Your favorite summer TV binging couple is back for more! Last year, my boyfriend Frank and I tackled the first season of SyFy/Amazon’s The Expanse together – – two different perspectives on the same show, one from one person who’s seen it, the other watching it for the first time. Who just happen to be dating.
This year, we’re taking a look at the TNT adaptation of Top Cow’s Witchblade comic, which aired on the network from 2001 – 2002. And just like last year, this is a show Frank has watched, and I haven’t. Hilarity is bound to ensue (again). The series follows NYPD detective Sara “Pez” Pezzini and her adventures with the titular Witchblade, which gives her powers to fight supernatural evil and those who want the Witchblade for themselves.
A routine arms-dealer shooting links Pez, Kenneth, and Nottingham together, with some shocking revelations for Pez. It should go without saying at this point given age, but spoilers within. (Note as well there are also spoilers for the Lady Gaga-Bradley Cooper film adaptation of A Star is Born.)
This recap also contains a trigger warning for discussion of suicide.
Kate’s Five Thoughts
1. The Vocabulary Lesson
Watching this show can sometimes double as SAT prep with the episode titles, and this week is no exception.
“Thanatopsis” is the title of a poem from 18th century poet William Cullen Bryan. In literal translation, thanatopsis is “a consideration of death.” Written somewhere around 1811 to 1816, this poem presents an interpretation different than the accepted Christian norms of its time: no concept of afterlife, divine judgment, or the distinction of body and soul. The only thing that is eternal is nature, and with that eternal status, nature can provide comfort for humanity when death disturbs them. Once humans accept this role of nature, they can also accept Earth as a desirable resting place for the deceased, and thus, death itself.
This concept, the acceptance of the finality of death, is the backbone of our B-plot of this episode: Gabriel’s discovery of his roommate Sly’s death at his own hand, and how he (the roommate) foretold his own death and the comfort he found in same.
2. A Consideration of Suicide
It struck me that the show was as graphic as it was in showing the actual method by which Sly killed himself (a hanging), along with his body dangling from the rafters. Of course, TV and film does not shy away from showing death in all its gruesome glory. But suicide seemed to be one of those exceptions. In scripted programming, often you would see the preparations for the act, rather than the act itself, and then the reactions of those around the person who committed suicide. In the most recent A Star is Born, we see Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine prepare to take his own life by hanging: the removal of the belt, the ushering of the family dog out of the garage, the garage door closing. We then cut to the aftermath: the red and blue lights of police cars reflected in that garage door, the dog sitting outside presumably as signal to the police to “look in here.” The act was implied, rather than direct.
To me, this was a bold move for a television program on basic cable, and I wonder if there could be a shot-for-shot remake today, especially as our society is more aware and considerate of events and topics like this having a triggering effect on viewers’s mental state (see our own trigger warning above).
3. That’s So 2001
Every once in a while, Witchblade reminds us of its time and place with cultural context, and “Thanatopsis” was one of those times. References to CD-R discs holding data and an inquiry from Pez to Gabriel of “is your computer online” are things I certainly remember of my early 20s, but would certainly go over the heads of folks of that age today. (Ask me about the time we had to explain a Trapper Keeper to one of my coworkers.)
As dated as these references are, they can be easily swapped out for more modern applications (which could come to pass as a revival has been in development since 2017) without losing the plot’s essence. Make that CD-Rom a USB drive. Ask if the wifi’s down instead of “is your computer online.”Continued below
4. Left in A Trance
We’ve seen throughout this season that Pez has visions, but for the first time we get a look at what happens to her when she has those visions. As she meets with Gabriel to review profiles of Ian Nottingham she found on CD-ROM during a stakeout, she starts to have images of the stakeout, seeing Nottingham atop the buildings. From our perspective (and presumably hers), these are fleeting moments, passing in the blink of an eye. For Gabriel and others, it’s a period of hours, with Pez in a trance the entire time.
Ir reinforces the non-linear, non-logical nature of time for Pez, and challenges our own conventions on time as well.
5. Secrets On Top of Secrets Wrapped in Secrets
Back in the first episode, I put forth that Jake may have something to hide. But a confrontation between Jake and Nottingham hints that he even has more to hide, including a betrayal of his partner. Is he seeing Jake’s future in the White Bulls? Dante’s made it clear that Jake’s initiation will involve Pez, and there’s no love lost with Dante and Pez, so we can figure out just what Nottingham predicts: Jake will be put in a position to betray Pez, and he will do it.
Pez wold do well to tread carefully around her partner, more so now that he’s accepted Dante’s offer to join the White Bulls. Jake is her last link to her mortal life, and there’s signs that link grows weaker by the minute. She accepted the Witchblade as a part of her to pass the test of the Periculum, but that was on a supernatural plane. Whatever this betrayal is will be in itself, an implied acceptance of the Witchblade as a part of her in the real world, severing those mortal ties.
