Enjoy Mahlers5th and Valksy‘s analysis of episode 4.11.
“Is life not a hundred times too short for us to stifle ourselves?”
“Someone you love very much will soon be dead”
We were certainly given plenty of time to brace for the worst. Even before season four began, the title of the opening episode (“In Memoriam”) hinted that one of the core group might not have survived the season three finale. In Episode 403 (“Lovers. Apart”) the death of the star-crossed lovers – the Fae bodyjumper and her human lover – highlighted the obstacles faced by cross-species romances and seemed to presage a violent end to one of our cherished ships. In episode 406 (“Of All the Gin Joints”), the subplot involving Ianka and Marcus, the aria from La Boheme, and the many references to Casablanca all suggested that before the season was over, someone dear to us might sacrifice himself or herself for the greater good. Hale was already bleeding from his ear by the end of that episode – never a good sign – but surely the writers wouldn’t rob Kenzi of her first real shot at happiness…would they? Flora’s murder near the end of “La Fae Epoque” (episode 407) left us fretting whether Lauren was long for this world. The Leviathan’s warning in “Destiny’s Child” (episode 409) was unmistakable — someone Bo loved “very much” would soon be dead, and even though her fate had already been written and sealed by the writers, I still prayed, “Dear God, please don’t let it be Lauren.” Tamsin was on her last life anyway, right? She seemed like a logical choice. But my real money was on Rainer. I wanted him dead anyway, and since Bo had been at least brain-washed into believing that she loved him “very much,” he passed the Leviathan test. Like Cinderella’s older sister, I was desperately trying to make the shoe fit somebody, anybody, other than Lauren.
“You and I know dead doesn’t always mean dead.”
So I should have felt at least a flickering of relief that Lauren made the first cut. But when it came, Hale’s death was shattering. And why not? For one thing, he was Fae — they of the long-lived life. He should have outlived Kenzi by centuries. Nothing else in the episode prepared us for the finality of his death.
In this urban supernatural world, death is always a flexible and relative state. We have come to expect that characters who may seem to be dead (like Massimo) or are presumed dead (like Acacia) can suddenly reappear, rise again, and live on. In episode 411 alone, there are numerous reminders of this trope familiar to fans of the genre. We are introduced to the revenants – Fae corpses reanimated to enact revenge. The voodoo priestess, with her wardrobe choice of corpses and her power of resurrection, treats mortality as nothing more than a temporary and transient inconvenience. A disturbed man (the only one who seems truly affected by the notion of walking dead) rants about a sole surviving sister who could raise the deceased. Tamsin and Acacia are both Fae Valkyries who die and are reborn many times, and when not tracking down Bo for the Wanderer, they are charged with gathering the souls of dead warriors fallen in battle and taking them to Valhalla where they live on to fight again. Massimo has been granted immortality thanks to the twig of Zamora. The beheadings and deaths that occurred in the episode seemed cartoonish, unreal, or inconsequential. And of course, since the end of the ceremony in episode 309, we have known that Bo has the power in her to revive a lifeless corpse just as she revived Dyson. Like Kenzi, to the very end, we assumed Bo would be able to save Hale. It took emphatic and definitive statements from an interview with the show runner to make it really real to us (she must have known we would need that splash of cold water to wake up from our dream). And still, some fans wanted to believe that “dead doesn’t always mean dead,” not even for Hale. Folks, the cast threw a going-away party for K.C. Collins. Tears were shed. He’s gone.
“We have all the time in the world.”
As soon as Kenzi uttered these fateful words to Hale, we knew she was in trouble. Oh Kenzi, gather ye marriage proposals while ye may! The truth is that no character in Lost Girl has all the time in the world. The Fae just arrive later in life at an unshakable truth humans have always known – we all die in the end. You never know when an old nemesis like Rainer or Pyrippus might appear to settle an old score. Even Valkyries arrive at their final resting place eventually. Tamsin’s wish to “get it right” in her one and only remaining lifetime is poignant and so human. The inevitability of death is what drives us to make something meaningful out of our brief flash of life and precious relationships.
