One of my favorite sc-fi series for the last 3 years The Expanse (SYFY, 2015-) (besides The Westworld, 100 and Humans) is getting better and better and the third season even offers a lesbian married character. The Expanse is brilliant for its portrayal of politics in 23rd century, only now politics and different societal organizations take place in the solar system mapped on to the different planets: Mars is a military organized society, the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) called Belters are mix of anarchists and all sorts of radicals and Earth defined by the UN government.
The plot of the series is very simple and very human, a very old one, it is about power and power achieved through war and old desire by creating a superior military power through creating a super soldier although this time super soldier is made with the alien protomolecule.
In the third season we still spend a lot of time with one of the main characters, James Holden (Steven Strait) and his band of misfits on the Rocinante and keep an eye on the political (and not-so-political) maneuverings of Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), while the conflicts between Earth and Mars escalate into war. It’s a brutal place, the 23rd century, whether you live on the overpopulated, resource-strapped planet Earth, a rickety space station out in the Belt or a highly disciplined, technologically advanced and military organized Mars. In Season 2, for example, the addition of Martian marine Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) to Avasarala’s entourage was a delight given the extreme contrast in their characters, and that dynamic continues into Season 3.
But in season 3 we are also introduced to a new character, Anna Volovodov (Elizabeth Mitchell). We first see Anna attempting to enter the United Nations on Earth while going past a mob of anti-war protesters. When a young man collapses through the barricade and breaks his wrist in front of her, she calmly directs a nearby guard to help the guy, not taking no for an answer. So it’s not that much of a surprise when we find out that she’s not just a nice lady: she’s a Reverend Doctor who leads a small Methodist congregation. Anna is despite her faith married to a woman and the two have a daughter together. Anna so happens to be also a longtime friend of United Nations Secretary-General Esteban Sorrento-Gillis (Jonathan Whittaker). She was asked by Sorrento-Gillis to help him writing a speech to unite Earth behind the war that’s now erupting between the planets; she’s reluctant to do so, feeling that she has changed (Anna’s commitment to her faith is a relatively new thing), that said, she does seem earnest about it.
But at the UN conference she learns that the undersecretary of the U.N. Sadavir Errinwright (Shawn Doyle) manages to persuade secretary general into rewriting the important portions of the speech. The speech undermines everything Anna attempted to accomplish and it causes an argument with the secretary general, Errinwright and Anna. After that Anna has an emotional conversation with her wife Nono (Raven Dauda), complaining that she doesn't know what to do but it seems her skills and wisdom are useless at the UN. She also feels betrayed by Sorrento-Gilles and decided her work is finished at the U.N. since the rewritten speech is everything against she stands and believes in: instead of promoting peace and as little casualties as possible it promotes war and aggression. Errinwright is speaking through Sorrento-Gilles and now he has a war he wanted it from the beginning.
However, Avasarala has an evidence against Errinwright and his long-standing attempt to promote war and conflict with Mars by knowing about the protomolecule and Mars building a super soldier by using it which she sends to Anna hoping she could reveal Errinwright true motives and stoped the already started war. Avasarala trusts Volovodov as the only source she could send the message since she is not directly connected to Errinwright and she hopes to act on her peaceful intents. In this sense, a lesbian character is finally a happily married with family and has an important, positive role to play as a mediator of peace on the Earth and among the planets and their nations.
But what the series besides its political contents promote is also the concept of protomolecule. The protomolecule, also known as the Phoebe bug, is an infectious agent of extra-terrestrial origin first discovered on Phoebe by the Martian Congressional. It has the ability to radically alter infected life forms and utilize their biomass in various ways. Not a life-form in itself, the protomolecule is described as a set of free-floating instructions designed to adapt to and guide other replicating systems.
For us it is not interesting so much in the sense of using it on human subjects despite being children as the test subjects for building a superhuman solider (which of course is illegal and violating basic human and children's rights) but the concept of the 'alien' protomolecul as the building ingredient of life.
