Between the lines

2 Apr

One fandom activity I don’t like seeing and don’t enjoy doing is nit-picking plot holes. All fictional works have them, but some people relish the idea of pointing them out and castigating the writers of the fictional work. They relish complaining. Television is especially vulnerable to this because of tight writing schedules and multiple authors.

I hate nit-picking because I don’t like plot holes, they ruin my enjoyment of a book/show/film considerably, and I’d just as soon spackle over them and move on rather than grouse for fun and profit. Back in the hey-day of the ATPo board, we used to spend a portion of our time “spackling” BtVS and AtS plot holes using show canon or well-accepted fanon. We’d pack the hole with speculation, likely or unlikely, and end the post with “spackle, spackle” as a tongue-in-cheek wink to other posters (especially if our hole-filler was a stretch).

I suppose most plothole-filling in fandom occurs in spackle!fic rather than “meta.” And probably more convincingly as well, since fiction is a more visceral medium for making a case.

Regardless of how it’s done, spackling can work surprisingly well for the fan willing to put in the ThinksTooMuch time, because ofttimes the apparently dangling plot point was, in fact, established by the writers, just weakly, or in ways that were obvious to them but not to the viewers.

I am thinking of this today because one of the worst kind of plot holes there is is weakly-developed motivation in a character-driven story.


Last night, we finally got the back story that is supposed to explain why Regina hates Snow White. I found it a bit unconvincing. The villain of the piece, after all, was obviously not the naive young princess, but Regina’s scheming mother. It is Mom who puts Snow on the run-away horse so Regina can rescue her and bond with Snow, and so the King can be all impressed and propose to Regina. It is Mom who manipulates Snow into revealing Regina’s secret love. And it is Mom who killed aforementioned secret love. We know this. Regina KNOWS this.

So we are left wondering why Regina hates Snow. Why she blames her instead of Mom. She seems to magically transform into the power-hungry harpy we know today in the space of a moment, which is inconsistent with the good-hearted young woman established earlier in the episode.

What’s missing from the textual exposition is the deeper psychology of Regina, that hidden layer we all carry around with us we barely acknowledge but that exerts a powerful influence on us nevertheless.

What probably didn’t escape the viewers was that Regina’s mom is an awful lot like present-day Regina. And I think what we’re suppose to infer here is that Regina has spent most of her life, including her formative childhood years, playing spectator to the way her mother copes with her problems and achieves her goals. Mom probably had a heartbreak early in life herself, and dealt with the devastating emotional loss by pretending those feelings never existed, and by deciding that love, in general, is a sham. Furthermore, if this loss of love happened due to something somebody else did deliberately, as it did with Regina, that person took her power. It is human nature to want to regain that sense of having control over your own life.

So Regina copes with tragedy by emulating the coping skills she has watched since childhood, soothing her emotional loss and pain by pretending it doesn’t exist, and deciding to never let anyone take her power again. But of course, she is now in a loveless marriage, and she is specifically there to be a mother to a little girl she barely knows. Resentment of Snow would be natural.

Does any of this excuse her actions? Not really. It makes them rather pathetic, actually. But comprehensible.

The Morgana we see at the end of Season 4 of Merlin is barely recognizable as the Morgana established in season 1 as a good-hearted person concerned with the needs and feelings of others. But apparently, there just isn’t enough screen time in 52 one-hour episodes to completely explain the Bad Guy. So they just glossed over that part with “Has Daddy-won’t-acknowledge-my-paternity issues” and “I’ll cope by emulating that ruthless, close-minded bastard!” We have to cobble the rest together based on what the writers do show us and a little inference. Actually, a lot of inference.

Morgana is established early on as a person of magic who does not realize this yet. And the one individual who does realize it, Gaius, knows it is not his place to tell her she has abilities that will likely get her killed at the hands of her guardian. That’s just the reality of the power imbalance between someone of Morgana’s class and someone of Gaius’, as Gaius is constantly reminding Merlin. So Gaius deliberately keeps it from her, and prays she’ll never find out. That makes sense in a pathetic kind of way. But when does “let’s just not tell her about this Power bubbling up inside her” actually work?

