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Mother: A Definition (Review of the Korean drama)

Most great stories are based around simple concepts or trying to answer what one would think are simple questions. The Korean drama Mother, a remake of a Japanese show of the same title, attempts to define a mother. Who is a mother? On a surface level, it’s an easily answered question: It’s the woman who gave birth to you, whose egg was fertilized with your father’s sperm to create, well, you.

Mother probes a bit further, insinuating that a true mother is a woman who acts like a mother, biology aside. To go on this journey, the writers stay firmly within the world of women. There are few questions of fathers here, and their absence silently and continually accuses them.

Starring the everywoman Lee Bo Young (God’s Gift: 14 Days), Ko Sung Hui (While You Were Sleeping) as the biological mother, and introducing a very talented Heo Yeol as a horribly abused child Hye Na, Mother is an emotional roller coaster ride, almost to the point of overkill, that nevertheless offers up very real moral dilemmas in the process. Unquestionably Heo carries the show, as often children do in their first projects, but she is given a definite run for her money as we get to know the mothers who started the chain of events leading to the main story, especially aging actress Young Sin (played by the indomitable Lee Hye Young (Boys Over Flowers) and a mother of oh, so many regrets, played by veteran actress Nam Gi Ae. This is one of the few scripts really allows older actresses to test their mettle. The men quietly supporting in the background are unsung hero types, not romantic leads, and the men not supporting, again, are most “visible” in their absence. Their crimes are alluded to or told to us secondhand, but the message of the show is never that the women can or should excuse away their own behavior due to them.

(Spoilers) After a low-key beginning, Mother kicks into high thriller gear once the abuse of Hye Na becomes known to her teacher, Soo Jin (Lee Bo Young) and the teacher becomes frustrated that the social system has nothing in place to immediately protect this little girl. Soo Jin kidnaps Hye Na with the child’s full consent and most of the sixteen episodes focus on the pair’s continual elusion of the authorities who assume that her mother Ja Young (Ko) is truly heartbroken and wants her back. The plot thickens as we and Hye Na begin to learn more about her abductor and the essential back history that has led to this decision.

Here, the story really begins to plumb the depths of the definition of “mother.” We are introduced to several biological mothers all of whom in some way have been abandoned by their men and who either don’t love or don’t seem to love their child or children. This male abandonment is no excuse, as stated before, and it is Young Sin (Lee Hye Young) a self-declared mother who continually speaks to what a mother should be to her children, no matter the circumstances. Young Sin presents motherhood as a daunting responsibility to her daughter Soo Jin, while giving her courage and cheering her on. Protecting, loving, and nurturing, are all spouted as must-haves for any women aspiring to be a mother.

What struck me as being a little hollow in the story, was the fact that most of the mothers in the show were having essentially to be both mother and father. Aside from the couple of supporting men who are vaguely fatherlike at best, these mothers are all stuck with being both provider and protector. Not that women can’t be those things, and not that mothers certainly don’t protect in their own way, but when the father is in the picture, those roles are usually dedicated to him as a basic form of maleness, if you will.

Kang Yi Jin, Soo Jin’s sister is easily the most nurturing, classic mother-type of the women in the story, and she is the only one who has a husband and father in the picture for her children, who, although gone way too much for work, is clearly doing the providing and protecting so she doesn’t have to. Thus, Kang Yi Jin’s femininity is a lot stronger than the other women in the story–she’s more emotional and not as logical, and her focus is on homemaking, cooking meals, and the like. It is only when considering this character that I realized how masculine most of the other women in the story are, especially Soo Jin, and that it is largely due to them having to protect and provide, again roles that would be normally dedicated to a father or father figure, if he was in the picture.

