Thursday, June 27, 2019

Galavant Rewatch 2.5, "Giants vs. Dwarves"

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Some tensions are eased and a spell is broken as Galavant continues.

2.5, "Giants vs. Dwarves"

Written by Dan Kopelman, Luan Thomas, Julia Grob, and Joe Piarulli
Directed by Declan Lowney

Synopsis

Tad is a fearsome-looking thing.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Richard wakes Galavant with the news that he has traded the Jewel of Valencia for a dragon, Tad Cooper. Galavant is understandably upset at the news and rebukes Richard before storming off in anger at him. Roberta returns from a successful hunt after both have stalked off from an unstruck camp.

Richard wanders off, singing to and about Tad. He finds himself suddenly taken captive afterwards.

Isabella continues her saccharine wedding planning under Wormwood's control. One invitation to the wedding has not been returned, and in the following discussion, Isabella's mother follows several others from previous episodes and notes the strange changes to Isabella's behavior. Wormwood exerts his influence on Isabella and has her confine her mother to the dungeon.

Confusion is understandable.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Galavant proceeds to look for the giants of whom he has heard, thinking to persuade them to his cause. He finds them, but he finds them not so big as repute makes them. They offer to aid him, even so, if at the cost of aiding them in their fight against their enemies, the dwarves.

Elsewhere, Sid accompanies Gareth to an impromptu market. Sid marks changes in Gareth's demeanor, and Gareth notes his burgeoning affection for Madalena. Sid is surprised at the change in attitude.

Confusion is understandable.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Richard and the dwarves--who are of no different stature than the giants, himself, or Galavant--approach Richard and the giants to lay out the terms of conflict between them. The root cause of their conflict--an ill-made bridge--is noted and the clear tension between Galavant and Richard proceeds into a general melee. Roberta arrives and halts the violence. She rebukes them both for their folly, but they return to it nonetheless.

Sid and Gareth confer about Gareth's plans to announce his love to Madalena. Sid tries to talk him out of it, but Gareth does not relent.

There's not much confusion here.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Isabella arrives at the home of the wedding guest who had yet to respond, a Princess Jubilee. She finds it decidedly other than her spell-befuddled self expected; Jubilee is something of a caricature of a rebel, rejecting "princess" norms. During their exchange, Isabella loses her tiara and comes out from under Wormwood's control.

The promised fight between the giants and dwarves begins amid a West Side Story-style song-and-dance number. Roberta rages against their continuing folly and purposes to stop the conflict between them. The fracas ensues with confusion among the many combatants; Roberta solves the underlying problem between the giants and dwarves and calls Galavant's and Richard's attention to their common cause and mutual need. They are reconciled, and the giants and dwarves return to work on their bridge.

Gareth and Madalena reach a nascent romantic accord, and Sid flees for his life. Isabella purposes vengeance upon Wormwood.

Discussion

There've been several references in the series to Game of Thrones. Watching the musical number in which Richard extols Tad, I cannot help but think that it is another such, riffing off of such episodes of the HBO series as "The Dance of Dragons." Given the degree to which the HBO series (inaccurately) informs popular understanding of the European medieval, I have to wonder at how the joke functions for a great many people. I am not certain it does for an overly broad cross-section of ABC's audience. It did for me, though.

There've also been many points in the series that have sat uncomfortably. The present episode presents a couple of them. One is in the interchange between Jubilee and Isabella, which seems to reflect and reinforce the virgin/whore dichotomy that is unfortunately prevalent. Although it does subvert Manichean allegory to some extent, and it does result in Isabella doffing her saccharine persona (inflicted upon her by patriarchal structures, certainly), it also persists in associating female sexuality--both in a general sense and with a focus on bisexual identity, given Jubilee's announcement that she engages both male and female partners--with peril and deploys a character specifically as a sexual counterpoint to Isabella.

Roberta having to do the emotional labor of maintaining not only Galavant and Richard, but also of reconciling the giants and dwarves, is another bit that sits uncomfortably. Alixe Bovey attests that medieval women did undertake such roles, as well as many others, even as they do now, but to have the eminently capable Roberta--who is shown in the episode to have caught, killed, and carried back to camp a deer--serving as the emotional anchor of the group seems to play into stereotypes that should be opposed rather than reinscribed. How this might be done is not settled, of course; she is clearly emotionally invested in Richard (for reasons that are not entirely clear, given his continuing incompetence and history of cruelty), so leaving him to suffer the consequences of his actions would be injurious to her, but preserving him from those consequences forces her into a maternalistic role that does not bode well for her.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Galavant Rewatch 2.4, "Bewitched, Bothered, and Belittled"

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The series ruminates on relationships in the present, aptly-titled, episode.

