Title: Last Port Of Call DVD Commentary
Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org
How John isn't a nice guy, and why I'm really okay with that.
Last Port Of Call has caused quite a stir and flurry of interesting comments.
Writing "Last Port Of Call"
First off, I did something different when I wrote the story. Generally, for me the concept drives the story and I stick pretty closely to my outline. I start with a purpose "fame isn't necessarily a good thing" and that focus becomes the story. Here, instead, I lived in the characters moment-by-moment and let them change the story as they saw fit.
Two things occurred:
1) The story got a lot longer than I expected, largely because of Rodney.
2) The characters did, said, and felt strange, unexpected things.
I went with it, leaving in the discordant notes, John's distractions, his little uncharitable thoughts of the kind that pass through our minds and are edited out. I've always noticed how carefully John edits himself, and it shows up in fanfic too: the smile that's a deliberate mask. He's carefully controlled even as he's willing to be scrupulously honest and tell people the cold, hard truth. As for Rodney, I let him startle me and just worked with whatever came out of his mouth. He jossed my easy porn story again and again.
This is the deepest POV I've written and John's undercurrent of anger at the fact that he's likely to die in two weeks seeps through. The more closely I followed his POV, the more bitter about it he was. He would have been okay if he wasn't the commander, but having Atlantis go down without any apparent options-? John's angry in a vague, unfocused way.
Not the first emotion that leaps to mind when you think "sex."
Rodney surprised me as well. My image of the eager-urgent sexual Rodney I've read in all my favorite fanfics vanished, and was replaced by a guy who'd been propositioned by John and seriously didn't know what to do.
Logically, he felt it might be his last shot at sex (unless one of women in science threw herself at Rodney -- and hey, he'd be okay with that) plus the fact that John wanted him was flattering – but, "straight here!" (Rodney doesn't believe in bisexuality. He thinks sex is what you do. If you sleep with the same sex, you're gay. If you don't, you're not. "People who say they're 'bi' are just kidding themselves." Sex is already complicated enough for Rodney without making it worse.)
Right off the bat there were two disconnects between Rodney and John: Rodney believes John's interested in him, personally. And Rodney thinks his own interest means he's gay. John thinks this is just a casual buddy-fuck and then later works hard to ignore the fact that it so isn't. He thinks Rodney's concerns about being gay are ridiculous; there's sex and then there's romantic attraction, which for John are two different things.
I enjoyed watching John push Rodney into sex. I loved this dubious consent and thought it was really hot -- even as Rodney balked a lot more than I expected, frustrating me as much as John. I was running out of time on the virgin challenge! For John, he knew they were going to be busy and maybe not have another chance. Rodney knew it too.
My Betas freak
I read Last Port Of Call aloud from beginning to end to wildernessguru, who digs slash. He said, "Nice."
Then I sent the story off to four betas. I got three mismatched negative responses. It was weird.
- One truly hated the story and didn't believe John at all, urged me that the Atlantis crew wouldn't feel hopeless, that John is noble and would never use Rodney (or make moves on Elizabeth). (I disagreed. "Letters From Pegasus" was very clear about how screwed they all thought they were, I never said in Last Port Of Call that they'd given up, and John isn't as noble as, say, a Jack O'Neill.)
- The second said "good story" but "not my cuppa" and had problems with Rodney.
- The third thought it was a good story but "I'm really not feeling much sympathy for John here" and she marked all the parts where John was very unsympathetic, mostly from his internal monologue.
- The fourth beta agreed with the guy. "This is great! Not flattering at all but I can see John doing this!"
I thought about making changes to John's part to soften him. Then I realized that wasn't the story I was writing.
So be it.
I posted Last Port Of Call and About Ten Days Before The Wraith Attack at the same time to blunt the sting of criticism that I knew was coming.
Complicated reader response
I was surprised at how positive the responses were. And how detailed. This wasn't the usual "hi, thanks, I liked the story!" People took the time to write their impressions and analysis and I really appreciated that.
The reactions varied from "you really captured the military attitude towards sex" to "this is date-rape and John would never do this." I won't over-simplify your responses by dividing them into camps because each person had a unique take. Even when you agreed with each other it was often for different reasons. I'm not sure why your responses to the story were so complicated, varied, and intense. I'll be honest with you: I thought this was straightforward dub-con, one of my bullet-proof kinks.
