Podcast

295 – Subverting Expectations… Again!

The Mythcreant Podcast
You thought this was going to be a short blurb explaining the podcast, but actually it’s a meta reference to the episode’s subject. Are your expectations subverted? Probably not, because despite what you might have been told, subversions are hard work. You still need to provide a satisfying experience; otherwise, the story is just worse. How do you do that? Glad you asked, because that’s what we’re talking about today. We discuss what makes a subversion work, what makes a subversion fail, and how to tell when a subversion is being used at all.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Original Subversion Episode 

The Last Jedi 

Mami Tomoe

Homura Akemi

The Mandarin 

Knives Out 

Homecoming

Dune 

Jake Sully 

GLOW

Santa Olivia 

Alan Tudyk 

William Bell 

The Mortal Instruments 

The Last Ringbearer 

Winter Tide 

The Wheel of Time

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Transcript

Generously transcribed by Yzsekh. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle. [opening song]

Oren: And welcome everyone to another episode of the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Oren. And with me today is…

Wes: Wes.

Oren: And…

Chris: Chris.

Oren: And you expected this to be a podcast about storytelling, but actually it’s half an hour of public domain animal sound effects.

[public domain animal sound effects]

Oren: So there we go. Have your expectations been subverted?

Wes: Whoa! [chuckles] What’s even real anymore?

Oren: Yeah. Who knows? I said it was going to be one thing and it was something else. Amazing. One Hugo, please. [chuckles]

Wes: You are brilliant. You’ve achieved the impossible.

Oren: We talked about this subject like six years ago and uh, I’m going to be honest. Also to subvert your expectations. I didn’t listen to that episode. So I have no idea what we said back then.

Chris: Look, we can either spend an hour listening to an old podcast or we can spend an hour making a new one.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, that was really the reason that I didn’t have time. Also, I seriously recommend never listening to something you recorded six years ago. Wes was smart enough to not be with us six years ago. So like he doesn’t have that problem. But, you know, in a few more years Wes you’re going to start having that problem.

Wes: Oh no.

Oren: So anyway, the reason I wanted to talk about subversion is that it honestly feels like in modern media discourse, the word subversion has become kind of cursed.

Chris: Yeah. It’s really overused and it’s overused for bad reasons.

Wes: They’re just using it to mean like a twist, right?

Chris: No, they’re using it to mean whatever they want it to mean to defend anything from criticism.

Wes: Oh okay, even better. Words have no meaning. It’s great. [chuckles]

Oren: Usually what happens is, nowadays especially, I feel like every time there’s a movie or some popular story that a bunch of people didn’t like for whatever reason, but it was good enough in other ways that other people did like it though, it’s fans will always say that it was subverting your expectations. As if that’s a defense [oh no]. It’s like, no, you were wrong to not like it, it wasn’t that you didn’t like it, it’s that it subverted your expectations. And that’s a really weird thing to say to someone. It doesn’t actually mean anything and it takes a concept that’s actually important, subversion, and just turns it into a fan rage defense cause subverting expectations is a real thing that has value when done correctly.

But it’s not the defense you can throw out whenever someone says a movie that you like has problems. And I’m not just talking about the Last Jedi [laughter]. To be clear. It does come up a lot, but I’m not just talking about the Last Jedi. There are plenty of other things where people will be like, “oh, well, the reason you didn’t like it is that it’s subverted your expectations”.

Wes: That doesn’t even make sense!

Chris: I don’t think that word means what you think it means. [chuckles]

Oren: And sometimes they are kind of correct in that sometimes the problem was a bad subversion. Sometimes not, sometimes it has nothing to do with that.

Chris: Sometimes it’s not a subversion, but they really want to believe that it is

Oren: Right. But in other cases it is a subversion and it’s a bad one. So just to get us started, I thought it might be good for each of us if we can think of one off the top of our heads, name a good subversion and a bad subversion that we have encountered in the wild, just so that we can kind of establish a baseline.

So mine, my good one is, spoilers for Madoka Magica, the death of Mami. And I think it’s the third or fourth episode. That one is genuinely shocking. And it is good. Because, not only because it’s foreshadowed, a lot of bad subversions are foreshadowed, but not only is it foreshadowed, but it opens up a completely different type of story than what I thought we were going to have, and a brand new, super interesting plot line of like drama and dealing [with] loss and stuff like that. So that’s why I think the death of Mami is good because, up until the death of Mami, It’s not really clear that you’re not watching a traditional magical girl anime. Again, there is foreshadowing. You can see with the character Homura, that there are some dark elements to this show well before Mami dies. And the character’s name is Mami. That’s just how the name is pronounced. It’s not, you know, it’s not a mom thing. Anyway. So I think that’s a good one.