2.4, "Bewitched, Bothered, and Belittled"

Written by Maggie Bandur, Luan Thomas, Julia Grob, and Joe Piarulli
Directed by John Fortenberry

Synopsis

They're not the most likely-looking bunch.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Galavant, Richard, and Roberta continue to try to marshal forces to rescue Isabella. Richard offers the Jewel of Valencia against the aid, and the aid is hired--until Richard opens his mouth and provokes an attack. Amid it, Richard realizes that Roberta is a childhood companion of his. They reconnect amid the fight and make their escape; after, Galavant commends Richard on smuggling the Jewel out of Valencia and offers gentle rebuke for his error negotiating with the prospective fighters. His thoughts turn to Isabella in Hortencia.

There, Isabella persists under Wormwood's spell, preparing for the event. Gwendolyn notes the changes in Isabella's demeanor before being dismissed. She and Vincenzo then discuss their own changed circumstances, particularly their economic elevation; she cannot let go of the habits of poverty, while Vincenzo seems to relish the opportunity to "be wasteful as the fine folk." A musical number explicates the improved conditions.

It is, understandably, not a happy memory.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
In Valencia, Madalena prepares for an event hosted by eminent royals. She reflects upon her earlier meeting with them, remembering the humiliation dealt to her. She cites it as a motivating factor in her development and reaffirms her intent to attend the event.

In a roadside camp, Richard and Roberta continue to reconnect, with Galavant excluded due to lacking their shared history. Richard continues to falter, and Galavant proposes again to leave Richard behind--urging him to take up with Roberta. Richard demurs, and Galavant purposes to throw the two of them together.

Saccharine, Isabella continues her wedding preparations. Vincenzo comments on her changed attitudes and marks with fear her violent reaction towards anything approaching the enchanted tiara she wears.

One almost pities Madalena. Almost.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Madalena attends the event hosted by the eminent royals. It is a roast after the model of the Friar's Club, and Madalena is obliged to sit through a series of insults for which she was unprepared. As she leaves, the same trick played on her in her childhood is enacted again, and she walks back to her stronghold.

In Hortencia, Vincenzo returns to his home to find Gwendolyn sleeping in a cupboard drawer. She notes her continuing discomfort with her and Vincenzo's improved circumstances and makes to leave; he goes with her (neatly inverting Madalena's ascent to power along the way).

Galavant's plan to throw Richard and Roberta together gets underway. He is heavy-handed in giving musical advice. Richard manages to set himself on fire and exits, Roberta following. The next day, though, Richard indicates that the efforts were for naught--though Roberta seems dispirited at the revelation. The trio presses on.

Madalena returns to Valencia to find Gareth and Sid besotted. She returns to her chambers and contemplates having emotions. Gareth looks on, developing greater sympathy for her as others in the series are shown in passing. Gareth delivers a grisly gift, for which she thanks him tenderly as the episode ends.

Discussion

The musical number in which Gwendolyn and Vincenzo explicate their improved circumstances highlights the interplay of in/accurate medievalisms at work in the series. That Hortencia is a more Mediterranean, nation-state than Valencia or Richard's kingdom is clear, as is its Islamicization; the climate, the architecture, and the attire of Prince Harry and those in his service speak to it. It evokes Al-Andalus to a large degree (albeit without explicit reference to Islam and in the caricaturish fashion too often on display in mainstream media generally and Disney properties more specifically). As commonly understood, the medieval Mediterranean was more technologically advanced than the more northern regions of Europe at the same time, and there is a long recognition of more focus on scholarship and learning in such places as Al-Andalus than in the more northern regions normally thought of as "medieval."

