Archive for December, 2012

‘Tanking it’: 30 Rock, Northern Exposure and the Death Rattle of Episodic Television

Posted in criticism, television with tags , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2012 by drayfish

IMAGE: 30 Rock (NBC)

In this, the latest and confirmed to be last season of 30 Rock, the show’s extraordinary writers have once again found a way to self-reflexively speak to the experience of guiding the journey to its end.  Already aware going in that this will be their concluding chapter, they have decided to acknowledge a familiar, if disheartening truth about episodic television: that frequently it all ends as an embarrassing, turgid mess.  Far too often a program that was once a joy, perhaps compromised by the lust for ratings and longevity, overstays its welcome, becoming little more than an unrecognisable shadow of its former glory.  Thankfully 30 Rock itself is at no risk of fading away or tipping over into drivel, but rather – as it so frequently does in its rapid-fire wit and self-aware irony – is acknowledging and gleefully riffing on this sad truism.

Loosely inspired by creator/show-runner/actor Tina Fey’s several years experience on Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock was born out of television production, and has remained acutely aware of its medium’s minutia – both on and behind the screen.  It is informed at every level by a love of narrative tropes and genre convention, and with a surety that appears deceptively effortless, it mirrors these textual paradigms back in order to celebrate, malign or subvert them at any given moment.

And this latest season continues this ingenuity, once again masterfully weaving the expectations of the show, its creators, and the audience itself into the very fabric of its fiction.  The central conceit of these recent episodes, established in the season opener, revolves around the primary characters, NBC executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and show-runner/writer Liz Lemon (Fey), who have desperately strived for the previous six years to keep the program they produce, TGS with Tracy Jordan, on the air, now knowingly trying to destroy their own creation, and by extension, bring down NBC itself in the implosion.  The show, they realise, is now a millstone around their neck, and in order to be free they must destroy it, or it will destroy them.

The term they use is ‘tanking it’ – which essentially means throwing the game; intentionally doing badly so that you can be freed from the obligation of doing a job that you either despise or recognise is impossible.  Liz attempts to ‘tank’ her obligations as a bridesmaid, throwing a wearyingly sad hens night with elderly neighbours and a dreary clown; Jack knowingly fills NBC’s broadcast schedule with unwatchable garbage (at one point hilariously illustrated in a non sequitur commercial for one of Donaghy’s new guaranteed programming failures: a collection of old men in tank tops wandering around confused, actually entitled ‘Tank It’).

In both cases, both Jack and Liz reason that the burden of success is too high – too much responsibility, too much effort; a wearying, endless struggle that will only be met with complaint and criticism anyway – so they decide to blow it all off.  They realise that the expectation they are facing – from viewers, from executives, from the staff itself – is impossibly high, so they decide to do the inevitable: own the screw up, bring the whole production down on their own terms.  The meta-analogy being drawn to 30 Rock’s own circumstance is pointed: having announced that this will be their final, truncated year (13 episodes rather than the usual order of 22), expectation is high to see if 30 Rock, back-to-back three time winner of the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy (2007-9), can do what so many other shows have failed to, and deliver material worthy of its critical (if mystifyingly not always ratings) success in its concluding run.

And with this notion of ‘Tanking it’, 30 Rock’s writers appear to be comically acknowledging that this upcoming season will present an almost impossible directive for them to fulfil.  Hopes are high and their record is stellar; so they inevitably face the most unnerving television reality: that a satisfying finale is more the exception than the rule; that a show’s final season, perhaps crippled with expectation or too far removed from its original premise, often proves to be barely a shadow of its former glory.

Indeed, it is a pattern that has sadly repeated again and again, from anarchic sitcoms to sombre dramas; from sweeping sci-fi epics to the character portraiture of primetime soap opera.

To use but a few examples, in its final, ninth season, Scrubs went from playfully snarky nonsense to become an uncomfortably mean-spirited, sullen affair, that made the fatal flaw of mistaking narcissism, aggression and incompetence for character quirkiness.  Many of the most beloved characters were moved on to be replaced with a fresh young brood of hotlings, and old recurring gags (that had probably outstayed their welcome) like JD and Turk’s bromance were awkwardly slammed up against attempts to fashion new running shtick that had little time to get traction.

