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Title Image. Fate: The Winx Saga protagonists standing in a line, looking somber.
Title Image. Fate: The Winx Saga protagonists standing in a line, looking somber.

Analysis

Fate: The Winx Saga Didn’t Have To Be Bad (Part 3)

For our final part of the deep dive into Netflix’s Fate: The Winx Saga, we close out with the remaining characters and then finally answer the titular question; why didn’t it have to be bad? How could this train wreck have been avoided?

Last time, we covered how Fate: The Winx Saga adapted the five three six main characters and basically what went wrong with each of them, every time. For the final installment, we will finish up with the remaining main players of the cast and finally answer the leading question: Why didn’t this have to be bad?

Beatrix

Let’s start with one of my personal highlights: Beatrix.

Beatrix is loosely based on three characters who were the major villains of season one and villain sidekicks for a number of later seasons, called the Trix. They were evil witches from an evil witch school and also descended from especially evils witches who did Bad Things in the past. They are called Icy, Stormy, and Darcy, and their powers were based on… Ice, lightning, and darkness.

Beatrix gets Stormy’s powers, Icy’s character, and Darcy’s love life. They say she has wind powers, but as far as I remember, we never actually see her doing anything with wind. In this particular iteration of elemental magic, though, wind includes both lightning and short-circuiting cellphones. But yeah, they had to write out the technology fairy.

Anyway, Beatrix is great. She eats up every scene she’s in, plays Bloom and honestly most people like a fiddle, and has the unhinged kind of charisma you’d expect from a kid raised, essentially, by cultists.

Well, okay, I might be inferring here, we don’t really learn about the why she was raised to unleash someone sealed away for war crimes shortly after she was born. But it sure feels a little cultish.

She’s the one who gets Bloom to believe that the school’s administration committed war crimes and fans the flames of Bloom already mistrusting Ms. Dowling while obfuscating the fact that she committed both murder and grand theft auto. And then convincingly pretends to be tortured. It’s chilling, really. And maybe the best performance both within the show and on a meta level.

Everything the light hides is your plot, Bloom.

So much so that I refuse to take anything she claims to be as fact; the only thing I believe is that she was raised for this by someone who… Seriously should have had better things to do. It’s a pretty cool twist.

And in another twist, well. I am not even sure whether she completely manipulated the two people I’m going to talk about next, or just recruited them because she genuinely thought they’re a good fit, or if the truth lies in the middle.

Riven and Dane

As mentioned last time in the Musa section, Riven is actually sort of based on a show character called Riven, known for his bad attitude, midriff-baring questionable fashion choices, and having a rollercoaster of a relationship with Musa. Also pink hair and being voiced by Sam Riegel for a while in one of the dubs, I think one so late into the game it’s the only one available for those seasons. He has a chip on his shoulder, a stick up his ass, and an inferiority complex the size of cloud tower, which leads him to frequently butt heads with Prince Sky.

A polite conversation.

The show kept… Hints? Of some of those things? None of the pink hair or the bold fashion choices, but the bad attitude. He occasionally butts heads with Sky, but they’re technically buddies. He also has really fun interactions with Stella and Terra, and even if his brief talk with Musa made me scream, that was fun, too.

(To editorialize a bit: I found a clip of their conversation on youtube, and apparently, my opinion that him and Musa are just generally better apart is a very unpopular one. The comment section on this might have made me lose some faith in humanity. I don’t get you, people. And I’m the one being perpetually baited by bad guys here.)

The most cartoon-accurate thing they do with him is that he dates Beatrix. In the cartoon, Darcy put him under a spell before he was a thing with Musa; it was still painful though. He kind of gets a small redemption arc from that, even, and a bonding moment with… The headmistress of the witch school. Honestly, the latter half of Winx Club season 1 is a RIDE, and not a bad one.

No hair, no midriff, just a bad attitude.

Anyway. In Fate, he’s a bit of a grumpy misfit who first gets with Beatrix because she does shady stuff and he knows how to do shady stuff, no mind control needed. That we see, anyway. But as I mentioned, Beatrix is a bit of a master manipulator, even of people that aren’t as easy to play as Bloom. They also share weed smoke sometimes. And by sometimes, I mean a lot.

