This week I’m taking a break from my “libraries in popular culture” series to focus on the new season of the animated show, Carmen Sandiego, which was just released earlier this month, which actually fulfills a promise I made back in June to write about the show. I also talked about it back when I had my DNAChat, you know the Twitter discussion I did back in late June.  I even pondering what to do next, although I’m not completely convinced I want to do a chat on Carmen Sandiego, DNA, “Resistance Genealogy,” racial justice, or archives/libraries topics, although I may change my mind in the future. During the chat, I even asked a question on one of the days, although getting her age wrong, saying that Carmen knows little about her past, and asked participants if DNA test would help her and what they would recommend she do. A warning for those that have not watched the episodes of the new season, or perhaps even the first season, this post discusses spoilers from the show itself. The show is set, clearly, in our existing world, not in some magical world. Without further adieu, let’s dive in and discuss the interwoven threads of records and family history.
In the show’s first season, we were introduced to Carmen Sandiego, the code-name of a 20-some Latina woman, an international master thief who stole from thieves, especially in that season’s first two episodes. Despite the fact that we as the audience knew that she had previously been a part of V.I.L.E. (Villains International League of Evil), her background was relatively obscure. She had been born in Argentina presumably and only had a set of “matryoshka dolls” as her possessions, with the story that she was found by the roadside near Buenos Aires. Perhaps purposely, what is revealed about her past is piecemeal, contrasting from shows like Futurama where family trees, although non-traditional, end up being somewhat central. Carmen, who also goes by the names of “Red,” “Black Sheep,” “The Lady in Red,” “Fedora the Explorer,” “The World’s Greatest Thief,” “The Miss of Misdemeanor,” “La Femme Rouge,” and “The Crimson Shadow,” among others, has no memory of her parents, and grew up on V.I.LE. Island, which is somewhere in the Canary Islands.
While her narrative in this show differs from those in previous iterations, you may think that perhaps she had Russian ancestry. As it turns out, some Russian Argentines immigrated in a sizable number from 1901-1920 if my translation (via Google Translate) of this publication is right. There were also specific colonies of Russian-German immigrants who settled in Argentina starting in the 1890s in agricultural areas. There’s also 10,000 inhabitants in Choele Choel, including Russian Orthodox immigrants, sometimes called the “White Russians,” who came from Russia itself. Others have noted that there were five immigration waves from Russia to Argentina since the end of the 19th century. Presently, hundreds of thousands with some Russian descent live in Argentina. On the other hand, the dolls themselves are deceiving as they may not indicate ancestry at all!
The latter brings us to the most recent season. Like the first season, there isn’t much focus on her family roots at first. Carmen is at a bit a dead end. Shadowsan, who rescued her from Argentina, whom has Japanese heritage, says he doesn’t know much about the mission, with little he can tell her. She accepts this for the time being and makes an interesting remark at the end of the third episode of the season, The Daisho Caper:
Of course, the themes of discovering herself and her identity is a strong theme of the season. Even stronger is the continual use of records. Carmen’s hacker friend, “Player,” breaks into V.I.L.E. hard drives from his home computer to figure out what capers the evil organization is plotting and how Carmen can stop them. Apart from that, in the last episode of the season, The Deep Water Caper, which ends the show not only on a cliffhanger but with a big bang, Carmen specifically references records and finding out the truth of her family. This is NOT the way to manage your records, people, seriously. Blowing up your headquarters and having it sink into the water is not a way to erase records. I mean, they didn’t even do a good job, because she still found the files.
And because of that, this episode is perhaps my favorite of the whole season. Unfortunately we don’t see the server room since the V.I.L.E. faculty literally destroyed the whole academy, but she swims through the water and retrieves the necessary records. From this, she is able to learn more about her past, and finds the case files. It shows that her nemesis, Coach Brunt was right when she taunted Carmen in the previous episode about Shadowsan: he was on a mission to Argentina to kill a man named “Dexter Wolff,” obviously a code name. But other than the fact that Wolff was V.I.LE. faculty, it doesn’t say much more. She then decides to confront Shadowsan, presumably in their new headquarters in San Diego at the former “Carmen Outer Wear” company building. Telling him that she won’t let him escape, he says he is not going to run and will tell her everything. So much for following Carmen’s instructions when she, during the Daisho Caper (and in some of the prior episodes) to have no more secrets. He claims he didn’t tell her the truth for own protection.
