Eureka is driving me mad!

August 27, 2008

So, “Maneaters” was as awful as I’d predicted, in all the predictable ways. (Seriously, if “being a decent human being” isn’t motive enough, screenwriters should ditch the misogyny because it’s boring. The same stereotypes going through the same tropes, again and again. Yawn!)

In this case, a man is subjected to repeated, intense, and blatant sexual harassment (two counts of forced frenching!) but no one actually uses the words “sexual harassment” to describe it. He’s threatened with rape (and, at one point, gang rape) but no one actually uses those words either. Women totally lose their minds because of lust, and as the “virus” takes hold it’s suggested that the women would actually cannibalize Jack if they got their hands on him, and the whole thing is funny.

The “virus” makes men produce eleventy-bajillion times the normal amount of sex-appeal-ium which makes women lose their minds. It can’t make women irresistible (I guess because it’s not funny when women are threatened with gang rape and cannibalism?) or at least, no one worried about it.

Also, it seems that there are no gay people in Eureka (well, I thought I saw a guard checking out Jack’s ass, but he could have just been staring at Fargo, who was forcing nearby female scientists to remain at least 15 feet away from Jack.)

Or maybe this plague was created by the gay scientists, to eliminate straight people! All the straight men would be killed and eaten by all the straight women, while all the gay men and women hid, before emerging to repopulate the earth with a series of sperm banks and surrogate mothers! Unless gay men would still be irresistible to the straight women? Or they’d be irresistible to each other? I’m not sure they’d make it out.

Whatever, the lesbians would be totally a-okay. The straight women would come to their senses after all the men were gone and probably feel a little bad about the raping-and-cannibalizing, and in that vulnerable state, they would make easy prey for the lesbians, who would take over the world!!! Mua ha ha ha ha!

I seem to have strayed from the plot of Eureka, somewhere along the line, but my version’s more interesting and involved more creative thought, so I’m going to stick with it. Maybe I’ll summon the willpower to deal with this rubbish show tomorrow.


Eureka, and getting romance so, so wrong.

August 26, 2008

Okay, Eureka’s gender troubles are seriously starting to interfere with my enjoyment of the show. In the last two episodes I saw, Zoe started dating a loser named Lucas in the ultimate geek fantasy and Jo starts dating the previously-seen loser felon Zane in the ultimate misogynist fantasy.

Okay, first Zoe and Lucas, which I’m really really hoping will be only a one-time thing. In the episode “Sight Unseen”, Zoe has had a crush on Cute Popular Guy (name unimportant) for a while but when people are picking partners for a science project, Cute Guy totally ignores Zoe.

“Guess he thinks you’re cute enough to date, but not smart enough to be your partner,” says Lucas. “He’s an idiot.”

This is a great way for a character to start. Cute Guy is an idiot! Zoe can do much better, and should focus on guys who are actually interested in her as a person. Unfortunately, Lucas peaks early. He talks glumly about what a loser he is. Zoe is surprised to learn they have three classes together– “Yeah, that’s my life,” he says. Later, when he awkwardly introduces sexual tension into their relationship (his words) Zoe tells him, “Sorry, you’re not my type.”

“That’s what they all say,” he replies, glum as ever, his hair obscuring his face as he hangs his head.

“What, and then they all fall madly in love with you?” asks Zoe, annoyed.

“No. That’s what they all actually say.”

Listen, Eureka is a school where being smart makes you popular. This guy is not a so-called “loser” because he’s more academically-minded than his peers. He’s an actual loser. Throughout his conversations with Zoe, he expresses no interests, no goals, no talents. He just talks about what a loser he is. And it’s funny, and we laugh at him, and that’s fine.

But then he gives some rubbish speech about how Zoe is overlooking the good things that are right in front of her (after he’s known her for, like, five hours) and they start making out. For real! I couldn’t believe it!