Meanwhile, in its final year (weirdly also a season nine), Rosanne utterly disembowelled itself, forgoing the central premise of the entire program: a working class family getting by in a recognisable world, for nonsense indulgence: they win the lottery and go all Beverly Hillbillies on everyone.  In no time Rosanne was having Steven Segal-inspired action movie fight sequences with terrorists on a train; Rosanne’s sister Jackie was falling in love with a Moldavian prince; Dan’s mother was trying to murder her son (weirdly played for laughs); and the entire run of the show was revealed in its final moments to be a reworked fiction of the central character’s own life – thus everything that the viewer had been invested in for the past almost-decade was fabrication, a novel written by Rosanne herself that obscured some uglier truths.

In truth it was an audacious final move to make, but rather alienating and self-destructive for a show that, until that final season, celebrated ‘realities’ not usually shown in a sitcom genre – or in some cases on television in general: domestic abuse; eating disorders; divorce; death and loss.  To be told that this repository-of-life’s-harsher-truths-made-palatable-by-humour was in fact all just an elongated  fantasy concocted by the titular character may have been a nice self-reflexive nod to Rosanne Barr’s purpose in devising the show, but it left the audience’s suspension of belief and investment in the fiction irreparably damaged in its wake.

Even in other more procedural, dramatic programs this loss of identity can erode the fabric of the show, ultimately undermining its premise, as the final season of The X-Files revealed (a series that also ended on season nine – perhaps the real lesson here is that people just shouldn’t make ninth seasons of anything… maybe that should be a rule or something).

Bafflingly, The X-Files made the fundamental misstep of presuming that it was not in fact the collision of believing Mulder and sceptic Scully – faith and mind embodied in a symbiotic duo – that was at the heart of the show, but rather the monster-of the-week premise.  In place of the two central leads – David Duchovny’s Mulder left into the nether-sphere of non-recurring peripheral characters in season eight (which totally made sense considering he had fought tirelessly and sacrificed his career to open the X-Files and keep them running), and Gillian Anderson’s Scully was benched to become the Yoda for their two replacements – the show was handed over to new agents, the T-1000 (I’m being flip, but Robert Patrick is great) and new-agey faithful Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), who from that point onward did the majority of the fieldwork.  With the paradigm flipped and less compelling protagonists pushed to the fore, the show swiftly slumped and was retired, ending on a muddled clip show that fleetingly returned Mulder to try and iron out the almost decade-long Mobius strip conspiracy narrative that some viewers had barely tolerated anyway.  The truth may have still been out there, but at that point few people cared to look for it.

But for me (and I know all of my examples thus far have dated me horribly, and that this will only add to it), the best example I can think of is one of my favourite programs ever, a show that at its best was a beacon for all that the medium of episodic television was capable of producing, and at its worst was a sign of the blind, production-line mentality of serialised narrative: Northern Exposure.

If you didn’t see it, Northern Exposure was a beautiful, deceptively unassuming show about a New York doctor who is contractually obligated to work, against his will, in rural Alaska to pay off his tuition.  Superficially it was a fish out of water story with a cast of lovable eccentrics, but in actuality – at its best – it was a wondrously multifaceted text, effortlessly blending philosophy, literature, social science, absurdity, snappy dialogue, and unapologetic sweetness, all into a warm, affectionate weekly package.  I would happily posit that its third season may be one of the finest twenty four hours of any film fiction ever produced.*

However –

Its final season is abominable.  No excuses.  No take-backsies.  It’s just bad.  For me, every decision they made in that season was dead wrong.  Perhaps it was in good part a tonal shift due to the primary show-runner and producer leaving (although it was still being stewarded by David Chase – a guy who knows a thing or two about great television thank-you-very-much-TheSopranos), but the show itself turned peculiarly unpleasant.  Not just of-lesser-quality, but disagreeable – genuinely unlikable.  Beloved characters became selfish and unappealing; new tedious characters were introduced with maudlin problems that had no place in that world; the central character of the series, Joel Fleishman (Rob Morrow), was written out of the show in a faux-mysticfarewell half way through the season.  He literally went on a metaphysical quest and disappeared into a netherworld vision of New York that was left intentionally – almost aggressively – nonspecific.  (…I wish to the Mighty Thor that I was making that up.)

