Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Call This One: "I Just Have a Lot of Feelings About The Lizzie Bennet Diaries"

I began watching Doctor Who and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries for very similar reasons. I had heard about both shows from friends – the titles kept appearing in conversations and tweets and texts – so I decided to give them both a chance. And I originally had the same thoughts regarding both: they were funny, dramatic, and had engaging characters. I was intrigued. But there came a point in both shows where, for lack of a better phrase, I was hit in the feels.

Doctor Who can cause me, long after the episode has ended, to curl up in the fetal position, rock back and forth, and – in between sobs – yell “MOFFAT!” at my screen. Because the truth is this: Steven Moffat is brilliant. He’s a weaver of stories, characters, and development. For any show to succeed, for any character to become likeable – nay, enjoyable – there has to be growth. And that growth is usually always accompanied by pain. Nothing causes a person to grow quite like having to endure heartache. Moffat, I believe, understands this VERY well. And we, the audience, understand the spiral of depression that he puts us through as a writer. We shake our fists and curse Moffat because he rips our hearts and emotions out. (And then stomps on them. A lot.)

I never assumed that I’d lump Rachel Kiley in with Steven Moffat, but after the past two episodes of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries… well, Kiley has officially entered Moffat Territory (it’s like a theme park of emotional turmoil). But the fact that I am even comparing her to the current writer for Doctor Who means that she must be doing SOMETHING right. So let’s discuss a few things, shall we?

I’m going to preface this post right now, because I’ll always strive to be honest with my readers about opinions regarding characters, plot, etc. So, here’s the deal: I empathize more with Lizzie, normally, than I do with Lydia. I will do my best to remain objective when I discuss both characters because I do LOVE both of them. I honestly and truly love all the characters in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but I see more of myself in her than Lydia. Secondly, I don’t understand all the Tumblr hate toward either sister. I never understand unnecessary hatred toward television characters (unless they’re completely and utterly villainized. Or, you know, Michelle Slater from Community). Especially in the case of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I cannot comprehend hatred for either Lizzie or Lydia – we, the audience, don’t know the entirety of each characters’ stories. We see what Lizzie lets us see, know what she knows, and only that. Unlike a book which can delve into the innermost thoughts and feelings of characters, shows are restricted in that way. Secondly, I’m going to discuss characters and their development (and why I feel they acted the way that they did). Finally, I’ll incorporate the brilliance of the show’s writing into my analysis of these last few episodes. :)

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet

I bet you didn’t think that I would discuss the parents of Lizzie and Lydia, did you? However, in order to understand WHY Lizzie and Lydia act the way that they do, we need to think about who their parents are. Throughout episode 74, Lizzie acted like Lydia’s mother more so than she usually does (she utilized the phrase: “Oh no you aren’t!” and instructed her sister to come into her room and sit down, as if she was being scolded – because she was). Lizzie has taken on a very matriarchal role. I mentioned it in a Tumblr blurb last week, but the reason that Lizzie is so overbearingly protective is because her parents don’t feel the necessity to regulate Lydia’s behavior (much like the book version of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet). In the book, for example, Lizzie begs her father to not allow Kitty and Lydia to go to Brighton. In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Lizzie – to no avail – begs her parents to not let Lydia throw a house party.

Completely unconcerned with Lydia’s evidently less-than-tame behavior (she did, after all, sneak into bars before she was legal, nearly set the house on fire at her party, etc.), Mr. Bennet allows Lydia to throw the party. And why? Let’s recall:

“I see no problem with Lydia throwing a party. We won’t hear the end of it until she does. And at least I know she’ll be home and you’ll be here to watch out for her.” (Episode 71)

Notice anything interesting about the aforementioned quote? Mr. Bennet, much like his novel counterpart, prefers to avoid conflict. Lydia doesn’t seem to have very many rules. But it’s not because the Bennets are unfit parents or because they don’t love their daughter. They’re not neglectful. They do, however, expect Lizzie to keep a watchful eye out for her sister. Lizzie Bennet, quickly, has transitioned from having to be Lydia’s sister to being Lydia’s mother. It’s something that Lizzie doesn’t take lightly, and – as I mentioned in my Tumblr blurb – weighs on her.

Lizzie Bennet

… which brings me to this gem from Episode 70:

Jane: What’s keeping you here?
Lizzie: You’re kidding, right? I’m NEEDED here. Mom needs someone to unleash her crazy on, and Lydia needs the occasional reality check, and Dad needs help setting up his model trains.
Jane: […] and Lydia’s fine. She’s an adult. Maybe it’s time for YOU to make a change.

Lizzie’s conversation with Jane is very telling, frankly, because it exemplifies Lizzie’s insecurities. When Charlotte moved away and Jane left, Lizzie felt very much alone. It was something that the audience was able to palpably feel and see because we recognize her emotions and moods shift. What Lizzie cannot grasp, however, is that if she leaves and makes a life of her own, the world will not fall apart. She’s so fearful that Lydia will make a mistake or her parents will that she has LITERALLY halted her own life in pursuit of taking care of THEIR needs.