My only explanation is that the writer for this episode was a loser in high school and still has deep-seated issues about it. I’ve been there, and it’s rough, so I can sympathize…but that’s no excuse to subject everyone else to this rubbish story. In anywhere but Eureka, I’d be okay (but not thrilled) with this storyline because anywhere but Eureka, it would be revealed that the so-called “loser” was only an outcast because he built Tesla coils, or taught himself Klingon, or something like that. But it doesn’t work like that here. So when I was scratching my head, asking myself, “Why? Why could she possibly be interested in him?” all I could think was, some dude thought it was more important to live out his beauty-and-the-geek high school fantasy than to tell a decent story. Which sucks.

So anyway, I was in a bad mood about Zoe and Lucas, so I watched the next episode, “God is in the Details”, which was awkwardly religious in tone and featured a return of the odious Zane.

Jo and Zane have a brunch date at Cafe Diem, where Zane continues to use odious, smarmy lines that made me feel dirty just hearing them, and Jo continues to take it, and the show continues to act as if they’re flirting and there’s some kind of real attraction between them, but then they get into a little fight. Zane talks about how great it was to spend weeks isolating just one variable at MIT, and Jo say, “Oh yes, that sounds like how I felt when I was putting together my new grenade launcher,” and Zane totally disses the grenade launcher, implying that practical applications of physics are unimportant and smart people are interested in coming up with the ideas, rather than implementing them. Jo leaves, rightfully angry.

Zane shows at places she’s working throughout the episode, asking her to explain why she’s angry, and continuing to be a whiny, sexist jerk about it– he literally threatens to hold his breath until he passes out, and then actually holds his breath, until Jo says something like, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Turns out, she’s not pissed because he’s dismissive of her life’s passion or because he’s self-centered and childish. No, she confides to Zoe, it’s because he’s just too brilliant! She feels inadequate, and thinks that he’ll only get sick of her eventually, and leave for someone who can keep up.

Jo! Have a little more self-respect! Guys, Jo is a strong, capable woman, and I mean that in a very literal way. She can probably kill people with her hands. She is also quite clever, putting information together from a wide range of sources and figuring out what’s going wrong today in Eureka. She should feel confident about holding her own among the “geniuses” of Eureka– she’s a genius in her own field. It just happens not the be a field that requires a Ph.D. so everyone treats her like an idiot, and it’s sad.

But it also makes no sense for her to be all moon-eyed for this kid. Like Zoe and Lucas, Jo and Zane feels forced, like the screenwriters are trying to make it happen against Jo’s character. Maybe they’ve got a “misunderstood” “nice guy” on the screenwriting staff, too, who doesn’t understand why women aren’t attracted to his natural brilliance. He buys them presents! (the lingerie) He does romantic things! (Zane likes to give Jo single roses) He compliments her! (There are lots of comments about Jo’s appearance). Maybe it’s a subconscious self-insert, but it really does feel like a self-insert.

Maybe I’m being too rough on the screenwriters, but really, two episodes in a row with rubbish “romances” like these and I would really like an answer besides “our society expects women to settle for men who don’t respect them.” So I’m going to cling to my “screenwriters happened to have woman issues” theory because at least that one has a solution– get some better screenwriters.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’d be wise for me too have too much hope. The next episode is “Maneater” — “The women of Eureka become infatuated with Sheriff Carter, who they find irresistible,” according to the website. Great.

Jo, Zane, Eureka, and dealing with sexist jerks.

August 25, 2008

So, I just finished watching “E=MC…?”, a mid-season-2 episode of Eureka, in which particle physicist and bad boy Zane Donovan comes to town to join Global Dynamics. Since he is a convicted felon (lots of hacking and stealing millions of dollars) Jack has to keep an eye on him until he feels he can be trusted. Zane is locked up in the jail cell, which is in the middle of the sheriff’s office.

This being Eureka, weird stuff starts going down, they really need a particle physicist, Zane saves the day, blah blah blah, hurray. What I really want to talk about is the subplot.

