Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hate and War: An Overanalysis of "The Zygon Inversion"

Lo and behold, once again, I am late writing my blog.  As I begin typing this, the new episode, "Sleep No More," is already airing in the UK, and I will be watching it later (#anyonebutgatiss).  I've been a little bit of a slacker this season, often putting these blogs off until the last minute, or even writing them later than the original deadline I made for myself, of always getting each blog out before the next episode airs.  But because I am so late in writing this blog, I end up writing, at least the beginning of it, the day after the savage terror attacks in Paris, and two days after the bombings in Beirut, and today "The Zygon Inversion" seems far more relevant than it did when it aired last week.  I was shocked at where they went for part two of this story, not following the route I assumed they would, where we found out that the Zygons had a legitimate grievance against the humans.  I assumed I would get to the end of this two-parter having had a good time, but never having really felt challenged by anything fresh or intelligent.  Instead, we got a pleasant surprise from Peter Harness as the Doctor went into a much longer than normal speech about the nature of war.  Today, the Doctor's words seem especially poignant, as radicals not entirely unlike Bonnie have taken up arms across the world to murder in the name of their firmly held beliefs, and I feel like I know exactly what the Doctor would have to say to them:

There was only one moment of the episode that bothered me.  As someone who is very far to the left of the mainstream political spectrum, one who is a very big supporter of social justice movements and activism, when Bonnie tried to tell the Doctor of the unfairness of the Zygons' situation, I was surprised and a little disappointed at the Doctor's dismissal of her grievances and refusal to hear her out.  Really, at the end of this two-parter, we don't really know what birthed Bonnie's radicalism, and I think the script wants us to stay in that place, lest we gain too much sympathy for her cause, thus ruining the simplicity of what Harness has set up here.  I use the word "simplicity" rather loosely here, because there's a great deal of complexity to what Harness is doing, but the morality of this episode is supposed to be somewhat unambiguous.  The Doctor has a problem with the humans' response to the Zygon terrorists as much as he has a problem with the terrorists themselves, but the Doctor is supposed to be the smartest and most compassionate man in all of time and space, and I would expect him to be able to hold a person's complaint about their situation as legitimate and their violent tendencies as condemnable at the same time.  "We've been treated like cattle" is a complaint that I don't expect the Doctor to shrug off with a "So what?" and not at the very least asking her to unpack that and explain what it means.  I think that the larger point that Harness is making about violence and war can be made without discounting that freedom fighters, even the misguided ones that should be condemned for their violent actions, often have legitimate grievances.  But I did like that, in the end, the Doctor was equally concerned with protecting both species, and would not think of the Zygons' actions as reason to condemn them to death, either.  His amazing moment of his speech when he told Bonnie that he forgave her almost had me tearing up.

I did have to wonder about the Doctor telling Kate Stewart that she had said the same thing about not being able to forget that the boxes were empty "the last 15 times."  At first I assumed he meant that they had all gone through this entire stand-off between the humans and the Zygons 15 times before.  That seems to stretch the imagination because, if true, it seems hard to believe that the rest of U.N.I.T. doesn't figure out that this keeps happening.  As for the Doctor and Clara, if it's been 16 times now that they've been through all this, then that has to make this pretty boring because, now, this is just what they do on the weekends.  After rewatching it, though, I decided that the Doctor doesn't necessarily have to be referring to this entire situation having happened 15 times before, just that there have been 15 times so far when she somehow found out the truth about the Osgood box and the Doctor had to erase her memory each time.

I do have to wonder about Steven Moffat giving himself a writing credit for this episode.  Moffat was not credited as a co-writer for the first part of this two-parter, but he was for the second part.  There's been something happening lately that I pointed out last season, and one that of my co-hosts from the Mile High Who Podcast, Shelley, brought up independent of me at a Mile High Who event the other day:  Moffat seems to be adding his name onto episodes as a co-writer if it involves something relating to the larger arc of the season.  Last season he seemed to throw his name onto anything that had Danny Pink in it, as Danny was an integral part of the Series 8 plot arc.  So what about this episode is going to turn out to be relevant to the larger plot of the season?  My best guess is that the re-establishment of the two Osgoods, with the ongoing ambiguity as to which, if either of them, is human.  How that's going to relate to the coming finale is beyond me, but then, there's very little that I've been able to decipher about the coming finale.

I think we might be seeing more of the Zygons going forward, as Harness did a very good job here making them interesting again.  In the end, I think this is going to go down as a favorite episode for talking about war, hate, and violence, as quotes and videos from this episode have been flying around the Internet in response to a lot of what's surrounding the recent terrorist attacks throughout the world.  I wish there were more people like the Doctor in the world.

And now, the only band that matters:

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