Lost in the Movies: April 2018

The Kingdom II - "Gargantua" (episode 7)

Welcome to my viewing diary for the two-season Danish miniseries The Kingdom. Every day (except Saturday) I will offer a short review of another episode. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on November 15, 1997/written by Tómas Gislason, Niels Vorsel & Lars von Trier; directed by Morten Arnfred & Lars von Trier): I should have known. Although the stakes seemed incredibly high at the end of the previous episode, they are quickly dragged back down to earth at the start of "Gargantua." Helmer has been merely wounded by an apologetic Rigmor. Jørgen was rescued by a man who wanted to sing a funeral dirge for his corpse. Despite all the intervening leaps, we're back where we were before, with Jørgen and a wheelchair-bound Helmer still trying to outwit each other for Mona's anesthesiology report. Hilariously, there is a "chase" inside the archive room as they inch toward/away from each other just slowly enough not to trigger the alarm. Another hilarious Helmer chase involves a bailiff with a yellow envelope calling the surgeon to court; Helmer is warned of this threat by another snobbish Swede, his lawyer (played by notable guest star Stellan Skarsgård, fresh from the director's international triumph Breaking the Waves). Ole's attempt to impress Sanne ends in a whimper; she cares more about her slasher films than the fact that he's become the "Falcon" she was so infatuated by. As if looking for another avenue to prove himself in, the new ghost-driver tells a dying man (injured and eventually killed by, I think, the previous driver, not Ole) that his family will be provided for and decides to do one last ambulance run - a blind one in this case, with the windshield obscured - so he can earn enough money to fulfill that promise.

Sigrid and Bulder pal around with Hansen (Otto Brandenburg) all episode, initially - harmlessly enough - in hidden rooms, sussing out dream-clues about the nature of the hospital. Bulder is guided through a vision in which he travels deep into the bowels of the Kingdom and rearranges the stone-hewn letters of its Danish name ("Riget") so that they spell “Tiger.” When a tiger materializes before him, Bulder turns into a bird (albeit, to the great annoyance of Sigrid, one that can't fly). Sigrid takes these clues as a reference to the painting she saw in her near-death experience, and Bulder digs up a magazine reproduction of the image, that he clipped back during his "hippie phase" in the early seventies. His mother deduces that the tiger is the hospital, the serpent in the tree above it is the doctors, and those uncanny birds of passage are the spirits (perhaps Bulder, even in his visionary state, could not turn into a flying bird because he lacks the spiritual nature of his mother; he's too - literally - down-to-earth). Here's where Hansen becomes dangerous; the amateur pilot suggests flying them into the airspace above the hospital, where spirits may haunt the atmospheric corridors much as they haunt the building’s. As they ascend to the heavens, Satan is afoot below; the "ghost" of Age Krüger returns to see his son, now dubbed Little Brother, and is identified by another spiritualist as not a ghost at all, but a demon (at which point he instantly grows two horns and flees before snapping them off his own head). He is the one who killed the priest last time and as his son, part-demon himself (but determined to be good), prepares to die it seems that two Udo Kiers may be too much for this rickety structure to handle.

My Response:

The Kingdom II - "Birds of Passage" (episode 6)

Welcome to my viewing diary for the two-season Danish miniseries The Kingdom. Every day (except Saturday) I will offer a short review of another episode. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on November 8, 1997/written by Tómas Gislason, Niels Vorsel & Lars von Trier; directed by Morten Arnfred & Lars von Trier): Sigrid lives! Albeit only after she (temporarily) dies. Jørgen dies! Except he doesn't...except he's about to...maybe? Life and death are confusing matters in "Birds of Passage." Judith's grotesque baby continues to grow (and is expected to die soon); Moesgaard falls under the sway of Ole (Erik Wedersøe), the manipulative shrink in the basement; and mystic-healing charlatan Philip Marco (Fash Shodeinde) temporarily convinces Sigrid and Bondo that he's removed - and eaten - their diseased organs through a sleight of hand involving cow's blood. Among the younger crowd, Christian (Ole Boisen) objects to "ghost-driving," a popular sport where the mysterious "Falcon" (Thomas Bo Larsen) speeds around town in an ambulance, racing against traffic on the wrong side of the street while the students bet on his survival. Mogge and Sanne love the game and admire Falcon, considering Christian a predictable bore. Determined to impress his crush, Christian takes over for Falcon one night, speeding into one of many tense strands in this episode's cliffhanger climax. Despite these different subplots, episode six is largely focused on the Sigrid and Jørgen material.

The episodes kicks off when Sigrid herself kicks off. The dying Mrs. Drusse is swept into a vision of the afterlife - her spirit floats up to the ceiling and then above the whole hospital and city, before she finds herself in a long corridor leading to a room with two doors. One is tall and one is small, and a much happier Mary emerges from the tall one to let Sigrid know that her time has not yet come. The old woman is relieved to hear she is not responsible for the spirits roaming the hospital, but she's concerned to learn that a great task is at hand: "It will come to pass at Christmas," Mary warns her. "You must go back." Sigrid is also struck by a painting of a tiger in a tropical landscape, with black birds of passage flocking overhead. Back in her body, Sigrid organizes a meeting of invisible spirits, using water and chalk dust to commune with these ghosts. This eccentric but peaceful event takes a disastrous turn, however, when the friendly priest wanders into the lecture hall and is violently attacked by paranormal forces, who appear to tear him to shreds.

Meanwhile, Jørgen's fate is coming to a head; Helmer has learned that the Haitian poison only makes its victim appear to be dead - if he applies the antidote within a couple days, the corpse can be resurrected. Unfortunately, the fallen doctor is scheduled to be cremated so Helmer races to stop the process, eventually seizing the casket with both hands while a conveyer belt pulls them toward the flames. Out of nowhere, at the worst possible moment, Rigmor shoots her lover in the back, forcing him to collapse and lose his grip on the casket just as Jørgen's eyes open inside and fire consumes the box. Rigmor may not have killed Helmer, but it's a cinch she's killed "Dr. Hook." That is, if anything's a cinch on this show...

My Response:

Patreon update #17: Twin Peaks season 2 & Séraphine (+ cartoon classics & more)

Originally I planned to review Before Sunrise this week but, after rewatching the film, I realized at the last minute that June 16 would make a more suitable date (at least for this site's cross-post; the episode will publish earlier in the week). A few months ago I had seen and reviewed Séraphine, a biopic about a French outsider artist from the early twentieth century so I was able to bump it up a week on the schedule without a problem. I also discuss the second season of Twin Peaks, attempting to view it both as the complicated, multi-part narrative it was and also as something with an overarching character of its own. This is a relatively quiet episode overall - there's no "Other Topics" section to speak of, and I've reserved most of the listener feedback for next week too. By the way, thank you to all patrons - I reached $100 this month! I hope you continue to enjoy the work I produce.

