eruthros: Delenn from Babylon 5 with a startled expression and the text "omg!" (Default)
[personal profile] eruthros
One short and silly thing, the other long and full of a queer reading of the ep.

1. Okay. Throw pillows. My conclusion: John didn't take an interior design class. No. Combine throw pillows with his sparkly curtains and bazillions of candles and what do you get? ... Yep. John Sheppard worked at Pier One. You know, he was (perceived as) vaguely gay and nonthreatening, but not so gay that women didn't come up to him occasionally and say "we need a man's opinion." And he'd be like, "oh, of course, some of these velvet throw pillows with the buttons and the gold edging would go perfectly! Also, I recommend as many twenty dollar candles as you can fit on horizontal surfaces." (Only partly because he got a commission! Also, he just liked candles.) This is what really happened, guys. John Sheppard = PIER ONE IMPORTS. Yes.

2. Okay, so what [personal profile] thingswithwings and I do after we watch an episode is sit around and bullshit about it. And thus, I would like to present our theory of Why John Kissing Larrin Is Incredibly Queer. (I mean, more so than John's usual discomfort at touching women.) Being the people we are, we actually paused the episode in the middle of the the key scene here to talk about queerness and then watched the scene again, because we are huge dorks. ([personal profile] thingswithwings, if I forgot anything, let me know.)

Let's start structurally, within the plot of this episode. I was afraid that John and Larrin were going to kiss in the closet; hoped they'd just get it over with. But then... then, instead, they put their hands over each other's mouth. Ostensibly to keep each other quiet (though the life signs detector was still beeping -- whose brilliant idea was that?). So, okay, that was a scene that was cut, shot, scored like a kiss scene, but instead of a kiss, it was this physical barring of the kiss. No mouths for heterosexual John and Larrin!

And then, later, John sees a Wraith that has just fed on Larrin. And here's how the scene goes:
- he makes a point of showing us, the audience, that his gun is empty, can't fire; from the pov of the producers, this is probably supposed to read as John Sheppard's Bravery, but we all know what guns mean
- he pushes the empty gun into the Wraith's neck and starts to make threats
- the first thing he wants is the stunner (a working gun)
- the second thing is Larrin's life pushed back into her
- and the third is the Wraith's departure
- He and the Wraith have some palaver about the Wraith's chances and John's word, and then the Wraith starts doing the important thing: he puts his hand on Larrin and feeds her own life back into her (her life penetrates her, instead of being sucked out of her; she becomes part alien, as John is)
- Larrin has an orgasm, I swear to god -- watch her face. ("It actually felt kinda good.")
- John gets off on Larrin's orgasm/pleasure/(re)penetration of life -- I swear to god here, too, go watch JFlan's facial acting. He's in the background, and out of focus sometimes, but he's blinking a lot, narrowed eyes, shifting his weight back and forth; and at the end, he's lost the pressure of his empty gun on the Wraith and has to push it back into him.
- Larrin and John discuss Wraith penetration versus Wraith sucking; "it actually felt kinda good" "yeah, I know" -- John recognizes her pleasure as the same as his own.
- He puts his stunner (the working gun) in his pants, and helps Larrin up.
- Larrin and John stand as they did in the closet, earlier; but now they're not barring each other's lips and each other's heterosexual desire -- because it's not heterosexual anymore. (More on that in a minute.) Heterosexuality is what's closeted in this episode!
- Larrin and John kiss; Larrin provides most of the forward momentum, and John moves only a little.
- Larrin pulls the working gun from John's pants, presses it into his side (Think of the slash conventions here -- the hardness against his hip, is-that-a-gun-or-are-you-just-happy-to-see-me)
- And John goes down. Kaboom! Silly John.

So: the kiss. The Wraith.

There is this moment in which there are three people in this corridor. There is John, who is only touching the Wraith; Larrin, who is only touching the Wraith; and the Wraith, this insert between them who makes the contact possible. Larrin's arousal, and John's arousal, happen via the mediator of the messy penetration of the Wraith. John is aroused by the process of Larrin becoming like him, feeling what he did, recognizing the Wraith as penetrators and not just suckers. Becoming, as well, maybe part-alien, not-human, not-normal. Becoming queer, having queer sexual experience, having a queer body. And at that point, for John, this is a recognition-of-self-in-another-body, is a desire-for-sameness -- Larrin doesn't just have a queer body in the sense that she's now had this half-alien pleasure thing, she also fits John's desire for someone who has the same body he does.

Only after he recognizes himself, his own reactions and his own sensual experience, in another body does he send the Wraith out -- while this is a heterosexual pairing, it is barred by hands, simultaneously barred by and made possible by the Wraith. It's only possible when Larrin becomes John. He doesn't move towards her until she is like him, until her admission that her body felt good permits him to make a similar admission. (As far as we know, this is the first time he admits to anyone that the Wraith re-feeding him felt good, the first time he admits to bodied feeling about it. Though Rodney thought it was clear -- he thought John looked younger.) They don't kiss until they are the same.

At which point, of course, Larrin gets the upper hand at last, takes John's (functional) gun from him, leaves him with only his empty gun, stuns him and leaves him on the floor.

Tangent: it's interesting to think about Larrin-Wraith-John in the light of the totally, totally queer-barred-by-heterosexuality of the Teyla-Kate Heightmeyer-evil!alien!John dream. Larrin at the risk of dying, John desperate to save her, and the Wraith in the middle -- only instead of evil!John as this socially-required component that makes Teyla+Kate okay, the Wraith is actually a queer, non-socially-required, thing that makes the kiss possible. Don't really have anything more to say here, but: hmmm.

