Let’s talk about Marla McGivers.


Right, so I just rewatched “Space Seed.”  For you non-Trekkies out there, that’s an episode from the first season of the original (1960s) Star Trek.  Perhaps it’s more commonly known as the episode that first introduced the eugenically produced Khan Noonien Singh, who we saw in a whitewashed form in Star Trek into Darkness.

Now are we on the same page?

Other people have written much better than I ever could about STID’s whitewashing of Khan (see here, here, and here for starters), and even people like Felicia Day weighed in on how poorly STID treated its female characters.  But that isn’t what I’m here to talk about.

I’m here to talk about Marla effing McGivers.

Some of you, right now, are probably making like my friend Carl and thinking, “Wait, who?”  So sit down for a sec and let me tell you about my girl Marla.  In the original series, she’s a member of Starfleet, a lieutenant, but she’s not exactly in the thick of the action.  She’s a historian.  I’ll freely admit that this is influenced by headcanon on my part, but it’s heavily implied that Marla’s a huge history nerd.  When she, Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty are in the S.S. Botany Bay, she’s as enthusiastic as is proper about being on a real live 1990s spaceship.  (I mean, who wouldn’t geek out hardcore in her place?)  And then later, she goes to visit Khan in sickbay and ask him about the 1990s, because holy crap, she’s in the vicinity of a real-life person from the 1990s.  That’s definitely worth a nerd-out.

I seem to have drifted over to the subject of her relationship with Khan anyway, so let’s talk about that.  Marla immediately feels some sort of attraction to Khan when he’s first revived, and Khan takes full advantage of that.  Pretty much the first thing he does in his quest to seduce her is take her hair down, in a textbook You’ve-Got-Nice-Eyes-Behind-Those-Glasses moment.  She goes from wearing her hair like this (“because it’s comfortable,” she replies, bemused, when Khan asks why):

Image via wearysloth.com

To this, after Khan goes all Paul Mitchell on her:

Image via startrek.com.  For heaven’s sake, Khan, you took three pins out of her hair.  Even I could do better than that.

But what’s happening in that picture up there is more than just Khan complimenting himself on a ‘do well done.  It’s the first instance (that I recall) in which Khan exhibits violent behavior towards Marla.  As she’s trying to leave, he grabs her arm and pulls her sharply back towards him, and then he says something really creepy about how he takes what he wants.

This abusive pattern continues in other scenes as well.  Before his welcome dinner, Khan comes into Marla’s quarters, compliments her on her (frankly amazing) artwork (including a picture of him in a Sikh turban), and eventually kisses her.*  Some time after that, when Marla goes to Khan’s quarters, Khan actually pushes Marla away once and subsequently hits her.  (Both times, she’s practically thrown across the room, so that probably hurt like the dickens.)

So I would argue that when Marla agrees to help Khan take over the Enterprise, it isn’t because she’s suddenly madly in love with him (although I won’t deny that she’s pretty strongly attracted to him).  It’s because he behaves in an abusive manner towards her and suckers her in that way.  First he builds up her self-esteem, and then he forces her into a dependent position.  Think about it:  if a super-strong dude hit you so hard you flew about six feet and probably saw stars, then asked – nay, ordered – you to help him, odds are you’d do it because you don’t want to know what else this guy would do to you.

Image via trekcore.com

That isn’t an I’m-so-in-love face.  That’s a scared face.

So let’s just recap for a second – Marla is in what probably qualifies as an abusive relationship with a superhuman dudebro who loves dominating people and will rip them to pieces if they don’t do what he says.  Sounds dire, no?  Exactly, which makes this next bit all the more amazing.

Marla freaking McGivers double-crosses Khan and saves Kirk’s life.

You read that exactly right.

The long version:  Kirk’s trapped in a medical decompression chamber.  The rest of the crew is being held hostage by Khan’s resurrected fellow superhumans in some other room.  Marla says to Khan, “There’s no reason why I should have to watch this, right?”  And Khan just lets her leave the room, lamenting that she couldn’t have been a bit “stronger.”

But oh boy, is Marla McGivers ever strong.

She literally sneaks up behind another one of those superhumans (which can’t have been easy), plunges a hypo filled with sedative into his back, and gets Kirk out of the decompression chamber.  Thus, Kirk is freed, and soon enough Khan is defeated.  The day is saved.

That literally would not have been possible without Marla “Braveheart” McGivers and her spine of absolute steel.**

So why on EARTH is she not in the reboot universe?

Marla is such an important part of the Khan story.  Admittedly, she got shafted in Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan – she was basically just a Lost Lenore, fridged for the sole purpose of creating manpain*** – but JJ Abrams and company had a golden opportunity to revive one of the most brilliant female characters Star Trek has ever produced when they decided that they absolutely had to write about Khan, and they missed it by lightyears.

Image via bleedingcool.net

Then again, god only knows how badly JJ and company would’ve butchered poor Marla.

But if there’s one thing Khan Noonien Singh got right, it’s this:

Marla McGivers really is “a superior woman.”


*People always seem to cite the Kirk/Uhura kiss in the third-season episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” when they talk about the first interracial kiss aired on television, but Khan and Marla beat them to the punch.  Khan the character is ethnically Indian, and the actor who played him – Ricardo Montalbán – was Mexican.  Kirk/Uhura was just the first white/black kiss.

