Marianne de Pierres

Australia SFF author and fiction junkie.

Jamie-and-Claire_StarzSo part two of OUTLANDER’s first season hit the shelves in Australia this week. I have to admit to the fact that I’ve been counting the days. Though always a bit of a fan girl at heart, this series has seen me engage in some embarrassingly lame behaviour. Confession number #1.

Anyway, to the show… So things continue to fluctuate for Jamie and Claire; moments of good will, peace and happiness punctuated by betrayal, abject fear, and hard-to-watch violence. At the heart of it all is the love story between them and the destructive force of Black Jack Randall whose obsession with Jamie culminates in the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen on television or film.

I don’t really want to recount the story, you can get that from any number of reviews and blogs. I’d prefer to talk to you about my reflections on the power of the storytelling.

outlander s2When I first started watching SONS OF ANARCHY a few years ago, I was compelled by its fearlessness. OUTLANDER stands apart from other TV fictions in the same way — because of its willingness to go to emotionally difficult places. It conveys a sense that there has been an honest and very real attempt by everyone involved in the production to make something barefaced honest and heartfelt; something lovingly detailed and rich in characterisation. Where SONS OF ANARCHY lost me, in the end, was its lack of balance, and its unrelenting male viewpoint. Jax Teller displayed no emotional intelligence or growth; he gave me no hope, and, therefore, no reason to go on.

That’s where OUTLANDER is a different beast; it offers both balance and hope. I believe the ebb and flow of Jamie and Claire’s fortunes has an important and authentic rhythm to it within the hyper reality of the story. And that rhythm is interspersed with moments of dry wit and humanity: the easy and rough comradeship between the Rupert, Angus, and Willie; Murtagh’s loyalty to Jamie; Laoghaire’s jealousy; Mrs Fitz’s irrepressible motherliness, Colum’s intransigence; and Geillis’s whimsy. All the little moments in between the big ones are just as right and important.

outlander s1-2But the big ones…well…

Geillis and Claire’s “witch” trial is a terrifying portrayal of mob mentality and the power of superstition, and those scenes had me wincing on more than one occasion.

But Jamie’s imprisonment and torture by Black Jack is simply very hard to write about. Ignoring the fact (as Mandy pointed out to me) that we don’t ever really understand why Black Jack is the way he is (how does a sociopath get to be who they are?), the quality of the acting, the imagery, the setting, the circumstances combine to transport the audience. While Tobias Menzies is undeniably superb as Black Jack, my deepest admiration goes to Sam Heughan who totally went to that dark, dark place. His acting is sublime because it almost isn’t… acting that is. He’s as close as an actor to get to that other reality – that space where the transference between fake and real occur. He dwelt there for a time, supported by the team around him, creating true fictional magic. Bravo to everyone involved!

Yet having said that, I actually had to watch those scenes from behind my hand, trying to put some distance between myself and the emotions it evoked. Confession #2.

outlander-clair witchOUTLANDER’s also got me wondering a lot about what it is that makes a truly passionate and enduring romance so appealing — so satisfying — to so many people (men and women), and what it is that has prevented me, as a writer, really exploring that dynamic in my own prose.

Honestly, I think I’ve been a coward about the romances in my own books; afraid that writing a romantic story was a surrender to patriarchal programming, to stereotypes, and to the perpetuation of a myth that is nether real nor likely attainable for most. I’ve dabbled around the edge of it, but never committed.

You know, I think I’ve been wrong. Confession #3

oulander s1-2 geilisRecently I asked my numerous Facebook followers if they believed in a one, true, meant-to-be-together, enduring love. The answers were quite varied, and yet a good percentage believed that such a thing did exist, and those who didn’t gave me they underlying sense that they wished it was. It seems that people truly crave that special connection with another human. Not something temporary and gratifying, but something deep and enduring.

Ronald D. Moore’s adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s work is a fierce endorsement of this same belief (to this point in the story anyway). In fact, it is fierce in every way: passionately, physically, politically, morally, and emotionally. But more than anything, it clings to hope in its many and varied forms. I don’t know about you, but I need stories that do that.

It’s going to be a long wait until April next year when season 2 is released. By then my DVD’s will be well loved from repeated watchings, which, as someone who doesn’t ever revisit the same story, is the highest accolade I can give.

Escapism doesn’t get much better than this!

