Jessica Jones Gets Real

On November 20th, Season One of Marvel’s Jessica Jones launched on Netflix. I admit I was fairly ignorant of the character and I didn’t know how the beginning of this series would play out. Even though it takes place in Hell’s Kitchen, and Daredevil on Netflix more than proved itself, I’d only known about Luke Cage in passing — and only realized he would be in the series by the second episode — and I knew a whole lot less about Jessica herself.

But there is an advantage in that. First, I had no preconceived notions about Jessica Jones as a character. I was allowed to see how her adventures would play out in a realistic, gritty cinematic version of the Marvel Universe. And, second, I find there is something creatively liberating about reinventing or reintroducing characters who aren’t necessarily “top-tier superheroes.” There are so many stories inherent in their struggles and in themselves that you can tell in a distinctly modern fashion: and this is definitely the case with Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones

And from the very beginning the series creator and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg recreates an uncomfortable reality for Jessica. Jessica Jones is a former superhero and current private investigator. She possesses superhuman strength and the ability to leap far distances. At the same time Jessica is an orphan, former abuse victim and survivor. She copes with this through copious amounts of alcohol, disillusionment, and biting sarcasm. Her dual rundown apartment and office’s constantly broken front door says a lot about her personality. Yet while Jessica’s persona is brittle and often unpleasant, underneath it she is a good and decent person that wants to save people’s lives.: who ultimately still wishes to do the right thing. It this combination of physical and emotional vulnerability and strength at play with one another that makes her so captivating. The fact is: Jessica doesn’t always have to be a likable person, but that just makes her more human.

Jessica Jones 2

In addition, Jessica Jones has symptoms of post-traumatic stress: from flashbacks to her abuser and interrupted childhood to having to constantly repeat street names to remind herself of something material and concrete to hold onto when her panic attacks set in. She is an abused woman in the process of coping with the events and trauma that led her to this point in her life. Krysten Ritter portrays this well in how these facts affect Jessica’s behaviour and relationships. And she isn’t the only one.

Jessica’s friend Patricia Walker, or Trish, is a radio talk show host who became Jessica’s adoptive sister. She was abused constantly by her mother, physically and emotionally, as a child star. This has led her to adopting a friendly public facade while letting few people into her private life: an existence made up of a high security apartment and intense Krav Maga martial arts training. Whereas Jessica protects herself with superficial abruptness, Trish does the same with a literal fortress. Jessica doesn’t want, or have to smile to please anyone. Trish wears her smile as another shield.

It is just one more thing the two women both have in common, but it’s not the main element that brings them together. Both of them protect one another as much as they can and, even with Jessica pushing Trish away, they are the closest people to each other that they have. Jessica herself tries to remain emotionally detached from the other people she knows, while Trish tends to call her lover by his last name. And even so, both try to do good with power they have: and cope with their surroundings.

And then there is the antagonist of the first Season. Kilgrave.

Kilgrave

Imagine a man who has the power to mind control anyone he wants by simple verbal commands. Consider the fact that for his entire life he is used to being obeyed: that his every whim never goes unfulfilled. Consent doesn’t matter to a being like him. People are barely sentient beings in his eyes. For the most part, they are objects for his use and nothing more. Kilgrave casually violates the free will of his victims and leaves shattered lives in his wake. What makes his villainy even more terrifying is how David Tennant plays him. Consider the whimsy and man-child demeanour of the Tenth Doctor, with his gentle British accent, and his razor sharp intelligence except it’s warped by sociopathy, psychotic temper tantrums, and a tremendous sense of self-entitlement. He even goes as far as dressing in a purple uncomfortably close to the blue suits The Doctor used to wear. Kilgrave also wears pajamas.

Even if you disregard the dissonance between Tennant’s role as The Doctor and Kilgrave for the Whovian fans out there, there is this sliminess underneath all the flair and brilliance — this lack of personal responsibility and even the shunting the blame on his victims — that just makes you ardently wish for his imminent death.

