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I had originally thought the French television series Marianne was my first instance of a titular adversary (as opposed to a titular girl), but looking back I see a few other examples that qualify ( I Am Mother, Candyman, Mr. Frost, and Sweet Miss Honeywell’s Revenge), as well as others that refer to the adversary by title or description rather than proper name (Phantom of the Opera, The Darkangel, The Caller, The Iron King, Soultaker, The Gruesome Green Witch, The Thorn Queen, and my last post The Dark Stranger). Funny how I never noticed that before!

Emma has made a career writing horror novels about an evil witch named Marianne, who has survived death in spirit form to torment others. Over time it is revealed that Emma attempted to summon Marianne in an adolescent ritual, but in fact her connection to the witch goes back much further (though ultimately, in some way, she let Marianne in, even if she didn’t know what she was doing at the time). When Emma decides to stop writing the series and revisits her old stomping grounds, Marianne makes a violent reappearance, taking Emma’s parents and friends one by one in an attempt to force her to write again, thus giving Marianne a stronger hold on the physical world. Emma must rescue her friends, even when they turn against her. At the end, she still has some help in defeating the witch, but ultimately must overcome her in an internal struggle for her very soul.


No End House is the second season of the horror anthology series Channel Zero. It tells the story of Margot, a teenager whose father recently died, who decides to try out a mysterious new haunted house with her friends. This house appears out of nowhere at various places around the country, the only warning being hints and rumors online. An urban legend says that those who make it to the 6th room are never heard from again.

It’s hard to really discuss the GU plot points here without major spoilers, so suffice it to say that there is a big companion betrayal, a revelation of the true adversary, a period of forgetting herself, a return home in the middle of the journey, and of course a labyrinthine house! Overall, it was a refreshingly new take on the haunted house trope, and featured some truly creepy moments both inside and outside of the house (or perhaps, inside and further inside, depending on how you look at it).

Tabula Rasa (the Belgian tv series on Netflix) is perhaps the defining example of the sub-trope of “forgetting herself” in the Girls Underground archetype – its protagonist Mie has retrograde amnesia; she can’t remember anything, and it may be her downfall.

Mie, an adult, has suffered memory loss due to a car accident. As she sits in a mental hospital, suspected in the disappearance of a man she can’t remember, she slowly pieces together the events that led there. Her family can’t be trusted – she is on her own. Her daughter has been acting disturbingly since the accident and she may have to save her. Her companion in the present is a pyromaniac who befriends her on the ward – in the past, it is the man she may have killed. Time is running out as we find out that he may still be alive, and she must remember in order to help him.

Because of the mystery angle to this show, we don’t discover who the real adversary is until the last episode. And unfortunately, Mie does not defeat them herself, meaning that this is more of an honorable mention, all told. But there is a betrayal by a companion, a return to home (in the form of many flashbacks, and when Mie briefly escapes), and of course, she forgets herself. Not to mention, it is a pretty engaging story, and pretty terrifying to imagine being that adrift from moment to moment.

“I’m the only one who matches you… who challenges you… who’ll do anything for you.”

The new Jessica Jones tv show from Netflix is not only a GU story but very reminiscent of several other prominent GU examples. (I have not read the comic books on which it is based, so do not know if this extends to them as well.)

Jessica Jones is an orphan who, after an accident as a teenager, developed super strength. As an adult, she has become a hard-drinking, pessimistic mess – in fact, she really reminds me of the grim, alternate-world Buffy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer had she lived to grow up and become a PI in the big city. Especially because both of them have experienced extreme trauma at the hands of an adversary – in Jessica’s case, a man named Kilgrave with the power to control people’s minds. Jessica must rescue various companions/friends as Kilgrave plays a drawn out cat-and-mouse game with her. There is a betrayal by a companion more than once (although not really their fault, due to the mind control issue). There is also a really creepy and elaborate “return to home” in the middle of the story, when Kilgrave meticulously reconstructs her childhood home and brings her there to live with him.

Her relationship to her adversary very much reminds me of Sarah and Jareth in Labyrinth – especially from Kilgrave’s perspective. His speech to her in the police station, where he finally reveals his feelings and intentions, echoes Jareth’s statement that “everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you.” They both express desire in a way that seems like torment to the object of that desire. And when Jessica temporarily manages to isolate him and his abilities, she is expressing that he has no power over her.