Hortencia seems to evoke that in its description in the shared musical number. There is toilet technology, if primitive, and the standard of living being described is clearly better than was previously enjoyed--something commonly linked to higher technological levels. The availability of medical care also seems to connect to it--even if there is a strange inaccuracy in the presentation. While leeching, mentioned in the song, was a current practice, the "fattest leeches" described would seem to be the least useful; those leeches take more blood, enacting more of the perceived treatment, that are thin than fat. It is a small thing, but it seems to mark out the response of the series to its own time of production more than to its putative medieval antecedents.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Galavant Rewatch 2.3, "Aw, Hell, the King"

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The series commits to Richard's arc as it continues.

2.3, "Aw, Hell, the King"

Written by Kat Likkel, John Hoberg, Luan Thomas, Julia Grob, and Joe Piarulli
Directed by Declan Lowney

Synopsis

It's not an auspicious sign--or an accurate floorplan.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Richard and Galavant stand at the site where Richard's castle formerly stood. Richard takes stock and rages at the loss, while Galavant focuses on his own goals. As they pursue their ends, they find that the area has left off monarchy in Richard's absence; Richard has trouble adjusting to the new circumstances. Galavant responds more positively to the democratic impulses that seem to be at work in the kingdom-that-was and that are explicated in song.

In a dream, Gareth is confronted by Richard. He wakes from the dream, screaming, much to Madalena's annoyance. She rages at Sid to have him fix the issue, threatening to kill him if he does not resolve the matter.

It seems a reasonable concern.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Isabella, in her pink prison, gorges on sweets as Steve puts on a puppet show dramatizing the miscommunication of the previous episode. He expresses concern for her well-being amid repeated performances. Another performance is interrupted by Isabella's parents, who press upon her to move ahead with issues of the wedding. They introduce a Chester Wormwood, a wedding planner--and clearly a sinister character, if the puerile crossed fingers are to be believed.

In the erstwhile kingdom, the locals continue to show Richard how his former goods have been taken to the common use. Richard continues to adjust poorly, and Galavant tries to conscript an army. He is invited to make his case to the town in a coming meeting; the local inviting him makes a pointed comment about sending a volunteer military into an open-ended conflict that aides the wealthy, calling it "madness."

Sid's initial efforts do not go well.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Sid tries to help Gareth with his dreams. Gareth admits to his problem and his uncertainty about things; Sid suggests that Gareth is feeling guilty, which Gareth rejects--and Madalena threatens again.

Galavant conducts his campaign to secure the town's agreement to lend him an army. Richard does help with some materials, though his own insecurities continue to emerge. He considers taking up other professions than that to which he was born, betraying his lack of knowledge of the trades and crafts upon which life depends--and returning to his realization of incapacity, unaware of the destiny that appears to await him.

The glowing sword would be a clue, did he but see it.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Wormwood works an enchantment on a tiara that Isabella will wear for her wedding, planning to use it to control her mind and thence Hortencia. Isabella does not want to participate in the planning until the tiara is applied to her. When it is, its spell works upon her swiftly and deeply, and she engages in the planning.

Certainly an attitude adjustment.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

The town meeting takes place, with Richard continuing to grouse. Galavant makes his case for the army to rescue Isabella. It does not go well for him, with most of town jeering him. Richard springs to his defense, speaking powerfully to them in Galavant's support. It is of no avail--save for one person who rises to join Richard. He is moved by it, even if nobody else moves to it.

Gareth, meanwhile, continues to suffer his nightmares. Sid tries again to aid him, and Gareth softens slightly. But only slightly. Galavant, Richard, and the villager--Roberta--proceed to rescue Isabella. And Isabella announces a wedding date...

Roberta seems eager to be involved.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.


Discussion

It might well be thought that even the bad and partial democratic ideas voiced by the villagers early in the episode do not fit with the Middle Ages in which they are described as "progressive" in the episode. Owing to long use, the three-estates feudalism encapsulated by Georges Duby is regarded as the "standard," "real" social organization of the European High Middle Ages--the overall template from which Galavant and no small number of other medievalist properties work. As is often the case, however, prevailing conception is not entirely accurate; such concepts were known to the people of medieval Europe. Direct democracy by the relatively wealthy citizenry was known in the Classical world, and some records thereof were available to medieval Europeans. Additionally, constructions similar to, if not congruent with, them were also known in medieval European practice among members of the Hanseatic League (with the focus on local businesses and spread of Lübeck law) and in a number of German towns (such as followed the Magdeburg model). Again, the correspondences are not complete, but it is clear that medieval minds could well conceive of other forms of government than the feudal in which most mainstream medievalist properties operate. That Galavant shows such at work is something it gets right.

