“The Favourite” Diary

We begin with Queen Anne, who is arguably the main protagonist of this story. She relaxes her neck, as the crown, which in real life is quite heavy, is removed from her head. In the final scene, she will bear down on Abigail’s head. When the two of them danced together, in happier times, Queen Anne repeated jokingly, “off with her head,” several times, as a part of a ritualized 1700s dance. This will not be the last of the film’s allusions to Alice in Wonderland.

Queen Anne gives Duchess Sarah a palace. Her glee at being able to surprise Sarah is infectious and is cute to see. Sadly, this is the healthiest we will see of Queen Anne in the entire film. It is difficult to imagine the character of Anne without her ailments, but I do wonder what the film would have been like, if most things had been the same, and Anne had been more physically strong.

The focus on health is further explored in the first real complex scene. It is a sequence that explores pain and agony. Abigail’s chemical burn, from being tricked into putting her whole hand into a bucket of lye, is overlaid onto a serious attack of the Queen’s gout. It is the first real time the two are going to be emotionally linked.

Here the audience first sees Abigail as a woman of action. As Queen Anne retells how she met Duchess Sarah, we see Abigail on a mission to get some herbs, first to soothe her hand and later to sooth the Queen.

As the Queen says Sarah’s pink shoes “disappeared,” Abigail rides off gallantly into the dark, of the early morning. As the Queen says the Cheever boy was removed, with a “crack,” Abigail looks up, startled, in the woods, since technically she should not be out here and has stolen a horse.

Abigail’s initiative earns her an initial reprieve, from her hitherto brutal existence. When the Queen passes by, in her wheelchair, Abigail’s cough seems legitimate, but in a world where her predicament is exceedingly precarious, Abigail is quick to claim credit for the herb, to which the Queen wonders, “That was you?”

Thus, Abigail begins to see into the world of Queen Anne. She becomes figuratively caught in a tug of war, between the Queen and Duchess Sarah, over a cup of hot chocolate, being forced, like a robot, to announce “I do not know what to do.” Little did they all know, this would not be the last of Queen Anne and Duchess Sarah’s tug-of-wars, over Abigail – only the least harmful.

Sarah finally relents and lets Queen Anne have her cup of hot chocolate, but doesn’t fail to embarrass Queen Anne, in the same sentence. Contrast this to a therapeutic mud bath Abigail takes Queen Anne to later, where Abigail comforts the Queen, telling her to imagine she is bathing in a tub of hot chocolate.

Irritated at been humiliated by Duchess Sarah, over breakfast – and in front of Abigail, no less – Queen Anne powerfully kicks out the chair holding up her hurt foot and demands to be taken back to her chambers. They begin the long, winding walk, down the dark hallway, to the Queen’s room, which will continue to symbolize Sarah and Anne’s relationship (Sarah will make this trip alone, shaken, twice). At the end of this specific journey, Anne, always looking regal, even in repose, is left alone in her stately quarters, still visibly upset, and hurt. It is truly lonely at the top.

The second major time, Queen Anne will be embarrassed and riled, by Duchess Sarah scolding her, in front of Abigail, will occur over a cup of tea, not hot chocolate. This cup of tea once again brings out Abigail’s knowledge of herbs, but this time for vastly different ends.

Duchess Sarah is sent off on a literal and psychosomatic trip, of Alice in Wonderland proportions, as “evil” music plays, and a naked man, who looks like the Devil, with a ‘horned’ wig, joyfully dodges a barrage of fruit, that leaves splatters that are meant to look like blood. It is the film’s best complex scene and does indeed deposit Sarah in the 1700s’ version of hell.

When Duchess Sarah returns, still looking dashing, in her now soiled, but once-white, spectacular riding and shooting coat, Queen Anne cannot bear to look at her, even going as far as to push Sarah out of bed. Obviously, Queen Anne has no knowledge of what Abigail did, but she feels guilt in benefiting and growing stronger, in Duchess Sarah’s absence.

Sarah demands that Queen Anne look at her, and her hideous scar, and Queen Anne cannot, an inversion of Queen Anne ordering the beleaguered servant boy to look at her, when she looked like a badger. The tables have turned; the one shouting to be seen is always the weaker person. From there Sarah’s falling out of favor, in the balance of power, only becomes more readily apparent.

