it's the status of this relationship that has me the most worked up for season four

Altars & How to Create Them

Altars & How to Create Them

Your Altar has to be one of the most important tools. This is where all the magickal things happen.Your altar centralizes your personal power. It is a work table.

A permanent altar helps you honor the Gods even when you are not physically present. I do have a permanent altar in my home that I leave up at all times if possible. But what if you would like to do a ritual outside. I surely can’t carry my altar around!!

Anything can be your altar. An old table, a rock, a picnic table, or even good old Mother Nature!

An altar is a special place you create to hold the objects you use in your magic practice. Your altar could be a simple shelf, table, trunk, or cabinet, or it might be something more elegant and elaborate. It can be a permanent fixture or a portable one you can easily move when necessary. You can locate your altar inside your home or outdoors. Choose a spot that feels right for you, where you’ll be able to enjoy peace and privacy. If you wish, dowse to find a place that resonates with positive vibrations.

This place is yours. You can display whatever you want on your altar: fresh flowers, incense, candles, statues, figurines, crystals, or whatever else pleases you. You might like to drape your altar with a decorative cloth and hang meaningful artwork above it. This is a good place to store your grimoire, tarot cards, runes, pendulums, gemstones, botanicals, and other ingredients you will use in spells. Depending on how large your altar is and how much room you have, you could even house ritual clothing and jewelry there.

Some people like to place their ritual tools on their altars; others store them inside. Don’t just leave one or two implements out on your altar, however. Lay out all four principal tools (wand, pentagram, chalice, and athame) to establish a balance of elemental energies.

At different times of the year, you might enjoy decorating your altar for special ceremonies and sabbats. Don’t feel that once you’ve created an altar it must remain the same way forever. In fact, it’s a good idea to move things around periodically and to make changes that reflect the changes taking place in your life.

Special Kinds of Altars

An altar may be devoted to a particular purpose, such as healing, manifestation of abundance, or love (as in relationships, family harmony, etc.) In such cases you will probably choose to focus on crystalsspecifically related to these purposes.

Green stones are always helpful for healing, and special center pieces might be a statue of Kwan Yin, or a green calcite or aventurine sphere.

Frogs and bears, both of which symbolize healing, are appropriate for this kind of altar.

For abundance (which can also use the color green as well as yellow), an appropriate centerpiece might be a pyrite cluster.

For love we generally focus on the pink stones, and if improved communication is part of the state you wish to create you might choose to add aquamarine, chrysocolla, blue lace agate, larimar, turquoise, or amazonite. Helpful power animals include wolf and otter (they mate for life), and hummingbird, for the transcendent aspects of love.

Some people like to create angel altars for angelic guidance. Angelite is the most obvious stone to use, as is amethyst for its transitional quality (this stone is the colour of twilight), and rose quartz, to symbolize the unconditional love which angels have for us. Any symbols of angels work well as centerpieces.

For any of the above special altars I also like to use quartz points to direct and enhance the energy, and grounding stones (hematite, obsidian, black tourmaline, tiger’s eye, or smoky quartz) to also ground the energy.

Seasonal Altars
 Many people like to either vary the elements of their altars or have particular ones related to the seasons.

A winter altar might include pine cones, evergreen tree branches, and a focus on clear crystals such as quartz, calcite, danburite, and selenite. Red and green accents often brighten up a winter altar. Owl can represent the inner wisdom associated with winter; while Bear symbolises hibernation and going within.

A spring altar would have a focus on green. A vase containing spring flowers could make a meaningful centerpiece. Green stones and green candles help to celebrate the season of renewal. The singing of spring peepers at this time makes Frog, a symbol of healing and rebirth, appropriate for this season.

For a summer altar I think most easily of the golden stones to symbolise the sun. I like to contrast these with blue stones, representing the sky and the sea. I am also drawn to the symbol of Deer, as this is the time when fawns begin to appear.

An autumn altar may include red, orange, and yellow stones. A cornucopia in which a crystal programmed for abundance is placed can make an appropriate centerpiece. The squirrel, gatherer of nuts for the coming winter, is a helpful symbol.

Enjoy creating your altar(s). You will find it to be a peaceful, meditational activity.

I’ve learned that one of the biggest issues people have is in the area of being grounded. Some people tell me they’re earthbound; they can’t seem to lift off to explore other dimensions. Others say they have wonderful visions, but experience difficulty in translating them into material terms.

The ability to be grounded is very important to people who want to develop their spirituality, explore the many dimensions of existence, and make their dreams come true in physical reality. The essence of grounding isn’t a simple matter of being organized, functioning well in the mundane areas of life, or a question of how close one’s feet are to the earth. To be grounded entails drawing on the energies of both the material and the spiritual dimensions.

