elisi: (Quill)
[personal profile] elisi
No show has any right to be this good, this early. Those of you not watching, you’re missing out. Just look at the title of this one. And in case you’re wondering – yes, it’s 100% literal. And coming just off Extremis too… Just goes to show how you can do exquisite meta, but in very very different ways. <3

(If this show is not renewed it’ll be the biggest waste since Firefly, just sayin’.)

This post contains no spoilers beyond episode 7 and PLEASE DO NOT POST SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS. Thank you. <3


The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did

I never knew how to write about this episode, which is one reason it’s taken me so long. It’s just so gorgeous – like a banquet of an episode – that it’s hard to know where to start, or how to do it justice. Also, unlike most other episodes, it wears its meta on its sleeve, which makes my usual approach somewhat superfluous.

In the end I divided it up by the different places they visit, which turned out to be very fortuitous, as the structure is as gorgeous as the rest. And it’s all about belief.



Engine-text1

The Metaphyscial Engine is a fascinating concept:

DOROTHEA: All right. This, as best we can tell, is a metaphysical engine.
QUILL: Metaphysics? Metaphysics aren't real, it's just thought.
DOROTHEA: Thought, yes. Everything in the universe is conserved. Everything, even belief. Get millions of creatures believing something strongly enough for long enough, and even space responds. You are quite right that the Arn weren't exactly wild creatures, but parts of them were and they dream like us of what comes after.
QUILL: I'm sorry, are you actually saying that we are stood in Arn heaven?
DOROTHEA: Don't be ridiculous.
QUILL: Good, because-
DOROTHEA: We're in the idea of it. The belief itself, making it so.


There is an echo of it in the Doctor’s line in Extremis:

"Funny, I don’t believe much. I’m not sure I believe anything. But right now belief is all I am."

Belief/faith – the reality, or the absence, of it, form the through line of the episode. The characters travel in neither time, nor space, but from concept to concept.

Dorothea: No, it is not real, but, yes, we are really here.

Dorothea (the Headmistress) is the driving force - jailer, guide, ‘pilot’, leader, tourist and anthropologist all in one. She is the one who makes it possible, and to her it’s an adventure and a search for knowledge, even as she is enabling the other two to hopefully gain their freedom. But she is an onlooker. Fascinated by what she sees, thrilled at the very possibility, she is also at a remove.

Her beliefs, and her heaven and hell are not on their route… Nor is her life on the line.

And it makes for a very different story – the human is on the sidelines, the odd one out, as Dorothea is every inch The Englishwoman Abroad, right down to her outfit. She could be ready for exploring the interior of Africa. Except they are travelling to somewhere far beyond anywhere British Explorers ever did:

DOROTHEA: There are bigger things in the universe than this life. Hidden things we can't even imagine. And if a place can be created from belief, if a goddess-
QUILL: Then what else might you be able to make if you just believe hard enough?


Dorothea’s faith (whatever it is she believes) in some ways underpins the whole endeavour, and she is also the link to the mysterious Governors, and their motives remain unclear. They know a lot about Quill, and must know what she is capable of. Why would they unleash someone who is essentially a terrorist, at a good bit of inconvenience to themselves? A pursuit of knowledge possibly? Testing theories on expendable test subjects, desperate enough to agree to try?

We will have to wait and see…



Heaven-text4

The first stop is Arn Heaven. There is something both beautiful and heartbreaking in a genetically modified lifeform having a concept of heaven, strong enough dream of.

And it is beautiful, living, vibrant, wild; the Arn living like wild animals should. It seems almost cruel to catch one, but then can it be considered a real being? It is an idea of a creature. And yet it is there, flesh and blood in Ballon’s hands…

What it does, is bring home on a whole other level how horrific Quill’s punishment is. The Arn has been a concept, an idea, for the viewers (and for Charlie’s friends), with no more reality than the chip Spike had implanted in his head.

But to see one, a physical being, and knowing that one like it is lodged in Quill’s head… It’s genuinely disturbing. As is the thought of what life must be like for a creature like that – it has enough sentience to have a concept of an afterlife, and yet it has been implanted in a brain.

Remember it is the Rhodians – Charlie’s people – who genetically modified the Arn for the express purpose of punishing/enslaving their enemies. If Quill is in many ways brute force, then the Rhodians are clinically controlling on a disturbing scale.

So, through the idyll of the heaven of the Arn, we get a glimpse of the hell they have been used to create…

Which neatly brings us neatly to the next section.



Helltext3

From heaven and straight to hell.