She does eventually defeat him, through cleverness, in the final showdown. By then it was necessary, but I kind of wish she had made a different choice back around episode 7 or 8. Of course, I have a soft spot for certain kinds of adversaries.

strangerthingsAfter watching the whole Netflix series Stranger Things last week, it occurred to me that it is at least an Honorable Mention as a Girls Underground story, if you look at it from the perspective of Eleven (i.e., if the story were about her) rather than the boys being the main characters. (Warning for those who haven’t seen it yet, this may be considered a spoiler.)

Eleven has been taken away from her family. She goes back and forth between this world and an otherworld. She has one of those double-adversary situations: there’s the horrible Dr. Brenner who uses her powers for his own purposes (and has “minions” in the form of the other people from the lab who come after her), and then there’s the monster, the thing from the otherworld that eats people. Her companions, of course, are the boys. Eventually, her goal is to rescue their friend. She may have forgotten herself, as she doesn’t seem to know anything of her life (or even name) before she was taken for experiments. And she has a final showdown with the monster.

It’s an amazing show, worth watching on many levels, but it was nice to also see a nod to my favorite archetype in the mix.

ETA: An astute reader reminded me of the name of the otherworld, Upside-Down – while not quite Underground, it has the same connotations, so yet another point of connection with the archetype.

514uLnH9PnL._SL160_I’m only through Season 2 of Orphan Black right now, but it’s shaping up to be a nice Girls Underground story. It even has one of the common plot points (being an orphan) in the title! While actually featuring a number of cloned women (all played amazingly by the same actress), the clear protagonist GU is Sarah, who is pulled into a whole new world of craziness when she discovers her true identity as a clone. She spends the series trying to save her daughter from nefarious and mysterious scientists, along with her clone-sisters as companions, as well as her foster-brother Felix and possibly-not-to-be-trusted Siobhan. They seem to have done a classic feint with the identity of the adversary, first making it appear to be Leakey, but now resolving into Rachel… which makes an interesting GU/Adversary pairing, since Rachel is yet another clone. Will have to keep watching to find out if it culminates in the traditional GU ending.

bfdd53926f969f5222951e6fa7311d1aThis is another example of “If the Story Were About Her“. If you watch the first season of the television show American Horror Story from the perspective of the daughter, Violet, it appears to be a Girls Underground story. Warning: SPOILERS ahead, I can’t talk about this without them.

First of all, the entire show takes place in a house, as many GU stories do – an extremely haunted house. In fact, Violet can’t even leave the house by the end, once she has died there (returning to her life as if everything is still normal after that transition mimics the “returning home in the middle of the adventure” trope common to GU stories). She certainly has the classic distant and distracted parents – so much so that they don’t even realize she is dead! When she is dead, her body is literally underground, in the crawlspace below the house.

Violet’s relationship with Tate is the most interesting part. He is both adversary and companion. As a companion, he watches out for her and tries to save her life, and helps her cope once she is a ghost. But as her adversary, he lies to her, tries to control her, and ultimately she must face off against him and banish him (“Go away, Tate!”).

Not quite a full GU example, but worth mentioning.

31662lzBsML._SL160_In a way, the whole tv series Fringe is a Girls Underground story, but in particular I think the end of season 2 through most of season 3 particularly qualifies. Olivia Dunham is an FBI agent (orphaned, by the way) who gets sucked into working on strange, unexplained cases, assisted by an old mad scientist, Walter, and his reluctant (at first) son, Peter. Over time, she comes to find out that the scientist experimented on her as a child, and that she has special powers because of this. They also discover there is a parallel universe that has become connected to ours, where things are mostly the same, but slightly different, and most of the people in our world have doppelgangers there.

When Peter journeys to the other side on a potentially dangerous mission, Olivia follows him using her unique abilities, hoping to rescue him. While Peter and Walter make it back safely, Olivia is attacked by her double, who then assumes her persona and goes back with the others. Olivia is then stranded in the “otherworld,” kept prisoner by Walter’s harsher double (called “Walternate”), who is her adversary. She escapes and enlists a cabbie for assistance, who eventually goes from hostage to willing helper and companion. But while in captivity, Walternate had been feeding Olivia her double’s memories, and she soon begins to forget herself, thinking she is the Olivia from that world. Being a parallel universe, the “objects from home” theme is everywhere.

