Oren, Chris, and Mike rant and rave about romance stories in speculative fiction. They discuss the problems with one-offs, love at first sight, and characters written only as love interests. They gush about couples that are unconventional, and cringe over romances that are creepy or inappropriate.
Correction: Gentlemen Bastards is by Scott Lynch, not John Scalzi.Download Episode 26 Subscription Feed
Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to [email protected]
Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.
Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation
Lady of the Lake from Merlin
Mara Jade from the Stars Expanded Universe
The Truce at Bakura in the Stars Expanded Universe
Gentlemen Bastards Series by Scott Lynch
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Tara MaClay from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Kennedy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I Only Have Eyes for You, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Wash and Zoe from Firefly
Generously transcribed by Elizabeth. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts: Oren Ashkenazi, Mike Hernandez, and Chris Winkle.
Oren: And welcome again to the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Oren. I would be a terrible main character because my romance life has been very free of drama and been very stable for about seven years now; with me is:
Oren: And how was your romance this evening?
Chris: Very good. Excellent. As last evening and the evening before and the last 10 years, about.
Oren: We’re both terrible main characters. Also joining us is:
Oren: And you… romance, do you have a terrible romance, drama filled romance that can be an interesting main character for us?
Mike: Well, how about instead of me answering you, just overlay me with Latin music for this podcast.
Oren: Ooh. Now we’re getting somewhere. [laughter] Okay. So as you may have guessed this episode, we’re talking about romances in storytelling, specifically spec fic, but as we’ve shown, we will sometimes go into non-spec fic when we can’t think of spec fic examples for our stories. I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but in most stories, the romantic relationships are terrible and you would never actually want to be in one.
Chris: Yeah. It’s that whole dynamic I wrote about on the blog recently when, traditionally, a lot of the romance is… if we actually did that in real life that would be really abusive and unhealthy with a lot of the dynamics.
Oren: And since we’re talking specifically about best and worst romances today- I suppose I should’ve made that clear – this is a much more easy episode for us because we were just listing off our best.
Chris: Yeah. Who doesn’t have a rant ready about their favorite and least favorite romance?
Oren: Yeah. I certainly had one. Since I started off, I’m going to go first. My first worst romances are [vehement voice] all the one-off romances and television shows. [normal voice] I’m so tired of those. I mean, they’re not all bad, right? “Lessons” from TNG is a good one-off romance. But, as we’ll –
Chris: Can you describe that a little bit more?
Oren: Yes. “Lessons” is the episode where Picard has a thing with a science officer who unfortunately we’d never seen until now – if she’d been on the ship before, it would have been more interesting, [agreement from Chris and Mike] but they have an interesting relationship. The reason it works is because it shows us more about Picard. As the Star Trek critic SF Debris pointed out, when you’re having a one-off romance, the romance is not enough. It has to be more than that, because we generally are smart enough to know that the romance is not going to continue. We generally know that this character is never going to be there again.
Chris: Actually, in romance in general, the romance is not enough. Most romance novels, they have another plot going on, just because there’s only so much you can torture a relationship and have it still work as a romance. It just doesn’t inherently provide enough conflict, I think. And so I would say most romances have another…
Mike: Right. I think Oren was saying though, in this case, it wasn’t a tortured romance. It was a quite healthy relationship [Oren: Yes] if I remember. Yeah. It was an interesting episode, but if there hadn’t been that focus on delving deeper into Picard’s character than it wouldn’t have felt like an interesting episode.
Oren: Right. There are so many episodes of Star Trek (and other series, but Star Trek is the one I know the best) that have one-off romances that are just painful to sit through because you’re like, “You know this is never going to go anywhere.” It’s not showing us anything about the character. It’s just romance because that’s what they think we want to see.
Chris: Okay. I have to rant about my least favorite one-off romance. [encouragement from Oren and Mike] So, in the show Merlin –
Oren: Aagh! Merlin I’m escaping! [chuckles]
Chris: Yeah. Merlin, which I previously established, I have a love-hate relationship
Oren: It’s just hate-hate for me. [short laughter]
Chris: It’s five seasons and the main character is Merlin. And in all five seasons, he gets like one romance episode. They give Arthur lots of various girls and things, but Merlin has one episode and it is the worst one-off romance, and maybe that’s why they decided not to… Like, “You know what? We got to admit it. That was really bad.”
Oren: “We’re not going to do that again.” [laughter]
Chris: “Sorry, guys.” Of course it probably also has to do with the fact that the entire pillar holding up that show is the dynamic between Merlin and Arthur, which, technically it’s a bromance, but I mean, really…? Yeah. Anyway, so in this episode – I feel like a lot of storytellers are trying to recapture this idealism about this love at first sight thing. I’ve got to say, maybe in literature, when you can see into the character’s head a little bit better, it sometimes works or something, maybe, but I feel like that’s a big mistake in a lot of shows. And so it’s weird because he just sees this girl and then suddenly he’s obsessed with her and there’s no rhyme or reason – she didn’t do anything, they didn’t even talk to each other! She was just sort of there. And she was damseled, you know? So he has a reason to empathize with her, but the extent that he goes to not only free her, but take care of her…
And he’s been talking through the entire show about “his destiny,” his destiny is to protect Arthur. And then in this show, he’s spontaneously ready to just run off with her and she hasn’t done anything. She doesn’t have any interesting lines. She’s just a damsel. And she even asked him, “Why are you doing this?” It’s like, “Really, dude, this is weird. Why, why are you being a creep?”
You start to think that maybe there’s been a love spell, because in Merlin they have the same five plots that they just recycle throughout the entire series and one of those plots is the love spell plot, because you’re like, “Oh, clearly somebody put a love spell because that’s the only way to explain this sudden irrational behavior about this girl who hasn’t really done anything.” It’s very, very contrived and just poorly executed. I think, to be good for me, the good writing romances are the ones that have a lot of good buildup and that’s that buildup that makes a difference. And this is just like, nope. Suddenly he’s going after her.
Mike: This is the Adolescent Merlin Discovers Girls episode.
Chris: Well, they have other episodes, even prior to this one, where he notices girls – or where he doesn’t – but this is the only one where he actually literally has a romance. Also, she turns into a monster and starts killing people every once in a while.
Oren: As happens.
Chris: Naturally that doesn’t bother him either. No. This is actually, she’s actually the… Obviously they take the Arthur series and then seriously change things… So she’s actually – the Lady of the Lake is the character she’s supposed to represent, but in the original Arthurian legend the Lady of the Lake is basically someone that Merlin lusts after, and so she gets him to tell her all of his magical secrets because he wants her; and then after she learns them, she traps him in a tree. I think they should have done that. I think that would have been better than what they did. Yeah.
Mike: That actually feeds into my least favorites, which are the one-off relationships that romances that Xander has on Buffy.
Chris: It was actually funny after a while.
Mike: It does become funny and he starts… by the seventh season, he does himself comment on how of course every time he falls for a girl, she’s a monster or a vampire, or trying to use his blood for an evil ritual.