Heaven was full of life, but hell is frozen. As it is Law hell (Lawabthris), this makes perfect (and terrible) sense:

BALLON: An awful, awful quiet. We are creatures that flow. We live in the constant flow.
QUILL: And this is the opposite of flowing.


You may think it is very different from the ‘Christian’ concept of hell, with sinners being burned in an eternal fire, however it fits eerily well with Dante’s Inferno:

Dante’s Hell is divided into nine circles, the ninth circle being divided further into four rings, their boundaries only marked by the depth of their sinners' immersion in the ice; Satan sits in the last ring, Judecca. It is in the fourth ring of the ninth circle, where the worst sinners, the betrayers to their benefactors, are punished. Here, these condemned souls, frozen into the ice, are completely unable to move or speak and are contorted into all sorts of fantastical shapes as a part of their punishment.
This circle of Hell is a complete separation from any life and, for Dante, “the deepest isolation is to suffer separation from the source of all light and life and warmth.”

[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dante%27s_Satan] x

As the_royal_anna once observed (in a completely different context) ‘Heaven is completion, hell is eternity’. And this certainly reflects that.

Their first trip was comparatively easy. This one is a lot more personal… And a lot more dangerous.

Ballon finds himself ‘freezing in terror’ at having to face his god/devil/deity (not surprisingly).

But it leads to one of the most important scenes. Quill talks a lot about being a soldier, but here we see her in action – not so much the actual fighting, but the mindset. The ability to inspire and encourage and stand united:

QUILL: What can I do? Soldier, tell me what I need to do! Listen to me. Listen to me. In Quill, we call this the first fear. This is the one you always go back to and the one you can't face, and everyone has it, everyone, even Quill.
BALLON: Law, we call it cowardice.
QUILL: No, that is not true. A soldier without fear is useless, inefficient. They win battles but they lose wars.


And the result of this, is that in the midst of hell, bonds are forged and aid is given, the two fighting as one:

QUILL: Oh! Oh, I don't even have a shot! Hold the knife out. Hold it out! I will be your arms, soldier!

They don’t just conquer the Law’s devil, they subvert hell, refusing to be part of it:

[Dante’s Satan] conveys at its sharpest the ultimate and universal pain of Hell; isolation.

And then, having conquered hell and its frozen death, they journey to… genesis.



Nest-text2

In the Beginning

We have been to Arn heaven, and Law hell. This time we go to the beginning of the Quill… The First Nest. An origin story. The birth of the gods.

DOROTHEA: This is where the Quill goddess is about to be born.
QUILL: Okay, so this is a Quill nest. This is the first Quill nest, allegedly. The Quill goddess is supposed to emerge from the underworld
DOROTHEA: Where she has been trapped. Isn't that correct?
QUILL: And she rises with-
DOROTHEA: Fury and venom, according to the text we have. Oh, how exciting!

BALLON: If she's right, if this is a metaphysical place, your goddess will rise again. She will always be born. All gods are.


I wonder though… Quill is the last of her kind. When she dies, will her goddess die too? Or cease to be born, rather? If gods are born from belief (rather than the other way around), then what happens when the gods are forgotten? If an idea is lost, does it cease to exist? Or can they live on independently? If the metaphysical places are outside time and space, they should still exist.

Quill, however, at the beginning distances herself from her deity – and yet, although she doesn’t believe, the story and history is still part of her, and it’s a fascinating insight into her past, her culture and her outlook.

It’s also a brilliant look at an alien species, and how the archaic and the modern can live side by side. From the heaven section:

QUILL: Well, birth is the last thing that a Quill does, right? She gives birth to her litter and dies. And then, her body-
DOROTHEA: And then you eat it, don't you?
QUILL: God!
DOROTHEA: For nourishment?
QUILL: Yes, yes! A contemptible tradition, and medically unnecessary in modern times, but there are archaic cultural pressures, all right?


Quill also sees faith as something archaic, and something far less useful than the consumption of a parent’s body.

QUILL: Well, excuse me, statue boy, but we only believed in all this before we realised that the only thing out there protecting us was us. Huh! No goddess in a Quill nest looking out for our best interest.
DOROTHEA: It's so sad you think that's what belief is.
BALLON: Yes.


I wish more shows would tackle this issue – the fact that faith is not about having ‘someone in your corner’ like a celestial Big Brother; and that it is not a case that if you worship them ‘correctly’ they will help you achieve what you want/look after you.

Quill however, gets to voice her anger and her grief and her fury at her goddess:

QUILL: You don't deserve my belief! Do you know how oppressed Quill have been for centuries? We died, and died again, and where were you? I should rip your head off or even daring to exist! Do it! I was a soldier and you weren't there to stop them taking that from me, and where am I now, hey?

