Saturday, May 03, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 26

Well, here we are, half a year later: the final chapter. We're finally in the home stretch of this inane bullshit. And for her final trick, EL James puts us in a psychological minefield that she has no idea how to navigate.

After being all lovey-dovey in the last chapter, this one opens at 5:30 in the morning with Christian doing his broody Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera thing at the piano, playing Chopin and just begging with his demeanor and shirtlessness to be redeemed by the love of an understanding woman. Ana wants to talk. Christian wants sex. Are we surprised anymore?

Christian talks about banging her on the piano instead of the keys, but doesn't say it in as romantical a way as I just did, ladies and curious gentlemen. She's internally blown away by the naughtiness of the idea. I don't know why we went to all the bother of making Christian so troubled and handsome and rich and powerful anymore. I mean, no offense here, but if making love on the piano is a girl's idea of brain-meltingly naughty, I feel like maybe you don't have to work so hard to be creative.

Ana brings up the contract and Christian tells her he considers the contract moot. After all, they've been doing all the sex and punishment, anyway, and their relationship is different now because of all the "more." But, he still wants the Rules to apply. You remember the Rules, don't you? I mean, have you forgotten them at all, despite their mention in pretty much every one of the preceding chapters? Well, just in case you have, EL James spams us with them one more time. They agreed she didn't have to follow the one about food. Exciting! That's just the give and take compromise of being in a relationship, I guess. You have to exercise and see my doctor regularly and do whatever I tell you and remember your every behavior reflects on me even when you're alone and I'm going to beat the shit out of you if I've determined you've ever crossed me, but at least if you want to take a night off and sit in front of the TV eating Doritos, I can't complain about it. Christian must just feel impotent over that concession.

So, then things take a dark and stupid turn.

I feel like Snoopy there.

It was a dark and stupid night morning.

Christian and Ana are getting all playful again, and he's chasing her around telling her he's going to spank her for rolling her eyes at him again, and she's running away, but they're playing it all cute, you know. Just laughing and lunging and being all couple-y.

And then Ana says "I feel about punishment the way you feel about me touching you."

And Christian stops. He stops and his entire demeanor changes. Fun's over; now it's time for sad. And, I mean, it actually is kind of sad, but only because I recognize this feeling so intensely.

Let's unpack this.

This relationship is something different for Christian, and he was tentative about revealing more of himself, but now that he is where he is, he likes it there. He's in love, and probably he feels somewhat understood and accepted more than usual, maybe even in ways he never even thought possible. The BDSM still comes into play, but it's not what his entire relationship with Ana is built around, and he seems to find it surprisingly freeing. Just a few paragraphs ago, he's told Ana that he wants to still do stuff in the playroom, but that's just for the playroom and not all the time. And he thinks Ana's okay with this and feels the same way as he does and is as happy as he is.

But wait: she's not.

And that's devastating. And worse, it's validating in the wrong way. Now he realizes he hasn't been in a relationship like he thought; she doesn't like the pain and the punishment, which means he's just been hurting and torturing this poor girl, which means there's something wrong with him, which seems to be what his deepest insecurity really is: that he's not worthy of being loved by another person. That's what this whole thing is. This is his way of getting close to people in a way that he has total control of.

And hey, she doesn't have any obligation to like BDSM. I've been saying this whole time it was stupid of her to just go ahead and do it and hope for the best. And I've been saying, too, that it was stupid of him to just put her through that and figure she'd find the pleasure aspect of it. This chapter is like the payoff of all this bad judgment.

So, yes, Christian is very hurt, and Ana has clearly been trying to not let it get to this point, because she doesn't want him to feel horrible about this whole thing. But that's just put all of this stress on her, too. This is what happens when no one is honest about their feelings. Now that she finally has been, she feels like she's done the wrong thing. She even tries to back off from what she's said and downgrades her feelings about punishment from "adamantly hate it" to "totally ambivalent, whatever." She trusts him in the playroom, because it's "what he needs." Ana says she's afraid Christian is going to physically hurt her. Christian's response? "I want to hurt you. But not beyond anything that you couldn't take."

Oh, boy.

So, to summarize the situation: Christian and Ana are in love with each other. She apparently begged him in her sleep not to leave her. Christian wants to keep up with the Rules and the punishments and etc. Ana doesn't like the punishments but will still do the playroom because it's what Christian "needs." He won't explain why he needs it and why he doesn't like being touched because he's afraid it will make her leave him, and he desperately doesn't want her to leave. He's in this thing in his mind now where she's going to leave him if she knows any more about him, but he's so unwilling to talk about it that he won't do it even if it makes her leave him.

Yeah, we go through the rationalization process a lot in therapy.

So we're finally, finally at the point where they can no longer accommodate one another. This is the crossroads. Time to pack it up and go home, right?

Wait.

It gets worse.

So, so much worse.

Ana "realizes" that Christian is afraid and in deep, deep need. So she decides to make a last ditch effort to save their relationship by going all in on the pain thing. Deep breath. "Show me how much it can hurt."

This... is not a good decision.

She wants to see how bad it can get, and if she can take it, maybe he'll let her touch him.

You can tell this is going to end badly because there are only 10 more pages left in this book.

Oh, and also because this is a stupid fucking decision.

He bends her, naked, over a bench, and she's thinking "Why the hell doesn't he just get on with it? He always makes such a meal of punishing me."

Now, that right there. That's how you know this is not going to work out between them. Because she doesn't get that for him it's as much about the ritual as it is anything else, and she just wants it all to be over as quickly as possible. She doesn't get the fundamental aspects of this, and he's not exactly explaining them, so there's just not going to be any understanding on this.

