Happy New Year! Hope you enjoy Mahlers5th and Valksy‘s analysis of Episode 5.04.
“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We cannot be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” – Maya Angelou
There is a narrative circulating about episode 504 that goes something like this. With Kenzi gone and in the absence of any meaningful contact with Lauren, Bo has regressed to being a thoroughly unlikeable, uninspiring, confused, self-serving, arrogant, insensitive jerk, totally lacking in compassion and humanity, ruled solely by her sexual appetites, screwing whomever she wants whenever she wants, with no regard for who gets hurt, exploited, or abused in the process. In this episode alone, she screws — with dubious consent — some random dude Tamsin brought home. Was it Tad or Frank? Who cares — he was a stud-muffin with a penis, that’s all that mattered. Then she banged a teenager who turns out to be Dyson’s son. Along the way, she makes out with Tamsin several times in front of Lauren who is apparently stuck to her chair with Crazy Glue, unable to escape yet another heartless exhibitionistic display by her soi-disant ex. For this Bo, the world is her oyster and everyone else is there to cater to her every narcissistic whim: “I want, I’ll take.” She really doesn’t deserve Lauren. Never mind that Lauren seems to think Bo deserves Lauren — she’s just a victimized character in search of more talented writers.
However widely shared this perspective may be among Lost Girl fans, I had a different take on Bo’s behavior in this episode that I’ll return to later. But for now, I’d like to zoom out and take a broader view of the episode because – hopeless innocent that I am — I continue to have faith that the production team had a map laid out when they put this season together, and that it will lead to a memorable, satisfying, kick-ass series finale. Anna Silk said so, and she would never mislead us.
When God opens a window…
The actual idiom reads, “When God closes a door, somewhere else He opens a window.” A common (non-religious) interpretation might be, “Behind every apparent adversity lies hidden opportunity.” But the Lost Girl writer has inverted the order here, leaving the second half implied but unstated: “…somewhere He closes a door.” Are we to infer that what appears to be an opportunity in the episode may in fact lead to a closed door or a trap – a Trojan horse, if you will?
The episode focuses mainly on the appearance of Dyson’s son Mark who has ostensibly been chased by the Hunter right into his father’s backyard. Well, of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world! Then he just happens to find a flyer that leads him straight to Bo — my goodness, life is filled with astonishing occurrences of coincidence and synchronicity that simply defy explanation!
Mark’s story is tailor-made to tug at Bo’s heartstrings. He’s part Kenzi – a homeless stray on the run who lies, scams and steals to survive in the streets – to the point where Tamsin feels compelled to say, “Bo! He’s NOT Kenzi!” Bo also sees a lot of herself in him – he’s a motherless child with an unknown father, unsure of who or what he really is, lost, running scared, and leaving a mounting body count in his wake. Someone/thing is fishing for Bo again. She wants to rescue Mark and give him the benefit of her hard-won wisdom about the world: “You need to face head-on whatever is chasing you” (advice she’d do well to heed herself). As if that weren’t enough, Mark is Dyson’s long-lost son — a “blessing,” Bo tells Dyson, a “second chance” to make up for his old days of cavorting with nameless women, an opportunity to put past wrongs right.
But when God opens a window…
By the end of the episode, two things have happened that could pose potential problems for Bo down the road. Bo has concealed from Dyson the fact that she slept with Mark, and Dyson suddenly has at least one priority in his life that may prove more important than serving his Queen. In the episode’s closing scene, Bo visits Dyson just after he has killed the Hunter, his face still caked with blood. He looks pensive, troubled, perhaps struggling to come to terms with having just murdered a man in cold blood, and – here’s a first – he tells Bo he appreciates her coming over but he needs to be alone. Actually, there is no indication she wanted anything more than to comfort and reassure him, but in any case, she respects his request, gives him a warm hug of support and a chaste peck on the cheek, and leaves. Will Dyson’s primary allegiance now be to his son? And if he finds out Bo had sex with him, will that drive a further wedge between them?
Whose purpose might these developments serve? If we imagine for a moment that Mark is yet another chess piece being maneuvered into place by Bo’s father (and his minions), the purpose is perhaps clearer. Something keeps trying to separate Bo from her family. Perhaps this is simply another attempt.