Portable Altars

A BOX ALTAR: Get a medium-sized wooden box or large cigar box. This can be used as a small altar upon which to set up your tools for prayers and ritual, and, best of all, the tools can be stored inside of the box when not in use! If you like, paint the inside with colors and symbols you feel are significant. Some good things to keep in it are: a small altar cloth (old cloth napkins are the perfect size), a small stick consecrated as a wand, a small, flat pentacle, shot glasses (great for holding salt, earth, water, or ritual drink), a lighter, a small bag of salt, some cone incense and a miniature cone censer, and birthday candles.

A CRYSTAL ALTAR: Small crystals and gemstones are easily portable in a bag, and can represent just about any altar tool or symbol you can think of. A small, terminated quarts makes a great wand or ritual knife. Geode slabs make good pentacles. Choose a stone that is associated with your deities to symbolically represent Them, such as moonstone for Goddess and sunstone for God. Crystals can represent elements: malachite or onyx for Earth, carnelian or rhodonite for Air, bloodstone or lava rocks for Fire, and pear or coral for Water. Wrap your crystals in a small cloth that can act as an altar cloth and tie them up with a ribbon, then carry in your purse or glove compartment.

THE TAROT ALTAR: You can keep an altar handy if you just carry around a deck of tarot cards. Use different cards for different symbols: The Emperor and Empress as God and Goddess, the aces of each suit for the four elements, and any other cards you wish to represent the ritual observance.

The Travelling Altar

Many people spend a lot of time away from their home – and their tools. Here are some ways to take your altar with you while you are vacationing, moving, or on a business trip. All tools have alternatives. Sometimes some items cannot be taken onto planes or are to cumbersome to carry. There are easy ways to deal with each problem.

Athame – the athame is the symbol of the God and can be substituted in most any ritual with other tools. The forefinger of the power hand, for example, can be used in its place. You can also use a small twig or wand to serve in place of the athame.

Candles – pack some small candles such as votives, tea-lites (which do not require candle holders), or birthday candles. White candles can be used to substitute any other color in spells. Birthday candles have the added advantage of colors and burn quickly.

Anointing Oil – carry oil in a small vial or bottle such as an empty vanilla extract bottle. Pack an all-purpose oil, such as rosemary, that can be used for any occasion and drop in a tiny quartz crystal or two to empower it.

Herbs – if you require herbs for your candles, pack a small baggie with some all-purpose herbs such as rosemary, sage, anise, basil or bay or a mix of them all.

Chalice – Other tools can be used in place of a chalice. Shot glasses, small ceramic bowls or tiny wooden cups work fine. A wonderful alternative is the small decorated Asian ceramic hand bowls used for holding herbs or sauces. These are readily available in Asian supermarkets for very cheap andcanbe purchased with decorations of animals, fish, birds and dragons.

Incense – incense cones, sticks or powder can effectively be used in the place of cumbersome charcoal and herb incense.

Cauldron – The cauldron can be replaced with a small black bowl or dish. Tiny black ceramic cauldrons are easily found for sale online and in catalogues and are often very cheap.

Pentacle – A small pentacle can be made by painting a wooden disk or a flat stone.

Salt – keep sacred salt made from sea salt or kosher salt in a small glass bottle, empty medicine bottle, or tic-tac box.

Out Of The Way Altars

KITCHEN CABINET ALTAR: Devote a shelf in one of your cabinets as space for your hearth altar. This will be out of the way, but can be opened whenever you want to use it.

ALTAR IN A DRAWER: Clear out a drawer. Line with a thin fabric (altar cloth). Place non-burning items in it for your religious symbols, such as a lava rock for fire in place of a candle, a bowl of potpourri instead of incense. Pull out the drawer for a quick, readily set-up altar whenever you need it.

WALL ALTAR: Get a plaque representing your deity, such as a Green Man or Maiden wall plaque. Hang it, along with a candle sconce (fire), and small knick-knack shelf to house your other ritual tools.

Elemental Altars

WATER ALTAR: If you have a multi-tiered shower caddy in your bathroom, create an altar to the sacred element of water on one shelf. You can place on it a sea sponge charged and consecrated to absorb negativity (wash it and recharge periodically), a shell as a representation of the ocean Gods and Goddesses, and a bottle of sea salt to add to your cleansing bath. Every time you shower you can use it as an opportunity to pay homage to the sacred element.