…hot?

Sometimes as a throuple.

Which leads me to Dane, the guy I alluded to in the Terra section. Beatrix is the one who publishes the video in which he disparages Terra and then they weed smoke make out. I have confirmed with more informed sources that that can sort of work to get everyone involved at least a little high, but the way it is done on this show is excessive.

Up until that point, Dane was a pretty nice guy, hung out with Terra and got her hopes up. Also he dared to call out the school for telling them to prepare for future wars but only training them with melee weapons and hand-to-hand combat instead of, you know, guns. That they have. He might have a point there, but unfortunately, fairy magitech was written out of the show.

The one time a black person is properly lit on this show.

Where Riven seems to be along for the ride for the fun of it all, Dane seems to be genuinely swayed and convinced by Beatrix and her shady dealings, so much so he plays a key role in the chain of events that leads to the disastrous consequences at the end of the show.

His reasoning for being so deeply loyal to Beatrix is that she allegedly was the only one to ever treat him kindly. Which is just straight-up not true. We never even saw him get bullied or anything, and Terra was perfectly nice to him up until he publicly humiliated her in a video posted to a social media website by the very girl he is now standing by.

How dare Terra not forgive him for that?

Dane, as far as I can tell, is not based on anyone. There is a black love interest in later seasons, but he does not deserve the comparison. Neither does Flora’s boyfriend. Considering how he’s the one to bring up outdated tech, you could maybe make a very weak but hilarious case for him being Tecna, actually, but mostly as a joke. Functionally, Dane is another pure OC. And we interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast for my pure rage.

JUST SAY BI

As I said, Beatrix, Riven, and Dane form kind of a throuple. Sexual activity is vaguely implied. And for SOME REASON, Riven has made it his season’s quest to find out, well.

HE FREQUENTLY MAKES OUT WITH YOUR GIRLFRIEND IN YOUR PRESENCE, RIVEN, SO GEE, I DON’T KNOW!

I swear to god. There are so many conversations Riven has about whether Dane is “full gay.” Even one with him, in which he says he can tell when someone wants his dick, to which Dane replies:

“I think you’re hot. I think [Beatrix] is hot, in a different way.”

Dane, episode 6 or whatever.

THE WORD YOU’RE LOOKING FOR IS BI. Dane is bisexual. Or pansexual, if he fancies that over the term bisexual. Or polysexual, which is different from polyamorous, which he also, apparently, is. And so is this version of Riven, given the context clues. THESE ARE NOT DIRTY WORDS.

Go away, Glee, I blame you for this.

The Grown-Ups

So, something I noticed watching this was that we get a lot of scenes with the three teachers at the school. It doesn’t add up that there’d only be three, because Silva only teaches the Specialists and only in the afternoons and none of them teach Celtic Runes, but there’s three that were involved with the war crime the conflict is centered around; Farah Dowling, Saul Silva, and Ben Harvey.

We see them talking to each other, trying to make sense of things and to keep things together a lot. They also all get quite a few scenes with the three protagonists, Bloom, Sky, and Terra, respectively. I said what I said.

Silva might be sort of based in name only on the original headmaster of Red Fountain, the Specialist school in the cartoon, who is called Saladin, but if his casting was trying to imitate Professor Codatorta, they did a remarkable job in that.

Give or take a few years.

Farah Dowling is probably named after Headmistress Faragonda. Cute mythology gag.

Anyway, these three, man. I was way more invested in them than in the girls, which you might argue is a sign that I’m getting too old for teen dramas, but I doubt that. They’re just where the most interesting conflicts are at, simple as that. Silva’s imminent demise is the only reason to care about the episode 3 drama at all, even if Sky has only one facial expression about his father figure dying.

And Ms. Dowling. The actress does a phenomenal job at riding the line between authority figure that makes you feel safe and shady bitch. You want to trust her implicitly, but then the accusations pile up and she suddenly turns into a hardass about it.