This is where, despite the great, raw emotions pulled out of story, the defining of motherhood doesn’t go far enough. It’s adequate to define women who are indeed still mothers and act as mothers even if the father or a father is not in the picture, but I think the definition of “mother” as it relates to the feminine in particular needs to be both apart from the masculine providing and protecting, and also contrasted to it. To some degree, women have a physical safety radar on all of the time, but if you pay attention to them (or women, if you pay attention to yourself) you may find you act and/or are more in feminine mode when there’s a man on the scene who is or is at least perceived as the protector in the situation. The women, or you, are softer, more relaxed, perhaps more playful, and perhaps more in multi-tasking mode than single-focus male mode. This side of being a mother is woefully neglected on the show, and that is a shame because it is the main “mother” definition to which much of the world relates.

I give the writer props, though, because although Mother never outright says it, the story heavily implies that if the absent fathers had truly been fathers, things might have turned out differently. The only reason this implication can be made is because of the cool nature of women: We adapt. For example, in the absence of a masculine father/protector for either herself or Hye Na, Soo Jin steps not only into a protective and nurturing mother role, but also into that of a protecting and providing father. We do see her behave a little more femininely when she’s around the hunky doctor on the show, but it’s as if she’s trying on a dress. She’s too much in masculine mode for her feminine side to suit her.

All in all, Mother is a great show, exciting and heartbreaking to watch, and even if it doesn’t flesh out the mother definition to my satisfaction, it’s not shy about showing the cycle of abuse and just how awful women can become after being betrayed or abandoned by a man. Hye Na’s biological mother is a pathetic figure, her love for her child hinging not on maternal instinct, but upon keeping any man who will have her, in her life. This woman wouldn’t have been the best mom in the world even if the biological father had stayed and supported her, but she probably wouldn’t have started abusing her child or contemplated suicide. This mother would likely have adapted well to the love and support of a good, strong man, but the show doesn’t really give us enough background into her character to make that a rock-solid certainty. Sometimes parents simply cannot parent and do not have instinctive love for their children. If that doesn’t speak to the existence of evil in the world, I don’t know what does.

It’s far easier to think there must be a reason for the neglect and abuse, that it can be understood in some way, but Young Sin would say there’s no good reason for it. No matter what you’ve been through yourself, there’s no good reason to neglect and/or abuse your child. That message is the takeaway of Mother, and it can apply to either or both sexes, either or both parents. It is a timeless declaration for what kind of person a parent should be.

My Strange Hero: Review

Sometimes life is such that I don’t get a lot of time to watch, read and/or write, so it’s been a little while. I will start with K-dramas and move onto Christie mysteries.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to find a Korean drama that I like beyond the first couple of episodes. I miss DramaFever a lot, because I always had a slew of things I wanted to watch and shows that kept my interest. Viki is great, but it just doesn’t seem to get as many new shows in as fast as Dramafever did, and their new shows have few intriguing plots and actors or actresses that I want to watch. Not entirely their fault, though, as they are now having to compete with powerhouses like Netflix for licensing of the dramas.

Initially, I was impressed with The Last Empress, starring Jang Nara (Oh Sunny), who is an amazing actress. Trouble is, she’s such a good actress that when playing a character that’s a bit repulsive she succeeds in helping us to feel revulsion. The Last Empress is a crazy, over the top soap opera set in an alternate universe in which Korea still has a royal family. Down to the last child, this family is full of gossiping, spying, backstabbing, loathsome characters, of whom, Oh Sunny, the new queen and empress, is only a milder version. Ok, she is the heroine, but somehow the writers made her really not likable. She’s greedy for money and really doesn’t seem that talented as a play actress. I was also looking forward to seeing Choi Jin Hyuk in an action role, but his character who goes through a transformation is so unemotional that it’s difficult to connect with him.