It is also of note that Steve McKenzie, the jester, is the observer who remarks upon Isabella's shift in attitude towards her wedding--only to be disregarded by Isabella's parents. As a jester, and in motley, Steve is clearly working within the fool-archetype. (That he is as close to a narrator as the series has bears some mention; the fool is the bridge between the story and the audience, which marks the series as the farce it clearly is--but also the audience as foolish for needing the intermediation of a fool. It is something of a backhanded comment on the viewership.) Accordingly, it is his to point out things that others will not allow themselves to see, even if he is not heeded as much as perhaps he should be. And that is far from unknown in the medieval, as well.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Galavant Rewatch 2.2, "World's Best Kiss"

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Communications break down to some degree, and a new twist kinks the tapestry of the narrative, as the second season of Galavant continues.

2.2, "World's Best Kiss"

Written by Kat Likkel, John Hoberg, Luan Thomas, Julia Grob, and Joe Piarulli
Directed by John Fortenberry

Synopsis 

It seems a rather pointed remark.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Galavant and Richard proceed along their path, Richard complaining about the rigors of travel throughout. Galavant relents, but he upbraids Richard for his complaints; Richard, in turn, rebukes Galavant for his unconcern about him, moving to lamentation of the prevailing disdain in which he is held. Galavant reaffirms his desire to reach Isabella; she, for her part, remains in her pink prison, and gives Vincenzo an amulet she has theoretically always worn. He comments about its sudden appearance, but moves on and accepts it to give to her parents. He also comments about the length of the guard-changing ceremony as Isabella waxes romantic about Galavant (and he about her). They mutually arrive at the conclusion that the kiss was not a good one.

At least Galavant got his name right...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Valencia, Madalena casually misnames Sid as she makes demands of him. He objects fruitlessly, but he still lays out the day's agenda to her and Gareth. Madalena soon espies Gareth's adjustments to local decor and objects to them more fruitfully than had Sid.

Galavant and Richard arrive at a festival in progress. Galavant takes Richard's boots to get them repaired and leaves Richard to amuse himself in the fair. Richard soon espies a unicorn that is strangely attracted to him. He is chagrined to learn that unicorns are attracted to virgins. Later, he and Galavant confer about the kiss the latter shared with Isabella and suggests visiting a fortune teller. The fortune teller confers with the two in overly dramatic and juvenile fashion until interrupted by a call from home. He apologizes for the call, but the two seize upon the idea of using it for their own ends.

Isabella tries to make her escape, aided by Steve amid a game of hide-and-seek. The guard-changing ceremony is indeed ludicrous, and it provides cover for the escape attempt. But the amulet Isabella had entrusted to Vincenzo receives a call from Galavant and Richard--with bad call quality. Richard learns of events in Valencia, which wounds him. Galavant bids Vincenzo find Isabella, and Richard continues to mull over his hurts.

Not the kindest criticism, no.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Valencia, Gareth makes to move more of his things into public view and is shocked to find his earlier work undone. He begins throwing Madalena's things into the moat, and she more of his, escalating sharply. Sid intervenes, leading to a reconciliation involving his own defenestration into the moat.*

In Hortencia, Vincenzo convenes with Isabella, allowing Galavant to connect the call. The poor call quality occasions substantial miscommunications on both their ends. Galavant is buoyed and Isabella heartbroken. She returns to her captivity, seemingly willingly.

Richard continues to consider his circumstances, pursued by the unicorn. He arrives at a resolution and takes up a nearby sword. Galavant apologizes to Richard, and the two commiserate briefly before getting back underway, only to find things are greatly changed.

Not that the sword Richard pulled matters or anything...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Discussion

Notable in the episode is Richard's description of the festival as a "pre-Renaissance pleasure fest." Festivals in the medieval were occasions of no small import, of course, both for the commemorations of those things noted as the formal reasons for them and for the relaxation of and from social norms and daily tasks that they occasioned--not unlike festivals today. The medieval had no concept of being a middle age, though, or of a purported renaissance to come, so the term is anachronistic--as befits a treatment of those things upon which the joke rests, Renaissance fairs, about which (and similar things) I've written more than once.

