Season Two: Exploring MARDI GRAS
Britrock website copyright EA Woolley
Another mad episode from the second season, set in New Orleans, Louisiana in the heart of the Mardi Gras celebrations. A bevy of masks, charades and confusion welcome the Holograms and the Misfits to the city, including a man who's rather too keen on Shana, the haunting ghost of a pirate and a mischievous thief who's stolen some valuable jewels! (Yes, I promise we are still in the Jem series. Normal service WILL be resumed shortly....)
A small disclaimer - aside from the word "Melodicus", there are no words given on the show to indicate spelling. I've done eight years of French, and I've tried to give the names as accurately as I can do based on their phonetic pronunciation. The only one with which I have some issue is the name of the pirate which sounds like it should be "Lafeet". That's not very French, and the closest I can manage is Lafeyte or Lafete. The last should be definitively pronounced "La-fayte or "La-Fette"...so I've gone for the former as a compromise. But truly, I have no clue how his name is meant to be spelt.
This episode is a rare thing. It's a Shana episode. And boy is there a lot to say about her in this one. I'm gonna try and break it down piece by piece, but it all kinda ties in together, so bear with me.
The first thing that I think must be mentioned is pretty much the first thing we see in the episode. Her loyalty and love for her absent boyfriend, Anthony Julian. It's often been said (by me and others) that Anthony and Shana's relationship is probably the most stable and solid in the entire cartoon series. This is another example of just that solidarity. Anthony himself is never in the episode - but Shana considers him with her anyway. When Pierre L'Arquette, the "contact" from Melodicus is flirting with her (he does it on several occasions), she is uncomfortable - toying with her locket and eventually opening it to reveal that she wears a picture of her boyfriend when she's away. There's a lot surrounding this locket, too. On her first night in the Maison Fleur hotel, Shana's locket is stolen by a mysterious thief. Her immediate response is fear and in panic she flees the room, calling for her friends. When L'Arquette hears about the theft, he calls it a "trinket" - and this makes her angry, pushing him away. For most of the episode Shana does not have her locket, but she is always careful not to encourage the attentions of Pierre L'Arquette - even turning down a lunch meeting which is supposedly business. I've mentioned it before, but on several occasions we've seen Jem and Rio flirting and kissing when away from "Jerrica's" watchful eye. Forgetting for a moment that Jem and Jerrica are the same person - because Rio is unaware of it - it paints a stark contrast to Shana and her solid, stable relationship. (And it's worth mentioning that on occasion, Jem is flirting with L'Arquette too - what is that girl's problem, anyway?)
JEM and the ISSUE OF SECRECY
It may seem ironic to have this as a header and not be discussing Jem and her alter-ego, Jerrica Benton. But in this particular case, Jerrica is an irrelevance. Jem is Jem throughout the whole of this episode, and her secret identity is never a theme. But yet, there is a lot of secrecy going on. To begin with, the girls are travelling to New Orleans without knowing even the name of the hotel where they are likely to stay. They meet Pierre L'Arquette, but he is unable to give them much more than little snippets of information at a time. When they finally do arrive at the hotel, the butler, Maurice is a little strange and withdrawn, and there is the matter of the missing "Francois" who is mentioned once and then not again.
The biggest irony is that, with all these things adding up, Jem is really not happy. She dislikes the secrecy. She's always pushing for more information and she jumps to the conclusion that L'Arquette and Maurice are actually jewel thieves, after eavesdropping on a conversation. I am not sure whether her penchant for assuming the worst in secretive people stems from her own insecurities about her double life, or whether it's just the Jerrica control freak inside of her, wanting to know all of the facts before she sets a foot forward. Maybe it's a bit of both - but even L'Arquette comments on her demand for detail!
LAFEYTE, LILY and FORBIDDEN LOVE.
So here we have the disturbing things rearing their head. First off, I'm going to rant a little bit about repeated themes, so humour me for a moment (or scroll down the page...either's good!) If you're familiar with the Jem series (and if you're not, why are you reading these anyway? LOL!) you'll know that in the first series the band goes to Morvania, where they coincidentally find out the Crown Princess of the country happens to look exactly like Kimber. And then, as the plot goes on, Kimber's safety is threatened and, right at the VERY end - we have Synergy playing on the superstitions of the local folk by projecting a meaningful hologram to scare off the bad guys. Well, er...let's just say that Mardi Gras follows several of those themes. Instead of Kimber, it's Shana this time who has the mysterious "double." True, Shana's "double", Lily Larose is a dead singer who lived around the time of the pirate whose jewels the Holograms are going to wear. And instead of a patriotic Morvanian dragon, the ghost at the end of the episode this time is that of Lafeyte himself - but he is coming to protect Shana in the same way the Morvanian dragon is meant to protect Adreana (or Kimber, or both, since half the cast of the episode don't know t'other from which).
