Final Space dropped this year and it grew on me like a beautifully animated fungus.
For those not familiar with the show, IMDB describes it as:
“An astronaut named Gary and his planet-destroying sidekick called Mooncake embark on serialized journeys through space in order to unlock the mystery of where the universe actually ends and if it actually does exist.”
I describe it as Invader Zim meets Star Wars with a dash of found-family and a nice helping of pathological sincerity. It’s great. Which of course means I’m now going to critically rip it to pieces. It’s how I show my love.
Here are some lessons — good and bad — that we should all take from Final Space.
SPOILERS AHOY! (Also very slight spoilers for The Haunting of Hill House)
1. Love at first sight is only romantic if it goes both fuCKING WAYS
In episode 1 we learn that our main character Gary saw Quinn for the first time in a bar and fell in love with her. Ahem, no, sorry. He turned into an obsessed stalker who sent her video messages every day for 5 years.
Sci-fi keeps fucking doing this shit to me. The Expanse had a main dude character develop a gross obsession with a woman he’d never even fucking met and now Gary — who I otherwise love, okay — pulls this grody behaviour. I want to jettison Gary’s obsession with Quinn from an airlock. I want it shot into the sun. I want it nuked from orbit.
But you know what’s worse than pulling this obsession-at-first-sight crap? Having the writers follow it through with an actual romance. Because yeah, Quinn eventually reciprocates Gary’s feelings. The key term there being eventually.
This is classic “if you persist you’ll wear her down” territory and it’s a hallmark of rape culture. What’s worse is the turning point was Quinn seeing the video messages Gary’s been obsessively filming for 1,825 days. Like any woman in the world would be faced with that and not conjure a restraining order through the power of her sheer horror alone.
But no. Because this is written by dudes, Quinn finds Gary’s video essay endearing. And just to add another frustration to the pile, Gary IS fucking endearing. I love the positive little idiot. His loyalty and unfailing optimism make up for his idiotic naivety in a way that totally works somehow. I could see Quinn genuinely falling for the guy. But not like this.
Gary’s obsession with Quinn and her reciprocation isn’t just a disservice to the characters, it’s feeding into some really dangerous societal structures. It’s reinforcing the lesson that boys will get the girl if they just try hard enough and that girls really ought to give the underdog a chance because there’s a heart of gold buried under all the red flags.
Writers, don’t do this. And if you do, I want you to look upon the good words of my boy Charles Boyle from Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
Hey Rosa, I want to apologise.
I haven't been much fun to
hang out with over the
last year or so on account of
all the asking you out and
smelling your hair and staring at
you from point-blank range.
Yeah, you were a read weirdo.
This exchange happens in episode 18 and it kicked off one of the coolest friendships the show has. Because the writers realised they were playing into a shitty stereotype that should have died with Ross Fucking Geller and they made moves to correct their oversight. Be like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, my fellow writers. Listen to criticism and learn from your mistakes. You’ll be a better storyteller for it.
2. For the love of god, include more than one female character in your whole fucking story
I’m going to list the female characters that appear in Final Space. Not even just the main ones, I’m gonna list ALL of them. You ready? This is gonna be exhaustive!
- Quinn from the future
- A woman who’s in one episode and exists only to be obsessed with Tribore
- A dead alien woman’s skin
That’s it. That’s all there is. In the ENTIRE SHOW.
Please. For the love of fuck. Do better than this. I shouldn’t have to count a dead alien’s carcass just to get past the number three.
3. Mourn your characters
Yay! A positive point!
Final Space ripped out our collective hearts by killing Avocato, the cat alien bounty-hunter that found himself accidentally best friends with Gary through wacky misadventure. It was horrible. I cried. But boy was it done well.
The following episode was dedicated mostly to mourning Avocato. His son gets angry and tries to hijack a time machine to bring him back. Gary sobs openly. And as the characters mourned, the audience got their chance to as well. A lot of shows skip over this part and it tends to undercut the emotional resonance of the loss. If you’re gonna kill off a favourite, you have to make it felt.
For another example of this done amazingly, I highly recommend watching The Haunting of Hill House. They dedicate an entire episode to a character’s death and I shit you not, it’s one of the best episodes of television I’ve ever seen.
4. Give your secondary characters the main character treatment
Your secondary characters are the heroes of their own story. Even if you don’t show the whole thing, what you do show has to be fleshed out.
I’ve ranted a lot about Quinn so far but her characterisation outside of Gary is really stellar. She has her own fully-formed arc and we’re given a great grasp of her character and personality as the show progresses. And she’s not the only one. Final Space has really solid characterisation right down to its minor characters.
Those that don’t get the full arc treatment obviously have their own shit going on and it’s often lampshaded to excellent effect. With the exception of his one-note fangirl, Tribore’s off-screen rebel side story is amazing. And then there’s KVN:
Pay attention to your side characters. Your story may begin and end with it’s POV characters but shoddy side characters will only poke holes in your story.
Final Space season 2 has been confirmed
And you can bet your butts I’ll be watching it. Because I really, really love this show, despite its glaring flaws. I just hope the writers listen to the criticism and learn from it like the writers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine did. You can’t retroactively fix bad writing decisions. What you can do is learn from them and constructively address them. You’re a writer. Rise to the challenge.
And if in doubt, ask yourself: what would Brooklyn Nine-Nine do?
While I have you here…
Hyperbole and a Half is the sort of book that’ll have you crying laughing. If you want to learn how to turn even the most depressing content into the funniest thing you’ve ever written, look no further than Allie Brosh’s writing.