While Bo goes about her life as if she has no dilemmas to confront except the Case of the Week and no decisions more difficult than who to bang before lunch (sic), something evil this way comes. Three bodies have disappeared from Lauren’s morgue, and even Evony is in the dark (sidebar: has there ever been a more Evony-defining line than, “So, your assistant was murdered – dish!”). One is the junior lawyer, Elizabeth Helm, now possessed/inhabited by a stone cold assassin. She has already killed Lauren’s assistant, and Elizabeth’s husband looks like he was fried by lightning. The other two bodies remain missing and that can’t be good – “a VP family man” and “a bike courier taking classes at a night school.” Three other humans have turned up dead. Their occupations — cop, prison guard, and convicted murderer – seem to be codes for “pig,” “bull,” and “goat” respectively (just go with it), animals commonly used in pagan rituals as offerings to the Gods. Particular brands on their bodies as well as the ritualistic nature of the killings make Dyson and Lauren suspect that a Fae cult is behind it. Oh right! With Baddy Dearest still unaccounted for, spirits attacking, and bodies walking away from the morgue, the first thing I’d suspect is a Fae cult. Get your head in the game, guys! Later, in Dyson’s gym, where he apparently now does all his police work, photos of the slain humans overlap in such a way that a mysterious triple spiral or triskele symbol [www.crystalinks.com/triplegoddess.html] materializes and burns right through his coffee table, just as an electrical storm begins to whip up outside his window (thanks to @itsnotadrink for identifying the symbol). Who is behind all this? Zeus – Hades’ brother — is the God of sky, lightning and thunder in Greek mythology (in Norse mythology it is Thor, son of Odin) and the symbol that sits atop Zeus’ scepter bears some resemblance to the triskele that burned through Dyson’s coffee table. Others found triple spiral symbols or interlocking half-moons said to http://m.startribune.com/politics/national/287184501.html represent Artemis, the wild, beautiful, destructive daughter of Zeus and virginal Goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and the moon. Certainly, episode 504 is filled with suggestive references to Artemis — animal sacrifice; hunting; arrows pierce Bo and the girl on the bus. I believe there is only one sufficiently powerful entity with the means, motive, and opportunity to provoke such widespread chaos and destruction. The Wanderer. I mean, Odin. No, Pyrippus. Wait, Hades. Zeus! Artemis? I have absolutely no idea who’s in charge now.
Beyond these supernatural occurrences, episode 504 is filled with more than the usual dollop of violence, from the verbal bickering between Bo and Tamsin, to threats of violence (Tamsin with Mark, the two would-be thieves with Trick), homicidal rage and physical fights (Vex and Dyson), assault with a deadly arrow (Bo), and by my count at least six rather grisly murders (the girl on the bus, the three nameless humans, Elizabeth’s husband, and the Hunter). Dark forces appear to be taking hold. Dyson in particular seems to be losing his cool and surrendering to his wild nature – he viciously mauls an utterly helpless victim already incapacitated by Vex. Hardly the gentlemanly head start he offered Taft in the season 3 finale. He might have killed Vex, too, if Lauren hadn’t intervened: “Do you think it’s easy to be the good one, always doing the right thing?!” he snarls at Vex, “Do you know how easy it would be to do the wrong thing?!” As if there weren’t enough Evil on the loose already, Evony drops off a container at Lauren’s lab holding “the most feared creature known to Fae” – so old, in fact, nobody knows what it’s called. Are we finally going to meet that black-ooze-in-a-box from episode 401?
It is astonishing how everyone in the faemily (not just Bo) seems to be in la-la land regarding the ongoing threat posed by Baddy Dearest. Does Bo really believe Persephone that her father’s powers waned way back in her infancy? If so, than Hades cannot be the entity we knew as the Wanderer. Does Bo think that having rescued Kenzi from Valhalla, her work is done? When Dyson picks up Bo at the gates to Valhalla and is all, “OK, ready to go?” has it sunk in that she just traveled to Tartarus and back? Trick is throwing karaoke nights at the Dal and Tamsin just wants to partay and pretend she’s Kenzi — when she isn’t grabbing Bo for between-meal snacks. Their obliviousness here is reminiscent of the blithe nonchalance demonstrated by the gang after the Dawning, when Bo emerged as the Dark Queen and chi-sucked everyone in the room, while vowing in that evil voice to bridle the masses and ride unto victory with her father. Ho-hum. Lauren and Kenzi reassured each other back then she was still “our Bo,” but nobody really commented on the extraordinary transformation that had just occurred. It was as if they had all suffered some sort of amnestic event. I have a similar feeling now.