Line-up for Episode 17


WEEKLY UPDATE/recent posts: Kingdom series

WEEKLY UPDATE/Patreon: eliminating 3rd Tier

WEEKLY UPDATE/work in progress: interview w/ Cameron Cloutier (Twin Peaks fan film about Annie & research into Golden State Killer)


FILM IN FOCUS: Séraphine

OTHER TOPICS: A new approach

OPENING THE ARCHIVE: "The Watchlist Hits Toontown" (August - October 2013), this week's highlight: #WatchlistScreenCaps - Cartoon classic marathon


The Kingdom II - "Death on the Operation Table" (episode 5)

Welcome to my viewing diary for the two-season Danish miniseries The Kingdom. Every day (except Saturday) I will offer a short review of another episode. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on November 1, 1997/written by Tómas Gislason, Niels Vorsel & Lars von Trier; directed by Morten Arnfred & Lars von Trier): Who could that "death on the operation table" belong to? The season finale left many options: Bondo, receiving his new liver (no, he's still with us, albeit looking extremely depleted); Judith, giving birth to what appeared to be a full-size man (she survives and is even drawn to be a mother - for a time); her baby, choking and screaming as it bursts from her body (as it turns out, he just has the head of a full-size man attached to a small if weirdly-proportioned infant baby)? Instead, the victim of fate's caprice is the character most obsessed with death herself until now. Sigrid Drusse is discharged at episode's beginning, uncomfortable with recent events and guilty with her role in releasing new spirits upon the hospital. She immediately returns as a patient - a genuine one this time - when she's struck by an ambulance in the parking lot; after hovering in critical condition all episode she appears to die in the end, floating above her body as a transparent spirit, ready to join the ghostly ensemble she studied for so long. Notably, Helmer is implicated in both events pertaining her to her demise. She's hit by the ambulance while distracted by Helmer's rushed re-entry to the hospital (on roller-skis for some reason), and later flatlines as a direct result of Jørgen passing out just as he's about to resuscitate her (a loss of consciousness caused, it seems, by Helmer's possibly fatal Haitian poison, gulped down in a cup of coffee).

Elsewhere, the hospital seems slightly hungover from the feverish night before. Mogge attempts to break free from Jørgen only to discover that a videotape exists of him removing the head from the refrigerator. Officials continue to badger the staff, in this case objecting to the arrangement of beds, while the elder Moesgaard has completely lost his former vigor and confidence, wandering the corridors of the Kingdom in a daze before stumbling across a quack psychiatrist forcing a patient to beat a drum in the basement. Helmer comically dithers between poisoning and not poisoning Jørgen, based on the arrangement of coffee cups at morning meetings as well as information he receives from a cheerfully spiteful Rigmor (she, along with the meek, malleable Sanne, played by Louise Fribo, contribute to a motif of male-spiting feminine irrationality). Elsewhere, mundane workplace romances, rivalries, and political jockeying take place; the hospital is as haunted as ever and some characters are in crisis, but for the most part we are distinctly post-climax, and what we're building toward now is uncertain. But when Judith's baby, its limbs outstretched like a spider's legs, grabs its mother and screams for her attention, spittle flying in every direction...things don't look good.

My Response:

The Kingdom - "The Living Dead" (episode 4)

Welcome to my viewing diary for the two-season Danish miniseries The Kingdom. Every day (except Saturday) I will offer a short review of another episode. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on December 15, 1994/written by Tómas Gislason, Niels Vorsel & Lars von Trier; directed by Morten Arnfred & Lars von Trier): Helmer is in a wonderful mood! He grins at the young hooligans who eye his car every morning when he parks outside the hospital; as always, he removes his hubcaps but this time he hands them over to the young men directly. He laughs, embraces, and beams his way through the hallways, elevators, and offices of his workplace on what he's certain will be his last day. After all, "Dr. Hook" has discovered his secret, and by now the anesthesiologist's report has surely been exposed. Of course, it isn't. As always, Jørgen would rather blackmail than destroy and he's intent to hold Helmer's impropriety over his head. Helmer has other ideas, recruiting a Haitian employee of the hospital to accompany him to the Carribean where they will track down a posion that turns people into zombies, something Helmer learned from Rigmor's book about the secrets of voodoo. Elsewhere in the Kingdom, another book about ancient rites becomes relevant...Sigrid convinces the hospital priest (Nis Bank-Mikkelsen) to open an old tome on exorcism. Despite burying Mary's tubed cadaver beneath the pavement out front, the girl's spirit continues to haunt the hospital.

With the help of Jørgen, the Drussers perform the requisite rite but also testify that Mary's killer was the doctor Age Krüger (Udo Kier), who was also - unbeknownst to all but Mary's mother - the father of the little girl (information delivered in a vision to Sigrid in the hospital basement). The trio force the little girl into the wall which they then brick back up, in the midst of a blackout and a catastrophic tour of the hospital by a Parliamentary delegation. Apparently they left the hole open too long because the end of the episode sees an outpouring of spirits...as well as something more catastrophic. Judith's pregnancy is growing more and more ominous following her ultrasound. Jørgen and others (including even the ghost of Mary herself) convince her to get an abortion; not only is her fetus developing way too fast (supposedly only three months pregnant, she is sporting a massive belly by the episode's end), the photo booth snapshots of her absent lover reveal that he is apparently a ghost. In fact, he's not just any ghost, by the diabolical Krüger himself. Judith's decision is framed as a poignant one, something that's best for her but also for the baby whom we're encouraged to pity. And then...in a scene straight out of Alien the flesh of her stomach is poked outward by the writhing being within and as something explodes violently through her birth canal and onto the operating table it isn't a fetus at all but a grown man, soaked in blood and gasping for air -- Krüger himself.

My Response:

The Kingdom - "A Foreign Body" (episode 3)

Welcome to my viewing diary for the two-season Danish miniseries The Kingdom. Every day (except Saturday) I will offer a short review of another episode. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on December 8, 1994/written by Tómas Gislason, Niels Vorsel & Lars von Trier; directed by Morten Arnfred & Lars von Trier): Bondo decides to go under the knife. Thanks to Helmer, he's learned that although he cannot do an autopsy on his rarely-diseased patient, he is authorized to do an organ transplant. But who will be the recipient? Helmer suggests another chronic case, but Bondo, troubled by the ethics of that idea, realizes he is a match with the donor and submits himself to science. In an equally hilarious and horrifying gesture, Bondo allows the diseased liver to be placed in his own body, long enough for it to become his property, before eventually replacing it with another transplant. After this, he can conduct experiments with ethical impunity. Elsewhere, this is definitely the "archive" episode, dominated by a search through the Kingdom's written history (one of the dishwashers notes that this lofty scientific information is in fact "a history of pain, written in blood"). Two - no, three, no, four - characters attempt to access the high-security records room, mostly for the same purpose (or rather, different purposes pertaining to the same object). Helmer, who has strenuously tried to avoid the subject of his botched surgery on young Mona, is confronted by an inconvenient detail. A potentially damaging anesthesiologist's report was itself damaged - by a coffee stain. So far, so good, it seems - at least for a surgeon who appears to be covering his own path. Unfortunately, Moesgaard casually informs the worried doctor that there's a duplicate of this document locked away in the hospital archive. Helmer confronts Rigmor, asking why she only destroyed one copy with purposeful coffee stains. When pressed, he refuses to admit why he considers the report so damning but seems determined to destroy all evidence that something went wrong.

