I may be too optimistic about the Archive 81 adaptation at least in this one regard, but i’m not really jumping to negative conclusions from the vague statement that a “dark, deeply emotional romance” is at the core of the show--in many ways, I already see it that way. thoughts on a81 as a romance under the cut
To me, the vague info we have isn't enough to conclude they’ve completely rewritten Melody and Dan as romantic interests, at least not in a conventional sense. I've seen some upset reactions suggesting this, so I think some may be assuming the worst, but I'm not quite there yet. tbf...Melody already is Dan's love interest, at least in s1! By which I mean she is the name and voice onto which he projects his desire for human connection. (he does the same thing in s2 with clara. it's a thing he does.) Quite honestly, I did see the source material as a “romance,” in the dark and dysfunctional sense of a romance as consumption—dan consuming and being consumed by the tapes, developing a one-sided relationship with the melody he invented in his head because hers was the only voice he had for so long at his loneliest and darkest time. because she was the only one who could possibly understand what he was going through. because he was vicariously experiencing her life through the tapes--to him, it felt like they shared experiences, although in reality he was only a passive witness...at least at first. (and this is really interesting to me--it's like the whole blue velvet conundrum, "i don't know if you're a detective or a pervert." are you solving an archival mystery, dan, or are you just a voyeur getting way in over your head and inventing intimacy where none exists? can we have a relationship with someone we "know" through documents without being known in return? what does that look like, what does that mean? what is the role of an archive and an archivist, what are their relationships to subjects, how do documents form narratives?)
season 1 was a romance on multiple levels—between Melody and Alexa, and also about people like Melody and Dan who can’t stop listening and poking and prodding at something until it’s eaten them alive. also like…marc is a producer on the show and it's his material that includes gay characters in prominent roles in every season so. Just sort of hard for me to imagine taking archive 81 of all things and turning it into a milquetoast straight love story, because it's so...it's such a weird thing, honestly still in shock it's even being adapted for TV. It feels like one of the last things you'd even want to add visuals to because so much of what it's about is sound and noise and the weird scrappy writing that swings wildly at every pitch, misses a lot of them, keeps swinging anyway with greater vigor. It's actively worse and less interesting by leagues to turn it into a played-straight romance between Melody and Dan rather than Dan developing a disturbed parasocial relationship with the voice of a woman who is narrating him past the point of no return while she herself ventures deeper and deeper into something she will never really escape ever again. (And then manages to build a life like that with her wife anyway.) Then again, this is television, so maybe worse and less interesting is the goal...but then I have to think there are easier stories to adapt than this one. 🥴
The romance is Dan and the tapes, Melody and the Visser mystery, people and the inexorable pull of knowing things we are not meant to know even if it kills us or, as is often the case in a81, irrevocably alters us. That's the story I hope they're interested in telling.
I think this is why season one was really peak for me. I wouldn't necessarily make the romance genre claim for other seasons, but for this one I would. (In the vein of calling House of Leaves a romance.) Then again, it's Netflix, so I'm prepared to eat these words--it's possible they'll try to shoehorn in a conventional romance to draw in viewers who otherwise might look at the premise and source material and go, what the fuck is happening here? Which of course detracts from what a81 has going for it, which is swinging and missing and swinging again in an off-the-beaten-path medium without the rigidly enforced genre and plot limitations of television where listeners know what they're getting is a labor of love, something weird and silly and rough around the edges and always changing. I'll watch more out of morbid curiosity to see if I can understand how and why and what is gained/lost when an audio story like this is adapted...even though at the end of the day, for me, the joy of a81 was really the exuberance of the storytelling and witnessing mr. dan powell's obsession with sounds and odd noises...a love letter to sound indeed.
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In the 25 years since Sam had figured out that she wasn’t a man, (or rather a boy, back then), they had only told two people.
Three if she counted herself, looking herself dead in the eyes in a motel bathroom while her father and Dean were off on a hunt. Whispering as though somehow through the walls and miles that separated them they could hear.
“I’m not a boy. I’m a girl.”
Then it was Jessica.
They met in art class, and they got along well. Sam asked if they could hang out, and Jessica had explained that she was going to the student Gay-Straight-Alliance meeting. Sam let some bullshit about her brother being gay (a lie that years later proved to be at least half-true) and Jess invited her along.
