Lost Girl: Season 05, Episode 13, “Family Portrait”
Last week, I said Lost Girl disregarded character completely in service of plot/twist, and everything was being sacrificed on the altar of trying to ‘trick’ the audience, wrench melodrama from every possible place, and service unbelievable endgames. I also was quite confused as to exactly what happened in the final scene.
As a rule, I never read other reviews before I finish mine, and I rarely go digging for post-episode interviews or writers’ tweets before I’m done, either. I think the text should speak for itself; even if that means my interpretation of it ends up being ‘off’, it’s still a snapshot-depiction of my actual perceptions of the episode, and thus a good idea of what [at least some] viewers perceive and understand from what’s presented onscreen.
After I posted my review, some people on Twitter pointed out to me that in an interview, Michael Grassi said that it was all Hades in the final scene, never Bo at all. That may actually make it worse. I have a huge problem with being forced go outside the text to understand what’s happening inside of it; even on a show like LOST, where the puzzle was most of the point of the show and there were a dozen interpretations, having to have the creators spell out what they meant by puzzling or problematic scenes doesn’t work. The interpretation of the scene may be obscure, but the content shouldn’t be. In other words, we may question Hades’ endgame in seducing Tamsin while in Bo’s body, but we should not have been questioning was it actually Hades, or some sort of hallucination, was it via possession, was Bo literally turning into Hades, and how the hell did he do whateveritwas anyways. Any of those were potentially valid options because of how we’ve been jerked around recently, and that’s not okay.
Now, there is a point to be made that this episode clears up some of those answers and had we just waited a week we wouldn’t have needed the interview. But 1. it didn’t clear up enough of them 2. it’s still a problem they’re obfuscating things solely in an attempt to trick the audience and wring more shock from things like a rape scene [more on that later], 3. Lost Girl has pulled this sort of ‘trick’ far too often, and also has a history of not clarifying what the Tartarus actually happened. See also: ghost sex, Aife just dropping from everyone’s consciousness and the weak attempt at lampshading in this episode, the Wanderer, etc.
Not only is it annoying, it’s a huge waste of narrative potential. I would really love for you to read this great essay about use of dramatic irony in The Flash S1 and Arrow S3; how the former succeeded via using it, and the latter failed explicitly because it didn’t. [Spoilers for both seasons.]
To sum up spoiler-free: The Flash worked because it lets the audience in on Barry’s secret, which gives another level of tension as he works through having to either keep it from or share it with others [in the same way the narrative tensions of the Secret Superhero Identity always works, and as The Flash lets more people in on the secret of who Barry is, it creates similar tension with different situations], and Arrow failed because they spend a great deal of time on an arc that’s intended to pull the rug out from under the audience, but which was never fully believable in light of the characters, and which distances the audience from the emotional and mental workings of the main protagonist for a prolonged period of time.
Lost Girl needs to be letting us in on what is happening with these characters. Instead, it’s distancing us more and more from them. Big decisions are coming offscreen or being explained to the audience after the fact, and they’re throwing away narrative potential with both hands. Lauren’s essentially obtaining godlike ability (to give and take away Fae-ness and a large part of one’s identity), becoming one of the most powerful Fae ever, then deciding to get rid of it and telling Bo later, is the perfect example of all these things in one character/arc.
In the case of “Judgement Fae,” we as an audience were left in the dark about what and how the hell happened. They can retroactively ‘explain’ how Hades appeared as Bo, to wit:
1. We know that Ancients can possess others’ bodies, yes, though every time we have seen it it involved
a. some act of violence to inhabit said body
b. sharing the body, not being able to ‘duplicate’ it.
2. We saw Hades sketching Bo, and we also saw them touching. One or the other or both may have been made-up things required for Hades to be Bo. (I expected to hear Trick explain how that worked retroactively and arbitrarily . . . now we won’t even get that.)
3. We saw that Hades can escape his box.
Some combination of those three things lampshades the ‘how’ of the appearing-like-Bo, but it doesn’t matter. None of that is enough to justify springing that Rape Surprise on us for shock value. None of that excuses the way they try to play coy about every way things function in this world. Maybe if it were established that Hades drawing something allowed him to become it. Maybe if the whole scene with ‘Bo’ ‘seducing’ Tamsin we had reason to believe NO TAMSIN! IT’S HADES! Maybe if we were let in on the secret. Maybe if they played it as dramatic irony. At the very least, we needed to know Hades had the capability; we didn’t need to see him do it to Bo, just at any point in the last season, we needed to know he could do it, period. But as a cheap surprise, it compounds every possible problem with this plot as a whole.
And yes. It is unequivocally rape. While the show doesn’t use that word, it does handle it better than it has handled multiple other instances of sexual intercourse without consent (ie Lauren’s ghost sex and Aife raping Dyson, which is actually brought up here again as an Aife joke – not okay). Tamsin’s reaction at realizing what happened is to be sick, and nobody attempts to convince her it wasn’t a big deal, or excuse the action.
What we have now is a Valkyrie mysteriously impregnated with the Spawn of Satan, after being raped by the dad of the woman she love(s)(d). That’s very Greek Tragedy / Greco-Roman Gods of them, and you know what else, while that sentence describes a gross and terrible act, I actually would be all about a show which directly modernized the Greco Roman mythological canon, so long as it properly acknowledged the grossness and terribleness. Cheating spouses and rape with impunity and changing into animals and all sorts of soap-operatic pregnancies and kidnapping beautiful maidens who manage to escape your clutches and being so jealous you hurl thunderbolts, all of that could be pulled into a modern context with some interesting results, and I’d be all about it. Shakespeare had eyeballs being gouged into jelly and Sophocles had tragic suicide and Aeschylus has incest and murder, but that doesn’t mean any of them are poor as stories. The problem is twofold: 1. Lost Girl was established as a totally different show and tried to change horses mid-season-four-stream, and 2. it’s attempting to deal with complicated, twisting narratives while simultaneously disregarding the rules of all narratives, particularly the rules of complicated narratives – the very rules which make those Greco-Roman stories great and functional and lasting.