Long story short: Although The Last Empress delivers in excitement and nonstop plot twists and turns, it offers little in character growth, and offers few characters to truly root for. I quickly got tired of the constant bickering and intrigues of the royal family and wished Oh Sunny would just leave the palace altogether and be rid of them. After awhile, I just felt like I was wasting my time because I didn’t really care who won in the end. Although I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, I imagine the shows are similar to the extent that one is just watching highly immoral people trying to outdo each other, and any “good” character changes to bad or gets murdered or kicked by the wayside. It felt spiritually draining, and I think as I age I am looking more for stories with integrity than entertainment value. In the middle of Episode 18 I realized I just didn’t care anything about the characters or their fates, and that there was so many more (the show being in half-hour increments) episodes to go.

The next drama I tried was much more promising, but it stars the handsome Sung Hoon (Oh My Venus) who I think could be a pretty actor given the right script. Up until now his acting, except in Oh My Venus, in which he capably played a strangely vulnerable sport fighter, has been rather wooden and expressionless. I Picked up a Celebrity on the Street had the possibility of being pretty funny, so I gave it a go. The first episode was actually kind of freaky, with scary music and a creepy opening montage. I figured I wouldn’t make it past the first ten minutes, but something about the way the story unfolded was unusual. Spoilers: A young woman ends up accidentally murdering a celebrity, only to find he’s not dead, but that she has to hold him hostage in order to not get caught.

The main character, Lee Yeon Seo (Kim Ga Eun), come off as truly psycho, and, although the drama is supposed to be a dark comedy, it just turned me off after awhile. Keeping someone hostage, continually knocking them out, and deliberating how to best get rid of the body isn’t really that funny. In a movie, sure, it could probably work, but hours and hours of this? No way. The plot also became quickly repetitive. It seemed that every episode ended with Yeon Seo thinking, yet again, that she’d killed the celebrity, only to have him wake up at the beginning of the next one. It got old, fast. However, I do have to say that Sung Hoon may have a knack for this kind of comedy, and that his lack of expression in some cases ended up being a plus. I Picked up a Celebrity just wasn’t good enough to keep watching until it became great.

After that, I retreated to rewatching a drama I knew delivered both in comedy and heart: I am Not a Robot. A story about a wannabe inventor who ends pretending to be a robot for a part-time job, the story makes few false moves, and nearly all the characters are given room to grow. It’s an instant classic, and both Yoo Seung Ho and Chae Soon Bin are extremely watchable.

Now, I am watching My Strange Hero, also starring Yoo Seung Ho, and realizing what a great actor he is, having the advantage of naturally expressive eyes, especially when paired with a pretty, but not very good actress, Jo Bo Ah. Jo Bo Ah has definitely improved her skills since Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, but she’s still not quite on point as an actress. The second lead, played by Kwak Dong Yeon, goes almost toe-to-toe with Yoo Seung Ho in screen presence, giving him a bit of a run for his money. Kwak Dong Yeon will be someone to watch in the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he soon gets his own starring role. The plot for My Strange Hero is a little weak, but the half-hour episodes help keep things moving along, and additions of veteran actors like Kim Mi Kyung (Healer) and Cheon Ho Jin (City Hunter) are a good move. I’m only on episode 9, and there’s already quite a bit of heart in the story, and I’m excited to see where it goes and if it ends up having a great payoff.

Kdrama review: Cheese in the Trap

I have now watched Cheese in the Trap starring Park Hae Jin and Kim Go Eun twice, and I will probably watch it again at some point. Based on a popular webtoon, Cheese has multilayered characters that are fun to come back to again and again, and a college setting that is almost 1980s in feel. Like most Kdramas, it is a romance involving a rich young man and a poor young woman; the difference in this story is that the affluence of the young man is almost an aside. It is certainly a reason why many try to take advantage of him or seek favors from him, but for once the problem between him and his young woman is something entirely different: a personality disorder.