A bad subversion is in Iron Man 3 with the Mandarin. Now, I understand why they did this. And what happens in Iron Man 3 is that they spend the whole movie building up the Mandarin and then it turns out he’s just an actor who was hired to shoot some film that was then used as part of this terrorist networks PR campaign. And I get why they did that, because the Mandarin as an Iron Man bad guy is hecking racist. So I know why they wanted to do something to subvert it. Unfortunately, what that left us with was, well, it turns out the bad guy is that dude, who we actually already knew was a bad guy by this point in the story, we just didn’t know he was the top bad guy.

So it turns out that he’s higher on the org chart than we thought. And, instead of having this cool menacing villain that they’d been building up, we have this dude who’s thing is that Iron Man didn’t go to a business meeting with him once. And now he’s angry about it. And the problem with the subversion is that there’s nothing left, right? It doesn’t leave you with anything. Instead of subverting to something cool it subverts to nothing. It’s like, well, okay. I guess there wasn’t actually a cool thing happening in the movie. Okay. That’s an issue. That’s not a good subversion.

Wes: A good subversion comes to mind is the movie Knives Out, which I guess, it’s not really a spoiler because the subversion wonderfully happens within like 20 or 30 minutes of the movie’s opening up.

Chris: Also, the movie is way better once it happens. And so you really have to spoil it for people. So, this is an issue with subversions that I want to go into later, which is what you do before you do this subversion, which can be an issue. But in any case, not really spoiling anything for anyone.

Wes: Timing is important. And like, they basically set up this movie, it’s like, “Oh, okay, it’s going to be a standard like murder mystery who done it kind of deal, blah, blah, blah”. But then, 20 minutes in, the witness who was there just says exactly what happens. You know exactly how this guy died. And it’s just out there on the table and then suddenly the movie gets really good because it’s not really about that. It’s about something else entirely. And I think that’s very good, like just taking your expectations of this kind of private detective murder mystery figure and what you’ve kind of been brought to think that involves.

And then suddenly they just throw that whole thing out the window in the first 20 minutes of the movie, it’s just like, “Hey, 20 minutes in. Guess what? This is not the movie you thought it was. Let’s go”. And also the soundtrack is incredible.

Oren: It’s a good soundtrack. You have a bad one?

Wes: Do I have a bad one? Let me think on a bad one.

Chris: That might be a little tough for me too, but I have a good one I can point out. So, I might have to put the name of this episode in the show notes, but in Buffy, there was this episode where Buffy and Cordelia are competing to become prom queen. The episode is kind of focused on a relationship arc where they are completely at odds with each other in the beginning, and they’re competing over this and they were dividing up all of their friends.

And then of course, they go through a crisis together, you know, and start to make up. And then at the end of that crisis, they go into prom and it’s about to be announced who is going to be prom queen. And the announcer’s like, “actually we have a tie”. And people are so used to this trope. “Oh, the tie between them both!”

And then the announcer says that the two other girls who were competing, that they had totally dismissed from the very beginning of the episode were the ones that tied so that neither of them got it instead of both of them getting it [ha!]. And it worked really well. Obviously we had a trope that we were expecting, but not necessarily looking forward to, that kind of subverted that cliche, but it also was really good because it highlighted this sort of pointlessness of their competition. Right? Well, they did this, these brutal competitive tactics against each other and got really hostile over it. And what was the point? Whereas if they had both tied and won you could have thought, well, maybe you’ve one of them just fought with a little more tooth and nail, you know, she would have won.

It just wasn’t worth becoming antagonistic for this competition. So it had both a good surprise that subverted a cliche, and at the same time it did add meaning to the episode.

Oren: Yeah. And that’s, I think the most important thing about a subversion, is that when you subvert something, you have to offer something in its place. If you just subvert something and then leave that place empty, which is what Iron Man 3 does, it’s like, “oh, well this is just less good than you said it was going to be”. That’s less a subversion and more leaving something out. And that’s how you get audiences that feel lied to. And, you know, since we might as well mention the Last Jedi, at some point, there are both good and bad subversions in the Last Jedi, a good subversion, although it is delivered in a bad way, that kind of sabotages it, is that Rey’s parents are no one. That’s actually a good subversion because that provides a conclusion to this soul searching that she’s been doing of trying to find like, you know, who am I? Where do I come from? And the answer is it doesn’t matter. That’s the answer. The problem with that subversion is that it’s delivered in such a way that it really seems like Kylo Ren might be lying because obviously they hadn’t actually decided who Rey’s parents were going to be at that point. And then, you know, Rise of Skywalker, it’s Palpatine! Woo! And so, you know, that retroactively ruins it. But in the moment, that’s actually a cool idea. And I think way more people would have liked it if it had been delivered in a more forceful way.

