Merlina Addams: a character that no one should repair

Merlina snaps her fingers twice, and that simple sound, even without the introductory chords of the iconic Addams tune, evokes more than six decades of tradition that comes through in Merlina’s thin pigtails, her fondness for spiders, her his complicity with a hand without a body, in his relentless melancholy. wednesday (Netflix, 2022) allows us to meet again with the Addams, as dark and eccentric as ever; Since their inception, they have functioned as a critique of social norms and expectations, but this is the first time that Merlina has carried the full weight of the program. This is her series.

Merlina first appeared on the pages of The New Yorker, between 1938 and 1964, as the youngest daughter of an unnamed family created by cartoonist Charles Addams. The characters starred in a series of vignettes made up, in accordance with the style of the magazine, by a unique image and a caption that completed its meaning. Without further development of the individuality of each one, the strength of the scenes was in the juxtaposition of the normal American middle class and the daily life of this family so different from the rest. In that home, building torture devices, warning the nanny to be careful the children didn’t stab her in the back, or pouring a cauldron of hot oil on the carol singers were no scandal.

It was not until 1964, with the premiere of the television program inspired by those cartoons, that the characters finally had first and last names. Throughout two seasons, that program portrayed the life of this strange family and gave its members some qualities that were not present before, such as Homer’s Hispanic ancestry —in English, called Gomez— or Morticia’s mystical inclinations. Between 1964 and 1965 they were also released The Munsters, I dream of Jeannie Y bewitchedwhose premises, like that of The AddamsesThey were the confrontation of normal. Although, as products, they drank from the sitcoms more conventional domestic, inserted disruptive elements as a humorous counterpoint and as criticism. All these characters came as a response to the American way of life, to his ideal of family life on and off the screens. The historian Laura Morowitz delved into the matter from the particular cases of The Addamses Y The Munsters in the second volume of Critical Studies of Television: Both families were visibly different from those that surrounded them, however, they did not constitute a real threat, as they continued to respond to the family schemes of the time. Although their neighbors were shocked by their eccentricities, the Addamses were a normal family. The naturalness with which they have settled in the dark is what has seduced so many generations of viewers.

wednesdayNetflix.

Merlina’s original name, Wednesday, is said to come from a fragment of a english lullaby which talks about the character that babies supposedly have according to the day of the week they are born: “Wednesday’s child is full of woe”. This verse determines your destiny. Merlina, like a day in the middle of the week, will not experience intense happiness or the worst of misfortunes, but in the mediocrity, in a melancholy that manifests itself as indifference, distance and coldness. That first Merlina on television, played by Lisa Loring, mixed this quality with the necessary lightness of the sitcoms relatives of the sixties. The six-year-old girl writes love poems to a pet spider, is terrified by princess tales, always brings a headless doll with her, and finds calm in the knowledge that witches and other creatures of darkness exist. ; Instead of throwing a tantrum, she just frowns and doesn’t explode with joy at everything that would cause that reaction in any other girl.

There was something in Merlina, since then, that disturbed the viewers, possibly it was seeing her small and almost angelic but dressed in black and exploring unusual tastes and interests, behaving in a not very childish way, without any of this disturbing her relatives. Merlina’s character has been consolidated throughout its various appearances in film, television and theater, until reaching the series starring her, released this November on Netflix and produced —and partially directed— by Tim Burton. In the two films of the nineties The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993) we were able to see for the first time much more of the similarities she has with her mother —in various scenes they were portrayed side by side to emphasize this—, of her individuality —her dark clothing and somber demeanor set her apart from her fellow campers. , and her smile, instead of moving, scares—and because of her intelligence and powers of observation—she is often the first to suspect that something is wrong and to find ingenious solutions to problems.

In those two installments we saw a more violent Merlina, capable of electrocuting one of her brothers and trying to kill the other on several occasions, but also more indifferent to everything that surrounds her, with an immutable expression that exasperates those looking for some kind of response according to their age and context. The fact that the character was played by Christina Ricci between the ages of ten and twelve is one of the keys to her impact: in a culture that demands that girls smile, wear pink and look pretty, Merlina is everything. Otherwise, and he doesn’t seem to care too much. Merlina’s melancholy makes her, perhaps, the most disruptive character of the Addams: she is not opposed to American way of life, but completely disdains it. Merlina is not part of any urban tribe nor does she have a frontally rebellious attitude, she behaves outside of desire and the dominant aspirations in her culture.

wednesday, the Netflix series, follows a teenage Merlina played by Jenna Ortega —for the first time an actress of Latino descent was cast, which is consistent with her father’s roots. After being expelled from a public school for releasing piranhas in the pool, she is sent to a boarding school for students different. In that place called Nevermore – where everyone is predictably obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe – Merlina’s companions are werewolves, werewolves, mermaids and other fantastical creatures, all teenagers. A bit like the movies Harry Potter, we follow the dramas of these characters as they take classes, solve mysteries and face monsters and threats. As with the Addamses’ first television appearance, wednesday it takes up the conventions of other stories starring teenagers in American schools —love conflicts, rivalry, unlikely friendships and even the school dance—, but incorporating fantastic and action elements. If Merlina had always been intelligent, skillful and insightful, here her qualities are exacerbated. In this new version we also have a more impassive Merlina than ever, who also expresses her opinion about sentimentality and the impulses of young people.

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wednesdayNetflix.

The big difference between this new portrait of Merlina and the previous ones is the context in which it is placed, which this time serves to further reinforce her individuality, her indifference and the little importance she attaches to social conventions. When she Merlina arrives in the strange, colorful and diverse universe of Nevermore, she is still the weird girl: she is not different because she dresses in black or because of her pale complexion, but because of her way of relating to everything that surrounds her. She is destined for darkness and melancholy, and she has no interest in changing.

The contrast becomes more evident when Merlina meets her roommate, a werewolf with colored hair who gets excited, jumps, screams and brings the riot hormone. The differences are visually captured on the two sides of the room they share, one decorated with an explosion of color and the other completely monochrome. Our protagonist observes this universe of youth with a strangeness that borders on horror, the outbursts of her classmates seem ridiculous and unnecessary, and she prefers to spend her time writing her novel in her room. The plot progresses when a great mystery arises and Merlina, without getting too excited, decides to solve it.

A common element in adolescent products is the radical transformation of the characters who discover that their way of relating is not the best. Since the well-worn changes of looks Even deep epiphanies, self-discovery always seems to lead to a new insight, a kind of awakening, which at its worst resembles a simple lesson from a self-help book. That was the great danger of bringing a character like Merlina to a series of this type, and yet, wednesday it turns out to get around it in the best possible way.

The series remains true to the belief that Merlina’s character is beyond repair, no matter how uncomfortable or disturbing. She is not unhappy, she is a person who knows that life can be cruel and dark, and that she relates to her environment based on this notion. Emmanuel Carrère says in Of other people’s lives: “I am so scandalized by those who say that we are free, that happiness is decided, that it is a moral choice. […] Between those who have a fissure in the nucleus and those who do not have it, the same thing happens between the poor and the rich, just like the class struggle, we know that there are poor people who stop being poor, but that the majority do not, they continue to be so, and telling a melancholic that happiness is a decision is like telling a hungry person to eat buns. In Merlina, the right to melancholy is not only defended, but also triumphs and opposes the mandate of happiness so in vogue in these times.

Merlina Addams: a character that no one should repair