Most great works of fiction have at least one topical element to them, and Netflix’ The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is one of them. Since its release, this stunning prequel to Jim Henson’s cult classic has joined the ranks of some of the greatest fantasies ever written, due in no small part to its world and characters built on the Muppet creator’s legacy. Apart from its abundant magic and adventure, the series also has some very potent things to say about oligarchy and the dangers of unwavering conformity to traditions.
It may seem like a bit of a stretch, but many of the core elements found in more fanatical circles are on full display in this series, namely in how the villainous Skeksis maintain their power. In the world of Thra, the Skeksis rule over the Gelfling, forcing the smaller race to bend to their every whim. When we first arrive on Thra, this is the way things have been for a thousand years. We as an audience arrive just in time to see the Skeksis system collapse.
Of all the enemies the Skeksis have, one of the biggest is skepticism on the part of their Gelfling constituents. In order to maintain their power, the Skeksis need to make sure none of the Gelfling ever question the reasons for things being the way they are and thus lull them into a state of complacency. Perhaps the most skeptical of the Gelfling is actually one who has benefited the most from Skeksis rule, and that’s the princess Brea. Brea is one of the first characters to start asking questions and meets with opposition from Gelfling and Skeksis alike.
Seers, scholars, and even her own mother discourage or try to inhibit her efforts to learn about the Skeksis. The most direct effort to dissuade her comes from the Skeksis themselves when the disease-ridden Collector actually blames the pursuit of knowledge for her sicknesses. Brea however persists, and it’s her desire to put truth before dogma that leads her to find several secrets hidden beneath her castle, which later leads her and the others to the Circle of the Suns, and the key that may bring the Skeksis’ rule to an end. In this world, history isn’t made by the complacent. It’s made by thinkers.
Divide and Conquer
Of all the ways they maintain their power, one of the Skeksis’ most impressive tactics is to divide and conquer. Since the Skeksis came to power, they have divided the Gelfling into seven clans, from the elitist Vapra clan to the reclusive Grottan. All of these clans are subservient to the Skeksis, with some, such as the Vapra clan, reaping the benefits of their rulers. Dividing the clans has numerous benefits for the Skeksis, not the least of which is it makes the Gelfling more suspicious of each other than of their lords.
The Skeksis respond to threats by use of suspicion. If the Gelfling are suspicious of someone, they’re less likely to listen. This is what happens when Rian, one of the show’s leads, witnesses the murder of a friend by the Skeksis. He manages to escape the castle with crucial evidence of their guilt, so the Skeksis respond with use of propaganda, branding Rian a liar and blasphemer. Because of this, it takes much longer for Rian to rally the Gelfling against the Skeksis, a delay that costs many lives.
Reward Through Conformity
As the Skeksis punish those that question them, they also reward those that help them maintain their power. It’s a form of what’s known as the prosperity gospel or the idea that those that serve the divine will be rewarded. It’s through this that Brea’s family reap most of their benefits. Brea’s mother, the All Maudra, embraces the Skeksis’ use of prosperity gospel, accepting material gifts from them in exchange for her complacency. However, as the show progresses, even the most fanatical devotees still end up suffering.
Perhaps no character learns this better than Seladon, sister of Brea and next in line to become the All Maudra. After witnessing her mother’s murder, Seladon blames Brea for the killing and becomes one of the Skeksis most ardent champions. She turns in her sister, provides crucial information to the Skeksis, and is even willing to sacrifice other Gelfling in order to maintain her status. In spite of her near-fanatical devotion, Seladon’s only reward is a public humiliation and a spot alongside the other Gelfling marked for death. All rewards the Gelfling get are fleeting, and they all soon suffer alongside their fellows.
Breaking From Tradition
So what is it the Gelfling do to overcome the Skeksis? They have to break free of the rigid traditions the Skeksis have demanded of them. Most of the fighting comes from the young, while the elders of the Gelfling seem more inclined to let things remain as they are. Both Brea and Rian are met with scorn by their mother and father respectively when they attempt to break from the mould and enlighten their fellow Gelfling. Their elders even attempt to discourage them from going to the Circle of the Suns out of fear and superstition, but the group presses on. Not listening to the traditionalist views of their elders is what allows them to move the story forward.
The All Maudra eventually rejects the gifts given to her by the Skeksis, setting forth a chain of events that set many of the clans against them. Brea’s questioning of traditions is what leads her to a message left by those seeking to destroy the Skeksis. Other Gelfling growing curious is what leads them to see Rian’s evidence and judge for themselves whether it’s genuine. One by one, the Gelfling heroes break form, which in turn leaves the Skeksis more and more at risk. Until this point, conformity has lead the Gelfling to the illusion of security. Breaking from that conformity leads them to many challenges, but it’s a small price to pay for them to be truly free.
A New World
By the end of the show’s first season, the Gelfling have had some successes, but their situation remains dire. But though the situation is dire, they are now free from the Skeksis influence over them, free to explore their lives how they chose. Their lives may now be chaotic, but intellectual and personal freedoms are hardly orderly things.
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