Jørgen also wants to get his hands on that evidence, for blackmail rather than evidence. We see how his M.O. works firsthand when he acquires Mogge's cadaver head, stuffs it into his locked refrigerator, and forces the terrified young man to do his dirty work (Mogge finds out that during a security test every night, the archive door is unlocked for a half-hour). Jørgen also has a more willing - and subtle - collaborator in Judith, making calls to retrieve Helmer's document. Meanwhile, Sigrid and her son have their own reason to break into the archive: the old woman wants to find the dead girl's burial record after several more ghostly encounters (including communion with a haunted candle and a car chase with a phantasmic ambulance). All of these threads coincide during that nightly half-hour, in an artfully orchestrated roundelay of nervous, duplicitous encounters and near-encounters by a half-dozen hospital staff and patients all trying to tap into the secret space. Somehow only Jørgen and Judith succeed at attaining Helmer's record, to the horror of the Swedish surgeon as he spots them looking at it while he operates on Bondo. Sigrid and Bulder, meanwhile, get Mary's record but discover she isn't buried anywhere. Instead, the form notes "internal use" and Sigrid repeats the term, trying to figure out what it means, until she stumbles upon a shocking revelation: Mary is right there in the room with them, not as a ghost but in physical form - a corpse floating in formaldehyde in a tube for the past seventy-five years.

My Response:

The Kingdom - "Thy Kingdom Come" (episode 2)

Welcome to my viewing diary for the two-season Danish miniseries The Kingdom. Every week on the same day I will offer a short review of another episode. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on December 1, 1994/written by Tómas Gislason, Niels Vorsel & Lars von Trier; directed by Morton Arnfred & Lars von Trier): If the previous episode suggested something strange was going on at Kingdom Hospital, this follow-up confirms that another world is very much present within the walls of this solid concrete block. During an operation, a patient sees the ghost of the little girl whom we glimpsed in the previous episode, and later Sigrid is able to commune with the girl via the final moments of a dying woman, who hovers between earthly and unearthly consciousness. She is able to confirm that the spirit belongs to someone who died in the hospital, after being committed in 1919. As if we weren't already convinced that something very strange is going on here, the episode ends with several surreal sequences, most notably in its final moments. An apparently dead dog raises its glowing eyes to stare down a frightened man and then we see a bloody hand leaving an ominous streak inside the window of a supposedly empty ambulance. Meanwhile, on the more mundane day-to-day level, Helmer is still struggling with staff relations. Moesgaard may be obliviously naive or brilliantly passive-aggressive, but either way his "helpful" suggestions reveal cheerful antagonism toward the grouchy Helmer. And Helmer isn't the only beleaguered surgeon; Palle Bondo (Baard Owe) is furious when the family of a dying patient won't will him the soon-to-be corpse so that he can analyze the diseased organs and find a cure for their ailment. This pedantic professional, whom we met in the previous episode as he instructed younger doctors in an autopsy, claims a noble high ground. After all, the patient's illness is rare and it could be another decade before there's another subject to investigate. Yet between his temper tantrums and his attempts to procure the organ through the hospital's secret society, Bondo's concern is primarily egotistical rather than ethical. This impression is reinforced with wider implications when Jørgen Krogshøj (Søren Pilmark), a bemusingly offbeat medic, shows Judith Petersen (Birgitte Raaberg) where he lives. The room is tucked away inside the hospital itself and decorated with an array of little crosses, representing all of the hospital's preventable deaths. Like the silent man outside the Polish apartment block in Dekalog, Krogshøj serves as a witness to humanity (and inhumanity) but unlike Krzystzof Kieslowski's vaguely unearthly observer, Jørgen is not exactly above it all. There is a hint that the superiors and the staff are aware of what he knows, and ensure that his basic needs are met to nip blackmail in the bud. Petersen, slightly perturbed by this revelation, has her own secrets: she is pregnant, thanks to a departed doctor whom she may still love. Jørgen, who has strong feelings for her, indicates that he doesn't mind and they go to bed in Jørgen's little half-hidden grotto. Morton ("Mogge"), the younger Moesgaard, continues in his own absurd attempts at seduction, when he signs up to be a subject in Camilla's sleep studies. This is the only way he can get close to her since she has foresworn any personal contact with him whatsoever. His sneaky plan doesn't work when he is stricken by horrifying, anxious nightmares and flees the room. Even in their love lives, the characters are feeling the overwhelming spiritual pressure haunting the building itself, ready to burst forth like the blood behind the opening title.

My Response:

The Kingdom - "Unheavenly Hosts" (episode 1)

Welcome to my viewing diary for the two-season Danish miniseries The Kingdom. Every day (except Saturday) I will offer a short review of another episode. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on November 24, 1994/written by Tómas Gislason, Niels Vorsel & Lars von Trier; directed by Morten Arnfred & Lars von Trier): Stig Helmer (Ernst Hugo Järegård) arrives at Kingdom Hospital as our guide into this strange universe. He is a visiting neurosurgeon from Sweden, aggressively curt, sarcastic, and grouchy. He is also deeply skeptical of any supernatural mumbojumbo or eccentric behavior, and the hospital is filled to the brim with both. An old woman named Sigrid Drusse (Kristen Rolffes), a hypochondriac and/or opportunistic spiritualist, keeps checking in to investigate the ghost of a little girl (Annevig Schelde Ebbe) that appears to be haunting an elevator shaft. Head of the hospital Einer Moesgaard (Holger Juul Hansen) initiates Helmer into a secret society in the building's basement, where a customary ritual results in a bloody, and comical, wound to Helmer's nose. Morten "Mogge" Moesgaard (Peter Mygind), the boss' ne'er-do-well but highly-touted son, plays pranks on co-workers, culminating with the beheading of a cadaver to (in vain) spook Camilla (Solbjørg Højfeldt), for whom he proclaims a passionate, even suicidal love. These are just a few of the oddballs careening around the narrow hallways and dimly-lit rooms of the looming concrete-block building. Helmer himself is no calm center of the storm - he's a supremely nasty man and (is this a real thing?) an anti-Danish bigot who stands on the roof of the hospital and stares longingly at a nuclear plant with some connection to his home country. As he voices a paeon to Swedish power, the street below him begins to crack open, as if the hospital is violently reacting to his presence. People react violently to Helmer as well; the mother (Mette Munk Plum) of Mona (Laura Christensen), a child whom Helmer operated on (resulting in her current vegetative state) blames him for botching the brain surgery. Helmer angrily accuses her of libel; he's defensive about this case among other doctors too, especially when someone mentions that it may go up before a Medical Review Board. Outside of these narrative events, a larger mythology is suggested. The opening credits inform us that the building was constructed on top of a toxic marshland where medieval peasants bleached cloth; throughout the show two dishwashers with Down's Syndrome (Vita Jensen and Morten Rotne Leffers) inexplicably chat about everything happening in the surrounding hospital (beyond even what the other characters themselves could know); and the closing credits feature an appearance by a young, cheerful Lars von Trier himself - obviously calling back to the horror hosts of yore, standing before a red curtain and smiling as he warns us of the chilling experiences to come. That particular image quite explicitly evokes Twin Peaks, while the opening title, shattered by a cascade of blood pushing behind it, directly references The Shining. However, the strongest stylistic influence on The Kingdom may be Homicide: Life on the Street (1993 - 99), a contemporary U.S. crime show. Von Trier has claimed it as a key precedent not only for this show but for the stridently handheld, bleary video look of the Dogme 95 movement he would found the following year.

