Medusa’s Ankles

Medusa's Ankles
Screenshot from Vimeo

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I usually do book reviews. However, I recently watched a short film, discovered because of my unabashed infatuation with Jason Isaacs, called Medusa’s Ankles. It was directed by Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley of Harry Potter fame), adapted from the short story of the same title by AS Byatt. You can read it here. You can, and should, also stream the film for free here on Vimeo.

Medusa’s Ankles shows Susannah, a middle aged Classicist, who is concerned about signs of aging. She wanders into a salon, owned by Lucian, because she’s drawn to the Matisse painting in the lobby. She becomes rather infatuated with him over the months she comes to his salon, eventually coming unhinged and wreaking havoc on his newly remodeled salon when she hates the style Lucian’s assistant gave her.

There was so much character development in this tiny little film. It was about 20 minutes long and in that time, we see Susannah evolve from a meek and retiring woman to someone a little bolder, and eventually to an hysterical basketcase. Of course, her fit wasn’t really because of a hairdo. It was years of worrying over her aging and feeling out of place in her own skin as well as in a society which seems to be gearing more and more towards the younger generations. She feels left behind, unattractive, unwanted, and scorned. That Lucian, the object of her fixation, is another source for these emotions contributes to her snapping at the end. 

Unlike Susannah, Lucian is flighty and temperamental, never landing on one thing for long. He is essentially her complete opposite, and yet he comes to be a person she relies upon in some ways. She goes to him to help her see a younger version of herself, which will never happen, and when she realizes this, she snaps. Lucian helps her to see that younger self but it is, of course, illusory, as is his interest in her as a person. He is vain and shallow, telling Susannah that he is leaving his wife because ‘She’s let herself go. It’s her own fault. She’s let herself go altogether. She’s let her ankles get fat, they swell over her shoes, it disgusts me, it’s impossible for me.’ He is too self-absorbed to realise that his comments hit home for Susannah, who also has fat ankles now, and his comment serves as a catalyst for her destroying his salon. 

The link to Greek myth is interesting. At first, it isn’t clear what Medusa has to do with anything, but it becomes clear that she – and her ankles – are a proxy for women and being weighed down by the expectations of men. Medusa was once beautiful and then she was transformed into a monster. Susannah seems to view herself in this way as well, acknowledging that she was never beautiful but was attractive, then remembering a day spent with an Italian lover when she was young. Her body, which doesn’t feel like she remembers or wants it to, brings her back to present with a jolt when she realizes that her reflection is like her mother’s had been, all fake and unreal and trying entirely too hard to look young again. 

Her fit and destruction of Lucian’s salon may be a catharsis, but Lucian himself gives her permission and tells her it’s ok, the insurance will pay for it and he kind of wants out anyway. When she gets home, her husband really sees her for the first time in a long while and kisses her neck. Are both these instances freeing for Susannah, or do they reflect more of the control men have on society? Lucian essentially pats her on the head and sends her home when he should have rightfully been pissed off. Is her husband’s approval something she desires and feels good about, or is it effectively Perseus cutting off Medusa’s head? It raises a lot of interesting questions. I would love to analyze this in a proper literature course. 

Also, I just want to say that I think Jason Isaacs is a seriously underrated actor. I don’t say that just because I’m currently in love with him; it’s because he can inhabit the lives of so many different people in a totally convincing way. Not all, or even most, actors can do that. Actors like Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise might be famous and popular, but they all generally play the same kind of character. Ford is usually a dorky hero, whether he’s playing Han Solo, Indiana Jones, or the President of the United States; Cruise is generally an arrogant hero. Not so with Isaacs. He has played a wide range of characters including a racist, aristocratic bully (Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies); an Irish-American mobster from Rhode Island, complete with the heavy accent (Michael Caffee in Brotherhood); an arrogant and disinterested charmer (Lucian in Medusa’s Ankles); and a morally questionable, warmongering Starfleet captain (Gabriel Lorca in Star Trek Discovery). And he doesn’t just play villains in everything. He was a super dorky yet sexy dad in The Chumscrubber, a possibly mentally ill cop in the TV series Awake, an elegant ambassador in The State Within, and a beleaguered detective in Case Histories. He is utterly believable in every single role, and not one of his villainous roles, of which there are many, are at all similar to one another. I think he is in no danger of being typecast.

Drastic Measures (Star Trek Discovery)

Star Trek Discovery Drastic MeasuresDrastic Measures (Star Trek: Discovery) by Dayton Ward (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 400 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (6 Feb 2018)

***I’m not even going to pretend this post doesn’t have spoilers. It has all the spoilers.***

Drastic Measures takes place about 10 years prior to the Battle of the Binary Stars in Discovery, and focuses mainly on Gabriel Lorca with Philippa Georgiou playing a large key role. Set on Tarsus IV, Lieutenant Commander Lorca is in command of a small outpost on the colony planet. When a large group of colonists from another world are relocated to Tarsus after a natural disaster on their own planet, Tarsus finds itself suddenly infected with a spore which destroys nearly all the colony’s food supplies. Help is weeks away, by which time the colonists will mostly have starved to death. Lorca and his small team at the outpost give all their uncontaminated food to the colonists, hoping to buy some time. But a lack of strong leadership in the colony’s government results in the ouster of the governor Gisela Ribiero, who is replaced by Adrian Kodos, known to the Trekverse as Kodos the Executioner. 

