Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
Nightmares and Loneliness
The True Nature of Space: 1999
Sunday, December 1, 2019 1:25 pm
The first part of this was posted on September 13th. I decided to combine the two parts into a single post. I also changed the title.

Part I

My father and I didn't do a lot together. In part he was simply seldom around. He was in the restaurant business — as cook, as manager, as owner — and the hours were atrocious. He was also not given to fraternizing with his children.

In fairness to him, I was a difficult and solitary nerd. 

Once, in the late 1970s, he took me to a signing with several SF authors. He had no taste for SF. He did this for me. Anyhow, I didn't know who would be there. As it was, I had read none of them. I think one was Frederik Pohl. Another was Ben Bova. Somehow I (and my father) ended up hanging around Bova — probably because he was the only one I really knew, since he had been Editor of Analog, to which I subscribed.

I remember only one thing that Bova said. An attending nerd (not I) brought up Space: 1999. Bova recounted some conversation he'd had with Isaac Asimov about that very subject. Seems that neither Bova nor Asimov cared much for Space: 1999. Bova's contempt was rather clear.

I loved Space: 1999. I was just a teenage boy, self-conscious beyond measure; and already disappointed by the lack of my favorite authors at this little signing, I was... well, hurt. I didn't get indignant. I didn't get angry. I was stung. And it hurt as well because Bova wasn't wrong. Space: 1999, while not contemptible, is a little bad; and I knew so even then.

I think at that point my father was waiting in the car. I hung out a while longer. Then, having half-heartedly obtained an autograph from Bova, I left. I'm grateful my father took me. But it's a melancholy memory.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the day that the denizens of Moonbase Alpha were cast into the cosmos. On September 13th, 1999, concentrated nuclear explosions on the farside of the Moon propelled the Moon out of orbit. The Alphans, unable to return to Earth, found themselves adrift on an uncontrollable Moon. They left our Solar System far behind, on a path towards — adventure!

Well, of course it's preposterous. I'm not going to go over all the stupid that is required for Space: 1999 to work. It can't work. Science is ashamed of Space: 1999. And of course you know what I'm going to say.

Who cares.

You must recognize how simply magical the premise is. We're not dealing with the plausible. Yes, the creators thought they were writing Real Science Fiction. But they were hacks; a bunch of Ed Woods. They had a cool idea and they ran with it. Because it is a cool idea. An awesome idea. You know it is. The wonder of traveling to the stars on the Moon!

You must also recognize that Space: 1999 is not Star Trek or Star Wars or Stargate. It is not an adventure show.

It is a Nightmare.

This crystallized for me only tonight. I'm embarrassed that I never had this insight. All the pieces were already there; yet only tonight did the epiphany come. I was listening to a livestream hosted by Doomcock (whose nom de YouTube is Overlord DVD). Doomcock, in honor of the date, was chatting a bit about Space: 1999. He asserted that Space: 1999 is not SF but HORROR. He really didn't elaborate a lot. He didn't have to. I knew instantly what he meant; and instantly I understood why I like Space: 1999, why it isn't complete trash, and why, despite everything, it can kind of work.
Part II

In many ways I was a conventional boy. I climbed trees. I raced bikes. I played ball with neighborhood kids. I built models of trucks and airplanes. I walked daringly through spillways and foolishly across the weirs of nearby rivers.

But I was also subtly peculiar. My sense of human relations was misaligned. This only worsened as my family, moving house constantly, refused to stay rooted, and I was always starting over with knowing people. I didn't cease to be social, as such; but I began my lifelong loneliness.

The odd thing about being lonely is that it's not necessarily a feeling you try to flee. Things suffused with loneliness do not repel me. They allure me.

And so here you have a science fiction show set on the Moon — the grey and lifeless Moon, whose settlers are not vivaciously dispersed beneath the sky but are packed away, contained in rooms and corridors and bound by vacuum; fellows in a harsh solitude, made harsher by their catastrophic expulsion from the hearth of Earth.

Loneliness pervades the show.