Jessica Jones and Kilgrave

And he is the one who violated Jessica Jones. He is her abuser and he has come back into her life. Kilgrave claims that she and others actually wanted or “asked for it.” And no one in law enforcement or society would believe her or his other victims. It becomes Jessica’s mission to save another victim, that of a young woman whose life Kilgrave ruined, prove what Kilgrave can do to the world at large, bring him to justice, protect her loved ones, and bring closure to her demons. It is no tall order for a woman, even with superpowers, to confront her abuser and the insidious systems that surround him, as well as the expectations around her to do what she must to survive and save the lives of others.

Jessica Jones is a series about a group of flawed characters, some completely selfish and others wanting to make a difference: even achieving the bare minimum goal of living another day and maintaining a broken and ramshackle apartment building in the worst side of New York. But, among other things, it is also a narrative arc about superpowers almost being secondary to the true nature of evil — of separating and silencing, of not being believed — and, most importantly, the strength decent people have when they are allowed to speak out and when they can stand together: if only for a time.

It is definitely a show that bears watching.

Here’s Why You Should Be Watching Sense8

It’s hard to talk about a series like Sense8. I know that, when I first heard about it — this original series coming to Netflix about people whose perceptions were linked with each other — I didn’t think much of it at the time.  But in retrospect it makes sense that a series created by J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis, creators of Babylon 5 and The Matrix respectively, would be nothing short of brilliant.

Still, it’d be very easy to write it off a product of vague and exaggerated hype on first glance: especially with a name that sounds like a spell from Final Fantasy or a deadly weapon from science fiction like Ice-Nine. The introduction scenes have a lot going on: with various human activities all over the world that seem to have almost nothing to do with each other aside from the fact that people are doing them. In fact, the only thing that seems to unify these montages are the overall dramatic tones of the music in the background.

Even the premise: of people being able to get into each other’s minds simultaneously felt like more like a vague idea than an actual compelling story: the kind of thing that a director, or writer would use as a guideline into making an actual plot and could just as easily get lost in a desk drawer gathering dust.

Perhaps it’s due to the medium in which the series has been presented. As a film or a once-a-week television show, Sense8 might not have even been considered: or the resources available might not have allowed it to live to even its inherent potential in the first season. Think of an epic story — of reading A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of the Rings — and having to wait once a week, or a few years just to read the next chapter. Whereas with Sense8‘s model in Netflix, by June 5 everyone was capable of watching all twelve episodes at once: giving you that feeling of staying up late into the night reading “just one more chapter” to a good and multi-layered story. This form allows you to pretty much follow what is going on and keep it relatable.

Despite what I said earlier, the premise of Sense8 is not just a creative novelty: something that many powers in Hollywood might have just kept at the level of mere spectacle. And it could have gone that route had it not been for J. Michael Straczynski, known for creating indepth characters and complex story lines stepped in mythology and the human experience, and the Wachowskis and their penchant to examine themes of philosophy, metaphysics, and human consciousness.

One of the challenges is that there is so much to explore with the theme of sharing one’s sense of self with other selves. Sense8 manages to look at what is to be human: to have your own individuality and privacy, but also being inherently alone for it. For instance, you live in your own body and no one else can do that for you. But what happens when someone else can not only see you, but read your thoughts, experience your physical state, and feel your emotions? And vice-versa.

Lito and Wolfgang Sense8

And then take it a step further. Imagine you can not only draw on people’s knowledge, but their skill sets as well. For instance, Wolfgang Bogdanow is a safe-cracker who needs to bluff his way out of a situation and draws on Lito Rodriguez’s acting skills to do so, and when Lito needs to actually fight he either draws on Wolfgang’s skills in mayhem, Will Gorski’s self-defense skills as a policeman, or South Korean businesswoman Sun Bak’s martial arts. Or Capheus, a bus driver in Kenya, can draw on the research and skills of the hacker Nomi Marks, or Kala Dandekar’s knowledge to do something ad hoc with her knowledge of chemistry.

Being a Sensate — becoming “aware” in Sense8, is having access to a skills and knowledge pool of your cluster: of seven other people of various places, backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. But then there is the matter of memories and feelings to consider as part of the pool as well. Boundaries between individuals can blur in many ways. For instance, if Will gets injured on the job Wolfgang might feel it. The Icelander DJ Riley Blue could be taking some ecstasy and it could effect Kala at her job. And let’s not even go into what happens when the various Sensates in a cluster are having sex … or menstruating.

