For someone who doesn’t hold stock in horoscopes, star charts, or spirituality in general, I sure do know a lot about the zodiac! My knowledge all comes from the very indulgence that made me start this series – I really, really like personality archetypes and the activity of assigning them to characters! The cast of the Faraday Files mostly have birthdays as they are convenient to the story, which happens over the course of one year. So I’m using this moment to give them all zodiac signs that suit their personalities instead of just for plot expediency!
Christopher Buckley – Cancer
I didn’t even have to think about this one. Cancer is a water sign, and like all water signs, it’s very much a sign of sensitivity, intuition, and self-focus. A cancer’s positive qualities include loyalty, empathy, dependability, and adaptability. But cancers are also known for being moody, self-pitying, self-absorbed, cranky, and taking things way too personality. Sound like anyone?
Olivia Faraday – Aries
This one was a lot tougher! I thought a lot about Gemini, a really high energy, intellectually brilliant sign, but Geminis tend to be nervous and casual and have tons of friends. Olivia is just too closed off for that. Instead, I chose Aries. A really action oriented sign, Aries are all agency, gumption, passion, and emotion. They can be warm to the people they love, but are hard to get close to, and have really volatile feelings. It felt like a good fit for Olivia.
Rosemary Buckley – Gemini
I knew for sure that Rosemary was an air sign, but I went back and forth between Gemini and Aquarius. But the reasons why Gemini didn’t work for Olivia are exactly why they work for Rosie. Despite her life spent largely in isolation thanks to her situation, Rosemary is a naturally gregarious person and finds friends in her peer groups really easily. Gemini also suits her smart, high energy, clever nature. Don’t worry – you’ll see more of these positive traits from the bratty little sister going forward!
Maris Dawson – Taurus
Taurus is a really earthy sign, which suits Maris really well. They’re practical, steady, and tough, but also really stubborn and possessive. Most importantly, Taurus are loyal to a fault, protective of the people and things they care about. Maris would take a bullet (or a fireball expended from the barrel of a magical gun, I guess) for her commitment to law and order… or for her friends and family.
Rachel Albany – Virgo
Like Taurus, Virgo is an earth sign. All earth signs have a sort of down to earth practicality to them that other signs lack. But where a Taurus exhibits warmth and protectiveness, a Virgo is cold and methodical. It takes a Virgo a long time before they open up to someone, and can hide their personal feelings behind a fussy and precise exteriour. They’re extremely logical and can be very demanding and critical of others, and tend to be very serious. Rachel has started to melt a bit, but there’s still a whole lot of Virgoness between her front and her heart.
William Cartwright – Scorpio
Scorpios often get stereotyped as just being “the evil sign,” but that’s a really surface reading. It’s true that Scorpios tend to be machiavellian, vengeful, and intense, and also that they’re associated with aggression and warfare, but there’s a lot to love about Scorpios! They have good instincts, tend to be charismatic despite their combative intensity, and are really in tune with their emotions. I knew that Will was a Scorpio before I even thought about it very hard. He has that ferocity of emotion barely held back by the dam of his own coolness.
Fernand Spencer – Taurus
I thought about casting Fernand as a Capricorn, for its focus on leadership and inspiration, but I keep coming back to the parts of Taurus that made me assign it to Maris – loyalty and generosity. Fernand’s sincere and deep love for the Buckley family in general and Chris in particular really did lead him to giving up a decade of his life just to care for them for nothing in return, and that, more than anything else, defines who he is. It doesn’t hurt that Taurus are conservative, practical, and tend to be associated with money.
My fiancee and I recently watched Jessica Jones together on Netflix. We’d heard that it was good and interesting and had a good rep among geeky feminists. And, of course, it’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m the sort of MCU fan who generally really likes the business model and goes see all the new films in theatres, but I’m not deeply invested in the mythos or the character arcs, with a few exceptions. (Tony, Bruce, and Natasha. Tony, Bruce, and Natasha are the exceptions.) So while I wasn’t parked right outside Netflix revving my engine for Jessica Jones to be released, there was a certain inevitability to my watching it that somehow made it hard to get excited about it. You know. Sigh, all right, Disney, here’s another thing to mark off on the checklist so I’m not missing anything. With my luck, the one side project I skipped would be the lynchpin of Avengers 3.
