Tuesday, July 8, 2014

“I just wanted to make a phone call.”: Hah Hah Hah, Dresses and Men Should Always Be Brand New

Thankfully, it doesn't take long for Dirty Pair to get back on its feet.

“Hah Hah Hah, Dresses and Men Should Always Be Brand New” is a proper farce, and one of the most memorable episodes in the series yet. The show's rapid-fire humour and beat-perfect comic timing is the best it's been since “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death”, a story which this outing is definitely in company with. This time, though, the show doesn't need to evoke any external works to make its point: This episode works purely on Dirty Pair logic and Dirty Pair logic alone. And, if you can keep yourself together through the manic assault of comedy, you might just notice the series has gone and said something really profound about the nature of narrative and the roles of protagonists.

“Hah Hah Hah, Dresses and Men Should Always Be Brand New” is a story about Kei and Yuri trying to get ready for a party. It is also a story about Kei and Yuri being mistaken for 50-year old bank robbers, accidentally kidnapping a group of schoolchildren and being chased all over a city by planetary armed forces. Not only does this week's episode intuitively understand what last week's utterly failed to, it exaggerates it beyond infinity: Our poor girls are so chronically and ridiculously unlucky they can't even go shopping without stumbling into some gigantic disaster. A farce is such a perfect match for Dirty Pair's setting because this is the structure it operates under already: It's either unfathomably tragic or unbelievably funny the amount of inconceivable destruction left in Kei and Yuri's wake, and thankfully the show went with unbelievably funny because really it all just works better that way.

Speaking of humour, it's maybe worth pointing out the jokes here are *extremely* bawdy and sexual, more so than I think the show's ever been before. I could see that rubbing some people the wrong way, especially in the opening scene where the girls complain to Gooley about not being able to get dates and how their interest in the party basically boils down to them being able to chase men. However, as is the case with most things on this show, it becomes in my opinion extremely easy to explain away and forgive this once you realise Kei and Yuri are making fun of themselves. My absolute favourite bit comes near the end when a despondent and exhausted Kei and Yuri, having just outwitted an entire planet's armed forces, escaped a mob of spoiled children and singlehandedly captured the real bad guys, are desperate to take off, fearing they'll be late for their party. Naturally, they are promptly surrounded by reporters who all want exclusive interviews with the beloved duo, and their panicky excuses to get out of doing primetime TV are pure gold: “We already have plans for tonight! We hate kids! Look! A naked woman!”.

(Also note how in an additional bit of cynical self-deprecation, the pubic personas of the Lovely Angels are shown to be idolized by children, but the kids are horrible to the real Kei and Yuri. No wonder the girls aren't great with kids.)

Though one might expect Dirty Pair going whole-hog into farce would entail a lot of casual destruction, there actually isn't as much explodium in this one as you might expect, save for that smuggling colony that gets remotely detonated during the opening scene, anyway. In hindsight, the reason for this is likely because the Angels are on their day off: If Kei and Yuri's job is to purge the universe of things that should not be in the name of material cosmic progress, then it stands to reason when they're not on the clock they'd only be dogged with the worst case of mistaken identity in recorded history (and also note the colony that gets exploded explicitly goes up in flames at the culmination of the girls' last mission and even Gooley flat-out says the Angels get jobs nobody else can handle). This isn't Kei and Yuri's fault, of course, it never is, it's just the role they must play within their narratives. Which is also, as a matter of fact, another thing this episode is looking at: See, the point this story is making is that because Kei and Yuri are Kei and Yuri, namely the protagonists, they can't actually have a day off.

I touched on this truism very briefly way back in The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair, but here's the point where the series actually comes right out and explicitly addresses it. Dirty Pair is an action sci-fi story. Granted, it's an extremely postmodern, subversive, self-aware and transformative action sci-fi story, but the fact of the matter this is what it is and always will be. This kind of story needs, well, action. Preferably lots of it in elabourate, well-done setpieces. Actually, there's a certain element of spectacle inherent in all science fiction if you think about it-Even Hard SF wants you to drool over its fetishized imagined future gadgetry. And certainly spectacle is something that's part and parcel of visual media, because without it there would be no purpose in said media being visual in the first place. Now, what Dirty Pair brings to the table is an awareness and embrace of spectacle: Thanks to its pro wrestling heritage, it neither shuns spectacle or pretends it doesn't exist, but rather openly acknowledges it, though in the process reappropriating it for its own purposes. Dirty Pair detourns spectacle.

I know I harp on this theme a lot, but it's really important and its ramifications are everywhere. And one of them happens to be that no matter how far we may want to pry into Kei and Yuri's personal lives, it's not a captivating story if something doesn't blow up at the end. Kei and Yuri can't *truly* take a day off because if they did there would be no adventure, and a Dirty Pair episode with no adventure where Kei and Yuri just go out for lunch in Elenore City or sit around the Leaning Tower of Damocles reading magazines and tinkering with the TV set isn't a very interesting Dirty Pair episode (I mean *I* wouldn't mind it necessarily and I suppose someone could pull it off, but not in a 20-minute animated action cartoon). You can't actually have a Dirty Pair story that works this way: This episode tries, and the Lovely Angel ends up being surrounded by tanks.