It’s a twofold grievance – both the suffering of her people, and her own, personal, loss. (And it fits well with how she has chosen the name of her people as her own. She is Quill – she is her people.)

Of course, before the goddess can speak, Ballon kills it. Which leads to another fascinating argument.

QUILL: No! I - I think she was about to speak to me! I could have been the first Quill ever who-
BALLON: Would you really want to hear what your god would say?
QUILL: Well, as a matter of fact, yeah!
BALLON: If it meant-
QUILL: Yes!
BALLON: That you would have to believe in her? If it meant that you would have to worship her? That you would have to change everything you think about yourself, about your universe?
QUILL: But you believe!
BALLON: I always have. It's part of who I am. Your self has already formed.


Charlie is, interestingly, a good example to bring up at this point. If we view his treatment and perception of Quill through the lens of belief, as articles of faith he has been brought up to believe, it is easier to understand why he is so reluctant to see her as anything differently to what he ‘knows’ to be true. Especially now he has lost his people and his home – it is not surprising that he clings to the ways and traditions he was raised to respect and protect.

Quill’s connection with her culture is much more fundamental – it’s physical, hands on:

QUILL: Well, we, we start in the nest, we end in the nest. It's, it's our way.

The Rhodians seem to have been living in palaces, but the Quill – despite modern technology – still build nests. One of the things I love most about this episode is that we get to see a Quill nest. And it’s beautiful. We can see the same aesthetic in how Quill dresses and her overall style; clear, simple lines.

Quill and Ballon go on to discuss their current fates, the way they are both trapped in their own, personal hell:

BALLON: [I fear my god] because it could still freeze me for ever in one shape. It's a fate worse than your death.
QUILL: The fate you're in now.

QUILL: And you know what they did next [after capturing me and taking my will]? The worst thing they did? Made me used to it. I shout my power. I shout my toughness and my danger, but I'm shouting it to children. It's like they just, they just amputated the essential part of who I was. Who I am.
BALLON: You were frozen, too. I'm sorry.


To what extent does the punishment fit the crime? Ballon (as far as we learn from this episode) killed a family out of self-preservation as they would have killed him (out of fear/xenophobia). But that would only be manslaughter – he is a surgeon by trade, not a soldier.

Quill on the other hand was a freedom fighter/terrorist. And has undoubtedly killed people, and not just on the battlefield…

I don’t know the answers, I am just throwing it out there. It’s one of the central parts of the show, and I like it because there is no simple answer. Quill committed horrific crimes, but her punishment is slavery…

Except now it might be at an end – and she truly begins to believe it.



Cabinet-textnew5

At the End of All Things

From the [mystical] origin of the Quill, we end up in the final resting place of the Rhodians. Heaven and Hell, the beginning and the end. I said the structure was beautiful, didn’t I?

But the Cabinet of Souls isn’t a heaven, and it isn’t a metaphysical space either. It is real, a box containing not just a past, but a possible future:

APRIL: What's the Cabinet of Souls?
DOCTOR: It's the centre of Rhodian religion. The soul of every Rhodian who dies is supposed to go there. It's a repository for a future paradise.
~
CHARLIE: The children's story. In the hands of the right person, the Cabinet isn't just a weapon. It's a way of bringing them all back.
MATTEUSZ: What?
CHARLIE: In the hands of a hero, the souls take over the bodies instead of just burning them. So all of Rhodia is reborn in a different shape. […] CHARLIE: It's hope. I know it's stupid and childish, and no adult Rhodian ever believes in it, but it's hope. Of course I'm not this hero, but if I can keep the Cabinet safe, maybe, one day.


It is somehow very fitting that Quill becomes herself again in the Cabinet – a place of hope, of rebirth and new life.

Of course it is initially disguised as the school – a feigned reality masking another:

QUILL: Oh, good. My own personal hell. (She is far more right then she knows)
BALLON: No No, no, this is inappropriate. It's not sterile. It's not antiseptic.
DOROTHEA: But it is a place I can *control*.
(She is far more right than she lets on…)

It is a satisfying conclusion to a satisfying quest – the way to remove the Arn from Quill’s head is suitably impossible and painful to feel that the final result is justified. (The surgery itself of course being gruesome on a level that is downright horrifying.) But as we see the items laid out – the ‘wild’ Arn from Arn heaven, the heart of a devil and the skull of a goddess – it seems ridiculous and improbable and mad. Which is good – if you set something up as impossible, you need something suitably incredible to resolve it.

And then she is free…

DOROTHEA: And who, I wonder, is Quill when she's free?

Someone who gets to be happy, even if it is just for a few minutes.