Wes: Force-ful way.

Oren: Ha! [chuckles] And not just left to be like, was he lying? Cause at that point you’re just kind of confused.

Chris: I would also just say that the hard thing about that landing correctly it’s also that with the Star Wars movies, the new trilogy, they have so much going on. Like obviously the Buffy twist had a lot of thematic resonance, and it almost felt like Star Wars has so much going on that it’s hard to say what they wanted you to take away from that reveal. Like you said it, it doesn’t matter. She can be her own person, and they could have taken some time with it. They could have established that as a theme, but I don’t think that they really did because I think they had so much going on.

Oren: Yeah, that is another problem, right? Is that it would have been much easier to establish, like, what is your noble bloodline? Because Star Wars already has themes of that. Whereas like you come from no one it’s like, well that would have taken off a little more time to set up properly. But I still think it had the potential to be very good. As opposed to something like, in the same movie, the whole, well actually the Jedi were bad is. Is part of the thing that’s going on in that movie. And it’s really hard to look at the previous three movies, I mean the original three, and think that this is supposed to be the case. It feels like you’re reckoning the world even if you are revealing information that technically might have been true and we just didn’t know it in the original. It feels like this does not line up with what has been established before.

Chris: And it devalues the other stories that we’re already invested in.

Oren: Right. And then at the same time, of course, you had to walk it back at the end because Disney still wants to sell Jedi toys. So that’s part of the thing that confused me about the Last Jedi, is that it has all the subversion and then at the end they undo all the subversion. And I’m just like, I don’t know why Disney wanted the subversion in there in the first place if they’re just going to undo it.

Wes: For the illusion of story. [chuckles]

Oren: Right. And it’s like, I don’t get it. I just don’t understand what the thought process was there.

Chris: So if we could just outline, again, what the ingredients of a good subversion are, just in a more conceptual level since we’ve dug into it. Obviously the story sets an expectation and sometimes the story is heavy handed with it, or sometimes that’s what you expect to happen because that’s what every other similar story does. And then it has to clearly veer away from that expectation. Sometimes people claim that something is subverting a trope that the story appears to be playing straight, like that doesn’t seem very subverted, I think it’s just doing that trope.

Oren: It’s rude of you to call out Dune personally like that. [chuckles]

Chris: But like a good subversion usually has a specific moment where it clearly veers away. A twist or reveal where you can even see that happening, and there is no confusing it. It is obviously deviating away from that expectation.

Oren: And the reason why it doesn’t work in Dune is that what happens in Dune is that Paul does all of the same things that a white savior does, in that he goes to a society of brown people and becomes better at their stuff than they are, and then leads them to victory against a superior enemy that they couldn’t beat on their own and then lets them triumph. That’s what a white savior does. And the only difference between Paul and someone like Jake Sully from James Cameron’s Avatar, is that Paul knows that he’s an outsider who has come to help the fremen, but he still does all of the same things with the same result. And he angsts a bit about this coming war that might happen, even though in the story there’s no reason a war would happen, but none of that comes to pass until the next book anyway. And so within the first Dune book, which I’ll remind you is 188,000 words, Paul is just a white savior. There is no subverting that. He just is one.

Chris: So if it’s self-aware, that’s more like lampshading. It’s not a subversion. So then in order for it to be like a successful subversion, the audience also has to get value from the departure from that expectation. If they’re disappointed, you’re just violating expectations. You’re not subverting them. So usually it means that the expectation isn’t something that the audience was really looking forward to and it’s going to be super disappointed. So that’s why it’s often tropes that are a little cliche that end up getting subverted. And for instance, the Buffy example, you know, we thought that they were both going to get the award. And it wasn’t like a super disgusting cliche, but it was enough to be like, “okay, that’s kind of cheesy, but I’ll go with it”. Oh, right. And so it wasn’t, whereas it had been something that was actually important to the story, that was critical to the story. If you break your story, you know, you’re not subverting expectations. You’re just violating them. Because the story needed that, and that’s just disappointing.