Kodos’ plan is really a final solution. Gathering up those colonists he has deemed to have less value, he and his supporters slaughter 4,000 unarmed citizens in an attempt to save the rest of the colony from starvation. The colony, reeling in shock and grief, is relieved only days later by the arrival of the starship USS Narbonne, bearing Commander Philippa Georgiou and a team of doctors and scientists ready to help the colonists. With medical and food aid now available, Lorca is free to head up the hunt for Kodos, which he takes up with a vengeance because he also suffered a personal loss during Kodos’s “Sacrifice.” 

This entire novel was a nice homage to TOS with the inclusion of a teenage Jim Kirk. The TOS episode “The Conscience of the King” referred to a tragic event in the past life of Kirk. This is that story, but it is solidly anchored in the Discovery cast with Kirk only making a very small cameo in this nice. I thought that was very deftly written. It also fills in a couple continuity gaps from a hazy past event in Federation history deserving of more notice.

Some of the writing seems a little out of character. For example, the massacre on Tarsus IV didn’t really appear to affect Lorca all that much. This is not Mirror Lorca, he’s Prime Lorca. He should have been horrified, maybe even in tears, over the thousands of deaths, especially since his girlfriend was among them. He could probably still do his duty as an officer but it didn’t seem believable that he could just shake it off like that, or compartmentalize things so thoroughly. He is still human, and not from the Mirror universe, which would make more sense with his reactions. There was a lot of telling rather than showing that Lorca was upset, and because of that, it didn’t seem genuine. It was only near the end that we saw him act in a manner that might be consistent with the behavior of a grieving man. Throughout the novel, a lot of the things Lorca said or did were inconsistent with a Prime universe Starfleet officer, which is disappointing because it may not be at all the way Prime Lorca would act if he were to appear in the show. Ahem. I think this is an excellent argument in favor of bringing back Lorca in the series; we only ever saw Mirror Lorca in the show, so we really don’t know who the “real” Lorca is. I would very much like to. I mean, I’d be cool with it in real life, too. Hello, Jason Isaacs…*drool*

B&W Jason Isaacs
Oh, hai there! Image credit: Brian Higbee, Interview Magazine, https://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/jason-isaacs

I thought Ward did pretty well with his portrayal of a younger Georgiou. She was not a captain yet, was clearly not as seasoned or wise as she is in the show, which makes sense. She only made a couple witty jokes, which is sort of a trademark for her in the show. But we could see in this story that she had the potential for that woman we get to know later, and it is always fun to see characters grow into their roles over time. 

I don’t mind that this is a Discovery book only in that there are two characters in this book who are also in the series. It’s called a backstory for a reason. All the characters in any series have a history, if it is a well written and complex world; none of them spring fully formed into the people they are in whatever TV show. So I think some of the lower ratings this book received are unfair and unrealistic. Was it a perfect book? By no means. It had plenty of flaws, perhaps even more than the average Trek novel. Yes, it dragged a bit in parts. Yes, the characters seem off. But I am going to give it the benefit of the doubt because it was likely in the process of being written as season 1 of the show was unfolding. Ward’s portrayal of Lorca as kind of a dick in places seems justified, since that is what we knew for most of season 1. We still didn’t know the characters well yet, and I think Ward did a good job incorporating what we did know with what he wrote. 

But! PRIME LORCA!! PRIME LORCA IN THE MIRROR UNIVERSE!! Who else could it be at the very end there if not Prime Lorca?? OMG please let there be a forthcoming book (or, preferably, books) about Prime Lorca and his stories in the Mirror Universe! Where can I preorder it? Shut up and take my money!

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • “It won’t be easy,” said Georgiou. 

“Nothing worth doing ever is.”

  • Lorca said, “Utopia’s easy when everything works and all your basic needs are met. We tend to think we’ve traveled this long path toward peace and prosperity, but take away the necessities of living and it’s a short walk back to our baser instincts.”
  • “Upholding a set of ideals can be difficult, and sometimes it’s damned cruel. Being able to do that, especially during times of adversity and crisis and even great personal tragedy, is the true test of anyone privileged to wear this.” Reaching up, she tapped her chest to indicate her Starfleet uniform. “We’re bound to uphold and defend those ideals, but the harder job is living up to them.” 
  • “…Shannon, don’t you have something for Commander Georgiou?”

Instead of replying, Shannon held up the doll in her right hand. The stuffed Andorian companion now sported two antennae thanks to Georgiou’s repair efforts, and she noted that it had been cleaned since she last saw it. 

“I want you to take him. Maybe he can bring you luck now.”

The simple gesture was enough to elicit tears, and Georgiou reached up to wipe her eyes. “Thank you, sweetheart. I promise to take good care of him.”

  • The paper resting in the palm of his hand, Lorca studied the words it contained. 

Hate is never conquered by hate. Hate is conquered by love.