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Episode 14 - Compersion

posted Jul 14, 2016, 11:32 PM by Joreth InnKeeper   [ updated Oct 2, 2016, 11:58 AM ]

Compersion (2016) 
www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1ejN_rwrAWkDESDh3X6cTrxwSjj_59IR - YouTube
www.imdb.com/title/tt5745320/ - IMDB

Wow. So, I've made it through the first 4 episodes aired so far. I'm blown away. OK, first of all, this is a new series airing on a "new digital network", aka YouTube. Enchant TV is the name of the network using YouTube as its channel or delivery mechanism. Second of all, the entire cast is people of color. When's the last fucking time anything poly centered the experience of people of color? The creator, Jackie J. Stone says she wants this network “to be home to dynamic and creative programming that highlights the complexities and the rich and diverse stories of people of color, particularly women.” Which brings me to the third point, which is that the move to polyamory for the characters is instigated by a woman who wants to start dating men. NO GODDAMN UNICORN HUNTING! Can you tell how thrilled I am about this?

All of this makes the fact that it's still a hetero couple "opening up" their marriage a reasonable compromise for me. This show is already blowing past so many other cultural tropes that I'm totally willing to hear this story be told again, because it's being told from a different, under-represented perspective. However, that hetero couple "opening up" is still a trope that I'm going to complain about, but don't let those complaints distract you from my overall reaction, which is that I loved this show so far. Those complaints are really about the trope itself, not necessarily this show.

In the handful of YouTube media I've reviewed so far, I've consistently complained about the time limitations of the medium. I keep saying that the 10-15 minute time restriction makes each show feel rushed and like they are skipping over the complexity of the emotions in order to get to the conclusion or the point they want to make. I absolutely did not feel that way watching this show. Even though it's true that it only took 4 YouTube-length episodes to get from the very first "honey, I want to see other people" conversation to having the first date, I felt that the script writing and editing was brilliantly done and managed to convey the nuance and complexity of the characters and what they might be going through. Having good actors certainly helps too. I really believed the anger, the shock, the hurt on both sides, and I really believed that they were processing a multitude of conflicting emotions when they reached their various plateaus of acceptance in between the fear and the anger.

Something that is usually concerning is that no one involved in the production is poly. The producer got the idea to make the show after meeting a couple who maintains their marriage while also maintaining full romantic relationships in addition to their spouse. I have not had a very good track record with shows that attempt to tackle this subject without direct input from the poly community. However, 4 episodes in, I feel that the cast and crew are taking this project very seriously. Unlike the atrocity that is the 50 Shades movie, the actors seem to respect and admire their characters and the choices the characters make, even though the actors are new to the ideas.

Now, about the production. What can I say? This was more than just getting a hold of a decent camera so that it doesn't look like a home movie. There is obviously experience here, or at least raw talent. The camera work featured a good use of the handheld technique that usually represents "intimacy" and "raw" and "emotional" without overusing it. The first episode is entirely about the big reveal. Keena has to broach the subject with her husband of 15 years, Josh. I fell in love by the second scene, which is Keena having a personal monologue trying to get the courage to bring it up for the first time. I really believed her fear. I really believed her determination. I really believed her dichotomy of psyching herself into having the conversation. I have never "opened up" a relationship because I started out poly as a single person and made sure all my poly relationships were open from the beginning, but for this moment, I really felt like I could have been in Keena's position. Between her acting, the script, and the camera work, I really empathized with her right from the beginning.

Then, when Josh gets the bomb dropped on him, his reaction felt natural. His anger looked real. Again, that takes a combination of acting and script. You can have a good actor deliver crappy lines, and you can have really good dialog delivered with crappy acting. But this conversation felt organic. It felt natural. It felt real. Like with Keena, since I chose polyamory when I was single, I have never had someone throw a world-disrupting challenge at my long-term relationship so I don't really know what it's like to be in Josh's position. But for that scene, I *did* feel that shock and betrayal.