Hong Seol (Kim Go Eun) is a college student who periodically takes time off to work and earn more money, especially if she doesn’t get a scholarship for the upcoming semester. However, in the first episode we quickly learn that this time Seol is thinking of taking time off specifically to avoid a sunbae (or senior) in her major. Yoo Jung (Park Hae Jin) has inexplicably gotten under her skin, and Seol is both intrigued by him and afraid of him. The reason for her very real fear only becomes completely clear by the end of the series: Yoo Jung has problems, but we, like him, are not sure they stem from himself or from the actions of those around him. It “takes two to tango” as they say, but most often if a person is repeating the same problems over and over, the root issue isn’t something outside of them. Cheese is largely about Yoo Jung realizing that he does actually have a problem, but it ends on a hopeful note that it is a problem that can be fixed.

Seol is almost an afterthought in this story. It’s not that she’s not her own person or is sort of a blank character, but she really is largely a vehicle to showcase Yoo Jung and to mirror him. Both students are smarter than average, and both have to continually deal with people trying to ride their coattails to success. Of those who have more, much more is expected. It’s frustrating, but it’s true. In fact, one of Seol’s business teachers points this out, and that duty Seol has is a lot more complicated than merely helping someone with their work or doing it for them–the teacher says that Seol is the type of person who can help those underachievers with less smarts be at their best. Yoo Jung gets similar advice from his father, the owner of a large company, but Yoo only belatedly understands what he’s been trying to say. The key, the very difficult key, for both characters to help others is for them to genuinely care about those others. Seol is mostly there, but she backtracks a bit after starting to date Yoo Jung, causing more difficulties. It is shown that by and large the other, almost insane characters, do care, but it is Seol, and especially Yoo Jung, who doesn’t.

I can’t say I really understood all this the first time watching Cheese in the Trap. Some stories are simply so layered that it requires multiple views or reads to really get the message, even if it’s being told or shown to you clearly. Also, this is a difficult thing to swallow: Other people, no matter how annoying they are to you, care about you. In fact, they may even be antagonizing you because they desire your love and attention. You are experiencing insane behavior and even hatred towards you, because you aren’t truly caring for others. That doesn’t mean that these other people don’t have a responsibility to behave well on their own–they do–but so, so often people do awful things as a reaction to another awful thing: heartlessness. Heartlessness from those wealthier, smarter, more beautiful, more capable and blessed with gifts and talents they neither asked for nor earned. And from those people, more is expected. If they don’t give you–a person of no talent, no riches, no beauty, a helping hand–who then will?

Let me give an example from the story. Yoo Jung’s father took in a couple of orphaned siblings when they were in elementary school. It is at first presumed that the father wanted to care for them and also thought Yoo Jung could use some siblings. This is somewhat true, however, it seems that the father actually thought that these siblings–Baek In Ho and Baek In Ha–could help his son turn out “normal.” And by normal, he means able to care for others, to be concerned for their feelings and well being. In flashbacks we see that at the beginning Yoo Jung didn’t have this problem: He did care for others and for these new siblings. But over time, perhaps because he thinks too much like his father, he became jaded and started to see everyone in his life as only people leeching off of him or trying to take advantage.

That in itself is not untrue. Plenty of people try to take advantage all the time. Baek In Ha (played by the amazing Lee Sung Kyung) is perhaps one of the most memorable Kdrama characters I’ve encountered. She is selfish to the point of insanity, shamelessly mooching off of Yoo Jung and his father, spending money like water, and refusing to work. She is also hilarious and charming, and it’s easy to see why so many people simply let her have her way. But In Ha is deeply damaged by past abandonment and abuse, as is her brother. Yoo Jung’s father may have given her food, nice clothes, and a roof over her head, but he did nothing to actually help her. She acts like an entitled welfare queen because that’s exactly what she is and she has never been disciplined or trained enough in order to reel herself back in to being a productive, self-reliant person. She is also sure that she will someday be abandoned. When Yoo Jung finally realizes the severe damage that he and his father have done to her by not enforcing boundaries and good behavior from a very age, nor seeking any sort of healing therapy for her, he decides the best course of action is to cut ties with her completely. This is ultimately what In Ha fears most, but it is necessary as their relationship is so, so toxic that it is making her act like a crazy person to the point that she physically harms others. After the final, clean break, we find that In Ha has given herself to another man who genuinely cares for her. Yes, she’s still a spoiled rich girl, but she is tempered by love, not only from her significant other, but love from her brother and a renewed relationship with him.

