Wednesday, July 20, 2016

In Which I Review Dead of Summer (1x4)

Regular readers of this blog of mine will remember my review of OUAT's "Ruby Slippers" in which the writers finally dove into an LGBT relationship (or, rather, stuck their toe into the LGBT waters and then ran back to their safer heterosexual shores). When I reviewed that episode, I opened with a statement that because I am not a member of the LGBT community (just a committed ally) my feelings on the episode did not detract nor override in any way, shape, or form from the views and opinions of someone in said community. In other words,  I self-identify as a heterosexual cis woman and because I do occupy a certain place of privilege where my type of romantic love is constantly given weight and a speaking voice in narrative, it is harder for me to critically analyze an episode of TV that is designed to speak to those who do not occupy my social and cultural sphere--who are marginalized, disenfranchised, maligned and altogether lacking in true representation on TV--without sounding like a pompous arse. The same applies to this week's Dead of Summer episode, "Modern Love." Drew is transgendered and, as such, I am approaching my review with a respectful but still critical eye. Dd the writers do right by the trans community? That's the question with which we need to wrestle this week. Also, if masquerade balls are really something people have at summer camp (hint: no). Grab your favorite mask and let's go! 

The metaphor of the mask is not lost on me, nor probably on anyone who sat through a basic English high school class. Masks typically represent secrets, hidden identity, and a chance to play-act as someone else. It's not really shocking, then, that the masquerade ball comes at the same time as Drew's backstory, a character who has yet to be defined by any solid character traits except silent, sullen, and transgendered. This isn't to say that these qualities aren't traits to build a character on, but rather that the traits exhibited thus far were hiding the real Drew, the person he is underneath the sullen, silent, moody, reflective demeanor used to cover up his transgendered nature. The mask Drew wore for the first few episodes when we were getting to know the other campers did exactly what masks are literally and metaphorically supposed to do: it protected that which lay beneath. When you wear a mask (be it a plastic or less tangible one), you can become anyone. A mild mannered software engineer can become a hacker intent on taking down the capitalist society (yes, Mr. Robot is finally back on TV); a car insurance claim manager can open up an underground Fight Club (that I'm not supposed to talk about) for men to become men. A mask also gives you the chance to be whatever society wants you to be; in the privacy of home you can feel free to let your freak flag fly (so to speak), but out there in the judgmental and intolerant society, a nondescript mask can help you to blend in, which is what Drew was doing early on. But here's the question: is a mask still a mask if it is tailored made, perfected, just for you? Or can the mask you are wearing be a more true version of your internal, real self? To put it another way, as Drew's mother said and as was reiterated throughout the episode, "you can't hide what you are." For Jessie, the counselor who is quickly becoming the worst of the worst, and Drew's mother, the mask of Drew is simply covering up Andrea. The Drew "persona" is a cry for a help or a weird character tick that can be made fun of, taunted, and used as a tool for bribery. To the narrow minded, Drew cannot chose his sex (or more accurately, his gender) and the sex organs assigned at birth determined his gender and the way society expects him to act--i.e, as a girl named Andrea who wears dresses, speaks a certain way, and performs other "feminine" societal roles. I have to give the show credit for letting the audience sit with Drew in his 1989 flashbacks, trying to navigate his identity through a society that still doesn't quite grasp what transgendered means (and, hell, it's 2016 and we're still struggling with how to discuss and approach transgendered peoples). Maybe it's a little cliche to let the only flashback for Drew be about his transition, and it suggests that his only hallmark characteristic is as a trans person, but it was well done (in my eyes at least; if I have any trans readers, I'd love to know what you thought). The show didn't make Drew's transition into a Hallmark-made moment in which his mother lovingly opened her arms and accepted Drew, body and soul, but the show also didn't try to skip over the harsh realities; instead it kept Drew firmly grounded in the reality of trans people everywhere; this flashback and this episode fit with the outsider theme that is present in other characters so far like Amy, Alex, and Cricket. This outsider theme unites them slowly, episode by episode. To return to our mask theme, though, Drew isn't the mask. Andrea is. It's only by taking off Andrea--the skirt, the frilly shirt, the fancy shoes--that Drew can actually be who he is: a boy.

On the flip side of this internal and interesting Drew-centered episode, we have more mythology being played out slowly, which hear really does read as dull-dull-dull. The show can't settle into what it wants to be; it bit off more than it can chew, I think. While the characters are deadly dull and the mythology intriguing enough to keep watching one week, the very next week it flips on its head, as it did with this week's episdoe. The show could be a character study of different types of people have a summer of growth, a bit of a bildungsroman while engaging in camp fire stories and (apparently) smoking a lot of weed. Or the show could be a mythology based horror flick with lifeless, dull, non interesting characters that you don't care about but, instead, tune in just to be frightened by the things that go bump in the night. I know horror movies existed in the 1980s so haven't these idiots learned to not go walking in the woods by themselves? If they haven't yet then I hope a giant demon handing rising from the lake to say hi to Amy was enough. No, really. What was that? I guess Amy is the chosen one or something and I'm still learning toward the demon possessing Amy once it comes to the surface but this week none of this really mattered. What mattered was Drew trying to find acceptance for who he is, discarding his mask and asking others to see the real him.

Miscellaneous Notes on Modern Love

--I feel as though I would be remiss in my snark duties if I didn't point out that Adam and Eddy achieved a better LGBT narrative with Drew than they did after 5 years and a token romance over on OUAT with Red and Dorothy.

--Jessie is the worst and while she and Drew might both be "scared" the same can be said of Amy and Cricket and Alex. Jessie trying to compare her situation with Drew's is unnecessary and petty. Whatever went down with Jessie and her DUI was her choice and one she did not have to make. Drew declaring he's a boy is not a choice; it's a fact of his life.

--So Deb's box contains That apparently teaches the virtue of teenage sexual love?

--Drew has a some good taste in music with both David Bowie and Sonic Youth.

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