Killer Instinct

Todd R. Ramlow

Despite its frequent reveling in eroticized violence against women, Killer Instinct demonstrates some awareness of the problem.

Killer Instinct

Airtime: Fridays, 9pm ET
Cast: Kristin Lehman, Chi McBride, Johnny Messner, Marguerite Moreau
Network: Fox

The new fall season features increasing sexual violence against female characters. Competing with the greater latitude of powerhouse pay cable (HBO, FX, Showtime), major networks are trying to look "gritty" or "edgy." How this translates into the graphic eroticization of violence against women is anyone's guess. The Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes opened her recent article, "Female Characters, Made to Suffer for Our 'Art'," with the following description: "Women play an enormous role in the new television season. They're paralyzed by venomous bites of exotic spiders that crawl under their front doors, after which they can put up no struggle as they're raped and murdered."

This scene is from the pilot episode of Fox's Killer Instinct. The assault by trained tarantulas (they paralyze the vic before the assault) is the MO for the first case assigned to Detectives Graham Hale (Johnny Messner) and Ava Lyford (Marguerite Moreau). Hale and Lyford constitute the Deviant Crimes Unit of the San Francisco PD. The "scary" tone of what's to come is set by the opening montage, in gothic horror cliché mode, of rain pouring in a dark city, under Marilyn Manson's cover of "Sweet Dreams." Is Manson still so "scary"?

Hale is the detective who sees what everyone else does not. He's the one who suspects, based on a string of young single women who have died in their sleep over the past month, the work of a new serial killer. Where the coroner and Hale's boss, Lt. Matt Cavanaugh (Chi McBride), see "natural causes," Hale finds in the insect bites and forced doors a murderous pattern. Unsurprisingly, he has a personal interest in protecting these young women. His previous partner and lover was recently killed in the line of duty. Sickos beware. The grudge match is on.

As Hale and Lyford fit the puzzle pieces together, we are treated to multiple images of the killer at work. In "flashback," the detectives hypothesize chains of events (always correctly, of course, because they're brilliant). And in "real time," we see women soft-lit in bed as obedient spiders crawl over their negligee-clad bodies and bite them; when the killer arrives to collect them, the women realize what's to come. As Hale and Lyford determine what might be his lair, they rescue his latest victim (which doesn't make sense really, as previously the killer worked in the women's homes, without kidnapping them). She's bound with duct tape, in underwear only, locked in a small cell with lots of critters, her body covered in welts and angry-red bites (because the killer doesn't just like spiders, but all creepy crawly bugs).

Emphasizing the girl-targeting brutality that suffuses Hale's environment, Killer Instinct returns repeatedly to his office, where gruesome pictures of previous or in-process cases adorn the walls. Apparently, "Deviant Crimes" are only perpetrated against young, attractive women.

Occasionally, Killer Instinct seems to recognize the problems of its relentless focus on abused women. When Hale and Lyford finally catch up with the pilot's killer, to extract some info, they treat him to the same tarantula treatment he deployed. The camerawork here is almost exactly the same as when the arachnids crawl over the women's faces. The symmetry indicts us as consumers of such images, marking our erotic, "paralyzing" gaze and at least implicitly complicating its easy sexual objectification of women.

Killer Instinct furthers this meta-commentary on the "power" of the gaze in a subplot involving Hale. About mid-episode, he returns to his office to find an envelope marked "Personal and Confidential" on his desk. Inside he finds a torn-up photograph that looks like him, with the word "watching" scrawled on the back. He digs a file out of his desk, tapes this picture piece to others he's already received, and we have a photo of Hale, sleeping, supine and vulnerable, with the threat, "I'm watching you" block-printed on the back. Who is watching and to what end, we don't know yet, but the point is clear, Hale is just as much the object of a dominating gaze as the murdered women.

So, despite its frequent reveling in eroticized violence against women, Killer Instinct demonstrates some awareness of the problem and tries to take some responsibility for its own representations. But it's too little too late. Hale is not paralyzed by violence.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.