The way that the cinematography was handled, it implies that some time has passed between episodes and that events have taken place in that space, so that helps with the time constraints and the feelings of "rushing past" the complicated stuff. Using some standard movie-making techniques like cutting back and forth between two different times, we get the impression of more depth to the story than we actually see on screen. There's some interesting psychology science behind movie editing, but that could take an entire semester's worth of classes to really go into. Suffice to say, there are some standard tips and tricks that movie makers have been employing and refining over the years that have allowed us to increase the pacing in a film from the early days of film-making and still leave the viewer with the weight of time and the impression of nuance and depth that happens off-screen. There's an episode of the podcast called The Skeptics' Guide To The Universe that actually had a professional in the film industry come on to talk about the science behind editing, so if you're interested, you can listen to that. But I don't want to digress too far. I call them "standard techniques" because the entertainment business uses them so often and so well that audiences mostly don't even see them. That's how you know when your technical skills are good - when the audience gets so immersed in the story that they don't take the time to notice the technique.

But web series in particular often miss some of these tried and true methods. Because new media venues like YouTube and cheaper equipment can bring the medium into more hands than ever before, which is a good thing in general, we also often see the downside to letting "just anyone" make movies - a lack of skill or knowledge or experience about what makes popular media, well, popular. But, as someone *in* the business, I noticed here. This series feels more like a "regular TV show" or "regular movie" than a lot of other web series I've seen. Not that I haven't enjoyed other web series, but I can feel a difference. A lot of time, that difference is chalked up to "it's a different medium" and we're supposed to give it more latitude to actually *be* different. Kinda like when television first hit the scene - we couldn't do the same things that movies did and we ended up inventing all different kinds of entertainment because of it. But sometimes, that difference really isn't anything more than lacking in knowledge or skill about how to accomplish effective techniques or *why* they're effective, and therefore used, in the first place. I don't know about the education or experience of the director or the crew, but these episodes so far *feel* like they know the business.

SPOILERS:

Now, onto some criticisms. This is going to reveal some spoilers, but if you go to the YouTube page to watch the show and happen to see the titles of each episode, it's not really all that spoilery. But I am going to harp on one particular conversation in one episode, so that is kinda spoilery. By the 4th episode, there is an acceptance of sorts. If you've either seen up to the 3rd episode or you've read all the titles, or you've guessed by the name of the show, then you know that the couple eventually does attempt to start dating people other than each other. So, we're now at the point where that dating has been given the green light. Through a series of cut-backs, we see part of the conversation where the couple moves into acceptance and planning. And here is my criticism: the conversation is absolutely typical of everything I'm against in the poly community.

I want to reiterate here that this is not really a criticism of the show itself but of the very concept the show is choosing to highlight. I think that, given the premise of a couple opening up a marriage, this is actually the correct way to start out this journey for the characters precisely because it's so typical. It just also happens to be so "wrong". But it's such a natural progression for people who exist in a culture where polyamory is not just one acceptable choice among many, so of course our characters here would go there. I just hope that they eventually learn how unethical and cruel the kinds of rules that they choose to make are. We see veto, we see an agreement to close up if things get difficult, we see restrictions on other people's behaviour, and we see all of these rules being made without the input of the other people involved. In their haste to "protect the marriage", we see the all-too typical disempowerment and putting the relationship ahead of the people in the relationship. I wanted so bad to jump into the screen and hand the couple a copy of the Relationship Bill of Rights and More Than Two.

I think I read somewhere that all the filming was already over, at least for this first season, so it probably won't help, but I do hope the director gets her hands on a copy of More Than Two and of The Game Changer, especially, and they influence the writing of upcoming seasons. I have no idea where this story will go past episode 4 because it's not out yet, but judging by the completely predictable trajectory thus far and the fact that the show so far hasn't tried to rush past all the hard stuff yet, I'm betting that the couple doesn't magically jump from totally normal couple privilege hierarchy fear straight to a more ethical open structure before the first season is over. I'm betting that they're going to show us all the growing pains, and therefore will have still plenty of room to grow in future seasons that The Game Changer book can influence, if the director reads it.

So, in conclusion, I loved, loved, loved the first episodes I've seen, criticisms and all. I'm assuming that, just as it's unlikely to jump straight to totally ethical, totally open, no issues polyamory, it's probably also unlikely to start from such a sensitive and honest examination of open relationships and end on a sour, "polyamory is doomed to fail, here watch this train wreck to see why" note too, especially given the show title of Compersion. So, unless the series surprises me with one of the commonly trite, finger-wagging morality lessons against ethical non-monogamy, I'm gonna go ahead and declare this to be, both, a definite must-include on the Poly-ish Movie List and a must-see show.

You've been reading Poly-ish Movie Reviews, with your host, Joreth, where I watch the crap so you don't have to!

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