In short, the final season (season six, not nine for once) gave its best shot at undoing everything that made the first five seasons grand.  The romance percolating throughout the years was revealed to go nowhere; the principle character, whose integration into the community was the driving force of the show’s mission statement, was lost in the vapours of who-the-hell-knows-what; and most criminally of all, the town of Cicely Alaska suddenly seemed far less magical.  And the peculiar thing was that many of these episodes were still being written by the regular series writers – people who had proved their skills repeatedly – it seemed they had simply lost their way.

Lest I be accused of having a myopic vision of the early years, I should point out that even in the great seasons (the years still produced by the original show-runners), there were flaws.  Indeed, there’s an episode in the second season, ‘War and Peace’, that infuriates me, that (like the final season), I actively have to obliterate from my head-canon of the show.  It is an episode that tries to be so postmodern and self-aware that it utterly fractures the viewer’s suspension of disbelief and the fiction collapses in on itself.  In the narrative, in a microcosm of the cold war and its chest-thumping escalation theatrics, belligerent American capitalist Maurice becomes involved in a pistol duel with stubborn soviet Russian Nikolai – but at the point of calling ‘Draw!’, the characters step out of the scenario entirely.  Members of the onlooking crowd speak of themselves as fictional beings within a television narrative act-structure; they reference the nonsense mechanics of the tropes that they are impossibly locked within; and then ultimately abandon the conclusion, actively un-resolving their way out of an arbitrary conflict.**  …Bah!  I hate it!  It burns!

(…And yes, I do appreciate the seeming contradiction in chastising Northern for leaving a crack in the fourth wall when a show such as 30 Rock busts through it like the Kool-Aid Jug in every second line – but 30 Rock has always embraced its plasticine ‘reality’, while in every other episode Northern went to great pains to carve out a cohesive, ordered world that the viewer could invest in, and which in this moment is irreparably abandoned.)

In spite of the many flaws that mar Northern Exposure, however, my abiding love for the show remains nonetheless.  Despite entirely derailing itself in its farewell year – like so many shows before it and since – I will defend to the death (not really; I am an abject coward and ‘death’ is pretty harsh) the worth and artistic merit of that show.  When it shines brightest it is truly glorious to behold, and looked at from the right angle you can barely see the dints.

I’ve not seen the end of 30 Rock (currently scheduled to screen January 31st, 2013) – no one has yet, save perhaps the makers themselves – but I feel fairly certain that the concerns that have plagued innumerable other programs (whether knowingly or not) at this final point of their life cycle need not be applied here.  As they have already proved repeatedly in the past, the ingenious writers, producers and performers of this sparklingly witty show are all presciently aware of the pitfalls and challenges they face heading into this concluding phase of their narrative; and thankfully, as always, have proved themselves adroit critics of their own creative act, playfully mocking themselves before they ever actually risk becoming the butt of the joke.

northernexposure1583

IMAGE: Northern Exposure (CBS)

*A season that culminated in the Peabody Award winning ‘Cicely’ – one of two such awards the show received along with its smattering of Emmys.

** You can watch the scene in all its metafictional fourth wall breakingafication here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uu6_BtlJ7yc

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Recipes and Greetings for the Holidays!

