Leaping Lizards, Part 2
What Do You Like About Other M?
So, you're not too keen on this scene, but you do like the game as a whole enough to defend this scene. Why?
It can't be the writing; that's objectively
bad. Even on its basic structural elements, the writing is awful; the only thing it gets right is English grammar. The plotting is poor; there are many plotlines without any idea of what the "main" plot is. And the different threads are poorly handled; oftentimes, entire plotlines are just dropped without comment or consequence. Indeed, this very scene is an example; you could cut it (and all appearances of Poke-Ridley) from the game without little consequence for anything. You'd need a little patching up of course, for Adam and Anthony's deaths. But that's about it.
The voice acting is basically a two hour tutorial on how not
to do voice acting and direction. Wooden and monotone doesn't even begin to describe it. The cinematography is poor, many of the characters are faceless redshirts, and the only ones who aren't besides the two leads (Adam and Samus) are nothing more than broad caricatures. There is nothing nuanced about this story at all.
So what is there to like here? You don't need to answer in a comment or something. I just want you to think about what it is about this story overall that you like? What is so good about this game as a whole that makes you rise up and defend this scene?
The most common defensive argument that speaks to this perspective is something of the form, "Other M as a whole gives Samus a character." I'm going to go deeper into this in the next section, because people who like the scene often say that the scene is a large contributing factor to that. But in terms of the work as a whole, consider what I said just above.
You could remove this scene entirely, without consequence for the plot, character, or themes of Other M. Everything the Ridley scene says about Samus's character is said elsewhere in the game. This scene may say it loudly, but there are other scenes that say it just as loudly if not moreso. Indeed, this scene is really nothing more than the 2 minute version of Other M's entire story: Samus is weak and ineffectual. Big strong man must save her life and dies in the process. Samus then fights the badguy, but doesn't get to actually kill it; someone else does that because otherwise she wouldn't continue to be weak and ineffectual.
Indeed, you could just cut out the "turns into a child" part of the scene. Cut straight from Ridley howling at her to the part where he grabs her. Not only does it flow better (it also removes the Adam stuff, which really gets in the way of the scene's pacing and focus), you wouldn't even notice something's gone. The scene would play out just fine without it.
So why defend this scene, when the work as a whole still gets its point across and the most unacceptable bit is completely superfluous?
Why Do You Like This Scene?
You actually like this scene. That's fine; you have the right to your opinion. Why do you like it?
The most common defensive argument here is much like the previous one: "the scene gives Samus a character." This naturally presupposes that Samus did not in fact have a character before.
I contest this, for obvious reasons. Yes, Samus has had little dialog or direct character interaction. But no character? The fundamental foundation of the "Show, don't Tell" rule is the understanding that actions speak louder than words. Samus's actions
define who she is. And we see those actions played out in the many games in the series.
Yes, every player has their own path through the games, their own way of playing. But in every case, Samus goes to Zebes and takes out an entire Space Pirate base single-handedly. The specific events of the story may be different, but her overall actions are the same. Coupled with the various snippets from Samus or others we get, and you can assemble a pretty reasonable character from it. Most people generally come up with similar broad characteristics: independent, courageous, self-confident, etc.
Generally, when this argument is brought up, and this rebuttal is given, the next step is to modify the argument: "the scene gives Samus added depth as a character." There's an admission that Samus did have a character, but it's also an accusation that she was flat and uninteresting
before. Thus, they're saying that this scene gives her other dimensions.
I agree that the Samus presented in the games is flat; she's only slightly more well-defined than Chell
or Gordon Freeman
. People can add whatever dimensions they want on top of that, but the character that the games show is not very dynamic. I'm going to ignore the fact that doing this in a videogame can work to the game's advantage for reasons of player interaction, the player seeing the protagonist as an avatar of themselves in the game space, immersion, etc. We're just judging the character as presented
in a story.
Does this scene give Samus added depth? The answer to this is very complicated, due to the nature of the kind of character that Samus Aran has been up to this point. The easiest way to get it is via analogy.