But the school fades, the floor turning to sand as the projection fades away. Leaving them (trapped) in a box that is bigger on the inside. And forced to fight to the death if they wish to leave.

It’s a horrific sucker punch, and again we can see the calculating nature of the governors:

DOROTHEA: Ever Upward Reach calculated an eighty five percent chance only one of you would survive the trip. You've already beaten some pretty long odds, but, unfortunately, that ends now. Despite my arguing, the Governors have voted. There's only enough energy in the reliquary for one of you to return. If it's any comfort, the decision at least is yours.

It is an episode about faith, about belief creating reality. But they are now in the Cabinet of Souls, filled with hope that the Rhodean people might rise again – and yet, they cannot do so without killing.

CHARLIE: In the hands of a hero, the souls take over the bodies instead of just burning them. So all of Rhodia is reborn in a different shape.
MATTEUSZ: An entire race is still killed.


To save a life, a life has to be sacrificed. It is brutal, but it fits the rules of the Cabinet.

Looking back to what I wrote about forgiveness in my Extremis meta, it’s interesting to note that here, Quill and Ballon understand each other perfectly. Both in the reasons they fight, and in their hope:

QUILL: If you have no loyalty on the battlefield-
BALLON: I know! But if a soldier isn't fighting for the safety of his family, why does he fight at all? I'm sorry.
QUILL: That's a sorrow I share.

QUILL: So you really believe she's going to set you free.
BALLON: I have to take that chance. Look away.
QUILL: I will not. Do it.
BALLON: Forgive me.
QUILL: Oh, I do.


Forgiveness is easily asked for, and given.

But there is a final twist, and it’s incredible that Quill is still standing by the end. But she is made of strong stuff:

QUILL: Time passes differently here. How much of my life am I losing? You just keep taking. Is that all you ever did? But I fought you and I will still fight you. Because you know what? I am free. I am free and you are not the last. There is one of you still living. Show me the way out.

Crawling out through the Cabinet doors can be seen as a symbolic rebirth (if anyone feels like mapping out the events of this episode against the Hero’s Journey, be my guest!), and Quill is finally back in the real world – and free.



WhatQuillDid5

Something many have remarked on, is the fact that Quill’s story is one usually reserved for male heroes. The freedom fighter, who lost a loved one in the fight, who has been subjugated and enslaved, before going on a quest to regain their freedom… It’s a familiar narrative, but a male one. It’s thrilling to see a woman in that role, especially as her gender is never brought up as an issue. And the epithet she chooses for herself (‘War Itself’) is also usually very masculine:

QUILL: I suffered in your home world and I have suffered in your heaven, but I will suffer no more. No more! Because I, I am war itself!

‘No more’ has connotations – it’s the key moment in the Doctor’s refusal to carry on fighting in the Time War, setting him on the path to stealing The Moment and ending the War.

Quill’s words obviously turn on a very different premise (freedom, vengeance), but her statement still hits home. As she explains to Charlie:

QUILL: You do not want to talk to me after the day I've had.
CHARLIE: Day? You've only been gone forty five minutes.
QUILL: Really? It seemed like a lifetime.


She has been to heaven and hell, the beginning and the end, travelled in dreams and hopes and impossible places. And has come back reborn.

QUILL: It's the Arn. I'm no longer your slave, Prince. I have my free will back, and I have my gun.
(The gun powers up.)
QUILL: And things, oh, yeah, things are going to change around here.


(no subject)

Date: 31 May 2017 09:13 pm (UTC)
greensword: (Default)
From: [personal profile] greensword
Okay, you've convinced me with the title. What's the best way to watch back episodes/new episodes?

(no subject)

Date: 31 May 2017 09:38 pm (UTC)
maia: (Maia)
From: [personal profile] maia
It's airing now on BBC America. You can purchase the episodes (from amazon, itunes, etc.) the day after airing; "The Metaphysical Engine" aired last Saturday so became available on Sunday. It's a really good show; I highly recommend it!

(no subject)

Date: 31 May 2017 09:37 pm (UTC)
maia: (Maia)
From: [personal profile] maia
I just watched this episode last night. It's superb. And your meta is brilliant.


Belief/faith – the reality, or the absence, of it, form the through line of the episode. The characters travel in neither time, nor space, but from concept to concept.

Yes.


The first stop is Arn Heaven. There is something both beautiful and heartbreaking in a genetically modified lifeform having a concept of heaven, strong enough dream of.

And it is beautiful, living, vibrant, wild; the Arn living like wild animals should. It seems almost cruel to catch one, but then can it be considered a real being? It is an idea of a creature. And yet it is there, flesh and blood in Ballon’s hands…


Yes.


