A few months ago, I wrote about the normalization of domestic violence in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. There were a couple of comments on the article, one of which was to the effect of, “Well, Anakin is a bad guy, what do you expect?”
I don’t typically engage over stuff like that; through experience I’ve come to realize it’s unlikely I’ll change the minds of the close minded. People are entitled to their opinion, I suppose, even if I strenuously disagree.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for moment, however. Let’s leave the others out of it and pretend Anakin’s inherent seed of evil predisposed him to abusive behavior towards his wife. For the record, I think that’s a load of crap, but I posit it here so I may counter it.
I am going to counter it with Carter Hall as he appears in DC’s Legend’s Of Tomorrow.
I’m going to say at the outset that my only previous frame of reference for this character is the Justice League cartoon. I’ve done some research on him for a hero profile over at the Last Chance Salon, but I’m not super familiar with his comic self. What I am writing here is based purely on my observations of the first two episodes of Legends. Clear? Cool.
We the viewers are supposed to believe Carter Hall is a good guy. A hero. He has, for multiple lifetimes, been holding back the forces of darkness. He has given his life over millennia for the afore mentioned cause. He is also a lover, holding fast to Shayera whether they are together or separated. We’re to believe their love is true and enduring and has survived not only death but any possible extenuating circumstances such as: distance, personality changes, and other people.
In the Legends of Tomorrow framework? I’m not buying it.
Because Carter Hall is a creep. More than that, he shows several signs of a classic abuser. His attempts to snare Shayera aren’t romantic. They’re gross and manipulative and they make me really uncomfortable.
Let’s start with the circumstances of their coming together:
When we first meet Kendra, she’s new to Central City. We don’t know where she came from, but we do know from her own dialogue that she was looking for a “fresh start.” She’s making some friends. She’s dating the adorkable Cisco Ramon. And she’s happy.
What does Carter do? He swans in and destroys everything. He makes the immediate assumption because he wants her, she’ll want him. He expects her to drop everything and accept his story and his desires but he doesn’t trust her to come to her own conclusions on the matter because he can’t stand the concept things might not go his way. He interposes himself between Kendra and the people she trusts, especially Cisco, and tells her she’s a threat to them; no better way to isolate someone in superhero world with a conscience. He uses Kendra, and Shayera’s, characters to maneuver her into the position he wants her in, proclaiming his undying love all the while.
I think we’re supposed to think it’s devotion and oh-so-romantic.
It is neither. It’s creepy and it’s gross.
When we see them in Legends of Tomorrow, Carter is in what seems to be Kendra’s home (whether or not they’re sharing it is unclear but there’s only one bed and they aren’t in that sort of relationship which means it is, at the very least, her room). Carter comes into her space (shades of Anakin again), a place that should be safe for Kendra and demands she join Hunter’s team for the sake of their mission. Which is really just his mission and one in which Kendra isn’t at all sure she wants to participate. He doesn’t have any interest in those concerns which he demonstrates when he feels free to unpack the articles of clothing she’s packing. What’s the big deal with her clothes? You might be thinking. They’re just clothes. Yes. They are. But they’re Kendra’s and she is packing them because she wants to leave. Carter has absolutely no regard for that and doesn’t see any sort of issue with imposing his will on them, which, symbolically imposes his will on her.
Then, rather than sitting down like reasonable people, especially when one of said claims to be in love with the other, he says he’ll do what she wants if she can defeat him in physical combat. Which is, quite honestly problematic from both sides: women can abuse men just as men can abuse women and the Hawks beating the crap on each other is a troubling conflict resolution strategy whether it’s consensual or not. I think the writers are expecting the viewers to see fight as “cute,” some quirk of a warrior couple. Newsflash: not cute. Not cute at all. It would’t be cute even if they were evenly matched but they’re not. Carter, knowing Kendra hasn’t regained all of her memories, knowing that she isn’t nearly as proficient a fighter yet in this life, can be very confident that he’s going to win. He can also be confident that Kendra will keep her word because that’s who she is and because he’s established a situation in which she has no one else to whom she can turn. So no. It isn’t a quirk. It is straight up Carter manipulation and it is in no way okay.
In the second episode, Carter uses Kendra’s conscience, her need to be a hero, to force her to access a past that terrifies her. He doesn’t care that she’s scared, he doesn’t care she’s troubled. He cares that she remembers so that he’ll get what he wants: her. And when she fails to find the right memory the first time, he points out to her how and why she should feel guilty about her failure to push her back in and graciously accepts her apology. Instead of telling her she doesn’t owe him one. Instead of admitting he is wrong, has been wrong, should give her space, she allow her to express her concerns. Instead of taking a step back and examining his methods and his assumptions, he leads her back in because he can’t stand the idea of her not being attached to him by their shared past.
And for anyone who thinks his sacrifice was noble? First of all, Carter Hall isn’t dead and he would have known that damn well going in. Well, that Carter Hall body might be but dude has been reincarnating for 4000 years. I know the producers said “death is permanent,” and death of that body might be, but I have no doubt that our intrepid band of time travelers will encounter another Carter Hall very soon. Also, IMDb lists Falk Hentschel in the cast list for the same number of episodes as everyone else. How much you want to bet Carter already knows when and where and his hawksong was an attempt to trigger Kendra’s latent memories and force some sort of connection between them? That he willfully put her through trauma so he could demand her devotion? Think that’s too grim? Too negative? See above. The writers may have been going for ultimate sacrifice but they whole thing made me feel like I needed a long shower and some bleach.
And, as in Clone Wars, none of the other heroes are taking a stand. The only one, the only one, who makes any effort to speak out is Cisco, who is summarily dismissed as a jealous boyfriend. Ollie sure as hell doesn’t do anything, nor do Ray, Hunter, Martin, nor Jax. Not even Sara calls Carter on his BS and she beat the hell out of a stranger in a hut in Tibet for giving another woman unwanted attention. After the way Sara was mistreated by Oliver Queen, by Ra’as, by countless other men before she found Nyssa, she, at the very least, she be making noise about the way Carter is treating Kendra.
Nary a whisper.
In fact, the only characters to call Carter on his crap so far on Legends are Leonard Snart and Mick Rory. The supposed villains of the piece and even then, it’s only on Carter’s general poorly adjusted attitude rather than on his treatment of Kendra. Despite the fact Snart killed his father for abuse that father perpetuated on Lisa, Leonard’s sister.
I am well cognizant the characters aren’t making these decisions for themselves, but the attitude of women as object of the male character’s subject is a common issue in DC properties and on the CW shows particularly. Do I think it’s intentional? Honestly, probably not. But it is sloppy writing and poor storytelling and it is unacceptable. Maintaining the status quo, the normalization of abuse, via passivity or laziness is unacceptable regardless of genre. It sends the message that the views don’t notice. That we don’t care.
And I demand better.