BBC’s The Fall: The character development of Paul Spector

BBC Two's The Fall

BBC Two’s The Fall (available on Netflix) is one of my new favorite TV shows. It follows the life and crimes of serial killer Paul Spector and Stella Gibson, the detective in charge of bringing him to justice.

Paul Spector (actor Jamie Dornan) is one of the most fascinating characters portrayed on TV, so he makes an excellent case study for good character development — whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay or anything in between.

WARNING: Lots of spoilers for The Fall, “series” (seasons) 1-3, so read on at your own discretion.

From monster to sympathetic villain

In series one, we immediately learn who Paul Spector is. He’s a killer, no mistake about it, as we follow his perspective throughout the show. We also learn that he’s a husband and loving father. But his docility around his children only makes his actions that much more heinous and frightening.

By series three, Paul is in police custody and undergoing psychiatric evaluation. The evidence against him is overwhelming, not to mention he’s made a full confession. But as he’s suffering from amnesia (either real or pretend), we see a new side of Paul, a different kind of intimacy. There’s the intimacy of watching him strangle and beat his victims. Then there’s the intimacy of learning about his childhood and how he views himself.

Paul Spector Olivia

He’s complicated, and the beauty of his character development is that complexity makes him impossible to pin down. As the audience, we can only speculate about what’s going on his mind, the same way that Stella Gibson can only speculate (sometimes, perhaps wrongly) about what drives him. Paul continues to surprise us.

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A real super-heroine: a review of The She-Hulk Diaries

The She-Hulk DiariesEarlier this year, I expressed skepticism toward The She-Hulk Diaries and Rogue Touch — specifically, about authors scribbling down superhero adventures without the pretty pictures to match and, more importantly, with what seemed like a “romantic” spin (that turned out to be false).

I love comics, and removing their visual element would be like neutering them. The physical prowess of female superheroes, especially, is what grabs your attention; it’s the artist’s job to convey that. Then the writer steps in and uses that moment to communicate their emotional and mental strength as well. These three traits complement one another. I wondered if a novel could properly re-create that power. Since so much of a superhero’s identity is rooted in action and visuals — perhaps even more than words — would these characters even translate well into novel protagonists? Or would She-Hulk and Rogue become shallow versions of themselves?

The answer is different than what I expected — at least in She-Hulk’s case (I have yet to get around to Rogue). After reading Marta Acosta’s fun and very juicy The She-Hulk Diaries (out today), I decided that a) yes, superheroes have enough thoughts buzzing around in their heads to fill a novel but b) the whole superhero action thing is what comes across poorly.

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This depiction of women makes me extremely uncomfortable

Dragon's Crown AmazonTake a look at the image here. What do you think when you see it?

To me, there’s something horribly wrong with it, and it’s not because women aren’t supposed to have a ton of muscle mass — although I’m not sure quite that much is natural.

I’m more appalled by how oppressive it is.

This is the Amazon character from an upcoming game called Dragon’s Crown, made by Japanese developer Vanillaware, which is well respected for its beautiful visual style. I’ve played one of its other games, Odin Sphere, and witnessed how the art seems to “breathe” onscreen.

But the context is perhaps irrelevant. My question is, what is this image saying — not just in its lines and colors but about us?

The Penny-Arcade Report and Kotaku, which discussed several relevant issues, pointed out the petite face that seems so strange on her body. She’s still passive — submissive — even though she’s supposed to be “strong” physically.

I’m not even sure she’s that. Her gargantuan breasts, her massive thighs and butt — she’s barely wearing anything, yet there’s so much of her. She’s clearly designed as a plaything for male gaze, which is cruel enough. The designer seems to have cared little about the implications: how walking around so hugely disproportioned would be tremendously painful. She must forge into battle regardless.

However, the meanest aspect is the question of whether she’s pleasing the typical heterosexual male at all. She’s trapped under her own body weight, which makes her more of a prisoner than her oversexualized female parts alone, but it’s almost a joke. I don’t believe — based on preferred depictions of women in both American and Japanese cultures — that the target audience would find her desirable. They would reject her. In turn, she loses her only intended purpose: to arouse.

