What Could’ve Been: Cersei and Tyrion Lannister As Sexy Superheroes
It’s funny how just the other day, a deleted scene was released for The Avengers that would’ve basically started the movie in media res, with the story already in motion and the characters now looking back to ask how it came to all this destruction and death and CGI. It’s a common, even overexposed trick—how many movies start with a random moment of danger, only to skip back a few hours to show us just how, how could such attractive people find themselves in such danger?
It’s funny. Even with all the advertising and reviews, we can’t sit down for a movie without the movie itself assuring us “shit gets real, just take five minutes to learn the characters’ names and then we’ll get to the shakycam, promise.”
Anyway, while Joss Whedon ended up deleting that scene and just starting the movie at the beginning, there’s another superhero story that didn’t. That would be Ultra, a 2006 superhero TV show that never made it past pilot. It was based on a 2005 comic by the Luna Brothers which was intended (or at least received) as Sex In The City with superheroes. As sigh-worthy as that sounds, from what I recall, the actual comic wasn’t half-bad. It was at least a little progressive, with a Latina protagonist and a prominent lesbian character, and for a romantic comedy it didn’t seem to have such a “you will die unloved and alone if you don’t marry Paul Rudd!” outlook on dating.
Now, maybe it would be professional for me to reread the comic before I review the adaptation, but hey, if Hollywood isn’t going to pay attention to the comic, why should I? See, Hispanic Pearl Penalosa has been replaced in the TV show by Penny Penalosa, a Southern woman who’s about as Hispanic as a British person, since she’s played by Lena Headey. And that in media res opening I was talking about? Does it start off with ‘Penny’ in some high danger, accused of a crime she didn’t commit, about to commit an act of cold-blooded murder?
No. She’s just swanning about a high-rise apartment in lingerie. You know, as much as my initial impulse would be to have every story start out with Lena Headey in lingerie and just work its way to the plot in good time (fuck you, A Few Good Men, I’m sure Lena Headey’s lingerie has something to do with who ordered the Code Red!), it doesn’t really work here. While she talks about how this is the story of a girl and a city – shocker, she’s the girl and the city is New York—a couple of window-washers spot her and start begging for her to “rescue” them, presumably from a fiendish supervillain plot to make their pants too tight.
“What you don’t know is how I got here, how it all happened,” Cersei narrates. Well, gee, I’d love to watch you shop for lingerie, miss, but can you really get a whole show out of that?
Oh, silly me, she was talking about her superpowers. As it turns out, she wasn’t born with them. When she tried to fly as a kid, she just broke an arm, to her mother’s apparent disinterest. Ahh, vaguely abusive upbringings, where would superhero fiction be without you?
“I tried to fit in with my peers,” Cersei continues, as we see her ferociously deconstructing how a woman of Barbie’s age is able to afford a dream house in Malibu. “She must be a drug dealer,” she concludes, to the other girls’ who cares. Well, aren’t we a special snowflake.
“I was in love with big ideas,” she continues to continue, as we see that Cersei has evolved into her Lena Headey form and is regaling her date at make-out point with how blue things aren’t really blue, they’re just every color that’s not blue. And this is why you don’t bring weed to park.
“I’m like the only guy virgin in school,” her date complains. Robert Baratheon knows that feel, bro.
And so, off her stunning successes at social interaction, she leaves to try her luck in the big city. With her fancy new degree in Communications, she sets out to write a novel.
Of course, being a small-town girl who’s just moved to the big city, she’s soon accosted by muggers (after giving a quarter to a pan-handler, even!). “Got the time?” one leers. “How about something else?”Sorry, dude, let’s just say she can’t relate to you.
Having none of that, Cersei tosses him into traffic, prompting the other one to run off. So… I guess she was just born with superpowers. And they came up when she hit puberty… err, when she lost her atrocious fake Southern accent. I’m so glad we did a flashback for that.
Of course, in the wake of realizing she has super strength, and is in fact one of the mysterious superheroes (like… really?… “Cryptic Man”), she goes home to brush her teeth, which is where she realizes she can telekinetically move that glass of water that all movie characters keep by their sink. Telekinesis and super strength? That’s kinda random.