This is one of the underlying themes of season four and — as trite as it may sound — it is a piece of wisdom that tends to be lost on the young and others who experience themselves as invulnerable or quasi-immortal (like the Fae). It is a powerful experience to witness a dying person drop all surface pretense to get to the heart of the matter in their final moments, as Hale did when he told Kenzi, “I love you.” Our collective heart broke when Kenzi sobbed to Bo, “I was going to say, ‘Yes.’” We know, Kenzi. We believe you. And we wish you had. But what you said was, “I just think we need to slow things down. We have all the time in the world.” That – more than giving Massimo the twig of Zamora – is what you will probably regret the most. One word spoken or left unsaid can sometimes make or mar a destiny. I was reminded by a fellow tweeter of a line from Emilie Autumn’s The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls that seemed apropos here: “You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.”
While the main focus of the episode helpfully tangled the metaplot a little more, the secondary B story played out one of the most painful, layered and well-written sequences that Lost Girl has done so far. Kenzi and Hale make an appealing enough couple, but I found that to be very much a sidebar to the painful revelations of Kenzi’s past. A huge round of applause should go to Ksenia Solo in particular for her delicate, sensitive and heartbreaking performance, as Kenzi hides behind her shields of mistrust, tentatively glimpses hope, reveals agonizing truths, only to be betrayed again.
I think that the show did the right thing by not spelling out the exact reason that Kenzi running away. Inviting us to draw our own conclusions is perhaps the most appropriate and least triggering option. The fact Kenzi tried to tell her mother, was blamed for her defiance, then forced to run and fend for herself, reinforced something we have known about her for a while — Kenzi has the heart of a lion. Her confession of regret and shame about things she did in the past echoed Lauren’s confessions in episode 404 (“Turned to Stone”) as did her beating at the hands of a frustrated human male who felt impotent because he was not Fae (in episode 310, Lauren was assaulted by the Tikbalang’s human mate). Hale’s death (while tragic in itself) was also very reminiscent of Nadia dying by the blade. With Dyson likely to be immersed in mourning his best friend, and Bo apparently unable to handle Kenzi’s grief (she surrenders her own humanity and resorts to Fae powers to soothe her), will Kenzi reach out to Lauren for comfort and understanding? I hope so.
Seeing Kenzi call Bo out was long overdue. That Bo breaks down with her, hand pressed over her heart, is the most “human” and emotional we have seen Bo since the latter part of season 3. I hope that the time has come for Bo’s descent into darkness to reach rock bottom, I miss this strength in her and long for her to find it again.
For nearly two seasons we have been rooting for Bo to take up the reins of her life again and live the life she chooses. The ever-present reality of death should have lent a special urgency and importance to the choices she has been making in season four. Whether because she has been in the Wanderer’s thrall or has simply forgotten the painful truth that neither she nor those she loves the most have all the time in the world, Bo has been meandering through a dream for much of the past season and a half. We know she has a heart capable of feeling deeply, a powerful sense of moral obligation to defend the helpless and right their injustices, as well as the defiance, strength, and courage required to stand up to the oppressors. But lately she has not been living up to her potential. We can only hope that Hale’s death may have shocked her back to some semblance of reality.
The group is almost completely fragmented now — Dyson is distant and brooding; Kenzi will be either mired in grief and self-blame or driven to vengeance; Hale is gone; Tamsin is scared and confused; Trick is plotting privately in his den (didn’t his “I see the good in you” speech to Vex seem similar to the one he gave Dyson in 407? Recruiting again?); Lauren remains a distant afterthought for Bo, mentioned only in a flash of jealousy, almost as if Bo still doesn’t really remember the depth of her love for Lauren. Is Bo being systematically estranged from her family piece by piece for a reason? She seems to be kept furthest from Lauren. Is that because Lauren is the keystone? It was she who bought Bo back from the dark in episode 305 (“Faes Wide Shut”) when she tells Bo she loved her from the moment they met. She was the hair of “love” in Massimo’s rune potion, and she practically glowed when Bo saw her in 404.
As we were reminded in the episode preamble, Trick accused Rainer of wanting the consolidated seed and warned Bo that he would ask her to kill the Una Mens. In the opening scene of episode 411, Bo’s description of her relationship with Redshirt Rainer (come on, we know he’s going to die, right?) sounds almost Stepford Wife in nature: “I finally feel that I’ve provided something to a relationship, I broke his curse. We want the same things, it’s bigger than love.” That sounds more like it serves Rainer more than Bo herself, and what she means by the “same things” remains a secret. It is Kenzi who again suggests Bo is brainwashed (she did the same by invoking the name of Patty Hearst in episode 410) and it is Kenzi who sees her connection to Bo completely shattered.