Do these lonely travelers come upon exotic wonders? Not exactly. Each planet they encounter is a chance to escape, not into diversion but into a home. And they are always frustrated. Sometimes the planet itself is hostile; sometimes the existing inhabitants are. In one episode aliens send terraforming equipment to the Moon precisely to dissuade the Alphans from attempting any contact. It seems the Moon could be home after all! Yet as soon as the Moon has spun beyond the alien world, the equipment is withdrawn and the Moon reverts.

Another time the Moon becomes a forward base for one side in an interplanetary war. Alpha is caught up in the fighting. Then the Moon passes on. Again the Alphans have been simply beset and returned to the void.

A couple of episodes (especially The Testament of Arkadia) hint that the journey of the Moon might be more than a mishap; that the Alphans may have an awful destiny and their trials may be other than pointless.

But no end is ever seen.

When the first child is born on Alpha — what greater hope is there than a child! — he is bodily hijacked by a violent being who seeks to end its own exile. And though the being is defeated and the child is restored, the lesson seems clear: The wandering Moon is no place for hope.

For even a child becomes a terror; a monster. The show does not deal in the merely alien. In its loneliness it proceeds, like a solitary sleeper, from nightmare to nightmare: The Troubled Spirit; Death's Other Dominion; End of Eternity; Guardian of Piri; Force of Life...


The epitome of this is Dragon's Domain, one of my favorite episodes.

Back in 1996, the crew of the Ultra Probe was killed by a monster. The commander, Tony Cellini, survived and returned to Earth. No one believed him, of course. He resumed service on Moonbase Alpha. And now, three years into the Moon's journey, Cellini starts to unravel. He senses the monster. Sure enough, the Moon has crossed paths with the graveyard of spaceships that includes the Ultra Probe.

The monster is not a guy in a rubber suit. True, it's obviously a practical effect; and one can discern the rubber in it. Space: 1999 was not a big-budget affair. And yet it's a proper monster, if not scary then surely creepy. It's a Cthulhu thing with an oven for a mouth. The show played it as horror. It came off as horror.

And that's kind of my point about Space: 1999. Another show would have played it for thrills or awe or heroic adventure. Instead we get moody, gloomy, creepy. They even use Albinoni's Adagio to set the tone.

Is Dragon's Domain a master class in television? Hardly. Like every other episode of Space: 1999, the stupid abounds. The acting embarrasses.

But. That tone. It's real. It's what elevates the show — at least enough. And you can know it is very real because the second season deliberately fled the gloom and sought excitement. And that second season, lacking nightmares and loneliness, is garbage. Even when I was thirteen I hated it.

That first season, though? In a culture that has managed to create Firefly and The Expanse, it is hard to praise, let alone recommend, a thing like Space: 1999. I will, however, defend it. It has an allure. Perhaps that's only the nostalgia talking; but for a lonely boy in 1975, Space: 1999 was amazing — and I can't disagree with that boy.

Claire Randall Is a Trollop and a Shrew
And Outlander  Cheers, "You Go Girl!"
Tuesday, November 5, 2019 11:02 am
Outlander is a TV series about Claire Randall, former war nurse, who is living in Britain in 1946 when she is magically transported to the Scottish Highlands of 1743. Outlander supposes Claire to be our heroine. But Claire is not a heroine; and there are three things that confirm this. 

Note as a preliminary that, thinking herself trapped in 1743, Claire consents to marry the sexy Scotsman Jamie, even though, back in 1946, she is already married to bookish Frank. This bigamy is not in itself the problem. There are good narrative reasons for it.

First Thing. Jamie and party are off to find a British deserter. Claire has come along because she has demonstrated (with her superior 20th-century learning) her utility as a nurse. But fearing a trap, Jamie tells Claire to hang back. He wants her safe. She promises to stay put. Once he is gone, she wanders off. She is captured by the British. Jamie and party rescue her. Once rescued, she is upbraided by Jamie for wandering off. She endangered everyone. The clan has now exposed itself to British retribution. The British commander has learned that Jamie, who is a fugitive, is hiding amongst that clan. Jamie is furious with Claire for disobeying him and breaking her promise. And what does she do? She rants about not being his property; that he can't order her around. Claire is a Strong Woman, after all. No husband, no man, can dictate to her!