EARTH ALTAR: Set up a window box filled with soil. Add a few small plants you can care for, some rocks, stones or sticks you have found. Place a slice of tree stump, geode, or a sea shell upon it as a pentacle or to hold offerings. When praying or meditating for grounding or strength, go to your Earth altar.

AIR ALTAR: Begin a collection of feathers found from your nature walks. Take a small bowl filled with salt, sand or rice and stick the feathers into them so that they stand up. Keep a small stick or cone censer nearby. When you wish to draw energy from the element of Air, light the incense and fan the smoke toward yourself with a feather.

FIRE ALTAR: Somewhere in your kitchen- next to your stove, a small shelf, on top of the microwave- keep a candle, and a vial of cinnamon oil and a cinnamon stick (cinnamon is an herb associated with the Sun). When you are busy cooking or cleaning in your kitchen, take a moment to anoint the candle with oil and light it, calling for the energy of fire to be channeled through the flame and fill the room. Use the cinnamon stick as a wand to direct those energies.

Altars That Don’t Look Like Altars

DESKTOP ALTAR: Keep a small altar on your desk at work without drawing attention. Get a small decorative plate or tray. Place upon it a representation of your deity that is not obvious: a stone, small plant, a small figurine that looks like just another desk ornament. Place on it a decorative candle for fire (even if you don’t use it, you’ll know why it’s there), a stone for earth, a feather for air, and a sea shell for water. Use a letter opener as a wand or athame. Keep a small cup on it for a ritual drink at lunch, or to house a mixture of water and salt (get a bunch of packets from the cafeteria and keep them in your desk) that can be used to purify your space and yourself of negativity when stressed.

STANG: Basically, an altar on a stick. Get a forked branch. Set it in the dirt outside, or in a flowerpot filled with kitty litter or sand indoors. String dried flowers (earth), feathers (air), cinnamon sticks (fire), and sea shells (water), and hang it from the branches. Hang ornaments representing your deities as well. If done nicely, it will look more like a decorative element than an altar.

SCENTED OIL BURNER ALTAR: Get a scented oil burner that uses a tea candle rather than electricity. They come in many shapes and designs (crescent moons, Egyptian statues, fairies, animals), so choose one that represents your deity to you. On the spot where the candle goes, place a small layer of salt (Earth). Put the candle (Fire) on top of it. The water (Water) is added to the bowl with the scented oils (your offering to Spirit), and, when heated from the flame, creates steam (Air). There you have your mini altar to use during small rites or for meditation.

Vehicle Altars

CAR ALTAR: Keep a small altar on your dash board in your car to commune with your deities when driving and to protect yourself on road trips. Use little bits of velcro to keep small figurines or stones in place, hang feathers or power beads from your rearview mirror, burn cone incense in your ash tray.

BIKE ALTAR: If you ride a bike frequently, keep a small basket on your handlebars for a mini-altar. Fill it with non-sharp, non-burning tools such as dried herbs, stones, and gifts from nature that you find on your way. Use it to pray for protection before setting off on another trip.

Disguised Altars

HIDDEN IN PLAIN VIEW ALTAR: A Pagan altar can be sitting in the middle of your living room and, as long as you don’t have a giant pentacle hanging over a statue of the Horned God, most people would be none the wiser. Set up your altar on a shelf, mantle or table by using decorative candle holders, small potted plants, and artistic expressions and no one will guess that your 18th century floral porcelain plate is a pentacle or your elaborately carved mediaeval dagger hanging on the wall is a ritual knife.

THE DECOY ALTAR: If those you live with do not know you are Pagan, or are not accepting of Pagan beliefs, you can set up a shrine using the tools and symbols of another religion to represent yours. Remember that no tools or symbols belong to any single faith or tradition; what they represent to you is what will be important. For example, if your parents are Catholic and you are not yet ready to tell them you have begun practicing Paganism, get a statue or picture of the Blessed Mother or St. Brigit (who, in pre-Christian times, was a Goddess rather than a Saint) and put it on your dresser. Surround it with your candles. Hang a Celtic cross above it- that is, an equal-arm cross (sometimes surrounded by a circle). The Celtic cross was originally a Pagan symbol but adapted for Christian use. Keep a set of rosary beads made of a crystal, stone or wood charged with magic. Instead of using them for Christian prayers, use them for meditation, chanting, or empowering objects by surrounding them with the beads

Creating Personal Altars

The act of deciding what to include in an altar and the physical act of assembling it can be very powerful and positive activities.

In choosing appropriate objects and symbols think about what’s most important to you. This may be goals related to your personal life, and may also include your visions for the planet and all of its inhabitants.