Before, a clothed Sarah was able to mount a clothed Queen Anne, in bed, and was eagerly invited there. Post-scar, Sarah literally walks on to Queen Anne’s bed, in her riding boots no less, only to be bodily thrown overboard, in a bit of physical comedy, as Queen Anne hastily says goodnight. Indeed, it is Sarah who has now “fallen far.”

The climax of this maelstrom of events is the juxtaposition of the now insulted Duchess Sarah confronting Queen Anne, once again, in bed, now with a black sash around her face, but also a handful of blackmail letters – with Abigail handing Queen Anne, the box, with her ring, and both Queen Anne and Abigail catching each other’s glance and smiling, sharing a secret happiness between them. Sarah’s last desperate act had no chance of succeeding, and she is duly expelled.

However, Abigail isn’t going to escape unscathed. Abigail had a genuine care for the Queen, encouraging her to stop wallowing in self-pity, and take responsibility for the throne. Abigail and Queen Anne danced together. They trade off both saying the other is “not nothing” and calling the other beautiful. Queen Anne takes Abigail’s suggestion, involving a metaphor about a party, and becomes more competent, the face of her organization, not Duchess Sarah. Yet somehow Abigail still becomes complacent.

Abigail, now a Baroness, becomes the archetype of the decadent 1700s aristocrat. Her sham legal marriage is apparent, as she sits on some random guy’s lap, an echo, to when Duchess Sarah lovingly sat in the Queen’s lap, when they kissed, after a ball. When called to her actual “marriage,” with the Queen, she is rendered inadequate by alcohol.

Queen Anne is still understanding, even though now she can barely read, after being rendered even more ill, by a stroke. This was foreshadowed the last time the audience saw Queen Anne standing, when she initially has trouble making out, with her good eye, the bill to end the war. Abigail, who is almost always seen, in her free time, with a book, could have easily read to her “wife,” but instead throws up in a vase, ending the trinity of all three major characters throwing up, at least once, on screen.

Thus, the stage is set for the final scene. Everything, however vile, rude, or crass, has been played for laughs, until now, in which the true tragedy of the situation is painfully laid bare. When the curtain is drawn back, the audience sees Abigail, reading, as usual, like when she discovered Queen Anne and Duchess Sarah making love. She smirks as she steps on a rabbit’s spine, and Queen Anne understandably snaps.

Queen Anne who once, garbed in flowing royal winter robes, told Duchess Sarah powerfully, that she wasn’t making a point and kissed her, has been now rendered almost invalid, laid flat out by her ailments. Yet Abigail’s careless betrayal fills her with a kind of fury and energy we haven’t seen in Queen Anne before, for the entire film: a palpable spirit of malice. Even after Queen Anne crawls toward the door, once she stands up – blocking the door – it is clear that Abigail is going to be punished.

In the beginning, when they first met, Queen Anne is not interested in then-maid Abigail’s story and is about to dismiss her from the room – until Abigail notices the rabbits and genuinely calls them “gorgeous.” Their connection, over the animals, humanizes the both of them. By the end, the rabbits multiply over the screen nauseatingly and symbolize their mutual distress, as they are now locked in this loveless “marriage” forever, “til death do us part.”

Virus World and Zombie Fictions

Viruses

Zombies tend to operate using a rudimentary hive mind. The individual zombies aren’t smart, but the virus’s collective unconscious is – like a kudzu creeping vine or a mold colony – or the Mind Flayer, in Season 2, of Stranger Things. Misidentification of the zombies as simply expired or as having rabies, Ebola, Mad Cow Disease (vCJD), the flu, a cold or some other real disease, commonly happens at the beginning of many stories. One extreme countermeasure, from World War Z, the book, is the nerve gas witch test. If you die from a sarin attack, you were human; if not, you’re obviously a zombie.

Panic and poor governance lead to a zombie dystopia. A zombie can’t feel pain and has no sense of self-preservation – so, it’s definitely a monster. In fiction, there is also the sliding scale of cold temperatures helping or hurting the zombies. The right amount of cold, acts as cryogenesis, and preserves the zombies, allowing them to keep running around, instead of decomposing faster. Too much cold will just freeze a zombie solid.