As for Rainer? He had the power of foresight, but the trap that Trick laid for him (turning his own army against him) was inescapable. Might someone like Rainer have devised a contingency given that his power could have forewarned him? Acacia clearly indicates that there are degrees of “dead” and the only reason we have to think that Rainer/Wanderer (confirmed again as the same thing) is not Tamsin’s boss is that she did not recognize him from his picture — so what face was he wearing when she was denied his soul and how did Trick manage to recognize him if his appearance had changed? And then there’s Vex, who seems to be changing sides from Dark to Light, and Massimo who might have the seed (if it’s for himself, why hasn’t he used it by now?) and does have connections to everyone else and….I think I need a flow chart and another mind-bending debate!
We’ve heard that line – “It’s bigger than love” — or something similar at least twice before. The first time was at the beginning of episode 310 (“The Delinquents”), when Bo is gushing to a worried Lauren how different she feels since emerging from the temple: “I feel reborn, Lauren, like I had this moment of realization that I am part of something bigger than myself”. In episode 406 (“Of All the Gin Joints”), the terrorist Marcus says the same thing to Ianka by way of explaining why he is prepared to blow her to smithereens unless she goes along with his murderous plot. That “something bigger” that trumps love is the thirst for power, domination, and revenge cloaked as something nobler — like justice, freedom, peace.
This seems like the appropriate moment to insert the latest installment of “What the F***?!” — my season-long attempt to make sense of the over-arching storyline, to prognosticate about what will unfold, who shall emerge as the Biggest Bad of them all, who shall die, and when we can expect Bo and Lauren to get back to epic lovemaking. [Note to writers: That off-screen quickie in episode 405 didn’t count; it was a mini quiche to the Babette’s Feast we’ve learned to expect from these two].
In the commentary Valksy and I wrote about episode 409 (“Destiny’s Child”), I predicted that Rainer, the Wanderer, Bo’s Father, and maybe even Odin would turn out to be one and the same character. I avoided the specter of incest by suggesting that Bo’s father simply wanted his daughter to rule by his side – as she promised she would after emerging from the temple in episode 309: “I will reign as he did, for I am his daughter.” Never mind that she seemed to be speaking automaton-like in unison with Darth Vadar.
Then my recantations began. I couldn’t figure out how or when Rainer the Wanderer could have escaped from the train of damned souls, rushed over to the Dark King’s castle, and raped and impregnated Aife, only to return willingly to the train. By last week, prodded by the Unaligned law firm of Sneech & Heaven, I’d arrived at a compromise solution: “Rainer is the Wanderer but is Odin’s warrior now. They both want Trick punished for having put a curse on him – Odin because he was robbed of a soul; Rainer because he had to switch from the much cooler Defiant to the wimpier Wanderer. They both want Bo, but for different reasons. Rainer needs her to reanimate him. Odin needs her because she is his daughter – the One meant to rule by his side – but she needs to do so willingly…She was not seduced by his offer of power (the crown inscribed with her name) but is seduced by the power of reanimation and is induced to fall in love, not with Odin but the younger, sexier Rainer. If the ruse works, maybe Rainer gets to be King with Isabeau as his Queen BUT Odin will possess/inhabit his body NOT to have sex, but to achieve his dream of having his daughter fight be his side.”
Then someone in the writers’ room had an idea. A most wonderful, awful idea: “Let’s introduce a brand new Big Bad – and let’s do it with only two episodes left for the fans to pull it all together! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!” It took me a full week just to learn how to spell this Big Bad’s name correctly. In fairness to the writers, Pyrippus is not strictly speaking a new character. Way back at the end of episode 309 (“Ceremony”), Trick uncovers a parchment drawing of a bat-winged fire-breathing horse, and exclaims “Not him?!” just as the Wanderer’s signature song starts to play and the credits roll.