Posted in stupidity, video games with tags , , , , , on December 21, 2012 by drayfish

IMAGE: Final Fantasy VII (Square Enix)
Method
  1. Heat olive oil in a large casserole dish with a medium to high heat.  Add meat and cook until almost browned.  Add celery, onion, and carrot and cook over a low heat for 5 to 10 minutes.  When the onion has softened add garlic and mushrooms.  Cook for a further minute.
  2. Add tomatoes, vinegar, sugar and stock. Add herbs as the mixture comes to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. In the last ten minutes or so add olives and stir through.
  3. Transfer meat onto a platter.  Raise the heat under the pan to reduce the sauce for 5 minutes.
  4. Plate and garnish with the parsley.
  5. Hold R1, R2, L1 and L2 at the same time to release secret sauce.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

To Create Holiday Greeting: please print out the message below, cut along the perforation and circle the options where appropriate.

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Wishing you a very Happy/Merry/Jolly/Peaceful/Boarded up behind zombie-proof baricades time over the Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa/Holiday/Mayan end of days period to You/You and your loved ones/Everyone except you/No-one.

Sincerely/Insincerely,

drayfish

Medal of Honor: Post Titler

Posted in criticism, video games with tags , , , , , , on December 14, 2012 by drayfish

IMAGE: Medal of Honor: Warfighter (EA)

Medal of Honor: Warfighter has received quite a lot of flak for being repetitive, uninspired, short, and buggy to the point of unplayablility at launch without a hefty patch. It’s been mocked for its almost fetishistic obsession with the breaching of doors – despite how inconsequentially aesthetic this mechanic is – and for the creepy little soul-stealing she-demon NPC daughter character that haunts the uncanny valley of those computer animated cutscenes.

But what struck me – having scarcely seen the game in action – what I think it really deserves to be called out for, is that name:

Warfighter.

Was that meant to be a joke? War. Fighter. I imagine the writer’s room for that decision:

‘So we need to brainstorm some titles… We’ve got the Medal of Honor part. That’s in the can. But what about the subtitle? Anyone got anything? Come on, let’s think outside the box. Yes? You. Tom.’

‘Well, in the game you’re fighting…’

‘Good. Good work, Tom. I like it. Fighting. Lots of fighting. Follow that thought through…’

‘And you’re in a war.

‘Great point also, Gerry. You are. You’re in a war.

‘And you’re fighting…

‘Yep. I heard you before, Tom. See? I already wrote it on the whiteboard.’

Medal of Honor: Stare Into the Abyss and the Abyss Stares Back at You.’

(* sound of a throat being cleared *)

‘…Glenn, what did I tell you about that stuff? Now, go for a walk while the rest of us sort this out.’

I mean, to end on Warfighter – the most a trite collision of immediate, obligatory noun and verb that one could possibly apply – does that mean we now have sequels like Medal of Honor: Gunshooter, and Medal of Honor: Soldierbattling to come? Each one more superfluous and hackneyed than the one preceding?

Indeed, it reminds me of a joke in 30 Rock, where Liz Lemon, hounded by the fear that writers are a relic of the past – an occupation no longer necessary in a world that glorifies ‘unscripted’ reality television and mindless special effect pyrotechnics – stumbles across a poster for an upcoming film that reads:

Transformers 5: Planet of the Earth.

Written by No One.*

She sees a placeholder name – words without context or meaning. A vague gesture toward sense that leaves the goalposts so wide anything could fall within its purview.

But there really is no excuse for such vagary. When you look at the titles of texts that have endured, there is rarely such artless phoning-in of the titles. Even in the world of videogames, where franchises are (most often very wrongly) accused of being thoughtlessly cranked out, there is frequently great consideration placed in the names with which these experiences are published.

In Assassin’s Creed you get that lovely collision of the antisocial and dangerous ‘Assassin’, with the notion of order and adherence to stricture in ‘Creed’ – a thematic conflict that plays out in every level of the text, from the battle between the Assassins and Templars, to the player’s own experimentation and exploration within the mechanics of the game/animus. Further to that, subtitles like ‘Brotherhood’ and ‘Revelations’ allude to shake ups in the formula (albeit minor in ‘Revelations’), proving a good deal of depth in their meaning.