This leads me back to where I began – Bo as selfish asshat. Bo used to be a likable and admirable character, especially in seasons 1 and 2, so the argument goes. But beginning at the mid-way point of season 3 and continuing throughout season 4, the writers slowly deconstructed and ruined Bo, robbing her of strength of character and a firm direction, and turning her into someone unlikable and uninspiring. There was a glimmer of hope in episode 501 that we might have our old Bo back, but subsequent episodes dashed those hopes, leaving fans feeling duped by pre-season promises that Bo would be our lovable, clear-headed, humane, brave, kick-ass heroine again.
Does this perspective really hold up? Let me address the larger context for Bo’s behavior and then comment on her actions in this particular episode.
We fans tend to expect great emotional maturity and consistent strength of character from Bo as the carrying lead hero in a female-driven drama. Of course, she has never been without flaws – she murdered a man for roofying Kenzi in the opening minutes of the series premiere, after all! I began cheering for Bo right then and there, before I got to know her more redeeming qualities. Didn’t you? She was sexy and badass and cared enough to come to the rescue of a total stranger. She has always been an impetuous, stubborn spitfire with a dark, aggressive streak but we decided her flaws were forgivable – up to a point. I would argue that point when her flaws became unforgivable came when she started treating Lauren “badly.” I can practically pinpoint the swing in fan sentiments to that moment in episode 306 (“The Kenzi Scale”) when Bo tells Lauren acidly, “I’ll never forgive you for this….sweetie.” From then on, it seemed, any turbulence in her relationship with Lauren was all Bo’s fault. Because she was selfish. Confused. Self-serving. Arrogant. Insensitive.
Lauren has always embodied the emotional maturity Bo lacks. She is the true adult in the relationship. This has been one source – albeit not the only source — of ever-present tension in their relationship. Bo has matured to some degree over the past four seasons but not without considerable growing pains and she still has a lot to learn about real intimacy and mature commitment. What accounts for Bo’s arrested development? Saying “Bo’s is a Succubus and always has been” seems like an incomplete explanation. Of course, from the pre-Dawning onwards, Bo has been fighting battles on multiple fronts against threats from within and without. Her mind has been messed with in all sorts of ways by external forces, most notably her very powerful father. Even now, Bo is far from “clearheaded.” We may have seen gratifying glimpses of a more focused Bo in episode 501, but that was before she was hijacked to Tartarus, fed off Persephone, wrestled with her father, and returned with the Artemis Candle (that thing has “evil influence” written all over it).
Leaving aside the influence of her biology, her lineage, and her father’s ongoing mind games, I think we tend to overlook the fact that Bo was also severely traumatized during infancy and again in adolescence. Her adoptive family seems to have provided “good enough” if strict parenting along the way which may account for Bo’s basic resilience. However, she did not come through the early years unscathed, and we see the scars most clearly in her closest relationships. She feels most certain about her love for Kenzi – a sisterly love that avoids some of the demands and complications of romantic and sexual love. And Kenzi being Kenzi — also a trauma survivor — they have tended to keep things light and superficial in their interactions, while the deeper intuitive understanding between them goes largely unspoken.
My point is that when fans blast Bo for being a selfish, insensitive, jerk, I think they are forgetting that she isn’t just fighting the demands of her biology and her father’s influence (and he’s the friggin’ Lord of the Underworld, after all, if Persephone is to be believed). She is also a child of trauma. It’s not easy to overcome those experiences and have healthy, mature, intimate, adult romantic attachments. She’s trying and in my opinion is slowly growing, with fits and starts. She dreads and is deeply shaken by loss — understandably, given her history — and has already lost Kenzi (twice). This may explain why she is keeping her distance from Lauren at this point – and multiplying her partners. It’s too dangerous to have all of her emotional eggs in one basket with the threat of a confrontation with her father looming ahead.