Now, Claire wandered off because she sensed Craigh na Dun nearby. The standing stones of Craigh na Dun were the point of her transition to 1743 — and she wants to transit back to 1946. In other words, her reasons for disobeying Jamie were profound. Yet, instead of getting an honest character conflict (wherein Claire recognizes the enormity of her disobedience but cannot admit the time-displacement thing), we get that shrewish feminist cry "I AM NOT YOUR PROPERTY!" — as if heeding Jamie's solicitous authority and keeping her promise are equivalent to chattel enslavement. Her response is unbecoming and adolescent — as feminism be — and, what's worse, Outlander believes Claire has responded appropriately to Jamie's fury.

Second Thing. Claire has made friends with Geillis, a sassy woman who dabbles in potions and is married to a flatulent buffoon. Geillis, wanting to be with her lover, poisons her husband. Jamie tells Claire to stay away from Geillis, given the murder, the scandal, the danger from the law, and other such petty things. Again Claire promises to stay put. Then Claire gets a note from Geillis and immediately goes to see her. Does Claire ever once shrink from Geillis the murderess, the poisoner of husbands? Does she tell Geillis that maybe poisoning was a bad idea? No. Claire is only concerned for her friend. Screw the men, after all. What matters most is the happiness of Geillis, who is Claire's bestest bestie.

Outlander has no problem with Claire's myopic behavior. The sisterhood is what matters, right through the inevitable trial for witchcraft (and its attendant Christophobia).

Third Thing. Jamie, having learned that Claire is from 1946, nobly takes her to Craigh na Dun so that she might return home and reunite with Frank. At this point Jamie and Claire are in full-on monkey-sex love. As she approaches the stones it is clear that she can indeed return; the forces are calling her through. Frank, of course, is desperately unhappy in her absence; and although she can't know this, what else would he be? He's also just her husband, her proper husband, her original husband. She has some vows to uphold, I'd say. However, she stays in 1743 because, of course, it's Sexy Highlander she wants inside her.

And Outlander tells you: It's so romantic!

These three things were so off-putting that I could not accept Claire as a heroine. I kept waiting for Outlander to be honest about Claire. It never was. So never mind.

Outlander is a highbrow Harlequin Romance. It is a bodice-ripping woman's fantasy and Claire Randall is the avatar of irresponsible feminine self-centeredness.

I've got better things to watch.

Well-Ordered Star Trek
Revisiting an Old Friend
Wednesday, May 22, 2019 3:45 pm
Of course I like Star Trek. I was only three when it first aired, so I didn't see it until it was in syndication and I was nearly ten; but from early on I was a genuine fan. I knew all the episodes. I built models of the ships. I read (and still possess) the paperback adaptations by James Blish. I even bought fold-out technical plans of the Enterprise.

I was never a Trekkie, however; never deep in the lore. 

My first and truest passion was for Space: 1999. But even when I was twelve I recognized how dumb that show could be. Then I loved Star Wars. What nerd could do otherwise! But I was never drawn into its universe — and by the time of Empire I really didn't care.

Space: 1999 is that first crush you never disavow, much as it embarrasses you; Star Wars is that heady fling that quickly leaves you cold.

And Star Trek is that steady friend you eventually disregard. Back in the day I even looked forward to watching Voyager; only with Enterprise did my interest fade.

In recent years I have tried to re-watch the various Star Trek series. I am surprised by how much I don't care for TNG and DS9, even if I target the "best" episodes. I tried to finally finish that Xindi arc in Enterprise — and sputtered out again. I'm not even inclined to bother with Voyager.

The Original Series, on the other hand...

During an evisceration of the latest atrocity from Star Trek: Discovery, the eviscerating YouTuber made a passionate contrast to the TOS episode Journey to Babel. I hadn't seen that episode in eons, so I went to Netflix and watched it.

I enjoyed it.

And it's not one I've seen very often. I was reminded of my sporadic desire to binge TOS, to just start at the start and watch them all. Since TOS became streamable I've watched some of my favorites — like Errand of Mercy; Mirror, Mirror; and A Taste of Armageddon — but I guess I was put off by slogging through the likes of The Way to Eden. But seeing Journey to Babel suggested I might find more good than bad among the less-remembered episodes; and rather than bias my choices I might just go for the binge.