Minecraft-style zombies run around, on the ocean floor or taiga and tundra areas, where they can’t freeze. Resurfaced zombies or zombies that are about to thaw, remain a threat – mimicking real-life frogs that can be frozen and still be alive, once they are warmed up. You can only be warm and dead, not cold and dead, in medicine. Worldwide disaster creates cursed zones, contaminated by chemical or radioactive waste or overrun by infected zombies. This state of affairs can be further complicated by a nuclear winter or a new ice age.

They break all the rules. Werewolves and vampires and mummies and giant sharks, you have to go look for them. My attitude is if you go looking for them, no sympathy. But zombies come to you. Zombies don’t act like a predator; they act like a virus, and that is the core of my terror. A predator is intelligent by nature and knows not to over-hunt its feeding ground. A virus will just continue to spread, infect and consume, no matter what happens. It’s the mindlessness behind it.

World War Z author, Max Brooks, on why zombies are different

I shall consume…I shall consume everything…

The Majora’s Mask moon

Zombies lack of rational thought makes them more like a force of nature, than an individualized, atomized, intelligent force. They’re more like a hurricane or a flu pandemic, than a wolf or a tiger. Zombies are like the scientific version of ghouls, rakshasa, djinn and daemons. Vampires are like the middle way-point, between god or demigod-like daemon and Fair Folk – and mindless zombies. Zombies rising from the ocean floor or being unfrozen or thawed out, in the colder regions, brings to mind climate change, whether human-made or natural (like in Kingdom).

Rising and plummeting temperatures contribute to the viability and spread of diseases, stymieing some pathogens and allowing others to jump to new environments. The dichotomy: zombies are like a parasitic hive mind, constantly and relentlessly hunting for hosts. Vampires are more like half-infected survivors, holed up in various strongholds or bunkers. Zombies roam the streets aimlessly, until they run into their prey; vampires remain in their castle, unless they’re hunting – in which they are more like a normal predator, with a clearly defined hunting ground (distance decay) – town, graveyard, etc.

Night of the Living Dead (on Earthbound)

The main marker of human behavior is symbolic thought and appropriate grieving. This is why zombies are so unnerving. They present the breakdown of basic humanity – being able to recognize fellow human beings as people – not food and being able to recognize the importance of those who have passed away. When those tenets are violated, you get zombies.

A related fictional species includes mutant mega-espers, whose powers can reach the level of djinn and demigods. They can possess abilities like time travel and controlling the earth’s magnetic poles, the planet’s electromagnetic field. The presentation is usually as a giant, psychic Eldritch monster esper, a god, a mutated, ancient alchemist or a djinn, from the beyond (Watchmen, Lost, Akira, Ghostbusters, Stranger Things, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Mother series). A Lovecraftian quantum being, from the astral plane, breaks out, into the physical world.

Where such a super-organism falls, on the Other Side spirit being to alien from another quantum dimension continuum, depends on the genre. Expect to see pools of qi life-force power, fired as energy projectiles. X-Men and Stranger Things have many parallels. The X-Men story arc is definitely the saddest, of all superhero arcs – following the dark side of history, from WWII, until the ’90s. Still, it’s an important story to tell. Not all superhero stories get to be happy or funny. X-Men always felt more real to me; I liked Dark Phoenix.

World War Z (on Kingdom)

What I like about Kingdom is that it threads the needle, between zombies and vampirism. That needle is people always looking for ways to reverse or stall aging, including cryogenesis. From alchemy, to Frankenstein, most problems start with some black magic or scientific way to turn back the body’s clock, find immortality or revive the dead. Vampires are notoriously ageless, if not immortal. They seek fresh blood (plasma) to remain young forever and not return back to being dried-up corpses – that turn to dust, in the sun.

Zombies are fictional proof, that all efforts to bring the dead back or artificially extend life, with weird potions or blood sacrifice, almost always end up with the dead coming back as ravenous, rabid cannibals. Hence the quandary of medicine remains the same, as it has been, since ancient times. Unless someone has a leg up, genetically, or otherwise, aging is almost always associated with greater morbidity and mortality. However, efforts to reverse or stop aging or check death, almost never work out as planned.

Addressing aging and extending human lifespans are the next step in human evolution (transhumanism) and improving the standard of living, worldwide. However, for the more exotic practices, reward will never completely eclipse the great risks that are always involved with altering genes and blood proteins. Every good thing must be done in moderation, with the appropriate medical safety measures in place.

