Nobody Has to Know
September 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
Rewatching Kare Kano led me to rewatch Neon Genesis Evangelion again. Of course, that gives me things I want to talk about.
I’ve always loved the relationship between Katsuragi Misato and Kaji Ryoji, because it’s a relationship with a really noteworthy existence outside of the plot. Misato and Kaji dated and broke up for reasons that have nothing to do with Shinji, NERV, and the Human Instrumentality Project. When they’re thrust back together, almost a decade later, for reasons that have everything to do with Shinji, NERV, and the Human Instrumentality project, their relationship is transformed into a unique thing for me. It becomes something dictated by their circumstances rather than their history, even though the history is remains quite probably the most important thing between them. It has to be set aside, to be brought out only in moments of stress and intoxication.
What Misato and Kaji share is a hidden relationship. Maybe it’s not that hidden from the other characters, but it’s hidden from us as the audience. We’re unable to play the voyeur like television, anime, and movies are often desperate for us to be, whether to get us invested in the characters or simply to titillate us. Instead, Kaji kisses Misato in the elevator during a power outage, but we cut away before we see how Misato responds. Misato ducks out of a dramatic scene early in order to be somewhere else, presumably somewhere with Kaji, but who knows. Misato and Kaji have sex, but the shot stays focused on a capsule Kaji placed on the table for later. They’re allowed their relationship, but we’re not allowed to partake in it. The plot leads us elsewhere, leaving this couple with his commitment phobia and her daddy issues behind.
Thinking back on the shows I’ve watched recently, I’m reminded that hidden relationships don’t have to be romantic. One of the most enjoyable parts of Mad Men was getting hints about Peggy Olson’s friendship with Ken Cosgrove. In the show, they barely share any screen time and Peggy is often so diffident that it was easy to assume that they didn’t really have any sort of relationship. Then, starting in season five, Peggy alludes a couple of times to a “pact” that she has with Ken, which seems to entail watching out for each other and quitting in solidarity if one of them leaves. It’s a charming thing, because it implies long conversations to which we just aren’t privy, and it helps a show feel like something more than just what we’ve seen.
It’s especially telling that when I googled “Peggy” and “Ken” and “Mad Men” looking for a picture of them together, of which there are very few, the auto-complete function suggested that “pact” should be the next word I type. The revelation of its existence is defining moment of an otherwise hidden relationship, yet its existence isn’t what defines their relationship. We don’t whisper to each other about what we’ll learn next about the pact between Peggy and Ken. That would be ridiculous. No, we’ve just learned that they’re the kind of people to make a pact. It’s interesting enough on its own.
And, of course, the more I thought, the more I went back to the first time I noticed this narrative technique and the pleasure it gives me. Do you remember Commander William Adama and President Laura Roslin from Battlestar Galactica? I don’t mean in the last episodes of the final season, when they become a surprisingly and disappointingly traditional romantic pairing. I mean in the beginning, when they lent each other books and called each other before bed. Wasn’t that something? We got to watch a friendship grow up in the quiet moments between two people with the weight of the world on their shoulders. It was better the more it left to the imagination, because it seemed to be the sort of thing that could only come into being if it were unobserved. For most of the show, that’s exactly how the writers let it happen. The characters, played by two actors of immense talent, gradually got closer without any events telling us how, and we were left to connect the dots of a hidden relationship.
The thing is, it’s impossible for a show of any reasonable length to keep relationships like these hidden forever. Narratives begin by raising questions and end by answering them, so it’s difficult for even the best of writers to avoid coming up with answers to all the little questions that also crop up along the way. Even if it’s not particularly relevant to the resolution of the plot, Misato confesses her love to Kaji, Adama consummates his love with Roslin, and I’m sure that Ken will give Peggy a kiss on the cheek at some point during the series finale. These things all have their endings, to which I’m resigned, but I can still cherish their beginnings, which were and always will be shrouded in mystery. Who knows the moment when friendship, affection, or even love first took root? I prefer a show that doesn’t always have to have an answer ready for that.