**Absolutely nothing in this post is meant to insinuate that women who are currently in abusive relationships don’t have the same sort of steel spine that Marla has.  That’s victim-blaming, and that’s not at all cool.

***While researching this post, I found out that Madlyn Rhue, the actress who played Marla McGivers, would’ve been in TWoK, except she had multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair.  Apparently Harve Bennett thought it would be “unfair” to recast the role.  So there’s that.


Why my cat should’ve been the Twelfth Doctor


Peter Capaldi has just been announced as the Twelfth Doctor, and I’m not unhappy about it.  (I will admit I’m sad that he won’t be able to curse as fluently as Malcolm Tucker.)  But you know who would’ve been even better?

My cat Pippa.

Just hear me out, okay?

Here are some reasons why Pippa would’ve been brilliant as Twelve.

  1. She already has a signature accessory – her fabulous collar.

    Note the purple rhinestones.
    (Sadly, her fur is so long and luxurious that it mostly obscures her collar, but it’s whatever.)

  2. She looks right at home with a sonic screwdriver.

    And did I mention she has half a mustache? HOW COOL IS THAT???

  3. She’s completely unflappable.  Vacuums, the lawn mower, and even my two dogs Lucy and Ella don’t scare her.  Lord only knows how much time she spent on the streets before we found her.
  4. Going off that, she’s absolutely formidable.  She’s this tiny five-pound cat, right, and she’s still managed to intimidate the living daylights out of Lucy (who’s 25 pounds) and Ella (who’s a comparative dinosaur at 75 pounds).  I know she could just nail the Doctor’s epic speeches.
  5. It’s not as if sassy talking cats haven’t been a thing before.  (See also:  Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch.)
  6. Time Lords can change species, at least in appearance.  Lord Cardinal Zero regenerated into some sort of bird thing, after all.  So it’s entirely possible that Matt Smith could’ve regenerated into my cat.
  7. If it’s canonically possible for Matt Smith to regenerate into my cat, it’s even more canonically possible that the Doctor can regenerate into something other than yet another white guy.

Now tell me again why the idea of the Doctor being non-white and/or non-male is ridiculous.  Go on.  I dare you.

I’m officially Team Bella. Here’s why.


(And here you were thinking I was over that Twilight-bashing phase I had when I was sixteen.  Psych!)

I just read Lily Edelstein’s article “Why Bella Swan Is My Hero” on Birdee, and it started the Critical Fandom Thought engines in my head.  You should probably read that before you read the rest of this.  Go on, I’ll wait.

Alright, are you done?  Cool.  I’m just going to jump right into it and expand on a couple excellent points Lily made.

  1. And you know what? Bella isn’t weak. She actually confronts Edward many times about his elusive, controlling behaviour and communicates her feelings to him.

    She then goes on to cite several examples.

  2. “…Bella’s a good girl” not intended for greatness, with low self-esteem and heavily symbolic clumsiness. Perhaps this is a reflection of Meyer’s expectations of married life, and her views on sexuality pervade the stories quite heavily.

Here’s my thesis (at the risk of sounding stuffy):  Bella isn’t weak, especially not in the beginning, but her moments of objection to Edward’s controlling behavior are framed in such a way that the narrative silences her.  This happens because Meyer’s antiquated notions of gender roles pervade the whole saga to an extreme degree.

Put another way:  if we think about this as if the characters were real, Edward is to blame for abusing Bella.  If we think about this at an authorial intent level, Stephenie Meyer is to blame for writing a story where Bella is treated like a pile of dog turds.  But if we think about this in terms of influence, what influenced the author to write this story this way, our fingers should point to the institutions that planted those ideas about gender roles in Stephenie Meyer’s head.

I probably sound like I’m Mormon-bashing at this point, and I know I wouldn’t be the first one to do that in relation to Twilight, but Mormonism definitely isn’t the only religion to have issues with highly patriarchal and sexist notions of gender.  I’m not trying to generalize, either.  Not every religious person subscribes to the aforementioned notions, for which I am extremely thankful.  And here’s my last disclaimer:  I’m only bashing the problematic gender roles that have historically been part of religion.  I’m not bashing religion itself, I promise. 🙂

If I were to explain these ideas about gender roles in one word, that word would be patriarchy.  I’m using this word in the more modern sense.  This includes social hierarchy rules:  men know best, men are superior to women in every way, women are expected to be submissive to men, etcetera.  More importantly, it also includes rules that have resulted from the social hierarchy rules:  women are supposed to be exclusively domestic, women are baby machines, etcetera.  Not only does this sort of system exclude people who aren’t in a gender binary, but it also demeans women and at times reduces them to mere objects.

Honestly, you don’t even need to look at the story through patriarchy-tinted glasses to see all the patriarchy in Twilight.  Just look at the Wikipedia articles on the books or something.  I don’t need to summarize them.  It should be entirely obvious that these stories are strongly rooted in patriarchy.

This means only one thing:  at the end of this saga, patriarchy wins.  There’s no doubt about it.  As far as Stephenie Meyer and folks who think like her are concerned, there’s really no other way Bella Swan’s story can end.

Bella’s greatest misfortune (and she has many) is being written into a story where she was forced into the role of the weak one.

She can’t be blamed for that, nor should she be.