Chris: Yeah, by the seventh season, it’s just, you know…
Mike: But at the beginning, they try to play it straight, and so in the first few times it happens, it is just…
Chris: Insect lady.
Mike: Yes. Insect lady. Insect lady almost made me stop watching Buffy. Insect lady is why I ended up taking half a year off and then finally said,”Okay, I’m going to watch it, but I’m going to jump to season two and start there.”
Oren: That is not a bad choice, actually, just go right to Spike. That’s not a bad way.
Mike: Yeah. That’s, that’s how I recommend people watch it: if they haven’t seen it before, watch for the first couple of episodes. If you like it, keep going. If you don’t, jump to season two, watch it all the way through, and then you can take or leave the rest of season one later once you actually love the characters.
Oren: Fair enough. All right. Well, my next one. This is not a one-off, unfortunately; this is the romance between Keiko and O’Brien – and I promise not all of my picks are from Star Trek, but, Keiko and O’Brien from Deep Space Nine (and also TNG, but they were fine on TNG it’s really on Nine that things get bad). Okay. I can only imagine that this was the only way the writers knew how to write a married couple, because the entire relationship, basically you can sum it up as O’Bryan is the suffering husband and Keiko is nagging him all the time. That is all they ever do, except once in a while maybe they are okay, but most of the time it’s just Keiko being unhappy and being super passive aggressive at O’Brien about it.
Something that makes Keiko not a very interesting character is that she’s clearly miserable, but her solution to that is to make everybody else miserable instead of trying to do something about it. Even in the first episode, she’s complaining and is really upset about this new assignment, because she doesn’t want to be here. O’Brien’s like, “Well, how about I not take this new assignment?” She’s like, “No, you’ve got to take this new assignment.” He just offered not to do it! If you really were that upset, you should have said “Yes” and gone back to the Enterprise, or back to Earth, or wherever you want it to be.
Mike: They only become a happily married couple once she is no longer there; once they’re separated – not like we’re separated, but physically separated because they have assignments on different planets. Now they’re a happy married couple.
Oren: Even then when she comes back, occasionally it’s still back to the cliché bad romance thing.
Chris: Right. And he’s, he basically becomes, it’s like bachelor syndrome. It’s like, I just can’t take care of myself because I’m a guy. [general dumb noises] It’s like, “Oops, I killed her plant.”
Mike: To be fair, she has lots of exotic plants. She is a botanist. Many of them are probably very hard to care for.
Chris: I mean, no doubt. That’s true, but…
Mike: At the same time, it is definitely a sitcom.
Chris: Their choice of that as the plot driver…
Oren: Yeah. Over and over again, Keiko’s motivation is that she’s unhappy but is not motivated to do anything about it. First we have the thing where O’Brien offers to not take this assignment that Keiko was unhappy about. Then O’Brien figures out… Well, maybe it was… No. Okay. Keiko actually did take initiative to be the school teacher, which I really didn’t like, because being a school teacher is hard. It’s nothing that you can just do after having no teaching experience or anything; and then you have later when she’s really, really sad, and O’Brien has to go and find her a botany job on Bajor. She doesn’t take any initiative to try to solve her own problems. Then there’s that weird episode where we find out that she won’t let O’Brian eat his favorite food, even though it’s not like she has to make it. It’s just go to the replicator, push the button, and now here’s the food. No, apparently O’Brien doesn’t get to eat that food out of the replicator.
Mike: It’s unhealthy or something.
Oren: Yeah, I guess. It’s just like, why? That was so weird. It’s like the writers forgot that replicators were a thing for that moment and were like, “It’s because Keiko didn’t like to cook his favorite food,” but she doesn’t have to cook it. [laughter] Anyway. It’s the worst. I hate them. I wish that their, their… They’re not terrible characters separated, but there’s the worst romance of all… And it’s not the actress’s fault – Rosalind Chow as Keiko is doing what they’re telling her to do. It’s not like she’s a bad actress. She can do fine when they give her material.
Chris: It’s mostly like the writers just didn’t know how to depict a marriage –
Oren: Yeah, basically –
Chris: And so they just resorted to all of the stereotypes that they’d seen elsewhere.
Oren: And I think some of the writers are married. It’s not like these were all single guys.
Mike: It’s [that] they took all of the worst married couple stereotypes from Everyone Loves Raymond and Family Guy. Whenever those two had to share the screen together, then okay, it’s time to pull out all of our sitcom tropes about married couples.
Oren: Sometimes people make fun of Deep Space Nine for being a sitcom. Their relationship is the only time it was actually true. All right, Chris, hit us with one.
Chris: Well, do you want a bad one?
Chris: Okay. So, since we’re on Star Trek and talking about Deep Space Nine already, I’m going to say Bashir and Ezri. The problem with this, I feel like mainly is again, no buildup. They decide to start the romance when they’re not even on the station together. They start it when Ezri is off with Worf. They’re like, “Oh, Oh, drat. Okay. So we have this Ezri-Worf thing going, and she’s decided she’s in love with Bashir, so now we need to somehow show that Bashir’s in love with her.”
So, then they just go back to Quark’s [bar] and have Bashir sitting there and being like, [comically sad voice] “Oh, I’m really sad because Ezri’s not here.” This scene is just so forced, and they tried to make up for it by putting them back together and having this really awkwardly trying to get together… But at the same time, it’s like… [stutters] It’s very sudden, and it’s like, we kind of saw them sitting together occasionally, but they didn’t actually have the falling in love part. They just now declare that they’re in love.
Mike: I think, and this isn’t defending it – this is criticizing it as much as explaining it – but I think that kind of is consistent if you consider Bashir’s character from the first season when he’s in love with Jadzia Dax to the point of being a creeper.
Oren: Super creep.
Mike: Yeah, and he will not take no for an answer. That’s basically his character for that first season, is he’s a creeper. it’s like, “Hey, I know. Why don’t we bring back this obsession that he has with Dax?” [laughter]
Chris: Yeah. It’s like… Well, they had this one episode. I think it was early season seven, where Bashir is super sad and lonely. Then, they don’t actually hook him up with anybody by the end of the episode. It just ends with him. It’s like, yeah, he’s lonely. It’s like after doing that, now they have to hook him something up – hook him up with somebody – to make it feel resolved before the show ends, the series ends. It’s like, “Well, let’s see, we have only two female cast members available…” [laughter]
Oren: …And one of them is already in a relationship with Odo…
Chris: I was actually really hoping they would hook up Ezri with Jake. It seems strange, but in the first few episodes of season seven, they only have like a couple of scenes together, but at the same time, they have so much chemistry during the scenes that they have. The writers clearly didn’t intend it, but it was just there. I was just watching those early scenes. I was like, “I really hope they hook these two up. They actually have chemistry.” I think it really helps that Ezri’s kind of young, and Jake is young, and so it feels much more equal and balanced than the Ezri-Bashir pairing.