Realizing that the whole throwing a man through the air like a lawn dart thing was no fluke, Cersei decides to try her powers out “for fun… and a little personal gain.” This as she telekinetically swipes an apple from a fruit stand. Really? Apples are too overpriced for you to pay for? Steal some candy at a movie theater, then we’ll talk.
Returning home, she finds a mysterious figure in her apartment who tells her not to turn on the lights. She insists she has a gun and/or friends, but it’s not until she mentions the superhuman strength that he believes her. Cersei asks who he is (despite him telling her she knows who he is) and tries repeatedly to turn on the light until he complains that she’s killing the drama. “You really are a terrible writer.”
To be fair, no great artist is appreciated within his own lifetime.
Finally, she realizes that the cryptic man who’s interested in her superhuman abilities is—Cryptic Man. Well, c’mon dude, you can’t be too surprised when she has trouble recognizing you. You’re not Mr. Recognizable, or his sidekick, Blinding Obvious.
He tells her that she’s getting superpowers—wow, maybe he is Blinding Obvious—and if she tries to deny it, her superpowers will just get more uncontrollable. He further lays out some info about “the other side.” When she doesn’t get it, he asks “What’d you do on Saturday mornings growing up?”
Oh, I get it, they’re being funny! They’re making fun of that scene in all the superhero movies with a mysterious stranger confronts the hero with information about their grand destiny. Like in, uh… ummm… Hulk? With Nick Nolte? I guess?
Anyway, think The Middleman, only less charming and with, hey, a white chick. Naturally, Cersei turns away for a moment, only for him to disappear, leaving behind only a card with some BOSS MICROSOFT WORD EMBOSSING!
Going off an address written on the back, she goes to see “The Scientist” (oh, c’mon, science nerds, let’s not pretend you wouldn’t call yourself “Dr. Laserfist” or something if you really did have science-based superpowers). And yes, it’s Peter Dinklage!
I kinda wonder if when they met, they thought “We should totally play siblings someday!” the same way she and Piper Perabo thought “We should totally play girlfriends someday!” on the set of The Cove.
After she gives him the rundown of her powers, Dinklage explains to her that they’re a result of “punctuated evolution.” As long as we’re being meta, maybe he should just say “Look, have you ever watched an X-Men movie? Maybe Heroes?” But no, it’s something about how individuals sublimate themselves in society for the greater good, but now that they’ve lost faith in their leadership, the individual is reclaiming power through superpowers. Because an unpopular president is worse than feudal overlords? I guess…
As relayed by voiceover narration, Cersei tells us what Dinklage went on to tell her. Yes, because what interest would we, the audience, have in actually seeing Emmy-award-winning actor Peter Dinklage perform? No, more voiceover narration! Voiceover narration cures everything!
Cersei tells us that Dinklage told her “Greatness comes from pain,” prompting Cersei to remember a time as a little girl when she saw her father beating her mother, complete with charming shots of a child actress mournfully looking on. Jesus, that got dark in a hurry! I thought this was a comedy! Next up, Cersei accidentally shaves her eyebrow off, then kills a puppy in a drunk driving accident!
After having a good cry, Cersei goes home to find Cryptic Man waiting for her. “You know the drill,” he tells her. “This is getting really old,” she replies. Guys, you just met, since when is this your Saturday night thing? I’m sorry, is gaining vast cosmic power boring you? Everyone in this show seems grumpy about being superheroes. Even Peter Dinklage is more pissed off about having to deal with superhero wannabes than curious about the supermodel who can move things with her mind.
Cersei tells CM that she has a date tonight and she isn’t totally sure she’s going to use the powers her evolutionary leap gave her. Because it would bite into her writing time, I guess? And there’s no possible way being a superhero would give you something to write about?
I guess we’re only a little meta, because CM doesn’t immediately go “Holy shit, the reluctant hero thing, seriously? Who fucking cares?” Instead, he snarkily retorts about going to Starbucks and typing on a laptop. Dude, her father used to beat her. I’m still not over that, but then, it was just thirty seconds ago.
