Written By: David Greenwalt and Marti Noxon
Directed by: David Greenwalt
An Inter-Galactic Warrior Princess
my fears were misplaced, but only to a certain extent.
Male and Female
seems little doubt but that “She” was about male/female sexuality and the
way they inter-relate. I do not see
how anyone can object to that. In
fact it is precisely the sort of question that a series aiming to use fantasy to
explore the realities of life for adults should tackle.
Moreover the episode looked at these issues from a robustly feminist
perspective. An individual
viewer may or may not agree with that perspective.
That is a personal matter. From
the point of view of a reviewer, however, it seems to me that the important
point is the quality of the ideas underpinning the script and how well they were
developed through the plot. And
regardless of the quality of the ideas behind “She” it was the way that they
were developed that caused all the problems.
immediate cause for Angel in “She” was a genuine "humanitarian"
one. The men in Jheira's world of
Oden Tal had subjugated the women there by the removal of their “Ko”.
The significance of the “Ko” was explained by Jheira in the following
it is perhaps here that we get into the “metaphor” aspect of the story.
The parallels between the removal of the “Ko” and female circumcision
are pretty obvious and were referred to a lot on the ATS newsgroup when the
episode first aired. It seems clear to me that writers, in drawing this parallel, intended
to make a comment on the male reaction to female sexuality.
The Vigories felt controlled by the “Ko”.
They therefore reacted to it with blind hatred and aggression. Through
this reaction they caused huge suffering to the females of Oden Tal. By making this parallel, the writers seemed to be suggesting
that female circumcision was the product of men feeling controlled by female
sexuality and reacting with suspicion and often hostility.
The implications they intended to be drawn from this seem reasonably
is very often a useful guide to the point a writer is trying to make. Here the
most obvious counterpoint for me was between Angel on the one hand and the male
Vigories on the other. Angel clearly felt the attraction of Jheira at least as
much as any Vigory was supposed to. However Angel's reaction to the “Ko” was
very different to theirs. He was not controlled by it. He resisted his sexual
urges, albeit with the help of a long cold shower.
Because he didn’t feel controlled by the “Ko” he didn’t join the
Vigories persecution of their females. Instead he was willing to help Jheira
rescue the fugitives. The
message this sends out seems to me to be directed principally to men. It says
that they have the choice of the extent to which they remain in control of
themselves. Simply because they feel a passion (like a sexual attraction) does
not mean they have to controlled by it. Rather
remaining in control of themselves is the response of the strong and the
principled. It is only the weak who
fear female sexuality and who consequently treat women with suspicion and
hostility. The strong do not.
problem with this approach is that in order to make their argument the writers
exaggerated certain aspects of male and female behavior and sexuality and it was
this exaggeration that effectively undermined the pillars on which the writers
arguments were constructed. As many
on the ATS newsgroup pointed out, the writers were treating female sexuality as
a form of chemical warfare and this can be seen as confirming negative
stereotypes of both males and females. Women’s
sexuality was essentially manipulative and, therefore, inherently disruptive.
For example Tae (the leader of the men from Oden Tal) talks of
"The bringer of chaos”.
She (or as he referred to Jheira “it”) is “a
vessel of pure rage. It has almost destroyed my world and now it is lose in
yours." There is no real
attempt to balance this idea. Instead
Jheira, if anything, reinforces it when she describes women in her world “When the females come of age, Ko controls our physical and
sexual power.” Worse still is the
attitude to the men who were incinerated.
"What about the guard? Who burned him?"
"He tried to touch one of my girls. It was his own fault."
"From what you're saying he probably didn't mean to hurt her."
Jhiera: "And the girl couldn't help killing him! It was an accident."
the other side of the coin, the way that the writers treated the effect the
“Ko” had on Wesley was equally unhelpful to their chosen metaphor. He turned into a babbling idiot.
And the problem this caused was that it interfered with what I perceive
to be the counterpoint the writers created.
I do not think that Angel has any special supernatural protection from
the “Ko”. Rather he is
exceptionally self-disciplined. If
I am right the point the writers were trying to make is that *everyone* can be
self-disciplined in their reaction to sexual arousal.
They sought to make that point by exaggerating normal human sexual
arousal but showing it still couldn't overcome Angel's heroic level of
self-control. At the same time they
exaggerated the male Vigories reaction. It
was the exaggeration inherent in the fantasy figures or fantasy situations that
was used to make their point. But
intruding Wesley left them open to precisely the argument that
"ordinary" males can't cope with chemical warfare of this sort.
were morally weak and their only answer to a controlling female sexuality was
violence and aggression. Because
of these problems the writers, therefore, undermined what should have been the
whole basis for their chosen metaphor.
this reading the male Vigories were acting reasonably for the security of
themselves and their civilization. The
message that brings is that the real problem in society is a manipulative and
controlling female sexuality and that male anger and aggression is an entirely
understandable response. As I have
already said I do not think that this was the intention – in fact I am sure it
wasn’t. But when you exaggerate something for effect you have to be
very careful not to disrupt the sometimes fragile balance in your argument.
Let me mention
one major problem with the episode right here.
I had more than a bit of trouble following the back-story about the
"other dimension". It was really only on the second viewing that I
understood it properly and of course it did not help that so much information
about it was put in the mouth of someone whose mother tongue is not English.
This was a problem as the back-story was crucial to understanding whole episode.
from this, the story itself was reasonably well told. I have never been a great
fan of the "visions" thing which seems to me to be a lazy way getting
any story going. But I can live with it and, as with most Angel episodes, the
good thing here is that we were launched quickly into the main plot.