So, uh, wait. Pyrippus is the Wanderer? But…but Trick…you said Rainer was the Wanderer. I’m getting a migraine. After hours of cogitating this conundrum, here’s what I came up with, and this is my final answer:
1. Rainer is the Wanderer (here I supply only additional corroborating evidence from episode 411, not already covered in our commentary to episode 409)
- Acacia tells Bo that the Wanderer had his crows cut her hand off because her protégé (Tamsin) “didn’t deliver you as quickly as he wanted.” Bo suggests that Huginn and Muninn betrayed Rainer (“They could have been acting alone”) to which Acacia responds acidly, “Oh, you two on a first name basis now?”
- When Acacia asks Tamsin, “So help me here – the Wanderer gets off the train and he suddenly starts playing house…? Tamsin replies that she has been remembering things since he returned and, “I may have given his soul to the Blood King after the Great Rebellion. I didn’t take him to Valhalla.
- When Acacia exclaims, “You put [Rainer] on that train?! Tamsin replies, “I…helped make him the Wanderer.”
2. Rainer the Wanderer may NOT be the evil Big Bad we thought he was
- When Acacia tries to enlist Tamsin’s help in killing the Wanderer, (“You know the things he’s capable of, you know the things he’s done,”) Tamsin replies enigmatically, “He’s not a killer anymore.” (Disregarding the death of the Una Mens at Bo’s hands, but with his encouragement).
- When Vex asks Trick, “He was evil, right?” (referring to Rainer) Trick answers, “Just defiant…like my granddaughter” and distinguishes him from other “real evil” like the Garuda.
- When Rainer is written back into history, and his face materializes in one of Trick’s books, Tamsin doesn’t seem to recognize him (“Who is this dark little hottie?”). Bo says, “What do you mean?! That’s Rainer. That’s your boss,” to which Tamsin replies, “That’s not my boss.”
3. Pyrippus is the third Big Bad and is the “evil” that hired Tamsin to collect Bo
- Trick was clearly terrified when he uncovered the picture of the Pyrippus in episode 309.
- After telling Vex that Rainer is more defiant than evil, Trick goes on to say, “There’s a real evil in the world, Vex. Real terrors…The Pyrippus – that’s real evil.”
- Vex refers to the Pyrippus as a “bat-winged horse.” In Greek mythology, the Pyrippus — literally “fire horse” – was a bat-winged fire-breathing horse referred to as the Demon Steed.
- Laveau, the voodoo priestess tells Bo, “The Devil’s Horse, the Pyrippus, is coming and I need something to protect myself.” She is clearly frightened.
- In “Groundhog Fae,” an intoxicated Trick tells Bo that he is “terrified” of the Wanderer (yet he seemed calm about the merely-defiant-but-not-really-evil Rainer). Who is the real Wanderer?
- Tamsin seems to shudder in fear and disgust when she remembers meeting “that evil,” “that thing” who ordered her to bring Bo to him (but describes Rainer as “a little hottie”).
- The handprint on Bo that we’ve been led to assume is Rainer’s mark was something the Leviathan claimed was taken from her six centuries ago, suggesting whoever took the mark is connected to the Underworld.
- In Greek mythology, the Pyrippus was said to be responsible for driving the chariot of Hades in the Underworld http://www.elfwood.com/~aleister/Gryphon.2500834.html
- In the early days of locomotion, trains were known as “iron horses.” Has the Pyrippus been driving the train of damned souls? The train where Bo is first imprisoned shakes violently whenever her name is mentioned by Dyson and again when Bo tells Rainer that if he turns out to be a monster, she will kill him.
4. Pyrippus is Bo’s father
- In the preamble to “End of a Line,” we are offered a flashback to “Groundhog Fae” in which Bo asks Tamsin,”That evil that you met, could he be my father?” Without confirming or denying that he is Bo’s father, Tamsin suggests: “That thing would have done anything to claim his ideal mate, even if it meant creating her himself.”
5. Is the Pyrippus capable of assuming other forms?
Shapeshifting is a common trait of a number of Fae we have encountered, and the recording of a fantastic creature in mythos does not preclude an appearance as a humanoid entity (The Garuda, the Mongolian Death Worm, Lachlan the Naga).