My Response:

The Kingdom viewing diary

An introduction and directory for my viewing diary on The Kingdom (1994) and The Kingdom II (1997), a two-season Danish TV series

THE KINGDOM (season one)

"Unheavenly Hosts" (episode 1)

"Thy Kingdom Come" (episode 2)

"A Foreign Body" (episode 3)

"The Living Dead" (episode 4)

THE KINGDOM II (season two)

"Death on the Operation Table" (episode 5)

"Birds of Passage" (episode 6)

"Gargantua" (episode 7)

"Pandemonium" (episode 8)

Original introduction

This spring, I'm sharing a lot of single seasons, "prologue" entries, or standalone episodes from larger viewing diaries. In this case, however, I'm sharing an entire series all at once. The Kingdom ran for two seasons of just four episodes each. "Kingdom I" and "Kingdom II" aired three years apart in 1994 and 1997, right around the time Lars von Trier was achieving international renown at the forefront of the Danish "Dogme 95" movement, a quintessentially nineties cinematic rebellion emphasizing a raw video aesthetic. Breaking the Waves, a film that managed to straddle both the punk of the vanguard and the pomp of Oscar season, came out between the two seasons - perhaps enabling the creation of the second after such a delay (I've avoided learning too much about the series beforehand; as with my other viewing diaries, I'm trying to fly blind).

The Kingdom takes place in a haunted hospital staffed with a motley crew of eccentrics and misanthropes, balancing a bizarre, absurd sensibility with episodic storytelling, the latter perhaps more the contribution of von Trier's collaborators (pure speculation, as I don't know much about them except that at least one was a filmmaker too). The series is not just co-written with Tómas Gislason and Niels Vorsel but co-directed with Morten Arnfred. The mix of quirky humor, supernatural horror, soap opera melodrama, and high-tension workplace TV genre (in this case a hospital rather than a police station) obviously recalls Twin Peaks, a show von Trier has specifically cited as an influence. The Shining also feels like a touchstone thematically, narratively, and sometimes visually (at least in terms of its opening title - the rest of the aesthetic bears more similarity to the gritty, handheld style of American cop shows like Homicide).

This entry will serve as a directory for all of the episodes, updated daily. The viewing diary is running over eight days, mostly consecutive with only Saturday off; entries are written before I've watched the next one so there are no spoilers. At the time of writing, I have seen the first season but not yet the second, which I'm planning to catch up with over the next few days. After witnessing the rather shocking season finale a few days ago, I'm certainly curious to see what's next...

Patreon update #16: Twin Peaks season 1 & The Piano (+ Lynch/Frost/Cooper & more) and preview of Red character study

The Return rewatch "prologue" continues this week as I survey the seven episodes that followed the pilot in Twin Peaks' first season. I particularly focus on three fairly representative episodes (the first, fourth, and sixth after the pilot) as well as some of the commentary that was being written at the time. I also draw from the early nineties to discuss The Piano, a film whose release, buzz, and awards season cache I remember well, although I was far too young to see it at the time. I only caught up with it nearly a decade ago. This is my first viewing since then, and I was struck both the beauty of the film (especially after watching Campion's atmospheric mystery series Top of the Lake, which I'm surprised didn't come up in my review here) and also some of the troubling aspects of the romantic storyline, which at the time was simply hyped up as "passion in a New World."

In the rest of the episode, I offer a pretty quick segment on the question of how the radical left fares under Democratic administrations (there will be a longer stretch of "Twitter topics" in the next episode), a more extended listener feedback section delving into Lynch's and Frost's influences on the character of Cooper, and finally an archive segment highlighting my first video essay - still one of my favorites.

Elsewhere on Patreon, I provided another sample from my "30 runners-up from season 3" series, in this case a character most of us expected would rank much more highly, but who made a strong impression nonetheless.

Line-up for Episode 16


WEEKLY UPDATE/recent posts: pre-Clone Wars series (two prequels, Tartakovsky series, animated film & discussion w/ Bob Clark)

WEEKLY UPDATE/Patreon: 2nd Tier Biweekly Preview - "The Mystery of 'Red'", suggestions for 3rd Tier?

WEEKLY UPDATE/work in progress: Vivian character study, ten-year calendar including Olympic series



OTHER TOPICS: The Left under Democratic administrations

LISTENER FEEDBACK: Lynch/Frost different takes on Cooper

OPENING THE ARCHIVE: "Talking to Twitter & Embracing the Image" (February - July 2013), this week's highlight: "directed by Brian De Palma" video essay & Kevin B. Lee's interview w/ me for Press Play

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - discussion w/ Bob Clark on the feature film (& more)

Welcome to my viewing diary for the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008 - 14). In this prelude (the diary will begin in earnest sometime in the future), Bob Clark and I discuss the preliminary material, particularly the film (which I reviewed yesterday). I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

The impetus for covering The Clone Wars came largely from Bob Clark (creator of the webcomic Neo Westchester), a passionate fan of both the Star Wars prequels and this series. He joined me for a chat a few years ago, which I'm happy to finally produce now. We go in-depth into various aspects of the film The Clone Wars, branching off at points into discussions of various American animation styles (even allowing for these detours, I had to cut out long segues into auteurism in fan culture and the tone of the Disney renaissance - hopefully I can find a place for them eventually). Whereas I'm coming to the series as a total newbie, Bob is a long-time fan, and whereas I'm not particularly well-versed in animation techniques, Bob has far more grounding in that area. The resultant conversation will probably be of interest to both new viewers of The Clone Wars and those far more immersed in its culture, as well as those simply curious about the topic.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

This is an entry in the viewing diary for the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series (2008-13).

I don't think any other TV series I cover will require quite as much "easing into" as The Clone Wars. We are now four entries into this viewing diary and after two live-action features, a couple dozen cartoon shorts, and an animated feature we still haven't quite hit The Clone Wars proper. Then again, this movie is probably best viewed not as a standalone film but as a pilot for the series. After all, its stakes are hardly as high as any other Star Wars film (well, ok, maybe Phantom Menace) and its purpose is clearly to establish characters and solidify a universe that will pay off. And actually I thought it did a pretty good job at that. In fact, I found The Clone Wars quite enjoyable - a surprise given its abysmal reputation. Although the series itself has been acclaimed, earning several Emmies, establishing a new generation of Star Wars fans, and winning over many viewers who had been dismayed by the prequels, The Clone Wars got off to an ignominious start with this theatrical feature.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars microseries

This is an entry in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, covering both versions of the animated show alongside the prequel films.