Mike: Well, Ezri-Bashir; there’s probably about as much age difference there is between Ezri and Jake, because Bashir is also very young for how successful he’s been in his career.
Oren: Part of it is that Ezri’s actress, whose name I can’t remember off the top of my head, looks much younger than she is. She looks like a small child when she is actually an adult woman. That’s part of why it seems creepy, because Bashir is clearly an adult man, and it looks like he’s dating a teenager.
Chris: Right, but also she just doesn’t act very mature.
Oren: Well, yes. That’s also true.
Chris: Yeah, she acts like somebody who was… she looks and acts like somebody who’s Jake’s age, and Jake by that time is…
Oren: He’s basically early twenties.
Chris: Yeah. Jake is definitely an adult by that time in the show. And so they seem like they are the same age.
Oren: Yeah. I hadn’t ever thought of that, but that’s an interesting idea. Definitely better than Bashir and Ezri, which came out of nowhere. Not quite as out of nowhere as Seven and Chakotay over on Voyager, but you know, just still definitely a problem.
Chris: I think if you go back and look at the first few episodes, actually look at those scenes, you’ll see what I’m talking about….
Oren: I probably would –
Chris: Their chemistry.
Oren: Mike, it’s your turn.
Mike: Okay. I would have to say, for [my] least favorite romance, is about 90% of all of the romances that authors have tried to write for Luke Skywalker in the extended universe. [laughter]
Oren: [laughing] Those are so funny.
Chris: I know nothing about this.
Mike: So a good number of them endi with the novel or comic story arc that they originated in, so by the same author The rest of them – the author clearly intended that yes, this will be Luke’s love interest – and then the next author to come along, that wrote something that happened to be either shortly after that last novel in the chronology or a while later would write in why that relationship that had been set up in that previous novelization failed so horribly. Generally it’s had to do with these women that Luke had an interest in dying in some way or sacrificing themselves or in one case becoming a Sith Lord.
Chris: [gleefully] Now Luke has a super dark backstory.
Mike: He has all of these, I wouldn’t even say fridging, because fridging is usually to move that character’s arc forward by sacrificing their girlfriends.
Chris: It’s mostly just to get rid of them.
Mike: This is just, no, we don’t want to write this character, so we’re killing her off, so that way we can write about these other characters that we actually care about.
Chris: Right. It’s like, “No, no, no. I want him to have my own love interests for the ‘Verse.”
Mike: The meta chronology of Luke Skywalker’s romance is back when Timothy Zahn kind of started the craze of writing Star Wars novels with the Hand of Thrawn trilogy. He created Mara Jade as someone that would eventually be Luke Skywalker’s romance. They weren’t really [in a romance] in the trilogy, but it was supposed to set it up as this is the person that Luke will eventually have a romance with, get married with, et cetera.
Oren: If you’re genre savvy, you can tell that they’re setting that up.They have that whole, “I hate you, but I also might like you” thing going on.
Mike: Her back story is she is a Hand of the Emperor. Her last assignment, before the emperor was killed, was to kill Luke Skywalker so he wouldn’t pose a threat to the Empire anymore. And because the Emperor uses both normal commands and also force influence, she has an imprint of that last order on her mind, driving her to hunt him down obsessively. This is 15 years, 20 years after the movies [when] it’s taking place. That’s the setup in this trilogy. She hates him. She wants to destroy him because he killed her master and it was her last task that she failed to do, so she obsesses over it. Then we have about 20 years of authors ignoring this setup and saying, “No, in this one novelization, I’m going to ignore that really good trilogy that set up this potential romance for down the road. I’m going to have this one character come in and be basically a damsel that Luke has to save and then falls in love with.”
All these authors try to do this, and finally, after years and years of this happening, Timothy Zahn comes back in. He writes the Thrawn Duology, and, as other readers have put it, he firmly puts his hand down and says, “No, I’m course correcting the Star Wars Expanded Universe because all of you authors have been ruining it. Not just in the romance department, but in a bunch of other things. This is the direction that we’re going.” He fixes a bunch of things. And in that, makes… Finishes that… Because this duology takes place fifteen to 20 years after the first trilogy that he wrote. He finishes all the character developments that he’d set going originally, course corrects all of the terrible novels that had – there’s some good novels in that time period too, but there was lot of terrible ones – course corrects all the terrible ones, and puts Luke and Mara actually firmly together in a romance so that people will stop trying to pair him up with a pretty damsel that then gets killed by the next author that is more interested in Luke dating his pretty damsel.
Oren: My favorite weird Luke Skywalker romance story is in the novel Truce at Bakura; Luke has a one-off romance and I don’t know if that was supposed to be continued or not, but he has a girlfriend for that novel. Then she’s never really mentioned again for a long time for a long time.
Mike: I think she’s one of the ones that is killed within this – it ends within the same novel.
Oren: I know it ends, but she’s not dead. I know why she’s not dead because in another novel, which is- I don’t remember what it was actually called, but it was the one where they go to Corellia, and they meet Han Solo’s evil twin cousin, who looks exactly like Han Solo, but is not actually his brother. That episode, they need some warships; they don’t have any because the republics are all busy or what have you, so Luke (who is in another weird relationship with a character we’ll never see again, but she’s not important) goes back to his old girlfriend from Bakura. He’s like, “Hey baby, I need to borrow some warships,” which is like, I mean, most people borrow some Ziploc bags or something or some closet space from their ex. No, Luke will borrow a Navy from his ex, which I thought was hilarious. I’ve got one that’s not Star Trek or Star Wars related. This one’s actually fantasy.
Mike: Is it Discworld?
Oren: It is not Discworld. There are no bad romances in Discworld. [laughter] There probably are, but, no, and this one is notable because the rest of the book series is very, very good and it actually has good romances in it, so I know that the writer, John Scalzi can write good romances. This is the romance between Locke Lamora and Sabetha Bellicose. This is a romance that was established very early -it’s a three book series, the Gentleman Bastard series – and John Scalzi established it early, but didn’t do it, didn’t go into details. It was like, Hey, we know these two characters had a romance, but we’re not gonna – I’m not going to go too into it. You’ll know it was there and it’s going to come up again later. He plants the seeds for it.
And so then we go through book one, which is pretty good. Book two, which is amazing; Red Seas Under Red Skies is maybe my favorite fantasy book or one of my favorite books that I’ve ever read; it is so good. And has a really great romance in it between one of the other main characters and a new woman who’s brought in for that book. Finally we get to book three and we finally get to meet Sabetha, this character who we’ve talked about for two books but have never met. We finally get to meet her, and she and Locke do their thing, and it is so boring. [laughter] Like – I mean, the third book is not as good as the second book.
Chris: Is there no chemistry, or…?
Oren: Yeah. Well, it’s… part of that is just that Sabetha is such a poorly realized character. Like, she doesn’t… As I was reading it, she felt like someone who existed purely to be a love interest for Locke Lamora. She doesn’t seem to have a character beyond teasing and frustrating him.