Season One of Sense8 mostly has the characters realizing just what they are, figuring out how they work, and how it’s played out is one of the most beautiful things of all. The whole Mary Sue moment of realizing that they are different is downplayed a lot by this intrinsic feeling of understanding: they are all interlinked after all. The hows and whys of it are almost secondary to that. Some of them accept it in a dream-like way, while others think they are suffering from hallucinations. But you can see it all coming together.

And Sense8 has a plot.

Whispers Sense88

It’s hard to see and get a feel for it in the first episode. You still wonder where it is going but as you run with it you realize that there are people who knows that the Sensates exist: powerful people that want them dead, neutralized, or controlled. And the main antagonist is a cold and detached being that fits well into the story, even as a renegade Sensate helping the main characters explains that Sensates have existed throughout history: that they may not be the next evolution of humankind, but a throwback to how sentient life began: together instead of separate and isolated.

It leaves you with so many questions. Can Sensates block who sees or selectively reveal what in their minds? Can they control how they are perceived by others in the cluster? Just how far can they synchronize their movements and actions together? Are there ways to override one individual’s consciousness: to make someone into an extension of your will? And is there a danger in becoming too close: in becoming a melded together gestalt consciousness?

The implications and possibilities of Sense8 go much further than this. Imagine if Sensates had existed in history? If Alexander the Great and his inner circle had all been born in the same month and year? Or if there were clusters in the ranks of the Spartans? Or even if someone like Adolf Hitler was a Sensate? The point is, there are so many ways beyond even alternative fictional history to tell more stories with this idea.

Sense8 is also a tremendously geeky series. The concept of clusters some of the situations and events that occur on Sense8 are reminiscent of various polyamorous themes in Robert A. Heinlein stories, while you could make an argument that clusters are similar to the idea of the karass — a group of people linked together in a cosmic manner — in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

Lito Daniela Hernando Sense8

But for me, it isn’t so much the fictional and dramatic possibilities of Sense8 that appeal to me. We live in the Information Age: an age of wireless Internet where we communicate with people all across the world. A lot of us have friends, family, and other relationships in Europe, or the Middle-East, Asia, the Americas, and other places. In many places, we are becoming a long-distance species in a world becoming much smaller. This is definitely one theme that Sense8 is bringing to the fore and tapping into: something with which many people can relate.

Riley and Will Sense8

Certainly, there is a theme of loneliness in physically being around people while feeling more together with someone communicating with you halfway across the world. The best examples of this are when Riley Blue and Will Gorski are communing with each other while the latter is at a bar with his police friends. Will is a seemingly normal and straightforward police officer but it becomes apparent that he really doesn’t relate to most of his colleagues beyond a casual level while Riley, who is in another country can talk with him about the things with which he can actually begin to be himself. Or even how Sun, in one of the worst, most isolating situations of her life can have the seemingly physical and moral support of Riley as she herself is outside looking at the sun.

It’s these moments that really jive with me and they are captured well by the show. So, when all is said and done, if you are geeky in any way and you like diverse human stories and you have been that geeky person with someone you care for across a state line or another ocean — and you know this feeling — then Sense8 is the series for you: with some new seasons with which to look forward.

Also Freema Agyeman, who once played Doctor Who‘s Martha Jones, is an LGBTQ character and bad ass girlfriend of Nomi.

Amanita and Nomi Sense8

Enough said.

Building On Speculation: Eric Heisserer and The Door That Isn’t There

There are many kinds of doors. Some close, some remain open, some never exist, and some … remain unseen. Until it is too late.

It is the season for horror. But, for online horror, the season started early. Just three months ago My dead girlfriend keeps messaging me on Facebook was a story spread like a trail of goosebumps from the subreddit r/nosleep to creep out and outright terrify readers on the Internet.

I am very interested in these kinds of stories. They are often called creepypastas: essentially online urban myths and, for lack of a better word, folktales with elements of the uncanny copy-and-pasted across many forums and message boards. Some of these stories have no authors, or none have disclosed themselves while other writers proclaim themselves and their stories as works of fiction and horror after they have become viral. Jeff the Killer is a haphazard example of a creepypasta without named authors that’s circulated for some time, while Candle Cove is the creation of Kris Straub which got circulated and promoted as true on other sites.

