Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thy Fearful Symmetry; or A Series of Catastrophes: An Overanalysis of "In the Forest of the Night"

Into the woods, then out of the woods, and home before dark...
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

        -The Tyger by William Blake

This season has been one hell of a ride so far.  Last season was, by and large, a dreary, muddled mess of a season, and a seriously lackluster season with which to say goodbye to as brilliant of a Doctor as Matt Smith.  The injection of a new Doctor (despite being the one who replaced my all time favorite Doctor) has been just what this show needed.  A rip-roaring, fun, exciting season, this year we've been through one of the most imaginative years of the entire Doctor Who franchise.  This episode, though, felt much like a throw away.  It reminded me of what happens when I leave my blog to the last minute on Saturday morning and I want to make my self-imposed deadline of posting my blog before the new episode airs:  I don't really always get to put as much into it as I really wanted to.  This episode lacks any real peril.  Even the other episodes I criticized this season ("Into the Dalek," "Mummy on the Orient Express") were, at the very least, far more ambitious than this episode.  Trees taking over the Earth is hard to make scary unless the trees look like the Ents from Lord of the Rings or Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, but even still, I feel like a little more effort could have been made to make this story more interesting.  Even the animals that had escaped from the zoo, apparently, and were now loose in the worldwide forest didn't make this "crisis" feel scary.  But, as someone else pointed out to me online, it's a testament to the quality of this season that the season's obvious lowest point was still pretty entertaining.  While the plot remains rather uninteresting, the episode is peppered with some truly brilliant dialogue and one-liners.  As we barrel ever faster towards the big 2-part finale, the high quality of the episodes from this season give me a lot of hope that we're heading into something really special.

This episode reminds me of an old episode of almost everyone's least favorite (but my favorite) Star Trek series, Voyager.  In the episode called "Twisterd" (one of the show's most notoriously ill-conceived episodes) a strange green gas overtakes the ship, and everything it passes over gets dimensionally distorted, causing the whole ship to be geographically rearranged into new patterns that the crew can't navigate.  At the end of the episode, one of the characters comes to the realization that it's possible that the phenomenon is not actually dangerous, and that the best action is for them to do nothing.  He turns out to be right, and the strange phenomenon leaves them without harming them, the lesson of the episode being that, sometimes, inaction is the best solution.  If you haven't seen the episode before, don't worry that I've just spoiled that for you, because it's one of the worst episodes of the entire Star Trek franchise.  Ultimately, "In the Forest of the Night" comes down with a somewhat similar lesson, that, in certain situations, inaction is the best course.  However, much as Star Trek: Voyager showed us, to teach that lesson in a compelling way in an action-adventure story is very difficult, and this episode does only a slightly better job than Voyager's "Twisted."  Even the solution of the episode is unexciting.  Seriously, that's all it took to stop the governments of the world from burning down the forests?  Think of all the things that we've tried to explain to governments and businesses over the years that they need to stop doing for the sake of the planet and the human race, and think of how many of those things they've actually stopped doing.  The ozone layer is going the way of Limp Bizkit's fan base, but all we had to do to stop that was to get a little girl to ask everyone nicely?

Danny and Clara's fight over her traveling with the Doctor is certainly interesting, but moving at an annoyingly slow pace.  Danny first found out about the Doctor and expressed his vague disapproval of him in "The Caretaker," and every week this conflict between them seems to threaten to come to a head and never does.  Two weeks ago, Clara claimed to be ending her travels with the Doctor, last week she was caught lying about ending her travels with him, and this week there seem to be no consequences to that lie.  Clara keeps lying, and Danny keeps failing to react.  What's more, Danny made it quite clear weeks ago that he doesn't care if she keeps traveling with the Doctor, as he told her in "Kill the Moon" that he thought it was obvious that she still cared about him and wasn't about to leave him forever, and in "Mummy on the Orient Express" he told her that leaving the Doctor forever sounded silly and she should keep the door open to spending some time with him again from time to time.  Even in this episode, Danny says point blank that he doesn't care what the truth is, he just wants to know what it is.  So why she's struggling so hard to cover up something from her boyfriend that he clearly doesn't care about remains...unclear.  My best guess is that she's mad at herself for not cutting ties with the Doctor like she said she was going to back in "Mummy on the Orient Express" and is projecting her own disapproval of her own actions onto Danny and imagining that he's the one who's upset about it, not her.

I had to ask some British friends online about this, but I wasn't aware that young children in London ever wore New York Yankees hats, as the kid in this episode clearly does.  It's not like I've seen anyone in the US wearing any sort of soccer gear unless it's World Cup season or they were clearly not born in this country.  I was told that Yankees caps can be seen in England sometimes, but that it's mostly a fashion thing, and most people who wear them don't follow the team or even baseball, for that matter.

That gruff, American, New York bravado gets...lost somehow
The very ending of this episode felt cheap to me.  This girl's motivation for most of the episode was her lost sister, in a back story that was never really convincingly or satisfyingly set-up, and the payoff for that poorly set-up story was even weaker, as she's magically found alive and well.  So, this girl was gone for a year?  Where'd she go?  Was she kidnapped?  Did she run away?  How did they find her again?  Did the trees help her find her way home as a thank you?  If so, does that mean the trees always had her?  If so, why, since they seemed to be the good guys in this episode?  Or was she just hiding behind that hydrangea bush the neighbors planted for the past year?  If you're not going to take the time to really set something up, just spare us the payoff.

"It's the trees!  The trees did it!"  Shut up, M. Night Moron!
Speaking of unsatisfying scenes, Missy's appearance here seemed entirely unnecessary.  She watches a video of the Earth not getting destroyed and says that that was surprising, and that she likes surprises.  It's possible that the finale is actually going to explain this reference a little bit and it will actually turn out to be a unique and highly relevant moment, but what's more likely is that, with the big finale coming next week, they just wanted to remind us that Missy is out there, waiting, biding her time.  It was bad enough back in Season 5 when the cracks in time showed up everywhere, whether it was really relevant or not, but at least that was a much faster little nod in each episode, and it didn't require bringing in a particular actor every time for no good reason.  I'd rather have no reference o Missy than one that's blatantly phoned in.

So now, going into the finale, we are left with Danny and Clara who have repeatedly avoided the fight we all know is coming, and Missy watching sinisterly at the Doctor and companion she was clearly responsible for bringing together.  I thought, in this blog, of speculating about what's to come in the finale, especially considering the excellent trailer we saw at the end of the episode, but I thought that maybe that might be something for its own blog later in the week.  Until then, feel free to come up with your own theories about the answer to the question we've been wondering about all season:  Who the hell is Missy?

No comments:

Post a Comment