Chris: That’s basically Ginny’s problem too. In the Harry Potter series, she’s clearly invented just to be the love interest.
Oren: And like they talk about – for the previous two books, they’ve talked about how close Locke and she, and also their other friends, were part of this thieves group were like. They were family; they mattered the most to each other. They had had some kind of thing that had broken them apart and she’d gone off to do her own thing, but they were still super important to each other. They still cared.
But this book did not give me that feeling at all. As I was reading through it, Sabetha just didn’t seem to like any of the other characters. And it was just like, this is… I don’t see anything that shows me this deep relationship you promised. The relationship that exists between Locke and Sabetha basically can be summed up as ‘Locke would really like to have sex with Sabetha, and Sabetha would really like to lead him on for a while.’ And then eventually they have sex. That’s the romance.
Chris: So this is something that they talked about for a couple novels.
Chris: See, I know for some writers, it takes writing a character for a while to get the groove of the character. I mean, for some writers, that’s kind of how they do character development: discover the character as they sort of write them for a while. I imagine that would be kind of… Having a weak character show up in the third novel after you’ve already spent a bunch of time with the other characters would be kind of an easy trap to fall into.
Oren: Maybe if we’d had some time with Sabetha before she dove headlong into this romance story, it would have worked better, but it just, it just didn’t. It did not work for me. It was in contrast to what is otherwise a very, very good book series, which has good romances in it. So it’s, again, it was just weird as I was reading. I was like, “I know you can do better than this John Scalzi.” Like he cares what I think. But you know, it was just bizarrely bad. I didn’t buy it for like two seconds.
Chris: Well, speaking of John Scalzi, Old Man’s War.
Chris: Old Man’s War has a great romance in it. I think that’s probably a favorite of mine; also on Mike’s list.
Mike: Yes, it is a favorite of mine. It is on my favorites list.
Chris: It’s one of the few romances where it’s like, ‘Okay, this is a married couple,’ basically, although they’re kind of separated, but it’s complicated. It’s a more mature romance and it’s not just about [pompously] Youthful Passion, [normally] it’s about affection and the comfort of knowing somebody well and being with them for your whole life. It’s a little bit different, but it’s still very central to the story and it just feels very real, and I definitely like that.
Mike: Yes. Yeah. They’re very complicated characters and the relationship is very complicated. John Perry is in, like, his 90s, because Old Man’s War…
Oren: …Is about an old man.
Oren: And a war. [mild chuckling]
Mike: Very basic premise. When you get old enough, they send you to space, give you a new body so that you can fight more against aliens.
Oren: [flippantly] Yeah, like you do.
Mike: And his wife, Jane Sagan, um, is actually – he and his wife had both signed up for this together. However, she hadn’t lived long enough. She died of natural causes before they were old enough to do this. However, her DNA had already been given to them. They were already growing a new body for her.
So they made a – they have this thing called ghost brigades, which is also the name of the second novel in the series.
Oren: Wait, hang on. Who are you going to call – ghost brigades? No, it doesn’t work. Keep going, keep going, keep going. [laughter]
Mike: And so, Jane is actually an entirely new person that happened to be grown with the DNA of his previous wife. But there’s still some, I believe some impressions of his wife’s memory in hers. And so, she is incredibly young, but fully an adult because she was raised to be a soldier and he is incredibly old and she’s not quite the same person that he fell in love with the first time. They’re both characters that don’t quite – on their own, don’t quite mesh with anyone that we can relate to in the here and now, because their lives are so unique, and their situation’s so unique. Then, together, when they form the relationship they have with each other, is on top of that even more complex because of the weird situation/weird things that caused them to come together after they both became soldiers.
Chris: Right. This is this whole question of, “Is she his wife or isn’t she,” right?
Oren: I mean, that sounds really interesting.
Chris: Yeah. It’s a great romance.
Mike: And then later, she is [his wife] because they get married.
Chris: Yeah. [laughter]
Oren: We’re talking about non-traditional romances, and it’s unfortunate that this is still considered non-traditional, but Tara and Willow from Buffy is one of my favorites. I really liked them, both because it’s a non-heterosexual romance, which is very uncommon, but also, I just think they have great chemistry. I think that they had a really neat way of meeting; they had shared common interests. They bonded over that, which is, you’d be amazed how rare that is in television and media and fictional romances. And they just seem to work really well together. Even when the romance started falling apart, I thought they did it very interestingly. It was part of Willow’s descent. Right. Where Willow starts – Buffy spoilers here – Willow starts rearranging Tara’s memory so that they don’t have to remember/so she doesn’t remember any of the fights they’re having. Things like that, which is creepy as all get out. But it’s also interesting; I thought that was cool. I really hate the way Tara dies. I think that that was a terrible way to kill her, but that’s a discussion point for another time; it doesn’t really reflect on their…
Chris: But everything up until that, even their sort-of getting back together again, [sounds of assent] was portrayed really well.
Oren: Yes. Very good. Now, Chris, on your notes, you mentioned a romance you didn’t like with a character that I don’t remember. Did this actually happen? This romance, was this real?
Chris: Season seven.
Chris: Yeah. Season seven. Kennedy. So that’s a-
Oren: Who? [Chris laughs]
Chris: She’s one of the potential slayers.
Oren: Oh, okay.
Oren: There are like twenty of those.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. There’s 20 of them, but there’s one in particular named Kennedy and she’s really bossy, and she gets on with Willow. You were just mentioning the whole common interest thing. That’s one of the problems with Kennedy, is that Kennedy’s like, [deep voice] “Well, I don’t know anything about this magic stuff, but I guess if you like it that’s okay.” [normal voice] I know that what they were trying to do, I get the feeling they were trying to make a character that was really good for Willow, because, again, she’d just been through this whole magic abuse cycle and all this stuff, and to have somebody who was just not into magic at all and was with her for other reasons, I think was supposed to be healthy for her. But again, it just comes off as like her really not being into the stuff that Willow is in, but just sort of liking Willow anyway, but not really being a match. And the way she comes on Willow was just very like, “Oh yeah, I’m sleeping in your room.” [laughter] A little bit inappropriate.
Oren: [jokingly] And she’s fine.
Chris: And she’s just kind of a bossy and annoying character. So, you know, it’s…
Mike: [as Kennedy] You’re a lesbian? I’m a lesbian!
Oren: That means automatically that we’re going to be together, right?
Chris: I think they invented Kennedy mostly to be Willow’s love interest-
Mike: They did-
Chris: -but she’s still super annoying.
Mike: I think the main difference… I like that both of these things got mentioned next to each other, because with Tara, that was not something that, that was not a romance anyone planned on the writing staff. They have written this as a character that would share an interest with Willow, that would become a friend and would help her grow magically. The chemistry was such that the relationship kind of evolved from what they were seeing happening, and the writers went with it because it seemed like the right thing to do. Whereas Kennedy is the complete opposite; this character is written entirely to come in and be a match for Willow. The reason that Willow and Tara felt so natural is because no one was planning it ahead of time. They made the decision to make it a romance after everyone already thought that’s where they were going with it.