A jerk-? Date-rape-? And is this John canon?
Now, I believe if you try to defend your take on a character – (in a particular story, I reserve the right to write fluffy-sweet John at any moment) – by arguing with what other people write, well, that's just wrong. It creates wank, but also, it's narrow-minded and slags off of really good stories. For me it would be disingenuous because I love The Grrrl's soft romances, Seperis kicky AUs, and I also liked the harsh portrayal of Rodney in Astolat's Transcendental. So I never posted my feelings about Last Port Of Call, mostly listening and addressing individual questions.
Those who see John here as being, well, a jerk? Yes. John's motives stink, and while he honestly believes Rodney needs the sex as much as he does, this is not John's finest hour.
For those who see it as date-rape or bordering on date-rape? I don't see it that way at all. John's been totally honest with Rodney and there were many points where Rodney was given an out -- and he wanted to keep going.
Now the boyfriend, Wildernessguru, disagrees with me. When Rodney grabs John's hands, WG says John is being too aggressive, he should have stopped there (he still likes the story). There's a definite "vibe."
So, if you do think of it as bordering on date-rape, okay. I have the benefit of knowing what's going on in Rodney's head and you don't, so that leaves it an open question within the story itself.
The one point where I draw the line is where people say this is a mischaracterization of John. Unflattering characterization, oh yeah, you bet. But does anyone seriously think John is incapable of being selfish? If yes -- Are you shitting me?
This is the same guy who, when told by General O'Neill that going to another galaxy is very important to humanity, that "It's not all about you," answered: "No, that sounds like it's all about me." The guy who contemptuously named the Wraith "Michael" and then continued to call him that to his face? The one who hit on the girl he knew Rodney liked in "Inferno" (not cool, you don't do that to your friends) and got irritable when the girl in "The Brotherhood" liked Rodney? Sure, you can read that as gay-love for Rodney (and still shitty) -- or John could be the kind of guy who has to have all the feminine attention. And isn't John the one who overrode Elizabeth's command in "The Hot Zone" -- in front of all Atlantis -- not caring how it would erode her authority later, largely just because he hated being out of the action?
John is willful. He believes that his way is always right and best for all concerned, he pushes to do things his way regardless of the affects on other people, and this is the problem that his commanders have with him, the problem Elizabeth has had with him, and it's also the problem that Teyla had with him in "Letters From Pegasus." Teyla points out John's inconsistency, that if one insists one is always "right" but then changes one's mind, one has to at least admit to having been wrong at some point. John doesn't budge an inch. He insists he wasn't wrong… the circumstances changed.
Sometimes John believes he's right with very little logic or evidence to support it ("The Hot Zone"), and in fact, there's only a (coincidentally!) hair-fine difference between "what John wants" and "what John thinks is right." When John was nine he could probably justify climbing the counters to steal cookies with "it doesn't make sense that I can have cookies after lunch but I can't have them at any other time!" In fact, I can see a frustrated (caught!) John stoically going to his room, fuming at the injustice of the world. Completely unrepentant.
Excuse me while I beam at nine-year-old John a moment.
I like John, too. But I'd have to ignore too many facts to idealize him. He's very human. A person can be a hero, and can be selfish, and arrogant, and willful all at once. That's one of the great things about John Sheppard. If he were a flat 24/7 good guy he wouldn't be all that interesting. I think he needs to believe he's unfailingly right in order to do some of his heroics, or else he wouldn't have the strength. He has to have that certainty.
Now, is John capable of being selfish in a relationship?
In a romantic situation John's an "aw, shucks" mushball. We saw that with Chaya.
We also saw he's capable of being sexually opportunistic (there are few guys who aren't in my experience) in "The Tower." Sure, he says, "Oh, I never see this coming…" but he's also sweeping her nude body like she's a centerfold and kissing her, ready to go for it -- until that means marriage. Whoops. (Don't believe me? Re-watch that scene and note when he stops. That complicated scene is one of my favorite John-moments.) He's not interested in the blond in "Inferno," not the way he talked about her to Elizabeth. He's just competing with Rodney. That's not very thoughtful towards Rodney but what about the girl? She could have Rodney, who's genuinely interested, or the good-looking John, who doesn't give a shit.
Is John sterling in sexual relationships? No.
