Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I’ve Never Hit A Girl In My Life: The Ladies of Red vs Blue

Let’s take a moment to appreciate that these two images are from the same web series.

Also that, although you wouldn’t know it from the identical body shapes of the characters, the one in black is a woman.

These screencaps are from Red vs Blue, fan video taken to the greatest extreme. It began in 2003 because the three-person team who would become known as RoosterTeeth needed actual content for a placeholder website. Their idea was to do a comedic machinima - videos filmed “inside” video games. In this case, the game was “Halo: Combat Evolved”.

The show came to the attention of Bungie, then-owner of the Halo franchise, through Dell employees and other fans who spread the word to a large audience. It doesn’t hurt that the very first shot of the series used a camera pan Bungie had to ask RoosterTeeth how to do. Red vs Blue was pushing at the walls of a seemingly static medium, using the shooter game Halo as an art form. The many people who go into producing an episode in 2012 make it their job to know as much about “Halo physics” as possible, from what weapons are available in what maps to the textures on the walls. RoosterTeeth, now a company with over thirty employees, houses its own mini animation studio, with motion capture and completely original art contributing to the episodes.

The most recent seasons of Red vs Blue also excel in a way I wouldn’t have guessed from the previous ones: the female characters. Each has a myriad of motivations, a unique personality (as do the males, who might get their own post) and contributes to the plot significantly.

The earlier seasons, not so much. The first introduced was Tex, a popular character who gets some of the best fight choreography in the series. At first she fulfilled the role of the tough woman whose strength surprises the other (male) characters in part because it isn’t expected from her gender. Many jokes equated her strength and argumentative attitude with masculinity.

Sistertalkingtowash.pnhg.PNGThe second female to be introduced is a sibling of another character, and referred to universally as Sister. Sister is a source of many of the sexual jokes in the fifth season, and her gender is called into question in order to facilitate that type of humor. Red vs Blue’s comedic tone means that commentary on gender is often tongue-in-cheek or intended to be parodic, and Sister takes this aspect to an extreme. Like a lot in this series, the goal of her dialogue seems to be to shock viewers. 

In later seasons, though, such as the left-hand screenshot at the top of the page, the ensemble as a whole becomes less parodic and more important. The second half of the series is darker and introduces a second ensemble of super-soldiers called Freelancers. Every female character on their team is tough, and each has a distinct personality. Everybody in the Freelancer program is named after a state; the girls get South (Dakota), CT (Connecticut), and Carolina.

CT presents so many warring concepts in the first scene in which she speaks that it took some time for me to decide what I thought of her. Loyalty to a cause, suspicion of one she doesn’t believe in, fear of failure, anger, sadness, defiance, and a sidestep out of the limelight that will prove to be character-defining all come into play in under three minutes of dialogue. She’s helped along by actress Samantha Ireland, sounding close to tears. It helps that CT is one of the more mysterious characters of seasons nine and ten, and a link to the popular earlier seasons. Her motives and what exactly she’s up to are partially unknown, but those first three minutes offer up enough to keep fans wondering. Her appearance is also unique: in a cast of women with colorful makeup and dramatically colored hair, CT is sand-colored and drab, with a round face that makes the viewer understand where she’s coming from when she says she doesn’t want to be thought of as a child. She’s become one of my favorite characters ever (of all time) as fans and the show itself have shown her make tough choices and carefully measure out how much emotion to show while making them.

South is the forth Freelancer introduced in the show, making them initially an equal-opportunity bunch in terms of gender. The first female Freelancer we met was the firebrand Texas, but South is a vulnerable younger sister when we first encounter her. She becomes the reluctant protege to a more grizzled and jaded traveler, and can serve as a stand-in for the viewer who doesn’t quite know how the organization names that get thrown around work yet. But South is more than a vehicle for some smooth expository dialogue: she is one of many Freelancer characters who struggle with the competitive nature of their program, and her introduction compared to the others is a study in personality types.

On the other hand, Carolina’s dialogue disappointed me at first. Her drill sergeant directness and unquestioning loyalty seemed too simple, her fighting style and dramatic face show too few imperfections. Fans helped me to see that Carolina’s confidence is explained in her actions, though: her drive to be number one is backed by the fear of losing, and it’s that same drive to succeed (and avenge her failures) that can be seen in her entire story arc. It’s hard to talk about her without treading on spoileriffic ground, but Carolina ties together more parts of the story than a first-time viewer would imagine. She’s also at the center of some of the most exciting and innovative fight scenes to come out of the series.
Official fanart by Luke McKay

There's an odd sort of equality in everybody in this series being up for the same sort of laughs. Being a girl is mocked, being a guy is mocked, and mistaking one for the other is mocked a lot. The title of this post comes from one character's assertion that he's too chivalrous to hit a girl, and another insisting that it doesn't matter because she's too good a fighter to get hit. The exact line is "You need to try harder.": everybody, no matter their gender, is up for some war because everybody in this story is tough, and ready to throw themselves into a fray...unless their characterization dictates they're lazy, or selfish, or don't believe in the cause. Red vs Blue has a wide spectrum of well-established characters who have grown, in ten seasons,  into men and women with complex (sometimes labyrinthine) backstories. The Freelancer women in the back half of the series are notable in science fiction because they're not singled out. Nobody finds it unusual that Carolina is the leader: she got there because she was the best. There are angry female characters and angry male characters, kind women and kind men.

Red vs Blue also contains pervasive foul language, "adult content", bloody violence, not-so-bloody violence, and men pregnant with alien babies. You can find the first episode here.


  1. Nice article, just wanted to comment though that CT and South's first appearances are earlier than season 9, you might already know that, but the way you talked about them in this article didn't sound that way. South first appears in Recovery One and later Reconstruction and CT appears in Recreation, though her vocoder is that of a man's, much like Tex's was at first (it is definitely her, because Wash sees her helmet in Revelation and remarks "CT? What was she doing here."

    1. Yep, the mention of South being the fourth Freelancer is a reference to Recovery One. It gets confusing talking about the flashback seasons to a target audience that doesn't know anything about the show. I also didn't want to "spoil" the idea that season seven CT isn't actually a man. I could have written a lot about the use of the vocoders, but this post was getting pretty long and worked as an introduction better than an analysis.

  2. I'm glad someone managed to eloquently write about what draws me into this series so much: awesome characters, that also happen to be girls.