Oren: That’s really cool.
Chris: I have to say though, I think they did plan out Oz, and I did like the relationship with Oz, but again, they took their time. I feel like, again, the buildup makes a lot of difference, and they had a really long buildup with Oz where they had a series of just random scenes in various episodes, where he would just see Willow in this really odd situation, where she’s dressed up as an Eskimo, or on Halloween when she’s basically a ghost. And he’d be like, “Who is that girl?” They were incredibly comedic scenes. They had a lot of those scenes to build it up before they actually got together.
Oren: Seth Green is just great at that.
Chris: That’s true. It’s hard to go wrong.
Oren: Yeah. I mean, he is whole with his… he’s one of those actors that can say a lot with very few words and even a very mild expression. Right. And I don’t entirely know how he does that. He might be a wizard. I can’t tell, but he seems to…
Mike: He’s a werewolf.
Oren: Oh, well, yes, you’re right. I’m sorry. [laughter] But he did that very well. And he was very interested in Willow, but he did it without being super over the top, which I think was cool.
Chris: Right. Yeah. I think it was just that he was a pretty strong character.
Oren: Yeah. Well, we’ve established that if you want your romance to be good, you need to establish characters as something other than being romance characters, right? [Mike and Chris assent] That’s the thing that needs to happen.
Chris: I have to say, I normally don’t like the Buffy and Angel relationship. I just think it’s cheesy and over the top most of the time. But there’s this one episode, called “I Only Have Eyes for You.” It’s in season two and they have two parallel romances going, and it’s partly about the aftermath of Buffy and Angels’ relationship, that I just think is really perfect. In this episode, the Sadie Hawkins dance is about to happen and there’s a ghost that’s been possessing people and replaying this tragic end to this love affair that happened between a female teacher and a male student around Sadie Hawkins many years ago. And this ends when the male student shoots and kills the teacher and then shoots himself basically.
It’s replaying this tragedy and people are starting to act it out and it’s getting really dangerous. They’re talking about, the ghost of this male student is possessing people, and it forms a parallel with what happened with Buffy and Angel, where Angel’s now evil, right? They had a tragic end to their relationship. At one point in time, this magical thing happens around the school and only Buffy and Angel are there.
Oren: [jokingly] So magical.
Chris: And you think what’s going to happen is that they’re gonna replay the scenario and Angel’s gonna shoot Buffy. But it’s actually the reverse, and this is really cool. Buffy actually plays the male student and Angel plays a female teacher. And it’s perfect because the parallel is that throughout this entire episode, Buffy’s saying these really not sympathetic things about this male student and how horrible he was for destroying somebody he loved. It’s because she identifies with him and feels guilty over what happened to Angel. So, you find out it’s not just the male ghost, it’s actually both ghosts are replaying this. They have no resolution.
By Buffy and Angel doing this and having her shoot Angel, he can actually survive through a bullet and it allows the ghosts to actually get closure by continuing the scene after the shooting, and for her to say that – the teacher to say – she forgives the student, and then it also allows Buffy – Angel – to say he forgives Buffy. And it’s a really very perfect thing, and highlights that romance between Angel and Buffy really well.
Oren: That is really touching and moving, and the best follow-up I can think of is the absolute opposite, which is the “romance,” and I put it in quotes because I hesitate to even refer to it as such, between Kes and Neelix. [groans of recognition and despair]
Oren: First of all, anything involving Neelix, uh, at least for Voyager, is going to be terrible. With the exception of one episode where Neelix is in a space elevator, and that episode is really good. And if that had been the Neelix we’d had for all seven years, it would have been fantastic, but that’s a different character who I think probably popped in from another dimension or something. Every other episode that involves Neelix is pretty terrible.
Mike: So bad.
Chris: I think he’s a little better in the later seasons. [Chris and Oren are talking over each other] They sort of toned him down.
Oren: Yeah. Mainly because he’s just less present in the later seasons. The relationships in Charge or Effect- [now Oren and Mike are talking over each other]
Mike: Yeah. They realize how terrible he is so they start using less of him.
Oren: Yeah. So the relationship between Neelix and Kes is awful. For a few reasons: the first one being that Neelix is involved in it, [laughter] but the second one is that Kes is two. Now she’s an alien.She ages at a different rate from a regular human. So, okay. We can say, well, maybe in Ocampa years, two is like 30. It’s not. She is not sexually mature yet. They make that very clear. In fact, she is getting close to when she’ll be sexually mature, but she isn’t there yet. So she’s kind of like a 15 year old. That’s kind of the equivalent of how old-
Chris: So she’s not actually sexually mature – she can’t bear children in her race?
Chris: Okay. That’s actually more like an eleven year old.
Oren: Okay. That’s actually – you’re right. Yeah. But so-
Mike: She looks like, the way they portray her, she looks like she’s maybe 15. Right?
Oren: So, she’s clearly very young. [Oren and Mike talk over each other]
Mike: It’s just bad on all counts.
Oren: Even with taking into account that she’s supposed to be older because Ocampa age super fast-
Mike: They only live till like six, maybe.
Oren: Nine actually; Neelix is actually in his forties, assuming he’s the same age as Ethan Phillips, and he looks the same age, so we’ll assume Neelix is in his forties. So that’s creepy right there. And then the worst part is that… Oh, before we get to the worst part, because Neelix is dismissive and disrespectful to everyone, he’s dismissive and disrespectful to Kex and doesn’t really care what she thinks and you know, is like…
Oren: …And, you know, ignores her when she’s trying to tell him about these weird psychic visions she’s having and just assumes that she must be hallucinating and doesn’t take her seriously. There’s this one great moment, when (I mean terrible) when she goes onto the holodeck, and it’s dark, and of course it’s a surprise birthday party, but we don’t know that yet, and she’s like, [calling out] “Hello?” Her voice gets really fearful and she’s like, [nervously] “Neelix?” and it kind of makes you wonder if maybe this isn’t the first time she’s gone into a dark room, [laughter] and been afraid Neelix might be there, (which is a terrible thing to laugh about) but – you guys are very bad people – but the thing that makes it even the worst is that they are together, even though they don’t actually know each other.
Their entire relationship previous to the show starting was that Kes was a slave in the Kazon camp that Neelix would sometimes go to to trade stuff. It’s not like they’re giving her coffee breaks. Okay. It’s not like she could have, they could have established a rapport or ever really met. Basically what happens is that Neelix saw her and decided he had to have that. Then he kind of rescues her. It’s mainly the Starfleet people, but he kind of pushes them into it.
Mike: He tricks them into rescuing her.
Oren: [very upset] She goes into a relationship with him because she feels like she has to. Because she has this misplaced sense of obligation to him. And it’s so wrong and awful from every standpoint. And the only good thing about it is that she finally dumps his ass after being possessed by Space Hitler, and Space Hitler gives her the strength to not be in that relationship anymore. [laughter] Which is a line I never thought I would get to say, [laughter] but thanks Space Hitler. You’ve done a good deed today.