An Altar as a Focus of Energy
 An altar can be an area on a coffee table, dresser, or night table. What gives it meaning and power is your intention in creating it and using it.

You can use an altar as a focal area for meditation and distant healing. You can also place on it crystals which you’ve programmed for particular intentions. It can also be a place for displaying your favourite and most meaningful crystals and other objects. The number of altars you have in your home is limited only by the number of unoccupied horizontal surfaces. (I do recommend that an area which out of reach of cats [if such areas exist] and children be used.)

How To Create An Altar

Using Your Intuition
  This is the most challenging way to arrange the elements of a fountain; it may also be the most rewarding. To use this method choose the crystals, power animals or stones, and any other objects you want to use to put your altar together.

Keep your particular intention strongly in mind. If, for example, you are creating an altar for the purpose of healing (yourself and/or others) you might want to imagine healing symbols as you arrange your crystals. You could visualize the new green grass of springtime, flowers, the trees in full leaf, If you have special people in mind for healing, see them being well and happy. You may also find it helpful to play relaxing classical music in the background as you go about your altar creating. Arrange and rearrange your crystals until you are happy with what you see/feel.

For those who prefer more structured methods of organization, who want to begin with structure until they feel comfortable with the intuitive method, or who want to combine intuition and structure, I’ve listed below three (out of many) methods. In any of these, though there are general formats, your intuition will still be involved.

The Chakra Method
 One way I use is to arrange crystals by chakras. In this method I would begin with first chakra stones, followed by stones of each succeeding chakra, arranged in a circle. You can use from one to however many crystals you have free for thus purpose.

I also place crystal animals, power stones, and pocket totems in appropriate locations. For me, appropriate relates to the meaning the particular animal may have for me. Seal, for example, means to me freedom in one’s body, so my crystal seal is grouped with the first-chakra stones. I relate dolphin to communication (fifth chakra), bear to healing (fourth chakra), although it could as easily represent the sixth chakra (dreams, sleep, inner wisdom).

I pay special attention to what I place in the center of the altar. For the chakra arrangement I like to have a quartz cluster or clear quartz sphere, as I feel that this radiates out energy to all of the other stones. With the cluster or sphere in the center, I find that the arrangement seems to create a continuous flow of balancing energy.

The Four Directions/Elements
 Another arrangement is to work with the four directions/four elements, as used in Celtic and Native Americans systems. In this arrangement, North is Earth, South is Fire, East is Air, and West is Water.

Intuition and imagination help in assigning crystals to these values. Hematite, to me, is clearly an Earth stone; while Ruby is Fire. Aquamarine is logical for the Water area, and amethyst and lapis seem to me to signify Air.

Other stones call for more subtle and subjective interpretations. Rose quartz, being related to the heart and to emotions, might belong in the Water area. Perhaps, though, the color pink can be interpreted as soft or quiet fire. Green stones are especially interesting in terms of placement. To me, green calcite is very much a Water stone; while malachite feels earthy.

I find that what works best when I am using this method of arrangement is to experiment, moving the less obviously-related stones around until it feels that they are in the right place. With this arrangement I particularly like to place the turkey, hawk, finch, and eagle feathers I find in the air section, and nonprecious stones (i.e. stones I have found on lake shores or by the sea) in the Earth area.

The Feng Shui Method
 In using this method you treat the area which will be the surface for your fountain as if it were a room or house. Please see the articles on feng shui to the left on the sidebar for more details.

The Centre
 In feng shui what is placed in the center of the room or house is the most important element. I noted in the description of the chakra method that I like to put a quartz crystal or sphere in the center.

If I’m using a crystal sphere or statue as the center I often like to place four single-terminated points, with points facing outward, around the centerpiece. I feel that this radiates energy to the entire arrangement.

Altar cloths are used to dress the altar, the colours of the cloths can represent different Sabbats and magickal intents. Most witches keep a variety of cloths, they do not have to be exprensive or highly decorative. They can adorn your everyday altar and are an important part of ritual. Altar cloths can represent a particular sabbat or ritual. Plus they are pleasing to the eye.

Breaking down racial constructs in ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’

**Written as a magazine feature for a course I just finished in Writing Cultural Criticism for the Media at Brock University.  Let me know what you think!**

Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is bizarre, poignant, and a spot-on parody of the present

Marcus Tuttle

A lot has changed in the last fifteen years. Selfies have made Sears portrait sessions obsolete. People now carry around tiny Macintoshes. And some dogs have anuses that are “purely decorative.” The present is a conglomeration of strange and scary oddities captured all too well in Netflix’s new must-watch series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. 

