Lost in the Movies: 2019

Black Panther (The Unseen 2018)

"The Unseen" is a series in which I watch popular films for the first time (reviews contain spoilers). The list, which moves backwards in time, is based on the highest-ranked film I've never seen each year on Letterboxd (as of April 2018). Black Panther was #1 for 2018.

The Story: After a terrorist attack on the United Nations kills his father, T'Challa becomes king of the African nation Wakanda. Presenting itself to the world as a humble agricultural country, Wakanda is actually a bastion of advanced technology, secretly developing flying ships, weapons, and clothing like the highly responsive, skintight, bulletproof "Black Panther" uniform. The king wears this costume while engaged in battle or more smallscale combat, for example pursuing the ruthless arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to South Korea, allowing him to slip from mythology into the familiar superhero dynamics of the Marvel universe. Tasked now with ruling and defending this kingdom, T'Challa struggles with doubts about his readiness for the monarchy, discovers a dark secret from his father's past, and both loses and reclaims his throne, returning from near-death in the process.

If he is the central, title figure, the primary plot arc is nonetheless driven more by T'Challa's nemesis Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a Wakandan by birthright but an American by upbringing. Scarred by the poverty and persecution he saw around him as a child, orphaned at a young age when his father was killed, and radicalized by his father's belief that Wakandan technology should be used to help in the struggle of the oppressed, particularly those of African descent, Killmonger grew up to become a black ops combatant in the U.S. military, racking up kills and subverting governments around the globe. He assisted imperial conquest with the long-term goal of subverting the empire once he was trained enough to assume the Wakandan throne and lead a worldwide revolution. It is Killmonger whose family tragedy launches the film and whose needs and desires drive many of the narrative turning points - and he is the film's most striking, memorable character.

The Context: Immediately upon its wide release on February 16, 2018, Black Panther smashed box office records left and right (eventually entering the all-time top ten). This was an unusual time of year to release a Marvel blockbuster, but the film was timed to coincide with Black History Month, and the film was both marketed and received as a massive breakthrough for black filmmakers and audiences. With an African-American director, writer, and cast (with only a couple exceptions in supporting roles), a celebratory attitude toward Africa, and even a fairly sympathetic (if still antagonistic) portrayal of radical black nationalism in Killmonger, the movie represented a dramatic break from most Hollywood tentpole films and its representation was applauded widely by critics and average viewers alike. The Academy Awards even created a new major category for the first time in decades, announcing the "Best Popular Film" award in a move that many observers read as a direct attempt to accommodate Black Panther's success; the ensuing backlash forced them to postpone this addition so that it wouldn't reduce Black Panther's odds of securing a Best Picture nomination (which it did).

Attendance became an event in many communities, with fundraisers to screen the film for schoolchildren and viral tweets mushrooming long before it had even premiered (eventually Black Panther would become the most tweeted-about film of all time). The film went on to earn over a billion dollars worldwide, joining some of its most successful Marvel brethren. Although the film's racial significance tends to outshine any other factor, its place in an ongoing cinematic juggernaut is also important to consider. Since 2008, Disney's stewardship of Marvel Cinematic Universe carefully crafted a prolific, interconnected slate of films, with Black Panther was the eighteenth title in this pantheon. Hence the scale of the celebrations: Black Panther offered black viewers an opportunity to see themselves centered in the movie phenomenon of its time.

My Response: Throughout the "Unseen" series, I'll review some surprising selections...surprising in the sense of "Wait, you've never seen this one before?" We all have our blind spots, but what's more surprising is how front-loaded my biggest blind spots are on this list (which, obviously, moves backwards). Naturally, even classic-minded moviegoers tend to be more conversant with the present than the past, going to new releases as a matter of course while making the effort to catch up with works released when they were too young or not yet born. That was certainly true for me initially, but the situation began changing in the mid-zeroes as my cinema attendance slowed down and my exploration of older films intensified. It's not a prioritization I regret by any means, but it does mean I'm out of touch with many current trends; by the mid-teens, my engagement with the current cinema, both popular and more below-the-radar, was barely on life support. This brings us to Black Panther, only the third Marvel movie I've viewed and the first since the disappointing Iron Man 2 in 2010. (That's right, I never saw The Avengers - tee up "The Unseen" 2012.)

From the outside, my impression of the growing Marvelization of the film industry has not been particularly positive; clips I glimpsed here or there didn't justify the hype, and the overall pop culture phenomenon harbored noxious qualities (over-reliance on another medium, slavish catering to an entitled fanbase, slick impersonal visual style drowning any potential for auteur innovation in corporate calculation). So I was curious what I'd think of Black Panther and the biggest surprise turned out to be how much I enjoyed it. Ryan Coogler is a talented director with a unique voice and sensibility; I have yet to see Fruitvale Station but appreciated his other innovation within a major film franchise, Creed. A few sequences in both blockbusters demonstrate the connection with relatively long takes and fluid camerawork (this charged momentum fits within, but largely improves upon, the "keep the camera pointlessly moving" aesthetic of twenty-first century action cinema). Admittedly, many of these flourishes are subsumed by more functional shooting and cutting, especially in the extended (too extended for my tastes) battle sequence, a now-ingrained blockbuster tradition that goes back at least to the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the early 2000s, or perhaps the much-maligned gungun battlefield and space fight of The Phantom Menace in 1999 (itself a variation on Return of the Jedi's crosscutting battles).

But if Coogler's interests are represented in only a limited capacity through the film's mise en scene, they have a stronger presence in the screenplay (co-written with Joe Robert Cole, responsible for several episodes of the captivating The People vs. O.J. Simpson). They also shine through the performances, especially Jordan's (the charismatic star has clearly become De Niro to Coogler's Scorsese at this point). Surprisingly for a form which tends to blunt human stakes or historical trauma - just see all those casually decimated cityscapes - there's real conviction to Killmonger's fury, a poignant sense of loss and yearning as he straddles the gap between Oakland and Wakanda. In some moments, Black Panther even transcends its status as fantastical entertainment, teasing a more profound interplay between larger-than-life escapist myth and reality-rooted inner dream world. This is particularly vivid when Killmonger enters the ancestor's space to land in his childhood high-rise apartment, purple skies peeking through windows instead of dominating the savanna as they do for T'Challa on his own spiritual journey. The villain is even allowed to depart the film with poignant dignity, glimpsing what can probably only be glimpsed in a vision more relatable than the hero's triumph (particularly, I would imagine, for members of a forced diaspora, although it resonated even for me).

Of course, Coogler and Cole are working within a tight format. They've been given room to breathe but they still need to stick within certain parameters, not only stylistically and narratively but also ideologically (all three are intertwined). However sympathetically he's portrayed, Killmonger's status as the enemy can never truly be questioned. The film repeatedly acknowledges the history and even the ongoing existence of imperialism and exploitation, including by the U.S. government, but cheerfully assigns white CIA Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) the role of plucky sidekick, shooting down African pilots to defend a hereditary, relatively U.S.-friendly monarchy against an avowed revolutionary who wants to topple the international order. And T'Challa's final gesture attempts to thwart radical solidarity with top-down liberal "outreach," earning criticism even from some fans. For the type of film it is, I found Black Panther unexpectedly thoughtful and engaging, supplementing its genre pleasures and genuinely gorgeous color palette with more political nuance and authentic emotional grounding than expected...even as it remains, resolutely, "that type of film."