As I prepared to do a Clone Wars series, I was confused. I knew there had been a movie, not very well-received (Rotten Tomatoes reveals an 18% - far, far worse than any prequel score). I knew there had been a TV show recently, supposedly much better than the movie, that was cancelled by Disney when they bought Lucasfilm - apparently they preferred to focus on a later period of Star Wars history for a variety of reasons. I knew that a decade ago, there was a Clone Wars show created in traditional 2D animation. So I was surprised when I looked at images from the Clone Wars film that were computer-animated (even though I hazily remembered that detail in retrospect - when the film was released in 2008, I looked askance at it partially because it seemed to be taking the prequels' obsession with CGI even further). Turns out there are two versions of this story. The first, called simply Clone Wars, was created by Genndy Tartakovsky for Cartoon Network in 2003-05, between the release of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Designed in short, stylized bursts of action (following one episode of quick exposition), each chapter of Clone Wars ran but three minutes, until season three, when the runtime was extended to twelve (for five episodes). Taken all together (either on the two-volume DVD set or as stitched into a relatively continuous narrative on YouTube), these twenty-five chapters form a two-hour twelve-minute exploration into untapped corners of the Star Wars universe. I loved it.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars prequel prologue - Attack of the Clones

This is an entry in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, covering both versions of the animated show alongside the prequel films. (as a general update - the YouTube version of my public podcast episode was finally published yesterday)

Here is where the story of The Clone Wars really kicks off; by comparison, it's questionable whether I even needed to review The Phantom Menace for this series, though it did make a good personal prologue. This feature film was released a year and a half before the first TV series (whose 3-15 minute episodes I will be reviewing all together tomorrow, before beginning to cover its longer-running incarnation). And it takes place immediately before the events of the show, climaxing with the first battle of the Clone Wars. The clone army is introduced, mysteriously farmed on the ocean planet of Kamino at the behest of a long-dead Jedi. Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is established as the primary villain, a rogue Jedi who believes that the corrupt Republic is under the sway of Sith Lord Darth Sidious (he isn't wrong although he is a liar, since he too obeys Sidious). Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) transforms from a cheerful little kid into a brooding adolescent, extremely skilled and powerful but also entitled and resentful, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), no longer the solemn padawan of Phantom Menace, is depicted as a seasoned warrior and diplomat. Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) is also given his first opportunity to play the man of action. Hell, we even learn that feeble old Yoda (Frank Oz) is no slouch with a lightsaber.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars prequel prologue - The Phantom Menace

This is an entry in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, covering both versions of the animated show alongside the prequel films.

As I prepare my Clone Wars viewing diary, it occurred to me that I should probably include entries on the Star Wars prequels. After all, they are essentially part of the same story, and I did review the Evangelion films as part of my series on that show. I happened to be rewatching these films anyway - for the first time in a half a decade - so why not take a little time to write about my reactions in the context of the series? Of course there are a couple problems with this. One is that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones take place before the events of the show, and therefore should properly be written about before I see the series. Perhaps more importantly, the films were made without any knowledge of either version of the show (Revenge of the Sith did come out after the first, short-lived Clone Wars series began, but before the later, longer show was born). So to a certain extent I'll be flying blind here, in terms of comparing the film to the series, as were the filmmakers themselves.

Leading up to The Clone Wars: 5 "prologue" entries, starting tomorrow

My previous TV entry was on Star Trek, which makes a nice segue into the similarly titled, similarly legendary, yet radically different world of Star Wars. Like the Trek entry, this week's posts will essentially be standalones, attached to a larger viewing diary yet not covering actual episode of the respective series. However, in this case there are enough pieces - five in all - to justify an introduction.

The Clone Wars, Lucasfilm's six-season prequel-era animated series (which tended to bridge some of the thornier divides within the ever-more-divided Star Wars fandom) had quite a long build-up. In terms of real-world chronology, that includes six feature films over thirty years, two trilogies that - along with the massive (and now largely defunct) extended universe - laid the groundwork for the show's bustling galaxy, mythology, and ensemble. In these "prologue" pieces, however, I'll be focusing mostly on in-world chronology, and thus limit myself to the first two prequel films (The Phantom Menace and The Attack of the Clones) whose stories precede the series, the earlier cel-animated series by Genndy Tartakovsky which overlaps with it (and introduces many of its characters), and the CGI feature film which essentially serves as its theatrical pilot. Finally, on Friday, I will publish a conversation with Bob Clark, who has been nudging me to cover this series for many years.

None of this week's pieces will be in my conventional viewing-diary format (story/reaction, ideally a paragraph on each, although Mad Men's first season stretched those boundaries by its end). They're a bit more free-range than that. I have also started work on the larger series (the above image is from the debut episode) but those entries probably won't appear on the site until next year or later. When they do, each season, perhaps each story arc will wrap up in another discussion with Bob.

See you tomorrow, and may the Force be with you...

Patreon update #15: Twin Peaks pilot & Eyes Wide Shut w/ Andrew Cook (season 3 rewatch prologue begins, the Frankenstein legacy, my short film Class of 2002 & more)

The time has come to change things up a little bit. From now on, I will be offering "Twin Peaks Reflections" earlier in each episode, just after the opening updates, with the "Film in Focus" closer to the middle of the episode. This is to highlight the Twin Peaks season three rewatch, which will begin in earnest on May 21, the one-year anniversary of The Return's two-hour premiere. In the weeks before that, I'll be covering the earlier seasons in broad strokes along with the film and some other Twin Peaks phenomena from the past twenty-five years, including fan culture and speculation we all had about the third season before it aired (that should be fun to revisit). That "prologue" begins in this episode with a commemoration of the pilot just in time for the twenty-eight birthday. This episode differs from the rest of the series in both its nature as a "TV movie" and as a "premiere episode"; I dig into both, among other aspects, in this section.

However, even as I highlight Twin Peaks my film coverage will not be getting lost in the shuffle. I still plan to devote about as much time each episode toward examining a particular movie, and with all the patron recommendations I received in March (before closing down that reward) I have plenty on deck through late June. This week's pick is probably one of the most well-known of the upcoming titles. I first saw Eyes Wide Shut in 2006, at the tail end of a two-day Stanley Kubrick marathon in which I watched all of the director's works chronologically. It has perplexed, bemused, and compelled me ever since - as it has many others, including this week's guest, Andrew Cook. We cover the film's place in Tom Cruise's screen iconography, its conspiracy-theorist milieu, its kinship with Barry Lyndon (as well as David Lynch and Nathaniel Hawthorne), and much more. Ironically, for a film about a secret society, I decided this was an episode I'd like to open up to a wider audience.

& the illustrated YouTube upload:

Star Trek - "The Cage" (unaired pilot)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Star Trek. For now, I am only posting this standalone novelty episode, as a teaser for the full series which begins at a later date.

Eventually, I will review every episode, followed by reviews of the first six films, and then Star Trek: The Next Generation and the remaining films. I have seen very few Star Trek episodes, and watched several seasons of TNG over twenty years ago, so for the most part this will be a first-timers' perspective. There will be NO spoilers.

Story (screened for NBC in February 1965, not released until the late 1980s/written by Gene Roddenberry; directed by Robert Butler): Capt. Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) is tired of the pressure of being chief officer of the USS Enterprise. Wistfully remembering pastoral scenes from back on Earth with Dr. Phillip Boyce (John Hoyt), he's told that "A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away." Surprisingly, before the episode is over, Pike will get to return to those pastoral scenes but with a twist: he isn't really in the quiet countryside, he's inside a zoo-like cage, with the alien race of the Talosians controlling his mind in a desire to domesticate him. Lured to their planet by a distress signal, distracted by the beautiful Vina (Susan Oliver) - who turns out to be a fellow prisoner - and deceived by illusions of crash survivors who have long since died, Pike must now face the choice between meeting life head on or withering away in its starkest terms. Eventually he will defy the Talosians with his willingness to die rather than submit. They must let him go even if means the extinction of their race and Pike returns to his command with a new appreciation of his responsibility and the freedom that goes with it.

My Response:

Living the Art Life

A visual tribute to David Lynch: The Art Life

Yesterday I reviewed this documentary film - today I offer its images on their own terms.