And this is made abundantly clear everywhere in this story, from Kei and Yuri getting turned down by every one of their boyfriends because they're never around to make plans with such that when they finally have time off it's on too short notice, to being mistaken for bank robbers while out shopping and chased all over town to the fact the one party they actually *do* get invited to turns out to be a private family gathering thrown by Gooley himself. Just like how the only person Kirk was allowed to be emotionally honest with was Spock, Kei and Yuri are only allowed to be intimate with each other. Their job is an allegory for their narrative role, and they can't be reduced out of that. Ultimately, the girls are making visual spectacle (even if it's visual spectacle about visual spectacle) and that's not something you can escape in action sci-fi. Or on television.

This is not to dismiss the idea of examining the everyday in visual media at all, however. As of this writing, this has been a much bandied-about subject for the past few years in critical fandom discourse, typically in the context of comic books and action movies. There is a predilection to wanting to see our fictional heroes engaging in downtime and for a deeper exploration into the personal lives of characters (the most recent archetypical example I can think of probably being the wild popularity of the Young Justice cartoon show, not to mention any number of Internet fanart and fanfiction creators), and there is some merit to that desire. In fact, when Star Trek finally comes back, this is something both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will demonstrate the potential to be surprisingly and somewhat uniquely brilliant at, it's something I'm a big fan of in both shows and I'll praise them up and down for it when we get there.

However, there's a downside to this: That very ability to engage with the everyday is completely incompatible with the action sci-fi flavour of spectacle. This is what Dirty Pair is proving with this episode, and this paradox is going to end up absolutely scuttling at least Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That's not to say there aren't ways for visual media, even science fiction in general, to handle this, there absolutely are, and we've even looked at a few of them already: It's just a matter of playing to the medium's strengths. It's once again a question of performativity, and in particular the kind of performativity to invoke. You can't do a sprawling Western epic poem about relationship drama, but you don't stick a camera in front of somebody and do a cinema verite flick about somebody eating breakfast either. You can do the everyday just fine, it just needs to be appropriately caricatured and exaggerated: Take a look once again at how both Mister Rogers Neighborhood and Reading Rainbow were able to create captivating, imaginative and inspiring fantasy worlds out of mundane reality. That's the sort of place to turn, I think.

And what of Dirty Pair? Although Elenore City may not be the Neighborhood of Make Believe, there's still power in its images and ideas. We may not be able to have a Dirty Pair episode about the girls' days off, but that doesn't mean they don't have them. One of the many virtues of our heroines is that we need not voyeuristically pry into their inner psyche to learn about them because they freely share with us everything we need to know about them. Though they're constantly acting and forever seeped in artifice, Kei and Yuri are never not honest: Their true selves, when they're not explicitly drawing our attention to them, exist within the subtext and paratext of the stories they tell us; intentionally left there for us to discover and interact with.
And, perhaps, to take into ourselves.


  1. Its not unlike the way the TARDIS always malfunctions and takes the Doctor somewhere dangerous instead of Brighton... and then, when he actually manages to get to Brighton, he falls asleep and almost immediately leaves to go somewhere else - after Romana has become exasperated and K9 has blown up. Even when he stops to play a game of cricket and attend a party, he gets lost in a secret passage and impersonated by a homicidal maniac. I'm not sure if there's anything to be done with that observation, but here it is anyway. :-)

    1. Certainly Doctor Who can be considered action sci-fi, so a lot of the points and critiques this episode is making can be applied to it as well. It may not have the postmodern self-awareness Dirty Pair has, but the basic narrative logic is definitely similar. I suppose DW has more of an overtly theatrical pedigree then DP, but it still very often wants to compete at the level of other, more cinematic works in this regard.

  2. Those episodes where nothing particularly adventurous happens are some of my favourite episodes in the Star Trek franchise. I'm actually rather sad that this form of storytelling never existed in the original series, though the closest we probably got was the comedy masterpiece of The Trouble With Tribbles. They're wonderful chances to see the world and the characters within it, and usually supply some especially comedic elements to the show.

    A while ago, my girlfriend and I were watching Manhunt from TNG season 2, as an introduction to Lwaxana Troi for her. The episode was also a wonderful subversion of the stereotypical Star Trek "adventure" plot. A conventional Star Trek episode would have involved the intrigue with the ambassadors who turned out to be assassins. Instead, the assassins are sleeping the entire time, are ridiculous cartoon aliens for much of their appearance, and Lwaxana unmasks them almost as an afterthought. We instead spend the entire episode dealing with her running amok on the Enterprise, which is much more entertaining than the average hidden-assassins-among-the-diplomats plot usually is.

    In other news, one of our ideas for Halloween costumes next year are now a Riker-Troi double act.

    1. Well, Nichelle Nichols wrote just that kind of story in The New Voyages 2 about the crew trying to plan Captain Kirk's birthday party if you're partial to Original Series flavour. There are a lot of stories like that in those books: Fanfiction seems a natural home for them because you can do little slice-of-life vignettes with the characters that you couldn't do on the shows themselves.

      Mega-props for the Ricker-Troi cosplay You should totally go for it: Good luck!

      (Incidentally, it's probably common knowledge, but Mick Fleetwood, a massive fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, is one of those ridiculous cartoon alien assassins.)

  3. I absolutely *loved* this episode - particularly for seeing the interaction of Kei and Yuri with children. Brilliant.