So Morgana is isolated early on from the kind of support Merlin got. Merlin tries to help her by sending her to the Druids, but the Druids can’t be Morgana’s support group for the same reason Gaius can’t. A woman raised in palaces, surrounded by all the social expectations that implies, would have to change who she is fundamentally to leave that all behind and become a social outlaw living in a tent in the woods. And it’s naive to pretend that that’s somehow a simple choice. So naturally, when Morgana is approached by Morgause–a magic-doer of her own social class and a family member that accepts her for what she is–that is the preferable alternative. Which gives Morgause plenty of opportunity to train Morgana in the way she sees magic and its uses.

Morgause is a noblewoman, accustomed to power and influence. And in Morgause’s eyes, magic is Power. You use it as a means to an end. Your own ends. Nothing strange about that attitude.

But that attitude towards magic, we have been told Over and Over and oh, for example Over again on the show, will corrupt you. How many times have we seen magic-doers of the week using magic for something other than helping poorbabybunnyotherpeople, and seen it turn those magic-doers into EvilDoers? It’s like magic is the Methadone of the Merlinverse. Addictive shit that will twist your soul out of shape if you use it Wrong.

And apparently, the Right way to use it is to only use magic to help others when it is Absolutely Necessary to do so. That is what is what has been keeping Merlin on the straight and narrow all these years.

There’s one more element to the story of why Morgana is the way she is, though, that’s less than obvious. I am slowly becoming convinced that both Morgana and Merlin are puppets in a rather grandiose plot being orchestrated by the dragon Kilgarrah. Kilgarrah is always harping on about destiny–Merlin’s, Morgana’s, Arthur’s–but if destiny was such a done deal, he wouldn’t always need to spoon-feed Merlin advice and ExtraMagicWhammy.

It’s obvious Kilgarrah wants to make sure Albion happens and that Arthur is King of Albion and Merlin is his right-hand man. It’s also obvious that Kilgarrah worries this might not happen. Furthermore, we have seen time and time again that Kilgarrah acts in his own interests when it suits him. What’s less than obvious is that he is a manipulative SOB. He can get Merlin (or Gaius, or Lancelot) to do all sorts of things just by laying guilt trips on him, or flattering him with this Wonderful Destiny Merlin is supposed to have. Early on, Merlin could resist this if Kilgarrah’s advice conflicted with his conscience, but that has become less and less true as the seasons have progressed, so much so he calls the dragon that brutally slayed half of Camelot “old friend” in season four.

What does any of this have to do with Morgana? Well, let’s face it. Kilgarrah has hated her since day one, long before she actually did anything bad. Maybe he’s read prophecies about her badness, who knows? The show has never seen fit to show us (or Merlin) these prophecies.

Kilgarrah would just as soon see her dead. Why? Well, think about it. In the future that is to come where magic is accepted, it must also be controlled. Magic-doers will have to follow a lot of rules that won’t apply to ordinary people. If you were a powerful thousand-year old dragon who knows the ways of humankind all too well, would you want that future to happen without guaranteeing that those rules don’t apply to you? Kilgarrah wants to control the future by controlling the authors of the future, Arthur and Merlin.

And he wants to control the future by controlling any magic-doers who might actually have the Will and the Power to defeat him. Any magic-doer accustomed to using magic to suit their own purposes might see Kilgarrah as a threat and go after him. That’s the Will part. The Power part depends on the talents of the Magic-doer. For example, Kilgarrah must absolutely, positively, have a Dragonlord under his clawed thumb, especially a Dragonlord of Merlin’s abilities. Because Merlin as an adversary could defeat him in the blink of an eye, whereas Merlin as an ally would guarantee Kilgarrah’s power and influence in Albion.

Morgana, on the other hand, needs to be the Enemy, the face of magic-doers who might use magic for their own purposes, whether it corrupts them or not. As a noblewoman of privilege with daddy issues, she is a prime candidate to be twisted into this role. So regardless of whether Kilgarrah has seen prophecies that say Morgana is destined for evil, Kilgarrah’s going to tell Merlin that he has seen such prophecies, in order to set Merlin and Morgana against each other, and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then Kilgarrah aids and abets the social isolation of Morgana and feeds advice to Merlin at each turn in the road that makes Merlin act to isolate her further.

