ESPN is a great corporation. It is ungodly profitable. It creates a mere 43% of Disney’s total operating income. Think about that. All of Disney, including Disneyland and everything else it owns. 43%. But you see, ESPN has recently acquired some lucrative properties, like more SEC football games. In order to show us more Vanderbilt-Kentucky football and build a crazy expensive new set, ESPN has decided to lay off 300-400 employees. This a mere 2 weeks after Disney’s stock reached an all-time high.
Potential spoiler alerts ahead.
Let me more or less agree with Coates’ view on season 6 of Mad Men, or at least the first few episodes, which can be summed up by the fact that Draper’s latest affair is not very interesting.
Except he’s lost something. Don is a beautiful philandering stud. That was always there but it was wrapped in so much more–his role as father to a young daughter (gone thus far), his role as a kind of father to Peggy (gone by necessity of plot), his relationship with Roger as some future image of himself (also gone), his relationship with Anna (gone to the grave), his fear of unmasking (seemingly also gone.) What’s left is a dude who makes adultery look beautiful. My impulse is to say that this Don Draper is lot less interesting. But I wonder if this Don Draper is all of what we actually came for. Did most of always think of the literature as gift-wrapping for the style?
Who knows. But I’d rather see the camera shift, and Don Draper give some scenes away to those characters who really are changing, not just relapsing. It’s true that in real life, real people relapse all the time. But stories are not real life. They have beginnings and ends chosen by their creators.
The season’s high points thus far have come when it has focused on the non-Don characters. Betty entering into hippiedom to find that runaway girl. Harry being a massive jerk in the last episode, especially toward Joan who is dealing with the fallout of her choice to prostitute herself for the company and her own personal advancement. Roger’s sessions with the psychiatrist. But Matthew Weiner continues to hold the focus of his show on Don and I don’t think it’s working very well right now. Cheating again makes perfect sense–a depressed serial cheater is very believable. But that doesn’t mean it is all that interesting season after season.
After a time, Deadwood moved away from Seth Bullock as the show’s central character. The Wire did the same with Jimmy McNaulty. Don Draper is far more compelling than either Bullock or McNaulty, but after 5+ seasons of focusing on Draper, there may not be that much else to say. Reading discussions of the great secrecy behind the premier of the show, it seems that the one secret Weiner really wanted to keep most hidden was Don’s new affair, suggesting that was Weiner’s big move for the season. But I think that was probably misguided and might be creating a trap for the show more difficult to get out of than Draper’s season-long depression in the 4th season that seemed to drag things along for awhile.
I’m still watching a well-crafted show with good writing, but so far I’m not watching a very compelling season of that show.
Of course, there’s still 9 episodes to go.
I heartily recommend the first two parts of this four part Ronald Moore interview. Representative bit:
ES: I want to return to Colonel Tigh for a minute. When I initially watched—at least the first couple episodes of the miniseries—Tigh didn’t strike me as particularly sympathetic. There’s the question of whether he’s making the right call throughout his struggles with his wife and with alcohol, but overwhelmingly all the veterans I talked to identified most—and it didn’t matter whether they were officers or enlisted—they identify with Tigh. One wrote, “[Colonel] Tigh reminded me of one of my old flight chiefs…a tough Bronx Jew who retired a Senior Master Sergeant, as well as a couple other senior NCOs I knew. (Not coincidentally, most of them were functioning or recovering alcoholics). He might not have been PC, and he didn’t handle delicate situations well but when everything went to shit, he knew how to do his job and [do it] well.” Another veteran recalled “33”: “‘Yes, the Cylons keep coming after us time after time after time. And yes, we are still expected to do our jobs!’ That quote really resonated with me—it’s definitely the type of mentality you need to have to be an Army Ranger.” You see these diverse service members connecting with Tigh. Is he a military everyman?
RM: In a way. He was emblematic of a lot of different men I met when I was in ROTC in the cruise and other cruises and different environments that I was in over those years and some other experiences with my father being military-based now and again, and I just recognized that. There was something about those men that were deeply flawed, were really gruff, and were people that you didn’t want to mess with and you were kinda afraid of and didn’t know what they were capable of. They didn’t seem like they’d be recruiting poster types, but you knew that you wanted them with you in a fight, and you sensed everyone else needed them, too. I remember there being some gunnery sergeants I met in the Marine Corps that were—I don’t know if they became alcoholics; frankly, I wasn’t around them in their off-hours but they certainly gave off that vibe—were screwed up individuals, but everyone from the colonel down to the privates in that unit would definitely look to them as somebody who knew what the score was and who were the backbone of the unit. I was always struck by that—that the guys who really pull it together may not be very pretty and might be people that, you know, weren’t very PC and no one would hold up and say this is the model soldier, marine, or officer, but you know that doesn’t mean that they’re not good.
Tigh was a fabulous creation. If there’s a common thread that runs through the Golden Age of Television, it’s in the effective display of the travails of middle management; people who need to resolve the problems of those under them while mollifying those above them. BSG, the Wire, the Sopranos, the Office, and even Mad Men (to some extent) leap to mind in terms of effective depictions.