Parents killed when a child. Raised by someone wise and caring. Trained as a fighter, and then decides to take the fight to those who killed the parents, but not out of revenge so much as this needs to be done and I'm the one who can do it.
Did I just describe Samus Aran? Or Batman?
Samus Aran is a Sci-Fi Superhero. She has many of the common elements of that kind of character. She has a secret identity (of a sort
). She has superpowers; her suit is beyond anything else in the galaxy. She operates outside of the law (to a degree), and she fights evil. She's willing to fight evil wherever it is, whether in those who killed her parents or those who were once allies (the GF in Fusion and technically Other M).
Screw Attack, or S for Samus?
She's also a very "larger-than-life" character; the things she does are amazing within the context of the story. The GF military tries to sack Zebes and failed. Samus, one woman, goes in and cleans it out. This happens again and again in the games. The Ing fought a two-decades long war against the Luminoth and were literally minutes away from wining,*
until Samus came along and saved the day. By herself. In Corruption, when Dark Samus personally attacks Norion, there are four of the most badass bounty hunters in the galaxy present. When Dark Samus dives through the window and starts shooting, which one of these four doesn't
Even among her peers, she's the best. If they were the Justice League, she's Superman.
She even has a symbol with an "S" on it.
Superhero stories need those larger-than-life elements. Spiderman is all kinds of badass, able to defeat various threats and such. But he also has human qualities and weaknesses. They often complicate his crime-fighting life, but the superhero elements still remain. He may be "relate-able," he may have average, everyday problems, but he's still a superhero.
Now, take such a larger-than-life character and put them in the Ridley scene. Take Tim Burton's Batman,
the scene where Bruce Wayne meets the Joker. The part where the Joker says his trademark line and Bruce realizes that he murdered his parents. Now, imagine if Bruce got a bout of PTSD right there, if he regressed to a crying 8-year-old boy when confronted by the Joker, and Viki Vale was killed because of it.
Such a thing is plausible in terms of character. It's a legitimate, defensible thing that could happen, using the understanding that this happens in reality. But there's no way a writer would ever write that. You just don't do it; you don't have the main hero go through something like that. At least not in the way that Other M did it. It destroys their larger-than-life status; it makes them seem too weak and frail. Even if Batman overcomes it by the end of the work, the audience will always remember that time Bruce turned into a crying boy in front of his nemesis.
That's not to say that superheroes don't break down. But they don't do it that
way. Again, looking at Tim Burton's Batman, the character is affected
by this. But he did not freak out; it was a more subdued thing that he expressed when he was alone and able to process it.
Superheroes most certainly do not turn into crying children on-screen and lose their superpowers because of moments like this. Doing this makes them, not just too human, but too fragile
to have that larger-than-life sensibility. However plausible
it might be in the real world, it just doesn't work in this kind of fiction
. It sends the wrong message. These are supposed to be larger-than-life characters; they're a cut above the common people. Doing this destroys this aspect of their character.
But there's another problem with this scene; it has to do with the specific way in which Samus is a superhero.
Every superhero generally has two elements to them: a superpower (or suite thereof), and a single, defining personality characteristic. The superpower is simply that which makes it possible
for them to be a superhero. Bruce Wayne would just be a guy working a 9-to-5 job if he weren't arbitrarily wealthy
. Without the leisure time and resources
needed to actually be Batman, he'd just be a guy with a tragic backstory. The defining characteristic is the part of their personality that makes them want
to be a superhero. It's what makes them superheroic.
It is the combination of these two elements, ability and drive, that makes for a good, memorable superhero. Superman has his superpowers and his sense of justice. Batman has his money and resources, and he is driven by the tragedy of his youth and his unwillingness to see it happen to anyone else. And so forth.
Depth in such characters is created by giving these characters additional traits, typically those that add friction to the ones they already have. In Batman Begins
, Bruce's drive initially leads him to revenge; he only narrowly avoids this path thanks to luck and the hand of a friend (literally). It takes him time to get his principles on straight: he has this drive, the will to prevent these tragedies, but he needs to maintain his morality while doing so
. The Dark Knight
takes this even further. It uses other elements, his relationships, and plays with them, pushing him to break his rules, rescind his morality in his quest to stop the badguy.