He further emotes about how he wishes he could lead an ordinary life, which would be a fine bit of acting if we could see his face instead of just shadows. He vanishes, leaving behind a white costume with Ultra embroidered on it. This being a post-modern, ironic comedy, she immediately complains about how cheesy “Ultra” is. Look, your compatriots are named “Cryptic Man” and “The Scientist,” you’re the only one who actually got some effort put into the title.
That night, Cersei’s date gets the traditional superhero cock-block when there’s a ridiculously over-the-top car crash. It’s like one car goes flying through the air for some reason, and it hits another car, and that car gets hit by a truck… even Michael Bay would look at it and say “That’s a little much.”
Cersei rushes into action, and we get some thrilling heroics as she… runs on top of some stopped cars. Yes, that does seem much more effective than just going around them. Then she flips the eighteen-wheeler over, which somehow makes things better, and pulls some people out of wrecked cars, because moving people is the best thing you can do after they’ve been in a car accident. Wait, spoke too soon, a car blows up (yes, as she runs away from it in slow-motion). So anyway, that resolves the epic five minute “What if I don’t want to be a superhero?” arc.
We cut immediately to an Asian reporter interviewing Cersei, stating that “there are heroes and there are superheroes and then there are ultra heroes.” Yeah, doesn’t really work, does it? “There are heroes and there are superheroes and then there are spider heroes.” See? No go.
And, now that someone has definitively shown herself to have superhuman powers and is granting an interview, get ready for the journalistic story of the century. This reporter asks everything, from “Do you know Cryptic Man?” to “So where’s your cape?”, with piercing insights like “It sounds like something out of one of your movie scripts!”
“And there you have it,” the reporter states after those three… questions? Yeah, I guess they really did get to the bottom of that one. Yeesh, the last time I saw a female journalist so bad at her job, Aaron Sorkin was writing her.
Next up, on the cutting cultural satire, we have a hip young ad exec bringing Cersei on. “Does it have to be Ultra?” he finally asks, but we cut away before Cersei tells him “Actually, this random guy I hardly know named me that without consulting me at all. I don’t care for the name any. I’m open to suggestions.”
Then an effeminate fashion designer helps her work on her look, finally asking if she’s “married to the cape.” We again cut away before she can say “Actually, this costume was given to me by someone I hardly know, I think it blows.” Look, you can’t parody risible elements of your plot when you’re the one introducing them. Her costume looks nothing like the one she had in the comic, it’s entirely an invention of the TV show, so you can’t point and go “It’s so cheesy!” It’d be like changing Spider-Man’s costume to a leather bodysuit and then joking about how he’s into S&M.
Question: How come with all these female superheroes, there’s always scenes where they have to deal with merchandising and ad campaigns, while the boy superheroes just go fight baddies? Seriously, this, the Wonder Woman pilot, all about action figures, then you get to Batman and all he ever does is beat up evil terrorist ninjas. When people talk about his effect on society, it’s vigilantes dressing up like him and shooting people, not people buying Batman underwear.
Cersei ends up in a white bodysuit and cape that looks like a Rule 63 Luke Skywalker cosplay.
She’s on patrol (I guess) when she hears a call for help and leaps into action, flying to the scene of the crime before it turns out to all be her filming an ad for a soft drink. She can’t even fly, really, not that the director cares. Which you know happens all the time with celebrity endorsements, like that Nike ad where Michael Jordan plays soccer, remember?
When they’re done filming, Cersei goes to sign the autograph of a fan by the craft services table, and since it’s a somewhat overweight woman, she is of course a creepy loon who claims to be Cersei’s nemesis.
Back home, Cersei is bemoaning how lonely it is to be wealthy and famous—surely, the first consideration of a girl who grew up poor and abused in rural… ‘the South’—when she notices CM is with her. When she makes some half-hearted complaints about how he keeps dropping in on her—yeah, thanks for pointing out how stalkery that is, show—he tells her she can turn on the light. When she does, it turns out that he’s… GASP!
So, wait, his only disguise is asking that people leave their lights off? Crap, we have to stop making fun of Clark Kent’s glasses. At least the last son of Krypton never goes “Hey, guys, none of you think about what Superman looks like while you’re looking at me, please.”
