Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Lost and Wandering Vagrant Queen

The opening scene of Vagrant Queen is a God-awful mess. It’s supposed to invoke the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy (itself attempting to invoke the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark). But we don’t get any cool, imaginative dungeon-delving and trap-thwarting. Instead, we see our heroine dismember and toy with a pair of would-be robbers before brutally shooting them both in the head.


Listen, I get it; they wanted to show us our main character being a badass survivor. The problem is, she comes off looking cruel. Trying to leaven that cruelty with some post-modern banter would have been cool and edgy in the ‘90s. Now it feels de rigueur and forced.

A lot of this show feels de rigueur and forced.

Take Isaac. He’s supposed to be a loveable manchild a la Starlord. But without Starlord’s competence, because that would threaten the status of resident-badass not-a-queen Elida. So he’s a stupid, not-a-badass manchild. So what makes him loveable?

Er… he’s from Canada?

The show really doesn’t know what to do with Isaac. In the opening of episode 2, much is made of his inability to hit what he’s shooting at. By the end of the episode, he’s sniping baddies through the brainpan with his pistol. He’s all over the place. He’s a jerk from Elida’s past, only he’s sweet (kinda sometimes), he’s stupid and inept except where the script needs him to actually hit what he’s shooting at. Since they don’t even try to justify the mad swings, it just comes off is disjointed, messy, and distancing. He’s clearly intended to be comic relief, but the show doesn’t need him for that because the baddies are all comic relief (even when they’re supposed to threatening). So he’s basically reduced to needing to be rescued and providing the (again) de rigueur post-modern pop culture references.

The heart of the show (and by far the most interesting character) is Amae the mechanic, who wears her heart on her sleeve, believes strongly in the Power of Friendship (and a good plan) and risks her life to do the right thing with barely any hesitation at all. She’s your classic Alan Dean Foster hero and the show really wants to be about her, but its not, so it feels horribly unabalanced.

But it can’t be about Amae because the principle hero is supposed to be Elida. But she’s really, really hard to invest in. When she finally does “save the cat,” about halfway through the first episode, it feels, once again, de rigueur. Her principle virtue is loyalty to a fault. Kinda. Because she feels absolutely zero loyalty to the partisans of her conquered homeworld. I mean, I kinda get it, but it comes off as very selective and even kinda selfish.

It’s just clumsy and poorly written. And before we even get to that point, we see Elida torture-murder a pair of scavengers who, admittedly, were going to rob her and leave her stranded, but they were clearly not going to murder her. (It doesn’t help that their bumbling comic-relief shtick and the ease with which Elida dispatches them completely undercuts any sense of threat that might have justified her cold-blooded reaction.) And then we see her putting up with getting ripped off by the buyer for the thingus she’d been scavenging.

And I get it. We’re supposed to empathize with her plight. But that’s not easy to do. This works for Rey in The Force Awakens because Rey is clearly trapped on a dying world on the ass-end of the galaxy. She has to take the buyer’s quarter-portions of food because she’s got no choice.

But Elida has a starship. And it’s made clear she’s been cheated by this asshole before. So why is she still doing business with him? Why didn’t she fly somewhere else to sell her salvage?

That level of worldbuilding is something the show can’t be bothered with. There’s a lot of WTF worldbuilding in this show. Like the way no spaceships have weapons. I’m serious. Not only do we never see a weapon fired from a spaceship, there are at least two situations where our big bad evil Space Navy guys could easily destroy Elida by shooting her out of space, but they don’t. So we can only assume they don’t have guns on their ships. Which is so very WTF.

It’s cute and silly in the way we expect a TV show starring Bruce Campbell to be. And, on that level, it’s entertaining. It’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer (every flashback involving Elida’s mother ends with the woman saying, “You can never have friends!”). It’s surprisingly gory. It’s internally inconsistent and soooo much happens because the plot needs it to. That said, the leads have charisma (even when their characters don’t) and the set and prop design is fun (the costumes are so generic you’ll hardly notice them but for a few stand-out outfits of the otherwise eyeroll-inspiring villain Lazaro). If they release the third episode on YouTube I’ll probably check it out to see if it gets better. Otherwise…

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