David Lynch: The Art Life

In the recent documentary The Art Life, Lynch describes a late sixties visit to a morgue while he was an art student; a friend who worked there let him in at night and the guilelessly morbid (or perhaps just curious) young man wandered the room, fascinated by the bodies on display - lifeless yet only just recently full of life. As a painter, he was surely drawn to their strange form, their texture, as organic objects that carried natural energy and manifested it in unusual ways. Yet as a budding storyteller (possibly unbeknownst even to himself at this time) he was drawn to something else too. "The thing that gets you," he muses after a moment of reflective silence, "is that you wonder the story of each one. You wonder the story. Who they were, what they did, how they got there just makes you think and...it makes you think of stories."

Rewrapping Twin Peaks: discussing the pilot w/ Twin Peaks Unwrapped (+ J.C. Hotchkiss & John Thorne)

As part of their ever-expanding approach to Twin Peaks, Ben and Bryon have decided to begin periodic episode discussions covering the first two seasons. I mentioned a few episodes I'd be interested in joining them for, and at the forefront of the pack was the pilot. Why? It isn't because it's my favorite (I'd rank most other Lynch episodes higher, personally) - it's because this is the point where, on the one hand, Twin Peaks could still be anything, and on the other hand, so much of what it would become hadn't materialized yet.

After some technical difficulties (in which potential guests were unfortunately lost), 25 Years Later editor J.C. Hotchkiss, Wrapped in Plastic publisher John Thorne, and I were able to join the hosts to talk about the legendary two-hour premiere that changed television exactly twenty-eight years ago this past weekend. There's a lot of deep digging into what was different about the script (scored, sound-designed re-enactments by various contributors), where the creators' heads might have been as they shot it, and whether or not one can know the killer based on the pilot, along with discussion about what's onscreen and how it works on its own.

This also marks the 150th episode of Twin Peaks Unwrapped, a wonderful and dedicated project begun by Ben and Bryon nearly three years ago (they've only taken one week off during that whole time). Here's to many more.

Mad Men - "The Wheel" (season 1, episode 13)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 18, 2007/written by Matthew Weiner & Robin Veith; directed by Matthew Weiner): As the first season ends, Mad Men hones in on the four main characters of the series so far. The pace is more relaxed this time, and (with one major exception) the stakes are not so high as in the previous episode but we still get a revealing snapshot of each individual. Don triumphs in the office but fails at home. He nails a meeting with Kodak to promote their new slide projector with a heart-stirring pitch, a re-name (the "carousel" rather than the "wheel"), and the personal example of his own family photos. Indeed, the nostalgic kick is so strong that he races home for Thanksgiving and imagines a warm, loving family embrace in which he surprises his wife and children just before they leave for the in-laws', informing them that he's changed his mind and wants to come with them. Instead, Don arrives at a chilly, dark, empty house. This leaves the suddenly nest-seeking breadwinner little to do but perch on a step and contemplate the gap between fantasy and reality.

Mad Men - "Nixon vs. Kennedy" (season 1, episode 12)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 11, 2007/written by Lisa Albert & Andre & Maria Jacquemetton; directed by Alan Taylor): Sterling Cooper nervously celebrates the tally of votes across the United States, hoping their client Richard Nixon will become the next president. When he doesn't, they don't seem very disappointed - they have other matters on their minds. An office party becomes a predictably frisky affair as the horny trio of young admen pursue different women: Ken assaults Allison (Alexa Alemanni), tackling her and exposing her underwear to the rest of the party to loud guffaws. The married Harry timidly kisses Pete's grouchy-turned-plaintive Hildy (Julie McNiven), removing his glasses when they retreat into an office and waking up half-naked with her the following morning. Paul, emboldened (after initial embarrassment) by the cheeky performance of a script he'd hidden in his drawer, and looking for all the world like a dashing young Orson Welles (a comparison he himself proudly notes), hits on Joan with the implication that they've been down this road before. She'll dance with him but stops there because, it seems, he has "a big mouth."

Peggy and Pete neither join the office merriment nor renew their own much-beleaguered romance. Neither one is in the mood for love. Peggy, continuing to consolidate her undesired reputation as office stick-in-the-mud, goes home early and then lodges a complaint with the building when she returns the next day to find her wallet emptied, her locker trashed, and her trash can full of puke. She's next seen crying in Don's office; her complaint resulted in the dismissal of cleaning staff rather than the reprimand of the white-collar (not to mention white, period) office workers who were actually responsible for this mess. Pete, meanwhile, broods in his own home, leafing through a shoebox full of Dick Whitman snapshots and mementos (Adam's suicide gift) and finally deciding to blackmail Don the next day. And so it is done. The hidden secret first teased in episode three is exposed: the worst person in the world to know the true identity of Don Draper not only holds this information but is ready to use it, hoping he'll get a promotion - a recognition of power in lieu of the respect he really desires.

As a too-close-to-call Election Night stretches into the morning and finally the following night before the Vice President concedes to Senator John F. Kennedy, Don has a meltdown. He flees to Rachel, ready to drop everything - his job, his wife, even his children. "I'll provide for them," he mumbles, proving how little he actually cars about his socially-approved role as Sturdy Patriarch - or for that matter, the emotional well-being of his children themselves. Rachel is disgusted by Don's pathetic desperation, by his callow indifference for his family, and perhaps most of all by her epiphany: he's just using her as an escape vessel. "You don't want to run away with me," she realizes. "You just want to run away." Finally Don returns to Sterling Cooper and plays his last card: walking the plank side by side with Pete, seeing who backs off first, and when neither does, taking the plunge and hoping Bert the Shark bites the other one. Sure enough, the old man chooses Don. "Who cares?" he repeats to a crestfallen Pete, later advising Don (with duly-noted double implications), "Fire him if you want. But I'd keep an eye on him. One never knows how loyalty is born."

Finally, in flashback, we witness the origin story of the Don Draper we've known for a dozen episodes. The twentysomething grunt is as hesitant, abashed, and uncertain as the "Don" we saw in Rachel's office; indeed, we begin to realize that Don Draper has become Dick Whitman again in the present, at least for the moment: a complete physical transformation to suit the personal one. The real Don Draper was an officer, alone with Dick in an isolated corner of Korea, blown up by an accidental explosion. On, seemingly, a whim, Dick switched dog tags with the corpse, and becomes Don Draper...in name, anyway. He's still uncomfortable in the new skin in the last scene of the flashback sequence, peering from a train window at his hometown as only little Adam catches the big brother's eye and calls after him down the track, a voice that will haunt - and threaten - Don a decade later.

My Response:

Patreon update #14: A Man Escaped (+ Top 15 Twin Peaks music, political podcasts, narrators of Citizen Kane & more) and preview of "Fire Walk With Me in season 3"

Several months ago, my patron and friend Max suggested a classic film about the French Resistance from a director who had experience in the Resistance himself. This month, he suggested another such film and so at the end of my discussion of A Man Escaped (based on the memoir of an escapee and informed by director Robert Bresson's own experience as a prisoner of war in Occupied France), I draw the comparison to Army of Shadows. I also incorporate the philosophy of Jansenism and reflect on Bresson's unique filmmaking style - especially when it comes to performance. Apologies for the strange, somewhat hollow sound of this segment; in retrospect I think the headphones/recorder I usually use wasn't properly plugged in and the phone itself was what was picking up my voice. Hopefully it's still listenable.

