F3 Commentary: Power Dynamics

In F3: Ferryman the tour buys seashells from a ferryman to gain passage to the main island. Aside from alluding to the river Styx (the Greek river bordering the afterlife, for whose crossing the ferryman Charon would demand two coins), this is a chance for characters to show their position in the group’s power structure. On the ferry we see those power dynamics come to a head. Subtle power dynamics can make conversations as tense as action scenes. (Have you seen the new Spider-Man movie, Homecoming? You know what I’m talking about.)

Characters are driven by their desires. In this section the ferryman wanted captive tourists to buy his shells. Henry did not want to pay, while the others were willing to buy souvenirs to achieve their desire, boarding the ferry. Michael wants his tour to continue without incident, aligning himself with the ferryman with snide remarks toward Henry. Eventually Henry pretended his wife bought him two sand-dollars, and the ferryman let him through. Jay had already bought two high-priced shells (partly to show up Henry), so the ferryman decided he’d made enough money to cut some slack to the man-child. His final remark to Michael shows how Henry passes at the ferryman’s mercy. Michael concurs, “Oran dora.”

But Henry thought he won. He thought he outsmarted the ferryman. His sense of his position in the tour group’s power structure was inflated by the concessions afforded to him by his immaturity and bull-headed ego. His confidence was so puffed up Henry went to break bread with Jay, his perceived comrade-in-drug-smuggling. Henry stole Jay’s passport from his backpack to return it as he slept, a sociopathic tactic to make Jay begin the conversation indebted to him. Henry isn’t bright but what intelligence he has is sinister.

For Jay to be locked in conversation with a drug-smuggling, closeted Neo-Nazi is not a position of power, even when it’s a bumbling one like Henry. Henry didn’t even seem to realize the aura of danger he exuded, but a trans person of mixed race probably wouldn’t be too comfortable with someone like Henry being all buddy-buddy in the middle of the night.

Jay deflected Henry’s statements (and avoided provoking him) by merely asking for clarification and making non-committal grunts. He let Henry dig his hole hoping he’d eventually go away on his own. But no—Henry gave his real name ‘Leo’ to make Jay reciprocate. (Of course, Leo already knew Jay’s real name, he just wouldn’t accept it.) Then Leo mentioned Faith’s cricket, which he shouldn’t have known about. Saying “you only got one cricket” is like saying “you smell different when you’re awake,” in the sense that Leo accidentally revealed more information than he had intended.

In response Jay threatened to scream, reminding Leo of his low position on the totem pole. With the rest of the tour in the room, including his wife and step-daughter, Leo couldn’t give Jay a reason to call in the cavalry; he knew he’d be shouted at, or beaten half to death. Leo called Jay a gaylord and walked way.

I hope this commentary demonstrates how I’m trying to make interesting interactions. Each character has a different impression of the power dynamics of the group. In each scene, the balance of power shifts.

Notice most of the tourists gave false names. Leo said his name was Henry. The Chinese couple Zhang and Li Ying gave their names as Craig and Suzy. Jay said his name was Jadie, adopting the misnomer Michael greeted him with. These are subtle power-plays. Craig and Suzy deferred to ‘Henry’ by taking names he could pronounce, and did so ahead of time signifying they knew ‘Henry’ would make a fuss and they wanted to avoid a scene. Leo usurped the power of self-introduction from the women in his family because he’s an asshole, and also so he could frame his visit to the islands as he wanted. He pretended his wife dragged him on these drug-smuggling getaways.

Why did Jay name himself Jadie? It’s an act of surly disobedience; Jay’s fake name proves to himself that he’s not playing by Leo’s rules. This connects the idea of names and titles to the concept presented with the swastika in E4: what names do people choose for themselves, and why?

Dan had his name taken from him when he was made into Jillian. Jillian discarded her name to become Jay. Jay set aside his name to become Jadie. Each of those events represents Jay’s refinement as a person. He exceeded Dan. He attained knowledge from being Jillian. The fake name ‘Jadie’ prevents his real name from being tarnished by association with Leo.

So, Jay exerts power in social situations by making friends with anyone amicable, and through malicious compliance with everyone else. Whenever Leo takes center stage as a power-play, Jay makes his own power-play by relenting that stage: Jay lets Leo dig himself into situations and curry disfavor with the tour guide.

The different ways characters assert power will result in different types of conflict. Jay is happy to subtly deride Leo for his childishness, while Leo stumbles into problems head-on, often intentionally, but always feigning innocence to see how far he can get before someone stops him. In this section Jay had to draw the line.

That’s it for today. Keep eating your worms!

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