You see, Zane isn’t a nice guy. He hacks into the internet using the TV remote (it’s a special Eurekan TV remote) and uses Jack’s credit card to have all sorts of things delivered to the jail cell, where, aparently, none of the FedEx guys noticed that he was in jail, and not Jack. But Zane also sexually harasses Jo, like, a lot.

When he’s redecorating his cell, he orders twenty-seven boxes worth of lingerie, and leers, “I had to guess at the size. You should probably try them all on. I’ll make popcorn.” (The delivery guy is also a sexist ass about the situation, but he is quelled by Jo’s unamused glare.) Later, we get a sexy close-up of Jo’s ass, and a pan up her back, which is curved since she’s leaning in to use her computer (it’s a completely gratuitous shot– a normal person would sit in the chair, not stand next to it and lean at a 90-degree angle.) While the camera is doing its luxurious pan, Zane leers and asks, “You’re wearing one of my gifts right now, aren’t you? It’s okay, you can tell me.”

Now, Jo is a very self-assured, strong woman. She’s heavily armed and can probably kill people with her bare hands. She does not like Zane. The first thing he says to her is some kind of stupid come on about people who are obsessed with guns being sexually unsatisfied, and she promptly aims the gun she was cleaning right at him. Jack says no shooting the prisoners, not even winging him a bit, and Jo drops it.

But Zane doesn’t learn the lesson. Jo is angry with him when the lingerie arrives, and she uses their special Eurekan tracking bracelet to shock him quite painfully when he makes his lewd comment about wearing his gift.

Now, the harassment is pretty much harmless, since, as explained above, Jo is in a pretty solid position of authority over him. But it’s still harassment, and it still made me feel very uncomfortable, because the show was acting like it was the same as Zane generically insulting Jack. But I figured that stealing Jack’s credit card information (and essentially ruining his credit rating) is a pretty equal invasion compared to sexual harassment– both passive-aggressive ways of taking power from authority figures. So I decided, whatever, Zane’s an asshole, and specifically a sexist asshole. People like that exist.

But then, then!, during the cheerful we-saved-the-world ending scene, Jack sees Zane eyeing Jo, and he says, “Take her to the ballet.” He encourages Zane to ask her out, as opposed to condemning him for sexual harassment, which is, by the way, a crime!

I want to make this clear: Zane was not flirting with Jo. Their subplot was not a romantic subplot! Zane harassed Jo, and Jo couldn’t get him to stop so she put up with it. It was a problem. It was not romantic. And framing it was somehow romantic, or fighting-because-they-like-each-other, or anything but sexual harassment, does a real disservice to women in Jo’s situation everywhere who are told to take a compliment, don’t overreact, it just means he admires you.

Sexual harassment is not a compliment. It is about forcing a woman to realize that you have power over her. In this case, I’d say that Zane was reminding Jo that even though she was supposedly in power, he was in control of their situation, and he could say anything he liked about her body and she couldn’t make him respect her privacy.

I was actually thinking when the subplot first started that someone was going to punch him for all the inappropriate advances. I thought I’d be writing about a concept Girls Read Comics wrote about a while back– it’s like a corollary to Chekhov’s Gun: if you show a hero putting up with a sexist jerk in the first act, she must kick his ass in the third act. Usually in superhero comics, it seems, the problem is that the superhero’s boyfriend or father or a random guest hero do all the ass-kicking, which is unfair to the hero in question. I thought that Jack, or maybe Fargo (who has a sweet possibly-reciprocated crush on Jo) would be punching Zane after he crossed some kind of line.

I did not expect everyone to act like Zane was a normal boyfriend-prospect who’d merely been complimenting a girl he liked. Eew.

Eureka season 2, Zoe, and autonomy

August 23, 2008

I’ve been watching season 2 of Eureka with my family (despite not having seen season 1) and so far it’s been full of all the absurd improbable scientific disasters that my sci-fi geek heart adores, and it’s been pleasantly lacking in the frustrating sexist stereotypes that my feminist heart cannot stand.