Despite being pleasantly surprised by much of its execution, I came to Black Panther quite well-acquainted with its premise, plot mechanics, and philosophical orientation. In fact, I was probably more prepared for the shape of this movie than any other in this upcoming series. The ongoing discussion of early 2018 was widespread and in-depth and as I conclude my own relatively brief thoughts I'd like to share three lengthy podcasts that explored the film extensively, mostly from a critical - and political - point of view (some skeptical, others downright hostile). The host of The Benjamin Dixon Show, a huge fan of the movie, debated Chris Lebron, one of its critics; Trevor Beaulieu, host of Champagne Sharks, launched his "Killmonger was Right" campaign with a meticulous takedown of the film's politics; and Mubarak, the host of On Mass, analyzed the movie's anti-revolutionary bent in the context of the international anti-imperialist struggle. These critiques are really worth considering and engaging.

Signs of the Times: This category will be easier to fill out as the series progresses, offering more of a contrast with the current moment. For now, we can observe the extensive reliance on CGI, the mobile camera and frequent cuts, and cultural touchstones like a Kendrick Lamar title track and the predominance of handheld communication devices as indications of Black Panther's place in 2018. Primarily I'd note that - as already mentioned - Black Panther is part of a larger superhero franchise in a way that we've come to take for granted. This isn't just a matter of sequels following one another in a direct line, picking up with characters and motifs we're supposed to be familiar with from earlier entries, but a more sprawling configuration. Actually, I was surprised (and relieved) that this film did function so well on its own.

Although some of these characters have appeared in other films (including T'Challa himself), few of the familiar Marvel faces turn up and the struggle between T'Challa and Killmonger exists quite independently of whatever other forces are struggling for the fate of the planet - or the galaxy. In fact, after I see more Marvel films it will be interesting to look back on this one, or possibly re-visit, and see if this film is an exception to a general rule. Nonetheless, we do get a post-credits tease of a character, referred to as the white wolf, being treated by Shuri (Letita Wright). As with all Marvel films, this wink and nod for fans sets up a future film. This quality - the idea of mega-movies that exist as part of a larger tapestry - is something relatively new. There were always serials and sequels, but if movies belonged to a larger meta-universe, it was to the idea of "cinema" as a whole. We'll discuss this more as we move back through film history.

Other Films of 2018: At the time of writing, the year is not yet over, but so far the highest-grossing movie is, in fact, Black Panther (followed by Avengers: Infinity War, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and Dead Pool 2). Of course these are all parts of a franchise, and mostly superhero films at that - in fact, among the entire domestic top ten, only the minimalist sci-fi movie A Quiet Place is not a sequel or spin-off. Other important films of 2018 include the Mr. Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor, YouTube personality Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade, Boots Riley's left-wing satire Sorry to Bother You, and Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman, released on the one-year anniversary of the white supremacist rally at Charlottesville. As I'm writing this half a year shy of the Oscars, who knows what will win Best Picture? I do, however, have a pretty good guess what the Best Popular Film will be. (For reasons already noted, the Best Popular Film award was cancelled; controversially, Green Book - a film whose racial politics were heavily criticized - won Best Picture over Black Panther, BlackKkKlansman, and Alfonso Cuaron's acclaimed film Roma, about a young, pregnant indigenous servant. By year's end, other notable films included A Star is Born, First Man, Annihilation, Isle of Dogs, Can You Ever Forgive Me, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, Incredibles 2, If Beale Street Could Talk, Spider-Man Into the Spiderverse, Deadpool 2, Aquaman, Venom, Vice, and Bohemian Rhapsody, among many, many others. Obviously, this will be the only "Unseen" entry to be published less than a year after its release year - from now on, the list of contemporary films will take on more and more of a retrospective tinge...)

Next month: Get Out (2017)

Mad Men - "Flight 1" (season 2, episode 2)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will be reviewing an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. 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 3, 2008/written by Lisa Albert & Matthew Weiner; directed by Andrew Bernstein): The strange, strained relationship of Don Draper and Pete Campbell takes a new twist in "Flight 1", although they only have two scenes together - one of them quite short. In the first scene, Pete stumbles into Don's office as if in a daze. Earlier that morning, everyone in the office huddled around a radio in stunned silence, listening to news of an American Airlines crash into Jamaica Bay off Long Island. Before long, jokes broke the mood and Pete pitched in a few of his own, but at this moment he isn't laughing. We don't know why yet, although we may suspect: he's just come off a phone call with his brother. As he walks out of his corner office, everyone is carrying on as normal yet there's a slightly eerie tinge to the character's point of view shot, suggesting a heightened yet vaguely disoriented awareness (I thought maybe his reaction implied that his wife was pregnant, which says something about Pete I suppose). Then Pete tells Don, and no one else, that his father was on that flight. Don pours a drink, offers advice ("Go home. Be with your family," and above all, "Do what you're supposed to do"), and a reminder of the Dick Whitman affair as Pete asks if Don would go to his family's side if his father died. Don says yes, and Pete narrows his eyes in an oddly-timed bout of curiosity and queries, "You would?"

Their second scene follows another uncomfortable (how often that adjective arises) encounter between Pete and a co-worker. Duck is chomping at the bit to chase American Airlines as a new client; a contact at the company has tipped him off that they're seeking a new direction after the disaster. Don - despite bringing Duck to Sterling Cooper a few episodes ago - has clearly developed a hostile position towards Duck (and vice versa), only heightened when he's forced to dump Mohawk Airlines, a smaller rival whom he'd personally cultivated. In a cynical move delivered with graceless manipulation (a specialty of his) Duck visits Pete's office to offer his condolences, flatter him, and invite him to participate in the upcoming American meeting. Pete declines the awkward offer but we can see that he's adrift - he never got along with his father, isn't sure how he's even supposed to react to the patriarch's death, and turns to Don for some sort of guidance. But Don is in a foul mood and sharply shoos Pete away when he wanders into Don's office for the second time in several days. Had he let Pete speak, perhaps a plan could have formulated to save the relationship with Mohawk and stop Pete from going down this new road. Instead, the young man appears at Duck's meeting after all, unannounced and willing to work which shocks and impresses the American rep Shel Keneally (Vaughn Armstrong). Although Pete clearly just saved a deal that might have cost Duck his job, he's also revealed that he's much better at playing this game (or at least playing with a much stronger hand) than the senior adman - who looks both nervous and relieved at this turn.