Grand Theft Auto is another ingenious descriptor. Despite each iteration of the game shifting beyond the narrow parameters of this one criminal act, the title nonetheless captures that sense of social abandon built into every level of the experience: you can steal a freedom of transport. It’s subversive; it’s reckless; it’s about escape and escapism – an antisocial defiance through which culture and civic order will be examined.

The Uncharted series, Mass Effect , Gears of War, Deus Ex – hell, I would say even Skylanders – every one of these franchises seems to have put thought into their titles than Medal of Honor has this time around. Each uses their name to reflect some fundamental element of the experience that the game is hoping to evoke, whether it be exploration; consequence; the gritty grunt work of battle; the collision of man, fate, and machine; or, uh… living on a land …um… in the sky. …Or something.

And yet: Warfighter.

Where you play the muddled, buggy experience of fighting wars.

Having already whinged about this lack of creativity elsewhere**, I was informed (to my complete astonishment) that ‘Warfighter’ (although not recognised by my Word program) is in fact a real term that the US Department of Defence (DOD) use to describe military service personnel.  Although in my (extremely pathetic) defense, the term is apparently used by the DOD precisely because it is the most generic, all-inclusive, nonspecific, gender-neutral title that can be applied. It is designed to reference everyone in a blanket definition, rather than single out any specific operative or experience.

So maybe I’m being unkind. Maybe that was the point of Medal of Honor: Warfighter: to let the player know, right before the load screen had even flashed into view, that this was just another generic shooter. There will be levels with heat blasted sand. There will be turrets. There will be obligatory vehicle sections. Stuff will blow up every thirty seconds or so. There will be ham-fisted nods to current political unrest, and rote acknowledgement of the real life sacrifice of actual soldiers sandwiched between staccato onslaughts of headshots and kill streaks. There will be bad guys menacing innocents in ways that make it easy for you to gun them down without qualm. A squad mate or two will die a tediously scripted death so that you feeeeeeeeel something, damnit! War is hell…  But not really, because we’ve got nothing new to say about it.

The makers of the game seem to have embraced the broad meaning of the word, but not bothered to subvert it with genuine individuality – which is a shame, since it sounds like there was room there to explore something new within such a wide purview.

Medal of Honor: Warfighter.

The name feels redundant, because you’ve played it all already, a hundred times before.

IMAGE: 30 Rock (NBC)

*  From the episode ‘Plan B’ from series five.  Tracy is on the run, so everyone starts considering what their back-up occupation will be – and Liz realises she doesn’t have one.  (It also has a pretty hilarious hallway walk-and-talk with Aaron Sorkin.)

** http://whatculture.com/gaming/medal-of-honor-warfighter-whats-in-a-name.php

Marauder Shields: Fanning the Fiction

Posted in comics, literature, video games with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2012 by drayfish

IMAGE: Marauder Shields by Koobismo

Fan fiction has long had a rather turgid reputation.  For many people, the first images that spring to mind when hearing the word ‘fanfic’ are probably sappy fantasies of Mulder and Scully moving to Miami and having babies; weird psycho-sexual encounters between Harry Potter characters; or stilted, universe-collapsing crossovers titled BattlestarWarsTrekGate* – but in truth the history of fan-made art is a far more complex and fruitful than one might at first presume.  Indeed sometimes, as is arguably the case in the extraordinary Marauder Shield’s series – an alternate fiction designed to retroactively contextualise the controversial ending of Mass Effect, it can be seen as a way of rescuing the original franchise from itself.

Fan fictions have long been a way for those most enamoured with a text to try to engage directly with the work, to project their own identity into the material through the most overt possible act of homage – carving out their own imaginative space within a universe they admire.  But there are many other reasons for undertaking this form of intellectual reappropriation – not all of them merely an attempt to exist within a beloved imaginative landscape – and there are many surprising works of fiction that can emerge from the pursuit.

