Season Three: Exploring RIOT'S HOPE
OVERVIEW... Britrock website copyright EA Woolley
Riot's Hope is something of an anomalous episode in a lot of ways. I admit it's about the only episode that I can stand him in - probably because we are given such a detailed look into him and his past, entirely from his perspective. There isn't a single other character in the show who we get such a detailed backstory about in such a concise and thought out way - and that it should occur for a character who in the final analysis only appeared in maybe eight or nine episodes says something about the intentions the writing team had for the Stingers in the series. It's interesting to note that this is essentially the 'How The Stingers Formed' story - something we are never told about the Misfits, even after two seasons of getting to know them!!
RIOT and HIS FAMILY
Though the episode is about the Stingers, they are almost an incidental part of the bigger picture - the problem background Riot has and his relationships with both his mother and his father. Riot's Dad is a military man who believes in things his way or no way at all. He considers music "for women and sissies" and cannot accept Riot's desire to make it as a musician. Part of the problem is obviously the weak Mildred Llewelyn, who loves her son and her husband but doesn't know how to make them see eye to eye. Since it's Mildred who teaches Riot the piano, we must assume that she has a keen interest in music and that it was probably her he inherited his own love of it from. There's something tragic in his recollection of his father's activities - the fact he smashed Riot's guitar, which we later discovered was bought for him by his mother. Riot's love for his Mom seems to be absolute, despite the fact his father essentially has disowned him. When Mildred is in hospital, his mind is never far from her, and at the end of the day, he is able to make peace with his father for his mother's sake.
Strangely enough, when you look at Riot and his dysfunctional family background, there are some spooky parallels here to the lead player in another Jem rival group! Yes, I'm serious - Pizzazz! At first glance they seem to be totally different characters, but they do have things in common. Firstly, Riot's desire to prove himself as a success is derived largely from his father treating him as if every decision he makes is a bad one. He brings the album home to give to his mother as a gift, but also as evidence that he's made something of his life and in search of pride and acceptance from his home. Pizzazz too is seeking acceptance from her father, and attempts on several occasions to get his attention by trying to correlate business and her musical interests. Equally, both Riot and Pizzazz attempt to 'conform' somewhat to their father's ideals - Riot joins the army because it's what he's expected to do, and Pizzazz tries to manage a business deal with her father in Middle of Nowhere. Both attempts end in failure and disappointment because the bottom line is neither Pizzazz nor Riot are anything like their fathers, and subconsciously they both feel it a a black mark against them in the world. Riot's preoccupation with control and perfection is not really so very different from Pizzazz's obsessive domination of the Misfits and frantic attempts to be the best in the music world. You can't help but wonder, then, if they are such kindred spirits, that this is part of the reason Pizzazz finds herself drawn to him!
Riot's family troubles have issues on several different levels. Since he's spent his childhood being told that music is not for proper men, and is only for women and sissies, it's important to take a look at Riot's concept of his own identity. I'm not a fan of dumping sexual orientations on characters who were written to be one way or another, but I think it's very possible that Riot himself has doubts in that department. That's not to say that Riot is or isn't homosexual. But being constantly barraged with insults, coupled with his father's "blueprint" for being a "proper" man (including the armed forces, which Riot was an abject failure in) must have made him wonder if he was "a proper man". This might also easily explain his very public and very superficial interest in Jem - a seemingly 'perfect' individual but more significantly, one with no ties or background or real identity. Riot isn't looking for a real woman, or a relationship with security and trust. He's looking for someone he can use as a trophy piece, to front an image to the world while he tries to figure things out in his own head. I don't know if he is straight, gay, or bisexual. I don't think it matters whether he's any of the three - it's Riot's own understanding of himself that is the key. He does things on his terms and he has no real affection for Jem, until she is his 'shoulder to cry on' - then, when she tries to be affectionate he pulls back, probably because he feels he can no longer 'use' someone who's proven themselves a good listener and a better friend in his time of need.
Despite his animosity towards his father, Riot is still very much connected to him. Aside from trying to prove himself, the effect that the General's dismissiveness has on him is absolute - and here is another parallel with Pizzazz, as we see Riot in the middle of the Stingers' success party, alone, isolated from the crowd, and struggling with his inner demons. This is so eerily close to Pizzazz at the end of The Music Awards - apart from the party atmosphere Jem and the Holograms are enjoying, alone and clutching a trophy that suddenly has lost it's lustre. For both Riot and Pizzazz, success is not enough on it's own. There is a bigger picture - proving to themselves as much to the world their own self-worth.
Perhaps the most telling piece of evidence for the fact Riot and his father have a bad relationship comes from Rapture's lips - "I didn't even know you had a father!". That someone he works so closely with and has been through so much with (see below) is unaware of his family back in America speaks volumes...perhaps failure is too big a thing to confess to, or maybe the memory of it all is just too painful.