The hellish horse is a common TV trope and is often depicted as capable of assuming human form
If the Pyrippus is capable of assuming other forms, why not:
- As the Dark King to sire Bo
- As the evil figure who forces Tamsin and Acacia to collect Bo
- As a figure from the Wanderer tarot card in the season three finale
- As Rainer to enthrall Bo after she rejected the crown and the power it implied
We saw Bo rejecting a personally inscribed crown at the start of the season. If we can theorize that she did that for love of her family, then Rainer is not just there to be relieved of his curse, but to relieve Bo of everyone standing in the way of “something bigger”. This might well support an argument of some great puppeteer in the background, controlling everything with a far graver purpose in mind. Rainer is no more or less morally grey than many of the Fae that we have encountered across seasons and he certainly does not seem the monstrous evil that everyone seems to dread. There is still a missing piece, as Bo’s estrangement continues, that is the key to this mystery. Is that piece the Pyrippus?
My admitted sense of confusion with the plot, although it does provoke intense curiosity in me, is something I hesitate to comment on without seeing the final act. And it was not this confusion that I found particularly jarring about the episode. Although there were parts that I found interesting, and all of the sequences with Kenzi were both story-valid and exquisitely loaded with character and nuance, I felt uneasy about several scenes in this episode. On reflection, to try and understand my sense of disquiet, I reviewed them again in terms of sex and violence, and the conflating of the two.
Bo herself is a character who epitomizes sex and violence together. Bo’s species evolved to be the equivalent of a sexual pitcher plant — She is beautiful and sensual to attract her prey, and gifted with the combat prowess and rapid regeneration needed to help her take and feed upon her victim. Bo was born to kill, and sexuality is one of the weapons at her disposal, and yet viewers seem to accept this without question and very little sign of any particular judgement or moral panic. Are we able to disregard Bo’s violent legacy because it is simply a modern fiction and therefore does not matter in any meaningful way?
[Sidebar - I admit that I am happy that the mainstream media seems largely disinterested in the show, as creating a moral panic over it would be far too easy and the need to defend the show is something that many fans have done for years, to the point of being exhausted by it].
If viewers can comfortably ignore Bo’s decade long succubus kill streak — an elephant in the room that we rarely talk about — should we do the same with all scenes of gender-based or sexualized aggression or violence in this episode? We have spoken in past weeks about violent acts against women and I fear that the point has been raised again. The attack on Kenzi, while harrowing to watch, was plot-relevant and therefore not motivated by sex/gender. I don’t think that the same argument stands for the following:
- Although arguably the most minor point, hostile language affects every woman and some instances of “bitch” were noted: Dyson says “the traffic was a bitch”, Harvey calls Laveau the “hottest bitch”, Massimo refers to Bo as the “stupid bitch succubus.” None of these would count as “ownership” or “reclaiming” usage as all were said by men to or about women.
- Sexual menace. Harvey will accept a sex act as penance for a wrong that he feels Bo has perpetrated against him (“Spit and elbow grease”). This suggests sex as a bargaining chip to avoid more severe repercussions, which would raise a question mark over legitimate consent.
- Bo and Acacia fight. Harvey goads them with the suggestion: “Boring! Rip her shirt open!” This sexualizes the fight by making it seem about his personal gratification, objectifying both women and contaminating the imagery of a genre great going toe to toe with our hero.
- Harvey is seen in a subsequent scene filming the fight between Bo and Acacia, he holds the camera with both hands at his crotch in a way highly suggestive of a symbolic penis. The fight is definitely to service his male gaze at this point. He calls out the instruction: “Punch her in the tits.”
Fans here at doccubus.com have praised the show for being reasonably woman positive. I find that hard to reconcile with the scenes in question and wonder why the decision was made to resort to what could be regarded as degrading sexism? Perhaps I am part of a minority who felt alerted to this phenomenon and happened to notice it, and it does pain me to focus on this aspect of an episode I otherwise enjoyed watching. I am very much reminded of the scene between Dr Taft and Lauren where he waves his bone in her face to taunt her. I suspect that the use of implied sexual menace by Taft was to make viewers more comfortable with Dyson butchering him, particularly as Taft had a legitimate grievance. I don’t think the same excuse works for a MOTW character as there was no reason to incite loathing for him, or to establish approval for any retaliatory actions that Bo might take.