The vibrant sitcom tells the story of Kimmy Schmidt, one of four Indiana ‘Mole Women’ who survived fifteen years living underground as part of a doomsday cult led by Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (John Hamm). With a new lease on life and a contagious nothing-can-stop-me attitude, Kimmy starts fresh in New York City with her roommate, the aspiring Broadway-Star-turned-knockoff-Times-Square-performer Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and their street-savvy, raspy-voiced landlord Lillian Kaushtuppe (Carol Kane). 

Kimmy’s unceasing optimism and don’t-mess-with-me resilience makes her one of the most memorable sitcom protagonists in recent years. Her portrayal by Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids) manages to off the most obscure bits of dialogue and slapstick with an ease, sincerity and contagiousness that makes the show live up to it’s ‘unbreakable’ title. 

NBC originally ordered Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt back in 2013, shortly after Fey’s critically adored 30 Rock ended. However, as the network began to lose viewers and strong sitcoms for its now-defunct Thursday Night Comedy Block (home of recent heavy hitters like “The Office”, “Community” and “Parks and Recreation”) Schmidt was eventually sold to Netflix on a two-season order. 

NBC’s loss is clearly Netflix’s gain, as Schmidt weaves Fey’s trademark style of feminist comedy that elicits roaring laughter and a serious consideration of the subtle and glaring inequalities between men and women. 

In a particularly iconic moment, Kimmy literally breaks the glass wall of Spirit Cycle, a ‘now-ist’, quasi-New Age spin class that encourages women to “follow [their] bliss”.  Recognizing how Spirit Cycle and its leader Christopher (proncounced Triss-toe-fay) is just another muddled, trendy, feel-good philosophy promising fulfillment in exchange for cult-like obedience, Kimmy asks the female participants, “Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Replacing one stupid male authority figure with another…Is he different than any guy who tells you he’ll make you richer, or prettier, or safer if you just let him make all the decisions?”

But perhaps it is the sitcom’s opening song – an ‘auto-tune the news’ style telling of the Mole women’s escape – that sums up the show’s ideological standpoint so well.

“White dudes hold the record for creepy crimes. But females are strong as hell!” 

Embedded in the show’s feminist thought is an attention to how whiteness as an often-unacknowledged position of cultural and economic privilege. Soon after the ‘Mole Women’ escape the bunker one news headline even reads ‘White Women Found. Hispanic Woman Also Found.’

Dong – a Korean immigrant and eventual love interest to Kimmy – builds on the show’s deconstruction of cultural whiteness as he brags about his favourite show 6 White Complainers, or as it is known in America, Friends. He is even subject to the economic authority of Logan Beakman, a rich, white, self-professed ‘daddy’s boy’ that is jealous of Dong’s relationship with Kimmy and vehemently works to get Dong deported from the United States.

And of course there is the show’s underlying antagonist Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, the cult leader who emphasizes the absurd effectiveness of white privilege as he denies allegations of kidnapping the ‘Mole Women’ in his trial and points randomly at various problematic truisms to win the favour of the jury. Statements like ‘He gives worse change than Obama. Not my President!’, ‘you know how long it takes for women to get ready’, and ‘if she had stayed in Burnsville like a real American I know for a fact all of you would be rich right now’ are cringe-worthy truisms that draw on tensions of race, gender and economics in order to strengthen his unquestioned authority as a white man.

In Richard Dyer’s seminal study of whiteness he argues that, “the position of speaking as a white person is one that white people now almost never acknowledge and this is part of the condition and power of whiteness: white people claim and achieve authority for what they say by not admitting, indeed not realising, that for much of the time they speak only for whiteness.”

And yet, Kimmy Schmidt spends so much time drawing attention to the absurdity of white privilege throughout the first season that by the time of the trial, even though the Reverend’s testimony manages to charm most of the jury, the audience is able to understand how the Reverend’s authority is the product of a particularly white form of male privilege.

There are parts where the show’s commentary on whiteness is a little rough, as with the particularly controversial casting decision of Jane Krakowski as the Loka Native Born Jackie-Lynn (later turned Jacqueline Voorhees when she considers the apparent glamour and autonomy attached to being white in America).

“If you wanna get anywhere you need to be blonde and white,” she argues.

Yet what is interesting is that throughout the series, Jacqueline’s character arc moves from her appropriation of hegemonic whiteness, which is embedded in her status as a ‘trophy wife’ in an unhealthy marriage relationship, to one that recognizes the strength afforded to her through embracing her Native heritage. 

Jane Krakowski nevertheless shines in the role, but it would be not be surprising if her casting comes off as a bit too culturally insensitive for some audiences to condone.