Elsewhere in the office, Joan snarks at Paul when she discovers he's dating Sheila (Donielle Artese), a black woman who works at a New Jersey grocery store, and Paul gets revenge by posting Joan's real birthday in the copy room - revealing that she's actually in her early thirties. At home, Don and Betty have friends over to drink and play cards, and Betty vents about her son's propensity to cheat and lie (he traced a picture of George Washington which he passed off his own drawing, and soaked in the praise, which she finds reprehensible). Peggy, meanwhile, visits her own family homestead, where she is guilt-tripped by a Catholic mother Katherine (Myra Turley) and quietly resented by the sibling, Anita (Audrey Wasilewski), she left behind in her own rise up the professional ladder. There are hints of why she's there, beyond just dropping off a vacuum cleaner and saying hello to her mother and sister who are living a world away over the East River. A baby bib hangs from the wall near some cups and as she's about to leave, her sister asks, "Don't you even want to see it?" And so Peggy peeks behind a closed door to glance at a sleeping infant. The next day in church, her sister (quite pointedly) drops the baby off on Peggy's lap as she and her mother go up to communion, and Peggy stays behind. The child instantly begins crying and Peggy's anxiety rises. Both she and Pete are flooded by confused emotions when their relationships to their own kin aren't what they're supposed to be.

My Response: 

Working on videos + The Unseen, Mad Men & Movie Reviews: a fall update

For the next few months, I will publish Mad Men viewing diaries on Mondays and movie reviews, updates, and other content on Wednesdays - including the launch of a monthly “Unseen” film series - as I work on Journey Through Twin Peaks and other video essays behind the scenes.

When I introduced my Path to Journey Through Twin Peaks work schedule this spring, I was careful not to set a hard premiere date for the new video series. I’d made this mistake before; everything always takes longer than expected. Sure enough, although the very specific tasks of creating six months of podcasts and writing a viewing diary for Veronica Mars were completed in the time I hoped, the next two stepping stones to Journey - researching Mark Frost and re-designing my site - ended up swallowing the entire summer. Frost’s books ended up being consigned to a small window in the evening (they’re now accompaniments rather than prerequisites to creating the series). And the re-design ended up taking everything over, although it was worth it (I’m still checking everything and making tweaks here and there but the work is essentially done as you can see).

My not-so-secret hope was to launch a new fleet of video essays (two Montages, two Cinepoems, a 3 1/2 Minute Review, and two Side by Sides) on Labor Day, leading up to the premiere of Journey season 3 around my birthday, the first weekend in November. This would wrap the decade up with a nice bow, although Journey videos would have continued into the new year, and gotten this project out of the way before the craziness of an election year (and specifically what promises to be the most intense, divisive, decisive, and perhaps disastrous election year in a century and a half). Obviously that’s off the table now: Journey, preceded by the other videos, will simply appear when ready - probably some time in early 2020. Perhaps this is for the best but it does leave some open space on the site this autumn.

Throughout 2018 and 2019, I created a decent-sized backlog of work which I sometimes previewed for patrons. Now is the time to make some of that public, twice a week at 8am (except for today's late posting!). I’ve covered the second and third seasons of Mad Men without publishing any of my write-ups until a couple days ago, so now Mondays will be reserved for the Sterling Cooper crew, at least through season two, likely season three as well. On Wednesdays, I will publish some of the many film reviews I’ve written, probably including Lady Bird, The Cabinet or Dr. Caligari, and the Mary Shelley biopic among many others.

And finally, to bookend this update with the picture used above, on a monthly basis I will be unveiling the first few years of my “Unseen” series. This is a project in which I watch the top user-ranked movie (via Letterboxd) from a given year that I haven’t seen before, moving back in time. Although I’ll certainly be sharing my own impressions, the series as going to be at least as much about surveying the historical context of these movies - ranging from franchise juggernauts to quiet sleepers that stood the test of time. Next month I'll publish the directory page where all the entries will be gathered and the series officially announced, but for September I'm just going to jump right in next week with the first entry: Black Panther, for 2018.

Mad Men - "For Those Who Think Young" (season 2, episode 1)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will be reviewing an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on July 27, 2008/written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Tim Hunter): Having left off on one holiday, we resume on another - but far longer than two and a half months have passed between that Thanksgiving and this Valentine's Day. The series has jumped a year forward and signs of change are everywhere: the clothes and decoration are subtly different, more in that early sixties brownish-checked look that the lingering lushness of the late fifties. It's a style that initially seemed fresh and modern but might later ring a little kitschy (if still charming, especially from a glamorized forty-years-later vantage point). Most of all, it's exciting to see one of the series' central conceits (the evolving nature of the sixties) kick in as it only could in a second season. The Kennedy influence is everywhere, not just on the TV sets - every character watches Jackie Kennedy's tour of the White House - but also in a particular zeitgeist. Betty certainly channels the First Lady's upper echelon grace and independence as she strides into her redecorated home from a riding session, still wearing her high boots and posh equestrian outfit; no more domestic duties for the demure housewife of season one, who has housekeeper Carla (Deborah Lacey) working in the kitchen.

Indeed the marital dynamic of the previous season feels subtly reversed. If the pretty but childlike Betty was in over her head alongside her smooth, assured husband, Don now appears slightly schlubby and tired compared to the confident, glamorous Betty. Her entrance into a swanky hotel lobby for a dinner date is shot like the introduction of a movie star in a Hollywood melodrama, in which the earthy antihero is smitten by a cool high society blonde; when their date night turns out to be a dud, Don's status falls even further. This steady approach toward middle aged impotence is reinforced by Duck's push for younger recruits and a doctor's stern lecture at an insurance-mandated physical...no wonder his approach to an airline campaign shifts mid-episode, from skirt-chasing wanderlust to patriarchal beneficence - Don may feel like the rumpled sturdiness of fatherhood is all he has left now - see also his speech to Peggy (who comes up with the line, "What did you bring me, Daddy?"). If Don's relevance and virility are in question, however, he still retains a certain worldliness that Betty lacks. He (and we) are reminded of her naivitee when she runs into an old friend and doesn't immediately recognize her as a call girl; when she later flirts with a mechanic helping her out of a jam, she seems both newly cognizant of her potential sexual power and slightly, nervously in over her head.

Peggy's newfound confidence, gained under very different circumstances, is also on shakier ground that it may initially appear. She's no longer a fish out of water in the all-male conference room although still very much the exception to their rule. She may have established a tentative toehold in the male world of Sterling Cooper, but she's more at odds than ever with the other women. After Peggy has a snippy exchange with Don's receptionist Lois, Peggy's old rival Joan sticks up for her while scolding Lois (or rather, uses "Miss Olson"'s authority as a cudgel against this weak target)...but by the end of the episode, Joan has stuck the newfangled fax machine inside Peggy's office, a power play against one of the few women to escape the secretarial pool ghetto.

My Response: 

Welcome to the new Lost in the Movies

Today, as you must have noticed, I remade Lost in the Movies. This change has been a long time coming with particular thanks to Andrew Kersten, Conor O'Brien, and Tyer MacDonald, among others - patrons who offered very helpful advice for a new design since this past winter. Having heard from a number of readers that my site was difficult to navigate, I've finally shifted away from the long-frustrating blog format on my homepage (even though Blogger remains my platform).

Those who still prefer to take a "what's new" approach can explore this blogroll format but it seems most people prefer clear, clean direction to the subjects they're looking for, with options for further exploration presented visually and straightforwardly. From now on the home page will represent this, as will the new directories I've created to collect my work. I should also note this is still, in a sense, a work in progress - there will probably be kinks to smooth out and tweaks to continue making.