One can see this diversity of intent by just looking at a few of the most immediate examples that spring to mind.  Aspiring screenwriters looking for work have long been encouraged to develop speculative scripts for established programs that they can then go on to use as evidence for their skill when applying for work – an act that is technically a form of fanfic.  Indeed, Donald Glover of Community fame has an unproduced Simpsons episode going idle that I am going to arrogantly speculate would be funnier than anything the show itself has delivered in the past ten years.**  Secondly, the current publishing sensation E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey,reportedly began writing her novel as a form of Twilight fan fiction (although I cannot begin to express the wellspring of loathing I have for both franchises…)  Indeed, even the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire, a subversive take on The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch, or Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean, an officially endorsed continuation of J.M. Barrie’s tale, are both technically forms of fan fiction.***

And then there are those works of unsanctioned fan fiction that can be seen to transcend the term, that capture (or even eclipse) the original work so effortlessly that they become, for many fans, the abiding canonical experience.  For some fans (full disclosure: myself included), one of the only good things to have emerged from the whole debacle surrounding the conclusion to Mass Effect 3 earlier this year has been the emergence of an ‘alternate ending’, created by a fan named Koobismo, called Marauder Shields.****

For those unaware, the character of ‘Marauder Shields’ was a meme that surfaced as the disappointment over the Mass Effect ending was at its earliest and hottest stage – indeed, I had already heard of ‘Marauder Shields’ by internet osmosis well before I had any idea what to expect by the actual details of the ending.

To briefly summarise: at the original conclusion of Mass Effect 3, the designers of the game had chosen to conclude their narrative in a dialogue scene with a character called the ‘Catalyst’ – the mouthpiece of the genocidal enemy the central character, Shepard, had been trying to stop all along.  This Catalyst forces Shepard (and by extension the player) to chose one of three vulgar options with which they must end their journey: they must either commit an act of genocide; genetically mutate every living being against their will; or brainwash the enemy in order to themself become the new totalitarian overlord of the galaxy.  It was an alarmingly nihilistic ending, in which a war crime was the price of victory – and to many fans seemed in stark opposition to the inclusive, hopeful message that the series had until that very point, championed.

On March 14th (only a week after the game was released), a player on a message board 4chan noted that because this Catalyst conversation effectively overtook the end of the game in an elaborate depressing cut-scene, this therefore meant that the ‘final boss’ the player encountered was a lowly Marauder (a stock-standard enemy type that recurs constantly throughout the game; his last name, ‘Shields’, came from the graphic above his head that showed, literally, his shields).  In fact, it was soon posited, this Marauder had tried to ‘kill’ the player to save them from seeing that awful ending.  He was, in the greater scheme of things, a misunderstood hero, and if only the player had listened to him and just died, they would have been spared a greater pain…

Koobismo, creator and still guiding hand of the Marauder Shields comic, took this notion of the ‘final boss’ and used the character to make a satirical screw you to the end of the game, actually showing Marauder Shields to be a more complex, introspective and soulful figure, intent on righting the wrongs of a narrative conceit gone haywire.  It was highly comedic, but in truth had nowhere to go once the mighty Marauder blew the Catalyst away, spitting out his resignation like a synthetic Dirty Harry.

Since those first few snarky strips, however, the work has grown and evolved into a full-fleshed and compelling narrative, a genuine and passionate alternate world in which the fiction of Mass Effect continues on, not derailed by the artless deus ex machina and arbitrary moral surrender of the original.  In contrast, the work has rather become emboldened by the act of declaring a loud narrative and thematic ‘No’ to such nihilistic compromise.

The battle in which the characters and player were engaged at the end of Mass Effect 3 still rages on, and ironically, while the player avatar Shepard still functions as the nucleus around which the depicted characters spin, he/she is not directly visualised in the comic – only referred to as another hostage of the drama playing out for his/her sake.  Some characters, who in the original text abandoned their commander, remain fighting by his/her side; others who were offered arbitrary deaths in the final moments of the game, live on to fight tenaciously; perhaps even more extraordinarily, major plot points (like: Why are the Reaper’s even focused on London?, What were the other strike teams doing?, What was the Illusive Man up to anyway?) are offered answers that were ignored, glossed over, or never intended to be justified, in the original.