My low-ish expectations lead to some pretty amazing returns when the reality of the thing crashed down on me.
One of the main reasons it’s hard for me to get really excited about the MCU on that passionate, visceral level that elevates something from an interest to an obsession – that line between fan and fandom, if you will – is that I’ve never quite felt that any of Marvel’s big names live in the real world.
Anyone who’s read my book knows that I value characters that feel like they have daily lives. And I have a hard time imagining Steve Rogers filing his taxes, or Natasha Romanoff making a doctor’s appointment for an annoying rash. Those are all the things that make a character truly compelling to me. A sense that they exist in a physical space. One of my little self-tests for whether a character feels “alive” is whether or not I can imagine them taking a bathroom break without it seeming weird. I 100% cannot imagine Thor taking a bathroom break.
Now, Jessica? I don’t even have to imagine it. She actually takes bathroom breaks.
Now, this isn’t a judgement on the MCU or its core characters. It’s a matter of preference. I love the MCU, but while its characters are deeply, painfully likeable, they lack a visceral realness that I find I need. And this is why, more than anything else, I found myself drawn into Jessica Jones.
The honest and heart-wrenching depiction of post traumatic stress disorder, the beautiful respect and love paid to friendships between women, the sharp, darkly funny dialogue, and the empowering look at women who have experienced sexual assault – these were all the things that made the series sing and gave it its identity. But what allowed me to get so much out of those things is how I really felt that Jessica and Trish and the people they met didn’t all wake up with minty breath and empty bladders.
Jessica Jones lives in a real place, surrounded by real people, and that’s something I really love.
Women Need Women Who Need Women
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Or, better yet, if you’ve said this one.
“I just get along better with guys than with other girls. Other girls are just so catty. You can’t really trust them. They always talk behind your back. It’s constant drama. Men just make better friends than women. I just connect with them better.”
I mean, I’ve said it. I think most women who grew up geeky have. Honestly, there are a whole host of seasons that we do this, but I think a large part of it is that geek media has socalized to see badass girls as girls who hang around with boys.
I can’t think of one female character I admired as a teenager and young adult who had strong relationships with other women. It’s one of those many unforeseen consequences of failing the Bechdel Test, which I talked about in my Backstage Character Pass on Maris Dawson, my tough scrappy policewoman. All of the tough, badass women in geeky media tend to be surrounded by men and have only male relationships. We’re affected by what we see and who we admire, and it’s hard to ignore that our iconic tough, badass ladies like Princess Leia, Black Widow, or Hermione Granger lack any deep personal connection with the women in their life.
Jessica Jones is so intensely aware of this. And it’s really amazing. I haven’t read the comic it’s adapted from, but to my understanding, the relationship between Jess and Trish is a lot different than the one between Jess and Carol Danvers. Jessica and Trish are one another’s Most Important Person, the single person the other would save if they had to choose just one. They have a rich and weighty history together, exhibit real, intense loyalty for one another, and would do anything for each other, but at the same time, there’s no idealization of their relationship. Jessica pushes Trish out. Trish is bossy and mothering. There’s a thread of codependance between their relationship. They both struggle with jealousy and with their own individual damage, but when the cards are down, they fight for one another. They laugh together, drink together, listen to music together. They act the way that women do in close, intense friendships, and there’s value in that.
Of course, there isn’t just Trish and Jessica. The ruthless shark of a lawyer, Jeri Hogarth, was a male character in the comics and is a woman in the show. Her relationship with Jessica is cutting, sarcastic, sharp, and impatient, but is based on a mutual respect that independent ladies have for one another. And in turn, Jeri’s two love interests, her failing marriage and flourishing affair, are also women, providing even more interaction. In so many ways, love (and all of love’s messy, ugly cousins) is the same regardless of gender. In others, romance between women really is different than the heteronormative ideal, and you really get a sense of that in Jeri’s interactions with the women in her life.
It’s so important that we, as women, see women interacting with women. Positively and negatively, as long as there’s depth to the relationship. When it isn’t just that same repetition of “girl drama” as seen through the eyes of those who think they’re above it. When we get told that tough girls avoid the cat fights and stick to boys, it gets lodged up in us and we believe it. Jessica Jones not only avoids showing that frankly bullshit version of events, it writes its women and their relationships so well.