The writing room at Lost Girl unsurprisingly loves to play with language — this episode is seeded with clues, wise cracks, moments of exquisite pathos, and enough red herrings to open a sushi bar. I am at a loss to explain why there was also a sordid underbelly of anti-woman animus. This show has a great many female fans — heterosexual, LGBT and all points in between — because female heroes are rare enough to bring us back and offer us a haven. I would appeal for more sensitivity and relief from unnecessary acts of sexual intimidation (this is not the first time this season) and the the drip feed of terms like “bitch” that grants common usage credibility.
At this point I feel obliged to mention a scene regarding an ever-hapless Dyson that I was tempted to add to my list. As amusing as it was to see his attempt at heroism scuppered yet again — as he growled and adopted a “hero” pose, just to watch Bo outsmart the MOTW with ease and without him — I felt that he was generally poorly treated. My concern is not for the rebuff by Bo, as I think that detachment is part of the story, but for how Tamsin would then go on to treat him. Since neither characters are my favorite to discuss, let me simply offer this thought experiment to make my point:
Imagine Dyson approaching Tamsin in a state of apparent drunkenness or confusion. Picture him disregarding any notion of her bodily autonomy or personal space by grabbing her, mounting her and starting to kiss her while demanding that she “come on”.
Are you OK with Dyson doing that? I don’t think that I would be and am at a loss to understand why anyone would find that appropriate, let alone romantic. As convenient as it would be to have Tamsin slot neatly into a relationship with Dyson, a part of me wanted him to push her away. Ownership of sexuality is a good thing, but without the biological imperative that we have been coached to accept in Bo, reversing the genders in that scene made me squirm. This door must surely swing both ways (no pun intended).
I appreciate that my comments on this season have often seemed critical, but I find that I still believe in Lost Girl and think that there should always be a place for debate.
Observing social media, I am well aware that there is concern about the plot — not necessarily in terms of direction, as that won’t be fully revealed until the end titles of 413 crawl — but because it is winding itself into a gleeful and spectacular Gordian Knot. Although bearing no specific narrative similarities, I find myself thinking of shows I have enjoyed in the past like Twin Peaks, Carnivale and Battlestar Galactica (I never watched it, but you could probably include Lost with this group). Each of these shows had lengthy and often convoluted serialized plots as well as phases of character or story confusion, frustrating trips up blind alleys, and occasional moments of complete bafflement. I loved those shows because of those things, not in spite of them, so why am I having trouble handling exactly the same storytelling techniques in Lost Girl?
If I am brutally honest with myself it is because of my personal investment in Doccubus, and my current sense of grief for the absence of something that was so beautiful and rare that it brought together a huge and diverse international community of people. My expectations, my wishes, on this matter are all deeply subjective and don’t necessarily delegitimize the actual story being told (especially as it is still a book with a missing chapter). As I reasoned in last week’s blog, objective viewer is a privileged position that I don’t think I will ever have, but I’m still wary of making the bad acts of past media the responsibility of media now. I am also reminded of Mahlers5th’s and my debate in the blog on 403 ( http://doccubus.com/2013/11/27/guest-blogger-series-episode-403-lovers-kept-apart-by-mahlers5th-and-valksy/_ ) in which it was reasoned that, to escape the ghetto of LGBT niche viewing, we need uncompromising characters and stories.
This is Bo’s tale first and foremost, and it is one that is still being told. For her to merely be reduced to a fairly standard always-victorious heroic paragon would reduce her to a one-note comic book character. The Bo that we saw in the first two seasons tended to be rash and impulsive, short on facing consequences and arguably close to monochromatic (shades of grey were added largely by Lauren and Trick). This journey into darkness and loss (if that is what it is) adds so much more depth to Bo, and expands the palette of the choices that she must eventually make. Transformative suffering tends to be part of heroic tales, and I am still waiting eagerly for Bo’s phoenix moment.
As this is being posted, we still don’t know if Showcase has renewed Lost Girl for a fifth season. After viewing “End of a Line,” it occurred to me that television shows have lives and deaths, too. We want them to go on forever while knowing that sooner or later they must end. Could we be watching the final episodes of a ground-breaking series that has come to mean so much to millions of viewers around the world? Could the series really close without a reunion of Doccubus, their marriage, the births of Ethan and Charlotte – lives we have already imagined and mapped out for the writers? It would feel like a death – and not just for die-hard Doccubus fans. I’ll wager that when the series finale airs (many seasons from now) some of its harshest critics may find they miss it, too.