It helps that Jacqueline is also a much more self-actualized and independent woman comes to embrace her cultural heritage. She even chirps her GPS, saying, “I am so sick of men like him bossing me around. I have my own opinions. I can do stuff without you!”

There is something very rare and inspiring about how Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can turn such a dark premise into a very concentrated comedic achievement. The sitcom has rightfully been compared to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, has the jarring hooliganism of 30 Rock and the staying power of Friends. The show may have been moved to Netflix so that it would thrive among a niche audience, but it is clear that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a fearless sitcom staple for an era increasingly invested in socially progressive narratives.

A Celebration of the Supporting Women from the Legend of Korra

As a follow up to my “I love Korra” post from a few days ago, I thought I’d write a post celebrating the other women from the show.

Asami Sato: does she deserve more screentime and lines? Yes. Is she still a great character with a subversive storyline? Hell yes. She’s set up to be a classic femme fatale, creating love triangles, being cool and collected, with a character design that screams “This girl will be a Villain”. She flouts these stereotypes as she defies her father, and joins Team Avatar, fighting the good fight across the world. Her too-cool exterior is peeled back as she struggles to save her company, all that’s left of her family, and falls back into an ill-advised second relationship with Mako. But being Asami, she bounces back from this, learning from her mistakes and making future industries a pioneering company. And really, she was never too cool: she was always an adorable nerd. She geeks out over probending, criticises the shoddy workmanship of cabbage corp, makes mock villain threats to destroy Bolin at Pai Sho, and is a thrilled enginerd as she shows off her hummingbird designs. Not that she isn’t super cool too: she tases the crap out of low level bad guys (frankly, fighting the equalists with more success than the benders), is capable of driving and flying anything, designs the roads for the reconstructed Republic City, and designs the machines that play a crucial role in taking down Kuvira’s mech suit. Oh, and she’s devoted to the most powerful woman in the world, who just so happens to love her back.

Lin Beifong: that lady is my hero. Seriously, she puts up with so much crap. She has a difficult relationship with an ex who (probably unintentionally) hurt her badly, but is willing to put aside those differences and sacrifice herself protecting said ex’s kids. She puts up so many barriers after the disappointments of her past. She’s a tough police cop, and is devoted to her job, but cares more for the people she loves than she’d dare say. And while she goes through a classic, “thaw the ice maiden” plot, that plot doesn’t come from finding love with a man, but from breaking down the barriers she puts up, and reconciling with her sister and mother. Lin Beifong rocks.

What about a female villain? Let’s talk about P’li. She’s an anarchist who has a relationship with Zaheer that resembles two teenagers who are madly in love, and it’s kind of cute – plus, she’s way taller than him! I dig those unconventional height differences.

Let me tell you about Jinora. She’s a bit awesome. Why? She’s only a record breaking airbending master and spiritual leader of a new nation by the age of eleven. She fights for those tattoos and earns them. She’s an adorable bookworm. She’s impatient with her younger siblings (I feel you there, Jinora). She helps Korra save the day in two season finales. She has the cutest relationship with Kai. It’s pretty much impossible to not love her.

Opal Beifong is, at first glance, a shy bookworm, but this shyness hides the sheer force of will she contains. She is devoted to her family, a devotion she has to balance out with her calling as a member of the new air nation. She loves Bolin, but holds him fiercely accountable for his mistakes, something that helps ground him, and makes sure her needs from their relationship are always met. Oh, and she plays a key role in stopping her aunt and mother from pushing their unhealthy sibling rivalry? Opal is absolutely fabulous.

Ming Hua scares the hell out of me, as a good villain should. But my word is her water bending cool. She makes herself water arms. She uses them as pickaxes rather than take the lift. Frankly, if I had powers as cool as hers, I’d flaunt them as much as possible.

I suspect at least some of the things Zhu Li said while pretending to betray Varrick were true. And good for her: her fighting to gain equal status in her relationship with Varrick and finally getting the respect she’s owed makes for one of the most quietly wonderful moments in the show.

Kya, is the coolest aunt the airbabies could possibly have. She has Katara’s ferocious waterbending skill and healing talent, and Aang’s nomadic spirit. She’s also the most realistic of her siblings, understanding Aang’s parental flaws with a maturity Tenzin and Bumi never quite manage. I bet she knew about Korra and Asami before anyone else.

