Friday, November 4, 2016

Women on From Dusk Till Dawn

When talking about misogyny on From Dusk Till Dawn it feels a lot like going after low hanging fruit. Especially since it’s tempting to spend a lot of time talking about the first season of From Dusk Till Dawn.

After all, the first season involved the ultimate goal of travelling to a strip club, had acres and acres of sexualised naked female flesh. It set up Kate and Santanico as the ultimate Madonna/Whore comparison and had one of the co-protagonists, Richie, be a serial killer who targetted women which we all quickly got over. And we had a guy with a gun strapped to his crotch.

You could probably spent a long time talking about how the first season was not a stellar portrayal of female characters. However, the first season was also very much based on the film which was, if anything, even worse and the writers chose to adhere to it very clearly

I used the word “chose” here deliberately because I won’t pretend they couldn’t have made many more changes than they did and I’m not going to act like the film is holy writ they couldn’t possibly have changed.

But, as I mentioned at the end of season one and the beginning of season 2 and 3, the moment when I thought From Dusk Till Dawn really came into its own was when it transcended its source material. This is when we started to see the introduction of meso-American mythology, the introduction of the Lords as an organisation and Santanico presented as so much more than a beautiful woman who bites people. There was history and world building and development and From Dusk Till Dawn could have been a show that impressed me by the huge potential the writers saw in the source material which I could never have imagined (similar to Buffy: because you can’t tell me that the person who watched that awful film and said “we can get a 7 season epic hit from this!” wasn’t selling his soul to someone!)

This was a chance to change things up.

I’m also not even going to focus on season 2 - even though we had a terrible trope of Santanico’s goals and desires being completely subsumed by Richie’s and Seth’s; her revenge being sidelined, she becoming a side-character in what should have been her

I’m even leaving this because Season 3 gives me so much more to focus on

When we reached season 3 I think the best way to describe the depiction of women is “supreme disappointment”.

We began with some very high potential - we have Santanico, of course. La Diosa, the hope and inspiration for so many Culebras. We had Lord Venganza, the last surviving ruler of the Culebras, survivor of their slavery in Xibalba and, by definition, the remaining leader of the Culebra resistance against Amaru. We had Ximana, Venganza’s general, chief follower and leader in her absence.

We needed these characters to counter the fact Kate, the other female character who’d managed to cling to existence to this season, was pretty much absent the whole season. Oh the actress was there, but the character was gone; the character was completely subsumed by Amaru, pretty much utterly helpless throughout.

We also had a return of Freddie’s wife.

I don’t even remember her name and, while I could easily look it up, I’m not going to because “Freddie’s wife” is exactly how this show has depicted her. Her existence is defined entirely by this, her involvement in the story is entirely dependent on this. This is all the show allowed her to be.

And she’s not the only minor female character introduced and utterly wasted this season. For some reason we met Dakota McGraw, vengeance driven daughter of the ex-sheriff Earl McGraw who was murdered by the Geckos. I found her to be a distraction from the main plot and was confused as to why she was actually there - apparently the writers thought the same because after 1 and a bit episode’s involved they dropped her into the plot box. I can’t imagine what anyone in the writer’s room was thinking  - let’s introduce this woman who has dedicated herself to seeking murderous revenge for her dad’s murderer. She finds them, realises the supernatural is going on and then goes home. Never mind revenge. Never mind cannibal magic. Never mind vampires. Never mind anything - she’s just going to go home and… and.. Who the hell knows what she’s going to do because she just decided to walk away from the apocalypse and her revenge to take up white-water rafting or scrapbooking or something.

I think not bothering including her before would be infinitely more respectful than having her turn up with her furious quest and then have her completely forget it all and disappear into the mist.

Not that the prominent female characters do much better. Look at Ximana - general and second in command of Lord Venganza. She could have been rallying the troops after the Lords were destroyed. In fact with all the Lords destroyed, except Venganza, why isn’t Ximana leading a collected army, rallying the Culebra resistance, martially the vast resources of the Lords’ empires in a desperate defence against Amaru? Why isn’t she doing SOMETHING except occasionally show up to be a bit part in Richie and Seth’s story and fight? Why isn’t she leading the front line? Why does she disappear for episodes at a time?

And why is her only storyline involves hooking up with Freddie, falling in love (or lust) and then being murdered by him? I mean, if this general/warrior was actually going to die in this epic battle for the sake of the planet could it be for some reason other than her presuming to use her vagina? Could she not have died fighting? Could she not have taken down a powerful Xibalban? Could she not have done something that established her as something other than as a love interest? Couldn’t her role, her purpose - anything about her - be validated by her death, by her storyline?

The only reason I don’t rage about Ximana being insulted and demanded like this is because of Lord Venganza. Because Lord Venganza is the last lord. Lord Venganza is the last leader the vampires have. Lord Venganza is the only organisation and authority the culebras still have left. And she runs and hides

Seriously, this is all she does. She runs and hides. She does nothing. She cowers in the prison and hopes Seth and Richie can save her people, her kingdom and herself. Her power, her resources, her centuries of experience? Ignored, she’s just cowering in the basement of a prison and doing nothing.