The fact that Shadowsan, the creator of the record Carmen found, did NOT tell the full truth in the record itself, relates to a lot of archival themes. For instance, you could say that Shadowsan’s report is a primary source, but since he left out certain content is almost an archival silence or “gaps or missing pieces in the historical record” to quote from the Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy. As such, he is engaging in a form of bias, as he is engaging in a “prejudice in favor of one thing or person over another,” specifically in favor of Carmen. Furthermore, records themselves can “easily become lost, distorted, or orphaned” as archivist Samantha Thompson points out. There have often been distortions and omissions in records, like those in Early Modern Europe, records left by the so-called “Founding Fathers” of the U.S., or within family archives, meaning that in this sense, Shadowsan’s action not unique. Due to the omissions from the report, Carmen was right to challenge its accuracy, as the latter means, in an archival context, “the degree to which data, information, documents or records are precise, correct, truthful, free of error or distortion,or pertinent to the matter.” It actually reminds me of those 1990s Hollywood films I reviewed a while back which often had themes about records erasure.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Shadowsan says he went to Argentina to track down Wolff and followed him to a villa outside Buenos Aires where he found Carmen, complicating his plan to kill him. As he was about to carry out his dirty deed, another group of law enforcement, presumably INTERPOL (explaining he she is able to connect with Devineaux and Julia so easily) approached, ready to take him down. As he tried to escape, a young Black female agent named Tamara Fraser shot him down (maybe she thought he was pulling out a gun?). She later used this leverage to form a special investigative unit, A.C.M.E., implied to be part of INTERPOL. In essence this means that the ‘Chief’ killed her father. No wonder she feels no compunction in hacking A.C.M.E., tricking the Chief by giving her a phony V.I.L.E. hard drive. Within, Player finds the file which gives the real name of the Chief (Tamara Fraser), and shows her taking responsibility for the act. Interestingly, the presence of Shadowsan and Carmen there is not recorded, so A.C.M.E. has no idea she is the son of a person their Chief killed! The episode goes on for Carmen to unearth the casket of the person who owned the house, a woman “Vera Cruz,” which turns out to be a decoy, allowing her to vanish “without a trace.” As such, Carmen doesn’t know the name of her mother, although she holds out hope, as the episode closes, that she is out there and she will find her some day, saying: “everyone leaves a trace. Somewhere out there I have a mother who may or may not know I am alive” with Shadowsan with her until the “end of the line,” declaring “then let’s find her.” On a related note, as viewers, we learn, through deduction, from the fake coffin that the coffin was planted in 1999, and this show having been set in the present day, that Carmen is at least 20 years old, if not older.
In the mean time, A.C.M.E., due to the hack, re-activates pompous fool and chauvinist Chase Devineaux. Of course, they had been trying to track Carmen and catch her in order to learn more about V.I.L.E., but it had been pushed by Julia, the former partner of Chase at INTERPOL, that they try to recruit Carmen. All goes well except in the process Carmen is hurt badly after escaping A.C.M.E.’s clutches in the Stockholm Caper episode. After learning this horrible truth about the Chief, it seems abundantly clear Carmen isn’t going to trust them again. Why would you trust a person who killed your own father? So, I expect some sort of showdown between Carmen and A.C.M.E. or just Carmen and the Chief in the next season, if I may make a prediction.
With all being said, what can we say about the show and its themes of records and family history? Clearly, this season was much stronger in the latter theme, as the former has been a staple throughout the show itself, along with a continued focus on the use of records to halt the actions of evildoers. There is also a strong emphasis on discovering who you are, which is also present in shows like Steven Universe and Revolutionary Girl Utena, both of which I have reviewed on this blog in one way or another. It also makes me think of the 1990s show, Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? where some parts of her family life are revealed at the end of the show’s run. While I hold out hope that Carmen will go to a library or archives in the future, even if she does not, the show still has staying power and shows that you should pursue a focus on your family roots.
Until next week!
 If you need a refresher, I recommend you check out “Last two days of #DNAChat,” “DNAChat Questions,” “#DNAChat Day 5,” “#DNAChat Day 4,” “#DNAChat Day 3,” “#DNAChat Day 2,” “#DNAChat Day 1,” and “Tweets introducing #DNAChat.”