- I believe I heard Jake use the word “bastard,” a rarity for network television back then, and even to a certain extent today. (The actual first use of that word dates back to 1974, when it was said on the daytime drama Love of Life).
Frank’s Five Thoughts
1. Jake’s Secrets
We know Pez has secrets, she’s the main character and the main character is supposed to have a lot of secrets. At this point, though, Jake McCartey is also becoming quite a font of secrets. He’s working hard standing by Pez and keeping whatever secrets about her that he knows from Captain Dante. He’s been drawn into the knowledge of the White Bulls and he’s trying to keep that secret from Pez, even as he knows that Dante has an axe to grind with her. In this episode, Nottingham kept hinting at even more secrets being kept by Jake. He’s becoming an enigma wrapped in a mystery and it surely is going to bite him in the ass soon.
2. D*ck Measuring
Speaking of Nottingham and Jake, there has been bad blood between the two since the original movie when Nottingham punched Jake out at the Rialto Theater. Additionally, I think Jake sees Nottingham as a rival, not for Pez’s affections but rather for her attention to her duty. Jake is constantly covering for Pez’s absences, and those absences always seem to be connected to Nottingham in some fashion. While Nottingham is in custody and handcuffed, he pushes Jake’s buttons and Jake takes the opportunity to cold cock Nottingham. Since this was done in front of Pez, Nottingham, misguided sort that he is, takes it as a point against his honor and confronts Jake later in the episode. This turns into a rather one-sided fight since Jake really can’t stand against the highly-trained Nottingham and quite frankly gets the crap beaten out of him.
Both are shown up in their macho contest when Pez shows up and orders Nottingham to stand down. He refuses because of course he does, saying that once he has been set in motion he has to kill Jake and she would have to kill him to stop him. She then proves that she outmeasures both of them with a yard of supernatural steel. Yeah boys, close your pants and let the grown-ups take care of things.Continued below
The show seems to have settled back on its heels after finishing its mini-arc with Conchobar and the Periculum and it shows in this episode. While a lot of stuff seems to happen, not a lot actually happens. Only small progress forward is made on the Pez/Irons and the Jake/White Bulls plots and there just seems to a lot of spinning wheels and extraneous information (like the part about the arms dealer). Even the bit where Pez gets hold of a assassin’s dossier on Irons imparts little we did not already know, except for the suggestion that Ian may be Irons’ son. Even poor Gabriel’s friend’s death had little impact on any of the major story lines, beyond casting more doubt on Irons’ motives.
4. Gabriel and Death
Gabriel’s friend’s suicide-or-murder is a really heavy issue that gets muddled in all the rest of the stuff this episode is trying to do or not do. It gives Pez the opportunity to bump chests with Dante’s thug, Orlinsky, but that happens in between all the other rushing around the episode does to little end. I did think that it gave a good opportunity to show how Pez stands up for her friends. She seemed really conflicted when she had to first deny to help Gabriel because Dante was riding her ass on the arms dealer stakeout. She really wanted to look into this for him, but duty was calling first, until the WitchBlade gave her a vision of the crime scene.
I wish that the episode could have spent more time with Gabriel and how he dealt with finding his friend dead. Pez pulls from her experience in the Periculum and gives a good talk about how we all need to deal with death, but since time can be fluid we don’t necessarily have to say goodbye to our loved ones. Gabriel is young enough that this is likely the first death in his immediate circle that he has had to deal with and it would have been great to develop his character more. Nearly anything else that happened in this episode could have been sacrificed for this, beyond Jake’s decision to join the White Bulls. A definite missed opportunity for the show here.
5. Nottingham’s Loyalties
There is a lot of Ian Nottingham in this episode as we continue to see his loyalty to Irons being tested in this episode. He appears to be acting more independently, even if it means harsh repercussions from Irons later on. For example, I highly doubt turning himself in to Pez’s custody was sanctioned by his master. So we have to ask why? The easiest explanation is that he is in love with Sara Pezzini, which is understandable because she is a badass and he has spent quite a lot of time stalking her. Another explanation is that he is under orders from Irons, which is surely true though not to the extent we see him interact with her. He offers up a surprising revelation after she faces him down with the WitchBlade in the stadium. He asks her if she could lift the Blade against her own flesh and blood. Whoa! What does that mean? Especially considering the early supposition that Nottingham is Irons’ son. Is this all one twisted family?
– Did Pez get the power for super fast travel when she survived the Periculum? She gets from Gabriel’s friend’s apartment to the stakeout scene conveniently fast. But that pales with how quickly she shows up when Jake is getting the crap beaten out of him. I was scrubbing through the episode looking for the featured image and that whole transition threw me off again.
– As a technologist, I really liked the way that Pez asks if Gabriel’s computer was online. Today we’re always connected, but the fact she could doubt an internet entrepreneur’s connection was charming.
– I really think that Sly’s comic art (Gabriel’s dead friend) was more images taken from the original comics as a nod to the fans.
We’ll see you next week for “Apprehension” and let us know what you thought of the episode in the comments!