She carries Bloom’s entire plot, easily. Strongest or second strongest performance after Beatrix, and the only two characters that Bloom is sort of interesting with, all by the powers of plot.

I’m not even trying to disparage any of the actors’ performances, they all do fine, but in any ensemble cast, there will be stand-outs, and Beatrix and Dowling are it. They even share a few scenes, the fake torture ones I mentioned above, and those are very chilling.

The adults also get a lot of flashbacks and reminiscence about their times as students and proteges of the people who are missing from their original unit; Sky’s dad King Andreas and Rosalinde, former headmistress and Sergeant who the central mystery revolves around in addition to Bloom.

The original squad, off to commit some war crimes.

Honestly, their relationships to the plot and each other might be the most engaging parts of the show and is basically the reason I’m writing this, because I blame all three of them for getting me invested in the last episode’s twist to the extent that I will probably watch season 2 when it drops. Yeah. Yeah, I don’t know either. They’re just that good.

The Key Issue

And that kind of cuts to the heart of the issue, doesn’t it? The most engaging parts of this show are the villains and the adults trying to keep the plot away from the protagonists. And why is that?

Because the girls’ friendship is criminally underdeveloped.

The problem here is twofold; for one, I think the show had too little time. We get six episodes that are roughly 50 minutes long each, and it’s basically always crisis mode. We hardly ever get to see them interact as a full group in ways that are not related to the main plot. We don’t see them integrate into the setting. We don’t get to establish a status quo that is not imminent death and shady people, and we kind of would have needed that so we can miss the status quo next season, and so the girls have some perspective on what they, allegedly, lost by the end.

Someone is missing. And it’s not Aisha in the background.

The other issue is that with the exception of Terra, all of the girls hate being around people. Stella maybe least of all, she just hates being around these people, which might be worse. They are brought together by living in a suite, that’s great, and immediately clash. Which is fine. The original had them just be like yeah let’s try to get along and go out and have pizza together instead of sniping at each other immediately, but okay, conflict.

Do we resolve that conflict? No. Do we address that conflict? Not really. Are we allowed time to flesh out the conflict? Not even that. We rush off to save Bloom because Stella told her to go into the Forbidden Forest beyond the barrier. Okay. Now Stella insists on getting her ring back and half of the group doesn’t wanna but tags along anyway. And then Bloom runs off and gets herself attacked by the plot, roughly three times over, and look at that, we’re out of episodes.

There is a party episode in which part of the girls have a nice moment helping Terra to get ready, but then they spend the party apart working on their own subplots or lack thereof until it is go time again because Bloom did a stupid thing. And everyone goes to save her.

But why are you even there Bloom, I swear to god, listen to Aisha FOR ONCE.

Stella is easily forgiven and never scrutinized for the messed-up things she allegedly did, and also for the messed up things she did non-allegedly. And except from Aisha in voice of reason mode, no one ever really questions Bloom. Everyone just goes along with her bullshit, and for the life of me, I don’t get why. She hasn’t been a good friend to any of you. She has been nothing but drama from day one. Aisha got some one-on-one time with her to be her life coach, but Terra and Musa never have time to bond with her (or with Aisha or Stella for that matter). Bloom tells you to stop tagging along and that she’d rather be alone. Several times. Hell, the one time you kindly push back on the breaking a murderer out of prison issue, she looks at you like this.

“You are my friends, I love and respect you and will set you on fire for getting in my way.”

In the original, the girls went from casual friends to fire forged friends over time. They had a better starting place and more time to develop. These girls seemingly never grow out of their companionship of convenience or trauma phase. And if taking one of the Burned Ones down was supposed to be their “thing you can’t do together without becoming friends,” no on told Stella, who is only their friend when she comes back and shit has hit the fan already.

(Also, Sky was there for that and no one but Bloom and Stella ever even talk to him. So I guess the bonding powers of defeating zombies together only works for girls. Yay?)

The only time they do something together out of nothing but maybe liking each other is at the very, very end. That’s what the promo shot from the trailer is from, the literal last scene of the season. That’s how long it took for everyone to just hang and be friends, and that’s technically still related to recuperating from Bloom’s bullshit. Yes, she learns, it’s fine now, I know. Assuming this is a show where what little character development there was actually carries over between seasons. That is besides the point though.

