Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Guardians of the Galaxy handles its familial politics way better than its gender ones

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The strongest moment in this episode happens in the opening scene. Unlike the previous episode, which ended on a false note that attempted to assert Quill’s loyalty to the Guardians, this episode brings the Star Lord/J’Son conflict to a head (it sort of pretends that previous episode’s ending didn’t happen either). Peter unleashes a list of fairly vicious words at his father, angrily (and rightly) calling him out for stealing the Cosmic Seed, manipulating his son to steal it back, and pretending it wasn’t him that damn near caused a Spartax/Asgard war in the first place. J’Son responds with a shocking level of assertiveness, grabs Peter and not-so-subtly threatens him through his words: “Do not ever speak that way to your father and your king.” Jonathan Frakes has, for the most part, coasted in his VO work as J’Son so far, but he absolutely sinks his teeth into that line, bringing a real menace to a character and making him stand out beyond being a Thanos lackey. He both is offended by his son’s disrespect and upset at his failure, and, as we learn by the end of the episode, way more crafty and callous than we’d ever expected.

This is an episode about trust and the fallout of lies, and if this was all focused on the antagonism between Peter and his father, it would have been incredible. Instead, the episode switches gears to try and tackle Peter’s history of womanizing. And while it’s an admirable attempt to directly call out Peter’s sexism-by-fibs, ”Come and Gut Your Love” blows it because its female characters are poorly drawn and developed, unable to properly go toe-to-toe with the man. This isn’t a show that has a great track record with its female cast: Gamora has mostly been regulated as an exposition machine, but her snarky comments and no-BS attitude allows her to leave her mark, and her battles with her sister Nebula always provide her an edge. Every other female character? Not so much. Nova Supreme had no speaking lines and fired a shot into the air for some reason. Angela last week did nothing but get mad then give a speech. Captain Victoria was treated like an infant. Mantis was a powerless blank slate whose motivations and purpose were unclear. Everyone else were revenge-harpies who are upset that Quill slept with them and ran off. Granted, this was a gross extension of the film, but the show never entertains the idea that women may be okay with one-night stands or maybe don’t give a shit about Quill. (This is a problem with TV in general, but it’s particular bizarre to see this issue on a kids TV program).

It’s hard to say what I think of Rora, the AI of a ship that’s deeply, disturbingly in love with Quill–or, rather, J’Son, who Peter pretends to be in order to extract information. The idea of a romance developing between a dude and an AI has been done before–in Her, mainly, but also implied in Halo and Mass Effect. But let’s not pretend this is a show that’s remotely interesting in exploring this idea. Aurora is a literal object that is manipulated by two men (Peter, then J’Son), who even exhibits jealousy when remembering Meredith. Things get stupider (and lazier) when Supergiant and that squid-lady from a past episode (Lucy?) show up to kill Peter (then fight each other to be WITH Peter). Credit to the script to keeping the story streamlined, simple, and coherent, but watching a bunch of scorned women chase our characters all over the place (ending on a King Kong-style parody) is pretty lame and troubling–not only because of the feminist issues, but also how it takes away from the main story and its father/son dilemma, which is infinitely more interesting.

Peter’s final apology about his lies and behavior feels genuine but on the backs of several flat female characters, it still comes off as bogus. Yet the reveal that J’Son told Yondu to keep Peter until he was an adequate thief was a shocking piece of bluntness. Unless the former development also leads to less “sleeping around” antics and richer female characters, the episode’s feminist commentary comes off disingenuous (a C+ effort). Yet the family revelation gives the entire Cosmic Seed story a sorely-needed personal scope and stake (an A- story). Together they add up to the current grade, a clashing of one strong idea with one weak one. There’s a lot of balls in the air–a lot of villains out there that could disrupt Loki’s, J’Son’s, and Thanos’ plans, which could lead to an onslaught of chaos in its finale that this show could either manage into something audaciously fun or utterly messy. I’m hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

Stray observations

  • How does Peter come up with the idea that J’Son originally stole the Seed? I think Gamora suggested this, but it’s never really made clear.
  • Drax and Groot flies off to distract the royal guards so Gamora, Rocket, and Peter can board Rora. It’s a simple concept but they really made that oddly confusing and complicated for some reason.
  • Peter stands up for his mother briefly when Rora is ranting. This slightly more-vulnerable Peter is a breath of fresh air, giving him depth that makes his comic antics more revealing.
  • J’Son telling Yondu that he doesn’t want to even hear about his son until he’s a full-on thief is cold-blooded. J’Son is running his own game, and while he may be under Thanos’ thumb, he’s definitely his own brand of monstrous.
  • I guess Rora establishing her own independence from the Quills is a strong moment but it would have been stronger to see her work through her programing and misguidedness, instead of shoehorning in the Supergiant/Lucy stuff. There was a potential complexity to Rora’s digital comprehension that could’ve been a fun way to work through Peter’s womanizing issues. Taking twenty-five years to work through this realization sounds ridiculous, but works for an AI, since time would be meaningless to her. I wish the episode explored that a bit more.
  • Loki used the Destroyer Armor to steal the Seed from J’Son. He had it all along, while manipulating everyone around him to instigate the war. I feel like this plan isn’t fully thought out–he had the Seed all this time, so why didn’t he start the Spartax/Asgard war years earlier?–but as a god of chaos, I can see him biding his time until Quill grew up, maximizing the chaos factor.
  • The idea of deception/lying as being (thematically) genetic or nurtured through the behavior of previous Quills is a fascinating idea, but because of the weak female characters around him, it comes off very “Peter just can’t help himself, and all women are resentful for it,” which is just too generic and problematic for 2016. Still, it makes for an informative lens to define the Peter/J’Son relationship, and Quill’s overall pathological problems.