Immediately, however, on surveying the first episodes of season one, I was not enticed. The Cage, maybe, although I prefer that embedded in The Menagerie; and sure, Where No Man Has Gone Before; but The Man Trap, Charlie X, The Naked Time... I dunno. It already felt like a slog.

Then something occurred to me: Is this the proper order of the episodes? Something felt imbalanced, like the dregs were above the froth. I might not be a Trekkie but my gut was saying: This isn't right. So I went to the handy-dandy internet to investigate the proper ordering of TOS episodes.

I soon found a list that went not by original airdate but by stardate. And dang if that order isn't better. I suppose some deep part of me recognizes the correctness of this order; a sounder narrative flow, such as there was. Stardate, it seems, is a better indication of an episode's time of production. Or maybe this order just seems balanced better between the surely good and the surely bad. Anyhow, I like it.

I'll let you know how the bingeing goes.


STAR TREK TOS SEASON 1
× AIRDATE STARDATE
1the cage1the cage
2the man trap4where no man has gone before
3charlie x7mudd's women
4where no man has gone before11the corbomite maneuver
5the naked time2the man trap
6the enemy within3charlie x
7mudd's women6the enemy within
8what are little girls made of?5the naked time
9miri14balance of terror
10dagger of the mind17the squire of gothos
11the corbomite maneuver8what are little girls made of?
12the menagerie 1 & 29miri
13the conscience of the king10dagger of the mind
14balance of terror13the conscience of the king
15shore leave16the galileo seven
16the galileo seven20court martial
17the squire of gothos12the menagerie 1 & 2
18arena15shore leave
19tomorrow is yesterday18arena
20court martial27the alternative factor
21the return of the archons19tomorrow is yesterday
22space seed22space seed
23a taste of armageddon21the return of the archons
24this side of paradise23a taste of armageddon
25the devil in the dark25the devil in the dark
26errand of mercy26errand of mercy
27the alternative factor28the city on the edge of forever
28the city on the edge of forever29operation: annihilate!
29operation: annihilate!24this side of paradise

Religion as Fraud Is Boring
Why Not Try Harder With Your Conflict?
Tuesday, November 20, 2018 3:48 pm
There's a couple of things I dislike about the Ori arc in Stargate SG-1.

First, it is facile and cowardly to cast Origin, the religion of the evil Ori, as a sort of medieval Christianity. Of course the Ori instigate a crusade against our galaxy. Why not a jihad? Because modeling Origin on Islam and having Stargate Command oppose a jihad would, I suppose, be mean to brown people. Or something. Mustn't be phobic! Except, of course, against Christians. Natch. 

Second, the Ori offer enlightenment and outright ascension to their followers. Those who heed Origin will themselves become gods! But then it is revealed that this is a lie. The Ori want followers only to literally consume the energy of belief. Ascension will never be granted to anyone. Origin is a fraud.

This, I think, I dislike even more than the arc's implicit Christophobia — which, these days, I'm somewhat resigned to. Haters gonna hate. Amirite? But to posit a religion as a fraud? That is artistically tedious.

The modern screenwriter, being so far removed from true religion and bound, by his university-credentialed brilliance, to the truths of SCIENCE! alone, cannot even imagine religion as anything other than fraud. Gods aren't real; God isn't real. How do I know? The SCIENCE! tells me so!

We might, as Good Liberals, indulge the ethnic employment of religion. Aren't those Mexicans adorable with their Signs of the Cross? Aren't those Blacks adorable with their Gospel Spirituality? And my, the little bon mots we can extract from the religious expressions of these adorable ethnics! Despite the fraudulence of their silly religions.

But imagine the Ori weren't lying. Imagine that ascension truly awaited the followers of Origin. Imagine that Origin was not a fraud. Suddenly the Ori arc is interesting.