Okay. With that little complain over, let's move on to Jean Lafeyte and Lily Larose and their story. In a sense it is a story within a story - there is no pictorial flashback to Lily or Jean, and most of what we learn about them comes from Yvette, Lily's descendant. It's very easy to blink and miss the most important themes of their story. The first thing of note is that Jean was white and Lily was black. In fact, Yvette tells us that their love was impossible for Lily because Jean "was a slaver" - in other words, he trafficked in the slave trade whilst it was still active in the South. The Jem series shies away on numerous occasions from multiracial relationships - even in this one, with Shana's admirer L'Arquette, he is still a black man interested in a black woman. But the underlying love story promotes a mixed relationship - which I find interesting!
Yvette also mentions the Battle of New Orleans, and General Jackson. The jewels have also not been seen since 1814, which all ties up with the historical date of the real battle. What I find interesting is that Lily cannot love Jean for being a slaver, but she can help him because she is a patriot, and does so in organising a meeting between him and the General. We discover that Jean entrusted jewels with Lily and then disappeared - never to return. What isn't clear is whether or not he died a pirate or a soldier in the battle for New Orleans - the area seems a little bit grey sometimes as to what his true role actually was.
I always like a deeper historical connection within a plotline, though :) Makes it more interesting!
MAMA LOU and THE SUPERSTITIOUS SOUTH
Now, in truth I have absolutely no idea whether or not there is a large underlying sense of superstition in Louisiana. But the impression given in the episode is that there is -and it's that that I'm going to go with for the next section of discussion.
Mama Lou is a weird old woman who wanders around the city making cryptic and spooky predictions. Her first target is Shana, who she calls "Lily" (obviously believing her to be the ghost of Lily Larose). She warns her to beware of zombies on Fat Tuesday - which in a roundabout way actually comes true because the Holograms are kidnapped by the Zomboys (dressed up as zombies with a hearse, of course!) before the parade. And Mama Lou's second prediction is made to the Zomboys and the Misfits as they are plotting - she claims the ghost of Jean Lafeyte will protect what is his, and this also comes true - but only because Jem overhears one Zomboy mentions it and sends Synergy into holographic battle.
Mama Lou's predictions aren't the real important thing, however. What is more significant is how seriously or otherwise they are taken. Shana seems to brush off Mama Lou's words until the night of the parade, when she recalls them and hesitates before stepping into the hearse. And from the moment Mama Lou speaks to the Zomboys, at least one of them is seriously freaked out - suggesting a deep rooted superstition and fear of the supernatural.
I'm not going to pretend to know the culture of Louisiana or much about the actual Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, because it would be an insult to the native population for me to do so. But with all the costumes and parades and masques going on, I can see how a little Mardi Gras magic could potentially spill over into something more tangible...
EVERYBODY WEARS A MASK...
Including the star character of the show, of course! I have to make a seperate heading for this because there are so many things in this song and it's video that I think need to be picked out. The theme of the song is linked in with Mardi Gras, and the celebrations. Jem and the Holograms perform it dressed in costume with masks over their faces, to fit into the style and the setting. Oddly, despite it's late appearance in the series, this is one of the nicer and more haunting songs from Jem's repertoire. Perhaps this is simply because it carries personal resonance -at least, that's how it seems to me.
There are a few key lines. Obviously we could make several parallels between her Jem identity and the "mask" reference. But there's more than just this. Jem sings, "Can't tell one from another" and "Underneath each mask I find another and another." Is this really about people in disguise? People she can't read or understand? More likely, in my opinion, it's a secret assessment of her own situation. By this point, I doubt very much that she can tell "one from another" as regards her two personalities. They're both there inside her, swirling around and fighting for dominance. Is it any surprise that she's confused?
And then there's the line, "Who should be accused?" Accused of what? It seems an odd thing to sing, doesn't it? Unless of course, you connect it with the idea that she's mixed up over who and what she's become. Is she looking for someone to blame? Maybe that's too deep, but it's a question I felt like raising anyhow.
On the other hand, there are a couple of hinting references which I think are applicable in some form to Pizzazz. It's interesting to me that she is the animated figure featured during the line "masking who they are". She is blown up to huge size, attacking the Holograms and looming over them in a threatening manner. I see this as an indication Pizzazz is not all she pretends to be - that she's wearing a "mask" in the music business as much as Jem herself. And, maybe MOST significant of all is the scene where Pizzazz is pushing a mask at Jem, as if forcing her to wear it. Is Pizzazz, then, the subconscious reason Jem has to continue existing? This would suggest so. That Jerrica's subconscious desire to put one over on the Misfits once and for all is important to her - and so it's Pizzazz - not the Starlight girls or her responsibilities to her father's memory - that is making her "wear the mask."
