As of yesterday, Season One of Netflix's Carmen Sandiego reboot that I wrote about extensively last week is out. I'll wait until Season Two and the live action movie are out before doing an extensive review of the whole thing, but for now I want to revisit my primary misgiving from last time: Netflix's decision to make Carmen a literal hero. How does it hold up in practice?
Okay, so despite not being crazy about that aspect, I obviously decided to go along with it and enjoy the show. And it's a very good and entertaining show and when I do a more extensive review I'll talk in detail about its positive attributes. The coolest one is that it's chock-full of references to previous Carmen Sandiego media, especially the "Where on Earth" TV series, which add some extra amusement and nostalgia for longtime fans without being distracting or confusing to anyone who doesn't notice them. Unlike, say, Jon Kasdan's ridiculous game of Wookieepedia bingo in the script for "Solo: A Star Wars Story". This is clearly its own self-contained canon apart from the other stuff, but Netflix still cares about the other stuff and it shows.
As for Carmen being a good guy - so be it. But I felt like they laid it on a little thick. Two or three episodes make the point that whenever she ends up with a bunch of V.I.L.E.'s money, she donates it to various charities and orphanages. Great, I'm glad that fictional charities and orphanages are getting this fictional money, but it seems a bit heavy-handed. It seems like Netflix is so determined to distance this incarnation of the character from the evil one who's been evil for more than thirty-three years that on top of rewriting her backstory it had to go and make her Miss Perfect. (She's not a Mary Sue, though, because she needs other people's help sometimes, so that's a relief. It was okay for the original Carmen Sandiego to be a Mary Sue because she was evil, but not too evil.)
There's a much bigger problem, though, and maybe Netflix will do something clever to resolve it in Season Two, but if so it should have at least been mentioned at some point in Season One to assure the audience that the writers know what they're doing. An apparent massive plot hole that I found a bit distracting runs through all nine episodes.
(Very minor spoilers follow)
Carmen uses her thieving and sneaking skills to fight the Villains' International League of Evil, V.I.L.E., after defecting from them. They're perfectly aware of this and they hate her, so that's not a reason for acting secretive about it. Yet law enforcement, mostly in the form of Interpol/ACME agent Chase Devineaux (whose name is one of the great references to earlier media), thinks she's working with V.I.L.E. and continuously tries to arrest her. And she does or says nothing in any of the episodes to correct this misconception. She lets Devineaux and everyone else who doesn't know her personally think she's a bad guy.
Sure, sometimes she's in a hurry chasing the bad guys while the good guys are chasing her, and doesn't have time to explain. But that's not the case in the first episode, where Devineaux shows up while she's in the act of robbing a warehouse that happens to be owned by V.I.L.E. and full of already stolen items. For no apparent reason, instead of stopping to chat with him and explain what she's doing, she acts like the criminal he thinks she is and makes a run for it. There are also lulls between capers where she gets to relax a little and could contact the authorities herself, but doesn't.
So Carmen has more enemies than she needs to have. She has more obstacles than she needs to have. She could easily rectify this situation. She could not only get law enforcement off her back, but join forces with them. She could share with them her substantial knowledge of V.I.L.E. and they could share their resources. Maybe they're unwilling to work with a vigilante like her, but that isn't explained or even hinted at. Maybe she enjoys challenges so much that, like her predecessor, she deliberately makes things harder for herself - but she's also causing unnecessary stress for Interpol and ACME and diverting their time and resources away from actual criminals. Guess how many murderers and rapists have gotten away because of you, Miss Perfect. Go on, guess.
Maybe they just wouldn't believe her. But it shouldn't be too hard to convince them of her true intentions if she just shows them her results. Devineaux's assistant Julia Argent, the brainy female foil to his foolish machismo, already voices her suspicions several times based on the evidence from crime scenes that Carmen is actually working against V.I.L.E. And Devineax always dismisses her hypothesis with typical male arrogance. But they wouldn't even need to have this discussion if Carmen clarified it for them from the beginning. Maybe, just maybe, Devineaux persists in thinking she's a criminal because she runs away, sometimes gently taunting and/or incapacitating him in the process, every time he gets close to her.
I mean, I don't expect perfect logic from a cartoon, but this plot hole is so woven into the basic premise that it's distracting for me. Like in one episode, a three-car chase ensues with Carmen going after a V.I.L.E. agent and Devineaux going after her, and it's supposed to be amusing but I just kept thinking how Carmen brought this on herself for no reason. By the final couple episodes it reaches absurd proportions, as complications arise that could have been easily prevented if she would just freaking talk to Devineaux.
Will you fix this in Season Two, Netflix? Will you give some explanation for this Carmen Sandiego's apparent idiocy and take it as an opportunity to teach children about open communication? That was one of life's hardest lessons for me as an adult, but since nobody else in my life seems to have learned it, it's done me very little good.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.