Editors Note: This is my first article after a summer’s reprieve. Apologies. In May I was diagnosed (after a 6 hour visit to the ER, Yay Health Care) with a hernia. Between the medical problem, the surgery, and recovery my summer was spent in a fog that disabled much of anything from working correctly (much less think clearly enough to write a coherent blog piece). So here I am. As Jack would say, “I’m Back.” WARNING: SPOILERS! The following will include discussion of the SyFy (US) show Continuum and the 2008 movie The Dark Knight. Stop reading if you haven’t seen either and care to watch them unspoiled.
In the Canadian TV program Continuum, currently being re-aired in the US by SyFy, the present has a terrorist problem, nothing special, seen this one a few times…. right! Yet rather than giving the viewer another group of Muslims to hate (or in the case of Homeland, a man bent by Muslims); these terrorists are a little more homegrown, kinda. A group of Terrorists sentenced to death in 2077 escape by traveling back to our time. Their aim is to reset the stage of their history by changing the story a la the terminator-sending machines of James Cameron. The only kink in the plan is another Cameron, Kiera Cameron. Kiera is a Special Forces-trained, police officer of the future, and she is caught up in the time traveling energy wave. Her goal upon arrival in 2012 Vancouver is to maintain the integrity of the future she loves.
Such a show could easily fall into the traps laid by a host of time-traveling shows such The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Mercifully in our post Doctor Who world the writers have sought to be something different, more timey-whimey, more timey-huh; than the trite, black-white, moralistic hues of Terminator, Dead Zone, or The 4400. In fact the show has repeatedly sought to play with and transcend the limitations of the genre. Take the episode dealing with the de rigeur discussion of the Hitler paradox (Episode 2.9, Seconds). Here Cameron realizes the identity of a major terror target from her future. The question becomes should Cameron kill him here and now thus saving the lives of thousands (including Cameron’s aunt). Yet because this target is at this time a teenager guilty only of making some truly bad mistakes but nothing like what future him may pull off. The choice is this: kill a (mostly) innocent yet naive teen or potentially allow the deaths of thousands (maybe even millions) in the future. In due course Cameron and her partner Carlos Fonnegra find themselves guns drawn with a quivering teen at their feet. They are in a forest. There is no one else around them. No one will ever know. Few will even care. Many will even buy them beers to toast the death of a teen who was manipulated into being an accessory to a bombing (which killed a few people). Cameron’s demons whisper into her ear. Her partner asks if she is willing to become a monster to fight this monster. Lowering her weapon Cameron insists that the teen change her ways, and straighten his path. The teen promises that her future will not become his future. People can change. Timey-whimey stuff. The future stands changed.
Crisis, it would seem, adverted. To this point standard genre stuff; yet the episode does not end. Flash forward 20 years.The teen, now grown, storms a corporate prison. His followers are ecstatic, a victory against the corporate overlords, and thousands to be freed from their slavery. Instead in a quiet unseen moment that show creator Simon Barry excels at creating. We get two fast scenes. First Cameron startles, mid-sentence while conversing with Fonnegra. “What if…” Cameron worries, What if instead of changing the future, she has simply locked it into place? Second the grown teen turns to a lieutenant and commands that the prison be destroyed with prisoners still inside. Turning to the camera, we no longer see a scared kid; but a grown monster.
As the credits on the episode roll, one thinks back the beginning of the episode. There the teen had vowed to reform and denied leadership of a radical protest group. Yet there he was leading these same few into battle. What changed? Cameron. And a gun. One is left wondering if Cameron’s desire to avenge her aunt may have actually doomed her aunt. Which came first Kiera or the monster?