But then there are the others: the ones that write their narratives as though they are true and they leave it open as to whether or not you, as the reader, should believe them. They create a door out of the corner of your perception to let your imagination inform you of what you will see if you dare to step through.

Enter Eric Heisserer and his … door.

Eric Heisserer himself is a horror writer and director but, before that, he created an online epistolary horror story called The Dionaea House: a narrative made up of a series of correspondence outlining the investigation and disappearance of friends in a particular house.  You see, I thought I knew Heisserer from his directing work but I actually remembered coming across this story in my research for creepypastas. Eric Heisserer created this work in 2004 — a piece that actually gave him the opportunity to get into screenwriting and directing — and, as such, is no stranger to the kind of writing and mentality in creating a creepypasta. So that might “solve” some questions with regards to the truth behind his current story.

Cautionary message: do not read past this point if you don’t want spoilers. You have been warned or if you’d like, I’d turn back if I were you.

His account begins as Information I’m dumping here for safe keeping on reddit. You might want to view Dread Central‘s version of the story in their article Eric Heisserer Details a Truly Horrific Account as well: not only does it seamlessly incorporate the hyperlinked images directly into the text,  it is also easier to follow.

With regards to this story, there is already some suspension of disbelief needed by that title alone, but r/nosleep has a policy for interacting with any story in its jurisdiction as true. Basically a friend of a friend named Kevin is searching for his sister who went missing in her house some time ago. You then find out that Kevin’s sister Gwen and her estranged husband Robert lost their child Dash: who simply vanished from his room in that same house.

Dash's Room Heisserer

Robert moves back into the house after Gwen’s disappearance and starts to impede any investigation on Heisserer or Kevin’s part. So we already have a few horror tropes and devices happening here: the series of derivative horror stories sent to Heisserer and the one exception, the “friend of a friend,”  a suspicious husband, and of course people going missing in a house. You can also see the similarities between this situation and the disappearances within Heisserer’s The Dionaea House along with some of the epistolary format — what with the first-person perspective and the addition of journal entries — but there are some differences.

For instance, Eric Heisserer is the primary narrator of this story as opposed to his persona and the other fictional narratives that made up The Dionaea House. And there is the nature of the epistolary format. While it’s true that in The Dionaea House Heisserer creates constant additions and updates to Mark’s investigation with links to other characters’ blogs, chat logs, text messages and the like, his subreddit account has something else.

This is in the form of Gwen’s hobby, created to deal with the obsessive compulsive disorder she apparently developed after Dash went missing, and it’s the element that expands the scope of the story and makes it both truly creepy and utterly fascinating.

Essentially, Gwen began researching and practising an obscure form of photography: branching from her fascination with its infra-red variant. This leads to the inclusion of some interesting graphic evidence and the addition of a journal written in the Philippines from 1954 by a photographer’s assistant named Salazar.

Salazar Journal Heisserer

In the initial thread of the story, we see that the scans of the journal entries are all in a dialect of Filipino which Eric Heisserer and Kevin can’t read. Instead there are some disturbing images there to entertain us in the meantime.

And then we get updates and some translations. It also gets better due to the fact that while The Dionaea House adds to its narrative through hyperlinks and blog comments, commentaries in the subreddit actually expand on what could be going on in the latter narrative. The story seems to be participatory: like an improvised collaboration around a camp fire of digital information and helpful hyperlinks. People seem to be helping Eric Heisserer build a nightmare. They are building a nightmare together. This is how viral creepypastas happen

I honestly hope that this story will continue or lead into another project despite “Robert” filing a “cease and desist order” against Eric Heisserer. But in any case, there is a very intriguing comment with which I’d like to end this article.

Salazar Ink Heisserer

In the special form of photography that Salazar creates and Gwen adopts from his journal, one of the chemical developing agents is derived from the leaves of balete or banyan trees. According to an excerpt from a Wikipedia article the commenter StudiousIdiot, among other spiritual connotations “A number of these [balate trees] are known as strangler figs wherein they start upon other trees, later entrapping them entirely and finally killing the host tree,” to which the commenter adds “That other photo we haven’t seen yet – the one with the unseen house? It chills me to read that while thinking of what might be growing there.”