Su Yin is such a morally ambiguous, awesome woman with utterly compelling characterisation. She did so much for Kuvira that it’s hardly fair to say she should have done more, but it seems clear that Kuvira felt like Su gave her a cold shoulder, and felt unloved by her. She’s against a monarchy, but this attitude holds her back from taking the responsibility of changing the Earth Kingdom when it’s in chaos, a decision that is neither condemned or exonerated by the text. While she’s trying to reconcile with Lin when we meet her, let’s be honest: she burned her sister badly. The disparity between her reconciliation with Bataar and her dismissal of Kuvira when both committed most of the same crimes is understandable but fascinatingly hypocritical. However, she’s clearly a loving mother with her heart in the right place, working hard to make up for the mistakes of her youth, and is the Matriarch of one of the most forward thinking, technologically advanced cities in the world. She’s awesome, complex, flawed, and I love her.

Ikki quite clearly suffers from middle child syndrome. She’s adorably hyperactive and attention seeking, quite probably because she often feels ignored in favour of Jinora with her growing powers and coming of age and Meelo with his sheer insanity. Yet she spends her time being quietly awesome, getting guards to warm to her so that she can gain crucial information to help find Korra, reconciling with her own siblings to help Tenzin do the same, and welcoming baby Rohan to the “super awesome family” she clearly loves, in spite of its messiness.

Kuvira seems to be the problematic fave of many fans. This is understandable: look at the cocky little dance she does while fighting Korra at Zaofu. Listen to her tragic backstory. See her good beginnings as she saves Tonraq’s life and dances in Su Yin’s troupe. Her relationship with Bataar Jr. is rather sweet. Her intentions are clearly good, and obviously stem from a desire to gain the control she lost as an unloved child. You could almost forget she ruthlessly killed people and started concentration camps. But she did: she is a ruthlessly efficient Dictator, whose desire for power and control ran out of control. She is a wonderfully complex villain.

I’d like to finish by celebrating one of the least discussed women on the show: Pema. She’s usually kept well out of the way of the main plot, as she isn’t a badass fighter, or a world leader, but she’s still hardcore. She uses her experiences to point out how hard adjusting to air nomad lifestyle is for the new airbenders to Tenzin. She is the loving mother of four airbending kids. She keeps a terrified crowd in order with an adorable song about a hungry lemur. Like I said, hardcore.

These women are all, in their own ways, wonderful characters, and it’s entirely possible to say that while still loving Korra, and acknowledging her importance as the protagonist of the series. In fact, I’d say it’s crucial to appreciate Legend of Korra, not just for its ground-breaking, convention smashing protagonist, but for the diverse range of complex women surrounding her. These women should not be held in competition with one another: they deserve so much better than that.

Review: “Adventure Time” Season 7

In the conclusion of my previous book, The Comet Cometh, I wrote the following about season six:

Most of season six’s episodes are highly enjoyable. That’s quite an achievement. After five seasons, it seems remarkable that a show like this can continue to produce quality episodes without having to phone it in. [However,] with all the praise also comes criticism. [First,] season six is extremely dark when compared to the show’s other seasons. [Second,] many of the show’s recurring (and fan favorite) characters—such as Ice King, Marceline, and Flame Princess—were relegated to only a handful of episodes. […] Furthermore, the season’s long-term story arcs are not as status quo-shattering as [the season’s early episodes] seemed to suggest upon first viewing. [But] if Adventure Time can learn from its failures and build off of its successes, we’re in for several more seasons of greatness. I believe that it can.

So does the show’s seventh season take what season six did right and fix what it did wrong?

My answer? Yes!

First, let us examine the tone of the season. If you have read my reviews, you will have noticed one comment that has found its way into many of them: I contend that this season feels tonally similar to season four. Part of the similarity between the two is simply because several of season seven’s episodes mirror or recall aspects of several season four episodes—for instance, “Football” and the beginning of “Angel Face” are reminiscent of various moments in “Five Short Graybles”, “President Porpoise Is Missing!” is an expansion of a joke found in “Burning Low”, and “Daddy-Daughter Card Wars” serves as a (quasi-)sequel to “Card Wars”. As a die-hard season four fan, this comparison carries with it implicit praise.

Second, let us explore how the show handled its many characters. Unlike season six, which focused only a few episodes on fan-favorites like Ice King and Marceline, season seven did a solid job of exploring the show’s ensemble cast. Marceline, out of all the characters, is perhaps the best represented. Not only was she the center of the Stakes miniseries (which focused on her and her relationship with her friends and foes), she also was featured in several other non-miniseries episodes. In fact, were one to crunch the numbers, Marceline substantially appeared in 28% of this season’s episodes! That’s about three times her usual seasonal average. BMO also took center stage; everybody’s favorite robot was the star of a record four episodes, and BMO also played a major supporting role in a few others. Likewise, Ice King was given several chances to shine, perhaps most notably in “King’s Ransom” and “Broke His Crown”. The only character who still got the shaft was Flame Princess (she only had a major part in “Bun Bun”, although she did make minor appearances in “The Dark Cloud” and “The Music Hole”).