So go ahead and dive in! Hopefully you'll be able to dig up material that was hidden away under the old approach. Please feel free to comment under old pieces; I've even removed dates from the tops of posts (although they're still nested near the bottom) to encourage a sense of timelessness and make it all that much easier to get lost in the movies.

European New Waves in the Sunday Matinee

In 2010, I launched a three-month series called "The Sunday Matinee" for Wonders in the Dark which covered several films each from four different European cinemas of the sixties: Italian, British, Czechoslovakian, and French. The essays are finally gathered here for convenient navigation.

The Wire viewing diary

Around the tenth anniversary of the series finale, I started watching and writing about The Wire. Not knowing much about the arc of the show aside from broad strokes, I'm recording my reaction and predictions "in real time" as events unfold - but from the perspective of a slightly later era. Although initially I limited my viewing diary to the first season, the plan is to cover the entire show and as new entries appear, I will update this directory.

The X-Files viewing diary

Although I've only begun watching the show in my thirties, The X-Files is one of the titles I have the longest history with. The series premiered when I was nine and obsessed with U.F.O.s and other paranormal subjects; the theme song hooked itself into my consciousness but I sampled only a few bits here and there - an episode intro, a random tune-in, an amusing case of mistaken identity (discussed in one of the reviews), and then the first movie when I graduated from jr. high. Now I'm reviewing the whole series from a first-time perspective over many years. Beginning with the first season in 2018, future entries will be updated on this list accordingly.

Mad Men viewing diary

Over a decade after its premiere, I finally began catching up with Mad Men by covering the first season as a first-timer's viewing diary - in the autumn of 2019 I am continuing this journey with season two (and possibly season three, depending on my schedule). This directory will be updated with new entries as soon as they appear. (revised September 2019)

Breaking Bad viewing diary

In March 2018, I published my survey of the popular show's first season from a decade earlier. I plan to cover the remaining seasons eventually, and probably continue on to Better Call Saul afterwards. I'm watching this show for the first time and recording my reactions as they occur; this directory will be updated with new entries whenever they appear.

The Prisoner viewing diary

With this sixties British cult classic, I faced an unusual dilemma: despite a clear (arguably) beginning and end, The Prisoner has no one proper viewing order. I chose to follow one fan's particular preference and spoke to him afterward about why he chose this line-up as a guideline (as described in my introduction). This was my first experience of the series, composing my reaction to each episode soon after watching.

August 2019 Patreon podcasts: LOST IN TWIN PEAKS #7 - Season 1 Episode 7 and LOST IN THE MOVIES #58 - Twin Peaks Cinema: Our Town (+ favorites films archive #23 - 13: My Night at Maud's, The Virgin Spring, On the Waterfront, Mulholland Drive, The Godfather, Nights of Cabiria, Star Wars, Meshes of the Afternoon, The Third Man, Taxi Driver, The Mirror & Twin Peaks Reflections: Heidi, Julie, Ronette, the train car, the Packard Saw Mill, official Laura Palmer investigation/The Elephant Man)

Originally I planned to feature a more tangential "Twin Peaks Cinema" entry this month, but Turner Classic Movies came to the rescue by airing the 1940 adaptation of Our Town in May. Fascinated by the correspondences and differences, I just had to bump it up in my coverage and was delighted to discover soon after that Thornton Wilder is Mark Frost's favorite playwright.

On the $5/month front, the Lost in Twin Peaks rewatch embraces my favorite non-Lynch episode of the series, a real peak for Audrey in particular...

The main podcast combines the extensive Our Town overview with a look at some characters and locations tied to the pilot, and observes echoes between how the Laura Palmer investigation slowly draws us closer to Laura while The Elephant Man slowly draws us closer to John Merrick. And the Favorites re-reading reaches some of my most repeatedly viewed movies including another Lynch title. Stay tuned for the very end of the podcast where I added a special bonus clip, whose subject is related to an upcoming video (my first to be published in two and a half years)...

And the $1/month tier gains access to one of the earliest episodes of Lost in Twin Peaks, exploring the pilot of the series with an entire standalone chapter devoted to the history of its creation (this was unlocked for all patrons on the anniversary of my first Twin Peaks post many, many years ago - eleven to be precise)...

Podcast Line-Ups for:

True Detective viewing diary

Unlike most of my viewing diaries, in which I catch up with shows after they've ended, I followed much of True Detective while it aired. I reviewed the first season in early 2015 - a year after it launched a media sensation. For subsequent seasons, I discussed episodes within days or even hours of their premieres. The first two seasons' viewing diaries were introduced here and here.

Why publish viewing diary directories now?

My imminent site re-design - currently scheduled to debut on September 1 - makes this a good time to consolidate my TV coverage. Since one of the main highlights on the new home page will be "TV Viewing Diaries" I need round-up posts for the episodes that haven't been gathered in one place yet. Over the coming week (aside from my monthly Patreon update on Monday) I will publish round-ups for six diaries. This includes the four first seasons I covered last year: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The X-Files, and The Wire. I will also make a new, simpler directory for The Prisoner (since the old one was wrapped up with a lengthy introduction to the series) and finally place all my True Detective line-ups together in one place. When the new site launches, there will be one TV Viewing Diary hub page that links to all of these posts, making it much easier to explore my content on all of these shows (including those I previously created directories for).

I don't currently have any plans to resume viewing diaries in the fall but if my Journey project isn't ready in November I may publish a couple seasons of Mad Men responses, already written over the past year. If it needs to be said, please feel free to comment on the posts for all of these shows either as a long-time or first-time viewer (all except Evangelion are spoiler-free so they are designed to accompany other initial explorations).

Twin Peaks Unwrapped - Season 1 Madness (w/ Francine the Lucid Dream and John Thorne)

This spring, just in time for the NCAA Finals, Twin Peaks Unwrapped hosted me on its own version of March Madness - in which we used a bracket system to choose David Lynch's best film. The exercise was as delightful as it was absurd, so I was eager to return to this template. This time we tackled TV episodes, sticking to the eight that make up the first season (the second will be a doozy, and I can't wait). Which two episodes will face off in the final match? Can another director sneak past David Lynch's work? Will the Log Lady's cabin or Audrey's cherry stem tip the scales in the episode 5 vs. 6 contest? Along the way, Ben, Bryon, and all of us guests discuss the merits and drawbacks of the various episodes, taking surprising deep dives into some of the more random entries and contemplating questions like why episode 2 feels like the real start of the series and how the pilot establishes Laura Palmer as an almost spiritual presence in its opening minutes.