There were two trans-men in the club, and no other trans women. That’s what Sam figured out she was. The label didn’t fit perfectly well, but she assumed that she just needed time adjusting. It was good enough for now. And what did it matter how she identified? No one would know.
Because that’s what she had accepted. Sam would spend her whole life being a man to the rest of the world. She didn’t have money to spare for gender reassignment surgery, and who would trust a transgender person to be a social worker?
But she told Jess. Because Jess told her that she loved her and Sam knew that it was only a matter of time before she couldn’t keep it to just herself anymore.
She explained that she wasn’t a man. She explained that she wasn’t quite a woman either but was working on that. She explained that no one else could know. That this was just between the two of them.
Then Jess had made her a cake, decorated in blue pink and white whipped cream.
The world wouldn’t know, but the woman she loved did, and that was all she needed.
Sam started traveling with her brother, who would call her ‘Samantha’ but only as a joke. To mock her.
She was infatuated with Ruby, but she didn’t tell her. There was a part of her, buried under all the books she had read in college that was scared that Ruby would tell her that what she was was just further proof of her monstrosity. Proof that she belonged with Hell.
She wondered if maybe her body was not made to match her soul, but to match Lucifer, who would one day possess it.
She didn’t tell Amelia, but she thinks that she could have. Amelia had once whispered into her shoulder as she lay in Sam's arms “You’re not like any other man. You’re different. I think that’s why I can really love you.”
Sam wanted to tell her that she wasn’t a man. That’s what was different.
Not that the thing with Amelia lasted.
Eileen was everything. A hunter. Smart. Beautiful.
And the most wonderful thing was that she thought the same of Sam.
Hunting wasn’t stationary work though, so it took 2 months of video calls and texting before they were actually able to meet up in person again.
“Sam, I need to tell you something.” They were in the garage, back from their first official date. Eileen still stood on the far side of her car, playing with her keys in her hands. She put them away so that she could sign.
“What?” Sam signed.
“I’m transgender” the word was accompanied by a swirling sweeping motion, like a leaf dancing in the wind as it fell off of a tree. “That means that I was assigned male at birth, but I’m a wo-”
“I know what it means.” Sam interrupted. “Shit. Sorry. I didn’t mean to cut you off.”
“Yes. that was very rude” Eileen joked, and Sam knew that she was forgiven. “I’ve had bottom surgery, but my genitals are not exactly the same as a cis- assigned female at birth - woman. I just wanted to let you know now so that you didn’t ask weird questions in bed.”
Sam felt her eyes go wide and mouth form a smile. “You want to go to bed with me?”
“No. We went on a date as friends.”
“Right. Great. I. I would also like that. Very much.”
The sex is great, but after Sam’s jelousy sours her afterglow.
“I wish I could be like you.” Sam whispered. She lifted her head and repeated herself so that Eileen could see.
“Elegant and clever?”
That seemed to catch Eileen off guard, but she recovered quickly. “Wanting to be a woman is a symptom of being a woman, you know.”
“I know. I’ve-” For some reason she can’t say it. It catches in her throat and she realizes that it’s been 16 years since she last told anyone about this part of herself.
Eileen is patient. She sits up in the bed and waits.
“I've known that I wasn’t a man since I was a kid. I just- I’ve mostly accepted that I’ll never transition. Still, I’ve never met anyone like me, and seeing you. Being yourself. Properly. It hurts a bit.”
Eileen lay a hand on her arm. A warm, kind presence. She removes it to sign “you could if you want.”
“Not really. Don’t think that people will buy the whole FBI thing if I look like the halfway stage of an animorphs book.”
“You won’t look like… that.”
“It’s fine. I’ve made my peace with this body, even if it was never really mine.”
Eileen, bless her, changed the subject before Sam could start thinking about Lucifer again.
“Do you want me to call you a different name? Just when we are together?”
“Sam is good.”
Eileen finger spells out “S-a-m-a-n-t-h-a”
“No. Just Sam. You’re reminding me of Dean fucking with me with Samantha.”
“He doesn't know?”
“I don’t really plan on telling him. Ever.”
Eileen nodded. Understanding.
Then Eileen died.
And stuff happened.
And Eileen came back.
And more stuff happened.
But now it was safe. Eileen moved into the bunker, and everyday after 14 hours of being a man she could return to her and Eileen’s room and be her.
And really, that was all she needed.
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