Indeed, scientists (biologists, chemists, astrophysicists) search and argue for a protocell from which originated all life on the Earth. Namely, every living thing on Earth is made of cells. The first protocells must have contained RNA nucleotides. What's more, this RNA must have been able to replicate inside the protocell. In just over a decade of research, from 2000 to 2010, some scientists have accomplished something remarkable: they have built protocells that hold onto their genes while taking in useful molecules from outside. The protocells can grow and divide, and even compete with each other. RNA can replicate inside them. By any measure, they are startlingly life-like. They are also resilient. The protocells could survive being heated to 100C, a temperature that would obliterate most modern cells. This boosted the case that the protocells were similar to the first life, which must have endured scalding heat from constant meteor impacts.
And where these first protocells were to be found? Chemical makeup of cells regardless of what organism they belong to, contain a lot of phosphate, potassium and other metal. The chemistry scientists have uncovered is mostly dependent on ultraviolet light. The only source of ultraviolet radiation is the Sun, so chemical reactions can only take place in sunny places. Maybe life began on land, in a volcanic ponds in a geothermally-active area with hydrothermal vents where they could be relatively cool most of the time, which is good for RNA copying and other kinds of simple metabolism. But every now and then they would get heated up briefly, and that helps the strands of RNA come apart ready for the next round of replication. There would also be currents, driven by the streams of hot water, which could help the protocells divide. This means that, for the first time in history, we have the beginnings of a comprehensive explanation for how life began. And some of the people alive today will become the first in history who can honestly say they know where they came from. They will know what their ultimate ancestor was like and where it lived. This knowledge will change us. On a purely scientific level, it will tell us about how likely life is to form in the Universe, and where to look for it. And it will tell us something about life's essential nature.
And this is what also makes interesting watching The Expanse: their engagement with the alien protomolecule and trying to understand its function(s) through human test subjects is an echo of real scientific endeavors of understanding the protocell and understanding the origin of life
There is another TV-series to talk about. The Girlfriend Experience. Second season of The Girlfriend Experience (Starz, USA, 2016-) by Kerrigan and Seimetz in which I am going to emphasize only on the story of Erica Myles (Anna Friel) and Anna Garner (Louisa Krause) with occasional remarks about Darya Esford (Narges Rashidi) is one of the rare TV-shows with great portrayal of lesbian sexuality and emotional attachments and affection steaming from admiration and fascination of someone due to her status, power, wealth on one hand and disdain and aversion when admiration and fascination run out and the person once in charged now begs for her subject's time, affection and proximity on the other.
It is one of the rare TV-shows portraying the power dynamics of dominance and subordination in a lesbian relationship (Anna subordinate, Erica dominant) and works only as both parties agree to play their roles but the catch with such dom-sub roles is that eventually roles always change because the dominant person can't permanently hold her position of dominance, admiration and fascination. Such position would mean we have had to deal with the person without flaws and weaknesses (and in the sense with the perfect person) but we deal with two human persons and humanity is always imperfect striving towards perfection. And when dominant person which demands blind obedience and following makes mistakes those make her ideal persona crash. At that point the roles reverse and suddenly the dominant person begs for time, attention and affection but is almost always denied (first because the dominant person hurt her by using her solely for her own pleasure and interests without taking into consideration of her feelings, emotions, wishes and desires and second because the initial game is finished, roles do not work any more). Even more, when that happen the submissive person suddenly feel disgust, disdain and repulsion towards once admired person, like being waken up in the middle of the nightmare. And that is exactly what happen between Erica and Anna.
Besides that the series shows excellent portrayal of lesbian sexuality. After all, one of the protagonist, Anna Garner is a call girl for wealthy prominent clients, whereas Erica Myles is a finance director of the republic party (Republican Super Pac), managing multimillion deals and donations and one of the leading financial strategist of the republican party. It is interesting that in the first two episodes we hear that it is about the Republican Party which stands for conservative values and politics but it is obvious that right wing politicians do not have anything against if the chief of finance and their best strategist is a lesbian as long as she brings them a lot of money and not to mention all those conservative politicians and their conservative donors (CEO's) that hire call girls while treat them with utter disrespect and misogyny.
It is also interesting that series shows that highly successful and ambitious women display the same personal features as their successful ambitious male counterparts - women like Erica Myles and her ex-girlfriend Darya Esford are women that desire power, wealth and influence while at the same time lack emotional attachment, closeness, affection, empathy, compassion and solidarity – they love power, control, money, pride, fame, material goods, beauty and they see others as means to achieve their goals and when they got it they simply get rid of the others as useless and even nuances. Even more, if people who they use get attached to them and come too close to them or simply put, they do not play their role professional to the end they despise them, brutally humiliate them, can become even violent towards them and above all call them clingy and that is exactly what we see from the relationship between Erica and Darya and later Erica and Anna.
