to have developed, as Stallone did in the belated fourth Rambo film, yet chose instead to bring back the character exactly as we remembered him).  It was the singular, incongruous grouping of Jack’s traits that kept him fresh year after year, through crisis after crisis; the plot twists on 24 were often shocking, but Jack’s actions and worldview remained steadfast.  A writer sets behavioral parameters for his characters (through a unique and creatively fertile arrangement of traits for each one) and then tasks himself with finding new permutations of those defined behaviors through new turns of plot:  Unprecedented and unforeseen challenges force creative—but characteristic—responses from Frank Underwood, Jack Bauer, Olivia Pope, and so on.  That’s the fun of following the exploits of a serialized hero!  What you don’t do is alter a character’s essential composition out of the blue in order to suggest new plot possibilities—that’s the cart leading the horse, otherwise known from here on out at the Murder Method.

I mean, I’m glad Davis won the Emmy—because I specifically praised the strength of her performance this past May, and the recognition is an overdue referendum on the need for greater diversity in our popular arts and entertainment—I only wish it had been for a more deserving show (and Nowalk will likely only feel more empowered now to pursue his anything-goes creative policy).  I know I’d expressly said in the previous post that I wouldn’t continue watching, I was only curious to see where Nowalk would take the series—and its overwrought hero—in the second season after blowing his wad on the first go-round.  Now that I know, however, I can assuredly say, “This is where I leave you.”

Jebidiah Atkinson

 

ZOMBIES!

Fear the Walking Dead and Heroes Reborn—both follow-ups to popular postnarrative television series—got off to something of a rocky creative start.  Each could certainly be the subject of its own analysis in that capacity, but let me see if I can shed light on one common problem as it relates to postnarrativity in particular.

As we discussed this past June, the latest permutation of postnarrative storytelling are these sprawling ensemble series that have no real beginning and certainly no end—they exist in a state of presentist perpetuity only.  They aren’t about value extraction (i.e., a moral to the story) so much as pattern recognition (trying to figure out what is going on, what connects with what, at any given moment); they are not about creating resolutions but rather keeping the adventure alive for as long as—and with as many plot threads going—as possible.  They are only about enjoying the world of the fiction in the moment; they are not building to a cathartic conclusion like a classically structured hero’s journey.

The "Walking Dead" companion series had a six-episode first-season run over the summer of 2015

The “Walking Dead” companion series had a six-episode first-season run over the summer of 2015

So, in forcing myself to ascertain why—and how—Fear and Reborn came up short creatively (although, let’s face it:  the original Heroes fell apart after its first season and never again found its footing, so this revival doesn’t exactly stand on the shoulders of a pop-cultural giant as 24:  Live Another Day and the forthcoming X-Files event series do), I came to recognize something about postnarrativity that is perhaps a step in the direction of eventual codification of the form:  Even though we’re asked to follow many characters across several (often tangentially) related adventures, we’re always brought into the world of the fiction through the eyes of one character with whom we identify.  Consider:  The Walking Dead (Rick Grimes); Game of Thrones (Ned Stark); Lost (Jack Shephard); The Sopranos (Tony Soprano); Once Upon a Time (Emma Swan); Orphan Black (Sarah Manning); the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Tony Stark).  Only once we were rooting for those protagonists did we begin to meet—and follow the stories of—other characters in their worlds.   Where FTWD and Heroes Reborn have failed is they tried throw too much at us, too soon, without properly establishing empathy for an “anchor” character—an audience surrogate.  Both shows thought that by pitching umpteen plots/characters at us right off the bat, we’d be swept up into the story so quickly we wouldn’t have time to breathe—but that’s exactly the problem:  We weren’t given sufficient opportunity to get our bearing in their expansive worlds before all hell broke loose.  Take note, purveyors of the postnarrative:  Intimacy is the doorway into world-building.

Related observation:  If you stuck around after the season finale of Fear to watch the roundtable discussion on Talking Dead, you may have noticed how much time was spent considering, “Who’s the Rick of Fear?  Who’s the Shane?”  That’s what we mean when we talk about how postnarrativity is all about pattern recognition—connecting dots and finding analogs between the parallel plotlines is the whole point of the exercise (Do you think so-and-so are Jon Snow’s real parents?  Who do you suspect fed the walkers those rats outside the prison fence?  What do the numbers on the hatch mean?), rather than concluding an episode or a season or even a series with any kind of moral or fulfilled objective.  It’s the difference between Gilligan’s Island (where the goal was to get off the island) versus Lost (which was only about figuring out the enigma du jour); it’s the difference between Law & Order (which was about relying upon public institutions, such as the police and the courts, to restore a disrupted social value—justice) versus CSI (which was strictly about using science and technology to match this carpet fiber to that sneaker, etc.; that a killer was arrested as a result was entirely incidental).  Since the initial study on postnarrativity was published, I have had many conversations, both online and off, on the subject, and have done a lot more thinking about it in the intervening months.  The premium on pattern recognition, as I hope I’ve better illustrated here, is one of the key differences between the classic Aristotelian story arc and the postnarrative form.