The Greatest Plot Twist Of All
((The next section contains SPOILERS for up to episode 9 of Jessica Jones: “AKA Sin Bin.” Read at your own risk.))
From those first moments in the first episode where Jessica hallucinates that Kilgrave is there beside her, whispering in her ear, the very suggestion of his possible presence can send a chill down your spine.
Something happens somewhere along the way, thought. As the series continues, Kilgrave goes from being a very mysterious character – face turned away from the camera, focus put on his voice and the reactions to it – to a more front and centre one. His sinister malignant presence fades somewhat, and a sort of horrifically charming, hapless sort of evil emerges. I found myself wrestling with my own brain, torn between being utterly terrified of Kilgrave and digusted by the horrors he’d committed, and actually being drawn in by him.
It all comes to a head in episode 8, “AKA WWJD,” where Jessica spends the episode willingly living with Kilgrave as he tries to win her over. He claims that he’s resolved not to use his mind control power and wants her to decide to trust him and fall in love with her on her own. There’s a childlike sort of hopefulness to Kilgrave in this episode, and it’s confusing and hard to watch. I would catch myself falling under his spell, or finding the awful things he said or did darkly funny. I found myself really enjoying the interplay between he and Jessica as she drags him to a crisis scene and manipulates him into playing hero. He’s almost puppyish in his desire to please her, to be what she wants, and I struggled with my own disgust at finding it… endearing.
It felt so inevitable when Kilgrave shows her footage of himself as a small child trapped in a laboratory, tortured and experimented on by his heartless scientist parents. It was the twist that I’d been waiting for in the back of my head. Why he was the way he was. His reason. His excuse. His parents mock him with false comfort and he shrieks as he’s forced to undergo spinal taps and tests under the harsh eye of the camera. “Ah,” I remember thinking. “It all makes sense, now. Kilgrave is just Kevin Thompson, a poor misunderstood little woobie who broke under the torture he was forced to undergo.” I felt vindicated for that part of me I’d been so disgusted with, the part that couldn’t help but want to root for Kilgrave’s redemption arc. He started talking about how hard it was to never know if someone actually cared about him or was just mind controlled. About how he had to examine every word that came out of his mouth. About how badly he wanted to make a real connection. I let go and let myself sink into the direction the story seemed to be taking: Jessica would selflessly pretend to cooperate with Kilgrave, and through that she would teach him a code and show him how to be a hero and he’d reclaim some of the humanity that had been cruelly snatched from him.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
That “plot twist” had seemed so inevitable because it was so damn familiar. The story turned down a familiar path, one that I’d seen a thousand times before. And I let myself fall into a comfortable place where I thought I knew where it was going. Worse, I was okay with it.
Instead of redeeming him, Jessica takes Kilgrave prisoner. And then comes the real plot twist. Jessica actually tracks down Kilgrave’s horrible, abusive, cruel parents. She wants them to answer for what they did, creating this monster. Only, as it turns out, they didn’t create one at all. Poor woobie broken Kevin Thompson had been terminally ill. His cruel scientist parents had been trying to cure him. As soon as he gained his powers, he turned the abilities on them. They did their best to care for him while he terrorized them for years, and eventually, they fled his reign of terror. The narrative Kilgrave had created in his own mind just wasn’t true. He hadn’t been twisted into a monster. He’d been born one. He was a dangerous sociopath given powers that allowed him to act with impunity. Bad to the bone. There was no heart-breaking, tragic tale, no one to blame for his corruption, and no possibility of redemption.
I’m not sure my mind had ever been so blown.
I realized like a sucker punch to my gut how I’d been played. The writing had been so brilliant and so twisted. It had coded Kilgrave in a way that aligned him with a lifetime of experience with redeemed bad boys, and then played on my desire to romanticize and redeem this character. It showed me what I had begun to want to see, and then it reached out and snatched it back and left me reeling. I had accepted Kilgrave’s version of events without thought. Even after everything he’d done, such horrifying things that they could turn the strongest stomach, I’d still let myself get taken in. I’d never stopped being afraid of him, never stopped being disgusted by him, but I’d seen that potential for redemption and reached out toward it and been burned so damn hard and I felt so ashamed and so angry and, at the same time, so deeply impressed.
I’d love to write something so brilliant.