Third, we need to consider how the season handled its long-term story arcs. Unlike season six, which sort of started and stopped with its overarching narrative as it saw fit, season seven did a good job of always keeping the ‘main plot’ (if such a thing can be said to exist in Adventure Time) in play. Bubblegum’s deposition, for instance, played a significant part during the first third of the season, even when the deposition itself was not the focus of an episode (e.g. in Stakes). Another good example is the grass sword arc. Season six tried to drop hints here and there about what was to come in regards to Finn’s arm, but because those hints were so few and far between, it all didn’t quite come together. In season seven, however, there are enough references throughout that the cliffhanger ending of “Reboot” both makes sense and is satisfying.

I also think that, unlike “The Comet”, “Reboot” does a really good job of energizing fans for seasons 8 and 9. This isn’t to say “The Comet” is bad or anything (it’s not), it’s just that it’s not in the mold of the traditional Adventure Time cliffhanger finale (e.g. “Mortal Recoil”, “The Lich”, “Billy’s Bucket List”) that many fans love. “Reboot” wraps some things up, but excitingly opens new storytelling avenues which promise to be quite exciting (Where are the other humans? What’s the ‘Island’? What’s Dr. Gross’s story? Who is Finn’s mom?)

Fourth and finally, let us consider the show’s storyboarding staff this season. Without a shadow of a doubt, the “Most Improved” award goes to Seo Kim and Somvilay Xayaphone. For the last  few seasons, I have been somewhat critical of their storyboarding style (I wrote a rather scathing review of season six’s “Chips & Ice Cream”, for instance), and have felt that their episodes are often tonally uneven or so weird to the point of being uncomfortable. But this season, the duo were firing on all cylinders, and they delivered enjoyable episode after enjoyable episode. As a result, I would argue that not a single one of their season seven episodes is bad or even mediocre. Indeed, several of their installments (e.g. “Angel Face” and “Beyond the Grotto”) are among the funniest episodes of the season.

Long-time Adventure Time veterans Tom Herpich, Jesse Moynihan, and Steve Wolfhard produced many solid episodes this season. However, none of them managed to surpass the quality of those episodes which they had produced in season six. This is not to say that their episodes here are bad, just that I believe that their artistic zenith, at this moment in time, was in season six (e.g. for Herpich and Wolfhard, it is really hard to try and top the mythos-bonanza that is “Evergreen”, and for Moynihan, it is difficult to surpass the crazy weirdness of “You Forgot Your Floaties”, although “Normal Man” does come close).

Who then is deserving of the “Most Valuable Player” award? This season featured several storyboarders (both new and old) who did an admirable job, but there is one individual whose efforts were so readily excellent that she deserves the title: Hanna K. Nyström. Perhaps I am biased, since Nyström’s fondness for Marceline matches my partiality to the character, but I truly think that Nyström’s storyboarding sensibilities, sense of pacing, and colorful character design make her a stand-out. All three of her episodes this season were instant classics, and she managed to deftly balance humor and pathos, all while giving the characters with whom she worked real and authentic voices. In that regard, she reminds me somewhat of Rebecca Sugar—and that’s no small praise!

(Runner-up goes to Sam Alden. I expect great things from him in the future).

There’s a lot of other things I could praise (for instance, I love Andy Ristaino’s work as a background artist, as he infused many pieces with what Ghostshrimp initially brought to the table, such as enigmatic ruins and pre-war junk), but I think I’ll wrap this review up here and close with my final verdict:

Season seven is a slam dunk. A grand slam. A wombo-combo.

Season seven took everything good about the last six seasons, stuck them in a blender, and hit the “Awesome” buttom.

Season seven if like season four on steroids.

Season seven if, in my opinion, the best season of the show. It’s also now my personal favorite.

Here’s to seasons 8 and 9…

(Finally, I would be remiss not to mention a final, personal reason for enjoying this season. During the last half of 2015 and the first half of 2016, I was pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Chicago. I moved to the city, bereft of family and friends, and as a result, had a pretty nasty bout of depression hit me during the long, cold Chicago winter. One of the few things that kept me motivated and excited for life was Adventure Time, and the excitement and humor that each new episode promised. Thankfully, I graduated about the time that I was able to get my depression under control, and now I am happily living near my family and pals. Living in Chicago was one of the hardest things that I have ever done, but Adventure Time made it just a little bit easier, and sometimes that is all you need to get by.)