Oren: It would have been like if at the end of season five, instead of Buffy sacrificing herself, some dude showed up with a vial of Dawn’s blood and was like, “ha, I’m going to”, and then did it. And it’s like, well, I mean, that did subvert my expectations [chuckles]. That wasn’t what I expected to happen, but you know, not in a good way. I also think it’s worth mentioning that not all subversions happen because of in-story expectations. Some subversions are subtler and they rely entirely on cultural expectations. And so they wouldn’t necessarily be a subversion outside of that different cultural context.

And I have two examples. One of them is from the TV show Glow, which has a fictionalized story about the women’s pro wrestling league called Glow from the eighties. And in that show, the main character has an abortion and that’s a subversion because there are never abortions on TV. Nobody has abortions on television or in movies. Like sometimes they talk about it, but they always find a reason to not do it. And it’s cause it’s, you know, even if you are pro choice, there are a lot of people who are pro choice who were just kind of uncomfortable with it. And people who are anti-choice obviously hate it. And so it’s weird to see someone be willing to go there. And so it feels subversive. It wouldn’t be in a society where abortion was more accepted.

Wes: Yeah. That’s a good point.

Oren: And I don’t live in such a society, so it’s hard to judge, but my guess would be that that episode would still work fine. Even if we were in a abortion accepting society, cause we understand that for her it’s a problem because she lives in the eighties United States. And then another example real quick is from the novel Santa Olivia. And in this story some characters escape to Mexico, but they do it with the help of the Mexican government and not using the standard established trope of Mexico just being a crime zone where you go if you want to do crimes, which is a thing that you see in a lot of American media. And so again, in the story, it doesn’t really set any other expectation, but it still feels kind of subversive.

Chris: I also have an example of a subversion that depended on meta context. So in the show Dollhouse, they brought in a guest actor, Alan Tudyc, and you know, this is a Joss Whedon show, and he is really well known for playing another character in Firefly called Wash, and Wash was a really like fun, loving character, not aggressive, really nice guy.

And when they brought him into Dollhouse, you know, everybody recognized him or a lot of fans of Joss Whedon or, you know, specular fiction TV in general, would recognize him and associate him with Wash. And he was also playing a character that seemed really shy and meek. So then when it was suddenly revealed that he was the big, bad, and he had been playing this role of being meek, it was incredibly subversive because of that meta context of recognizing the actor and associating him with a former role. And that one was also nice because I don’t think it actually did depended on recognizing him. Oren has previously complained about some instances where they bring in a famous actor and they, you know, there’s a big, like pause, and the music changes and we expect like, wow, this is a big reveal. But there is nothing in the story that makes this understanding more significant. It’s only the meta context of the actor. Whereas this particular one was especially subversive because of the association, but it didn’t depend on it to work.

Oren: Well, I mean, that’s just the way any good reference works, right? It’s like, well, if you get the reference, there’s extra material here. If you don’t, it still works fine. That’s how all references should be, as opposed to something like in Fringe where they finally reveal who the secret character is. And the reveal is that he’s played by Leonard Nimoy. That’s it. That’s the reveal. And it’s like, I like Leonard Nimoy, but that is some nonsense.

Chris: Do you mind if I talk about the question of what to do before a subversion, if you were subverting a trope that people don’t like?

Oren: I was just about to get to that.

Chris: Sorry for stealing your thunder.

Oren: You subverted my expectations, I thought I was going to talk about it. No, you should talk about it though.

Chris: Okay. So we’ve gotten a lot of questions about this after the other material that we’ve done. About subversions. You know, I’ve got this cliche, that’s really boring and I’m subverting it. What do I do before we reveal that the cliche is going to be subverted where people think that my story has this cliche or, more extreme, I want to subvert a problematic trope. What do I do in my story before it’s subverted and just appears to be a problematic trope being played straight?

So there’s a number of different ways in which the subversions usually take care of this. For one thing, a lot of subversions are not actually subverting something that’s seriously unpleasant. Like nobody’s going to hate the episode with Buffy and Cordelia competing, if they both win. It’s a little tiresome, but it’s not that bad. So usually a lot of times it’s a milder issue.

Another again, of a mild problemic tropes subversion example would be in the first chapter of a City of Bones. Where we have this bad guy go into a club and he spots this chick that he’s choosing her as his victim. And then we think that she’s going to be this damsel, or we think that she’s going to be, just like in a horror story, the first woman to get killed. And then we turn around and find out that actually she was trapping him. And she’s a hunter of these demonic creatures. So like that one, again, it’s mild enough that people probably aren’t going to rage quit the story over it.