We are supposed to be invested in these girls and their friendship, and I have a hard time believing these girls even like each other that much, even by the end.

So all of this combined begs one central question:

Why Winx?

The show runners stripped the setting of everything that made the original unique in its flavor of Magical Girl and Magic School, stripped Bloom of everything that made her likable, adapted Diaspro instead of Stella, had Musa and Aisha appear in name only, wrote out two of the main characters entirely, invented their own plot, characters, and backstory, and most of all just seemed ridiculously uncomfortable with the fairy aspect. Of a show. About girls. Turning into fairies.

Why did they have to use the Winx franchise to tell this story? Were they afraid that a show about girls going to magic school wouldn’t find an audience without it? If so, they have things completely backwards. Their show offers less than nothing to people who were invested in the Winx franchise going in. The more you know what it is based on, the worse it gets. So all you’re doing is alienating the very fanbase you are trying to court, and keeping new viewers out if they feel like they need to know what Winx is and only see actual fans roast this show for being bad. It’s a classic lose-lose scenario. You please exactly no-one with this middle ground approach.

So why didn’t it have to be bad?

Well, if you have managed to make it through this behemoth of a review series, you may have noticed that I’ve begrudgingly sprinkled in praise in places. The show as a whole is a lot less than the sum of its parts.

I see this going two ways; both are similar in that they would involve spending more episodes on making the girls bond and fleshing out the characters. Give them something to do that is not boyfriends. Give Aisha a character and some goddamn lighting that doesn’t make her disappear in the set design. When the actresses actually are together, their chemistry isn’t even bad. Though of course, you know, no whitewashing the main characters also firmly belongs in the not making it bad category.

And then you go for way one and actually embrace the Winx setting. Ham it up. Get out the glitter and the sparkles. Turn up the color saturation. The whimsy. The goddamn wings the show is named after, depending on version. Some clothes that are cuter than mom blogger chic. I hear Y2K is coming back into fashion anyway. Embrace it! Cheesy-ness and all. Then condense the plot of the first season to something that still allows for some breathing room, and voilà. You have a show that stands a decent chance of pleasing its intended audience; people in their late teens and twenties who were invested in the Winx franchise growing up.

Or, do the radical, risky approach of just ditching the Winx title altogether. They wrote more of the related elements out than they kept in anyway. Change some names around, make the school more overtly militaristic, get the framing of how messed up the child soldier aspect is straight.

If you have kept score, the elements I praised were usually the ones that had nothing to do with the original anyway. The plot in general, Terra as the best written character, Beatrix as basically a new villain, the grown-ups trying to keep it together while remembering their war crime past. What do you need the trademark for? What do you need fairies, specifically, for? Why aren’t they witches or mages or sorceresses or druids with Celtic runes? Just come up with your own magic school and elemental power system, it’s fine, it’s original enough.

It’s not a wrap-up at the hospital wing when there’s no hospital wing!

Mystery orphan discovering amazing powers and being at the center of a conspiracy is not copyrighted by this franchise. Magical schools aren’t, not even the generic British kind. Especially not that one, actually, since the original is set in a culturally unique magical world and made in Italy. Magic based on elemental powers is most certainly not unique to this series, either. Just strip yourself of the ties to the original franchise that hold you back and tell your own story instead of having to feel shackled to characters you don’t seem to care about in the first place. Characters you care so little about you couldn’t even pretend to be writing them instead of condensed OCs for more than a hot second.

I don’t know if it’s the crew or the performers, but some of these scenes, specifically with the good elements, the elements original to this adaptation, seem to actually have someone caring about them somewhere in the writer’s room. It’s just a shame that everything that made Winx Winx didn’t receive that kind of attention, if you absolutely had to slap the name on for a quick cash grab in the first place. Which, given the otherwise bad writing and inept pandering, I honestly think did more harm than good.

Images courtesy of Netflix and RAI

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    Jana should be studying for her law degree right now. She prefers to obsess over pop culture instead.

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