John seems to draw a line between sexual relationships and what he terms "romantic situations," where he's interested in the person. The women he respects, like Chaya, he's considerate and almost old-fashioned. The women he doesn't… tsk.
In Last Port Of Call John makes it very clear to Rodney that he considers this just a sexual relationship. They're getting each other's rocks off; it's not romantic. But Rodney's not capable of separating sex and romance. At heart, Rodney's more of a sweetie. Rodney can barely get through a date, cancels a dozen times, and panics when a woman appears interested. Cassanova he's not. Sex is always serious to Rodney. And, frankly, it's clear he doesn't have John's apparent experience with casual sex.
In "Epiphany" when a woman says she wants to sleep with John, John barely blinks an eye, saying, "Hmm. I wish I hadn't just done a 15-hour hike," carefully preserving the opportunity while admitting that a) he smells, b) he's tired. John's smooth with women. Note how he adroitly avoids putting his foot in his mouth with Chaya even as he's a little freaked by the date-with-an-alien. He dodges calling her an alien with "woman from another planet," carefully says "romantic situation" (not assuming sex, you see): ladies and gentleman, few men would have navigated that minefield. It takes experience to be so deft.
Now, I understand that many feel that John should have been more considerate of Rodney as a friend. That when Rodney had questions about being gay, John as a good friend should have stopped the sex in order to talk about it and deal with Rodney's issues.
Yes. He should have. But how considerate is John of his buddy in general?
The tone of John and Rodney's friendship, especially in season one when Last Port Of Call is set, is one of John giving Rodney shit. John sounds nasty (like when he gives Rodney a bad time for dying and failing to save anyone in "Before I Sleep") but this is a sign of affection and camaraderie in macho environments like the military -- as I well know from having worked for ex-military, construction, and living with an ex-firefighter. The more stinging and personal it is, the more it sends the message "we're close enough to give each other a rough time." Weirdly, it's also a test of masculinity: can you give as good as you get? Rodney does in "Before You Sleep," but at other points, such as in "The Brotherhood," John talks to Rodney like an errant, irritating child, and Rodney just takes it.
Now most SGA slash doesn't feature John's contemptuous tone toward Rodney. Of course not. It makes sense if you're writing John/Rodney romance because John had to have at some point started thinking of Rodney in a romantic way. (Recall John's romance/sex split.)
But Last Port Of Call isn't romance. Staggering as it may be, it's not till John and Rodney are actually fooling around that John begins to notice that maybe their friendship's a little too complicated for a simple buddy-fuck. Their relationship hits the sheets without any change in their dynamic. John pushes Rodney just like they're out in the field and Rodney's whining about being tired.
Rodney, on the other hand, is a little more realistic. He recognizes sex is a different world and responds to John the way he responds to most relationships: like a deer in headlights as he short-circuits on emotional overload.
John thinks that raising objections is just Rodney's M.O.; if it wasn't the gay-thing, Rodney would think of some other excuse because Rodney hates it when he's not calling the shots, Rodney hates risks, and Rodney hates anything new. John's right in observing that this is exactly why Rodney has trouble getting laid. Weirdly, because it's John, Rodney is a lot more forthright about his own needs. Yes, ladies, Rodney's the one who'll go down for an hour and then meekly accept a "no" to sucking his cock. He's far too pathetically grateful you're in bed with him at all.
But John completely misses the boat on Rodney's gay freak-out. John, as usual, thinks everyone should be on board with his plan. He assumes Rodney is capable of being as casual about sex as himself.
John has a rude awakening in store.
And that's the problem with John's perspective. He does mean well. But he projects himself onto everyone else and thus assumes everyone should see things the way he does. This makes him very warm and friendly, because people who see themselves in others automatically like everyone they meet -- no one's ever a complete stranger. That attitude brings about a sense of equality: "hey, you're just like me." But when other people, for some inconceivable reason, don't see eye to eye with John, John believes he has the inside track on what's best. John's a pretty complicated guy.
Do I think that this is how John should be written from here onward? No. This interpretation is solidly based on canon, but I've joined the SGA fandom for a reason: I like what everyone's writing, and I can see room for many different interpretations of both John and Rodney. There must be, or we wouldn't have so many AUs.
Now I'm off to write a rather immature AU John as a 28-year-old figure skater. And I think my next fic is going to capitalize on John's obliviousness to womens' interest in him… ta-ta.