Or it could simply be that Jerrica's raging paranoia has finally begun to set in...
MISFITS and ZOMBOYS!
Oh, something has to be said here. You knew it was coming! Misfits and Zomboys. Yes, there really are a creepy group of guys somewhere in cartoon America who dress up as zombies and presumably, perform to crowds. We never hear the Zomboys play, so we don't know what their music sounds like. I'm thinking that this is probably a good thing, judging from their other actions, but anyway.
Several things of note about the Misfits and the Zomboys. Firstly, this is not the first time another musical act has been corrupted into doing Misfitish dirty work. Eric had a band (whose name I cannot recall off hand) rob and wreck records of Glitter and Gold, the Album. But the Zomboys are a little different. There is no Eric and no money changing hands. Pizzazz is in control of the Zomboys simply by being in control of their leader, Neko. And when I say in control, I'm not kidding. I've often been of the opinion that Pizzazz would not be averse to exploiting her sexuality to get a job done, if it so benefited her cause. This is almost as good as you'll get in terms of evidence for that. Neko is totally besotted with her - he tells her to "Command me, Mistress, command me!" and he assures her that, "I will do anything for you, Pizzazz." She teases and flirts with him back on a minor level, just enough to retain her control but not enough to actually put herself in a dodgy situation. I like seeing her in a manipulative sex kitten type role!
Then there are the characters themselves. We don't even know the other Zomboys' names, but we do know something about one of them. He's superstitious and he worries about things. Sound like anyone we know? Well, oddly enough, Stormer doesn't act the Misfit with a conscience in this episode. Nor is she a bitch - she's neither one way or the other. But this Zomboy is basically doing her part for her. He's the one asking if they should be doing things, he's the one freaking about Mama Lou and her prediction. He's the one who Neko has to snap at, "Be a Zomboy!". He's essentially Stormer in rags and bad face paint!
Two other things that need to be mentioned. Firstly, I actually have a moment in this episode where I'd like to put hands to Jetta's throat and squeeze, hard. You're surprised? Well, it;s when she says "you can ruddy well rely on us, Ma'm!". Noone in this country would say that without dying of shame and embarrassment within ten seconds. It's awful. Truly awful. And yes, it makes me want to gag her.
And finally, the gratuitious Misfit bashing. I'm a little confused by whether the Misfits are initially in New Orleans to sabotage the Holograms or not, because they seem surprised to see their rivals - yet Pizzazz and Stormer seem to know why they are there. But what gets me is this bad habit writers have of abusing the Misfits simply because they're the bad guys. Their music must suck. They must be "dreadful creatures" and everyone must immediately hate them on sight. If they were that hated, no amount of sabotage or cheating could ever make them competition for Jem and the Holograms. That being the case, it's a cheap blow and it does the episode no credit ^_^.
SOME RANDOM OBSERVATIONS...
This is such a random episode that not everything fits nicely under little headings. So the rest of my observings I've grouped up together here. Of course, we've not yet mentioned the monkey-cum-jewel thief who apparently slips around Maison Fleur stealing trinkets and lockets and highly expensive jewels when the lights are off (and Yvette wonders why she has few customers??) Francois is the missing "friend" alluded to earlier in the episode, and he's apparently the last surviving descendant of Lafeyte's own monkey (do we think them a little obsessive?)
Now, I've assumed -and mentioned him as - the butler in this little chaos fest, but Maurice is a character who interests me. Francois is his friend. He's living in Yvette's house and he obviously has some connection to the whole business. It's never actually said, but I think he's some kind of relation or descendant of Lafeyte's and that explains his friendship with Yvette and his involvement with Pierre L'Arquette in wanting to protect the jewels from theft. It's entirely speculative, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were the case. There's a certain resemblance also...well...watch the episode and see what you think!
I'm also going to mention Synergy and her impromptu moment as a torch - well, you know these holographic computers. Equipped for everything - even lighting the way down secret passages when your owner is stupid enough to fall through a bookcase!!
Well. After seeing this episode a few times, I still find it hard going. I like the Misfit/Zomboy scenes, they make me laugh. I like Shana's loyalty to Anthony and the song, Everybody Wears a Mask. Sadly the other Jem song - Let Me Take You To The Mardi Gras - is abysmal in it's lack of original lyrics, whilst the Misfit song, Surprise Surprise, is a repeat from the first year. The plot has some interesting undertones, but it's just a little bit "out there" for me in many ways. Not one of the better episodes - but still one that you're likely to remember (even if just because you're going, WTF?)
Episode rating: 6/10
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This version c.2014
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Britrock website copyright EA Woolley