He beats her ass hard, six times, with a belt. Not holding back at all.

And of course it's horrible. And of course it's emotionally devastating. Because heaven forbid you two try to work out your issues together, like people who are in love and supportive. Instead, they make these constant demands of each other for surrender that neither one is comfortable with. He's not going to let you touch him, Ana, and you should not be letting him beat the shit out of you, either.

Can we all just take a second to remember that this "relationship" has only been going on for, at the most, a few weeks? A month, maybe? There's this weariness to this chapter, as though this has been a long time in coming, but honestly, they're still in that courtship phase. Think about that. If this is the stuff that's coming out at the beginning of this relationship, what's coming later on?

Ana is pissed after that beating. Pissed. Like, have to go lay down alone and cry and really think this over pissed. She takes the time to yell at Christian about how fucked up he is and how he needs to sort his shit out, which... I mean, I get it, but also... you know, that sort of reaction is what he was afraid of and why he never wanted to open himself up. That's kind of sad. I recognize that, too. That feeling that you're so bad and rotting inside that you can never open yourself up to people because they'll think you're fucked up, and then when you do, someone flat out tells you how fucked up you are, and the last thing you ever want to do is open up to a person ever again. You think, well, I really am bad and rotting inside, so I'll just keep rotting and be quiet about it.

I'm sure I'm reading into that a bit. It's part of being in therapy; you see yourself in a lot of characters that you don't really want to. But, on the other hand, being empathetic is never really a bad thing, because it gives you a better understanding of the world and how people relate to one another and why. I'm still not saying that excuses any of the ways anyone hurts anyone else--and hell, it's hard to argue that Ana overreacted to a pretty savage beating--just that I understand. I understand both sides.

The thing is, it's never going to work and they are under no obligation to try and force it to. And that's where EL James really goes wrong in this chapter. Hey, the bad judgment of the characters, that's all pretty organic and believable. The problem with this is that, for the last several pages, Ana is just waffling and waffling between whether she should stay with Christian or leave him. It's perfectly natural to be emotional about this, but James is once again hitting that button that too much of pop culture likes to lay down on: that if you break up with someone, you might never, ever find love again, because you'll probably only have one true love. BULLSHIT! She's young. She just graduated from college a couple of days ago, she's just starting her life. She'll meet other people and fall in love again.

Christian doesn't want her to leave, but he also just doesn't understand how Ana could even be in love with him because he's so bad, and that's painfully recognizable, too. But, in the end, Ana finally realizes it's not her job to save him. And it's not. What he really needs is therapy. And she does, too, frankly. They both need the kind of therapy that EL James is incapable of writing about, if Ana's mother's shitty advice is any indication.

Ana decides to leave Christian and leave the things he bought for her and go on with her life. But, again, James is handling it wrong. First, she makes it clear that Ana is devastated because Christian is so perfect and now she can't have him, as though Ana is in the wrong here, and the world is coming to an end because there's love right there and Ana can't have it because, I don't know, she wants to be treated like a person too much? Second, she stops just a little too close to implying that because Ana feels liberated now, the beating she took was ultimately empowering in and of itself (as opposed to, say, the thing that gave her the emotional resolve to guide her own life--the knowledge that she can being the thing that should be empowering). And third, she plays Ana discovering what she wants for herself as though it's the worst thing that ever happened to her, because now she's so sad.

This is the right ending, but it's coming at the wrong time and in the wrong way. EL James wants this to be a tragedy, but it isn't. Ana feeling bad about it is very human, and the right tone, but it ends with this thought: "the physical pain from the bite of a belt is nothing, nothing compared to this devastation." So, are we supposed to believe Ana made the wrong choice? She curls up and cries: "surrender myself to grief." That's literally the last sentence of the book. That's where this thing ends. With Ana in deep emotional pain because she chose to walk away from a relationship rather than stay with an abusive guy.

So, that seems to be the real message here: you only have one chance at love, so stick with it, even if the guy gets physical with you, because it's the only way he can show you that he loves you, and expecting to be treated with respect and dignity will only make you unhappy and hey, it's better than being alone and sad all the time, right? Leaving someone who hurts you isn't empowering at all: it's devastating. Particularly if he's hot.

Fuck this idiot book for idiots. This is depressing garbage.

Look, let's just walk away from this book, which should have been 250 pages shorter and a whole hell of a lot smarter. There are some rumblings of something big happening because of whatever Christian's mysterious business-related "situation" is. There's that dangling plot thread, and we know there are two more books. But let's let them go. Let's stop doing this. This is just pornography for people who are addicted to drama. This was an unhealthy read. Don't look back. Keep walking away. You'll read other, better books and remember what it was like to be happy, and fall in love with the novel form again. We've all been abused by this one; let us resolve to read more often, and let that resolve empower us to seek out the great books we deserve to spend our time on.

Let's end with a video of Rowlf the Dog singing "What a Wonderful World" to remind you that there's still good in the world and we're all better people than terrible authors try to make us.

4 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

Our long national nightmare is over...

Autumn said...

I would love to say it's been a fun ride, but we all know better. I forgot that the big silly plot stuff isn't even in the first book....

SamuraiFrog said...

I read the plot summaries of the next two books, and wow, how silly. It kind of reminded me of the way movies sometimes come out and are big hits, like The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean and Back to the Future, where they suddenly make two sequels at once and try to pretend "It was a trilogy all along!"

Carl said...

Wouldn't it be hysterical if the movies were actually GOOD? Like, someone with your sensibilities wrote the scripts and directed it? A psychological erotic story with weight and subtlety... Nah... Never happen. Gotta cater to the fans... The stupid, stupid fans. And I know a few, and they ARE stupid.