Alayna Cole

Alayna Cole is an MCA (Creative Writing) candidate who loves to write stories when she’s not studying.

sense8-posterIt’s probably the writer in me talking when I say that I’m a sucker for interesting narrative choices and meaningful characterisation, and Sense8 delivers these things in veritable bucket loads. The 12-episode first season takes advantage of its Netflix-supported platform to deliver a visceral, complex, and intelligent experience that I devoured in one sitting.

The show follows the individual stories of eight ‘sensates’ from eight cities with very different life experiences and abilities; these eight characters form a ‘cluster’ who become psychically attuned to tap into one another’s thoughts, senses, and memories as the season progresses. The empathy these characters develop in their deep understanding of one another is extended to the audience, as we feel elated at their successes and devastated by their failures.

Each member of the cluster is able to ‘visit’ the others or ‘share’ one another’s bodies. A sensate that possesses useful skills often takes over another to help them when emotions are running high, particularly in life-threatening situations. The sensates possess a variety of skills—martial arts, weapons knowledge, driving, computer hacking, and chemistry among them—and there is always an audience air-punch moment when you work out who was needed to assist in a particular scene or when things play out as you expected (often with some added awesomeness that you hadn’t even considered). The action sequences in the second half of the season are even more impressive as the sensates start to rack up combo moves, with four or five sensates taking over for different parts of a master plan so that everything runs perfectly.

Air-punching isn’t the only emotional reaction Sense8 provoked in me.  I was incredibly angry for Nomi—a hacktivist and transwoman—when her mother disrespected her and her use of preferred pronouns, was gutted by the sad events composing DJ Riley’s history, and cried tears of joy for Mexican actor Lito’s personal journey. Sense8 prioritises the characterisation of individuals over the season plot arc and, while this makes for some clumsy exposition in places, it shines the spotlight sharply on the shared experiences of these eight totally different yet fundamentally human characters.

sense8Being on Netflix, rather than mainstream television, allows Sense8 to accurately, shamelessly—and sometimes quite graphically—depict the human experience, connecting to the show’s central premise of human connection and empathy.

Sense8 refuses to shy away from topics and images that are generally considered taboo: sexuality and gender diversity, racial diversity, religion, sexual and non-sexual nudity (including incredibly symbolic scenes of babies crowning) and graphic violence. When criminal safe-cracker Wolfgang accidentally visits conservative chemist Kala while he was swimming naked at a bathhouse, his stark, non-sexual nudity reminded me of just how ‘human’ this show is. The openness with which Sense8 includes and explores the primal, natural aspects of the human experience reinforces its attempt to induce empathy.

The empathy fostered by Sense8 also makes it perfect for exploring diversity, and the show certainly makes use of this platform. Of the eight main characters, two—Lito and Nomi—are sexually attracted to their own gender and are in loving, dynamic relationships with fantastic secondary characters. Some viewers have considered these queer characters stereotypical or believe that Sense8 spends too much time focusing on their sexuality rather than other aspects of their characters, but I disagree; while the characters are used as vehicles to explore queer issues—including the journey from shame to pride, reaching self-acceptance, overcoming bullying and oppression, and the impact sexuality can have on families or careers—queer relationships are not given more attention than those relationships that are more commonly seen in the media. I assume that most criticisms about the amount of queer representation and discussion in Sense8 are founded in perception bias, with audiences not used to being exposed to such diversity.

Not only does the show seek to expose audiences to varied sexualities and genders, but it also provides an employment opportunity for gender-diverse actors and actresses to fill these roles. Jamie Clayton, who portrays Nomi, is a transwoman, and her own experiences give Nomi’s story incredible weight and significance.

sense8logoThese behind-the-scenes choices continue to impress. Actors hired for the cast aren’t all from Hollywood, with many having successful careers in Korea or India or Africa, where their characters live. Everything is shot on location—explaining Sense8’s high budget—and extras are sourced domestically, which further contributes to the feeling of authentic diversity that the show produces.

Though a mix of cultures is represented, the characters don’t seem token. For example, there are a wide variety of Indian characters in the show, some religious, some not, some living in India, others having moved elsewhere at a young age, some always in traditional dress, others not, some in arranged marriages, others pursuing love marriages. Kala’s storyline focuses on the difficulty of making decisions for love while navigating family pressures.