Another reason is a lot of times they happen pretty quickly. Like the Buffy twist, it happened pretty fast, so we didn’t really have much time with the more tiresome trope before it was subverted. So that’s another way in which that’s made better. And then the final way that I know you could make it better is simply by introducing other people, positive things into the work. If you have a tiresome cliche, you know, introduce some other form of novelty into the story to keep people going until you subvert the part that seems a little bit older and more tiresome.

Oren: Or, and here’s another version that you can do. A lot of people, when they think of a trope being subverted, what they imagine is you do that trope straight for a little while, and then you change it. And that’s one way to subvert stuff, but it’s not the only way. So going back to the Dune example, I would probably not recomend that you try to do a white savior subversion by having a character, be a white savior and then finding out that actually he’s doing bad things. It just takes too long and people will assume you’re doing a white savior story because so many other stories, including Dune, have done the same thing.

And unless someone spoils it for them, they might just not even get to the part where you do the reveal. So in that case, what you would do is, instead of having your character be the savior, you would have your main character be a local leader who, is watching as this outsider who is super charismatic, rolls in and is gathering followers because they’re really good at getting people to follow them and really good at making promises and has some kind of power that you don’t have, and you’re watching this happen and you have to do something about it. That’s a subversion of the white savior trope, and it doesn’t depend on you playing the white savior trope straight for a while to then do something different.

Wes: I think that’s a really good point because a lot of the time I think you can make a successful subversion just from the first word of your story. The premise can be subversive. I’ve talked about the Last Ring Bearer, which is basically just subverting the entire story of the Lord of the Rings by saying, “oh, guess what, Mordorian’s are actually people”, you know, they’re not an evil race and they reimagined the whole conflict as an Eastern West kind of political conflict. But that happens from page one and there’s no priming any kind of thoughts. Otherwise it’s just suddenly, here’s your story.

I think on a previous podcast too we were talking about how westerns were so played out that suddenly it was subversive to just make them realistic and gritty and you know, and terrible. And it’s like, okay, great! We didn’t need to like play it nice for 20 minutes and then suddenly be like, “oh, actually, everybody just got like, you know, droughted to death or something”.

Oren: It was gritty and horrible from the start.

Wes: From the start. Yes.

Chris: Another example of that type of subversion would be Winter Tide, where again, Lovecraft is super racist.

So in Winter Tide, the main character is a deep one. Which were the creatures that he made up to be the horrific other that were like, oh no, they’re mixing with humans.

Oren: Although, this brings me to another thing I wanted to talk about, which is what should you do before the subversion is revealed if you are doing that type of subversion, where you want to have it be a reveal in story. Cause I do think there’s some risks here because we mentioned Knives Out earlier and I had a problem watching Knives Out, where for the first 20 minutes, I was incredibly bored. Because I didn’t know anything about Knives Out when I went to watch it, I just heard people say it was good. And so for 20 minutes it looks like it’s doing a very straight, whodunnit mystery. And I’ve seen those. And there wasn’t anything about this one that particularly made it look interesting. And I was just falling asleep as I was watching this. And then suddenly there’s this subversion where it’s like, “oh, it’s not a who done it, it’s like, we know who did it, it’s a, how do we get away with it?” Because it wasn’t really their fault. I was like, that is so cool. And I love it. Why did I have to spend 20 minutes watching a significantly worse movie? So I’m not really sure what the solution in Knives Out was. I do think you just want to be careful not to make your story look too uninteresting before you subvert it.

Wes: Definitely. I think they tried to rely very heavily on the aesthetics of the mansion and the cast, like let’s face it, the cast right there, it’s got Chris Evans and Jamie Lee Curtis in it, you guys will watch this. [chuckles]

Chris: I do think that is an example of where we have a cliche and we need other novelty in the story to make it interesting before the cliche is subverted. I think that is an example. And so, I can understand why, because the story was making commentary on the standard mystery. Why was playing the mystery so straight, but if it had something else interesting, as Wes said, I think maybe it was depending on the list of actors that people liked to provide that extra source of novelty.

Oren: It was just really, depending on you wanting to hear what Daniel Craig sounds like with an American accent.