If Morgana dies in the process, well, there’s always another powerful sorcerer who could become the new Enemy. But if she doesn’t, she’ll do nicely.

What I am hoping to see in Season 5 (or later) is for Merlin to figure out what a bastard Kilgarrah actually is, and reach out to Morgana in some way. Alternatively, I hope Morgana’s interaction with Aithusa makes her realize she is being manipulated by the dragons (I am not convinced a months-old dragon is acting outside of Kilgarrah’s influence. He’d never allow it).

Because all the potential for Morgana to be something other than a power-hungry scheming “witch” is still inside her.

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8 Responses to “Between the lines”

  1. cactuswatcher April 3, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    …plot holes. All fictional works have them, but some people relish the idea of pointing them out and castigating the writers of the fictional work. They relish complaining.
    Aren’t those awful folks called ‘teachers?’ ;o)

  2. cactuswatcher April 3, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    …plot holes. All fictional works have them, but some people relish the idea of pointing them out and castigating the writers of the fictional work. They relish complaining.

    Aren’t those awful folks called ‘teachers?’ ;o)

  3. neshaffer April 3, 2012 at 2:11 am #

    Only in a school/student context. I’m thinking more of fan sites devoted to reviews, especially groups of fans who gang up and pick on an episode together.
    I have an example in mind, but thankfully, I’ve blocked the name of that fan site from my mind.
    ; )

  4. neshaffer April 3, 2012 at 2:11 am #

    Only in a school/student context. I’m thinking more of fan sites devoted to reviews, especially groups of fans who gang up and pick on an episode together.

    I have an example in mind, but thankfully, I’ve blocked the name of that fan site from my mind.

    ; )

  5. atpo_onm April 4, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    So we are left wondering why Regina hates Snow. Why she blames her instead of Mom. She seems to magically transform into the power-hungry harpy we know today in the space of a moment, which is inconsistent with the good-hearted young woman established earlier in the episode.
    (…)
    Mom probably had a heartbreak early in life herself, and dealt with the devastating emotional loss by pretending those feelings never existed, and by deciding that love, in general, is a sham.
    Entirely possible, or Regina’s mother is simply a sociopath. Regina may understand this intellectually, but just not be able to cope with it emotionally. So, she needs a scapegoat to distract her from such thoughts, and Snow is both handy and helpless.
    I had the same kind of “huh?” reaction that you did, but it was really easy to spackle over, either with my above explanation or one like yours. It will be interesting to see where they go with Regina over the long haul– I must admit that I really have no idea if they want to do the redemption route (my initial thoughts when the series started out) or if she’s intended to become an object lesson of the slippery slope.
    Or of course if everything’s just a political analogue. Ya never know.

  6. atpo_onm April 4, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    So we are left wondering why Regina hates Snow. Why she blames her instead of Mom. She seems to magically transform into the power-hungry harpy we know today in the space of a moment, which is inconsistent with the good-hearted young woman established earlier in the episode.

    (…)

    Mom probably had a heartbreak early in life herself, and dealt with the devastating emotional loss by pretending those feelings never existed, and by deciding that love, in general, is a sham.

    Entirely possible, or Regina’s mother is simply a sociopath. Regina may understand this intellectually, but just not be able to cope with it emotionally. So, she needs a scapegoat to distract her from such thoughts, and Snow is both handy and helpless.

    I had the same kind of “huh?” reaction that you did, but it was really easy to spackle over, either with my above explanation or one like yours. It will be interesting to see where they go with Regina over the long haul– I must admit that I really have no idea if they want to do the redemption route (my initial thoughts when the series started out) or if she’s intended to become an object lesson of the slippery slope.

    Or of course if everything’s just a political analogue. Ya never know.

  7. neshaffer April 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    A political analogue to whom? Wait, I don’t think I want to know.
    So far, Regina’s motivation seem to be the weakest part of what is otherwise an interesting and strong show. And since her motivations are what the entire scenario turns on, they need to give us more than we got in this episode.

  8. neshaffer April 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    A political analogue to whom? Wait, I don’t think I want to know.

    So far, Regina’s motivation seem to be the weakest part of what is otherwise an interesting and strong show. And since her motivations are what the entire scenario turns on, they need to give us more than we got in this episode.

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