Freedom from Formula: discussing David Lynch & Auteur TV with Martha Nochimson, author of Television Rewired

Five years ago, I spoke to author and David Lynch scholar Martha Nochimson about her two groundbreaking studies of the great director: The Passion of David Lynch explores his first few films through the lens of feminism and Jungian analysis while her follow-up David Lynch Swerves incorporates quantum physics and Vedic spirituality. Now she has returned to this fertile ground, with Twin Peaks and particularly David Lynch at the center of her new book Television Rewired. This study, subtitled "The Rise of the Auteur Series" does not just limit itself to Lynch and Peaks. Using his troubled ABC production from the nineties and his fully-flowered Showtime series from 2017 as bookends, Television Rewired devotes a chapter each to David Chase's The Sopranos, David Simon's The Wire, David Simon's and Eric Overmyer's Treme, Matt Weiner's Mad Men, and Lena Dunham's Girls. An introduciton called "The David Effect" discusses the genesis and evolution of the trend toward auteur TV while the penultimate chapter, "Backlash! Formula 2.0" focuses on innovative but still formulaic series such as Breaking Bad and The X-Files.

Struck by the way Lynch "modeled freedom," Nochimson builds on her previous work with both him and David Chase through new interviews with both those and other TV auteurs. She sees them as facing a challenge similar to Cooper in Part 3 of the new Twin Peaks limited series (while admiring the dozen poetic resonances of "The Return" she's abiding by producer Sabrina Sutherland's admonition to avoid that title). Unlike Cooper, however, Lynch, Chase, and others don't descend back into the confinement of the black box - they leap out into outer space, into the unknown...falling, or flying? Nochimson discussed this sequence extensively in a lively chat with Scott Ryan in The Red Room podcast a few months ago; for our part, we concentrated on questions about Judy and the presence of evil, the New Mexico girl and the possibility she's Sarah (an idea Nochimson loathes), whether there's a "there" there for poor Dougie, and if there's a relationship between Fire Walk With Me and season three. We also spend a little time on The Sopranos and Girls (I avoided reading about or discussing Mad Men and The Wire, shows I'm still in the process of watching) as well as discovering the stubborn divergence of how we perceive the David Lynch/Mark Frost collaboration - or lack thereof. And, after a ten-minute introduction of her premise, we open the back-and-forth with a particularly fruitful investigation of what TV formula means and how artists could, and perhaps should, relate to it.

I hope you enjoy listening to this lengthy, in-depth discussion as much I enjoyed participating in it (the video is primarily audio-only, but uses images to illustrate various sections if you want to jump around, leave and come back, or just have some visual stimulation as you listen to it unwind in one sitting). Nochimson's book is well worth reading not only for its insights but for the dialogue and reflection it opens up among readers.

Late summer update: a makeover and progress toward Journey Through Twin Peaks

I am currently in the midst of a massive, radical re-design of this site, the most ambitious such reboot since I founded this online hub in 2008. This will finally shift the focus away from a what's-latest blog template (although that approach will still be available for those who prefer it) and attempt to strike a balance between directing readers toward particular subject areas while also keeping Lost in the Movies' massive archive at their fingertips. Since this involves cataloging over a thousand entries visually rather than by text (I'm using movie posters as the "buttons" in most cases), in some cases slotting a single entry in a dozen or so different slots, the process is definitely taking a while. But I'm hopeful the new site can be ready by the end of August. And once it is, I can finally resume work on three video essays (two Side by Side analyses and a 3 1/2 Minute Review) which will be the only remaining obstacles between me and the new Journey Through Twin Peaks.

Back in the spring, I laid out my path to creating more videos and I've stuck to it pretty stubbornly. I decided to tackle the re-design before rather than after the Journey project, and I eventually relegated my Mark Frost readings (expanded to encompass his entire oeuvre) to a small patch each evening, a sidebar rather than a prerequisite to further work. Otherwise, though, I've accomplished my goals in a slow, steady, sure manner and it remains feasible - if not entirely likely - that I could land an early November premiere for the new video series. I can't commit to that, and an early 2020 launch seems more plausible but I can say that I'm on track to at least begin work on Journey Through Twin Peaks by Labor Day. My podcast episodes for September and October are long ago pre-recorded so I won't have to make choices about what work to focus on for another three months, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

I originally hoped to let both the re-design and the rollout of new video essays speak for themselves. However, as I'm still bogged down in (at the moment) a sprawling cross-linked directory web of podcast topics, other commitments came knocking - hence the need for this status update for patient and/or curious readers. A month ago, I recorded and published an extensive, nearly three-hour interview with Martha Nochimson, the David Lynch/television scholar whom I first spoke to in 2014. I uploaded a preview onto YouTube and saved the interview for patrons at that time but, as promised, I'm now making the full conversation available: it's uploading as I type this and will be cross-linked on this site tomorrow. I also have a Twin Peaks Unwrapped appearance kicking around in the backlog - my guess is that Ben and Bryon will drop it this week but no promises. It involves a return to their wacky "Lynch Madness" format, this time for season one episodes - and with two additional surprise guests! I also plan to post a simple notice when I introduce the new site re-design in the next few weeks or even days (fingers crossed). Enjoy the old format while and if you can, because it won't be around much longer.

See you then!

Veronica Mars - "Years, Continents, Bloodshed" (season 4, episode 8)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Rob Thomas; directed by Scott Winant): The Mars family has a not-terribly-difficult decision to make, although initially they are loathe to make it. Penn insists that they work for him - after all, what have they got to lose? If he's guilty, great, they help keep him in jail. If he's innocent, they earn some money while catching the real killer. Sensing that they're being manipulated, Veronica and Keith reluctantly agree but insist on taking the investigation where they want it to go. This leads them back to the Pi Sigma fraternity, where Keith marvels at Veronica's ruthlessness, forcing the weepy Blake Long (Spencer Ward) to admit what happened during Spring Break 2015. Drunk and in the midst of hazing rituals, the bros lashed out at a hapless pizza delivery man, dunking him in the violent waves until he apparently drowned, his body washed away. When one of group expressed remorse, his tent was burned down during the night; since then they've adhered to a vow of silence although Blake suspects his own friends set the fire. Veronica has her own interpretation: the pizza guy didn't really die. He came back to kill one of his tormentors (ironically the one who felt bad), and three years later he's been avenging himself on the broader swathe of spring breakers. Matty, now edging her way into working full-time with Mars Investigations, learns that the pizza shop can't find the paper ticket from that fateful night's delivery, but Penn maintains that such an incident never happened to him. And then, a breakthrough...

Veronica Mars - "Gods of War" (season 4, episode 7)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Diane Ruggiero-Wright, Heather V. Regnier; directed by Amanda Marsalis): "What's a murderhead?" asks poor Wallace, as Veronica explains that actually they're going to attend a later screening of their planned movie in order to catch up with the latest conspiracy theories about the Neptune bombings. (Man, I hope he gets a quality scene in the finale, as Veronica's best buddy has really been given the shaft this season.) Nonetheless, Wallace takes Veronica's last-minute, admittedly self-serving change of plan in stride. Nicole, on the other hand, is appalled when she learns how Veronica has been using her - minutes after chuckling that whatever Veronica's done, she's done worse, Nicole flatly informs Veronica that actually, planting a bug in her office is something she can't top. She also emphatically denies responsibility for any of the bombings, although I suspect she'll eventually be pinned on the beheading and Veronica will forego the quarter-million and look the other way. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Veronica has professional duties to take her mind off personal problems. It looks increasingly likely that while Big Dick engineered the Sea Sprite and Perry explosions, Penn orchestrated the follow-up. The smoking gun, so to speak, is that nail - it only wound up in Penn's back because it was part of a painting on the lobby wall but it was incorporated into all of the subsequent bombs presumably because Penn assumed it was built into the first device.

