martin took his swipes at gil but really every other scene of this episode drove it explicitly home that the real usurper of martin’s role in the family was malcolm. (and martin, in the yelling scene he pretended was acting, is very aware of that.)
malcolm went beyond filling the shoes of big brother and shoulders the burden of worrying about and trying to guide ainsley like a father should. he always has. jessica breaks down at her darkest moment and calls martin for reassurance, yes, but would she have called him if she and gil were still on good personal terms? and anyway, the first lie she catches onto is malcolm’s and she sees right through his words at the dinner, too, as they talk about losing ainsley. if jessica had gotten reassuring words from gil and not ‘apples don’t fall that far from the tree’ from martin, how long before she overturned the living room anyway? her inkling fears, prompted by malcolm, would have kept festering. malcolm gave himself away.
the one jessica’s always worried about was malcolm, but ainsley’s been so perfect for so long because malcolm protected her and supported her too. for ainsley, it’s like she always had two parental figures. jessica remembers all of malcolm’s darkest moments of his childhood - when she thought she was losing him, when he stopped talking - but the few times we’ve gotten ainsley’s pov, she expresses a kind of admiration for malcolm. for ainsley, malcolm has always been a Secure Point. the one telling her ‘everything is going to be okay’. (did he tell her that also when he wasn’t talking to anyone else?) her concern and worrying has an element of reciprocation to it, like she wants to support him in these Present situations how she remembers him always having been in the Past (childhood).
so, even at his worst, how much did malcolm show ainsley? seems to me, not much. jessica saw it and worried and hover-watched (for the psychopathy signs even) but they’ve always been likeminded about ainsley and watched over her together, like a Team. the Traumatized protecting the Innocent from the Monster. thus even when jessica’s desperate to find no evidence but searches so hard that she does find it, she confronts malcolm alone. and with no fear of him - she knows him too well, endicott was horrible, and there must have been extenuating circumstances. it’s clearly another weight on malcolm’s shoulders regardless. jessica’s fears really stem from the unknown. she just needs to know how bad it is - if you know, at least you can plan, prepare. at least you know. (another way that malcolm really is ‘his mother’s son’.)
but a part of jessica must be expecting, or at least hoping, that ainsley only rehearsed a story with malcolm to help malcolm. that malcolm asked her and she went along to protect, out of solidarity. that any part of the truth she knows was given second-hand. jessica confronting malcolm, one on one, guarantees her the truth. no distractions, no worries. it forces him to put all cards on the table. and he can’t lie to her when it’s Important. ( ‘you know me too well’ - ‘do i?’ ) setting the table like that, casually yet calculatingly confronting malcolm without ainsley there, and then malcolm admitting it was actually ainsley, and the way they discussed the truth...it went from mother confronting son to parents anxious about daughter vibes very quickly.
which...i’d argue this dual role for malcolm - and malcolm and jessica - has been since day one of the show. malcolm didn’t just run away from martin, he ran away from malcolm whitly and all that being malcolm whitly entailed. when ainsley lies to him in the pilot, it really bothers him. it’s unexpected. with jessica, it takes him spiraling and seeing the truth in jessica’s interrogation tape to re-find the balance with her. and it’s only one whole episode after that that they Team Up about ainsley (attempting to veto her interviewing martin).
them being a Team is a recurring theme thereafter. about ainsley. against martin. often being more honest wiith each other (malcolm’s need for cases, visiting martin, and jessica with her own concerns, plans, secrets) than with anyone else around them. season two has just picked this up and run with it further. from the premiere of jessica sharing what was almost definitely an in-confidence gil conversation ( ’more brightish than usual’ ) with malcolm, to now.