The Jungian image of a new home connected to an old and decrepit old larger house that you can only see when something else points it out to you is precisely just what a creepypasta can become: a story that is linked to an ordinary reality that can turn into a viral meme, an ever-evolving horror mythos, and even a dionaea — a venus flytrap — that can capture your fascination, your fear, and swing shut behind your soul forever. And I hope I and others will get to see the process of its expansion and entrapment over the imaginations of many more.

Pleasant dreams everyone.

eric heisserer door

Larry Wilson’s CINDY Kickstarter Campaign Needs Some Dust

Larry Wilson is the co-writer and co-producer of Beetlejuice, co-writer of The Addams Family, and writer and director for six seasons of Tales From The Crypt. Many of these shows informed our childhoods as geeks. Certainly, they did mine. Larry is working on a new Kickstarter Project. It is a web series called CINDY: a quirky dark fantasy and comic twenty-first century retelling of Cinderella. Larry has been good enough to take the time to tell us more about his current work and some details about his crowdfunding campaign.

GEEKPR0N:  So Larry, what is it about the story of Cinderella that motivates you to use it as the basis of your show? 

Larry Wilson: Once I had a “body of work” and enough years to look back on it, I realized that almost everything I write has this dysfunctional family at the center of it. (I’ll let you figure out what that means about how I grew up!)  For me that what’s Cinderella is really about.  If you watch the CINDY preview you see that Cindy’s first line is “I’m an orphan with no friends.” Family doesn’t get more dysfunctional than that!

GP: What inspired you to include elements from the Reality TV medium in CINDY?

LW: Well, Reality TV is the Zeitgeist, right?  And a certain amount of it makes me cringe!  So I thought it would be fun to satirize and I think we’ve done a really good job!

GP: Why have you chosen a web series as your show’s medium?

LW: I chose a web series because of the flexibility and creative freedom and also because I am HONESTLY BORED with pitching things in Hollywood the way it’s always been done.  Thanks to DIY & the Digital Age the “put your hat in your hand and go beg for money” pitch is slowly becoming archaic.  Hurray to that!

GP: To what extent do you think that your previous projects, your work with “the strange and unusual” might influence the spirit of CINDY

LW:  CINDY is full of “the strange and unusual”.  It’s the creative world I inhabit.  Again, looking back, the couple of times I’ve written “straight” comedy or drama, it’s not been bad, but it’s not been particularly good either.  So I’ve typecast myself and embraced my weirdness.  Guess what?  I like it!

GP:  Let’s talk about a reward on your Kickstarter for CINDY. Is it true that not only will you sign some of posters for your previous films, but Caroline Thompson — writer of Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas — is going to sign some movie posters of her work as well? 

LW: Yes.  It’s very true.  Caroline is not only my sometimes writing partner but my all the time good friend.  She wants to help CINDY succeed, God love her!

GP: Two of CINDY‘s Kickstarter pledge tiers revolve around screenwriting: one a screenplay development consultation and a personal development session with you. Basically you are offering to help donors for those tiers look over their script ideas and drafts. Many of us, including myself, are writers. Can you give us more information on what both of these rewards entail?

LW: I’ve taught screenwriting, in various classes, for over 25 years now.  I teach when my writing career is hot, cold and every temperature in between.  I’m not a screenwriter who staggered into teaching after an epic screenwriting career fail!  I teach because I love it and I think my methods are unique & inspirational.  It’s a bit of hype but not much to say I think the CINDY screenwriting consultation premiums are the biggest bargains on our list of goodies.

Fairy Manual

GP: What can fans do to help in funding your Kickstarter and making CINDY possible?

LW: JUST SEND MONEY AND SPREAD THE WORD, PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE!

GP: These are some very impressive incentives to back CINDY.  You can find more information about CINDY on its Kickstarter Campaign page as well as some actor, staff, and character interview snippets on its Youtube channel the Cindy Series. At the moment this show is still trying to fit into some glass slippers. You still have time to donate more than a pair … along with a little bit of Dust: for fairy motivation.