THE STINGERS - A HISTORY
Yes, that is the other part of this episode - the Stingers. Not even Jem and the Holograms really have a backstory quite like this one. Though we see something of the background to the Holograms, we see it as it is happening, whereas this episode trots back further into the past and links together Riot's childhood with their eventual success in getting the club date in America - tying it in nicely to the events in the Stingers Hit Town.
That Riot - an American citizen - should spend so much of his time in Europe is an interesting concept. Though he hated his military training, it did, in fact, provide him with his means to freedom - he was stationed in Germany, an ocean away from home, and it is in Germany that he first encounters Minx and her band 'Nirvana'. Aside from the obvious (and frequently mentioned) predating of the famous group of the same name, I think Nirvana can also be seen in another way. If we consider Riot's own words about the army - how he hated it and couldn't see what his father thought was so great about it - we can easily see that he considered this way of life his form of 'hell.'. Then, out of the blue come the group "Nirvana" (meaning heaven, of course), with his chance to escape and finally do with his life what he always wanted to do. Despite the fact that joining Nirvana demanded him turning his back on the military and therefore his father's high expectations, the call of the music was just too much. We see the Stingers often as troublemakers who are less interested in music and more interested in causing problems and mayhem. This is not one of those times, however. Riot's devotion to his music is so strong that he essentially chooses it over a relationship with his father, and because of it loses everything he has.
It's not just a matter of music, though. Riot says himself that "This time I was determined never again to let anyone else control my life" - neatly explaining his own desire to be in charge of whatever is going on. And hence the Stingers are born.
That Riot and Minx should have met in a group and adopted their relative stage-names at this point contradicts Riot's own original explanation to Jem in The Stingers Hit Town about how he and Minx met - in high school in Germany. It seems possible that the reason behind that was simply he didn't want to go into detail with Jem about how the Stingers began - or how he was discharged from the army in disgrace because of his musical ambitions. And yet, I don't think Jem would have been unimpressed by the truth. Of all the groups, it has to be said that for determination, grit and hard work the Stingers win hands down.
"Life was hard, and we were determined to make it" - Riot's own explanation for why he, Minx and Rapture stuck together through cold winters, playing on street corners to make money for food, and without any shelter. To have such commitment to their music and to each other explains very well why they are so closeknit, and therefore, why they are so successful at what they do.
And yet, even after all of this, we still don't know anything at all about Rapture. It seems strange, really, that an episode which gives us Riot's life story and a good insight into Minx pre-Stingers gives us absolutely no idea why an American girl should be in Europe at the right time to hook up with the Stingers, or why she should have met them at all. In the music video for a Hard Hard Life we first see her playing a tambourine, and we see Riot putting a coat around her shoulders as she shivers in the cold. Later, Rapture is playing guitar, and you can only wonder if Riot taught her to do so. In that case, then, is it possible that Rapture's joining of the group had nothing to do with music at all? We will never know for sure, because Rapture's backstory was never explained - and her reasons for aligning herself with a struggling rock group remain in shadow.
JEM and POLITICS?
Considering the current political climate, I felt it topical as well as interesting to mention the opening of the episode. We see Riot's father with a newspaper, complaining "What a mess! We oughta send over the big guns and clean up that place once and for all!"
"Middle East Heats Up."
This episode aired at least two years before the first Gulf War broke out, and considering the use also of "Nirvana", you really do have to wonder about the prophetic qualities of this storyline ;) But considering current affairs, the soldier's words ring eerily true even twenty years or so down the line.
JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS - STINGER RIVALS OR SOMETHING ELSE?
This honestly puzzles me. We believe after The Stingers Hit Town that Jem and the Holograms are setting themselves up for a new rivalry with the Stingers. And we feel the same rivalry at several points, albeit often one on one rivalry (Jem/Rio/Riot, Minx/Jerrica/Rio, Rapture/anyone she feels like upsetting). But in this episode it's not like that at all. Jem and the Holograms are invited to the Stingers' success party and even though Shana says wryly that it's probably to gloat, they still are going and are going in good humour. Would they ever have gone to a Misfit bash? Perish the thought. So how deep is this rivalry, then? Maybe the answer's in the coy blush Jem gives when Kimber teases her about still liking Riot. At several points in this episode you think Kimber probably has the nail hit right on the head - I suppose if Jem was crushing on Pizzazz they'd have a different attitude towards the Misfits, too!!
I'm not a big fan of the Stingers or Stinger episodes, but I do like the flash-back nature of this one. It gives us a lot of information about a group that, without this episode, we would really know next to nothing about. And even though Rapture remains a mystery, the episode does contain one of the best Stinger songs - A Hard Hard Life. It's also, memorably, perhaps the only Jem episode NOT to feature a song with either Jem or any of the Holograms performing in it!!
Just a pity, therefore, that the Holograms themselves are largely marginalised to bit parts, and the Misfits are nonexistant!
Episode rating: 7/10.
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This version c.2014
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Britrock website copyright EA Woolley