In considering the progression of Bo’s story in this episode, and recognizing protests about the apparent change in Bo’s character, I found myself again trying to decide if Bo was subject to outside influence against her will. While trying to establish this to my own satisfaction, I found myself questioning whether it is necessarily desirable to have a character who is inherently moral, or if it is more meaningful to allow your character to make mistakes and be flawed, and even express an understanding that she is willingly embracing her own shades of grey rather than being a glowing paragon of virtue.
The virtuous woman was staple of genre television when I was growing up. Wonder Woman and Jaime Sommers (The Bionic Woman) were aspirational figures, but both seemed to trend towards a distinctly comic book monochromatic depiction of good and evil with little complexity. I don’t disregard the vital cultural significance of Lieutenant Uhura, but she was not a particularly well-rounded character. Most women characters that I was exposed to in science fiction/fantasy stories outside of familial relationships (typically girlfriend, mother or wife, not that there is anything wrong with this, it’s just not my taste) were functionally basic and often had little in the way of complexity other than being expositional tools or tediously damsel-prone. A parade of female Doctor Who assistants offered little in the way of detailed or nuanced characterization and I would argue that the surviving duo of women in Star Trek: The Next Generation (Counselor Deanna Troi and Doctor Beverly Crusher) also lacked the depth of their male counterparts, being painted broadly as nurturing and tempering influences; as a result, they often had little to do that was actually meaningful to the story and did not seem to resonate as characters who struck heroic notes. I was more inclined to cheer for Captain Picard or Data, for example, than I ever could have done for Counselor Troi.
Major Kira (1993) may have been the first of a new breed of women characters in genre television, followed by Ivanova in Babylon 5 (1994). An even darker character – Xena: Warrior Princess (1995) – was followed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997) and SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica (2003) with a female Lieutenant Kara “Starbuck” Thrace. Katee Sackhoff received significant negative feedback – even death threats — for her role as the battle-scarred Starbuck – a tough-as-nails, hard-drinking, abuse-surviving, occasionally promiscuous, authority-defying, but ultimately profoundly heroic character. https://frameofnature.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/gender-roles-in-battlestar-galactica/
Was it therefore risky to create a character like Bo who fights when she needs, kills when she deems it necessary, enjoys alcohol, often exchanges inappropriate wisecracks, is unapologetically sexual (we understand she is a succubus, I’m thinking more in terms of cultural presentation) and — unlike Starbuck — a further evolution in being completely unapologetically female rather than representing conventional gender-reversal? This is, of course, all a matter of personal taste or interpretation. Is a virtuous and completely morally binary Bo a boring option? Not at all, and it is unjust to simply claim this. But when the writers created Bo and established her capacity to be capable of moral ambiguity, was it just in service of a mere trend for “edgy” television, or was she an evolutionary character in her own right and it was more important that she be a difficult, even occasionally unlikeable, character rather than a more typical nurturing and virtuous female hero?
While viewer reactions to the character of Bo Dennis are subjective, I do question the perception that she was once more innately moral and has since degenerated into someone very much different. When we first meet Bo it takes her less than four minutes to carry out an extrajudicial summary execution, with such a lack of hesitation that it was clear that she had done this many times before. Arguably, she killed in self-defense, and for the viewership the nature of the crime allowed Bo to maintain her credibility, but she still killed without a second thought, and would do so again at the end of the episode by slashing a creature’s throat (self-defense again, but do the Fae have a choice to participate in gladiatorial spectacle?). In the course of the first season Bo will go on to attack an innocent woman (and has to be restrained from murdering her), threatens a fence with torture to extract information, uses her persuasion skills to facilitate theft, makes a point of picking up a couple for a threesome in front of Dyson (after he overhears her saying she didn’t care much about him anyway), and will go on to blame Dyson for Aife’s attack on him. In episode 111 (“Faetal Justice”) Bo elects not to kill someone involved in a murder and lets him go with a warning, while in very next episode (“(Dis)Members Only”) she makes a completely contrary decision and orchestrates mob justice.