It's easy to fight charlatans. The moral high ground is so very high. But what if your foe is not a charlatan? Where then is your moral high ground? Is it right to oppose the dissemination of enlightenment? When the rewards are so great? The truths so real? True dilemmas arise. It's not so easy anymore. The Crusade has a point after all. It is bloody, yes. But not pointless. The conflict between the Ori and Stargate Command is suddenly deep.

Or at least not tedious.

Since I actually like the trappings of medieval Christianity, I mostly enjoy the Ori arc even as it irritates me. They squeezed a lot of decent adventure into two seasons. (Squeezed perhaps too much: One potentially deep and interesting story — the implantation of a Goa'uld into the incarnated avatar of the ascended Ori — was somewhat flaccidly disposed of in a single episode. That story should have been a three parter, the very climax of the Ori arc. Oh well.) I also like Tomin, and Vala's relationship with him. And finally I have one word for you: morenabaccarin.


Ageless Ideals, Not Outworn Machinery
What The Crown  Neglects to Tell
Wednesday, October 10, 2018 1:15 pm
Whenever you watch a historical drama, of course you wonder, "What is true in this?" Especially when you see the bend of the narrative, you wonder what has been left out as unhelpful or distracting. Now, there is nothing wrong with editing history for the sake of a tale; it's just best to treat any historical drama as fiction.

The Crown, the Netflix series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, definitely has a bend. It is firmly on the side of "the modern" — that is, the Modern as worshiped these past many decades: the casting aside of all acquired wisdom because, well, we're not stuffy and oppressive anymore. 

In particular it goes on and on about how the prohibition against divorce, and the disdain for divorced persons, is just so cruel. Never once does it explain why the prohibition exists or why people might think it a good thing. For The Crown, the prohibition is just a manifestation of adherence to outdated thinking.

In general, The Crown is all about the modernization of the monarchy. One could say: the steady erosion of its dignity. The royals, especially Elizabeth, are shown as people beset and powerless. She is a Queen with no constitutional power who, because of the supremacy of the Modern, finds herself bowing to every modernization.

As drama, The Crown is actually really good. And it is not disdainful, as such, of the actual dignity of the monarchy itself. By and large, especially with its honest (if agnostic) acknowledgement of the place of the Divine in the whole scheme, it avoids caricaturing the monarchy as merely some gilded vestige. Elizabeth is presented quite sympathetically. And yet, its greatest praise for her comes when she modernizes; not when she awkwardly tries to protect the monarchy as it has been.

And I think that, in adhering to its bend, it shows Elizabeth as weaker than she truly was. While there is no question that this second Elizabethan age has been a disaster and Britain is truly dead now (frankly, because of its descent into the Modern and, of late, its actual contempt for actual Britons), the real Elizabeth may have tried a little harder to resist.

In one episode (and in reality), Elizabeth concedes that there is something distant about the monarchy and agrees to the televising of her Christmas message. In the broadcast she says the following:
Twenty-five years ago my grandfather broadcast the first of these Christmas messages. Today is another landmark because television has made it possible for many of you to see me in your homes on Christmas Day. My own family often gather round to watch television as they are this moment, and that is how I imagine you now.

I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct.

It is inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you. A successor to the Kings and Queens of history; someone whose face may be familiar in newspapers and films but who never really touches your personal lives. But now at least for a few minutes I welcome you to the peace of my own home.

That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us.
To this point her speech has been identical to her actual speech in 1957; at this point, she then goes into a reading of a passage from Pilgrim's Progress, the same passage she read in reality.

However, in reality, there was much else between "all around us" and Pilgrim's Progress. I wouldn't expect The Crown to repeat the entire broadcast, not least because it included some dull state-of-the-Commonwealth stuff. But some rather meaty content was excluded. Here is how the speech actually went:
That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us. Because of these changes I am not surprised that many people feel lost and unable to decide what to hold on to and what to discard. How to take advantage of the new life without losing the best of the old.

But it is not the new inventions which are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery.

They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint.

At this critical moment in our history we will certainly lose the trust and respect of the world if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and Commonwealth.

Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.