It was very belated, but Yoo Jung realized that the best way to care for In Ha was to let her go. No more relationship of punishment and reward or “carrot and stick,” which was really all they had. Early on she may have been someone he would have thought to marry, but that was shattered when he realized that In Ha and In Ho, too, were there simply to take advantage of him–at least, that’s what he believed. Despite her crazy ravings, In Ha cares for Yoo Jung. She often says she understands him, and there’s no reason to doubt that she does, but her damaged self too often thinks this means he owes her something. Indeed, he does owe her something, but it’s something he may never be able to give her: the love, attentions, and affections of a family member/brother/husband. He can’t give this to her and realizes it’s best for her to let her go. Yoo Jung also for once understands that a big part of the problem is himself. No matter how crazy In Ha is, Yoo Jung and his father have not done right by her, and some of her behavior stems from theirs towards her.

So what exactly is Yoo Jung’s problem? He is jaded and cynical about other people, but that’s fairly normal. What’s not normal is how he deals with others who have wronged him or are trying to use them. A., he assumes that’s what’s going on when sometimes circumstances are actually the opposite. B., he doesn’t directly question others about their motives or call them out in a healthy, confrontational manner. This is because he is only viewing them as inferior in some way, rather than as individuals with desires and needs, and who with a little care and attention would behave much, much better. C., he lives by the motto of an “eye for an eye,” but the way he goes about getting back at someone is entirely duplicitous, underhanded, and all too often for Seol, frightening. For example, instead of bringing a peeping tom to the cops so they can charge him, Yoo Jung beats him to a bloody pulp in a flurry of violence that leaves Seol not thanking him, but shrinking from him. Another example: He continually does things for Seol, like helping her get a scholarship, but gets others in trouble or blackmails others into making way for both him and Seol. This is how his father must act, though we don’t get to see a lot of his father, and it is sociopathic behavior where the ends justify any means.

Seol isn’t as fully realized as the other characters, namely Yoo Jung, In Ha, and In Ho. While the other three seem to grow during the series, she only grows in her appreciation and understanding for Yoo Jung, not for those around her. After college, in the office world, she still coming across similar people trying to take advantage of her or earn her favor. She seems resigned to them, wisely not upsetting them, but also not really seeing them as people, merely a type of person. At this point, Yoo Jung is working on himself and his perceptions of other people, and our hope, is that once he returns to shower his love on Seol (and others), that he will in turn help her see people as well.

The best success in the series that Seol has for caring for another person is the way she treats Baek In Ho. In Ho used to be Yoo Jung’s best friend, but that was all shattered by a misunderstanding in high school. For whatever reason, the two connect and become genuine friends. At time it seems as if he’s the perfect man for Seol, but we easily forget that he was abused and damaged along with his sister. Although he may have fallen for Seol, it is likely because she was the catalyst for him to finally start healing and moving on from the past. In Ho, played by the very handsome and charming Seo Kang Joon, gets a lot more screen time than Park Hae Jin’s Yoo Jung, but it’s actually a relief in some ways, because Yoo Jung becomes so abhorrent after awhile. It is only in the last episodes that Yoo Jung realizes that he himself really has a problem and that it has to stop. He only has this epiphany because Seol gets physically injured by In Ha. If that never happened, I shudder to think what would have happened with Seol totally in love with Yoo Jung and supporting and affirming his dangerous and damaging behavior against others. Cheese in the Trap, indeed.

