Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fates Worse Than Death

So I've got Instant Netflix with which I have been watching a lot of Bollywood, and against my better judgment a TV show I missed during its first go-round, Warehouse 13. This is a show that has a literal warehouse of deus ex machina plot devices. And this luxury must beget a certain laziness, or maybe not.

What I found objectionable is an instance of a pattern I've seen repeated time and again in various Hollywood offerings. This is worse than the implausible villain, because it is more insidious.

First, let's recap the scenario. One of the Evil Conspiracy's minions has been captured by the Warehouse 13 people and she's tied to a chair. The boss lady of the Good Guys has a ticking time-bomb situation and she uses one of the plot devices to subject the minion to discomfort. Since waterboarding is the worst thing imaginable that one person can ever do to another (according to the New York Times), the minion is almost-waterboarded. And since The New Guy (or is that New Gay?) is an induhvidual of superior morality, he objects and pulls his pistol on his boss. An interminable interlude ensues during which the story stops and a colloquium on the ethics of prisoner interrogation. The minion has the sense to escape. (It's not as if the New Guy already has his gun out and could shoot her in the leg.) The minion reports back to Mr. Evil Conspiracy and after giving her report, a second minion injects her in the neck with some poison killing her.

I've complained before about minions having a lousy retirement plan, but I won't today.

Instead, I'll note the irony that the writer spared the minion the discomfort of waterboarding just to kill her off in the next scene. Hmm, I always thought "a fate worse than death" was something different from waterboarding. ("[The ape] threw her roughly across his broad, hairy shoulders, and leaped back into the trees, bearing Jane Porter away toward a fate a thousand times worse than death.")

Update: If the writer REALLY believe that torture is not only wrong morally, but yields no actionable intelligence (as the New Gay and the New York Times insist), why did the prisoner reveal a clue that led the Good Guys to the solution to the mystery. If you really believe waterboarding is wrong, have the prisoner yield misleading info that impedes the investigation.

That's a pattern I've seen in a lot of stories. Writers who dutifully pay the Hollywood Stupid Tax fail to apply their ideals to their stories. If you look at the 3rd reel in most movies, you'll see antagonist after antagonist subjected to capital punishment at the writer's hand for his/her crimes of the 1st and 2nd reel.

Why wasn't the villain tried and convicted under due process of law and then sent to some Scandinavian prison for rehabilitation? S/he can spend a term of incarceration doing pottery and counseling whereupon s/he can return as a valued member of society. Instead, the writer imposes his/her own vigilante justice with the hero reciting some pithy one-liner over the corpse.

The problem is that Hollywood lacks the courage of their convictions. If you really believe there is a particular way that evil should be dealt with and the criminal justice system should work in real life, why not depict it working that way in your stories? If Capital Punishment is wrong for the guy who murders a convenience store clerk, it's also wrong for your monocled super-villain.

Besides, good super-villains are hard to come by.

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