Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Some Assembly Requiered: Pt2

So, yesterday I shared some notes from my Joss Whedon workshop about introducing character cues very quickly. Today it's going to be Conflict and Subtext.

2. I Love You, But...
Dr Horrible, Buffy, Firefly

The main thing I realised when working on this section was how the best conflict isn' just A and B having opposite goals: it's about A having conflict inside herself which is stopping her from getting what she wants or deserves.

For instance: Dr Horrible has two goals. He wants to join the Evil League of Evil, and he wants Penny to fall in love with him. These two things are in direct opposition (Penny is most definitely a Good Person), so to achieve one he must give up the other.

In Buffy, the conflict between Angel and Buffy seems simple: he's a vampire, she's the Slayer. But he has a soul, et cetera, so she can actually be with him! Although, hold on. His soul is the result of a curse. And the terms of that curse (God only knows why) are that it will be broken if he ever achieves happiness. Therefore, Angel can never make Buffy happy because he can never be happy himself.

In Firefly, the most interesting relationship is between Mal & Inara. Now, since Whedon deals heavily in metaphor and theme, the best way to understand Mal & Inara's conflict is by what they represent. Mal stands for Independence (both the cause during the war, and the general concept). But Inara represents the Alliance, which is Mal's enemy.

Mal and Inara both like and desire each other, but they can't respect each other. The thing is that Inara respects the freedom of independence (why is she on Mal's ship, instead of in the bosom of the Alliance where she was raised and rightfully belongs?), and that Mal respects the enlightenment and emancipation that Inara enjoys...but not the Alliance which gave it to her. He can't respect her for representing something he hates. Mal, like Angel, doesn't really want to be happy.

At the end of Serenity, however, there are hints that they might both just be starting to think about...well, getting over themselves.

3. Don't Talk About What You're Talking About

Back to Mal & Inara again. There's a wonderful scene in the middle of the film Serenity during which Mal & Inara talk via video link, and absolutely every line has a second meaning.

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Now, bear in mind what I said about metaphor and theme. Mal is represented by the ship Serenity, and vice versa (freedom, flying under the radar, a slightly beaten-about and obsolete machine that nevertheless keeps flying). Inara, as discussed, represents the Alliance and all its good points: education, enlightenment, feminism. Inara is always beautifully dressed and beautifully polite. Mal sets no store by appearances. He's (probably) not even wearing pants.

So what are they saying here?

  • Mal enquires after Inara's world, and she replies that it's autumn. Autumn is when things die.
  • He asks if she's still at the Training House: he's asking how her allegiance to the Alliance is going.
  • In one of my favourite sections of dialogue, Mal mentions a trunk full of 'stuff' Inara left, and promises he never looked through it. Now, we all know he did. And we all know she intended him to (Joss Whedon even said that she left all her best-smelling stuff on purpose). Neither of them wants to forget the other.
Of course, in plot terms this scene has another purpose. We know they're being watched by the rest of the crew, but very soon after we realise they're being watched by someone else too (and they both know it).

So what the scene needs to do is impart the information about this--in yet another subtext-y way) but Whedon goes further and adds in another layer of characterisation. Don't forget, this is the first time we've seen these two interacting. This scene tells you most of what you need to know about how they feel about each other.

That's it for today! Oh...and that thing I mentioned the other day, about the only direct piece of information imparted in the first 3.45 minutes of Dr Horrible? It's this: "My nemesis is Captain Hammer." Didja guess it?

Tomorrow, I'll be back with some notes on Character Connections and Villains.

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