An entire novel could be written about the philosophy and world view of this show, as it is truly fascinating. It is definitely not your typical show or story in any country. One of these days, I hope to read the webtoon and see how different it is from the show. I have also heard that the Korean movie, also starring Park Hae Jin, treats Yoo Jung a bit more kindly. All of the actors, but especially the four leads, did a stellar job, and the series as a whole is both nostalgic (again, with that 80s feel, and at times unsettling as it seems like a camp of psychotic vampires is permanently camped around Seol. Cheese in the Trap is at its heart a morality tale: Those who do not learn to deal with conflict and adversity in a timely, upfront, and loving manner are dooming themselves to continually spiralling conflicts and adversity all the days of their life. Those who do not truly take the time and effort to know and really see people will find themselves constantly seeing and expecting only the worst in people, and will find them–and themselves–acting accordingly. It is so easy to see how others must take responsibility for themselves and their actions, but how difficult to see the same in oneself.

House of Silk: book review

If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, I highly recommend House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. I am a little over halfway and am enjoying immensely–much, much more than his disappointing Moriarty. In fact, I am enjoying it so much that I want to go back and read all of Doyle’s original stories again, and the two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr., as well as the fun BBC Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch (still the best name ever). Holmes and Watson are simply the best detective duo ever written. Although I adore Agatha Christie’s Poirot, there’s something about these two characters. They are such men of action and really funny as well. House of Silk has a seal of approve from the Conan Doyle Estate, so Horowitz is certainly on the right track with this tale as far as they are concerned. Can’t wait to see how the story turns out.

Additional review: Kdrama Encounter (Boyfriend) is a unique Noona (older woman, younger man) romance starting out in Cuba of all places, and then, of course continuing back in Seoul. Not sure what to make of all these Noona romances they seem to be making lately. Here, Park Bo Gum’s Jin Hyeok is very sweet and naive, but is supposed to be twenty-nine or thirty, and because the actor himself is only twenty-five or so, he just comes across as very young. Add to that Jin Hyeok’s place as–shall we say not a chaebol (rich elite)–and you have a recipe for him simply bringing his older lady love (played by the beautiful Song Hye Kyo) more stress and trouble than she has already, as she will have to protect him continually. Now, the writers probably have something in store for him or the couple together to outwit the bad guys, but so far I’m skeptical. Loved the Cuba setting, though, and kinda hope they escape back there or something.

Happy reading and watching! –Pixie

Doctor Who: Midnight

David Tennant is my favorite Doctor. His Doctor is generally a cheerful, god-like hero. It’s no surprise then, that my favorite episodes of the show Doctor Who are ones from the seasons starring Tennant. “Midnight” from season four is one I like to watch again and again. This episode lands in the timeframe when Donna is the Doctor’s companion. Donna may have never been a love interest for the Doctor, but she understands him in a key way that his other companions do not: Without his companions, he’s scary–at least this Doctor is. While the Doctor may keep companions around to fend off loneliness, the real reason may be that they keep him grounded in reality, something necessary for a true hero to remain so.

As far as episodes go, “Midnight” could be written of as a filler episode, having not much to do with the long-term plot of the series. If one had to cut an episode due to time constrains, “Midnight” would be a good choice as it wouldn’t affect the series as a whole and is rather forgettable coming after the epic episodes of “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead.” However, taking a closer look, “Midnight” has quality in its own right and deserves to be showcased as more than just filler.

The episode starts with Donna and the Doctor on vacation on a planet called Midnight. Donna’s busy sunbathing, so the Doctor decides to take a tour out to look at the planet which appears to be incapable of supporting life. In itself, the plot would make a great horror movie, but at the same time apart from the Doctor Who universe “Midnight” has little meaning and in fact is only truly scary because of who the Doctor is.

