Thursday, July 2, 2020

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Knox [ep01.05 & 01.06]

Whoops! I had a suspicion I had it wrong and this one definitely convinces me that I made a rather grievous error in my early review that noted the wrong Great War (curse you unimaginative European war names!) that Serial Box’s Knox takes place after. Not World War II, but World War I. Not that it makes that big a difference, but it does put things in a different context. Completely my bad! Anyway, that out of the way, the action actually does travel back to the war and the mark it’s left on Knox. And how what she went through during that conflict has bled forward into the present case. What fun. These chapters continue the turn into the Weird and Horrifying that the previous chapters were hinting at, and things get mighty strange and ominous here. Lots going on, so I’ll get right into my reviews! 


“The Mark” by Brooke Bolander (ep01.05)

No Spoilers: Or, if we’re being thorough, this chapter might be known as Meet the Suspects. Because, well, a large part of this chapter is getting our first looks at the three main suspects for the murder that Knox is investigating. They’ interesting bunch. The first, Stephen Thrane, feels right at home with the Lovecraftian elements of the piece, seeing as how he’s really racist with a whole lot of Ideas about the state of the world. The second, Lazlo Kovacs, is perhaps a bit more honest with his motivations, but those motivations are hardly noble. Driven by vice and money, he seems more the “honest” criminal, though that might only be the surface. The last is Werner Klein, who seems to be a psychologist, or...something like it. All three men want a certain object that they think Knox has. And that’s before the party really gets wild. This chapter draws the mystery deeper, exposing a deep rot at the heart of the city and a complex web of influence and power that makes for a particularly treacherous situation for Knox to navigate.
Keywords: Parties, Music, Trauma, Poison, Queer MC
Review: Given that this is the halfway point of the season, it’s high time for the primary suspects to be revealed, and this chapter does efficient work at just that, taking Knox out of her element and into a glamorous party for the city’s affluent. Even as the guest’s seem to be pulled from the “best and brightest” (read, richest and whitest) of the city, I like the way the story shows how ugly and corrupt this world is. Not in the same way as down on the street, but it’s a stink and rot that sits just below the surface, reeking out through the words and actions of the people gathered, especially Stephen Thrane, who’s running for mayor. And I like how the chapter sets up all three of the main suspects, giving us shades of evil and in some ways asking which one is better or worse. Certainly Klein seems like he’s the best of the bunch, what with his work with veterans and all that, but I gotta say, he gives me the jibblies something fierce. Kovacs seems almost honest next to both other men, and perhaps that says something about his intelligence, but I think the story is careful to show that each of these men is smart in his own way, and it puts Knox in the impossible situation of trying to decide which one of these creepy people might be responsible for the murder.

Of course, before she can get to far into that, shit gets...weird. And here we see the hints of the more...Lovecraftian elements introduced in the last chapter gets expanded on with some chilling and fucked up results. And I like how the series is approaching what is some deeply problematic content, because Lovecraft isn’t just something that can be casually evoked now, not with his history of racism and misogyny. So like the ways that the series complicates the traditional noir, it also complicates the cosmic horror whose tradition is so full of white supremacy. That gets embodied in Stephen Thrane’s little monologues, his quest to control the narrative and the city, but it’s also rebuked by Knox herself. And given that Knox is the viewpoint, the detective, the “good guy,” it means that the story exposes the racism and rejects it, seeking to reclaim the horror elements that hve for so long been associated only with Lovecraft and his vitriol. It’s a toxicity that becomes physical in the story, that becomes the song that nearly bewitches Knox and Pax, that nearly destroys them after they are witness to a strange ritual that they were very much not meant to see.

And for me the chapter combines a lot of things that the story has largely kept separate to now. To this point, what Knox has seen, her visions and her terrors, have been confined to her own head. They probably weren’t real, for all that they’ve always seemed real enough to her. But they’re impossible, and so they’re only a symptom of her trauma, something to be mostly pushed aside so she can investigate the mundane terrors of the world. Only it seems that her visions might not be so illusory, so metaphorical. Especially when she gets involved into a ritual that Should Not Be and other people besides herself seem to share her visions--for a time, at least. And it opens up a lot of possibilities about how the story might go, veering from the expected corruptions of noir and into the much more profound corruptions of sci-fantasy horror. Which I am All Here For! Really, the series just keeps on making me more excited to read on. Such a great read!

“Sometimes We Carry Each Other” by Sunny Moraine (ep01.06)

No Spoilers: Following Knox’s decision at the end of the previous chapter, this one features Things Getting Weird. The chapter/episode is part memory, part fever dream, part exploration of the various ways Knox’s past is coming back to impact their present. It’s also something of an origin story, finding the moment when Knox developed the ability to see the things that she sees. But all of this is filtered through a certain breaking of reality, Knox’s mind lost in its own labyrinth, trying to find its way back to the alleyway where she and Pak ended up after everything. It’s strange and certainly the most challenging of the chapters so far, but it also reveals a lot, dealing as it does with trauma, war, and memory.
Keywords: War, Battlefields, Rituals, Queer MC, Hallucinations, Storms
Review: This chapter really ramps up the Weird, which was already climbing thanks to the events of last issue. But it’s also a masterful use of tension, pulling away from whatever the hell just happened in the story to explore something tangential and important but also AHHH I want to know what happens next!!! So in frustrating the linear story line in order to flash back across Knox’s life, the piece manages to build tension, answer some lingering questions, and make the scope of what’s happening and Knox’s personal connection to it that much stronger and larger. It also makes me think that Dr. Klein definitely has a lot of things to hide and probably recognizes Knox in some ways that she’d definitely not like. And I like the way that this chapter is rather broken because it deals with the ways that Knox is broken as well, the ways that her traumas and her desire to help people have led her to this moment.

And it’s a rather candid look at Knox and the big moments of her life. Surviving a hurricane with her family. Going off to be a nurse in World War I and going out into No Man’s Land to rescue injured soldiers. Being driven by a need to save people because of her refusal to accept that everyone is lost. It plays into the way that she recoils from Thrane’s screed last chapter, because he sees the world as inherently fallen, corrupt. Whereas she, despite seeing all the ways that it’s rigged against her and people like her, still retains this belief that it can be fair. That it can be better. If only everyone tried as hard as she tried. Less hard, even, but as long as they tried they they could all build something good. Something that actually works for everyone who wants the system to work for everyone. And it’s that resilience that really defines the character. Not optimism. Not being naive about how the world really operates. I mean fuck, she’s seen the worst of humanity, saw the horrors of war and only jumped in deeper to try and pull people out. She literally sees the horrors hiding beneath the surface as matter of course, and while this might make her grumpy and bristly at times, it didn’t break her. It didn’t crush her.

And so that resilience is what really comes through for this chapter for me. Even into the jaws of hell, even in the face of cosmic horror and twisted terrors. Even if it means doing things she very much wishes she didn’t have to do. She gets through, and she keeps reaching for those who are even lower, trying to pull them above water even if it means sinking herself. And though the chapters is strange and distorted, that part shines. It’s a wonderful exploration of the character, and I’m even more ready to get back to the regularly scheduled mystery. A fantastic read!


Support Quick Sip Reviews on Patreon

No comments:

Post a Comment