 

VAMPIRES!

Lastly, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Twilight (which I recently took to task for its disregard for formal Buddy Love narrative conventions), author Stephenie Meyer has just released a companion novel entitled Life and Death, which “reimagines” (per the book jacket below) the story of the first novel with virtually all of the gender roles reversed.

life-and-death-twilight-reimagined

Look, here’s the thing:  Telling stories is about making choices.  Details aren’t arbitrary.  Names, places, genders, seasons—all of those elements have meaning; all of them inform the experience of the narrative in ways conscious and subconscious.  The presence or absence of a Y chromosome does impact one’s perspective on and response to a given matter.  So, when you swap the sexes of your leads in a love story while the plot itself remains reportedly unchanged—and, to be perfectly fair, I have not read this new book—what you’re essentially saying is, “Oh, yeah—this would’ve been the same story had I substituted this for that, or that for some other thing.”  You devalue the story—and the artistry that went into its creation—by exposing its architectural design as nothing more than a series of whimsical choices ungoverned by causality or characterization.  I’ve been critical of the storytelling in Twilight—as have others—and I suspect Life and Death will only further illuminate its shortcomings.  (Lousy, generic title, too.)  I very much doubt Meyer has done herself—or the legacy of her creation—any favors with this slapdash tie-in.

 

DEBATE!

Has anyone had a chance to watch Fear the Walking Dead (I finished out the season), Heroes Reborn (bailed after the first horrendous episode), or the new season of How to Get Away with Murder?  Have any of you perhaps read Life and Death?  I’d love hear your thoughts:  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Do you have a different take altogether?  I’m curious to get other reactions on any or all of the above…

14 Comments

  1. Having watched Fear The Walking Dead’s first season in its entirety, I feel confident in saying it’s one of the worst tie-in/spin-off/whatever you call it series I’ve watched in the last two decades.

    I don’t truly believe, at this point, that it was created simply to cash in on TWD and its popularity; I don’t think it was just a product to sell ad time. I think the creators of TWD really wanted to tell another side of this story, from a different perspective and at a different point in the apocalypse.

    But it really does feel like they just slapped a bunch of characters together, without a whole lot of thought or care about how they would interact. It’s like they decided “okay, how about one guy is a teenage drug addict! and there’s a barber who has a really violent past in his old country!” And then at some point realized “oh, crap, we have to figure out how these people are gonna react to each other… ummm… just throw a lot of military in there to distract everyone.”

    It feels like a bad prologue to a half-baked story.

    • I would absolutely second your comments. Fear certainly offered up some interesting characters (like Rubén Blades’ El Salvadorian refugee with a violent past) or at least novel predicaments (a heroin addict coping with withdrawal symptoms amidst the fall of civilization is certainly the kind of thing that should be explored in postapocalyptic fiction yet seldom seems to be), but what it didn’t establish was a perspective — a lens through which we the audience could survey this crazy world with assurance and empathy. The first scene of the series opened with Nick (the aforementioned heroin addict), but soon shifted to Madison and Travis and their various children without much rhyme or reason — kinda “just because” — so we never knew who our surrogate was. Contrast that with the brilliant premiere episode of the parent series, in which we meet our hero, Rick, and learn through a discussion with his best friend, Shane, that a communication breakdown with his wife, Lori, is threatening their marriage. Then, after a near-death experience immediately thereafter, Rick awakens from his coma, discovers that the world has been overrun by walkers, and has to make his way across the ravaged landscape on horseback in search of his wife and son. The same guy that couldn’t connect with his wife emotionally in the pre-apocalypse is now desperate to reconnect with her spatially, so the whole quest is motivated by these very primal urges (survival, protection of loved ones) but infused with dramatic irony (much the same kind that fueled John McClane’s crusade in Die Hard).