That’s disturbing. It’s unsettling. It makes me feel really bad in the pit of my stomach.

Is this a new low in how we view women, or have I just not been paying close enough attention?

To kick off the discussion, here are a few tweets from my fellow gamers on Twitter:

@WanyoDos: I feel like the characters are meant to be so over-the-top that it’s hyper unrealistic to the point where it’s not really attractive

@empuska: It’s disturbing in “Too closet to make it actual porn, but trying to make it absurd with same assumption”-way.

@SnakeLinkSonic: I can’t see it appealing aesthetically to any audience other than a niche there.

Lost in type: She-Hulk author Marta Acosta talks miscommunication, genre confusion, and sexism

she-hulk-halftone-trimmed

Marta Acosta is frustrated. In our emails, she half-jokingly said that she was considering writing “I don’t write romance novels” at the top of her blog. I don’t blame her.

It’s an understatement to say the media overreacted to publishers Marvel and Hyperion’s announcement of a new line of prose novels, starting with The She-Hulk Diaries and Rogue Touch. They called it romance; it’s not. Others, like me, reacted to the overreaction and wondered whether this was the best way to portray these superheroines. The whole thing spun out of hand.

I wanted to share Marta’s story because she was caught in the middle. As a journalist, I want to stand up for those who have been treated unfairly or whose voice has been lost in a sea of others. As a blogger, I want to say that a lot of this was an honest misunderstanding — it’s hard to be a feminist (although it’s easy to be one in today’s world) and not overreact once in a while. But even mistakes like these can prompt discussion about bigger issues, like genre and the way we portray women in writing. Marta and I talked about the mishap from these angles and more.

Don’t forget to check out Marta’s guest blog post from yesterday.

Misprinted Pages: Marta, I’m mortified that the Internet has gotten She-Hulk so wrong. Fans fell for it; I fell for it. That’s why I feel so compelled to get the truth out there. Let’s start at the beginning, when Marvel and Hyperion had just made the announcement. What all happened that led to The She-Hulk Diaries and Rogue Touch getting mislabeled as romance novels?

Marta Acosta 3Marta Acosta: Hi, Stephanie, and thanks for having me here to talk about my next book! My fantastic editor Elisabeth Dyssegaard made the announcement about the She-Hulk and Rogue novels. First off, it’s great to have an accomplished woman editor at the helm of these new Marvel projects. Some publications and some bloggers cherry-picked words either looking for a reaction or outrage. So “traditional women’s novels” was twisted as meaning novels in which a female character is weak and subjugated to men. All the positive points about the characters were ignored, and “romance” was presented as meaning a romance novel, which is a separate genre with its own genre conventions.

While I don’t write romance novels — defined as having a love interest as the central theme — I’m always a little stunned at the nasty disdain the genre receives. There are great and crappy novels in any genre you can name, including literary fiction, and I can’t help but think that romance is a target because it’s predominantly written by women for women and it celebrates their emotional life and sexuality.

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Marvel puts superheroines into ‘traditional women’s’ roles with a touch of rouge and green lipstick

Rogue TouchRogue and She-Hulk fight hard to beat the bad guys and restore justice to the world, all while struggling for equal rights in the workplace. But now Marvel and Hyperion Books are shuffling them off to romance novels. They’re a real girl’s supergirls, but here, their fists and intelligence are better served for putting on makeup and picking out purses — that’s how we can teach young girls about empowerment, apparently.

The problem is, young girls are going read these books and identity “superheroine” with romantic success.

Now, maybe the writers on this new line of romance novels (Christine Woodward and Marta Acosta) won’t have the characters swooning like helpless damsels before men — because there are plenty of “hip” Marvel comics that deal with teenage relationships and gender roles that don’t turn the characters into complete brainless airheads — but I can easily see these turning out just awfully. In comic books, at least, the gigantic muscles and dramatic facial expressions tell you that these are powerful women, not to be messed with. They could toss a human man over the moon if they wanted to, for goodness sake.

I can’t help but feel like the focus on writing alone — and not any accompanying visuals — will translate these strong female characters into silly little girls. Can we trust these novels to “showcase strong, smart heroines seeking happiness and love while battling cosmic evil”?

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