Of course, in this case Moore wrote himself into a corner and decided to wreck the character with the “Final Five” nonsense. Still, Tigh was one of the best parts of the series, and remains one of my favorite television characters.
Robert Chew, who played Prop Joe in The Wire, has passed. One of the greatest roles in one of the greatest television shows in history.
Why has television surpassed film as the most important form of motion picture media? Maybe because shows like Mad Men tell interesting stories while the 14th sequel to a superhero movie might sell tickets in China but is culturally irrelevant over the long-term. And while I don’t doubt that TV being free after subscription and pirating are issues, the real problem for Hollywood is that they don’t tell interesting stories anymore, preferring to rely on CGI and tricks to get 15 year old boys to spend money, while adults can watch Mad Men or Girls or The Wire or whatever.
But hey, I’m sure having Seth MacFarlane host the Oscars will make a huge difference and put film back on top. Clearly Hollywood studio executives have identified the problem correctly…..
Ta-Nehisi Coates is correct. The attacks on Lena Dunham as the ultimate purveyor of white privilege in the arts are utterly bizarre. This isn’t to say Dunham doesn’t benefit from white privilege or shouldn’t think of casting non-whites in her show, but she hardly benefits more than anyone else and is hardly more guilty than anyone else.
To recap: in the first post, I demonstrated how Van Patten turned Will into a sympathetic character. In the second post, I established that the scenes in Winterfell that weren’t in the novel were designed to establish a perspective on Will’s coming execution that’s focalized through Bran, but which also introduces the audience to the larger Stark family dynamics. (I also, as Julia Grey pointed out, inadvertantly indicated how Arya’s character would develop over the course of the season. I’ll let Julia’s analysis carry the weight of that interpretative thread for now and return to it when it comes to fore later.) Before I can yoke those arguments together, though, it would behoove us to see what happens when Bran steps off-stage, as it were, beginning with the announcement of Will’s capture:
Those smiles are residual: for one of the only time in the series, Ned and Catelyn have watched Arya and Bran engaging in what we might call “play.” She hits his target and he’s encouraged by his brothers, bastard and true, as well as his parents, to take off after her:
Turning downtown Springfield, Oregon into a Simpsons-themed shopping district actually makes a tiny bit of sense, as cheesy as it would be, considering that downtown Springfield reminds one of a city like Canton or Schenectady more than Eugene or Portland.
Most of what I read about the latest Mad Men (“The Other Woman”) focused on Joan’s decision to accept Pete’s indecent proposal—and rightly so—but the title of the episode basically demands the audience answer the question “Who’s the woman, and who’s the other one?” As far as I can tell, the consensus seems to be that it’s Joan, who unlike Megan and Peggy lacks a defined role in Don’s life, but that strikes me as only significant in this episode and inconsonant with developments in the series as whole. Moreover, the final minutes of the episode indicate that while Peggy’s role in Don’s life may have been circumscribed by their working relationship in recent episodes, it bears remembering that, before Megan, Peggy and Don regularly confided in each other about things like the ramifications of unplanned pregnancies. In short, I’d argue that over the course of five seasons, Peggy’s been Don’s perpetual “other woman,” and I think the structure of the episode bears this out.
But first things first, let me remind you of a moment from the first episode of the first season. Don criticizes Peggy for allowing Pete to enter his office and steal research from his trash, to which Peggy responds thus:
The latest Mad Men (“The Other Woman”) presented me with more to think about than I can currently wrap my head around, but so too did the latest Games of Thrones (“Blackwater”), albeit it for very different reasons. So instead of delving into “The Other Woman” or drowning in the sudden narratological shift in “Blackwater,” I’ll focus on a fine point about shot construction in Game of Thrones. Before I do, however, I should note that I’m by no means endorsing the more problematic elements of the show—the racial politics foremost among them—because those strike me as endemic to sword-and-sorcery as a genre, so anything I write about them will inevitably be general and uninteresting to a fault.
If you want a re-cap of the episode itself, I recommend Alyssa’s, but for my purpose all you need to know is that 1) the great Peter Dinklage plays Tyrion Lannister and 2) he commands an army that’s on the brink of being besieged. Tyrion, in the lingo of the show, is a “halfman,” and Dinklage’s height presents difficulties for directors—if they shoot a close-up or medium close-up of him in conversation, his wit and intelligence will be diminished by the fact that his head’s surrounded by a sea of crotches. The typical solutions to this problem are two-fold: have everyone he converses with sit down while doing so (as Thomas McCarthy did extensively in The Station Agent) or shoot him in extremely shallow focus so he’s surrounded by a sea of fuzzy crotches. In “Blackwater,” director Neil Marshall eschews both techniques, employing instead an exceedingly stylized compositional mode that would look ostentatious in almost any other context. To wit:
How many shows have reached such outstanding heights in the 5th season as Mad Men has done this year, episode after episode? The last 3 episodes especially have been just fantastic. And the comedic writing is so much higher this year. I find myself laughing out loud consistently, which I don’t remember doing before. Even The Wire slipped in season 5. I guess MASH and Seinfeld were pretty fantastic around season 5 and The Sopranos was always pretty great. But there’s not many shows still able to break new ground in their 5th season.
In other words, you west coast people need to be watching tonight.