Wes: And a more like southern, antebellum south type thing. That was, that was an experience. [chuckles]

Oren: Well, it’s hard to top Daniel Craig’s weird southern accent [laughter]. So I just want to mention one more thing, which is just in general, remember that when you’re subverting something, it has to be subverted in substance, not just in form, or even if you want to say in function, not form, because trying to subvert it in form is just changing the esthetics of it, and that doesn’t really do it. Like how, according to Robert Jordan, he subverted the trope of the wizard comes to town and takes the chosen ones on adventures. And the reason he thinks he subverted it is that his chosen ones are kind of mouthy to his wizard and kind of rude to her. And it’s like, no, that’s not a subversion Jordan. That’s just the trope. You just did the trope, you played it completely straight, and you like made your main characters, kind of ruder than Frodo is, that’s the only difference [chuckles]. So just remember function, not just form, otherwise it’s not really a subversion.

So I think with that, we will go ahead and end the podcast. And this is the actual ending. Not as subversive ending [chuckles]. Before we go I want to thank a few of our patrons.

First we have Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next, we have Ayman Jaber, he is an urban fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. And finally we have Denita Rambo and she lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you all next week.

If you like what we do, send a few dollars our way through our patreon. Every cent goes into the heart of gold we lounge on like dragons, just go to patreon.com/mythcreants.

[closing theme]

Chris: This has been the Mythcreants podcast. Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself, by Jonathan Colton.

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Comments

  1. A Perspiring Writer

    Actually, the reason for Disney rolling back The Last Jedi’s changes was probably because a vocal minority complained about the movie, and on the internet, that made it seem like general audiences hated it.

    Ironically, the general consensus, even among those who didn’t like The Last Jedi, is that The Rise of Skywalker would have been way better if it had rolled with the changes, instead of working against them.

    Personally, I would have wanted a full-on deconstruction of the Star Wars universe. After all, Star Wars was never really that good to begin with, so I would have loved to see it go in a different direction.

    • A Perspiring Writer

      I just realized that every paragraph in this comment begins with an -ly word.

      • A Perspiring Writer

        why does it say that i made these comments at 5:45 am

        • Cay Reet

          Because it was 5:45 am where the site is hosted, I imagine.

    • LeeEsq

      For something that was never to great to begin with, Star Wars seems to have made hundreds of millions of people across the world very happy. More than a few people seem to get a lot of meaning from it. I think Disney was stuck between a rock and a hard place with their Star Wars trilogy. There was definitely a desire for a more diverse and modern Star Wars trilogy based on the global popularity of Star Wars. At the same time, departing too much from the spirit of the original trilogy would be too much even for the global franchise. They wanted the original trilogy but more multi-cultural for the most part, not a subversion or deconstruction.

      So there was really no way for Disney to win. Making it more multicultural, fail. Adding deconstruction, fail harder. Keeping it like the original trilogy including the ethnicity of the cast, you don’t want to know how hard Disney would fail. Considering that Disney, along with Studio Ghibli, has a very strong brand image that needs to be kept at all times, there wasn’t a way for Disney not to anger hundreds of millions of people.

      • Cay Reet

        Honestly, making a consistent trilogy would have been good enough for me. With the two directors trying to rip each others’ movies apart, there wasn’t much of that. That’s what sours me to the new trilogy.

        I agree that they couldn’t have made everyone happy and a lot of people see a lot of different things in Star Wars, but they could, for instance, have allowed some of the former EU to stay, even if that would have meant paying royalties to the authors. The New Republic did grow well in that story and would have made a good jump-off point, even if they wanted to bring the Empire (or the Imperial Remnant as, I think, it was called) back.

        They also simply could have figured out the plot line for all three movies first (the plot which binds all three movies together, as Anaking turning dark was for the PT). That would at least have stopped the whole ‘Rey is nobody – fooled you, she’s Palpatine’s granddaughter – she’s taking the name Skywalker for no reason’ idiocy. Figure out where the main characters are going and stick with it, it’s not hard. Give Kylo his redemption, if you want, but then show he’s got something good in him early, that something within Rey resonates with him, perhaps. Set up Rey being a Palpatine from the beginning by suggesting she has similar force powers (since not every force user is strong in the same powers, hers in their case should tend towards manipulation of others). Show the Republic’s weakness and – please, please, please – give the New Order some kind of consistent inner workings to show they can overthrow the Republic. Something like that would have been immensely helpful to make the three movies stick together instead of being just three movies with the same main characters.

        • Jeppsson

          Just writing in to agree with you, Cay. Obviously they couldn’t make everyone happy, and just having a more diverse cast ensured that racists and sexists would hate those movies. But with a more consistent trilogy, lots of fans would have been happy enough.