And yes, Lizzie did not broach the topic of Lydia needing to grow up very well. Lizzie is just as fearful and uncertain about the future as Lydia is – the problem, of course, is that Lizzie has a lot of pride. She won’t let people see her during weakness. She turns off the camera as soon as she becomes uncomfortable or afraid or embarrassed. She BARELY admits to being scared of the future to Jane – Jane, who is Lizzie’s best friend and sister.

So how can I completely fault Lizzie for wanting to look out for her sister? Lizzie has put her family into the spotlight, for better or for worse. In Pride and Prejudice, gossip ran rampant. Elizabeth Bennet lived in a town where everyone knew the business of everyone else.

Unless you live in Small Town, U.S.A, this isn’t the case anymore. In the book, Lydia’s hastily patched-up marriage and scandal was known by all. Today, the only way that scandal is recognized or news travels is if it is regards to a celebrity of some sort. Barely anyone cares about the happenings of a small family in California. But when your sister is the star of her own video blog that has millions of views… well, if you fall, people WILL notice.

Which is where (caution: speculation) I feel a lot of Lizzie’s character growth will take place. Those people who are fuming at Lizzie now WILL feel empathy for her in the future. Lizzy, in the book, feels a lot of guilt post-Brighton events. This Lizzie Bennet will feel it THREEFOLD  because: a) she will blame herself for not revealing the truth about Wickham when she could have; b) she will feel guilt for putting herself and her entire family into the spotlight in the first place; c) she will blame herself for pushing Lydia away and into the trouble that will (inevitably) be her downward spiral.

Ashley Clements has always said that she loves Lizzie because she’s a flawed character. And really, she IS. Lizzie Bennet is complex and messy and that’s what makes her story so beautiful. We don’t, as audience members, always have to agree with what she does or how she handles certain situations. But we WANT her to be okay. We want her sisters and her family to be okay. We WANT to root for her and see her grow and change.

As for another matter, the issue of Lizzie apologizing (or NOT apologizing) in the last video to Lydia, I can definitely understand where some frustrations lie, especially those vehemently on Team Lydia at this point. But the point and purpose is that Lydia doesn’t want an apology – she DOES, but what she REALLY wants is for her sister to forgo any further attempt at telling her how to live her life. That, friends, is not the discretion of a mature woman.

Lizzie’s apologizing would be futile – at this point, she has nothing to apologize for that she hasn’t already said. She apologized for the WAY her statement came across. But she stands by her decision to watch out for Lydia and help her grow up. Lizzie’s intentions, I believe, were pure. She is, after all, the one person in the family looking out for Lydia.

Think about it: even Jane – sweet and pure and innocent Jane – is intent on letting Lydia do as she pleases. It’s within Jane’s trusting nature, remember, to see the good and best in everyone. Even within the book, the eldest Bennet sister is hesitant to speak ill of anyone or anything. And Jane’s character, beautiful and wonderful as she is, has that flaw – she, sometimes, thinks everything and everyone TOO good. We are all human and have faults, and need to – as good people, friends, siblings, etc. – watch out for everyone around us. If a car, for instance, is about to swerve off the road and into the median, the best thing for you (the driver behind that vehicle) to do, is probably warn the car.

Jane’s philosophy would be along the lines of: “I’m sure they’ll realize that they’re about to swerve off the road.” She gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, which is both sweet and endearing as well as entirely dangerous.

But I do believe that Lizzie will have things to apologize for in the future – she’s going to profusely apologize to herself and everyone around her and feel guilt, remember? And THAT is Lizzie’s burden to bear throughout this rough patch with Lydia. Lydia’s indiscretion and immaturity will have their own set of consequences, mind you, but Lizzie will have to find a way to move past that guilt when the time comes.

May I just take a moment to say that I love everyone who acts on this show? Ashley Clements is a fantastic Lizzie Bennet and I’ll keep singing her praises until the show is over, and then long after. Her visible progression from glee to anger to hurt in this episode was gut-wrenching. And truly, she did a fantastic job.

Lydia Bennet

I think that most people would agree that Lydia Bennet was not a very likeable character in Pride and Prejudice. She was grating and childish, and you rolled your eyes at her naïveté (or… maybe that was just me). The Lydia Bennet introduced to us throughout the course of this vlog is more dimensional than any other Lydia (and that’s major kudos to the writers and especially Mary Kate Wiles). In the book and movie, the young Bennet sister is boy-crazy, which doesn’t seem like a stretch when we first meet Lydia in Lizzie’s vlog.

But as the episodes wore on, and Lydia obtained her own vlog… something happened. We began to see a new layer to Lydia that we weren’t aware existed – insecurity. I believe that the feisty redhead is more insecure than she allows anyone else to see. Actually, scratch that statement.

I believe Lydia Bennet is more insecure than she allows LIZZIE to see.

Lydia confessed to Jane during Episode 69 (in one of the most telling lines to date):

“Ugh, they all [Caroline, Bing, Darcy] suck. I liked it much better when it was just you and me and Lizzie and Charlotte. […] We work best… just us.”