And besides the aforementioned features they also love and have secrets (big ambitions bigger secrets because ambitions need to be hidden from the others in order to guarantee their successful achievement). For the most part their meeting points and agreements take place on hidden places with people of no names; far away from witnesses, phones, computers, microphones and listening devices that would give away the nature of their businesses and agreements. However, what they expect whey they are caught violating rules, regulations and laws: that people who were violated (were robbed and cheated) would expect understanding, empathy and compassion towards them? That would not be only naive but also stupid because in their worldview and equations they don't value and cherish values, such as truth, goodness, fairness and emotions, such as compassion, empathy, love, solidarity, affinity, humility, freedom, kindness why would expect such values and emotions from the others? And that is exactly what Anna tells Erica when she is caught cheating the system and stealing money, that she drove herself into that situation and now she needs to drive herself out of it instead of giving in by starting drinking herself to the unconsciousness.
Even more, when they express or expect emotions of compassion and solidarity from the others (partner, lover, client, colleague) they react with resistance, disdain and disgust. And that is why Anna does not wish to help Erica by saying I thought you were stronger and capable; doesn't she understand life is a game, game of cunning, deception and lies, game of Potemkin villages where you are more capable only if you are not caught while cheating but since none is perfect you once win and once lose and when you lose you must not
give up but continue playing, creating even more believable Potemkin villages, after all that is Erica's game, right? Game where only winners are worshiped and bestowed with different precious metals, put on the thrones and surrounded by the huge public crowds (and which is also only a game) and after all, that is the reason of their power, influence, wealth and fame but at the same time this world is also a fake, an illusion, devoid of any true contents (values, thoughts, emotions) which is portrayed by big, empty spaces because everything that doesn't serve their interests, goals and purposes is rubbish: why bestowed ourselves with emotions of love, friendship, honesty, truth, joy, compassion, goodness and why having art, culture, science, philosophy, education when there is only thing that matters in this world since time memorials and that is power (and influence, fame and wealth connected to that).
And in this sense, it is interesting use of scenography of spaces with long (underground) corridor and scenes of big, empty spaces, s in which there are only funcionally most needed things. Spaces emptied of subjectivity, closeness and emotions are reflection of the worldview of their characters which cherish only interests, serviceability and functions. The only time we feel emotions of belonging, love, closeness and warmth when Erica and Anna have sex and Anna says she wants to have Erica's child and they would be a family and asks Erica if she wishes to have a child. Erica answers 'yes'. Anna has sex with the client in order to get pregnant when she delivers the happy news to Erica she coldly replies if she is normal to get herself pregnant. Anna says she wished they could be a family. That is the only time we see and feel Anna's love but at the same time we realize Erica doesn't feel the same and she only uses Anna to pass her time until she gets a call from her ex-girlfriend Darya but whose only pleasure in meeting with Erica is humiliating her. We learn that Darya used to admire Erica at the beginning for her power, influence and wealth but when she learned how emotionally clingy she was she couldn't stand her anymore. She saw Erica solely as someone to be used for advancement of her career.
It is obvious that creators of the series were interested only in two human interactions called interests and passions. And now we embark on second mentioned, passions. Series is excellent in portraying a lesbian sex - which is shown without Victorian puritanism and bashfulness – and as it is: naked, lustful and sybaritic. Body involved into sexual activity produces pleasure and that is the main purpose of human sexuality. Sexuality shown in The Girlfriend experience is much better, sexier and authentic then in the movie Blue is the warmest colour. I think the actresses were brave and most of all without prejudices and relaxed while filming the sexual scenes. Those scenes could serve for ensuing directors and actresses in future lesbian films.
Without doubt The girlfriend experience shows a very good study of the power and status which makes it all more interesting since it is about women. It reminds us a bit of movie Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant but this series represents its contemporary and better version because the roles of the main are not so strictly divided and polarized but their power is at the end equally distributed. The series is also interesting because when try to apply theories of master and servant by Hegel or Sade's and Sacher-Masoch's theories of dominance and submission it doesn't fully apply either of the mentioned because it is not about the pleasure derived from so called perversions (by making the other suffer and enjoying in it or by enjoying in suffering); it is also not about the strict division of the roles. It is simply about a long-standing cultural and societal notions of the power, wealth, influence and money and what it usually come with it.