When does she get involved? She gets involved when she’s attacked - she gets involved when she’s attacked and Richie and Seth turn up to save her.

Even then she doesn’t step up - for her to finally get involved in the battle against Amaru she needs to be kidnapped. She needs to be dragged into this fight to be used as a tool by the men

Note I didn’t say “dragged kicking and screaming.” That would require her to actually resist. Nope, Freddie goes to her and then leaves with Lord Venganza tied up and helpless. You’d think a Lord of the Culebras would be able to put up enough resistance to at least give Freddie a black eye or something. Maybe say something nasty about his mother? Make him drag her? Something? Nope, Freddie just collects her. He would have literally had more trouble kidnapping a sack that weighed as much as Lord Venganza, because he’d have to carry her.

The plan isn’t even to involve Lord Venganza in the battle against Amaru - no, she’s bait. She’s a tool. He’s a distraction. And she’s not even let in on the plan - Seth and Richie are - but not Venganza. Y’know if they had bothered to tell her then maybe Venganza wouldn’t have killed herself and realised she just had to stall a little more! But then that would have involved a female character being active, being effective and shown us a level of female involvement that didn’t involve dying and/or sacrifice (a theme continued with how Kate “defeats” Amaru. Because an active woman is one ready to lay down and die for the cause!)

I cannot stress how frustrating Lord Venganza is - it makes no sense for her to do so little in this story. It makes no sense for the prime target of Amaru to not be involved in the plot at all. It makes no sense for a woman with her power, her resources and her experience to be such a side note, such an object in this plotline

The only thing that stops Lord Venganza being the most frustrating female character is Satanico.

I think Santanico especially annoyed me. Not only because she was a major character from the first season but because of the shape of the plot this season. We have Amaru, queen of Xibalba, who was killed after a rebellion by her Culebra slaves. Those Culebra slaves, oppressed and brutally treated (as we saw again and again) became the Lords of the Culebra who, in a bitter twist, became masters and enslavers themselves (something Carlos called Venganza out on). The lords became the masters, in many ways the Lords became everything they fought against.

And Santanico herself was enslaved by Maldonado for centuries - that was her storyline in season 1 and 2 - escaping from and getting revenge for those centuries of enslavement and control. Over these centuries, she became a goddess figure, La Diosa, a redeemer and inspiration for hundreds, perhaps thousands of Culebra. She is revered. There is an entire cult around La Diosa. When Amaru comes to Earth one of her first priorities is to try and destroy this cult and La Diosa herself (quickly abandoned since it focused too much on Santanico).

Looking at this, the potential story is so clear. The corrupted lords are unable to rally their forces against Amaru, they’re helpless to stop themselves being enslaved again, but La Diosa, with the same desire for freedom that goes back to the very heart of the original Culebra rebellion and escape from hell, is the one who can break their chains and lead them to freedom again

That could have been epic. And all the pieces are set out there. They’re not just set out but they’re so clear it’s almost bizarre that they didn’t follow this storyline. Instead we got several episodes of the Gecko brothers killing Xibalban of the week with their sidekicks… why why why, who thought this was a better idea?!

So where did this leave Santanico? For most of the show she wasn’t there. She was apparently uninterested in the queen of hell looking to take over the world. She didn’t care when her religious followers were targetted (though, to be fair, Santanico was never interested in being La Diosa). When her little enclave was attacked and destroyed 2 seconds after it appeared - and the woman she loved was killed 2 seconds after she appeared as well - she didn’t go on a revenge spree or decide to take the threat seriously or… anything. She did nothing. She just disappeared

She eventually reappeared to tell us all that she wanted back into the action because Seth Gecko had inspired her to fight Amaru. Not to save the world. Not to save the people who worshipped her. Not to save herself. Not to avenge the woman she loved or the people she led and protected. No, because Seth Gecko. Because a human is fighting to save the world and she couldn’t be arsed to for REASONS. Perhaps “shamed” would be a better word than “inspired”.

Given this litany of inaction and sidelining, it’s unsurprising that Santanico actually had no real impact in the storyline, she was utterly defeated and useless in the last battle. Even as inspiration she was not only ineffective (a small group of Culebras, most of which didn’t fight and the few who did died in seconds) but had to be dragged to that by Carlos, poking and prodding her every step of the way.

Even in combat we see Seth doing better than Santanico in some battles - a terrible trope repeated again with the female Jaguar warrior being taken down by a human. While the male manages to defeat Richie, the Culebra. Even in these side fights they couldn’t allow women some strength.

This whole season has been a litany of weakened, demeaned, reduced, ineffective and dead female characters. They are constantly sidelined, they make absolutely no difference to the overall plot lines. They could have been replaced by a whole Ikea’s worth of sexy lamps and the plot wouldn’t have changed one iota. There wasn’t one female character that was an exception to this rule - all of them were the same: ineffective, pointless and weak.  It’s only more galling that this series started with women of such immense potential - because it feels almost like effort to reduce them to something so pointless; someone tried to make this bullshit, I can’t believe this happened unintentionally.