Additionally, and more in line with medieval antecedents, the festival features a unicorn and a sword needing pulling from a fixed location--a stump in the present instance. The Arthurian associations of the latter are clear, so much so that they hardly need explication. (That they connect to Disney's 1963 Sword in the Stone more than to Malory is perhaps the only item needing more explanation. Given that Galavant is an ABC property, and ABC a Disney property, it is sensible enough. The unwitting, almost childlike nature of the pull is more pronounced in the animated presentation and the present episode than in Malory or other "more serious" works. But with Richard suddenly associated with Arthur through drawing the sword, his naïvete suddenly becomes more solidly grounded; Arthur is, after all, described as "sumquat childgered" in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.)

Unicorns are prevalent in popular culture, to be sure. (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, anyone?) They are commonplaces in fantasy properties, typically understood to be associated with purity. Their attraction to it is powerfully suggested in such works as the Unicorn Tapestries, and reading them as sexual metaphors is hardly difficult. The depiction of the unicorn in the present episode seems to line up with medieval depictions rather neatly, even if it is put to use in anachronistic humor that appears to align to concepts of toxic masculinity that should be overthrown.

(I am aware that the present episode, as well as several others, work to make Richard a more sympathetic character, in part through highlighting the tension he experiences in trying to reconcile the toxic masculinities he is "supposed" to uphold and his own seemingly gentler nature. But he has also in the series been a bad ruler, a kidnapper, an invader, borderline genocidal, and any number of other undesirable things. The weekly broadcasts and season-schedules of the original airings might have done something to mute recollection of such things, but the streaming services where the series is most easily viewed now does not, and it does not serve to foster a good image either of Richard or of an audience that might be willing to forget quickly the horrors he has perpetrated.)

*I had the chance to use "defenestration" in a sentence. I had to take it. Had. To.

Monday, June 3, 2019

About Travels in Genre and Medievalism in 2019

𝔉ive years ago today saw the beginning of this blog, and at several points (here, here, and here), there have been comments offered about the state of the blog and of the Society for which it remains a mouthpiece. To follow up on them, then:
  • Since the last status update, there have been 69 posts (including the present one) across 52 weeks, an average of 1.33 posts per week.
  • In total, there have been 304 posts (including the present one) across 260 weeks, an average of 1.17 posts per week.
Numbers seem to be a bit mixed. Overall number of posts is up, clearly, which is good. The overall average number of posts per week is up, which is also good. The average number of posts per week since the last status report is slightly down, however, which is less good. On the whole, things seem better, but it seems there is more that could be done usefully.
The Society continues to benefit from reading series, some of which have ended (notably Geoffrey B. Elliott's Voltron: Legendary Defender re/watch and Shiloh Carroll's towering Game of Thrones re/watch). Others (Elliott's Galavant rewatch, for example) are ongoing, which helps attract and maintain attention for the Society and its work. The occasional guest piece, such as Chrissie Perella's "Marvels, Monsters, or (Wo)Men," adds to what the Society offers and reaffirms its place as a site for informed consideration of what current cultures do with the medieval.
The blog has more or less settled on a form. This is not to say that things will not change in the future; they always do. But for the present, the current pattern seems to be the one to prevail. No comments have indicated that the current paratext is hard to read or somehow unfit for the material, so the Society is, at least, not doing something wrong in its current presentation. All or nearly all of the reading series materials are aggregated, which aids in navigation. Membership information is current as of this writing, having been updated from proceedings at the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies. Paperwork is in process for the 2020 Congress, with CFPs to come pending acceptance.
As ever, there are some continuing concerns. The Society is always happy to accept new membership; email talesaftertolkien@gmail.com with the subject line "I'd Like to Join" to get on board. The Society is also happy to accept submissions of short-form scholarship, commentary, or re/watches from members; email talesaftertolkien@gmail.com with the subject line "Blog Submission" to send along your ideas or full pieces. Additionally, member news (email talesaftertolkien@gmail.com with subject line "Member News") and CFPs (email talesaftertolkien@gmail.com with subject line "I've a CFP") are welcome; in either case, send stuff along, and we'll see about getting it in front of people!
The Society looks forward to hearing from you and thanks you for your continued reading!