Then again, as Keith observes, Penn shared that knowledge with the rest of his crew so it could've been any of them. That concept is forgotten as the Mars chase down Penn in his lovers' cabin in the woods and engage in a shootout with Alonzo and Dodie, who have decided they'll let the professionals lead them to the killer and then take out all three in one fell swoop. Keith, once again wounded by foggy cognition, leave his ammunition in the car and beats himself up afterwards: realizing that his condition nearly killed his daughter, he emphatically declares that he's "done." Fortunately, both are saved by the PCHers who show up on a fleet of motorcycles just as the Mexican hitmen are about to finish the job, and insist that El Despiadado's enforcers be escorted back to Neptune. Penn is taken back to the police station, where Leo says goodbye (and apologizes for taking things a bit too far with Veronica). With Cliff at his side, Penn declares his innocence and insists that the Mars - no hard feelings! - take up his case and find the real culprit. After all, there's another bomb set within twenty-four hours and the most important thing they can all do is figure out who's planting it and how to stop them.

My Response:

Veronica Mars - "Entering a World of Pain" (season 4, episode 6)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld; directed by Tessa Blake): And just like that, Logan's gone. A phone call from the Navy and he turns in his resignation as the congressman's bodyguard, effective immediately, and says goodbye to his girlfriend via voicemail (she can't answer her phone because she's in a strip club, natch). Before he departs - who knows for how long - he's already made an important contribution to the investigation(s), dressing in uniform to visit Daniel's blackmailer...17-year-old white nationalist Barton Netherfield, Jr. (Cyrus Arnold). Playing the part of a fellow traveler, Logan congratulates the teenager for "neuter[ing] that Muslim cuck...a Manchurian candidate taking his orders from the mullahs." Getting him to open up, Logan then forces him to delete all the video files, apologize to the congressman, and withdraw his threats. But the surly alt-right troll fires one departing shot: he has recorded a not-so-cryptocurrency transfer from Daniel into the accounts of two Mexican cartel members. This leads Keith and Veronica to sneak into Alonzo's and Dodie's hotel room, where Veronica snaps photos of the Carr brothers' IDs and Keith fakes a heart attack to distract the cleaning lady while Veronica sneaks away. But they aren't as clever as they think; the cleaning lady is, of course, Claudia, and when she returns home she tells both brother Weevil and boyfriend Alonzo that Veronica was snooping around (she also reveals that she's been fired for unrelated reasons; yet another small business is folding under the pressure of Casablancas' onslaught). Weevil, who predictably explodes at Veronica when he discovers what she did with Juan, is nonetheless clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of Alonzo paying her a visit.

Veronica Mars - "Losing Streak" (season 4, episode 5)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by David Walpert; directed by Scott Winant): To hear Calvin Linden (Mather Zickel) tell it, his despised dead son was a prince. No, literally. "Prince Bryce Linden" was apparently heir to the throne of an island kingdom Calvin purchased on the back of his "gambling empire" built from a credit card with a $500 limit. Told off by Chief Langdon (who savors the opportunity to finally give it back to one of these pricks), Calvin offers a $250,000 reward for anyone who can catch his son's killer. Soon after Langdon's satisfying dismissal of this jerk, she has another rare opportunity to relish her job: a strange, sloppy anonymous letter threatens another bombing unless its absurd demand is met. Mayor Dobbins must run through the entire town, in broad daylight... completely naked. (His wife, played by Mim Drew, concurs that sneakers are probably okay.) If meant to humiliate the mayor, the stunt backfires: his courage and even his physique earn public admiration and soon dozens of equally naked men are jogging behind him. This results in a humorous moment as Alonzo and Dodie toast their brief sojourn in the land of "Normal," just before that flock of streakers passes by the coffee shop window.

Alongside these farcical elements, the strain of Veronica's personal life begins to wear her down (Logan compares her, to his mind, self-imposed suffering to the character in The Crucible who demands an ever-greater pile of stones on his chest rather than give in to his accusers). Her father's memory issues are now unavoidable and when she presses him to take a vacation after this case, he reveals that he'd rather close up shop altogether and free her to do something else, somewhere else. Logan concurs, even broaching the sensitive matter of a breakup if she thinks she'd be happier elsewhere. She wouldn't; asked where she'd be without Logan or Keith weighing her down, she embraces Logan and tells him her head would be in an oven because she would have lost the two people she cared about the most. This moment is worth keeping in mind when both Veronica and Keith struggle to trust newfound friends. Keith is tempted to excuse Clyde's suspicious activities even as Veronica digs up mountains of dirt. Veronica, meanwhile, is alarmed by the fervor with which Nicole shoots bottles during some stoned target practice (she proclaims the names of men she hates as she fires at each one). But she denies that the club owner could play any role in the bombings, even if they do link up to incidents at Comrade Quack's - a business, Veronica learns, that Nicole won in a lawsuit against its former owner, whose lax safety policies got her raped. Even if she was capable of building and setting off bombs, Veronica reasons, why would she harm her own pocketbook? This seems even more pertinent when another bomb goes off right inside the bar itself; but then Veronica learns that Nicole is just biding her time until the end of the season - the business has already been sold...to Nicole's supposed archenemy Big Dick.

Tensions emerge with an older friend as well; Weevil and Veronica fight over young Juan Diego, her mugger, whom Veronica decides to use as a pawn, getting Weevil (or, failing that, Juan himself) to identify Clyde as the liaison who orders and pays off the biker gang to disrupt life in Neptune. (Meanwhile, Penn and fellow murderhead Carol, played by Dannah Feinglass Phirman, make their own discovery: identify Big Dick as the author of the mayor-threatening letter based on how he words his tweets. They make love in celebration - or at least they would if they didn't discover a dead duck planted under their sheets.) Weevil, already unhappy with Veronica, is going to be pissed about Juan. And in a long, tumultuous relationship, this may be the point of no return, a risk Veronica runs to prevent future bombings and save lives. Veronica's other old pal fares better in "Losing Streak," even if just for the span of a line and a gesture. Wallace, still barely a featured character (his house party is an important early setpiece but we don't see much of him there either) earns an amusing moment on a school bus. There he watches his student Matty bat her eyelashes to melt brainy, standoffish Owen (Nick Alvarez) and get him to hack some secret documents. Chuckling as he recognizes who's encouraging this behavior, Wallace mumbles knowingly, with a big grin, "It's a slippery slope, Owen."