This unfolded in a series of logical steps, involving reasonably
plausible detective work (e.g. Wesley and Cordelia finding the Vigories because
of their need for large quantities of plant material).
As the story progressed we were at first unsure who were the black hats
and who were the white hats. Initially
we were misled into identifying Jheira as the villain because of her presence in
the office of the murdered PI and her attack on Angel.
It was really only when we discovered what she was doing and why that
this outlook was reversed. Keeping
the audience guessing about what was going on is a classic way of sustaining
interest. Unfortunately the effect
here was ruined because just before the truth about Jheira was revealed there
was a very substantial break in plot development.
Angel following Jheira from the dead PI’s office to the Museum where
the portal opened should really have been shown in a matter of seconds to
maintain the sense of dramatic tension. Instead,
two rather lengthy scenes interrupted it – the one with the car phone and then
Angel’s improvised lecture. The
latter I do not mind because it was interesting in itself, not too long and did
retain a sense of dramatic tension because he was using it to avoid capture.
The scene with the phone in the car was amusing but it was too long and,
with the lecture, took the focus for far too long away from where it should have
been – who Jheira was and what did she want.
further problem is that, once Jheira’s mission was revealed, we found
ourselves in very familiar territory. The
underground railway is a device that has been used many times before.
And there was really nothing in this episode that added much of a twist
or new perspective to it. About the
only thing the writers tried to do with it was introduce
a fairly traditional “race against time to find the women and rescue
them before the bad guys” gambit. Even
here there was no attempt to throw some real difficulty in Angel’s way to
sharpen the tension and make us doubt he would win the race.
In this context the only thing that worked really well were the fight
scenes in the darkened building. I
though that those were very well done.
thing that did disappoint was the anti-climactic way that the women escaped and
their pursuers just backed off. This, of course, may just be set-up. Angel has
contented himself for now with drawing lines, which the trans- dimensional
beings should not cross. But with more appearances by Jheira to come it may well
be that they are just regrouping and that in the future we will see a more
substantive resolution of this storyline. The "king" referred to by
Jheira certainly doesn't seem to practice what he preaches. Perhaps Angel will
be called on to show how he can. Perhaps this will be the ultimate example of
how his example could save the souls of an entire realm.
Even so, the ending did seem more than a little unsatisfying.
were several intriguing pieces of characterization in this episode.
Indeed this is one of the few strengths of “She”.
One thing that I have always liked about Angel as an individual is that
he seems a throwback to a very old fashioned idea of masculinity - the strong,
silent man of integrity and sincerity - which is miles away from most modern TV
producers definition of the term. This seems confined to gun wielding, bed
hopping babe magnets. I know there has been some (exaggerated) comment about
Angel saving damsels in distress but one thing about him is that he invariably
treats women as individuals and not as objects who, because he is the hero, must
by definition want to jump into bed with him. This was a part of his character
that was brought to the fore here. In the end, because of his integrity and
self-control, Jheira seemed more attracted to him than he to her, despite her
"special attributes". And,
as I have already said, I thought the improvised lecture in the Museum worked
very well. I do love it when we get little glimpses into Angel's past and this
scene reinforced just how varied and rich his life experiences have been. And
doing it this way is so much more intriguing than simply giving us a lot of
flashback in which too much is given away.
herself did seem a very interesting character. The coldness and calculation on
the one hand contrasted with her passion for her cause. It is the classic
picture of a fanatic; dare I say almost of a terrorist? Her reaction to the
"collateral damage" caused by her activities was particularly
interesting. There is nothing quite so ruthless as self- righteousness. If you
have a cause that is right any sacrifice is acceptable.
In the darker recesses of any conflict this is an idea that needs
challenging and I am glad the writers did so here.
Yet at the end she did seem to show some hints of genuine feeling. It
will be interesting to see where this goes.
for now a word about the humor. Notwithstanding my comments about the car phone,
I continue to appreciate the way
that the writers are continually taking pot-shots at poor old Angel.
The contrast between his attempt to maintain his dignity and everyone
else's attempt to undermine it is priceless.
And even the car phone scene, although out of place, was amusing in
itself. I really do enjoy Action
Angel and his battle with the technology that sometimes doesn't work as it
should. But perhaps the best
example of the writers approach in this respect may be found when Cordelia is
complaining about Angel’s behavior at her party:
so glad you came. You know how parties are. You’re always worried
that no one is going to suck the energy out of the room like a giant black hole
of boring despair. But there you where - in the clinch!”
In reply Angel tried to raise the “I’m Mr. Cool” defense. Cordelia’s ruthless putdown (saying Wesley was cooler) seemed a very deliberate attempt by the writers to make fun of even this aspect of Angel’s image. And of course it would be very remiss of me to neglect the “I don’t dance” scene. This last in particular suggests that our hero is a mass of insecurities where others are concerned and that is a very interesting insight upon his social isolation.
The episode had an interesting concept for a story, reasonable (if
uninspired) execution of plot, generally good use of character and amusing
sidelights. However its problems were far more substantial than its merits.
As I have tried to suggest the otherwise interesting metaphor was
completely undermined by the carelessness of its execution. This, in the end, threatened to send to the audience
the opposite message to the one intended. An,
although professionally enough executed, the plot was pretty unimaginative and
largely lacking in tension. In the
middle it was a little flabby and the ending was just anti-climactic.
Finally, Jheira and the fire and ice metaphors in which the episode
indulged seemed to me to be really very hokey and thus unnecessarily
Review rewritten and revised Friday, September 08 2000