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Alex (or Aldrius) writes...

Arc 3 "Zatanna" ramble

So, this arc is strange to me. In a good way. Lately I've sort of been trying to think of arcs and stories in terms of a core dramatic question. What is the story asking? And what is the answer? Normally to my observation the question is usually asked by the end of the halfway mark of the story, with the answer coming at the end. In some form or another.

This arc is strange because it answers the question before it's even really been properly asked.

So in effect, this story is a Dr. Fate story I think. That was the strongest element to me, that was the most important part, it was certainly the one I actively cared about the most (it's really an arc that's been going on since near the beginning of season 1). The dramatic question as such, is "are Zatanna's students worthy to take up the mantle of Dr. Fate?". But that question isn't *really* asked until the very end of the story after they've dealt with Child. And by that point the question has already, very clearly I'd say, been answered. They are. (except for Mary)

So I really like that element of the story structure, that it sort of works in reverse. Really different.

The Chaos Lord stuff just isn't really my thing, I think is what it comes down to. I like the primordial element, I like the reinterpretation of Klarion, but the body horror and the smug ageless child thing isn't my taste. (It's possible Black Lagoon ruined it for me, though.) But I do really like the mythic elements here, the need for a familiar, the way different familiars manifest. I even sort of like the idea of the Lords of Order and Chaos holding court (sometimes with one another). And I think it's cool that Vandal Savage sort of solved the problem through diplomacy. Though I think his argument was a bit obvious (though I guess it wasn't to the Lords of Chaos).

The mindscape stuff in the middle of the arc was a bit odd to me. Mindscapes have always been a Weisman classic, so I wasn't particularly surprised to see them here. These were pretty effective and at times creepy, but I kind of wish we'd gotten this information in a more traditional way. I think the main thing that threw me off here was the placement of them. They sort of come in the middle of the action, when things are extremely desperate, It's an odd time to take a break to do some character development. In fact the whole pattern of the arc is odd to me. It's almost constant rising of stakes, and then when things are at their most intense, we sort of wander off to focus on some down time. Either meeting Jason Blood, or Dr. Fate, or the stuff with Klarion and the bus.

Then there was the stuff with Zatara. Now, I think partly the purpose of the stuff with Zatara, or my impression of it was to make Zatara less of a prop. Zatara potentially could be nothing more than an objective for Zatanna. She's got to rescue her nice, but unremarkable father from despotic forces. I think that's a good intention, but again came in at an odd time in the story. It also sort of muddled the through line of the storytelling in a way I wasn't the biggest fan of.

Because ultimately, while I think I'd argue it is a Zatanna, Dr. Fate Zatara story, I'm not sure it's important to really understand Zatara beyond the fact that Zatanna cares about him. And I don't really begrudge the storytelling that indulgence, I'm not an essentialist the way some people are, but I just think this story already has so many characters and subplots going on it winds up just being another layer to contextualize and care about and the show is already asking a lot. It didn't need to work this hard to make me care about Zatara, or to explain Zatara. I already care about Zatara and Zatanna.

The religious elements too, I think I'm not sure what to think of. I'm not a religious person, and Christianity in particular makes me very uncomfortable. So the shot of Nabu and Zatara facing off with an Ankh and a cross behind them made me chuckle a bit. Just because it reminded me of a narmy 70s comic cover (was it based on a cover actually?). But I think religion is a *very* big topic, and it's hard to kind of compartmentalize in this sort of story. Like, for me, what's important about Khalid's story isn't his relationship with magic, or with god, but his relationship with his mother. Which there isn't time or space to explore because of how ambitious this arc is. So it kind of just gets boiled down to him feeling pressure to choose something, and him deciding he doesn't have to choose. And I wish we got more context for that. Though there's an obvious irony in him being pressured into becoming a doctor and ending up as doctor fate, obviously. I'm less enamored with that now a few months later than I was when I watched it, but I still appreciate it.

One other thing I wanna comment on, because I've seen this criticism that this isn't really Zatanna's story. Which I suppose is true. I've seen this idea put forth by a lot of youtubes and film critic-type people, the idea of sort of the want/need and the core narrative of a character. Like because Zatanna doesn't transform, or learn something, or realize an unrealized need it's not her story. She knows what she wants at the beginning of the arc, and she knows how she wants to get it. And things just kind of... fall into place after that and she gets what she wants, the story wouldn't really have been that different if Zatanna had just knocked on Dr. Fate's door and had a conversation with him about cycling hosts. Which means perhaps the story is less dynamic and connected than it could be, but I don't think that's a *problem* necessarily.

Because ultimately the transformation is Dr. Fate's. This is a story about Dr. Fate. And I think that's good. Your P.O.V. character or protagonist doesn't necessarily need to be the character to whom things are happening.

It's interesting because I think this is also *very* reflected in Kaldur's arc.

I've rewritten this like 4 times to try and make it sound as constructive and not negative as possible, and I think I failed miserably at that, but there *is* a lot I liked about this arc. It's generally stuff that's just... always good, though. The characters are well drawn out, the conflicts are endearing, the story's creative, the global scope was impressive. It wasn't petty, it felt like everything was consequential. I still love this show's take on doctor fate *a lot*. I liked that we got a resolution to the Dr. Fate arc that started so many years ago.

So... yeah, I liked it. The Kaldur arc was my favourite of the season, though, so I'm looking forward to writing that ramble.