      • A Perspiring Writer

        LeeEsq: the line about Star Wars never being great was probably a knee-jerk reaction to something; my opinion of the franchise can change from day to day* (or sometimes more than once in a single day), so how I feel when I make one comment may not be how I feel when making a different comment. (That can actually be seen on the first MCU climaxes post Mythcreants did earlier in September; one of the deleted comments was mine, and boils down to ‘I don’t understand why you hate the MCU so much’.)

        (Sorry about the long comment (the really, really long comment), just needed to vent. My comments HAVE been getting longer and longer, though. Maybe I just have more to say. Maybe I’m not filtering what I type as much anymore. Maybe it’s just because I’m writing a book, and that’s making me better at writing. I don’t know.)

        I just realized that this is a comment responding to a single line from your post. Oh, well, time to hit send and push this rant/response out onto the interwebs.

        *My opinions on a lot of things can change from day to day, however; I’m very prone to absorbing other people’s opinions on media. That’s why I can’t watch CinemaSins, I don’t like seeing my favorite works torn apart (which is a problem I’ve noticed on Mythcreants as well, like seriously, why can’t there be more positivity here)

  2. Cay Reet

    I actually liked the first twenty minutes of “Knives Out”, because they set up the basics for me – the place, the structures, the relationships. Then the movie switches from a whodunnit to a crime mystery where you know who did it and wonder who’s going to win, until it does the second twist and says ‘she didn’t do it, she actually did the right thing, but thought it was the wrong and the actual murder in the story [the housekeeper] was done by the one who wanted her to do the wrong thing’. “Knives out” fuses two different mystery types and does two twists with them, going from type 1 to type 2 and back again. First, it’s this whodunnit, where you can see how the head of the household is going to die, because almost everyone in the house would profit from that, then it’s this crime story where we want the person who did it to get away, then it’s the whodunnit again when it’s clear that she’s not the culprit, so there has to be another one.

    In this story, we want her to get away with it, because it looks like an accident she shouldn’t be punished for and because the victim himself wanted her to get away with it. When it is revealed that she didn’t accidentally poison her charge, it’s both sad (since he died for nothing) and a relief, because she doesn’t have to live with this mistake she made. When it’s then revealed that another character set her up for that mistake, killing his father and letting her take the blame for it, we’re glad he’s caught and she is getting what the victim wanted her to get.

  3. SunlessNick

    The problem with that subversion is that it’s delivered in such a way that it really seems like Kylo Ren might be lying

    Rey is the first one to say it though – he just rubs it in in an attempt to break her down.

    It would have been like if at the end of season five, instead of Buffy sacrificing herself, some dude showed up with a vial of Dawn’s blood and was like, “ha, I’m going to”, and then did it.

    If Doc had knocked Spike out or broken his back or something that didn’t throw him off the tower, he could have pointed out that he was a third way to give Sommers blood to the gate, if Buffy trusted him enough not to kill the one he drunk from. That was something earlier events would have served to set up.

  4. mysterious ghost

    One subversion I appreciated was in Lego Movie 2. The character Rex Dangervest seemed like a standard badass action hero (exaggerated for comedic value) who was pretty Toxic Masculinity flavored, mild enough to be appropriate for a kids movie of course but still got the message across. I liked that he turned out to be the bad guy. The message that it’s okay to be caring like Emmet may not be a super unique message but I appreciated it all the same.

  5. Jenn H

    “I expected this movie to be good, but it really subverted my expectations instead.”

    One problem with subverting expectations is the same one that occurs with other plot twists: the author doesn’t want it to be too obvious otherwise they fear it won’t be as good. There can be this fear that if the audience can guess the twist before it happens then it ruins the plot.

    There is also a potential issue regarding genre. If the subversion isn’t clear straight up, then people who don’t like the story as it is presented will stop reading before the subversion, and people who did like the story they were reading will stop after the subversion.

    I suspect a lot of authors also want to be “subversive” because that is seen as being good, but they don’t fully commit to writing a subversion. For instance they want to subvert the White Saviour trope, but they don’t want to write a POC protagonist instead.