My Response:

July 2019 Patreon podcasts: Early access to Martha Nochimson interview, LOST IN TWIN PEAKS #6 - Season 1 Episode 6, and LOST IN THE MOVIES #57 - Twin Peaks Cinema - Fire in the Sky (+ favorites films archive #34 - 24: Band of Outsiders, White Heat, Easy Rider, Singin' in the Rain, Red Hot Riding Hood, Goodfellas, Fists in the Pocket, The Searchers, The "Up" Series, Mamma Roma, Young Mr. Lincoln & Twin Peaks Reflections: Cable, Chet & Sam, Teresa, Sam's apartment, Buenos Aires hotel, Teresa Banks case/Inland Empire)

Welcome to the new format for the Lost in the Movies podcast, in which my broad interest in cinema meets my particular emphasis on Twin Peaks. First up is a sci-fi film from shortly after the original series; like Peaks, Fire in the Sky features a disappearance that shakes up a small town while an out-of-town detective navigates local suspicions, as well as a terrifying abduction in the woods accompanied by a blinding light. The culprits, however, are much more specific and the film falls more firmly into a particular genre (or does it?).

On Lost in Twin Peaks, the $5/month members reach the first solo Mark Frost teleplay and we explore how his concerns are reflected in the results...

In addition to Fire in the Sky, my main podcast for July uses The Missing Pieces as a springboard to study several Twin Peaks characters and locations while connecting the Teresa Banks case to Inland Empire. My Favorites archive series covers a couple gangster flicks, a couple sixties Italian classics, and a couple John Ford masterpieces, and I close off the episode by updating listeners on my activities in the spring...

I'm also beginning to open up my old Lost in Twin Peaks episodes for all tiers (these will be published six months after the $5/month tier gets them, all the way through the rewatch). This kicks off with a special two-and-a-half-hour episode on The Missing Pieces, deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me. Today is the fifth anniversary of their release, so dig in if you haven't already...

Finally, I offered an interview with Martha Nochimson, Lynch scholar and author of the new book Television Rewired. Here is the full conversation, which will become public next month but is only available for patrons for now...

To clarify a point, I added a nine-minute bonus a few weeks later...

And here is a short highlight made public on YouTube...

Podcast Line-Ups for...

Veronica Mars - "Heads You Lose" (season 4, episode 4)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by David Walpert; directed by Rachel Goldberg): Sometimes style can be more effective than scale. If the previous bomb terrified beachgoers for its indiscriminate violence, the latest is chilling in its specificity. Bryce (Ian Bamberg), an obnoxious Comrade Quack's patron tossed out for spiking women's drinks, wakes up on the beach with a device strapped around his neck. Panicking, he races onto the boardwalk, shoving silverware into various slots as passerby scream and run away. And then, poof, with a small pop a headless corpse collapses into the sand. Few shed tears for this particular victim but it's hard to ascribe righteous motives to his murderer. With an apparent serial killer on the loose, Mayor Mark Dobbins (Andrew Friedman) calls the FBI to town. One of the agents, a certain Leo D'Amato, calls on Veronica for professional reasons (and perhaps a dash of old time's sake) - he's uncomfortably greeted by Logan at the door - and the duo end up staking out Clyde after he lingers near nails (for a bomb?) at a hardware store they're looking into. As it turns out, his bag is full of light switch covers and he's more interested in knocking back drinks at Keith's office than knocking off tourists at the beach. More suspiciously, however, several business owners who've decided to flee the town are selling to investors from their own home regions - obviously some kind of front for shadier real estate machinations. Having backed away from his Rep. Maloof theory without learning the larger lessons, Penn (who's been bugging Neptune Investigations) loudly proclaims Dick's and Clyde's guilt at a town meeting before being escorted out. If the Mars - embarrassed and potentially exposed by Penn's outburst - are wishy-washy on that interpretation, they still have their suspicions. Veronica visits Chino for interviews with two men she sent away in her Hearst days. Withstanding the expert needling of both murderous T.A. Tim Foyle and campus rapist Mercer Hayes, she manipulates them into providing information about Clyde and the other prisoners who've popped up in recent overlapping cases. Meanwhile, her re-acquaintance with Weevil is less successful. After saving her from his underlings' assault, he's scolded by her for running a chop shop and youth gang. But Weevil scoffs at her binary judgments as he walks away: "Must be nice to have a choice."

My Response:

Veronica Mars - "Keep Calm and Party On" (season 4, episode 3)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Joaquin Sedillo; directed by Heather V. Regnier): Case closed. Matty is now ready to bring her troubles to the Mars family; they've been vouched for by Penn and Matty's physics teacher - Wallace as it turns out. She identifies a man with a mole as the guy from the Fitzpatricks' business who delivered the deadly vending machine to her father and a little surveillance work follows, during which Veronica begins to take the broken bird under her own wing (Matty asks her if she was angry after Lilly was murdered, and Veronica answers, "I'm still angry"). And Perry Walsh is soon identified as the culprit, his information turned over to Chief Langdon who leads a SWAT team on his house. Blowing himself up before he can be captured, Perry leaves a misogynist manifesto on his computer; the Mars collect their checks from the Maloofs, shrug as Langdon refuses to credit them for the tip, and tell each other not to indulge in their mutual history of "tilting at windmills." But when Alex asks Veronica if she really believes they got their man, she says, flatly, no. As she asks in the closing narration, gawking at a massive fireball on the beachfront while everyone runs away in slow motion, "Why do I always have to be right?"

Moving toward the halfway mark of the series, we reach a number of turning points. The bomb plot and Matty have already been noted, but we also meet Penn's murderhead crew who pester Veronica and Logan with prying questions about the legendary Lilly. Keith bonds with Clyde, who sends him to a lavish health service run by Dick, as he takes the Casablancas assistant's missing-girlfriend case and swats down Veronica's suspicions that they're behind the bombs. Daniel's stressful life has the most twists and turns; he asks Mars Investigations to find out who's blackmailing him over a masturbation video, gets kidnapped and tortured by the Carr brothers, and is rescued and nearly killed by Alonzo and Dodie before a radio report of Perry's death vindicates him. This wild ride ends with the congressman hiring his would-be murderers to kill the Carrs on his behalf. Alonzo meanwhile has been seeing hotel employee Claudia (Onahoua Rodriguez) who invites him to a family barbecue where he's introduced to her brother: Weevil! Recognizing Alonzo's tattoo he wonders if the Mexican's business in Neptune is related to the bombings, and when Alonzo assures him he didn't set any bombs, a savvy Weevil mutters, "That's not what I asked..."

A Chino connection between many of these disparate players is discovered; Dick Sr., Clyde, Perry, and even the random disgruntled customer Keith found planting rats at Hu's store all did time in the state prison. This as much as anything encourages Veronica to believe there's a larger conspiracy at work - well, this and that whisper of a feeling. She's also mugged by an incompetent young PCHer (Tyler Alvarez) before turning the tables on him. Inside his own wallet, she discovers six crisp C-notes. This same teenager, incidentally (or not) was photographed taking a dump in the ice machine outside the Sea Sprite. Is whoever he's working for a Chino alumnus too? (We see the boy, rather ominously, wandering around Weevil's barbecue.) Despite these shadowy connections and dark subjects, there are a few moments of fun and games onscreen (and not all of them involve poop). They usually star the younger Dick. He strips in Nicole's nightclub before taking ecstasy with her, Veronica, and Logan, and later he plays a promotional volleyball match on the beach with Logan as his partner. But even that later moment, one of the lightest and least consequential we've lingered over, ends with the second bomb. Going forward, there probably isn't going to be room for either half of the episode's title.