Eventually Olivia recalls her true identity, and begins to struggle to get home, constantly thwarted by Walternate. She is also temporarily betrayed by a companion, though he comes around to helping her. In the end, she does not directly confront her adversary in a final showdown, but is able to escape his clutches and return home.

51xGZpiS5WL._SL160_666 Park Avenue was apparently a book first, but this is just going to refer to the television show, which is only one season long.

Jane and her boyfriend Henry become the building managers of a luxurious residential hotel in New York City called the Drake, owned by mysterious billionaire Gavin Doran and his wife. Right away, strange things start happening, especially to Jane. She is having weird dreams, seeing things, finding secrets hidden in the basement. While supernatural events are happening to many of the tenants simultaneously, Jane is clearly the focal point, and it is revealed eventually that she has a special tie to the Drake that goes back many years. She begins to unravel its secrets with the help of companions such as a girl who lives in the building (and knows more than she seems to), and a police detective who is called to the scene.

Meanwhile, Gavin is grooming her boyfriend Henry for political office. In fact, it seems Gavin is behind a lot of the creepy things happening at the Drake. It is only clear at the very end that he is indeed Jane’s adversary in a very classic Girls Underground sense (there is sort of an intermediary adversary for a time, but he is defeated before the culmination). However, when offered a devil’s deal in the final confrontation with him, Jane takes a darker route than most Girls Underground.

This is one of those examples of the kind of GU story that takes place entirely in one building, and a very labyrinthine and magical one at that (as there are passages to other places and times within it). While not a great masterpiece, it was definitely better than expected, and had moments of true creepiness.

I held out on watching the television show Once Upon a Time for quite some time. I read a couple of fairytale blogs and they talked about it a lot, but it felt a bit too silly for my tastes. And indeed, there are a lot of aspects to this show that make me wince, most of all the writing surrounding the beat-you-over-the-head theme of “true love solves all”. It’s more than a little saccharine at times. The special effects feel outdated, and the acting is largely mediocre.

However. Three things kept me interested. First was the excellent Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin (especially when he was being his most evil, he is delicious, although to my dismay it seemed his Scottish accent weakened a little over the course of the season). Second was the intertwining of this-world and other-world, which resonates with me personally. And third was the reason I finally decided to sit down and give it a chance in the first place: it seemed like it might be a Girls Underground story. And I think it is.

Emma Swan, abandoned as a baby and alone as an adult, is one day approached by the son she gave up for adoption years ago. He tells her that she is the only person who can break a curse over his entire town, one originally set in place by his adoptive mother, who is in reality an evil queen of a magical world – a world where every person in the town comes from, although none of them remember. Of course Emma doesn’t believe any of this (although we know it is true, and are given frequent flashbacks to that otherworld to see how this all came to be), but she brings the child – Henry – home and quickly becomes entangled in the local community.

Emma’s primary goal is to rescue Henry from his adoptive mother (even though she doesn’t believe in the fairytale story, the woman is still clearly a bad person), which is a common plotline for adult Girls Underground. She has companions in this, friends she makes in the town (one of whom betrays her, as often happens). The adversary – the evil queen/mayor – has her own minions, townsfolk who are in her pocket and help her try to defeat Emma. (There is also a secondary evil character, Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold, who has hidden motives of his own. He owns a pawn shop that functions nicely as the GU “junk shop” archetype.) However, the most important goal is to break the curse on the town, for which Emma will have to believe in the fairytale reality, and that takes a lot of work.

Interestingly, at the end of the first season, when it all comes to a head, Emma ends up working with her adversary, when the wicked queen’s apple poisons not Emma but Henry. Saving him simultaneously breaks the curse, and temporarily defeats the queen. It also gives Emma certain knowledge of the otherworld and their shared history, revealing her to truly be what Henry claimed all along – the savior of the whole fairytale world.

What happens next remains to be seen.

An exploration of story…

In which I describe examples of the Girls Underground archetype that I have discovered in literature and film. For more information regarding the concept, including its earlier incarnations in fairytales and mythology, visit the pages linked above. Here is a list of all the examples I have covered thus far.

The Oracle

THE GIRLS UNDERGROUND STORY ORACLE - tapping into the Power of Story for guidance and insight. Learn more here.

Alice Days

Celebrate one of the primary inspirations for Girls Underground - Alice in Wonderland - with a holiday down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass! Check out the Alice Days page for party ideas, movie recommendations, and more.


  • 243,884 journeys underground

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