Monday, July 1, 2019

Race to the Edge Talk: 5x04 "Snotlout's Angels"

(A note before the review: I had filmed a review for 5x03, but I deleted it because I was annoyed with the video, which is kind of a long story. I didn't have much to say about the episode, so I'm not bothering to do it again.)

This is the episode I've been most dreading talking about because it plays into harmful indigenous stereotypes of native islanders trying to eat people who wind up stranded on their island.

First of all, it doesn't even make sense of these women to be branded 'natives'. Throughout the course of Race to the Edge, the characters have encountered people from different islands all over the archipelago. There's no indication that these women are living outside the archipelago, and there's nothing to mark them as 'other' from the vikings when Snotlout and Tuffnut both use the phrase 'native women'. It's clear that the writers only used that phrase because they were playing into a trope that they shouldn't have been using in the first play.

In fact, the women make it clear that they follow the same religion as the others by talking about Freya. Sure, they probably place more emphasis on Freya than people on other islands, but that doesn't make their religion drastically different (and that's quite common in many old polytheistic religions). They also have no trouble communicating with each other, showing that they have few, if any, differences in language. It's very obvious that they're operating within the same culture as the other characters. There's nothing more 'native' about them than any other particular character we've been introduced to.

Snotlout also uses the phrase 'native woman costume', which makes no sense. Both because the use of 'native' makes little sense here but also because what they're wearing isn't drastically different from what we've seen on anyone else. Yes, they have a specific style, but it's not something that Snotlout should have viewed as inherently foreign.

Plus, the fact that there are no men on the island leads me to believe that these women are recruited from other islands to come take care of the dragons. They clearly view their role in a religious light as they say they were given the responsibility to care for the dragons by Freya. I'd assume that their role is a lot like that of a priestess in ancient Rome or a nun in a convent in Christianity. It seems logical that these women were all born in different places and only later moved to the island as they felt a religious calling to the role, meaning that none of them are native to the island.

So, even ignoring the harmful nature of the stereotypes this episode uses, the language itself is just straight up absurd to use.

The event that sets the rest of the episode into motion is Snotlout stealing Astrid's ax and then saying something particularly hurtful to her when she gets angry about it. We never learn what he said to her as the characters only whisper it to each other, but I wish that we did. As it is, I have no clue what he could say to her that was so bad it couldn't be said on the show itself as he's said plenty to her at other points on the show. That felt like a bit of a cop out. It was funny at first to see the characters whispering, but I wanted to find out what was said by the end of the episode.

Seeing the women retaliate against how terribly Snotlout was treating them was nice, but I desperately wish it had been done differently. This felt a lot like an attempt at a feminist episode by a man who assumed women would handle a situation one way when it's not at all accurate. (The episode was, in fact, written by two men.) Messing with Snotlout would have been amusing, but tricking him into thinking he'll be eaten and then hanging him up in a cave by his ankle without telling him the truth? Not the most effective way of teaching him a lesson if that's what they wanted to do. I found the way this episode tried to teach Snotlout a lesson on sexism just strange.

Between the harmful stereotypes about indigenous people and the messy way this episode kind of tried to address sexism? (Because I guess that's what they were trying to do?) This episode really just felt like a mess to me, and it's probably my least favorite episode of Race to the Edge ever.

It baffles me that this episode made it through with no one questioning the stereotype it was using. I assume this was largely because the episode flips the trope and reveals that the women were never going to eat him. That doesn't make playing into it at first okay. This episode too shallowly handles it for that to ever work, and the basis of it (that these women are supposed to be natives) doesn't even make sense.

The episode's shaky dealing with sexism on top of that just made it worse. This episode feels like a great reminder of two things: If you want to write an episode that flips a harmful trope about indigenous people, probably don't unless their are indigenous people writing the story (and hopefully working on it in other positions as well). And if you want to write about sexism, even in a funny way for kids like in this episode, you're going to need more women working on the story than this episode clearly had if you want it to be done well.

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