What it does, is bring home on a whole other level how horrific Quill’s punishment is. The Arn has been a concept, an idea, for the viewers (and for Charlie’s friends), with no more reality than the chip Spike had implanted in his head.

But to see one, a physical being, and knowing that one like it is lodged in Quill’s head… It’s genuinely disturbing. As is the thought of what life must be like for a creature like that – it has enough sentience to have a concept of an afterlife, and yet it has been implanted in a brain.


Yes.


Quill and Ballon understand each other perfectly. Both in the reasons they fight, and in their hope

Yes.


BALLON: Forgive me.
QUILL: Oh, I do.

Forgiveness is easily asked for, and given.


Yes.


Something many have remarked on, is the fact that Quill’s story is one usually reserved for male heroes. The freedom fighter, who lost a loved one in the fight, who has been subjugated and enslaved, before going on a quest to regain their freedom… It’s a familiar narrative, but a male one. It’s thrilling to see a woman in that role, especially as her gender is never brought up as an issue. And the epithet she chooses for herself (‘War Itself’) is also usually very masculine

Yes.


‘No more’ has connotations – it’s the key moment in the Doctor’s refusal to carry on fighting in the Time War, setting him on the path to stealing The Moment and ending the War.

Yes.


She has been to heaven and hell, the beginning and the end, travelled in dreams and hopes and impossible places. And has come back reborn.

Yes.

Edited Date: 31 May 2017 09:49 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 31 May 2017 09:39 pm (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (quill charlie)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
Very beautifully written <3

Really not much to say because, as you note, the meta is basically all out on the table.

Belief/faith – the reality, or the absence, of it, form the through line of the episode. The characters travel in neither time, nor space, but from concept to concept.
This is making me have some rather grand hopes about what the Monks are actually doing next week on DW. *quietly roots for the dissolution of all reality*

Dorothea is every inch The Englishwoman Abroad
Ha! Nice catch.

The first stop is Arn Heaven. There is something both beautiful and heartbreaking in a genetically modified lifeform having a concept of heaven, strong enough dream of.
Oh. Very good point. And they are frozen too.

If gods are born from belief (rather than the other way around), then what happens when the gods are forgotten? If an idea is lost, does it cease to exist? Or can they live on independently? If the metaphysical places are outside time and space, they should still exist.
That is American Gods right there.

The Quill goddess is supposed to emerge from the underworld. Where she has been trapped . . . And she rises with- Fury and venom.
Why, yes. Yes she does ; )

Actually, just absolutely everything you pick out in this section is fucking delicious in light of the finale, BUT I SHALL RESTRAIN MYSELF. *sits on hands and screws up face*

That you would have to believe in her? If it meant that you would have to worship her? That you would have to change everything you think about yourself, about your universe?
I adored this conversation, that is some meaty stuff.

(no subject)

Date: 31 May 2017 09:51 pm (UTC)
maia: (Maia)
From: [personal profile] maia
Dorothea is every inch The Englishwoman Abroad
Ha! Nice catch.


Yes!


If gods are born from belief (rather than the other way around), then what happens when the gods are forgotten? If an idea is lost, does it cease to exist? Or can they live on independently? If the metaphysical places are outside time and space, they should still exist.
That is American Gods right there.


I was thinking that too!

(Is it terrible of me to want Elisi to both read and watch American Gods just so I can read her meta about it?)

(no subject)

Date: 31 May 2017 09:54 pm (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (eleven gurl)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
Is it terrible of me to want Elisi to both read and watch American Gods just so I can read her meta about it?
Maybe.

But let's work on her together once Doctor Who is over ; )

(no subject)

Date: 1 June 2017 12:13 am (UTC)
maia: (Maia)
From: [personal profile] maia
It's a plan! ;)

(no subject)

Date: 1 June 2017 09:58 am (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (river hello sweetie)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
Hush. Important conspiring going on.

(no subject)

Date: 1 June 2017 10:15 am (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (quill charlie)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
Thank you! It was a labour of love. And pretty much wrote itself. The structure *really* helped.
I'm glad it came together for you. The episode deserves the attention, but I can see why it would be a bit daunting.

LOL. I've thought that ever since the first time we see her, and her 'Is that what you're wearing?' to Quill.
Dorothea was such a great addition to the show.

I KNOW RIGHT?!?!? I had to sit on my hands too... ALL THE THINGS OH MY GOD! /o\
I have rewatched this episode, but I'm not sure I've rewatched it since the finale. I'm sure I'll get there at some point. But reading some of the dialogue it was just like *hopeless hand flailing*

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