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Jane Espenson is a terrible writer and butchered Sansa's characterization

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I make no secret that I vehemently loathe Jane Espenson. Essentially...she's like Achilles de Flanders from the Ender's Game universe. Moving in from one TV project to the next, saying "look at this last great show I was on". She joined Battlestar Galactica *mid-run*, turned in horrible work, but then touted herself as the "famous BSG writer"...for which she got appointed co-executive producer of Torchwood Series 4, again joining a series she didn't create, mid-run, promptly acting like it was her idea all along, as if she actually created the whole thing, ruins it, but then uses this as "work experience" for being hired onto another major series, which she promptly ruins in turn. Similar to Achilles (Ah-SHEEL) de Flanders:

Achilles' modus operandi is to convince a set of influential leaders in a major country that his tactical genius is at their military's disposal. He uses his charisma to rise to a position of high influence in his host country's military, and prepares detailed plans for their geopolitical objectives. Once he has positioned forces in his current host country, he makes overtures to a neighboring power. At the point of his hosts' greatest confidence, he betrays them and transfers to a new country, where he begins the cycle anew. With each repetition, Achilles' host country is a larger and more powerful entity than the one he betrayed. Achilles uses this tactic time after time to become influential in Russia, Pakistan, India, and China.

Ironically, I was a big fan of her work in the Whedonverse, Buffy, Firefly...even later series like Dollhouse, her work was great. But when she moves outside of that....well, take her controversial run on the later seasons of Battlestar Galactica. Basically, in the break between seasons 2 and 3, they fired *all of their female writers*, and replaced them with Jane. These were women who were largely responsible for creating this universe, I mean core members: co-executive producer Toni Graphi, story editor Carla Robinson, even Anne Cofell Saunders, who wrote the acclaimed "Pegasus" episode. Not that this was Jane's fault. But her...writing style, didn't really match the series. Jane basically has two modes for writing: witty dialogue, and when that can't be sustained, double-down with somber, unprovoked melancholy. Tonally, Buffy Season 6 (when Jane had a big hand in things) and BSG season 3 felt bizarrely similar; they ran out of ideas and just had the characters moping around. But the bigger problem is that her "sassy dialogue" works fine in the Buffyverse...the Buffyverse was created around such things. But when she moves into other shows of different genre....she really can't adapt.

The most bizarre thing was how BSG creator Ron Moore not only tolerated this...but actively promoted Jane, to the point that the was the new co-executive producer by season 4. Then they let her be the co-executive producer on the failed prequel series Caprica...and look how that turned out. Given free rein, Jane's Caprica was a complete mess...within 10 episodes, it was impossible to tell what the main set of characters even was...she just kept..."rambling" from one subplot to the next. She even casually joked at the Comic-Con panel that year that "oh yeah, I introduce more subplots than I could ever have hope of following through on" (which is what the second half of BSG turned into once she joined in season 3). The weird thing is that she didn't just join the writing staff...she insisted that she was a "fan favorite" even though reviewer sites gave her a mixed grade at best. Her run on Caprica was so troubled that she stepped down in disgrace as executive producer mid-way through its first and only season, but the damage was done and the show's ratings never recovered; it was yanked from the airwaves. Now I don't really, in retrospect, entirely blame Jane for all of this. Think about it: it was Ron Moore who kept promoting her, he knew what her writing style was, knew she was introducing too many subplots and that she just wasn't tonally fitting. Furthermore, the REAL reason BSG went down in flames is because as it turns out, Moore never planned out the central mytharc of the show, even though they heavily hyped that "we have it all planned out"

(Administrator Werthead has a great review of all of this on his blog: http://thewertzone.blogspot.com/2009/03/galacticawatch-10-season-4-episode-20.html , and an amazing episode by episode review of the series after Jane joined the staff...for example, Scatterbrain Jane self-proclaimed that her first episode, "The Passage", was a "fan favorite"...citing no specific reviews or anything, when the reaction was decidedly mixed. Werthead, for example, said, "the soap opera-ish elements revolving around Kat's secret past are a bit tedious.", or Jane's [http://thewertzone.blogspot.com/2007/02/galacticawatch-3.html bizarre miscomprehension of Roslin in "Dirty Hands". It was aggravating when Jane (or her proponents) would try to wave off such criticism as "you just don't like her because she's a female writer"....which was absurd, because she had *replaced a trio of three previous female writers* who had given the show its voice. Fun fact: I thought it strange in Season 3 of BSG, that I started to realize that this new show, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles felt more like what BSG *used* to be in its first two seasons, with great writing. Then I realized that Toni Graphia had moved on to Terminator after she was gone from BSG. Its a great show and fans of Lena Headey should check it out.