It has always been easy to hate and destroy. To build and to cherish is much more difficult.
The Elizabeth in The Crown would not say this. If she did, she would be resisting the narrative itself. Note especially how she calls out those who would have "morality in personal and public life made meaningless [...] and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint;" those who, in other words, would commit their adulteries, fornications, and divorces and then get all tetchy about any objections to or consequences for their actions.

I think it sad that the show did not depict this Elizabeth, the one who at least cried out as she was being struck down. But The Crown doesn't want to engage the arguments of the real Elizabeth. Rather it accepts submission to the Modern as inevitable and decides simply to depict the human drama of the Crown's submission.

P.S. A silly thing The Crown does is reckon Elizabeth's sex as a rationale for the modernization. You know: Women are breaking free of so much in this glorious new age! And now even the Monarch is a wahman! As if the monarchy had no provision for a female Monarch; as if two of England's greatest Monarchs were not women; as if only a half century before Elizabeth there had not been Victoria. Very silly.

The Rot Is Deep
It's All So Casual Now
Sunday, September 17, 2017 9:03 pm
So, on Netflix, I'm watching The Blacklist, that show starring James Spader. Generally it's just cool and outrageous. Like most modern TV, though, it can't merely deliver its clever plot but must also deliver an Approved Point of View.

It is particularly annoying when Reddington, an amoral killer, goes on some dogmatic rant about, oh, religious intolerance of sodomy. The writers, in their own real lives, hate (or at least must seem to hate) such intolerance, and so they can't help but depict their "hero" as doing the same — even if it makes him, at least briefly, a mouthpiece instead of a person.

Sadly, though, I experienced a more dispiriting moment in the show. Dogmatic rants at least indicate the writers are aware that they are taking positions. What happens when the rot is utterly unconscious? 

In one episode, children who are retarded and mentally afflicted are being given, by their parents, to a loony witch-like woman. The parents are essentially disposing of their children. A member of the FBI task force, speaking of Ethan (one of the children) and his mother Jeanne (who disposed of him), says:
Ethan apparently requires around-the-clock care, medical therapy, speech and language therapy. In fact Jeanne quit her job to be Ethan's full-time caregiver.
Notice the feminist worldview. Ethan required so much care that Jeanne had to quit her job. And for what? To become Ethan's "full-time caregiver."

Or as we used to say: his "mother."

The writers find it obviously tragic that Jeanne had to prioritize being a mother over being a wage slave. A woman is defined by having a job, after all; and caregiving is just an assignable task. There was no rant; no speech. Just a remark — almost casual — by a character explaining the situation.

Indeed, the rot has settled in.

Just Another Guy
God in Supernatural
Monday, January 23, 2017 8:00 pm
Generally I like what Supernatural does with Biblical mythology. Mind you, the writers are only scraping the mythology. They never explore the actual point of this or that story, but only steal from the cultural detritus of a society once Christian, re-purposing folktales they once half-heard in Sunday school.

Take, for example, the arc about the Darkness and the Mark of Cain.

Beware! Spoilers follow. 

So, before Creation, indeed before God, there was chaos, a force later called the Darkness. The Darkness was defeated by God and His Archangels and was locked away. The key to the cell containing the Darkness was entrusted to Lucifer (before his fall). Lucifer, having rebelled against God, used the key to corrupt Cain. The key became the Mark.

There have been three possessors, or keepers, of the key: Lucifer, Cain, and now Dean Winchester (one of the two brother heroes of the show, the other being Sam). Dean took on the Mark so that he could wield the First Blade (the very blade used to kill Abel) and destroy the last remaining Knight of Hell. The Knight is destroyed.

The Mark is corrupting, however, and Dean is becoming like Cain, the King of Murder. Sam conspires with a witch to remove the Mark from Dean. Unfortunately, if the key is not being held, the cell containing the Darkness will be opened. When the Mark is removed from Dean, the Darkness escapes.

No one quite realized what the Mark really was. The business about it being a key was not revealed until it was too late. Even then, given the bond between Dean and Sam (who have literally let the world suffer rather than let the other be ruined or taken away), Sam likely would not have stopped it anyhow.