Today, however, that opinion has been challenged.

Okay, some context: Jack is the sheriff in Eureka. Abby is his ex-wife, who lives in L.A. Zoe, their daughter, has been living with Jack for the last year. Abby shows up for Zoe’s 16th birthday, and it turns out that Jack and Abby had agreed that after a year in Eureka, Zoe would go home with Abby to L.A. because she and Jack were supposed to share custody. Then, everybody gets angry and stops talking to anybody else.

Zoe is angry because nobody even told her what was going on with where she’d live, let alone asked her. (I see where she’s coming from– it’s a little weird that they didn’t consult her when they came up with the custody plan in the first place, let alone keeping it secret for a year.) She sulks in her room.

Abby is angry because Jack is trying to keep her child from her, and Jack is angry because Abby is trying to take his child from him. Emotionally, I see where Jack’s coming from– he loves his daughter, and he’d miss her if she left. But I couldn’t help thinking Abby was in the right: without any input about Zoe’s preferences (since the girl has actually gone to stay with a friend), it is most fair to follow the initial agreement. Jack may not want to let Zoe live away from him for a year, but hey!, Abby didn’t want that either, but she did it anyway, with the understanding that she’d get her own turn, too. It’s just selfish of Jack to go back on his agreement, especially after Abby’s already done her year without Zoe.

So, this is frustrating already, since we’re supposed to identify with protagonist Jack and he’s being a jerk, but then they spend two episodes of subplot waffling and refusing to talk. Well, they converse, but it’s always, “We should just talk about this.” “You’re right.” followed by nothing substantive. Nobody asks what Zoe wants, or what’s better for Zoe, or what’s most fair to the parents. They just exchange a few sentences of platitudes– “I really missed you and Zoe.” “We missed you too.”– and then they’d get distracted by the shiny plot again.

Finally, after a complicated plot in which Jack is hospitalized and trapped in his own consciousness (long story), Abby “comes to a realization”: based on the fact that a huge crowd has gathered out of concern for Jack, she decides that clearly Zoe belongs in Eureka. I didn’t really understand this leap of logic– there’s a huge crowd in the waiting room, and she asks why they’re there, and someone says, “We’re here for Jack and Zoe. He’s out sheriff, and she’s our girl” (as if she was some kind of mascot for the town), and Abby is just…convinced.”

Jack suddenly stops acting like a selfish jerk and offers to move back to L.A. because he couldn’t bear to be without Zoe but he also didn’t want to keep her from her mother– but Abby just says, “I can’t keep you away from this town, and I can’t keep Zoe away from her father.” Uh…what?

During Jacks building-up-to-the-offer-to-move speech, he says he can’t bear to go a year without seeing Zoe; he can’t even bear to go a day without seeing her. “So you’re going to have to!” I filled in for him (making my family laugh) and indeed, I was right.

The thing is, I don’t actually object to Zoe staying. She does have close friends, she seems happier there than she was anywhere else, and it’s certainly a great educational environment. What I object to is the fact that this decision, the decision of where and with whom Zoe and Abby would live, was not determined by Zoe or Abby, but by Jack. Oh, the ultimate decision came out of Abby’s mouth, but it was about Jack. It’s just assumed that his desires were most important (remember, neither of them had bothered to ask Zoe what she wanted, yet) and I can’t help feeling that it’s because he’s the man. It reminded me very much of this essay on “emotional wifework”, which talks about all the ways in which women are expected to invisibly prioritize men’s desires in a relationship.

It would have been a lot less problematic, I think, if they had allowed Zoe to take control of her own life, by simply asking her what she wants to do. She drops a hint to Jack– “If you loved me you’d fight for me”– and seems pleased when he declares that she’s staying, but for a subplot that was supposedly about a major change in her life, it sure was all about him.