Cults

The true virus health crisis is people refusing to vaccinate their kids, in the U.S. – while believing misinformation, like the moon landing is fake and the earth is flat. That’s where an outbreak can come from. Goop is just pandering to those who feel failed by modern healthcare. The show is harmless – except for that one huge sticking point. Science is the ONLY way of knowing. Everything subjective either becomes objective or becomes useless – and falls off by the wayside.

I don’t really care about Goop itself, but it’s not good to tempt people with this way of thinking. That’s how cults get started. Even professional magic is based on optical illusions and someone knowing more about science or how to use science in a way that most people aren’t readily aware of. Evidence-based medical care is the best way to find healing and therapeutic treatment. If you don’t trust Big Pharma, at least read the scientific journals for yourself. You deserve decades of science, not snake oil.

The most vulnerable people – those who feel wronged by modern healthcare – are being recruited to be test dummies and lab rats for potentially dangerous experiments (microdosing, extreme cold shocks), that almost no respectable medical personnel would ever touch. The already vulnerable are being exploited, using their pain as bait, just to test a curiosity. However, I am glad a discussion on the potential harm of pseudoscience was conducted, by the public. I am not against interesting ideas, in fiction – but fictions should be clearly marked as such, not marketed as pretty much peer-reviewed science.

Vampires

It is not correct to describe Dracula as bisexual: “He’s bi-homicidal, it’s not the same thing. He’s killing them, not dating them.

Steven Moffat, the creative juggernaut behind Sherlock, London Spy and Dracula

He posits a key distinction; Dracula may be attracted to both sexes, but he is still a vampire. He doesn’t love, the same way like how humans love. Dracula is not interested in keeping his lovers alive – similar to how a zombie cannot comprehend not eating loved ones who have passed away – or those who are still living, for that matter. It’s fictional vampire and zombie “science.” Dracula leads his lovers to their deaths, by drinking in all of their lifeblood (plasma), through his IV-like teeth. He’s like a supernatural unsub (serial killer). That is how I have always seen vampires as.

The continuum is 1) zombies – hive mind to mindless, 2) werewolves – also ferocious, but are at least as smart as predatory pack animals, to 3) vampires – essentially a human predator, with supernatural or viral-enhanced abilities. That is the supernatural ranking system. Studies of unsubs and forensic and behavioral science show that most unsubs focus on targeting whatever sex their love interest is. For the fictional Dracula, it is both, as Moffat points out.

Aging

The main point, however, isn’t sexuality, but fictional, in-universe “science.” Dracula feeds on the blood of men and women and becomes young and beautiful again. He is an evil “scientist” who has found the fountain – the Holy Grail (Sangreal) – of everlasting youth, the elixir of immortality. Dracula is a parasite that becomes stronger, while his host grows more and more ill, and dies, thus spreading his “disease.” The power is in the blood: antibodies, proteins, genetics, genealogy. The ones who retain the lion’s share of their humanity, have either special antibodies or genes or both. They become the new symbiotic carriers, thus creating a new subspecies.

If Harker revives, he must be Dracula’s “husband” – partially immune, like the vampire’s three already-turned brides. Harker has a horrible experience in Dracula’s torture chamber and runs and tells the nuns about it (Van Helsing, Gabriel). Harker does NOT want to be Dracula’s husband – but vampires can’t kill themselves, so Harker invites Dracula in, to find a cure. The nuns are not as immune as Harker.

Pandemics

Dracula plans a mission to spread his psychic vampire virus to Victorian Era London. He preps an obvious plague ship. Dracula jumps in his time capsule and survives the failure of that plan. Pretty much immortal, like those of his kind, in Interview with the Vampire, Dracula, the original blood virus vessel, emerges about a century and two decades later. Blood acts as a set of genetic memories – a bloodline – like in Assassin’s Creed. Vampirism is the immortality virus. The vampire archetype, fears death – and life – while being balanced, like a pendulum, between both.

This is the current state of zombies and vampires, as fictional phenomena, embodying deeply ingrained human fears and anxieties, about isolation, hyper-connection and infectious disease. The zombie, with its horde and its hive mind, is too connected. The vampire, who fears the ultimate loss of identity – death – stalks around, alone at night or is otherwise holed up in an impenetrable fortress. The vampire spreads its wings at night; it says, ‘I wish to spread my disease.’ – while the human being says, ‘I want my lover (or loved one) to live.’