I mentioned earlier the show is intentionally vague with how everything from chi-giving to Hades’ body-swapping works. Now, note in the canon of famous Greek Mythology, the methodology may be unclear – “he’s a god, therefore magic!” – but the powers and limitations are clearly delineated beforehand – “he can turn into animals but not humans; her emotions control the seasons but she cannot control her emotions; he is invincible except for this one spot on his heel; she can see anyone’s future but she is doomed to have nobody believe her.”
Once you have framework, you can exploit loopholes, you can surprise the audience with how the character uses the power, you can do all sorts of things, but you must have established prior which characters can do what, and you cannot cheat. Lost Girl seems to think by refusing to provide a framework, they can do whatever the hell they want. Instead of creating narrative tension, though, it just creates confusion and a lack of trust. Before Hades dropped that throwaway line about ‘only being able to impersonate my blood,’ how could we really believe whenever Dyson appeared on screen, he is actually Dyson? Any moment he could have jumped at Tamsin and ripped her throat out with his teeth and SURPRISE! he is actually Hades! That’s what the last several episodes have set us up to believe. And thus, we can’t believe anything. We don’t trust the narrative, the writers, or our own eyes, and that leads us to watching in a continual state of not tension, but apathy.
So far we’ve talked about broad narrative tactics and story mechanics and very little about the actual episode, but that’s necessary because it’s the failure of functional narrative storytelling in the broad arcs which have led us into this mess. As I’ve said several times over the past couple seasons, some episodes of this show are still a lot of fun, some of the individual episodes or shorter arcs work and/or are enjoyable, but where we’ve been led with only three episodes to go is a disaster of both character and plot because of the overarching narrative.
They have three episodes to deal with the resolution of Tamsin’s supernatural pregnancy (whether via abortion metaphor or supernatural-pregnancy-speeds-along-so-fast-it’s-born-within-next-episode, and either way I shudder), Bo’s daddy issues, sending Hades back to the Underworld / saving the world from the apocalypse again, giving these poor characters some sense of closure, and dealing with the Blood King and potentially his imposed peace being destroyed.
I do think Trick’s mention to Bo that his blood is in her is the key. To have a character who has spent much of her existence fighting the binary system attempting to impress itself upon her life, to suddenly becoming the Blood Queen and ruling over said system . . . well it may be a modern allegory for power corrupting and being unable to fight the system from inside the system, but it feels a little dark and sudden for this show which used to open by Bo declaring she would live the life she chose. I feel more like the may use her blood to write herself out of the system, or write the system out of existence. Whether they’ll go so far as her to write herself, Dyson, Lauren, Tamsin and HB [Hades Baby] out to Bo’s childhood home where they live as a happy little non-traditional family, I don’t know.
Yes, I said Tamsin. I’m slightly questioning the Ultimate Sacrifice of her storyline now, because her having a baby may be used to complete her search for a family and while I hardly AGREE with “Oh hey you got pregnant via a rape now suddenly your whole perspective changes and it gives you new life, literally!” as a story, I can see it happening. Plus, we’ve lost Aife and Trick in one fell swoop, maybe they’re giving us enough losses to justify a couple happy endings. Wouldn’t it be interesting for Lauren to turn Tamsin human, and that actually prolonging her life?
The Aife and Trick tableau is very Hannibal-esque; in fact the whole Hades bit is, from his effusiveness over cooking and eating to his obvious connection of food, murder, and sexual pleasure. Having just finished the third season of that show, this only makes me sad there won’t be a fourth season.
A lot of this episode is reminiscent of / throwback to Lost Girl Season 1. Everything from Bo’s hairstyle to Dyson’s insistence that ‘we just had to hide this huge thing from you for your own good, and then once we had done it for a while it was too hard to change’ as lampshading why nobody had mentioned Aife for the whole past two seasons. The past few episodes have contained a lot of visual and scene mirroring, as well. The references may have some specific purpose such as bringing the story full circle to Bo’s refusing to choose between light and dark, or they may just be trying to leverage audience emotions by tying the two seasons together, but the fifth season suffers greatly by the comparison, and continually having characters regress after learning a lesson about hiding the truth from those you love, in this case, is not good storytelling either. Unless of course it is the point of the story. Sometimes, we humans don’t get it through our thick skulls.
All of that said, this episode was well-played, gorgeously composed for the budget (as far as shots and sets and things like that projector, hnnng), and had some lovely moments. The whole thing was less than the sum of those parts because: story matters.
We can talk about and dissect the specifics of this episode for hours, and there are plenty of individual moments and shots to be happy about, really; the episode looked great and again the acting worked. But it’s the narrative mechanics where everything broke down, and really, it’s the mechanics set in motion at and since the beginning of the season. This episode never really had a chance.
– Head Nurse: “Don’t touch the patient.”
New Nurse: “Okay. I’ll just like hand her her pills in this cup and let our hands touch EVERY SINGLE TIME. Which I mean, what do you expect when you assign me one of the place’s most dangerous patients on my first day?
– The colored hallways as Aife escapes in slow-motion are really, really lovely.
– Is it just me or is the panic button for the hospital A STAPLES ‘EASY’ BUTTON with a spray-painted base!? (I kind of love that, actually.)
– Those were quite obviously, and adorably, actual pictures of Little Anna Silk.
– As mentioned in the mouseover, I like the developing Tamsin/Lauren dynamic. Those two could do a great Fae Odd Couple spinoff.