      When Rick does in fact find his family, Lori has been shacking up with Shane, the de facto leader of a group of ragtag survivors. So, now you’ve got all this subtextual tension between Sheriff Rick and Deputy Shane for dominance of the group (and they both had vastly different leadership styles) as well as Lori’s affections; it was this really rich triangle with a lot of relatable complications that were exacerbated by the constant pressure from the monsters in the offing. And then later other characters at camp developed their own subplots and complicated interpersonal relationships that helped fill out the world, but not before Rick’s story brought us into the drama to start. Fear the Walking Dead, on the other hand, was missing that clear, primal through line.

      Postnarrativity isn’t very different from monomythic structure in that a writer at least has to bring us into the world through a single character dealing with a compelling conundrum: a mafia capo suffering anxiety attacks (The Sopranos); a con artist witnesses the suicide of a stranger who is inexplicably her doppelgänger (Orphan Black); a surgeon wakes up on the beach after a jetliner crash to carnage and pandemonium (Lost). All of those fictive worlds got bigger, richer, more densely populated… later. They all started from a very controlled point of view that eventually allowed for other perspectives only once the audience — and the narrative itself — was ready for them. So, in that sense, Fear is very much, as you noted, “half-baked” in the sense that it pulled us into several ongoing dramas right off the bat, but didn’t effectively invest us in any of them. (And that the characters are behind the audience in terms of their understanding of the world only heightens viewer impatience, I would think, but such are the perils of prequels.)

      So, no, I don’t thing Fear was a cynical cash-grab, either, just a companion piece that’s had a very hard time recapturing the lightning-in-a-bottle alchemy of the mothership series. But, I would suggest that part of the failure to create “reproducible magic” is owed to the creators’ not fully understanding the delicate dynamics of postnarrativity, a pitfall that’s claimed both Damon Lindelof and George R. R. Martin as unwitting victims. This is a storytelling form that is still in its infancy, certainly in comparison with the Aristotelian arc, and the kinks are still being worked out. So, for that reason, it is important for writers to study it.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Just A Bit Outside

    October 13, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Regarding Murder, it also bothers me that Annalise is very heavily defined by who she’s involved with romantically: the husband, the boyfriend, the ex-girlfriend–seems like a cheater’s way to force intimacy.

    Regarding FTWD, more care was paid to the visuals than the characters. What a bunch of miserable people. The only interesting characters were Daniel Salazar and the rich guy whose name I can’t recall. Everyone else can go get infected for all I care.

    • That’s a great point you raise, Harry (I’m calling you Harry after Bob Uecker’s Harry Doyle from Major League, who coined the phrase you’ve taken as your username): Annalise is very much defined by her romantic relationships; I hadn’t quite thought of her in those terms. Olivia on Scandal isn’t defined by Fitz, nor is Meredith by McDreamy on Grey’s — they are very much their own people who take strength (quite rightfully) from their professional accomplishments. I guess it makes a certain amount of sense for Annalise, given her pathological insecurity, it just doesn’t make for a character you’d want to spend much time with (as I illustrated in detail). That’s the thing: “messy” doesn’t necessarily mean “deep”; less is so often more. A great example of that would be Denny Crane from Boston Legal, whose infrequent moments of genuine pathos (he was a legendary legal mind who couldn’t come to grips with his Alzheimer’s diagnosis) were rendered all the more poignant by the fact that he could typically be counted on for his shameless womanizing and utterly inappropriate courtroom antics.

      I think the fact that you can’t recall the names of most of the characters on FTWD — and don’t particularly care if they live or die — can be attributed to the writers’ failure to get you invested in them early and often. Take Carol on The Walking Dead: She was a peripheral character at the camp — an abused wife for whom we felt sorry, someone in need of rescue from one of the more capable men nearby. But she turned and turned and turned — slowly, imperceptibly — evolving into one of the most glorious badasses on television! But, again: They started her small and kept her anxieties primal (fear for her own life from her husband, and for her missing daughter’s from the walkers) and, before we even realized it, our sympathy for her had grown into respect. Daniel Salazar has got a very clear perspective and agenda — he certainly didn’t turn out to be the Dale/Hershel analog I was expecting — and I think it’s the reason he has emerged as (thus far) the most galvanizing character of the new crop. Victor Strand’s got mystique going for him right now, and that’s a perfectly credible rooting-interest technique (perhaps some of the other characters would have benefited from it; it worked for the survivors of Oceanic 815), but eventually we’ll have to learn more about what makes him tick, so let’s hope what the producers have in store is worth the wait!

      Thanks for the color commentary, Harry!