  6. Kathy Ferguson

    I enjoyed this discussion of subversion. In the sort of writing I do in political theory, one of the big challenges is to subvert the readers’ expectations in an unpredictable way, so that the line of thought doesn’t just settle immediately back in a familiar track. The easiest way to challenge a political argument is to reverse its terms: for example, in Plato’s Republic, the philosopher leaves the dark cave of ignorance to go up to the sunlight of understanding. So, one way to subvert that is to reverse the terms: have the dark cave symbolize enlightenment and the sun or sky stand for its opposite. The trouble is, the writer is still working with the familiar terms of a vertical imaginary, where you change by either rising up or going down. A more satisfying subversion is to rethink knowledge outside of the vertical arrangement – your characters could move around their space, neither up nor down but sideways, so that it is horizontal movement that produces change. That’s a lot harder, but it is much more subversive. I wonder if there is a counterpart to this move in writing fiction?

    • Cay Reet

      Sidewards could be a character moving from the forest which limits them to open space … for that cave/sunlight example.

      Fiction often works with turning tropes upside down, but there’s also more discreet changes (such as giving the damsel agency or making the white saviour lose in the end while a local leader saves the day). You can also do it a bit different. Discworld’s wizards are powerful mages, no doubt about that, but their whole organisation is all about not using magic. They will go to great lengths not to use it, in fact. Discworld’s Death (the personification of death) is a tall skeleton in dark robes using a scythe and riding a white horse – so far, so traditional. His horse is named Binky, though, and he loves curry – that’s more unexpected.

    • Bellis

      That’s cool that you bring up subversion of expectations in the context of teaching (at least I’m assuming that you’re using it to teach political theory), because afaik having your preconceived assumptions corrected helps with learning. Which is why one method to improve learning is to have learners guess first before they’re told the answer.

      Obviously if you want to do that in fiction, you’d have to be subtle about it (just because outright adressing the reader and prompting them to guess would be super annoying) and raise a question in a way that invites readers to speculate before giving more clues to the answer or revealing it outright. But for anyone who wants readers to get (=learn) a message, this level of subtlety and inviting reader speculation could be a good tool (in fact I’m making a mental note to myself to employ this as I type). You can be very clear about your message eventually and probably should be clear in most cases, but starting out with questions and speculation could even enhance this clarity.

      Another thing about learning that can be transferred into fiction writing is that we learn best when the difficulty level is just a tiny bit ahead of where we already are. This means, as mythcreants have said in a previous podcast, it’s useless to entertain the question “is this obviously bad thing really bad? yes, turns out it is!”. Instead you should try to move the general level of discourse further from where it is right now. How small or big you make the leap depends on your imagined target audience though, but you can also make several steps in one story.

      For subversions this means that you should pick something where it is actually interesting and new to your audience, and hopefully in a good way. I like the example of having a local leader of colour with the white saviour character being the antagonist (or secondary antagonist with them both fighting the same big threat) because it starts very basic* with “hey did you know someone who isn’t white can be the protagonist. See, they have complex inner lives, relationships and agency and everything!” It then gives more “steps” while introducing the status quo of the community, then the threat they’re facing, then their perspective on the white saviour and why that dude is actually part of their problem and not part of the solution, then an actual solution.
      I think most stories have to introduce new ideas step by step if they want to a) avoid confusion and b) actually have something new and interesting to say. If the last of those steps is a subversion, it makes everything more poignant.

      *even though sadly this is already new territory for a lot of fiction

  7. Dave L

    Surprised you didn’t mention a particular genre subversion; one which everyone who ever listened to a Mythcreants podcast has heard, and those of us who’ve listened to many of these podcasts know by heart:

    “The Princess Who Saved Herself” by Jonathan Coulton

  8. Jeppsson

    Just saw the TOS episode “Errand of Mercy”, and that really IS a subversion of the white savior trope.

    The Klingons want to occupy the planet Organia because of its strategic location, and Kirk goes there to offer them Star Fleet’s protection from the Klingons. The Organians say they don’t want this so-called protection, and they want Kirk to leave.

    The Organians are all played by white people, but they’re described as primitive, they never make any technological progress, etc. Kirk keeps pestering them about how they have to fight back against the occupation, while they calmly reply that they are non-violent. Kirk more or less tries to force them into guerilla warfare, while waiting for more Star Fleet ship to arrive, telling them they don’t understand bravery, that freedom is worth dying for, and other important ideals.

    Eventually it turns out the Organians have incredible superpowers, so they never had anything to worry about from the Klingons or anyone else. They use their powers to (without harming anyone) forcing the Klingons and Star Fleet to stop fighting. They say they find it HORRIBLE to force their will onto others, but they really had no choice at this point.

    In the end, Kirk talks about how embarrassed he is over his behaviour.

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