Mike: I think the capstone on the creepiness of that relationship is the one episode where whatever is going on in the space outside of Voyager is causing her to essentially shoot through puberty fast, and “Oh God, Ocampa only have one chance to bear children.” And she’s going through that right now. The whole episode’s plot is her and Neelix have to decide if they want to have kids because she’s not going to get another chance.
Chris: That’s terrible.
Mike: Yeah. It’s terrible on many levels, and it’s a Neelix episode, so it’s doubly terrible. And then I can’t help but just go “Ugh,” as they’re talking about, once he finally becomes okay with the idea of being a dad, and specifically with being a dad and having a daughter, and it’s just like, [Chris and Mike in unison] “Oh, okay.” So. Great. [Mike alone] Now it’s clicked for you finally, that she’s only going to live for nine years, so now you’re hoping you’ll have a daughter to replace her. You are the creepiest character ever. I hate you, Neelix. It’s never explicit-
Oren: -No, they don’t say that.
Mike: They never say anything that comes close to that, but their relationship is just so creepy that I could not stop thinking that is what was going through his mind as I watched that episode.
Oren: Yeah. You could say that… Ugh. Now that I feel like I have to take a shower. [laughter] A reverse of that, which is great, and we talked about these people a couple of weeks ago, actually, is the Addams family, between Addams, or, excuse me, Gomez and Latisha. They have a fantastic romance. I love them so much. They are so like, hey, they are interested in each other and even though they have kids, they still clearly have all this passion, because how often is the story that once you have kids, the passion fades. Which I hope is not true. It doesn’t seem to be true for a lot of people.
Mike: And, you know, they’re weirdos.
Oren: Yeah. They’re weirdos that no one…
Mike: This isn’t how regular families work.
Oren: Nobody take anything they do seriously. And, you know, there’s totally some BDSM going on there. They have weird fetishes and they’re great. I just love the Addams family and I love their relationship. It’s so good.
Chris: Yeah. There isn’t enough romances between married couples.
Oren: Which is where you would expect there to be romance, but no.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, there’s a married couple on Firefly, but I have to say there just doesn’t seem to be much romance happening.
Oren: [noncommittal noises] Wash and Zoe I actually think are pretty good. They didn’t make, like, my favorites list, but I thought they were okay.
Chris: They were okay, but I felt like they were just there and married and they didn’t really have a lot of romance. They had one episode that was about them having issues with their marriage, but for the most part… Granted, with the amount of episodes that they had…
Oren: Yeah. Although, I do feel like I have to step up to the plate and defend Wash and Zoe, because they do have, there are a couple of points… You’re right. It’s not usually a big deal that they’re married. They have one episode where they kind of work through their relationship problems. But in other episodes they do have several moments where they establish that no, they do still have the hots for each other basically, and they have a couple of scenes where they’re like, “Hey, you guys go do what you’re going to do. We’re going to be in our bunk.” And then they go off and have fun together. And they have a couple of episodes like that.
Mike: And a lot of real small scenes where they as a couple are not the focus of the episode, but they do give them time to clearly reinforce that they are deeply in love with each other-
Oren: -Also interracial-
Mike: -In a playful way.
Oren: Yeah. Also interracial couple, which is bizarrely rare on television. You think that we’re supposed to be past that, but apparently not. It’s almost always White people dating White people, Black people dating Black people. You almost never get the reverse.
Chris: I will say, on the Firefly, I don’t remember the name of the episode, but it’s where they have the single turned Reaver guy on their ship.
Oren: Oh yeah.
Chris: Is it “Bushwhacked” or…?
Oren: It’s “Bushwhacked,” yeah.
Chris: I have to say, it’s like my least favorite Firefly episode, but the only thing that to me is really good about that episode is where they’re interviewing, they’re interrogating all of the crew members. You have the scene where it’s like this guy is asking Zoe about their relationship and she’s like, “You know, we don’t talk about that. We’re very private people.” Then they smash cut to Wash and he’s like, [enthusiastically] “The legs. It’s definitely her legs, you know?”
Mike: And he’s just so excited to talk about his wife.
Chris: And to talk about how she’s attractive and all of this. Yeah. So that was a really good scene.
Oren: They weren’t actually on my list, but we spent a good two, three or four minutes talking about that.
Mike: That’s okay. They were on mine.
Oren: They were on yours? Okay. I’m glad. I’m glad we helped you out there. Mike. Now the worst romance, in my opinion, that I’ve seen recently, the absolute worst, like even worse than Kes and Neelix, is Superman and Lois Lane – only in the most recent Man of Steel movie; I have not seen enough of their relationship in other mediums to comment on it. It may be good in Superman comics or in other Superman movies, even, that I haven’t seen, but in Man of Steel, their relationship is so bad, mainly because there isn’t one. They meet very early in the film, actually, and there’s no chemistry, there’s no indication that they’re interested in each other. They’re just like, “Hey.” I thought they were saving the romance for another movie, because I was like, “They’re not getting together. There’s no way.” That actually might be interesting, if they knew each other for a while before they got into a romance. But no, instead at the end, out of nowhere, right after Superman snaps the dude’s neck, Lois comes up to him and starts making out. It’s like the movie treats this like this is the releasing of romantic tension, but there was no romantic tension.
Chris: It’s clearly the snapping of the neck. That really got her hot.
Oren: Yeah, she was just really into that.
Mike: Well, she wasn’t there to see it.
Oren: Well, but she probably heard it, right. It was really loud. [laughter] It’s the most obvious example I can think of of the trope of ‘You have defeated the bad guy, here is your girl reward.’ And that is a very pervasive and insidious trope. It’s like they weren’t even trying to hide that in Superman.
Mike: In the first Superman movie, they kiss earlier in the movie. Less screen time is taken up, but they actually take that time to establish them as interested in one another, and that scene where he shows up to give her the interview, and they talk, and they flirt, and then they go flying, and then they kiss. At least they build it up. So yeah, I think it was a matter of the writers felt the fans expected it, or possibly it was even like producers or the studio, and the writers weren’t on board with it. And so they put it in because they felt this is Superman Canon, so they have to be an item.
Oren: They have to be, they can’t not be.
Mike: Even if it doesn’t make sense with the movie that we wrote.
Oren: Yeah. And then at the end, just to cap off how ridiculous this all is, she says, her line is, “You know, they say it all goes downhill after the first kiss.” First of all, who says that, Lois?
Chris: Really? After the first kiss?
Oren: That’s what she says.
Chris: They haven’t gone to bed yet?
Oren: No, it’s the first kiss. I was like, is that a callback to something somebody said earlier in the movie? No, it’s not a call back. She just says it like it’s some kind of common saying that we’ve all heard. Lois, that’s just not true. Nobody says that. No one even thinks that’s the case. You could maybe argue that after the first night it all goes downhill, which is also probably not true, but you could maybe make the argument that some people would say that, but I’ve never heard anyone say it all goes downhill after the first kiss. Maybe that was a censor. Maybe they felt it was inappropriate for her to say it all goes downhill after the first night, because that would imply Superman and Lois actually sleep together. Maybe that’s not wholesome.