  3. I’ve kept up with Heroes Reborn thus far, but I think it’s more out of hope than anything. It’s vaguely interesting, but you’re right – there is no character or character set that I really care about. It seems to center on Noah; but the drive to understand what’s going on isn’t out of empathy for him, only out of , perhaps, a sort of vague curiosity. The “villain” is not enigmatic or truly frightening (as I rarely find corporations to be), whereas Silar in the first series of Heroes was certainly iconic. And, frankly, even with all the explanations, I don’t understand some key character motivations well. The couple who is out killing evos … why? Just because their son died? This turned a normal, happy couple into bloodthirsty murderers? Makes no sense to me. There are other such examples, as well, all of which I won’t get into. We’re just supposed to accept that they “are this way” without rationale – similar, it seems, to the problem with Annalise in Murder (according to your rundown; I haven’t watched it myself).

    • With regard to Annalise, I talked above about how a writer sets behavioral parameters for his characters and then must work within those confines; in other words, he gets to set the rules, but then he must play by them. Same holds true for superpowers (something I discussed recently over at Better Novel Project). Where Heroes ran into trouble — and this bedeviled the X-Men movie series, as well, hence the reason the for the “soft reset” that was Days of Future Past — is that with so many characters sporting all manner of special abilities (from time travel to teleportation to invulnerability), it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of all the rules you’ve set. (And Heroes in particular always got seduced by the thrill of a “shiny new toy” rather than growing an asset already in its portfolio. But, new toys grow old fast.) So, for example, in the premiere of Heroes Reborn, Noah seemed very concerned for Claire’s wellbeing after the devastating attack in Odessa — do I have that right? — but wasn’t it established in the earlier series that she was basically invincible? Once you start commingling all that “magic,” the short-term plots get tangled in the sticky web of the series’ long-term mythology. When there’s a “magical” solution to everything, how can you create clear, consequential stakes moving forward?

      The X-Files, on the other hand, kept its mythology compartmentalized: If Mulder and Scully were investigating, say, an alleged werewolf incident, there wasn’t any discussion or inclusion of alien technology whatsoever. The different supernatural and extraterrestrial phenomena they encountered were kept segregated from one another — they dealt with a case at a time — so the viewer could keep the mythology straight on an episode-by-episode basis. (As such, the viewer never said, “Hey, that monster that’s chasing Scully looks pretty formidable! Why doesn’t Mulder just use that alien weapon he found three episodes ago against the creature?”) Heroes discovered what comic-book writers have known for some time: When you keep introducing more and more and more superpowers into the same interconnected reality, superpowers not only become meaningless after a while (if everybody’s got one, what’s so special about them?), they eventually wreak havoc on a narrative’s internal logic (example: If Batman is trying to find a ticking bomb that will vaporize Gotham, why can’t he just ask Superman to zip over at lightning speed from Metropolis and scan the city grid with his X-ray vision?).

      The postnarrative stories that have emerged in the last decade did so organically and unconsciously — they arose because there was an emotional need for them that the monomythic arc was no longer sufficiently addressing — but now they’ve become a creative template unto themselves: Everyone wants the next epic ensemble series or shared cinematic universe! The problem, of course, is that postnarrativity hasn’t yet been codified the way the hero’s journey has (by Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler and Blake Snyder and many others), so I think there’s a certain degree of misapprehension — even amongst those who create/write within the form — as to what constitutes one of these stories. Much as folks might look at a classically structured three-act movie and think they could write one, despite the fact that they don’t consciously perceive the majority of techniques at work that allow for their immersion in the experience, I think you’ve got writers looking at postnarrativity as a hot trend — “it’s just serialized drama” — without fully understanding the nuances of the form and the audience’s expectations of the experience. And though that may result in the occasional misfire, it is also what makes this burgeoning new era of storytelling so exciting.

      Thanks for joining the discussion, Erik!

      • As I was reading your reply, Sean, I recalled watching the Justice League cartoon series as a kid. And while there were superpowers, it was essentially the same set of main characters week after week – not an addition of “new toys” all the time. So even though the characters had superpowers, it was a limited set. They had to work together with each of their strengths to solve that week’s problem. You’re right that Heroes got into the trap of continually adding new characters/powers to deal with (or create) every new problem, so character development stopped at one point early on in the series. No one really had to work hard or together anymore to solve problems. Some characters were just abandoned altogether. And once they’d used up the really “good” powers, they started introducing powers that, no matter the attempt to make them seem “cool,” just didn’t matter (one toward the end was someone who could bounce their voice off of satellites in space and thus “talk” through any wave-receiving device (or some other such nonsense).