There are many other points where the diversity of characters is explored, but also where their underlying similarities are emphasised: each of the eight sensates in the cluster are strong, but in different ways; they have very different families, but most have lost a parent or parental figure; and they experience strange psychic phenomena, but react differently based on their cultural context and personality. It’s been suggested that this diversity might be off-putting for some critics, but for many viewers (myself included) it’s inspiring.

Even with the occasional confusing or neglected plot point, the first season of Sense8 is incredibly intelligent and gives me high hopes for future seasons. There is extensive use of symbolism to add to the already important characterisation of the sensates and secondary characters. In particular, the childbirth scene mentioned earlier depicts each sensate’s first breath: Wolfgang’s water birth reflects his time in the bathhouse, Lito’s birth in front of a television is indicative of his acting career, and Nomi’s c-section places further symbolic distance between her and her mother. The many settings in the show are symbols too, with Woflgang’s Berlin a dark, rainy depiction that reflects how he sees his life, sitting in stark contrast to the bright and colourful San Francisco where Nomi lives. The cuts between characters feeling similar emotions in slums and expensive apartments, prisons and art galleries, further emphasises the external differences but inner similarities of the sensates, and all people.

Sense8 is a slow burn, with some ambiguity in the first few episodes to reflect the confusion of the sensates, and this could be a turn-off for some, but with shows like Game of Thrones (the ultimate slow burn!) at the pinnacle of popularity, many will be able to excuse this. The intelligence of the show encourages the audience to think, rather than simply consume, and to theorise about what might happen next.

I can’t stop thinking about the links between Kala working for a company that creates pharmaceuticals; Korean businesswoman Sun and her father’s involvement in the pharmaceutical industry; African bus-driver Capheus and his desire to buy pharmaceuticals to help his mother live with AIDS; and the impact drugs have had on Riley’s storyline. Surely lines will be drawn between these similarities in the next season’s plot arc?

Sense8 is laced with so many tiny, intricate details that I’m sure there are many more interesting connections that I’m yet to notice and explore. While I’m waiting with bated breath to hear if Netflix will renew the show for season two, I know I won’t be able to resist re-watching these twelve episodes in search of more.

Damian Magee

Damian Magee is a West Australian writer and reviewer and a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society. He’s a life long fan of crime, sci-fi, anime, literature, history, biography, TV & films who has been writing reviews, non-fiction, & presenting seminars on these genres for the past 30 years. 

poldarkWhen I learned that the BBC was remaking Poldark, my first thought was that at last all 12 books could be filmed.  Winston Graham continued to write the series almost until his death in 2003.  The second thought was a hope that the new cast would suit the characters, as the last attempt in 1996 failed due to the miscasting of the leads, and because of the poor dialogue.

The first season of the new series is based on the first two books; “Ross Poldark”, and “Demelza”, comprising of 8 episodes. Due to the success of the series in the UK, the BBC has commissioned a second series, based on the next two books; “Jeremy Poldark”, and “Warleggan”.

The actors selected for the roles in this new series are excellent choices. Aidan Turner brings home a complex man who life has been shattered by war, lost family and  betrayal of love, who then finds family and love again with the help of Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza. Shot on location in Cornwall, the photography is just a delight on screen; the sun rising over the cliffs in the morning is breath-taking.

It was sad to see Warren Clarke die as Charles Poldark, Ross’ rich uncle, just as he did so quickly in real life. The other cast members seem to fit well into their roles: Heida Reed as the beautiful and hard done by Elizabeth; Kyle Soller as Francis Poldark (Ross’ cousin), who never lives up to expectations; but Jack Farthing as the new George Warleggan–the villain of the piece–still has a long way to go to fit Ralph Bates shoes from the 1970’s series. It’s also nice to see the original Ross, Robin Ellis, in a small role as Reverend Dr. Halse.

It is very hard for me not to jump beyond the next episode because I read all of the 12 books. The plot of series one is very close to the novels, apart from the first scene.  Set in America, you see Ross in his English uniform fighting the American Rebels, and receiving the wound that gives him his scar. Then the story changes to Ross coming home and finding his father dead, his home almost in ruins, his income gone, and his fiancée about to marry his cousin Francis, due to mistaken reports of his death.  Tension builds from scene to scene. Then Ross encounters Demelza, a scene lifted straight from the page to the screen.

Debbie Horsfield, a playwright and writer of BBC’s series Cutting It, does an excellent job on the adaptation of Winston Graham’s novels.  Looking forward, if the BBC and cast continue, we should have six seasons of the Poldark saga.

 

 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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