All of this seems reminiscent of the questions asked by Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight Trilogy. Memorably Heath Ledger‘s Joker seems to think that he and the Bat are two pieces of the same coin. A view with which Aaron Eckhart‘s Harvey Dent comes to agree. Justice and Mischief. Peace and War. Good and Bad. Two sides. One coin. It is a question that keep’s Christian Bale‘s Bruce Wayne up at night. Could Batman have created the Joker? Could what he hoped to be a deterrent to terror be an origin story for years of terror to come? What if it was? Will the good he could do as Batman outweigh the bad that may come from hos creation? Should Batman retire?
To ask a question that another DC resident, Lois Lane, asked about her city’s protector: Who Needs Superman (or in this case Batman, or for that matter Kiera Cameron)?
This is an important question, not just for the imagined worlds of DC Comics or Continuum‘s Vancouver. What good is all our good doing? During our decade longer War on Terror, the only surges in terror activity have come from countries with US troops on the ground. Al-Queda laughs and mocks as the Egyptian army takes a moderate group whose stated goal was to achieve its ends solely by political and social means, and turns that group into a band of rebels fighting not at the ballot box with pencils but in the streets with rocks and IEDs. The 2nd Egyptian uprising shows the low value of non-violent protest, al-Queda social media feeds proclaimed in light of Morsi’s arrest.
This is the way the world works. He strikes me. I strike you. Wound for wound. Blood for blood. Pound of flesh for pound of flesh. This is the truth that the Joker used to turn Harvey Dent, crusader for justice, into Two Face, a nihilistic killer. It is the truth that many use to justify any number of slights, cuts, and crusades. it’s OK for ‘party’ to lie spread half-truths and innuendos about the other party; because they did it first (or would do it if they could). It’s how nations justify on-going wars against other nations that had nothing to do with the initial slight that caused the opening of hostilities. Round and round it goes with none able to tell which came first: the monster or the monstrosity.
And so Egypt et al is proving the Gandhian mantra: “an eye for an eye… and the world goes blind.” or to quote Jesus, “he that lives by the sword dies by the sword.” So what is the answer? How to avoid this endless parade of slight.How to stop this merry-go-round? How to break the cycle?
In The Dark Knight Rises we see Bale’s Wayne pick retirement twice (once publicly and another privately). For Wayne the only way to regain his sanity and happiness is to die. This is instructive. Death is the only way off the treadmill. The only way to stop struggling is to die. To be alive is to be kicking and screaming. To quote the Autopsy Doctor from AMC’s Low Winter Sun when asked why a potential suicide victim seemed to have fought his demise: ” Doesn’t matter if you want it or not. We all struggle and kick until our grisly end meets us.”
This is our world. To paraphrase Solomon: we struggle, we fight, yet in the end we find that everything is meaningless. Nothing is new. Not even the pain. We hurt. We bleed. We die. And into this world came a man with an interesting request: pick up your cross, and follow me. That man was not content to talk about it. He did it. He picked up his cross and he carried it to a hill. Where he was placed upon it. Where he was killed upon it.
Then he proved Solomon wrong. In our history there was room for one new thing. This man rose again. The grave could not hold him. For once the meaningless of existence was obliterated. For once a man did not live long enough to see himself become the villain. For once a man created good and did not create evil. For once the man bested the monster without becoming a monster.
Want to be like Cameron? Want to live to see yourself create the weapon that will kill your aunt. Want to be like this summer‘s Tony Stark and see yourself create the demons that will threaten all you hold dear. Want to take a stab at nation building in the Egyptian model and create the terror cell that will threaten to destroy you? Keep living like the world does. Keep striving. Keep doing what has always been done. Answer violence with violence. Meet aggression with aggression. Make pithy slogans about “helping arrange another person’s meeting with God.”
OR you could meet God in the person of Christ. You could follow his command to set aside your weapons, tools, and gadgets and pick up a cross. You could follow him. You could allow your enemies to nail you to a tree. You could find peace in death and perhaps, just perhaps find victory in a new life. A life that meets violence with peace, aggression with love, and sets aside slogans for a life lived truly. I pray that wherever you are, the peace of God might find you, and timey-whimey stuff, change your future. Die today. Live tomorrow.