Thursday, March 7, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [episodes 7-8]

Things are certainly heating up in the latest episodes from Serial Box’s Ninth Step Station, with plenty of murder, yes, but also a widening scope and political scene, with politicians and terrorists both making life much harder for Miyako and Emma. There’s some further exploration of each characters romantic lives, as well as plenty of office politics to go along with the global politics they’re trying to keep from exploding back into war. And the series continues to hit its television-like feel, with one “Emma episode” and one “Miyako episode” that give a little each character the chance to grow and be challenged. So let’s get to the reviews!


“The Loud Politician” by Fran Wilde (serial episode 7)

No Spoilers: So following the fake kidnapping last episode, this one finds Miyako and Emma called out to a spot of what seems to be arson. Arson and murder of a rather prominent member of the Japanese Diet, one who was loud in pushing for stricter punishments for foreign mischief. It makes the mystery seem rather poltically motivated, and that’s one area that Emma and Miyako don’t exactly excel. For Emma especially, her brash American style of doing things really doesn’t mesh all that well with the more formal setting she finds herself in, especially because the formality is a coping mechanism for many of the people around her whose home has been so thoroughly changed and damaged by the war. So it’s something of an episode of Emma Fucking Up and then seeing that she has to come at things a little differently, not being untrue to herself but learning to be less of a weapon and more of a detective. It’s a very interesting move and I like the way that this then gets some into the double standards surrounding gender and power and all of that. It’s a complex installment, but another good one!
Keywords: Murder, Mysteries, Breakups, Politics, CW- Domestic Violence/Abuse, Queer MC
Review: Okay so a few things. First, yay Emma broke up with Kensuke! Dude keep on throwing up red flags and finally she’s seeing them clearly and Fed Up with his bullshit. Yay. Part of that too gets into the way that he diminishes her job and her aspirations while still very much feeling in control and in power. He’s the guide, the expert, and she’s the tourist. It’s a power imbalance that he’s quick to take advantage of, constantly framing any of her doubts about him and her needing to listen to him and obey because he knows best. It’s the same kind of behavior that makes her actions at work more fraught, because everything she does goes through that extra layer of being a woman, and so being aggressive isn’t seen the same way. Which is obviously something that she’s had to deal with and she’s learned how to handle by being more aggressive and more confident. Which worked with her American work (for the most part), and having to learn how that way of doing things isn’t going to work in Japan is frustrating for her. And to be clear, I feel it’s frustrating because she is aware that she’s an outsider and shouldn’t act like she knows best, while also seeing that misogyny is a problem here, and that she shouldn’t have to just accept that. It’s a very tricky situation but one the story pulls off so well.

Secondly, I love how the case seems so obviously politically motivated (and in some ways is) that it gets everyone looking in the wrong place. That people are so sure that it must be some sort of assassination, because that is appropriately sinister and distant. And yet the reality is that the case follows pretty standard lines when it comes to murder. Was a woman killed? First thing, check out her partner. For this person, because she was a politician and because her husband was out of work, everyone just assumed that she had him...broken somehow. And yet the reality is that even people who seem certain of themselves can be victims of abuse. And that it remained invisible so long, when she was so loud and so visible, is the real mystery. Of course, the solution there, too, isn’t very uncommon. Her pain was ignored because dealing with it would require dealing with misogyny and entitlement in a way that most men (and many women) actively and aggressively push back against. In some ways it’s a very sad episode, because of the way this all comes out and then...sort of fades. How there is a moment of recognition for what has happened, for this murdered woman, but the problems still remain. The assholes keep their jobs. The women still have to work harder for less respect and reward. The episode ends with another win for Miyako and Emma, but also with the lingering fear that all their hard work and sacrifice might come to nothing because some man or men feels threatened by them, and decides to try and ruin their lives (or end them). But it’s another fantastic addition to the world, and I am so happy that Emma dumped that chump. A wonderful read!

“The Clawed Limb” by J Koyanagi (serial episode 8)

No Spoilers: It’s a mystery of a different color when Miyako and Emma are handed a case involving, well, a rebellious hand. More specifically, they are brought in to question a man claiming that it was him who attacked his girlfriend, injecting her with an unknown substance. Or, not exactly. It was his hand, gone rogue from the rest of his body. Which the pair are quick to dismiss, except that his isn’t the only incident, and as things escalate they quickly have to come to terms with the fact that the truth of the situation might be strange well as deadly serious. It’s an episode that leans a bit more in the thriller direction, the actual mystery more about what the perpetrator wants rather than figuring out who he is. And it’s one that shakes the partners a bit, making them examine their own feelings about peace and war and everything in between.
Keywords: Terrorism, Body Modification, Queer MC, Borders, Control
Review: I love that this episodes dives a bit more into Miyako’s relationship, the semi-casual-by-necessity thing that she has with her lover from the Chinese sector. And how they allowed these small moments of peace and intimacy amidst this larger struggle. And how all of that is really called into question with this episode. Not, mind you, in a way that really reflects on the relationship itself. I like that Miyako is a little grumpy just how well it works, and sometimes wishes she could have something a bit more, but at the same time I really like the shape of it and the ease of it and the lack of real drama. No, what really makes Miyako have to question what she’s doing is her work. Is the fact that while she’s enjoying this bit of peace, her world is still very much at war, if not quite openly. But there are people trying their best to kill, and to escalate the political situation. The perp in this story is one who is definitely giving absolutely everything of himself to the conflict. To “winning.” And it makes Miyako have to examine how she’s not doing the same. And I love that, because it’s something that feels so real, the intense desire for peace and a spot of relief in chaotic and dangerous times. And the guilt that comes along with it, despite that peace, that relief, being the only thing helping Miyako do her job and do it well. Because without those moments things would be so much worse, and Miyako would do a worse job, and yet there’s the doubt, the thought that maybe denying herself every happiness and joy would get her something in return. It’s so common and it does seem to really get to Miyako, who is normally so reserved.

And this story doesn’t really get too much into the who-done-it aspect of the mystery, Though it takes them a while to find their lead suspect, once they find him it’s much more about figuring out his motive, his objective. And then with dealing with not really figuring it out in time. It’s tense, wit another chase and another situation where Miyako and a killer have to go face to face, toe to toe. And I do like that this one isn’t exactly a win for the team. I mean, they “get their guy,” but at the same time they have to face that in war men like this are seen as valuable. There won’t be justice for the people he killed and hurt. In some ways he’ll be rewarded with exactly what he wants, and it’s unsettling to think that’s the case, that war has made people so twisted that they’d think that was Okay. It also shows things are not going to just calm down in Tokyo. Though the desire is that somehow a peaceful solution can be found, chances are what’s coming is a continuation of the violence that led to this situation in the first place. And that specter of war, that has so far been a bit more distant, is much closer how that terrorism has caught fire. It’s an episode that does sell the stakes of this conflict, that these are more than just murder mysteries. They’re a battle for the soul of a city that has been deeply wounded. And it might be easier to abandon principles in the face of utility, but there is a lose there, something that cannot be reclaimed. And it’s another excellent read!


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