So, then, moving out from the episode:

There are at least two ways to read this as "Pegasus Unbound," and both of them queer "Prometheus Unbound" in different ways. In the one, John is the hijacker. The ship belongs to Larrin, and John wants to take it away and make it work -- so John is Valaesque and Larrin is Danielish, in that reading. Larrin is Daniel attempting to take back his ship; John is Vala trying to take it away.

In the other reading, this has changed the central metaphor from hijacking a ship to hijacking John -- they need to steal him, his blood, his body; this is all about messy bodiedness in a way that SGA used to be all about clean blue science. It's interesting that John bleeds, in this episode, as Daniel did not in "Prometheus Unbound" -- John bleeds, spits blood, is visibly damaged/bodied, where Daniel's kinda a robot. In this reading, John's the Prometheus and Daniel, and Larrin's Vala, trying to take control of John's body; as a queer reading, this relies on two things: the complication of bodies and technology that makes bodies less "natural" (John as the Prometheus) and the distinctions that the show, in its early seasons, attempted to draw between mind(Ancient-Asgard) and body(Wraith). As much as the fans have been pointing out the creepiness of the ascended since SG1, early seasons of SGA largely kept these ideas uncomplicated as part of a structural metaphor that made SGA a show in which science and technology = good, and minds = good, and clean/uncomplicated = good.

The Ancients are disembodied mind; the Wraith are messy bodies. And their ships, even, are like that -- the sticky tendrils and webs and uncertain bodiedness of the Wraith ships, which are hard to see a beginning and end to; they're not just organic bodies, they're those messy bodies where it's unclear where the body is, and what is part of the body. And take that versus the Aurora, and the clean-white-blue simulation they've all been living in. The Ancients happen not even in brains, they happen in minds, and the Wraith in bodies. The Wraith are bad because: they feed (on humans); their ships are organic technology; they're all about dirtiness, chaos, messiness, bodies, aging, that sort of thing. SGA in its early seasons tried to push as clean-blue-ascended-Ancient-disembodied-good and messy-red-feeding-Wraith-bodied-bad. There's a dirtiness, a devalorization, of bodies (Wraith) and a cleanness, a glorification of minds (Ancient). The Atlantis expedition, they tell us explicitly in the first few seasons, should strive to be more like the Ancients, and less like the Wraith, should be trying to Ascend, to think, to do "science."

But John knows that clean-blue-ascended-Ancient-disembodied-good is a lie, a mask, a convenient structural fiction. He knows it several ways, now, and we've heard him say it out loud -- what's the line in "Tao of Rodney," where John says "we know the Ancients weren't perfect" and Elizabeth says "do we?" He's breaking down the links that make that structural metaphor appealing, finding the messiness inside the structure of SGA (that, it must be said, fans were finding by episode two!). And I think that based on the kiss up there, Larrin's "it actually felt kinda good," that John was also forced into awareness of his messy body in "Common Ground." John is in the middle of the pretty structural metaphor fucking the whole thing up, queering the metaphor, recognizing bodies, and generally making a mess of things.

So let's take that moment and run with it, and talk about the Wraith and the Ancients as metaphor. I already said that, in the early seasons, the show was pretty clearly trying to set up the Ancients as the good guys, the disembodied people; the Wraith as these icky, messy, sticky bodies. But there's actually another concept loaded in there, a sort of science:nature, masculine:feminine. Minds are for thinking, and are male; bodies are for sex, and are female, but are sometimes threatening... as in the vagina dentata concept. Where the Wraith have, for god's sake, literal vagina dentata -- they suck life out of people with the vagina in the palm of a hand! They embody -- and embody is an important word for the Wraith generally -- this sort of threatening, feminine, hole that needs to be filled but will suck too much out of you. It will eat your mind, your essence, the things that make you you and leave you a shell. Messy, icky, sticky, feminine bodies. Rodney's line: "is there anything about the Wraith that doesn't want to eat you?" Well, yeah, and that's what John finds out!

So when John meets his Wraith in "Common Ground," he's (essentially) having yet another one of his coerced sexual experiences with women. John, who in the first few seasons they kept trying to make into this Ancientish guy (sex with Chaya) gets his life sucked out of him. And then the Wraith pushes life back into him; penetrates as well as sucks (all with the vagina hand, not with another hand) -- when the Wraith says "there are things about the Wraith that you do not know," he is saying "bodies are not what the structural metaphor implies. We are suckers and penetrators; we are not just messy feminine bodies; we are active bodies, we are transgendered." They're set up, structurally, as feminine bodies ... until "Common Ground," when they become penetrative feminine bodies, transgendered bodies. When they, like John, start fucking up the structural fiction and pointing out the places where the Ancients' scheme of themselves as disembodied-good falls down. The Ancients are ungendered, unsexed, unqueer because they are not bodies.

And John is, at that point, and kinda suddenly, a sexual body -- here, in "Travelers," when Larrin says "it actually felt kinda good," John says "yeah, I know" -- he is admitting to sensual bodiedness, to sexual feeling, and, not incidentally, to getting off on the Wraith penetration. John's recognizing himself in the Wraith, distancing himself from the Ancients, and becoming a sexual body. A sexual body that's uncomfortable around women (the closet with Larrin) but comfortable around sameness (after the Wraith).

So there you go: John and Larrin's kiss, queer nineteen ways from Sunday.

Aside: I really want to make something of John's line in Epiphany, "Well, you're either gonna eat me or I'm gonna eat you." But it's in totally the wrong context. Still, isn't it awesome?

*deep breath* whoof. I have no idea if that makes sense to someone who wasn't involved in the conversation -- let me know if not, and I'll try to figure out where I've gone wrong.
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eruthros: Delenn from Babylon 5 with a startled expression and the text "omg!" (Default)

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