Lydia, contrary to the way that she appears (with the energy and the adorbs and the party-fun-times), detests all the drama that occurred in the lives of her sisters. She, more than perhaps anyone, is afraid of growing up and of things changing. She doesn’t WANT change, mainly because (I’d argue) she’s not sure quite who she is yet. And if she can continue to be crazy, party, FUN Lydia for as long as she can, until she HAS to figure out who she is… well, then, who is anyone else to stop her? And I feel empathy for Lydia – heck, I’m almost 24 years old and I’m still not sure who I am. And it’s scary. And frustrating. And weird. And difficult.

What Lizzie does not see and cannot comprehend – why she doesn’t understand the pain she caused Lydia – is this aforementioned insecurity. Ironically, the two sisters share fears. They just have not shared them with each other. Lizzie prefers the company of Charlotte or Jane, while Lydia shares with either her sweet-tempered sister or Mary. And why is this? Why don’t Lizzie and Lydia communicate their fears and insecurities with one another? Wouldn’t that make more sense? They would GET each other.

There’s a barrier, there, on both ends. Lizzie consistently feels like a mother, watching out for her child. She doesn’t see Lydia as an equal or an adult (when Jane notes that Lydia IS, in fact, an adult, Lizzie rolls her eyes). Lydia, in turn, doesn’t see Lizzie as someone who would understand her. There’s pain that runs deeper than just Episodes 73 and 74, folks. Because Lydia doesn’t want someone watching out for her – she wants someone to agree with her, to go out with her, to not question her motives or give their honest opinions. And Lizzie, for better or for worse, WILL tell Lydia what is actually on her mind.

But Lydia is a deeply wounded character at the end of her birthday episode. And, in pain, she lashes out at Lizzie. And she really goes for the jugular (twice) in snapping that Lizzie has managed to drive everyone in her life away. Mary Kate Wiles’ acting throughout these tense episodes… it just blew my mind. It was the epitome of an “Oh, SNAP” moment.

And maybe it’s Lydia trying to hurt Lizzie as much as she was hurt, but there are two things to note: 1) Lizzie’s intent was not malicious; Lydia’s WAS. I’m not going to tolerate replies of “OMG, YOU’RE BEING SOOOOO MEAN. LYDIA WAS UPSET. LIZZIE IS AWFUL AND TERRIBLE.”

(First of all, who even TALKS like that? Exaggerated example people, that’s who!)

Yes, Lizzie was in the wrong. No, Lydia shouldn’t hold in her feelings. No, Lydia should NOT have reacted the way that she did. Lydia’s passive-aggressive video is fueled with bitterness and anger. Lizzie vocalized her concern about Lydia growing up and acting more like an adult. Well… that video and Lydia’s subsequent declaration that she would go to Las Vegas for the New Year and be crazy and party it up really aren’t swaying me to the side of “Lydia is a mature adult.”

Also, I believe that perhaps part of Lydia’s backlash toward Lizzie was fueled by her own insecurities. It was almost as if she was projecting her own fear into the situation – let’s be aware of the fact that everyone in LYDIA’S life has left her, too. So maybe, just maybe, a part of Lydia feels betrayed by people leaving. Perhaps she wonders if it’s HER fault that others are moving away and on. And really, I don’t think that she can be utterly and completely thrilled with being at home. Most of her friends are presumably in college and moving. Lydia feels alone and vulnerable. It’s the most I’ve ever felt empathy for an incarnation of this Bennet sister, and it’s wonderful. Because the fact is that the Bennets (and Darcy and Bing and Caroline and Charlotte and Mr. Collins and Fitz) are broken people who are trying to figure out exactly where they fit in life, and who they fit in with.

Lydia is a character that you feel twinges of pain for, just as you do when Lizzie is attacked by Caroline or when Jane is hurt by Bing. You root for these women, for these sisters, and hope that everything will work out for them in the end.

With all that said, I really admire the writing team of this show, especially the woman who wrote the recent, intense episodes – Rachel Kiley. I placed her in Moffat Territory for good reason. She’s unearthed pain in these characters. And pain is the first step to beauty and restoration. And I do believe that everything will work, as it should, whatever route this story heads (because it’s fun speculating how the team will twist the story to fit the modern era). Like I do with any show I support, I trust the writers. I trust Steven Moffat and Megan Ganz and Andy Bobrow and Rachel Kiley and Bernie Su.

What’s brilliant about this YouTube show is that it’s managed to take a story that we’ve heard or seen or read a dozen and a half (or more) times, and completely exhume a new layer of meaning and emotion. This isn’t just a love story about Lizzie and Darcy. It’s true – Pride and Prejudice IS a love story. But it’s a story about family, friendship, and loyalty. It’s a tale about trying to better yourself through your relationship with other people. About locating those flaws that you have a hard time seeing and realizing that life is messy and weird and sometimes downright painful.

But when you scrape away all the junk that makes life hard to bear, you find the gems that make it worthwhile. THAT is what The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is all about.


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