        • That’s right, Erik — the superpowers on Super Friends were limited and defined, and the fun was watching each hero contribute his specific skill set to help solve the problem du jour. In many ways, as silly as these characters were, that is exemplified by Zan and Jayna — the “Wonder Twins”: Zan could take any form of water; Jayna could transmogrify into any animal. As many permutations as the writers could think of within those parameters were up for grabs. In addition, there were limitations to their powers, which could only be activated by a fist bump between them.

          In refreshing myself on those characters, I looked them up on Wikipedia, and found a telling quote there from one of the series’ original animators: “Originally Zan had ‘Plastic Man’ powers and Jayna could transform into anything, not just animals, but they were scaled back to their present powers as it made the other Super Friends (even Superman) seem almost superfluous.” Interesting. Super Friends may have been a simple series, with respect to its storytelling and worldview, but it also valued simplicity — something the byzantine Heroes would benefit from. I think it is very important when one is writing a story in which the supernatural/paranormal/extraterrestrial is a component to A) set the rules, B) stick to them, and C) make sure they adhere to a consistent internal logic (something easier said than done, as I demonstrated with Ghostbusters II). My next several novels all feature elements of the supernatural, and I look forward to discussing (once they’re published) how I developed (and exploited) the extent, limitations, and rules of those phenomena.

          • And when might we see the first of those novels? Looking forward to it!

          • Thanks for the interest, Erik! Much appreciated, amigo. The plan is to release my first full-length novel, Escape from Rikers Island, as well as two shorter “tie-in” works, in late 2016. The next full-length book after that, which is unrelated to EFRI, is already outlined, as is the one after that. So, I got lotsa typin’ to do!

            I’ll be alerting readers of the blog to the novel’s release date as soon as one is available, and I’ll be publishing articles around that time about the process of writing it, especially as it pertains to my own transition from screenwriter to novelist. There’s some very good stuff in store that I can’t wait to share…

          • I do remember one particular episode where Zan transformed into a bucket of water, and I recall saying, “Wait! He can’t do that! A bucket is not made of water! That’s cheating!”

          • Haha! True. While the Wonder Twins’ powers did have an internal (if silly) logic to them, they often flew in the face of Occam’s razor. I think I recall an episode in which Zan transformed into a block of ice and Jayna a falcon, at which point she hoisted the ice airborne with her talons and dropped it over the head of a bad guy. Even as kids, my best friend and I were like, “Couldn’t she have just transformed into a T. rex or something and saved herself a step?” Perhaps I’ll have to do a blog post at some point about the unhealthy codependence of Zan and Jayna! I think there’s definitely an interesting backstory to explore there…

            With superpowers, you want to try to hit that elusive “sweet spot”: not all-powerful, but not so functionally specific that it’s devoid of versatility. Superman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer both had their powers reduced over time, because omnipotence isn’t conducive to conflict, to drama. For example, in the Buffy movie, Whedon provided an anatomical explanation for why only females can be slayers: a menstrual-cramping sensation indicates the presence of a vampire. That was cool! But… when the concept went to series, one of the key narrative components would be Buffy’s ongoing romantic relationship with Angel — a vampire — so the menstrual detection mechanism had to go. (Plus, it eliminates all possibility of “jump-scares” and subterfuge.) So, it was a very logical ability, but ultimately too effective as a defensive utility to allow for the kind of suspense drama the genre demanded. That said, though, the show never did address, so far as I recall, why the role of Slayer was so gender-specific.

            I don’t watch The Flash (I’ve only heard great things, but I’m too superhero-fatigued at this point to tune in), but I’ve often wondered how many possible permutations one can plausibly spin out of a guy that “runs real fast.” There must be something there, in fairness, because there have been thousands of comics published (and dozens of hours of TV produced) featuring the Scarlet Speedster, but I would think it’s a real challenge to keep coming up with new, inventive variations on what seems like a rather limited set of superheroic abilities. That’s where “cheats” often slip through, I imagine, like the bucket of water on Super Friends.

          • Looks like we exhausted the “Reply” hierarchy, but regarding The Flash, super speed allows for other powers (i.e., vibrating fast enough to pass through other matter or cause earthquakes and structural damage, moving fast enough with feet or arms to effect weather changes, building up potential energy and harnessing it as lightning throws, even running at speeds that reverse time or break the space-time continuum). So he’s not limited strictly to “running fast.”

          • That’s cool — and that’s what The X-Files did so brilliantly: It sought to find a basis for the superhuman in science. For fiction writers, studying theoretical science actually inspires more possibilities than it limits (see: any iteration of Star Trek), because the secrets of the universe are far more wondrous and infinite in possibilities than anything we can imagine. Certainly movies like Interstellar and The Martian have reached great heights of creative and commercial success by putting the science back in science fiction.

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