This week on Killjoys: The team makes progress on puzzling out Khlyen’s “message” for Dutch, and suddenly it’s revealed that Dutch doesn’t see what Khlyen did to her as abuse?
Content warning: this review discusses torture and child abuse, as depicted on the show.
Zeph scans Pip’s brain to figure out why on Earth he tried to kidnap D’av’s kid, and sees a familiar-looking spider. She takes Pip off of Lucy in the Black Root fighter (that they used to locate Lucy in 4×03) so she can try to get the spider out without putting everyone else at risk should things go awry. D’av is angry because he wants Pip where he can see him; Johnny has to hammer home to him that no, his kid is actually safer with a lot of hard vacuum between him and the guy who tried to kidnap him.
Zeph experiments with a couple different “treatments” to try to kill the spider in Pip’s brain and get it out—and discovers that the spider is the only thing keeping Pip alive, so she can’t kill it, just prevent it from influencing his actions. It turns out that the spider is dying anyways, though, because the Green is frozen. This means Pip is dying, too, so they’re heading back to the Armada.
Along the way, Pip makes the statement that he would rather risk death than be someone that Zeph can’t trust, which would be a nice and emotional sentiment… if it actually felt like Zeph’s feelings about this were an important part of this plot. Instead, it just feel like it exists to us how Pip has changed and to potentially lead up to some decision on Zeph’s part that she’s now in love with Pip because she’s just so moved by how much he cares.
Dutch and Johnny make use of technology on Utopia to scan through Dutch’s memories to see what Easter eggs Khlyen may have left them. They come up with three main things: The RAC insignia, the face of the assassin at the ten-year retreat, and a recording of a pulsar’s radiation signature. Johnny is able to locate the pulsar, with Lucy’s help—a star that suffered a cataclysmic event of some kind a long time ago. When Johnny runs the assassin’s face through all the records he can find, he doesn’t find anything. Except the attention of a particular order of assassins who have been “scrubbed from the record,” but appear to be in the service of the Lady. An assassin from said order proceeds to try to kill them in order to cover up their existence.
Dutch takes on training Jaq, and at first, it goes well. Once they’ve captured the assassin, though, Dutch goes straight for torture. Before she can start, Jaq walks in. He becomes uncomfortable when he senses that this is going to be a bit different from the practical and theoretical lessons in self-defense that he’s been learning all episode.
Dutch grabs Jaq’s arm and forbids him from leaving, saying “This is part of your training.” At that moment, D’av walks in, furious, stops the session, and rips Dutch a new one. This involves gems like Dutch comparing how she was training Jaq to her training with Khlyen, D’av telling Dutch that she was abused as a child, Dutch refusing to believe him, and then, later, D’av ultimately deciding to leave the ship with Jaq (without telling Dutch).
Back on Westerley, Pree interrogates Fancy about what happened to Gared, and they decide to go after the (apparently human) man who was in charge of identifying kids for the Hullen to kidnap. Using the man’s handprint, Pree gets himself kidnapped and taken to wherever they’re taking the kids—the RAC, as it turns out.
This episode is, in a nutshell, exactly why I get uncomfortable when stories suddenly decide to take on parenthood in a direct way. I try to give credit where I think it’s due, because I really do like stories that evoke strong emotions, and stories about a person’s relationship with their parents, recovery from what they experienced because of their parents, or a parent’s relationship with their children, all really can evoke that kind of response from me.
The problem is twofold. One, I’m on edge around stories about parenthood, especially if there’s flavors of “unfit to be a mother.” All too often that’s used as shorthand for “is a bad person” when applied to female characters (or vice versa). But, Killjoys has come back from moments that left an equally bad taste in my mouth (Johnny shooting Kendry, for instance, or D’av telling Dutch that she’s “being selfish” by sacrificing herself for what she understands to be the freedom of everyone in the Quad), so it’s not out of the question.
Killjoys has also not shied away from Going There and putting some truly skin-crawling things in the subtext. (Ask me sometime about the metaphor for parent-child sexual abuse.) Dutch doing something like teaching a teenager how to torture someone, while definitely disturbing, would not be the darkest subject matter the show has dealt with. However, the context of how motherhood is treated in the larger context of mass media, particularly women who aren’t “good mothers,” is not fantastic.
Second, the revelation that Dutch doesn’t consider what Khlyen did to her abuse makes sense logically. They haven’t done anything to contradict that assertion, and there’s certainly arguments to be made that Dutch “isn’t herself” right now (because of Khlyen’s memory modifications, which would count as another form of manipulation on his part). Still, it feels out of the blue because her abuse hasn’t been centered for almost two seasons in favor of the “Hullen invasion” story. At the same time, in a show that moves as quickly as Killjoys does, I don’t expect everything to be said on-screen.