Chris: The scandal.
Oren: I don’t know.
Mike: Now, as a counterpoint example of a Superman story: I unfortunately don’t have strong memories of it because I was quite young when it was on air, but Lois and Superman, or Lois and Clark, the adventures of Superman, the live action TV show. In that they actually had a very long, that was running parallel to things that were also on era at the time, like Boy Meets World. Their relationship was a major arc that ran through the whole thing. And eventually them being married and then their married life. Again, I don’t remember the details, so I don’t know if they actually did it well, or if it was just there, but they’re at least an example of Superman in fiction that they actually gave it the time it deserves, like the entire series.
Oren: That’s definitely an improvement.
Chris: I think one cause of some romances falling completely flat is the Persistent Suitor Syndrome where they have – it’s almost always the guy doing it – where he just doesn’t take no for an answer and just keeps pursuing a woman, even though she’s clearly not interested.
Usually with these kinds of romances, they have her warm up at some point, you know? If you just ignore that first part it seems like a pretty normal romance, but there’s been a few moments I’ve seen where she never warms up and this is supposed to be a romance. An example, and I’m going to get nerd rage over this, and I already have gotten nerd rage over this, actually, is Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
Oren: That’s some pretty serious nerd rage right there. [laughter]
Chris: There’s some pretty cool, a lot of really cool things about this movie, but the romance is at the center of the story in a lot of ways, and it really falls flat. I feel like the main reason it falls flat is that Ramona, just, you never get any sense that she’s actually into Scott in any way. He gets her to go out with him by ordering a package from her workplace because he knows that she’ll come to deliver it. Then he won’t sign for his package. He keeps asking her out while she’s working.
Oren: That’s really gross.
Chris: Yeah. It is pretty gross. Finally she’s like, “Okay, if I agree to go out with you, will you sign for the package?”
Mike: [shocked] Oh my God.
Chris: Right. Again, it continues, where you never see her actually feel like she likes him in any way. Again, he just looks at her and he’s just like, [brainlessly] “Oh, hot.” That’s the extent of his feelings for her.
Oren: [imitating Chris imitating Scott] So hot.
Chris: I’ve heard people make the argument where it’s like, “Well, their relationship wasn’t supposed to be perfect. It was supposed to be immature, which is a reason at the end they’re like, okay, let’s start over.” At the same time, I feel like to drive the movie, you need to at least have some feeling of chemistry, in fact, and passion, even if it’s kind of misguided.
Oren: And, there’s a point, it’s one thing to say, “Well, they’re supposed to have a flawed relationship.” Right. But there’s a point at which you shouldn’t cross this boundary if you still want us to like that character. Now, apparently this isn’t a problem for a lot of people. But in Blade Runner, I almost said Indiana Jones, in Blade Runner with Harrison Ford, there’s the scene where he basically rapes the woman who he’s supposed to be having the romance with, the one who is actually an Android. I just can’t enjoy the rest of the movie after that, because all I want is for Harrison Ford’s character to die! He has done something so heinous that I don’t want him to succeed. I don’t want anything good to happen to him. I want him to get what’s coming to him, and I know he won’t because he’s the main character.
It’s pretty clear that the writers did not intend that to be a rape scene, but it’s clearly a rape scene, and one of the only good things about the theatrical release, where they changed everything, is that that scene is shorter and less rapey than it is in the director’s cut. Apparently the producer saw that and agreed with me.
Mike: I know what you were talking about, Chris, called the Persistent Suitor trope. I never actually use that term; I just call it the creeper trope.
Chris: There’s so many different types of creepers. This is a particular kind of creeper.
Mike: You know, if you’re being a creeper, you’re… Okay. It’s the persistent creeper. [laughter] This is the persistent creeper.
Oren: The regenerating creeper. It just comes back. No, you have to pull it up by the roots. Otherwise that creeper’s coming back.
Chris: Yeah. I have to say, talking about likability and things that you probably shouldn’t do if you want your charactor to be likable, I have to say I really like the recent Lego movie, but there’s this one scene and you’ve got this love interest, Wild Style. She’s basically… For a short period of time, when she’s just introduced to the main character, she’s basically a mentor. They’re on horseback together. She’s trying to do her mentor thing and explain what’s going on to him.
There’s this joke where you go into his head [Emmett’s head] and she’s just like, [light and airy] “Blah, blah, blah.” It’s a very stereotype-y female thing. They’re trying to make fun of Emmett in the scene, you know, the main character. They’re trying to make fun of him and his mental mindset, but at the same time, it’s just so sexist. It is funny. I did find it funny. At the same time, it’s so sexist. That’s still an inappropriate thing to do, even if you’re trying to make fun of Emmett, because you need Emmett to be a likable person. And if he’s really that sexist, how is he a likable person anymore?
Oren: Does he do that every time she’s talking? It’s kind of hard… There are some scenes later, where if you imagine that he doesn’t really hear anything she’s saying, those scenes are not very interesting.
Mike: Well, I don’t think so. In Emmett’s defense, and I’m not going to defend him too fiercely, but I think it’s supposed to be, to answer your question Oren, just that one-time thing. I think he’s supposed to be love struck. So, he’s really, it’s the first time they’re really having a lengthy conversation and he is just busy being love struck, and so he can’t follow. I should say lengthy conversation where they’re not being shot at. [laughter] He can actually afford to tune out and just stare at her without dying. But yeah, I think it is a little bit counterproductive to what they were trying to do with his character.
Chris: Yeah. And I see what you’re saying and kind of get that lovestruck thing, but if he’s really lovestruck, the way he characterizes her in his lovestruck viewpoint is not, does not – if you’re lovestruck for somebody, you’re probably not imagining them as [same vapid tone as earlier] “Blah, blah, blah. What I’m saying is stupid. And I’m mad at you for some reason because I’m a girl and they get mad.” This just doesn’t seem like something you’d envision somebody-
Mike: The dialogue they should have used with that, to get that love struck idea across better, should have been more just imagining that she was saying good things about him, or how she likes him. What the, what they actually chose was crappy. [soft laughter]
Chris: Yeah. I get it, and it’s a funny joke, but it relies on the audience not realizing how sexist that is, because otherwise that’s just too unlikable for a protagonist like Emmett.
Oren: Now, since we’re almost at the end of our time, I wanted to just skip to my favorite, my absolute favorite romance in spec fic, and I may get in trouble because I don’t know if this is technically allowed under the rules, [laughter] but the Mass Effect romances. I really, really liked them, partially because, and they may be not objectively as good as other ones that are out there, but video game romance is hard, just straight up. It’s very difficult to do video game romance. Um, and the Mass Effect romances, and I’m not going to say that they’re all great, but the ones that I did were all really good and I always play as fem Shep, because fem Shep is the best. And, Jennifer Hale as the voice actress is amazing.