‘i’m just trying to protect the family. please. believe me...please, you can’t tell her. i don’t.. we might lose her.’ (malcolm, s2e04)
‘we can still keep our life, jess. our perfect family. we don’t have to throw it all away. but i don’t get to make that decision.’ (martin, s1e04)
as malcolm essentially admits this episode, he turned his father in because martin tried to make him a monster. ( ‘it destroyed me. he destroyed me.’ ) he realized that it was the price of his father’s attention and love. ( ‘that was the only way i could be close to you. by listening to you. no. becoming you.’ ) and it was a price he wasn’t willing to pay.
now, it took the chloroform redux and the knife for malcolm to remember The Trip. but what would martin have done, what would malcolm have maybe thought that martin would have done, if malcolm ever truly said no? martin would remove his attention. he’d find somewhere, someone, else. where, most obviously, would martin’s attention turn? ainsley. what has malcolm been anxious about so far this season, what was one his worst fears come true? ainsley visiting martin.
malcolm has been acting like the gate-keeper. ( ‘you can’t talk to him.’ - ‘...what aren’t you telling me?’ ) and this episode, martin saw it all on display. a front row seat to malcolm’s desparation to keep them separate. to protect ainsley and her innocence and how malcolm throws his relationship with martin into the wind hard to drive home that martin’s The Monster and get ainsley to back away. he also saw how malcolm holds higher rank with ainsley. ainsley immediately explained herself to malcolm - with an excuse in lieu of an apology, because visiting martin is Bad because it’s malcolm that’s said so - and it’s malcolm she questions. it’s malcolm she lets distract and pacify her (for now). it’s malcolm she looks to most. it’s because of malcolm that she leaves.
the line ‘it’s exactly what you want!’ makes martin snap (for however briefly, it’s real) not just because of how much of his current life isn’t what he wants, but also because how much his current life continues to be limited by the actions of malcolm. malcolm turned him in, malcolm usurped him over the years into adulthood, and malcolm still fights against martin’s influence on himself and blocks martin from ainsley. ( ‘you must have really hated him.’ / ‘i would hate you!’ )
this episode makes me more certain than ever that a part of young malcolm, either at the surface or deep down, thought about all that and worried about that. he was too thoughtful about everything else around the arrest - the decision, the call, what to tell the first officer to show up - not to at least once entertain the avenues of the other side of what if’s and what might happen to jessica and ainsley too if he said nothing, if he wasn’t his father’s prodigy.
‘ i knew it. your little breakdown in group wasn’t just for show. you really feel that way about me.’ - ‘because i can’t trust you!’
33 notes · View notes
A look into the “parallels” between Kuzon/Painted Lady and Blue Spirit/Painted Lady
The Painted Lady/Kuzon parallels do exist on some level, yes, but they’re more conceptual than anything else. Since the first half of season 3 was largely focused on humanizing the Fire Nation, these two episodes followed the same themes, so similarities would obviously result from that. Other than these episode’s end goals, however, I don’t think there’s anything too profound about these parallels, especially because Aang and Katara’s character arcs revolving around the Fire Nation are mostly separate. The moods permeating these two episodes were vastly different as well, since Kuzon is much more grounded, playful, and youthful, while the Painted Lady comes across as an old and terrifying spirit. (There are more differences between the two of them, but I think the “atmosphere” surrounding these episodes is able to explain a lot of it.)
(Just look at how different these two screenshots feel from each other, at how connected to reality and other people these two aliases are.)
Now, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think the Painted Lady and Blue Spirit are intentional parallels either. What do I mean by that? There are similarities in their set-up, purposes, and messages -- the Painted Lady and Blue Spirit share much more than the Painted Lady and Kuzon because both the Painted Lady and the Blue Spirit present a morally gray stance on justice, a duality within Zuko and Katara’s characters (the prince and the refugee for Zuko, and the healer and the fighter for Katara), a mask they can wear to achieve the freedom to do what they desire, and they both have a mythical quality about them, a fleetingness to their reality. However, while these set-ups were there, the show never expanded upon them and truly connected their characters, especially since the Painted Lady only appeared in one episode and was a one-off character while the Blue Spirit appeared in three. Thus, the Painted Lady’s relevancy to the plot was reduced, and thus its connection to the Blue Spirit was reduced too.
(Of course, the parallels that do exist in the set-up do leave you wondering.)
To be honest, when I watched the show itself, the Blue Spirit/the Painted Lady never struck me as a parallel that was developed in-depth. This makes something that’s well worth exploring in fandom, both in meta, fanfiction, fanart, and other fan content, and I love seeing that. As I mentioned before, the mythical-like, morally ambiguous quality both the Painted Lady and the Blue Spirit have lent themselves very well to transformative works, much better than the Painted Lady and Kuzon would at any rate.
85 notes · View notes