But above all of this continuation of the story, what Koobismo’s rich, self-aware alternate universe truly offers is the rescue and resurrection of the primary theme that Mass Effect had, until its ending, always abided by, and which it unceremoniously sacrificed (both figuratively and literally) in its endgame.  As Koobismo so perfectly articulates in a written response to the additional paid ‘Leviathan’ DLC: Marauder Shields was an attempt to recapture what had been lost in that ending, what had repugnantly twisted a universe that was so beloved into a shade of its former beauty…

Because, of course…

Of course it had to be…

That emotion that has driven every narrative that has ever meant anything to we precocious little creatures of flesh; that sensation that has ever given breath to our silly, but surprisingly resilient beliefs.  That fire that has burned within us since we first stared out into the immensity of an existence that seemed to vast to comprehend all at once – a universe that we have ever since tried to compartmentalise with myth and legend and fiction…

Obviously it was always going to be hope.

As Koobismo states in that statement of poetics:

One could argue that the solutions presented by the [Catalyst] grant you some kind of hope… And one would be wrong.  The very philosophical themes of the ending indicate that nothing matters, neither in the past (all choices become invalidated), nor the future (everything can be invalidated once again, by another godlike creature with an even stupider plan – these are the new rules of the narrative).  Your hopes, presented to you over the course of the narrative, were false – this is why it stings so much to return to the previous games, this is why replayability gets murdered by this finale.  Let me emphasize this… The crucial emotion of Mass Effect was HOPE.  Believing in a positive outcome fueled by your efforts and sacrifices, which is invalidated retroactively.  You can hide away the “it’s about the journey” asspull – how can you take the same journey again, how can you hope again, if you know that it’s just a lie?****

And for many players (although it is fair to say not all), Koobismo is perfectly, heartbreakingly right.  The seismic shock of that final repugnant end, being forced to rob the universe of the very freedoms that allowed it to yearn and dream, to fight to live not merely survive, ultimately devastated any capacity to return to that narrative, to engage again with the fraud that lies at its core.

For many, there is, at present, no more hope in the original text of Mass Effect 3 – only a love note to moral relativity.  For now, the only place that one can find that sensation again is in the realm of what began as fan-fiction, in Koobismo’s spectacular work Marauder Shields.  For it is here that the characters have not yet given up the fight; here that the audience and author have not abandoned the luminescent hope that always made this narrative grand.  Indeed, it is a belief so immense that it has now carved out a whole new universe, free from the contamination of the old, and the thematic betrayal that undermined the entirety of the journey.

Indeed, it explains why (and I am not ashamed to admit this), after the Extended Cut of Mass Effect 3 was released, I choked up to see the banner rallying-cry  with which Koobismo had signed that week’s release:

FUELLED BY NOTHING BUT FAN LOVE / MASS EFFECT LIVES ON

Damned right it does.

And for that, I cannot personally thank Marauder Shields enough.

Postscript:

In the past few weeks, a mod for the ending of the game Mass Effect 3 has been released by an ingenious and artful modder named MrFob.  Answering the call of many fans who were disheartened by the arbitrary sacrifice of the hero and the total moral surrender of the ending, MrFob tweaked the details of the conclusion to offer an alternate resolve.  The ending plays out much the same, subtracting only to forced genocide of an innocent race of allies and the surrender of the main character to the whim of his/her intolerant enemy’s nihilistic bargain.  Details of this ending, and links to video can be found here: http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/368/index/14795358/1#14795358

 

IMAGE: Marauder Shields by Koobismo

* I call copyright on BattlestarWarTrekGate.  Look for it in theatres never.

** Something he revealed in his appearance on the Nerdist podcast.

*** The Wall Street Journal has quite a nice summary of the history Fanfic that cites many more such examples: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303734204577464411825970488.html

**** Marauder Shields (http://koobismo.deviantart.com/gallery/#)

***** ‘The Leviathan and the death of Hope’ (http://koobismo.deviantart.com/#/d5d7f66)

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