Chris: Did you do fem Shep? Did you, which Mass Effect one? Did you do Laiara with fem Shep?
Oren: No, I didn’t do a romance in Mass Effect one.
Chris: Oh, see, that’s why you like all of them.
Oren: Yes, that’s true, because Mass Effect one, the romance and – Mass Effect 1 is just straight up not as good a game as Mass Effect 2. I’m mainly thinking Mass Effect 2, but also a little at 3. Mass Effect 1 I played kind of weird, but Mass Effect 2, the romance that I chose- the two romance options that I went with, I actually went with two romance options because I tricked the game to letting me have two. [laughter] [They] werewith Garris and Yeoman Chambers.
Mike: Actually, you didn’t trick the game. That’s built in.
Oren: No, you’re not supposed to be able to go with Yeoman Chambers if you have another romance.
Mike: Actually, you can.
Oren: But you’re not supposed to. Yeoman Chambers is supposed to be your… [noncommittal noises from Chris and Mike]
Chris: Okay. Regardless of their intention, it’s clearly something that you can do. [agreement] Proceed.
Oren: Yeah. With Chambers at first I thought it was going to be super creepy because I’m her commanding officer, and she’s very low down the totem pole, and I was like, “This is going to be like a weird authority thing,” but it isn’t. It actually works very well. They set it up over probably a good twenty hours of gameplay, of you talking to Chambers, and you have the option of being like, “Hey, you know, that thing that you said, I find that interesting,” and, you know, flirt a little bit. Then she responds and it becomes more and more interesting, and she’s just a great character. I love Chambers. I was really disappointed how small a presence that she was in mass effect three. And with Garris, again, it’s the same thing. Garris is really adorably awkward, because it’s an interspecies relationship. The two of you are trying to figure out what the real, what the courting rituals are for your different species, and it’s really great, and you have really adorable dialogue. Of course, the problem with all Mass Effect romances is when they try to do the cuddling animations, and like, ugh, that is Uncanny Valley, stop it! [laughter] I’m looking the other direction when that’s happening.
Mike: Honestly, the flirting dialogue part of the romances are the high part. When you actually complete the romances, because of limitations and the graphics, it’s weird.
Oren: Yeah. It’s super Uncanny Valley. And then you get the same thing with a Samantha Trainer in Mass Effect 3, which is one of the good things in Mass Effect 3. As a whole, I didn’t like it very much, but she is a really interesting character. And, you know, again, nice to see someone who isn’t White. That’s kinda cool. She’s an Indian character. She’s British and Indian. She’s different enough from Yeoman Chambers that I didn’t feel like I was just having the Chambers romance again. She has different interests. She’s a much more… Chambers is a much more supportive character where she’s like the crew’s moral support, whereas Trainer is more of a tactical officer, and she’s very pragmatic minded. That whole story, it felt like I was actually part of the romance, which is one of the things that makes video games interesting is the idea that you can actually make the player feel like part of the story, instead of that they are reading someone else’s story. Video games very rarely do that successfully. It’s very hard, but it can be done and it’s one of the strengths of video games.
Chris: I’ve heard a lot of good things about some of the later Mass Effect romances. I will say that it is… a couple of things with Mass Effect: first of all, Mass Effect 1, the romances aren’t very good.
Oren: No. They’re boring.
Chris: It’s weird. Part of the weird part is the characters that are romance options in Mass Effect 1. They’re cool characters unless they’re romanceable. If they’re romanceable, then suddenly they’re really weird. Kaiden, especially, just becomes super angsty, and some of the things he says, it’s just like, “Wait, that doesn’t even make any sense. What are those weird jumbles of words? I don’t -”
Mike: Ashley too. If you’re playing male Shep, Ashley starts coming off as both more awkward and more xenophobic.
Oren: And more racist! Yeah. This is why I found out that: I was describing Kaiden to some of my friends who’d played it as male Shep, and they were like completely different characters. And I was like, “I hated Kaiden. I thought he was the worst.” I didn’t hate Ashley. I thought Ashley was fine in Mass Effect 1. Everyone was like, “No, actually Ashley was the most racist person ever and she’s terrible.” I was like, “Oh, it’s because they are actually different based on what gender you pick for your Shepard.”
Chris: Yeah. And the other thing I have to say about Mass Effect is obviously they made a lot of effort towards gender equity, and whatever your preferences are, obviously they don’t have as many not-heterosexual romances, but they made [it so that] there’s guy options and girl options. But the thing is that all of the girl characters look like attractive human women. The guy characters that are romanceable? The majority of them look very alien. I got to say that makes it so that even though there’s a lot of cool guy characters I’ve heard that are really cool to romance, I just don’t feel attracted to alien guy characters. And as fem Shep, it’s just like, Garris, I’ve heard the romance is really sweet, but he’s just too alien looking. Yeah. And there’s not-
Mike: Stop being so superficial. [laughter]
Oren: No, I understand what you’re saying. Although, with a fem Shep in Mass Effect 2, you have a couple of other options, like Jacob who is just a human. Although, my relationship with Jacob was that we were war buddies, not romancing, and I love that relationship, but you can romance with Jacob. And there are a couple of other options.
Chris: No, there’s Kaiden and Jacob, but for the most part, I would say the more interesting male characters look very alien. Whereas, if you look at the female characters, they’re all human looking. Even though, sorry, they have, you know, blue squid-y things, but they really mostly look like humans, like attractive human females, sorry.
Oren: The Asari are just the fan service race. They’re just a race of attractive blue lesbians. That is the Asari. But not actual lesbians; lesbians that will sleep with a guy is what they are.
Mike: They even kind of make a mention of it in game. There’s a conversation you can overhear where one, where the characters are… There’s like four or five different characters, all different species, sitting at a table, and they’re talking about what the Asari look like, and they’re all describing completely different things. The only thing that’s consistant is blue. And one of them makes – mentions, [whispers] “Do you think maybe they just look like whatever we are, but blue?”
Oren: Which is kind of dark when you think about it.
Chris: Which is really interesting. But then you’ve got to wonder, well, why do they always appear as females? Why don’t they appear guy-looking to heterosexual women or gay men? Yeah.You know, it just… again, it’s definitely male fanservice.
Oren: I’m not going to pretend that Mass Effect is perfect even in its romances, but the Mass Effect romances that I picked are so much better than what is traditionally available in video games.
Chris: Right. It sounds like the romance storylines they carry out in the later Mass Effects sound really good. Even if I still feel like the options that they provide are really limited.
Oren: Yeah, especially Mass Effect 1 is very limited. Mass Effect Two gives you many more options with more interesting characters. All right. So, I think that about covers it, now that we’ve had our little Mass Effect thesis. [laughter] I hope you’ll join us again in a few weeks. And if you want to get in touch with us, you can email us at [email protected] and we’ll see you then.[closing theme]
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