Despite performing horribly on BSG and Caprica, Jane used her fame from "working" on them at all to hype up joining Torchwood Series 4. And look how that turned out. I'm an American and I was insulted. Thankfully, it seems that the core British fanbase has higher standards for their beloved Whoverse -- BSG was a cable show, but the Doctor Who universe garners national attention. For once, Jane had bitten off more than she could chew. British fans actually called her own how *dull and rambling* Torchwood Series 4 was.

You see, I fear that most fans, casual fans not wiki editors, don't really pay attention to the writers of specific episodes on TV series. They tend to know who the show creator was, and maybe one or two famous writers. During the entire run of BSG, few of the other writers besides Ron Moore appeared in promotional videos or Comic-Con panels. Indeed, Toni Graphi and Carla Robinson were unsung heroines...to this day, I've actually never seen a video of them. But Jane Espenson is already a "famous writer" from Buffy (and then Firefly and Dollhouse). You see...the way it works is that if you're a "famous writer", even for a decade-old but popular series, they'll let you sit at an official panel at Comic-Con. Casual fans only really notice the people in these videos. Dear God...I've met people who were *openly surprised* when I explained to them that Jane Espenson had *nothing* to do with BSG seasons 1 and 2....because she was appearing in videos in season 3, and at their BSG Comic-Con panel...they just....assumed she'd been there the whole time. These people didn't even know who Toni Graphia and Carla Robinson were. Based on this fame...well, Jane sure didn't invent Torchwood, but she *automatically* gets a seat at their convention panels. Even if she's just a "guest writer" for a one off episode...that's how she got her foot in the door at BSG; wrote a one-off episode then relentlessly came to panels.

Now the thing is...I don't think Jane actively plans this. She seems to honestly think she's a great writer. From what I've observed of various interviews....everyone on the cast and crew of BSG kept ranting and praising how fun Jane is to be around. From what I've seen, she has this bubbly happy personality and certainly seems like a very nice person to play with. But this isn't play, its work.

Its easy to vilify the stereotypical "hardass" boss who is strict and overworks his subordinates. That's what TV has taught us. But what about when "the boss" is a fawning, nice, indulgent guy who wants to be your friend...to the point that no "actual work" is getting done anymore? The kind of leader who prioritizes his employees' happiness over the fate of the company itself. We're not as used to resisting that kind of temptation; the boss who is so indulgent that he cannot lead properly. Or in any group-work environment: its difficult to resist the amazingly "nice" person who is turning in bad work. Indeed...the interviews I've seen never praised Jane's "work" or "ideas" so much as comments about her personality.

To put this in Game of Thrones terms, loose analogy, the commoners loved King "Baelor the Blessed" and villified his uncle Viserys II, who later succeeded him as king. That's the popular image. But Tyrion points out that in reality, Baelor was a moron obsessed with religion to the exclusion of all else, and while certainly nice, indulgent, and pious, he had no idea how to "rule" and essentially let the Seven Kingdoms rot while he spent all his days praying. It was Viserys II, acting as his Hand of the King, who actually kept the Seven Kingdoms together, but once he succeeded his nephew, the commoners hated him because he insisted on doing "actual work" (i.e. there's this thing called "taxes" which Baelor didn't believe in, but which we kind of need a little of to keep the realm running).

To this day, I have heard no explanation of why Jane Espenson was hired to write a teleplay for Season 1 Episode 6, "A Golden Crown". I feared that it was the cycle starting up all over again. Battlestar Galactica --> Torchwood --> Game of Thrones. Whatever the new leading TV project is, Jane needs to worm her way into it (she's on to Once Upon A Time now). Think about it. This show had *only four writers* outside of Jane in Season 1: executive producers Benioff & Weiss wrote most of them. Cogman, who is also a high-level producer and the "loremaster", also penned a script here and there. Author George R.R. Martin gets to write one episode a season. Why, into this *very* small circle of writers, would they hire Jane Espenson, of all people?