Bo has certainly never been a saint, but is still sympathetic to the viewers since she is demonstrating her desire to “live the life she chooses” – not in terms of something so basic as relationship parameters, but through a series of moral dilemmas; occasionally with inconsistency, often with subversion of free will or outright force, sometimes as a simple observing bystander. I concur with Mahlers5th’s theory that something external is affecting Bo, but I don’t believe that Bo has genuinely undergone a fundamental conceptual character re-write. If there is a narrative reason for more superficial story-driven changes in her character – seeming to be confused and more emotional detached – from an external third party, then Bo is a victim and I am uneasy with the idea of blaming her for this. Until the story has played out to its natural intended conclusion, with twelve episodes remaining (this is practically an entire season left to go, I think it far too soon to see endgame) then I will continue to find Bo compelling because of her shades of grey, rather than in spite of them.
Turning to episode 504, I must say I don’t see much evidence for the view of Bo as a self-serving, arrogant, insensitive jerk, totally lacking in compassion and humanity, ruled solely by her sexual appetites, screwing whomever she wants whenever she wants, with no regard for who gets hurt, exploited, or abused in the process. It goes without saying that one-night stands like the young man in the opening scene deserve to be treated as human beings not chattel, but here I think it’s fair to give Bo a pass — this sort of behavior is neither new for her nor unusual for a Succubus. Unlike Tamsin, at least she remembers his name. I also saw nothing exploitative about her interactions with Mark. When he first appears in scene 3, Tamsin wants to dismiss him as “trouble” but Bo corrects her: “Tamsin, he’s in trouble…If we’re going to be partners, we help those who need help. Deal with it” — a far cry from “I want, I take.” She’s willing to take on his case for free. In scene 10, she is more a brisk schoolmarm than seductress: “Stop acting like a child! We can help you, but no more lies!” In the following scene, back at Bo’s place, it is Mark who makes the first move by kissing Bo, ostensibly to help her heal, but even this turns out to be a staged scene designed to entrap the Hunter.
It seemed to me something strange happened when Mark kissed Bo. She looked taken aback, even enthralled, and exclaimed “Whoa…Wow!” It reminded me of her encounter with Rainer on the train, when Bo also seemed momentarily disoriented. Was it just because there was something “familiar” in the kiss? Or was there something mesmerizing about the kiss? When they finally do go the bed (not until scene 15), Bo is clearly moved by Mark’s story of witnessing his mother’s murder and by his plaintive “I don’t have anywhere else to go, anyone else to turn to.” Did anyone else find his tone a little disingenuous? I found myself wondering who exactly was seducing/using whom. Bo leans in to comfort him, and then again looks slightly confused and disoriented, murmuring, “What is it about you?” She’s puzzled by her own attraction. What’s crystal clear is that when she realizes he is Dyson’s son, she looks appalled, is too ashamed to admit what happened to Dyson, and later tells Tamsin she feels awful about it. I see no indication whatsoever that she is interested in repeating the experience.
As for Bo’s kisses with Tamsin, these are feeds – at least in Bo’s mind – done solely for healing purposes. It’s unclear what Tamsin is up to – sometimes she seems to be in love, at other times, she seems to be positioning herself as Bo’s go-to feed for reasons that remain unclear. In any case, Lauren takes it all in stride, with grace and good humor — “Oh my God! So much blood…and kissing!” In the end, it is Lauren’s science, not Tamsin’s feeds, that saves the day. “I’m lucky you came by,” Bo says to Lauren with that look of love in her eyes, to which Lauren replies with wry self-assurance, “It’s my professional opinion you’ve always benefitted from human touch.” It’s a tender and highly charged moment that Tamsin simply can’t leave alone – much to Bo’s annoyance. Throughout the episode, Lauren is depicted not as the wronged victim but as a strong, confident leader among friends.
So is Bo ruled solely by her sexual appetites in this episode? Screwing whomever she wants whenever she wants, with no regard for who gets hurt, exploited, or abused in the process? I just didn’t see it.
As a final comment, there is a wonderful exchange between Bo and Tamsin after they catch up to Mark. They disagree about interrogation tactics, Bo suggesting that Tamsin needs to “take it down a notch.” Tamsin pulls her aside for a “positive conversation”:
BO: Well, I HEAR you, but sometimes I wish you’d try a different approach…
TAMSIN: Well, I hear YOU, but I have been doing this a very long time and sometimes I’d appreciate your patience.
I’m willing to give the Lost Girl team the benefit of the doubt, forgive the flaws, and show some patience as this final season unfolds. I have faith in Anna Silk that it will happen just as she foretold, and remain optimistic that everything will turn out as it should.