A while ago I saw TV-series The City and The City (UK, BBC, 2018) directed by Tom Shankland and based on the same name novel by China Miéville (2009). I liked it a lot for number reasons and could find some parallels with the TV-series Counterpart (Starz, USA, 2018-) by Justin Parks.
Both TV series shows two parallel societies living in different historical times but most obvious difference can be seen expressed by the GDP of their societies: one advanced and one a bit behind regarding technological progress and quality of life in general. In a way it represents Brudel's notion of the world living simultaneously in three different times and what he called the developed countries, developing countries and undeveloped countries. And his notion later in Europe produced thesis about Europe of two different pace, referring to the old and new European member states dividing Western European countries and former Eastern bloc countries referring to their GDP.
But the difference is not only regarding the state wealth but also regarding the 'ideological or philosophical' structure of their society: both advanced societies in The City and The City and The Counterpart don't have (or allow) religions and in The City and The City there are also no different parties, such as socialist, fascist, unification's parties. They overcomed those divisions and we could say the citizens of their cities are members of the citizens of the world according to the stoic notion that people are not to be divided by their gender, origin, wealth, intelligence but that all people are endowed with 'divine pneuma' regardless of who and where we are, thus we are all members/citizens of the world.
But most importantly why I love both series is for representation of their lesbian characters. In both series there are lesbians and lesbian couples and they are represented like a total normal people and lovable and loving couples. I especially love how The City and The City represents Senior Detective Dhatt (played by Maria Schrader) and her girlfriend as the most loving and joyful couple on the show. We can remember Maria Schrader by a beautiful but very tragic lesbian love story Aimée & Jaguar (GER, 1999). There she starred in as a Jewish woman working under an assumed name as a journalist at a Nazi newspaper, who has a wartime love affair with the (gentile) wife of a philandering Nazi officer. Contrary to Schrader's tragic role in Aimee & Jaguar role she plays a good cop in the City and the City Schrader with younger female partner in a happy lesbian couple.
But if we have a happy lesbian couple in The City and the City in the Counterpart we get to know also a lesbian Nadia Fierro aka Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco) whose one part of the doubles, its doppelganger also lived in a happy lesbian relationship being a virtuoso violinist Nadia but the other is now a villain, Baldwin - a revengeful killer from the Prime World who crossed into the Alpha world and who also killed its Alpha double called Alpha Nadia. Namely, prime world faced half a billion loss of its population by the flu pandemic that was brought to their side from the Alpha world in the early 1990's and now the sleeper agents raised by the Prime world crossed in to the Alpha world as a revenge, trying to kill as many people in the Alpha world as they can.
According to psychoanalysis and Freud's thesis regarding doppelganger (based on work by Otto Rank) – doppelganger represents invisible psychological side of our physical representation and Freud thought that doppelganger was formed in order to establish a psychological (immortal) 'mirror' for our fleeting physical existence. Even more, at one point the doppelganger (tries to) embarks on its own existence and sees the original, physical persona that was its predecessor as a threat to him/herself and tries to make it cease to exist. And that is exactly what we see in The Counterpart: Baldwin from the Prime world killed its doppelganger Nadia and we even see Baldwin watches her own funeral and her girlfriend talking about their relationship.
Counterpart is especially interesting for its representation of the doppelganger. It is also interesting that there are only slight difference in character developments in the both worlds (Prime and Alpha). And how these worlds came to exist? We were told that during the final years of the Cold War, the East Germans accidentally created a portal to a divergent parallel universe in the basement and in 1987 East German scientists successfully divided Earth into two. The original world is called 'Prime World' and the parallel world 'Alpha World'.
But what is refreshing is to see that nowadays none questions lesbian relationship or try to present them as something 'problematic' although as we see in The Counterpart that prime persona killed its doppelganger and which caused her relationship with Greta (Liv Lisa Fries) to break up. Nonetheless, both mentioned TV-series present refreshing portrayal of lesbian relationships.