Elsewhere I take one last lap around the "random" "Twin Peaks Reflections" track before we move onto the rewatch buildup next week. Taking a cue from Twin Peaks Unwrapped and Scott Ryan of the Red Room Podcast I decided to list my 15 favorite Twin Peaks musical tracks, with samples from each selection accompanied by a few reflections. This should be a lot of fun for any Peaks fan to listen to - what our your own picks? I also offer my monthly round-up of podcast recommendations, with a lot of in-depth political discussions, and detail the variations of the different narrators/flashback sequences in Citizen Kane as part of my "Opening the Archive" segment.

Outside of the podcast, I lowered the biweekly preview reward to $5/month (which includes opening up previous previews) and offered my first one of April, an exploration of how the Fire Walk With Me concepts of "Electricity" and "The Blue Rose" mutate and evolve in the third season of Twin Peaks. And finally, does anyone have suggestions for a good third-tier reward? Right now, it's still in limbo so let me know what you think below.

Line-up for Episode 14


WEEKLY UPDATE/recent posts: Mad Men viewing diary

WEEKLY UPDATE/Patreon: 2nd Tier Biweekly Preview - "Fire Walk With Me influences in season 3"

WEEKLY UPDATE/works in progress: character series - 30 runners-up including Pianist's true identity (Count Smokula), Twin Peaks Unwrapped pilot discussion, almost done w/ Mad Men season 1, High & Low visual tribute

FILM IN FOCUS: A Man Escaped

TWIN PEAKS REFLECTIONS: Rewatch reminder, Top 15 Twin Peaks music (+ bonus track)

OTHER TOPICS: Podcast recommendations

OPENING THE ARCHIVE: "Long Goodbyes" (November - December 2011), this week's highlight (Citizen Kane)


Mad Men - "Indian Summer" (season 1, episode 11)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 4, 2007/written by Tom Palmer & Matthew Weiner; directed by Tim Hunter): A few episodes ago, when Don opened his briefcase and presented his half-brother with a wad of cash instead of a deadly pistol, I wrote, "This may not be a physical assassination but it is an emotional one...or perhaps suicide is a better analogy." I was referring to Don's resolute erasure of his alternate identity, Dick Whitman - but as it turns out my analogy was more prescient than I realized. "Indian Summer" opens with Adam Whitman mailing a box to Mr. "Draper," leaving the money on a table that says "Enjoy," and hanging himself with his own belt from a pipe in the ceiling. Did Don's plan backfire? Or, on some terrible, subconscious level, did it actually succeed? We won't hear or see anything of Adam again until the end of the episode, when Pete fantasizes about taking over Don's office (after Don's own promotion) and, finding the package on the desk, takes it home. This is just another turn in the identity/mis-identity carousel of the main character's life.

Ironically or not, Don is thriving at Sterling Cooper. Just a few months after considering a move, his decision to stick with the safe place pays off when Roger is invited back for a meeting with the American Spirit executives. They are nervous about his health and the status of the company, but Bert's risky gambit backfires when Roger collapses again. He is carted out of the office a second time as his furious wife tells off the owner and client who put a price on her husband's life. Swallowing hard, Bert makes Don a partner and at least temporarily hands him Roger's office. With her boss in a new position, Peggy is on the rise (including a raise she pushes for, and gets)...but she's also rising of her own accord. Freddy tasks her with another product - a mysterious, electrified "weight loss" garter that turns out to be an elaborate vibrator. It takes a woman to suss this out, and figure out how to get across this appeal without, of course, being explicit. Meanwhile, in a complementary subplot, a frustrated, lonely Betty (Don's not only working overtime in Manhattan but head over heels for Rachel) is stirred by an air-conditioning salesman; she almost invites him upstairs, reconsiders, is reprimanded by Don, and finally fantasizes about him while leaning against a thrumming washing machine, turned on by a Relax-a-Cizor all her own.

My Response:

Mad Men - "Long Weekend" (season 1, episode 10)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on September 27, 2007/written by Bridget Bedard, Andre & Maria Jacquemetton, & Matthew Weiner; directed by Tim Hunter): Don is frustrated by losing a client, embarrassed by Roger's attempt to rope him into an orgy, and ultimately haunted by the boss' post-heart attack "what is it all about" anxiety. Betty is revolted by her father Gene's (Ryan Cutrona's) new girlfriend Gloria (Darcy Shean), with whom she's forced to share a small cabin over Labor Day weekend. Peggy is infuriated by Pete's smug fluctuation between "nice" and "cruel." Joan (fresh from a viewing of The Apartment) is fed up with Roger's needy manipulation. Joan's friend and roommate Carol McCardy (Kate Norby), reeling from a humiliating job loss, is burning with desire for the woman she's longed for since college ("pretend like I'm a boy," she pleads), an admission Joan refuses, point-blank, to digest. One of the two men Joan and Carol land that night (Scott Michael Morgan) is bummed to play wingman and make out with Carol (who's none too thrilled to be saddled with him), while the other man (John Walcutt) is flustered when his tryst with Joan is interrupted by a work emergency in the middle of the night.

The young - are they really twenty? - twins (Alexis and Megan Stier) whom Roger picks up from a casting call are vaguely uncomfortable with his creepy, leering come-ons (he even asks them to kiss) - reminiscent of another white-haired, well-groomed man getting too close to the teenage Donna in Twin Peaks (a moment also directed by Hunter). Roger lies in a hospital bed at the end of his dangerous night, weeping as he embraces his wife Mona (Talia Balsam) and daughter Margaret (Elizabeth Rice), moments after telling Don, "I've been living the last twenty years like I was on shore leave." Even Nixon looks miserable (as do the admen tasked with selling his dour mug to the public), complaining about high taxes and enduring the humiliation of Eisenhower's infamous "Maybe if you give me a week..." snub. Rachel's father Abraham (Allan Miller) is annoyed by Sterling Cooper's dismissive attitude toward his life work, although he agrees to go along with their re-design of Menken's, and Rachel herself is distraught when Don shows up at her door and presses himself upon her (although ultimately she tells him to continue when he hesitates).

Post-coitus, mid-cigarette, he tells her everything about Dick Whitman (except Dick Whitman's name): his mother was a prostitute who died in childbirth, his father was a drunk kicked to death by a horse when he was ten, and his "sorry" stepparents raised him from then on. There's something cathartic about the confession, but both characters seem depleted and depressed, despite the comfort they take in one another's arms. Nobody in this episode has much to be happy about - sometimes it's just like that.

My Response:

Mad Men - "Shoot" (season 1, episode 9)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on September 13, 2007/written by Chris Provenzano & Matthew Weiner, directed by Paul Feig): Betty begins the episode dressed elegantly to attend the opera, and she ends it with a cigarette perched between her lips, firing a gun at the neighbor's pet pigeons (they provoked a confrontation with the neighbor and her children the other day, and she's not having any of it). After an absence from the screen, this is certainly Mrs. Draper's most prominent episode since the second, and by far her most compelling and well-developed turn. She is enmeshed in a corporate conspiracy targeting Don, if "targeting" is the right word for such friendly overtures, and "conspiracy" is the right word for such unsubtle recruitment. The poacher is Jim Hobart (H. Richard Greene) and he sets his sights on bringing Don to McCann Erickson, a swanky New York advertising firm (he calls Sterling Cooper "Mom and Pop") with its prestigious clientele, cushy office, and impressive perks. Gifts - or bribes - include an implicit invitation to a top-shelf sauna where all the bigwigs gather to relax, socialize, and do business; a golf bag fully stocked with shiny new clubs; and, in the most ambitious and dangerous move of all, an offer for Betty to resume her long-dormant modeling career as part of McCann Erickson's Coca Cola campaign. Betty glows with this new purpose and Don is moved and cheered by her excitement.

