This Metaphorical Bar ep. 10: Trope: Redemption Through Death

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Production notes: We fixed the previous issue with the popping and cutting out in Robyn’s recording. Yay! And promptly ran into another issue where there is now a faint echo in her recording. Boo. Working on that resolution now, but we recorded a few episodes before we realized it was happening.

Who We Are

I’m Karen Healey, an author and teacher living in Otautahi New Zealand. And I totally DESTROYED our last recording session and it was REALLY GOOD

I’m Robyn Fleming, a parent and writer in Tucson, Arizona. If I eat too many walnuts, my gums bleed.

I’m Carla M. Lee, an author, artist, and attorney living in the Midwest USA, in October, I went shopping for a giant inflatable donkey for a Christmas display. For work. Yes, I’m still a corporate attorney. In-house lawyering is great.. and I love everyone in this metaphorical bar

What We’re Drinking

Karen: Angel’s Nectar blended malt scotch whiskey, neat

Robyn: Mountain Dew

Carla: unsweet iced tea

Episode Summary

Topic: Redemption Through Death Trope

  • A trope is a thematic idea that runs across different types of media.
  • Redemption through death is, for the purposes of this discussion, when a character who has done some bad stuff finds redemption through sacrifice, their last act is a selfless one or helps someone else and in that way they are redeemed and other characters forgive them for their bad behavior or look on them fondly now that they’re gone.
    • Example, Darth Vader is a straight-up villain doing horrific things, but at the very end, he did the right thing and turned his aggression on the other bad guy in the room and therefore saves Luke. Luke mourns him and seems to forgive him and Vader has become a force ghost — he’s redeemed to the point where his force ghost isn’t his Vader form but back to his young and whole self. (We will, in another episode, talk about physical and mental damage being a shortcut for evil.)
    • Some disagreement over whether the text itself thinks that Vader is redeemed or not and whether Luke’s mourning is a more personal level, not a redemption of him.
    • Antihero example: A Tale of Two Cities — Sydney Carton does a good thing at the very end and takes the place of Darnay at the guillotine, partly motivated through love of Lucy but also partly motivated by the desire to do a good thing with his life in his last moments. The implication is that this is literal redemption; he will go to heaven because he has sacrificed himself for an innocent, even though he was, while not a villain or truly bad guy, a callous, drunken, selfish person prior to this sacrifice.
      • When the character believes in redemption taking them to heaven, if the reader doesn’t believe in heaven or hell, it can read more like it is a personal redemption versus the text supporting that redemption.
    • Example: Loki from Marvel Cinematic Universe — first movie, Thor and Odin seem to really think he died, but moviegoers never thought it because there is no body even for a moment, but also, the text and the other characters don’t see Loki redeemed through that death. He hasn’t made up for anything at all; Thor mourns him. He chooses to fall, he lets go, because he doesn’t want to deal with what his life is at that moment.
      • The Dark World sets up redemption through death for Loki, and that scene is played straight and with such pathos by both Loki and Thor that Robyn absolutely bought the redemption through death because he did bad things but sacrificed himself to save them so they could save the universe.
      • Though the audience is aware by the end of the movie that Loki did not do that at all.
      • Robyn thinks that Thanos saying no more resurrections at the beginning of Infinity War means nothing because Loki always does something like this.
      • Carla thinks that because Loki doesn’t believe he’s dying, it can’t actually be redemption through death. Karen argues that on a meta-level, the character was meant to die and that word of god is that Loki thinks he’s going to die. However, Carla doesn’t take word of god, because there are other ways to interpret the text. Robyn argues that he had no reason to expect that he wouldn’t die in either The Dark World or Infinity War.
      • Word of god is that according to the creators, something that was not implicit in the text but is implied is the truth. Whether or not you accept that depends on you; word of god is often used to claim diversity without doing the actual work.
      • Robyn and Karen have a theory that Loki can’t actually die because he embodies a concept — he is whatever the narrative needs him to be. He’s the embodiment of lies, which means the embodiment of stories.
    • Redemption has to happen when the character means to do something good in that moment of death, not something good happens and then they die later.
    • Negatives
      • The idea that you can be villainous and then be redeemed through one good act and then death is terrible.
        • Heroic self-sacrifice is a different trope than this, in that the act itself is a good, right thing and there is no redemption with it.
          • Example: Stargate Atlantis — theoretical hero at one point talks a guy into feeding himself to a monster to save a life that guy actually imperiled. The guy doesn’t believe it will redeem him, though. (Also an interesting look at the good guys being complicit in bad things.)
      • Interesting twist is someone who thinks they are fulfilling the trope and does the big act — but they survive and have to live with the consequences of their action and they have to do the work for redemption.
        • Example: Avatar: The Last Airbender — Zuko keeps trying to find heroic moments to redeem himself but in the end has to do the actual work.
    • Example: Mass Effect trilogy — one scientist started a genocide on a planet and then tries to reverse the scientific damage that he created and you, as the player character, have to decide whether to allow him to do it or to stop him. Letting him sacrifice himself, while the good move, will punish the player character by taking things away.
    • Redemption followed by unintentional death
      • Example: Pitch Black, Fry kills a number of passengers during a crash landing because she wants to live and spends the rest of the movie first feeling guilty and hiding it and then making up for it by saving people. She does the right thing and then doesn’t die even when it looks like she will. And THEN, at the last moment, she is killed in a way that has nothing to do with her redemption. The redemption isn’t enough to save her life.
      • Genre conventions would, broadly, mean this shows up more often in horror, because part of what makes horror scary is that you can’t always predict who is going to die — good horror kills people you expect to live.
    • Karen talks about absolution in Catholicism — the idea is that there is an original sin and everyone is sinful and evil. You can redeem yourself only through the absolution of god, so no matter what you do, you can still be redeemed before death as long as you receive the last rites and confess to your sins.
      • Redeeming yourself through deeds is more a Protestant idea, but Catholicism includes penance, which can be something like the five Hail Marys, etc., but also the idea that you have to make amends to the person that you actually harmed.
      • Gets complicated and terrible when talking about things like sex abuse in the church and that the victim is not centered, the priest is centered instead as the person who has sinned.
      • Compare to the Protestant idea of pre-destination.
    • Example of doing the work and the conversation taking place in text: Jessica Jones Digital First — guy finds a way to excise the negative parts of himself and he doesn’t want to take them back and instead wants to start over and be good. Jessica says it won’t take, he has to do the work in order to stay good.
    • Example of redemption continuing after death: The Good Place, first season shows characters trying to learn to be better so they can earn the place in heaven that they’ve already been given accidentally, but by the end of the season, it comes out that they’re all being punished because they’re actually kind of terrible and then all the work done throughout the season is wiped away as their memories are removed.

Things Mentioned In the Episode

Ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Bartender

Carla: What question do you wish listeners would ask you?

Karen: I am endlessly fascinating so ask questions about me — also ask why I despise Jonathan Franzen.

Robyn: I would love if people would ask me stupidly particular details, e.g., Robyn, what were you thinking when you wrote this sentence, because I love talking about my work.

Carla: I want people to ask us if they can make fanvids for our writing.

Carla: @carlamlee on TwitterTumblrInstagram
Karen: @kehealey on Twitter, @karenhealey on Tumblr, and
Robyn: @robyn_writing on Twitter

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