CM lets us in some on his fascinating backstory—he was a “corporate lawyer” and he’s “amicably divorced.” Holy shit, Wolverine’s got nothing on this guy. And he grew up in the foster system, where he had to learn how to read situations and so developed a sense of “hypervigilante.” And shapeshifting, too, because evolution holds two-for-one sales.
She tries hitting on him for a bit before realizing he’s disappeared, because if there’s one thing a heterosexual man wants to avoid, it’s a horny Lena Headey. Then Cersei’s TV turns on for some reason and happens to show a little boy talking about how Ultra rescued, giving her a much-needed (?) pick-me-up.
After some Travolta strutting and yet more voiceovering, Cersei is suddenly confronted with her nemesis, who calls her a “freak of nature” and the “daughter of a turkey farmer.” I guess she hasn’t listened to any politician in the last fifty years, or she’d know farmers are our great country’s backbone. Then the fan, uh, shoots Cersei. Bullets! Her one weakness!
No, as it turns out—when CM wakes her up, as apparently the shooting of a beloved superhero on a busy street hasn’t drawn any attention—that self-doubt is her one weakness. That’s right. She’s a superheroine who can be defeated by feeling sad. Wow. Wooooooow.
CM takes her to the hospital in a cab, because apparently ambulances don’t exist in this fantastical superhero universe, as we pan away to see a billboard with Ultra on it, confirming that, yes, she wears high heels. Just the thing for a superheroine who can’t fly.
Of course, it makes sense that the pilot is supremely there in its just thereness. The comic it’s based on has three superheroines, all friends. There wasn’t a budget for that, because we clearly needed to see a commercial where Ultra could fly around, so in the script, she had two female friends. They, naturally, were cut immediately. There was also an entire subplot cut out, only it was more the main plot.
In the script, Penny has a high school boyfriend named Rich who she pledges undying love for before they lose track of each other. Rich calls the adult Penny out of the blue to tell her that he’s tracked her down and still loves her, and he’s planning to visit her just as soon as he gets done climbing Mount Everest. Yeah, that goes as well as you’d expect. Penny senses the avalanche that “kills him” with her psychic powers (she has psychic powers in the script), and the “intense connection” is what brings about her powers.
Then she does the Year One thing, only for Rich to come back into her life when it turns out he wasn’t killed, he just loaned his jacket to someone. They start dating and that’s why Penny is so reluctant to be a superhero. Sound flimsy? Get this – nookie causes Penny’s superpowers to be “unpredictable”. Yes, that’s right. It’s a superheroine whose weaknesses are penises and emotions. Did I mention this was written by a woman?
Rich wants a quiet life, so obviously Penny can’t be a superhero and date him. But when she sees the car accident, she’s thrust into action, yadda yadda, thus separating them forever. Where did this idea in Hollywood come from that no man would want a superhero? You go to a Spider-Man movie or a Superman movie, all the female characters are going “I would tap that.” Then you go to My Super Ex-Girlfriend and it’s like “My girlfriend has superpowers? Oh nooooooo!”
I mean, c’mon Hollywood, if your thesis is that men find superheroines unattractive and don’t even want to think about having sex with them, I can submit to you one-third of the internet as evidence otherwise.
Anyway, it’s not like the Rich storyline is some lost key that would make Ultra into satisfying genre fiction. If anything, it makes Ultra‘s story even more dumb, offensive, and crappy. I mean, I’m assuming this is aimed at women a little, right? Who wants to watch a show about a woman who can’t have a love life and who only has superpowers when she isn’t having a bad day? I mean, that second part is the premise of Empowered, which is supposed to be an excuse plot to put the heroine in a lot of bondage scenarios! So this is like taking a fanfic plot device written solely for lonely fanboys and using it on the mothership. Who does that?
No matter how nice it would be to have a superheroine TV show, I gotta be glad this wasn’t picked up. It’s a mess. It goes from clunky drama to unfunny comedy to uninvolving action at the drop of a hat, talented performers are wasted, there’s no plot, the villain is lame and her story isn’t resolved at all, the mythos is boring. It’s just a clusterfuck. Fortunately for everyone, Lena Headey went on to do Terminator and Peter Dinklage went on to… Underdog. Still an improvement. Probably.