Now, that is good mythmaking. I love the bit about the First Blade, the mere jawbone of a donkey that, having been used in the first murder, becomes a legendary weapon. I love how the Mark, in magical fashion, is itself a powerful object. And every episode with Cain is just great (the casting of Timothy Omundson, an actor I have otherwise never heard of, was somehow perfect).

You can see, of course, how this arc is not entirely Biblical. Its infidelity to Scripture is not the bothersome part. Nothing wrong — at all — with treating the Bible as a source of folktales to be reshaped in fiction. What bothers me, rather, are the polemical flavorings of the arc.

To begin with, Supernatural says that Cain did not kill Abel out of jealousy. Abel was not being faithful to God; he was worshiping Lucifer. Cain killed Abel to liberate his brother. In other words, Cain was motivated by love. The goody-two-shoes Abel was in fact beholden to the Evil One. Abel, like any other model to the Christian, was actually a deluded hypocrite.

How's that for a retcon? Why, it's only the conventional perspective of any de-Christianized modern.

It gets worse. It turns out the Darkness did not precisely predate God; it is, in fact, God's sister. God, though still the Creator in Supernatural's scheme, is really just a god, one of a two-member pantheon.

And because Supernatural cannot embrace the truly Christian definition of God as, in principle, being incapable of sharing a genus or family with anything, the writers are free to put God in the dock. Or, probably more to the point, intending to put God in the dock, they found it easier to diminish Him.

Ever since the Angels first appeared in Supernatural, back in the fourth season, the absence of God — His failure to help prevent even the Apocalypse, let alone the deaths or ruinations of characters — has been decried. Thematically, of course, God represents the absent Father, which plays off the failures of Dean and Sam's human father. But His absence (which, admittedly, is real enough to the superficial observer of the real world) also grounds Supernatural's judgments against Him.

For a long time I've tolerated Supernatural's take on Angels and Heaven and God. It is conventional nonsense about how following the mandates of Heaven — i.e., the will of God — is a loss of freedom. We are at our best when, like the crowd in Life of Brian, we cry out together, "We are all individuals!" We are better than Angels because we defy God. Supernatural takes this human self-worship to such a degree, that it casts Lucifer's rebellion as a refusal to venerate Mankind.

But again, I tolerated this because, hey, I have a soft spot for the monster-hunting and melodrama.

In the eleventh season, however, God makes an explicit appearance, and this is when the show becomes disappointing. The season itself has some good episodes (I particularly liked the one about imaginary friends), but the resolution of the Darkness storyline entails a rehearsal of every small-minded conception of God the Failure.

See, this is Chuck. He is an anxious, agitated drunk. A loser. In a meta-fictional turn, he writes a series of books called Supernatural. He knows what has happened and will happen to the Winchesters. He, it seems, is a Prophet.

No. Wait. Turns out Chuck is God. Or rather, this is how God manifests Himself. Yet it's not an act. God really is a sad sack. He is petulant and whiny. He doesn't listen to prayers. He stopped intervening miraculously because it was pointless. He is fatalistic. He ran away. Supernatural reduces God to One of Us. In fact Man has surprised and surpassed Him by creating music and nacho cheese. God may be the Creator, but at heart He is Chuck.

Supernatural's contribution to theodicy is that God is precisely as small as you fear that He is. Rather than deal with the problems of evil and suffering as, for example, does the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, especially in its great thinkers like Aquinas, Supernatural finds refuge in the usual, limited conception of God as a guy out of his depth, not much better than another Zeus.

Above all, this is an artistic failure in Supernatural. It is common enough. Supernatural is hardly alone in its portrayal of God; many college sophomores would concur. But it is facile. Imagine, rather, that Supernatural had foregone the Chuckism and dealt with the actual Christian God, the actual God. Artistically, yes, that would have been bad, too, since the previous seven seasons had not been preparing you for such a turn. But if the prep had been good, how much more intellectually interesting everything would have been!

By making God Chuck, the writers took the easy way out and, not so incidentally, allowed themselves to feel superior to the Deity who has so terribly failed us, we who are, despite all our faults, the most wonderful people ever.

Thus the Gospel of the Moderns.

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StoryHack #6
Stupefying Stories #22
Cirsova: Fall 2020
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