Well I must admit that, when I saw "A Golden Crown", I was relieved that it stayed close to the books, and overall is a great episode...due to Martin's original story. Honestly, I've heard people praising Jane in interviews "for killing Viserys with a molten gold crown".....?!??! That wasn't Jane's idea, that was straight from the books. I'm not even talking about specific turns of dialogue, yes she "wrote" those....but the fact they killed "main character" Viserys six episodes in? She had nothing to do with that! (granted, Jane never acted like she did....once again, its more than viewers just "assume" she's responsible for things and she doesn't really try to correct them. A few more "I owe it all to Martin's writing" comments would be nice. Still, not really her fault).

I was happy with "A Golden Crown"...save for specifically once scene. When Sansa is acting "sassy" to Septa Mordane, "oh wait, I just realized, I don't care where you're from"......Sansa in the books isn't remotely like that. It felt like dialogue lifted from a Buffy episode and inserted into Game of Thrones (I must stress that I greatly enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I just wouldn't mix dialogue styles from different genres). Is this the only way Jane knows how to write teenaged girls? Sansa knows that "A Lady's courtesy is her armor". Thankfully this was restored in the rest of the season and particularly by Season 2; Sansa will parrot the polite words while you can see in her eyes that she's just conniving; any scene with Cersei where she sardonically repeats, "I am loyal to Joffrey, your Grace, my one true love". etc. Or in "The North Remembers" when she's politely manipulating Joffrey into sparing Dontos. This was just a bizarre and out of place scene. (I also wasn't fond of the "Make the Eight" joke...there are NINE regions in the realm, not eight. But hey, its something a drunken Robert would say, so I'll let that pass).

Thankfully, and I hope vindicating these criticisms, Jane Espenson *was not* asked to return for Season 2. We do need a female writer so it isn't an all-boys club, and we got the delightful relative newcomer Vanessa Taylor; her work on Garden of Bones and The Old Gods and the New was delightful.

I write this now because I've been meaning to for a while, but also because I found this interview with Jane: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8ANN-EK4H4

She talks about Game of Thrones about 11 minutes into it. First off, earlier in the interview, she openly admits that one of her greatest writing challenges was to try to write for a police procedural; she says she couldn't handle it because her "style" doesn't fit them: you know, having a "storyarc" with a problem to solve, and a clear beginning, middle, and end. She insists that she prefers to *abandon narrative coherence* and just ask "what would this character do in this scene?" and let the story RAMBLE from one scene to the next. Is is specifically how BSG and Torchwood got screwed up. --->Characters *are* their storyarcs, their pre-established behavior patterns and actions. It is *impossible* to say "we should ignore the storyline, this is about the characters". That is absurd. This explains why Jane didn't really pause to think "what is Sansa's overall behavior pattern with Septa Mordane?", but instead essentially inserted herself, her own prejudices and sentiments, into the scene between Sansa and Mordane, and asked "what would I want Sansa to say in this scene?"....bizarrely insulting Mordane, because that's what "rebellious teenaged girls"...do? ------>More importantly, when she's talking about Game oF Thrones, she admits that they forced heavy restrictions on her: it wasn't even "her" teleplay that much; they forced her to use an annotated copy of the relevant page numbers of Martin's book. She *openly admits* that she was directly lifting the original book dialogue, and stage directions. Which is well and good; I applaud her *overall* restraint...in that this was a disaster averted. But getting back to those who HONESTLY praise Jane for "wow, you killed off Viserys with a molten gold crown!".....even Jane admits that this wasn't her idea, and she was sticking VERY close to the books' action and dialogue. So why treat it like such a triumph?

Just because she makes herself "available" to the fan community? She's been willing to appear in a large number of interviews, or online streaming events, for Game of Thrones. I don't think they're justified.