Nevertheless, the show has spent the last three years all but saying that Dutch was abused. And while it’s true that flat denial of a relationship as abusive is a common reaction from victims to being told that, they never made it clear before that scene that Dutch didn’t think of her experiences as abuse either.
But you have, in-text, Dutch telling Khlyen that his training “made her hate herself.” Dutch also says that she tried to escape him repeatedly. Other characters refer to her earlier experiences as “traumatic.” Khlyen’s attempts to isolate Dutch and remove any other influences from her life, like Johnny and D’av. We also see Dutch meditating on her complicated feelings about Khlyen when deciding to kill him and after his actual death that, for anyone familiar with the subject, are common struggles that survivors face, sometimes over and over again. After a certain point, you start to assume the label abuse was applied when the camera wasn’t looking. If there was going to be resistance from Dutch with calling it abuse, it would’ve been nice to have had a heads-up so that this didn’t require a significant revision of my understanding of Dutch’s core character.
Even if Dutch thinks Khlyen “had a reason” to do what he did, it’d take a lot more than that to sell me on the idea that Dutch magically re-classified all those experiences as “normal” and necessary for anyone other than her. What D’av saw as “selfish” has always read to me as Dutch accepting that her “normal”—her upbringing, her training, her trauma—all make her uniquely fit for what’s being asked of her and taking it on herself is a way to prevent anyone else from having to become what she is. You can read D’av’s comments as a subversion of the idea of the “Chosen One,” but it also seems important to Dutch (and to potentially any survivor) to believe that their experiences had a purpose. It would take a lot more than that to sell me on the idea that Dutch would ever subject someone to the same thing she went through, especially if that person withdrew their consent. Which Jaq did, and still Dutch kept pressing.
Put another way, Khlyen’s training of Dutch as an assassin—killing and torturing people, when she explicitly didn’t want to—is Dutch’s core trauma. It is something that has shaped her life and her conscious morality (like her decision not to take Level 5 warrants). Dutch’s struggle for agency in how she uses her skills—her body, really, because her body is a weapon—is central to her character and one of the most moving things (at least to me) about the show. A moment like this, if it’s going to happen, deserves far more build-up and/or foreshadowing, instead of just giving us the fallout. After the statements about “Auntie Dutch” and how much D’av and Dutch trust each other, the breach of trust and reflection on Dutch’s character is difficult to overstate. I’m having a very hard time believing that Dutch would’ve done this in the first place.
Because this isn’t just “Dutch is scared.” This is Dutch becoming someone else’s Khlyen, and it’s unsettling to see the significance of that skimmed over in favor of making this about D’av telling her a “cold hard truth” about her childhood because, well, he’s a dad now, so he sees things differently.
Thirs (this is just my gut reaction, your mileage may vary), D’av telling Dutch that she was abused felt very savior-like, in the vein of him calling her “selfish” for, in his mind, not trying hard enough not to die. Everything in this episode feels set up to validate D’av as a Good Parent, a selfless guy. Him telling Dutch what’s good for her because he got a sudden infusion of parental wisdom rubs me the wrong way.
It’s true that Dutch wants to be able to have an easier relationship with Khlyen, to the point that she may make excuses for his actions. But Dutch’s willingness to inflict what was done to her on other people is not the same as wanting her relationship with Khlyen to be easier. Dutch has always seemed to understand that what she went through was, at the very least, not normal. And her “coming around” to believe that his abuse was just him doing what was necessary—and that it’s something that she needs to do to others—needed to be spelled out a lot more clearly before she actually tried to do it to someone else. Otherwise, this feels completely out of the blue.
Furthermore, (granted, this is my reaction after having to sit through Supergirl and its clumsy treatment of motherhood this season) it feels rather like it exists to frame D’av as a “good parent” for listening to his kid, not “forcing” a name on him, setting proper boundaries around what weapons and violence his kid is exposed to, constantly worrying about him And, subsequently, to frame Dutch as “unfit” because she’s “damaged.”
There are many reasons for Dutch to not want kids, or not be great with them; her skillset and experiences don’t exactly prime her to be kid-friendly. But there is a reason why some of Killjoys’ most powerful and/or disturbing content regarding parenthood and parent-related trauma has happened strictly in the realm of metaphor or subtext. The moment you have a main character try to force an actual child to watch or participate in torture, you cross a line. Maybe that line is a personal one, for me. But this left Dutch looking like the bad guy. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, from time to time—but it feels a bit like she got thrown under the bus to make D’av look good.
And while I like D’av (or want to like him), and I think that having a character with his moral compass is good, I don’t care for stories that build male characters up at the expense of female ones.
Next week on Killjoys: D’av and Jaq will more than likely run into trouble, and I’m not looking forward to the fallout of Dutch’s argument with D’av.