Up to this point I have only discussed film here, but today I had the urge to delve into a tv show on Netflix that surprised me with how poignantly it moved me, while inspiring me in such a surreally beautiful way. I will be discussing the show’s archetypal significance (a regular practice in some fields of psychology),based on my own experience and knowledge.
“This is one of the strangest shows I’ve ever watched”. As I watched it, I continually found myself saying this to myself and asking why I am watching it. I have to admit I should watch the show again to have a more in-depth processing of what I experienced the first time around because I did not give this show my complete full attention. I did not initially recognize its value. (I have since watched it again before posting this). It did hook me though: so I stuck with it and was constantly drawn deeper into it as I did. I believe it was a combination of the tangible human experiences, the mysteries inherent in the plotline, mixed with its abstract subject matter that made this show particularly unique for a television show. It is not very often you see such artistic license on television that usually shines through film.
One thing I find significant about the show is it doesn’t give you many answers to what is going on, so as you watch you are merely presented with people and their experiences, without knowing how any of it pieces together. The only guidance you have is Prairie, who says many strange things that you aren’t at first fully convinced are sane, since she speaks strangely and of a mission she must fulfill. She is constant as the main character who is with you in the present as she lives her current life, as well as in the past which is her present self sharing her past story. Both in the past and present you encounter several characters, all of who play their own piece in the vast puzzle that is their existence. In this way, I find each character to be a facet of the jewel that makes this story so brilliant. The entire show seems to symbolize the mythic heroic quest. Though led by Prairie, Prairie seems to only be one part of the hero archetype here. In fact, each character seems to represent a different side of human nature or the individual human psyche; the significance being that their purpose is to unite for a greater purpose that they don’t fully understand or know. The beauty of seeing a group of people (all very much their own person) come together for a united goal is so touching and inspiring.
I will attempt to not reveal too much about the show, but I would like to analyze the characters and their individual significance to the grande scheme, or larger archetypal plot at play in the show.
Prairie – Seems to be the Superego, the leader of the group. She symbolizes courage and this is the first part of her story she tells us about. While she appears vulnerable and is often shamed in the show, she is consistently brave. She is brave enough to return to her home after adversity and to live out her life path. She does so with confidence that she is living her own life path the best way she knows how. She speaks her truths knowingly, even though others here only craziness coming from her mouth and do not recognize the value of her words and what she knows. They try to “help” her see things the way they think things should be seen, they do not see how she is bravely living her purpose in the face of adversity.
Khatun – Is very much the mystical Mother Nature figure. She is the wise old hag, the guiding mentor. It is these scenes that are perhaps the most strange, as they occur in a kind of dream, or altered consciousness. She is the gateway to our collective unconscious where the archetypal knowledge lies. It takes work for Prairie, Homer (and the others which we see limitedly) to access their spirit animal and consume it’s transcending qualities.
Homer – Is the part of us that needs to work in coordination with our courage. This is why Homer and Prairie develop the friendship they do. Homer symbolizes our paternal qualities: particularly our instincts for progress. This is displayed by one scene where we observe his sexual frustration as well as his need to father his children and his ability to gently guide Prairie to have strength. The only way for us to gain control of these progressive instincts is to work in union with our courageous sense of self and life purpose that Prairie embodies. It is also no wonder that Homer faces both conflict and intimate pleasure with Renata.
Renata – Is our daimon. Renata is hard to trick into submission. She needs to be free, to live in the moment and to be able to express her artistry. She is our creative urge, much like the paternal energy and the need to create life that Homer embodies.
Scott – Is our Skeptic and doubting Thomas. He is our Judas as well as our Christ. He is the weaknesses we carry that we think will drag us down, when really they are our Grace. When we acknowledge them, they are the way we are able to be strong and endure adversity.
Rachel – Rachel is admittedly a bit of a mystery to me. She is not as active a character as the others, in fact she is quite passive. All we know is that she ran away from home and had a brother she wished to care for, but who ended up in a wheelchair due to a car accident (she was driving). She also sings a hauntingly beautiful song midway through the show about her brother. Perhaps she is our “good intentions” and our “regrets” that perhaps have a life of their own at times.
I believe these past characters are descriptive of the basic ancient functions of the psyche inherent to play significance in our functioning on a daily basis. They are the primal functions, given that they are discovered in an isolated environment. Often this is where we get in touch with these and learn to manage them wisely: in isolation or via meditation.
The characters in the present represent archetypes that are often associated with the gods of ancient lore. They are the archetypes we may have conflict with and play a large part in our relationships.
Steve – Is our Loki. The god of mischief: He’s always getting into trouble, stirring it up himself and causing it for others. He may threaten the safety of the entire unit, while also being a significant part of keeping it together. Steve at one point gets into conflict with French, which naturally is the case within ourselves between our chaotic self and our more organized sense of security.
Buck – Is our anima/animus. Buck is androgynous for this purpose, you notice that you can’t completely tell what sex he is and it is hinted at one point that he is using hormone therapy. Buck is mainly innocent, somewhat reserved and means well. He seems to be someone who would be a good friend and who seeks to unite the group in order to see their purpose through to completion.
Phyllis –Perhaps a bit of a mother figure, since she really cares about her brother as well as the kids in the group. I believe she is more fitting of the part of our shadow that we don’t like to admit to: the overweight, not very pretty part. She is in many ways the very face of what our current social mind resists, albeit playing a vital role which is overlooked. Phyllis soon became one of my favorite characters as you see the genuine fight she carries within her to do what’s best. She ends up being a truly robust strength for the group, at one point working quite bravely to save Loki from trouble. While Phyllis seems to stumble through her life, doing things in her weakness that are not permitted by social etiquette, or a professional workplace, she has the group’s heart as her forefront priority.
French- Is our Independence: our need for self-preservation and security. Often times our independence requires a focus on other purposes aside from our main purpose in life, ones that are a striving in and of themselves for greater things. This is what motivates us to move away from our parents and to establish a life of our own. French sometimes loses sight of his part in the grand scheme, or his sympathy for his weaker mother who has trouble with her own independence. We also see that in attempting to always be alert and in control French makes the unsafe choice to take drugs. Surely each character is very real in their imperfections, yet overall French is characterized quite honorably, and at one point even helps Prairie out of a difficult circumstance with her parents.
Jesse – Jesse, like Rachel, is a bit of mystery to me as well since he is quite passive himself. If anything, he seems to be our "inner child". Specifically perhaps the orphaned child who has their need to connect with the group and tag along with the group’s purposes. He tends to tag along with Steve the most, which is perhaps natural for our inner child to accompany mischief. He is no less significant, as Prairie claims he is needed as much as the others in order to fulfill their purpose.
Prairie speaks her prophecy, the truths she has come to discover. Within them are 5 movements that each person in the group must perform. Each person has their own part to play in establishing the overall dance they learn to perform, and it’s a sometimes grueling process each person must encounter in order to learn how to participate in the whole. The whole idea of movement being symbolic in the sense that each part of the psyche must relate with each other in one fluid agreed upon action played out in unison. When we act out of our whole and true selves, with all of our parts coordinated in unison, we are acting out our full authentic purpose. A purpose of which can ultimately fend off those who seek to destroy.
I was so moved from a deep place watching this show. At first I didn’t see all of this information, I only felt it. The archetypal information came afterwards as I wrote this article. It tapped into the significance which my spiritual life and practice of meditation has for me. Through meditation, I am uniting all of these different parts of myself and learning to live out of my authentic self. No claims of full individuation here, just a hope-filled practice centered on compassion and purpose.
This show is truly a work of art: One with significant purpose.