Your thoughts on Jane's performance in "A Golden Crown" and absence from Season 2? I rejoice at her absence.--The Dragon Demands 17:26, June 2, 2012 (UTC)

Oh!? I LOVE her work!! She has tweeted and spoken to me twice before! (Although I do believe she'd be better at writing a True Blood Episode... I told her she should, but she was like"Ehh, I don't know if I can do vampires again lol) --QueenBuffy35 Crown New Red 17:37, June 2, 2012 (UTC)
I must stress that the weirdest part is that her work within the Whedonverse has remained amazing...I mean, even as BSG Season 4 was having so many problems...she was turning out stunning work on Dollhouse. I love her work in the Whedonverse. I just don't think she works well outside of it. Well, what did you think of that Sansa scene?--The Dragon Demands 17:52, June 2, 2012 (UTC)
I actually never thought of it before. -shrugs- I suppose Sansa is just tired, exhausted, fed up, and took it out on her. She is still a sweet girl underneath... ya know? --QueenBuffy35 Crown New Red 17:57, June 2, 2012 (UTC)


Cheers for the links, but I think the argument is slightly flawed because Espenson only came aboard for one episode which was extremely heavily rewritten by Benioff and Weiss (note that although Benioff and Weiss heavily rewrite scripts by Cogman, Taylor and Martin, Espenson's is the only one where the work was so substantial they actually took a credit for it). The damage done to Sansa's character was done earlier by Benioff and Weiss IMO (most notably by removing almost all of her interactions with the Hound in S1 and pushing the relationship back to just a few scenes in S2), although they have begun repairing it in the latter part of Season 2 (better late than never). Unlike BSG (where her scripts were universally weak, apart from the Resurrection Hub battle), we don't have enough of a sample of Espenson's work on GoT to see how it's worked out. In fact, I quite liked her recent work on Torchwood (where she improved on some weak elements laid out by Russell T. Davies) and find her Buffy/Angel work to be quite strong.--Werthead 19:58, June 4, 2012 (UTC)
Ironically, you are not the first person I've encountered who says that Jane's BSG scripts were universally weak, "Except for The Hub". As it turns out, if you listen to the DVD commentary for "The Hub", its basically Andy Seklir and Michael O'Hallaran (the editor and supervising editor) pointing out throughout the whole thing that they drastically rewrote Jane's original draft script (to the point that its weird they didn't get co-credit on the teleplay). So as it turns out, even Jane's relatively good work only results when she's on a "short leash" and her work his heavy rewritten by other people. But the question remains: given that they told Jane to stay slavisly close to the book, to the point that they gave her specific page numbers and just said "condense this" and she lifted dialogue directly from the book to stay close to it....why use Jane of all people? How was she in any way connected to this project? Ultimately they had to rewrite her work so extensively that Benioff & Weiss get "story" credit alongside her "teleplay" credit. Wouldn't someone else far more restrained have been a better choice?
-->Part of my annoyance now is due to the fact that, bizarrely, Jane is now hyping her status as a "Game of Thrones writer", despite the fact that 1 - she really didn't change much from the book, and 2 - as you point out, her script had to be rewritten so extensively that Benioff & Weiss got co-credited with it. In Season 1 this was all well and good, but in Season 2...when she's not even working on the show anymore...she's still mooching her way through various Game of Thrones video-casts. Its not as if she has much to contribute; more like one of those "professional faces" you see on reality TV shows. You know how...when BSG was in its final season...the writers were too busy frantically behind schedule to conduct many interviews? So they'd just...run interviews with B-list celebrities who enjoyed the show. I mean the *official website* had a blog in which that guy from the band Anthrax would review episodes...how is he related to this? But that crowd from VH1's I Love the 80's, pop-culture commentators who are only famous as pop culture commentators. Jane is "so fun to be around" that she just worms her way into everything. Were Jane Espenson to offer me a free and unsolicited interview about her work (not as a wiki person, I mean as a private citizen and private fan) I would bluntly turn her down and tell her to get lost. The whole "I'm so funny and charming please ignore that I've written weak and controversial scripts" routine isn't going to charm her way out of this with me.
-->In all fairness, I saw another interview on google video recently where she explains that "Caprica" may have failed because, while she is proud of it, she didn't create it; Ron Moore created the entire storyverse and the pilot, then basically shoved it off onto Jane (originally, Thompson & Weddle were actually going to be in charge; they shoved it off on her at the last minute). Basically the analogy would be if Bran Stark put Hodor in charge of Winterfell's defenses....yeah Hodor wouldn't know what he's doing, but the guy that stuck him with the job knew full well couldn't handle the task, so whose fault was that really?--The Dragon Demands 22:30, June 4, 2012 (UTC)

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