Tennant’s Doctor is always rather curious and chatty, so he wastes no time in getting to know the other people on his tour ship. They are all humans and although this may be the future, they are not depicted as being much different from those in Doctor Who’s present day London. Three are on a family trip, one just broke up with a lover, two are scholars, etc. When the ship unexpectedly stops due to a malfunction, Doctor Who is eager to help and invades the cockpit to talk with the pilots and maintenance men. In what will prove to be a foolish move, the Doctor encourages the men in the cockpit to lift up the sunscreens so he can take a look at the planet. Although they think him merely curious, the Doctor’s real goal is likely to spot a way out of their dilemma. Still, he’s thrilled they are looking on an area of the planet that no one has ever seen before. It is towers and mountains encrusted in diamonds and all uninhabitable due to the proximity of the sun. One of the pilots spots a shadow sliding towards their ship, causing a prompt closing of the viewing screens.

Back in the main cabin, the Doctor finds himself having to settle down the increasingly hysterical passengers who are all afraid they will run out of air before help gets to them. Both the flight attendant and the female scholar are key in helping him calm everyone down. This foreshadows how the two women will ultimately play a role in saving everyone at the end. Why these women are able to see what the rest of the group does not, the writers give no answers, only that perhaps one is thoughtful in a unique way and that the other has genuine concern and care for her passengers. These are both qualities that are easily found in each of the Doctor’s companions.

Just as the passengers are relaxing something knocks on the walls of the ship, presumably trying to get in. Hysteria rises again, ending with the cockpit getting ripped away from the ship and the lights turned out. As everyone comes back to their senses and gets the lights back on, they realize that one of the passengers, a Sky Silvestry (Lesley Sharp), who was extremely afraid, has been so traumatized that she cannot speak. It doesn’t take too long for the Doctor and passengers to figure out that whatever being was outside is now somehow in this woman. Applause to the actress who created a chilling character within such a short amount of time. Her performance as she mimics and manipulates the other passengers is riveting. Not only does she shine but allows Tennant’s Doctor to shine as well, not to mention the other passengers. This is the sort of scene that really tests actors–closed room, no specials effects–as well as the writing, both of which are very good in “Midnight.” It is a scene that I can imagine would be of good use in an acting class or workshop.

With this discovery of an entirely unknown and new creature in the universe, here the Doctor’s penchants for both curiosity and hubris conspire to within a hair’s breadth of his complete downfall. We see him at first having control of the situation and then quite suddenly stuck, unable to do anything to change or affect events around him. His life is at stake with no way out. We know that if Donna was with him, this would not have happened. If Donna was with him, she would have held him back, and in the end it is the two stand-in companions, the flight attendant and the young scholar who save the day, one by contradicting the lie that is gaining power in the room, and the other literally giving her life to save the passengers and perhaps the entire universe. The Doctor is extremely shaken by this whole experience and this may be the part where he becomes too cynical to recover. Though he shares what happened with Donna, I didn’t come away with the impression that she really understood just how dire circumstances were or what an amazing sacrifice the flight attendant made. The attendant didn’t just save one life or a group of lives, she saved all of the lives in the Doctor Who universe.

A space tale about an undiscovered malevolent being could be an exciting movie, but this episode has such tension because it’s about Doctor Who. The new creature is frightening precisely because of who the Doctor is. The Who universe would not be able to thrive, much less exist, without its main character. “Midnight” foreshadows this particular Doctor’s end, should he continue to be companionless, and it is this factor combined with his reckless curiosity and growing self-pride that ultimately leads to his regeneration into someone new, kinder, and smarter.

Of all the Doctor Who episodes from Tennant’s run on the show, “Midnight” truly seems to encapsulate his character. It’s an episode that can be watched again and again, not only for the fine acting and writing, but for the lessons on group dynamics and the false appeal to compassion. Can there be any worse phenomenon in the universe than someone advocating for a clear, present danger to be welcomed unquestioningly into a benign group? Some evils are not to be understood nor negotiated with, but only to be defeated. It is no wonder that the Doctor found his life rightly questioned in the next instant. True love, true compassion, is giving one’s life for one’s friends, in this instance the flight attendant sacrificing herself for her passengers. She saved the Doctor, but shamed him beyond all repair, and although he is unarguably at his worst in “Midnight” it is by far my favorite episode.