But notice how carefully this is all done; at no time does the story remove
Bruce's drive. It adds elements to the character that create nuances and complexities. But it never
tampers with his basic character trait: that desire to prevent criminals from hurting people. Instead, it creates circumstances where that trait is a liability or otherwise interferes with other traits, like what Batman won't
do to achieve that.
Similar, Superman stories can revolve around elements external to his need for justice. For all the problems with Superman Returns
, it introduced a major complexity: his son. A son he cannot raise or even acknowledge as his own. He can't very well tell Lois that he's the father; there's no Hallmark card for "We had sex, totally consensual I might add, but then I wiped your mind and ran off for 5 years. Sorry." It didn't change his quest for justice, his drive to save people. But it did add a snag for him as a person.
Indeed, even many bad superhero stories retain the basic elements of the character. Batman and Robin never changed who Batman was. It was Godawful for many, many other reasons.
So what of Samus and Other M? To judge this, we must first identify what her defining character trait is. Let's take a look at some of the things that happen in Metroid games.
Samus Aran is shot down, loses her superpowers, is left with a catsuit and a pistol that can only stun something and even then just once every 2 seconds. Between her and where she needs to go is a large Space Pirate ship, crawling with people who would like nothing better than to tear her limb from limb. She looks carefully at this situation and says, "Fuck it; I'm gonna Solid Snake this shit!" And then does it.
Samus Aran is being hunted by a sentient parasite that's using her own power armor against her. She can't last more than a few seconds in a fight against this creature. At one point, she hears the ominous footsteps of the monster. She's heard it before, only this time it's waiting for her. It's directly in her way. She's got no chance in this fight. But she jumps down there anyway. She can't kill SA-X, but if she does it right, she can get past
Samus Aran is confronted by a planet made of a living, corruptive force that has already consumed an entire species, as well as three of the best hunters in the galaxy. This same force has infested her body and is starting to consume her. She takes one look at this planet and decides to go down there, find a vulnerable spot, and blow it straight to hell.
For my money, Samus Aran is defined by her boundless courage. There is no task so big that Samus won't take on. Stop alien threats to the galaxy? End a decade's long war while she's in the neighborhood? Halt invasions from beyond
the galaxy? And so on.
The Ridley scene is nothing less than a direct assault on her courage. It takes the thing that defines her and annihilates it. You can talk about PTSD till you're blue in the face, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that this character's most defining trait
, the thing that drives her to be a superhero, is crushed
by this scene. It is thrown on the floor and viciously savaged.
So this scene doesn't add complexity to her character; it removes
something. She goes from being a larger-than-life embodiment of courage to being a victim. She's transformed from a superhero into a human with fancy power armor. There's nothing super about her anymore except for what she can do.
Even if I were to accept the statement, "the scene gives Samus added depth as a character," this depth is created at the expense of that which made her special and larger-than-life. It doesn't make her a more interesting character; it makes her a weaker
character. It takes the elements that were strong and good about her and erodes them. People make the argument that you have to do this to give the character greater complexity, but that's bullshit. As previously stated, superhero stories avoid this all the time
; you can add complexity and depth without
taking away what makes a superhero special. There is a difference between giving a character weaknesses and making the character weak.
For example, what if she got people killed because of her courage? What if Adam
was killed because Samus's boundless courage led her to arrogance and overconfidence, getting herself into a tight situation? Maybe that's what led her to leave the GF and become a solitary bounty hunter. Maybe she thinks human beings are easily frightened, perpetually terrified creatures, that she thinks of herself as better than they are. She was raised by aliens after all. I can keep going with this, but my point is clear: you can maintain what works about the character while adding depth.
This scene, and the game as a whole, does not.
So no, not buying it. I'll take flat and superhero over "depth" and weak any day.