When Mr. Hobart sends him the photos from the shoot, however, Don looks troubled - something isn't right. Does he feel disdain toward the supposedly posh firm's grasping tactics? Is he suddenly troubled by the use of his wife as a pawn between two bemused powerbrokers, himself being one of them? Is he moved to pity by Betty's vulnerability, so desperate to recapture something she's lost yet so subtly unsuitable, even vaguely embarrassing, in this attempt? Don doesn't say, simply proceeding to re-negotiate his position with Roger (higher salary, no contract), and turning Jim down with the firm but needling remark, "Can't exactly say that was a big-league move." Betty takes it in stride when she's told the work has "moved to Paris" (she cries, but then lies to Don about her reason for not further pursuing a modeling career). Don consoles her by praising her skill as a mother (a completely sincere compliment given his own upbringing) but the next morning she trades Grace Kelly for a touch of Kate Hepburn and, in the title's punning formulation, shooting photos for shooting birds. For that matter she trades being shot for shooting. Her dreams have been at least temporarily dashed, but she has emerged with renewed confidence (even asserting herself against her condescending shrink) and we emerge with a stronger sense of her identity.

My Response:

Mad Men - "The Hobo Code" (season 1, episode 8)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Most days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on September 6, 2007/written by Chris Provenzano; directed by Phil Abraham): As if a subtle breeze has blown through the doors of Sterling Cooper, suddenly there's a sense that anything goes. Pete and Peggy, who had a one-night stand on the eve of his marriage at the proper time and place - late in the evening in her apartment - now screw on an office couch, early enough that co-workers won't hear them though a cleaning man notices their silhouettes thrusting through the frosted window and shakes his head. Peggy will transgress other boundaries as well in "The Hobo Code," as her copy - with a helpful (and extremely macho) push from Don - sells the Belle Jolie lipstick reps on her tagline: "Mark Your Man," an assertion of female possession. The agency fraternity, giddy with success, invites her into Don's corner office and jauntily welcomes her into the boys' club on their own terms, but nonetheless with at least a touch of enthusiastic open-mindedness beneath the veneer of sexist condescension. (Regardless, Peggy's own excitement is infectious.) Meanwhile, company operator Lois Sadler (Crista Flanagan) makes a move of a different sort, aggressively flirting with Sal after listening in on his Italian conversations with his mama. Sal lords Lois' infatuation over his art department co-workers but fails to show for Peggy's after-work celebration, much to Lois' disappointment. He has another liaison in mind...sort of. At a swankier bar, he runs into Elliot Lawrence (Paul Keely), one of the Belle Jolie clients who - close viewers may have noticed - carried himself in a slightly fey manner. Sure enough, Sal and Elliot hit it off, drinking and then dining together, letting down their guard enough for certain insinuations to emerge. Finally Elliot touches Sal's hand, and the adman's discomfort overpowers his attraction. Insisting, "I know what I want," Sal becomes one of the few characters to resist the call of liberation, storming away rather than consenting to a homosexual encounter. Elsewhere in Manhattan, Peggy invites a sullen Pete to do the Twist but he spurns her advances, his rejection implying that it's her confident presence, and not his blistering insecurities and self-loathing, that drive him out into the streets (and leave her weeping silently on the dance floor).

Don, meanwhile, experiences a liberation of his own - as well as some sobering reminders. His episode arc begins when Bert Cooper, thinking that he's offering a compliment along with a random $2500 bonus, compares Don to a Ayn Randian ubermensch and praises his unsentimental self-absorption. Don, happy to take the money but horrified by this "praise," spends the rest of the episode teetering between appropriately Objectivist domination - the Belle Jolie meeting and his subsequently rapey assertion that "seduction is over, and force is being requested" - and an anxious self-reproach for the dishonesty that characterizes his entire life. Visiting Midge in the Village, and stumbling across a bohemian rhapsody to the (glorious) tones of Sketches of Spain, he is repeatedly insulted by the beatniks for his Madison Avenue stylings - and he does cut quite the square figure in his gray suit amidst the beards, baggy clothing, and slouching postures. Nonetheless, Don agrees to smoke pot with layabouts and he immediately digs the experience, grokking on the playout groove and declaring, with explicit reference to Dorothy Gale, "everything just turned to color." In the bathroom, he continues a flashback begun earlier in the episode, in which a homeless man (Paul Schulze) visits the Whitman homestead; stepmother Abigail (Brynn Horrocks) allows him to spend the night and even offers him payment for his work in addition to room and board, but Archie Whitman (Joseph Culp) is too stingy to follow through. Before his disappointed departure, the stranger teaches young Dick (Brandon Killham) the "hobo code" - graffiti left outside various houses by drifters to let the next one know what to expect. Sure enough, as he disappears down the dusty road, the hobo has marked "dishonest man" in the fencepost of the Whitman patch of land. Back in 1960, Don returns to his suburban house (what a difference twenty-five years can make, not just for an individual but for a society) and promises his own son that he'll never lie to him, but the episode closes on the biggest lie of all: Don closes his office door and the camera settles on the name imposed upon it, not "Dick Whitman" but "Donald Draper."

My Response:

Mad Men - "Red in the Face" (season 1, episode 7)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 30, 2007/written by Bridget Bedard; directed by Tim Hunter): This episode is red all over: Roger's endless soliloquies on redheads, redhead Joan turning him away for a weekend plan, Betty (red-faced from shame) smacking redhead Helen (red-faced from the slap), and much talk of Red-baiting (this is a very Russia-focused episode, between talk of vodka, anti-communist smear campaigns, and martyr cosmonaut Laika). The Sterling-Cooper crew plans to work for notoriously anti-Red Nixon against the Catholic "boy" Kennedy (whose dismissal by the older generation unites the subtly peeved but otherwise mutually antagonistic Pete and Don). Finally Don's elaborate prank on Roger forces him to climb twenty-three flights of stairs, after a lunch loaded with alcohol and oysters, until the older man is red in the face from exhaustion, puking on the carpet in front of the shocked, uptight Nixon team. This is revenge for Roger making a pass at Betty after subtly finagling an invitation for a late-night dinner (never has the slick boss-man seemed so pathetic). Pete, meanwhile, makes a far less clever/successful attempt to compensate for his own emasculation. After a degrading encounter with an indifferent customer service employee, in which his attempts to return a domestic indulgence from his wedding are interrupted by an old pal's far more successful attempt at flirtation, Pete randomly buys a rifle and carries it around the office. This infuriates his wife, bemuses his peers, and spooks Peggy. If Roger flounders with his boorish, undisciplined behavior and Don stews silently under Roger's thumb before calculating a nasty comeuppance, a brooding Pete both rejects and implicitly accepts his own inability, fantasizing with the full knowledge that both it and he are completely ludicrious.

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