It changed the way I looked at Kilgrave. His charms evaporated. His dark humour and boyish good looks and likeable David Tennant-ness all made me angry. His deeds had become personal. It served the story by plugging me into events more than ever before, by making me a maligned party along with everyone else who came into contact with this asshole.
And it made me think. It immediately brought to mind that post I linked above, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the cleverness of it. It’s made me decide to think a lot more critically about bad boys in all forms of media, to pinpoint the moment I start forgiving them their dark sides and examine why. It’s also made me think a lot about how I write villains. I’m of the viewpoint that no villain considers themselves one, and a good villain is one who the audience can understand or even partially empathize with. Kilgrave hit all those notes while explicitly not crossing that line into romanticizing a villain.
The way Jessica Jones slowly, gracefully charted the course from “scary Kilgrave the evil raping mind controlling boogeyman” to “poor Kevin Thompson the tortured soul trying to do his best despite being fundamentally broken” wasn’t half as brilliant as its abrupt swing backwards. It pulled the rug out. It’s something I’d never really seen done before… and certainly never seen done well.
Some folks from my writing group and I were hanging out this weekend. I was gushing about how excited I was to read one of their works in progress. And really, I’m so stoked to get my hands on this book. It’s this Lovecraftian steampunk ghost hunting frontier sort of affair that is so my jam. It’s going to be so good, you guys.
I mentioned how I wished that my central plot was as amazing and bonkers and mythos-rich as hers, and we laughed about that, and she pointed out that I intentionally wrote the world of the Faraday Files as steeped in mundanity. That was my goal, and I accomplished that goal.
“Yeah, that’s true,” I agreed. “I did it this way so there wasn’t as much chance that I’d get mired up in all the details and my insecurities about doing it justice and eventually lose the book up my own ass.”
After a moment of strangely loaded silence, I realized that both my friends had immediately leapt to the assumption that I had not been taking the piss on my menagerie of failed manuscripts. Rather, they thought that I was trying to lay down some sick backhanded burn on them. I hurried to explain, we all laughed about it, and the moment passed, but it’s been sticking with me.
I made that comment entirely based on my own personal experiences and was surprised my friends could take it as criticism. The thought had never even occurred to me. And yet, at the same time, they were both equally certain that it was about them because it had seemed equally personal to their perceived faults as a writer.
NK Jemisin, one of my favourite authors, had some interesting things to say after the release of her most recent novel, The Fifth Season. I put it on my list of the best books I read in 2015, and it’s absolutely and utterly brilliant — one of the most complex, rich, and interesting books I’ve ever read in the fantasy genre. She’s come clean about how the book almost never happened. Her insecurities would have lead her to abandon the project without the support of the people around her encouraging her and pushing her onward. How could a book so brilliant make the writer feel anything but bursting pride?
There’s a scene in The Timeseer’s Gambit that I’d been excited to write since I first outlined the series. It’s this huge set-piece that happens in multiple parts and has almost every important character in the Faraday Files in it, all pursuing their own agendas at the same time. When I finished it, I was devastated. I couldn’t believe how badly I’d fumbled this scene that had been in my head since I’d started writing the series. How could I possibly come back from this? I should probably just quit writing, if this is how I handle my big important scenes. I left the scene for a few weeks, lost in a funk. When I booted the laptop up again and read it with new eyes, I realized that it was fantastic, even in its first draft form, and I’d done everything I’d set out to do.
The expectations and demands we put on ourselves as writers can be really extreme. And as I’ve known for a while, they’re universal. We all feel that gloom settle around us when we think we’ve failed to do our vision justice, and we all struggle with visions so vast and detailed in our minds that it seems impossible that we could do them justice. And sometimes that leads to us abandoning the vision entirely, thinking that it’s better to leave it unfinished than ruin it with our incompetence.
It’s that last part that really leaves us with the guilt, though. Pushing through it and getting the thoughts out there can feel terrible, but I think we all invariably realize that we sold ourselves short, and our work is better than we thought it was. It was true for me, it was true for NK Jemisin, and I’m sure it’s going to be true for my friends, too. In that moment, I was more ashamed of the manuscripts I’d left behind thanks to my own angst than anything else, and that, I think, is what echoed with my friends.
It’s a good reminder that we’re better than we think we are. And that everyone else, from the unpublished to the brilliant multi Hugo- and Nebula- Award nominees, is going through the same things and fighting with the same anxieties.