My Response:

Veronica Mars - "Chino and the Man" (season 4, episode 2)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Diane Ruggiero-Wright; directed by Michael Fields): With the town reeling from catastrophe, everyone has something to do in "Chino and the Man," and few witnesses, friends, or family members are content to demurely answer questions for the detectives - emphasis on the plural. Indeed, many are more interested in joining the ranks of those detectives themselves. Penn, it is revealed, is not just a pizzaman but a cold case-obsessed sleuth in his spare time. And as he tweets to his newly grown follower base, he has little faith in Neptune officialdom. ("But didn't you lose an election due to evidence-tampering?" he asks Keith, wide-eyed. "Didn't you investigate the wrong person in the Lilly Kane case?") A bit of a meta-element within this world, a true crime Greek chorus, Penn explicitly ties Neptune's present to its past even if his understanding of what went down then and now is a little screwy. By episode's end he's on national television spouting theories about Daniel Maloof planting a bomb in his sister-in-law-to-be's make-up bag. Given the Carrs' already belligerent attitude toward the Maloofs - the stereotypical roughnecks, looking for Tawny's expensive engagement ring, attack the congressman before Logan lays them out and gets hired as Daniel's bodyguard - I don't think murder accusations are going to help the family dynamic.

Penn's cavalier pronouncement also places the prominent U.S. politician in the Mexican cartel's gunsights - after Alonzo and Dodie have already slain the (apparently) wrong suspect. For the most part, their antics are played for laughs (even this bloody execution, with a severed head as the punchline). Attempting to fit in with the crowd of American kids the duo are more comfortable making smiling threats than casual small talk; if they operate as comic relief it's thanks to their bemused fish-out-of-water quality rather than incompetent bumbling. Then again, their cold-blooded proficiency as strongmen and assassins is not exactly matched by investigative prowess. Taking some frightened college students at their word is an amateur move and if these two are going to actually earn the wad of cash El Despiadado gave them, they'll probably have to join their ruthlessly sharp teeth to a real detective's keen nose. (I can think of just the Van Lowe for the job.) Veronica seems to desire a similar arrangement between her and Matty, but the kid has her own plan. She confronts Liam Fitzpatrick for selling her dad a possibly explosive snack machine and destroys their merchandise before Veronica arrives just in time with a getaway car and a gun. "Goddamn, I hate that girl," Liam growls, to which his pals retort, "Which one?" The now fully-grown Mars is forced to see herself through the looking glass: "Parents split up, then a murder, followed by the agony of not knowing where to focus her rage. I know the sort of person who emerges on the other side. I thought if I could solve the case quickly enough, she might not have time to set and harden. Once a girl sets and hardens, her life becomes a series of apologies."

And Veronica primarily owes an apology to Logan. Punishing him for his gentlemanly stoicism - why has he taken her rejection so gracefully? where's that old explosive Echolls temper? why does he seem so sedated? - she eggs him on until he punches a hole in the kitchen cabinet...and then they go straight to the sack (or rather, they don't even make it to there). Veronica, it seems, has internalized and articulated the writers' own rueful recognition: the more fucked up these two get, the hotter their chemistry. Logan, currently seeing a therapist and trying to keep his traumatic battlefield experiences from simmering to the surface, immensely - and rightfully - resents his girlfriend's expectations. If Veronica knows this dynamic is unhealthy she still craves it, or at least some sort of unattainable balance between the bad boy and the grown adult. Logan's beloved sardonic side, at least, does reveal itself more in the presence of the Casablancas, who feature heavily in episode two. Dick, Jr. is now an actor celebrating his latest movie while Dick, Sr. cavorts around the golf course and boardroom boasting about his years in the slammer. He even goes by "Big Dick," as his arm tattoo proudly proclaims, although a flashback reveals that the mark - violently etched by burly gangbangers - was supposed to read "Bitch" before Clyde Pickett (J.K. Simmons) intervened to protect him.

In fact, Clyde planned that whole encounter, guessing correctly that it would encourage a worried Dick, desperate for an ally, to offer Clyde employment on the outside. For the most part, Clyde spends the episode quietly observing, obeying, and enforcing (as when he chases away an underage girl, played by Victoria Bruno, who's clinging to Dick, Jr. at an afterparty). There's one notable exception: the gruff buzzard gently approaches Veronica to ask if she can find an old lover and she firmly but respectfully shoots him down. Clyde is impressed by her integrity and we almost wonder if this gesture was a test on his part. And why did Veronica, always pushing her dad to run a business rather than a charity, take the high road here? Perhaps she just wants one less thing to apologize for.

My Response:

Veronica Mars - "Spring Break Forever" (season 4, episode 1)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Rob Thomas; directed by Michael Lehmann): In the spirit of "something old, something new" (a phrase whose implications our protagonist is determined to avoid), Veronica Mars deftly mixes familiar faces with updated-for-2019 references. From the opening scene in which Veronica brazenly assaults a smart house and earns a cool six grand as her reward to the conclusion in which the sight of a newly fatherless young girl reminds the thirtysomething detective of the vulnerable teen she once was and the quasi-orphan she nearly became, we are navigating good old Neptune through clear eyes, wizened by experience but freshly attuned to the present moment. As the episode title suggests, it's peak tourist season in town; the show's familiar social dynamic, the hardworking middle class vs. the entitled 1% (or, in Mars terminology, the 09ers), plays out against this backdrop. Small businesspeople like bar owner Nicole Malloy (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and motelier Sul Ross (Brad Morris) are eager to maintain the cashflow produced by party-hearty spring breakers (although not unethically eager, as Nicole demonstrates when she saves an unconscious young woman from a lecherous patron). And cleanliness-obsessed (or perhaps property value-obsessed) elites like Dick Casablancas, Sr., everyone's favorite white-collar criminal/father of a mass murderer, seek to "beautify" the town by chasing away the grubby tourist trade. Meanwhile Keith is hired by shopkeeper Hu (Francois Chau) who wants to maintain his small base of low-income clientele despite the rats being mysteriously released into his grocery store. A smallscale challenge (as are - for the moment - Keith's memory lapses which become evident as he initiates this investigation), cases like this aren't going to keep the Mars family business afloat.

Then comes the big bang. A devastating explosion in the lobby of the Sea Sprite, the shabby if serviceable inn of choice for beach-bound students, kills Sul, arrogant law student Jimmy (Mark L. Young), cheerfully nerdy Gabriel (Rudy Martinez), and Tawny Carr (Chanel Marriot), the fiancee of Alex Maloof (Paul Karmiryan), who is the little brother of Arab-American U.S. Representative Daniel Maloof (Mido Hamada). We meet Daniel and his mother Amalia (Jacqueline Antaramian) at the hospital where survivors are being treated. This scene not only introduces us to Chief - Neptune no longer calls for a sheriff, apparently - Marcia Langdon (Dawnn Lewis), who appears much more well-intentioned than the Lambs but inspires little confidence in the congressman. It also delightfully re-introduces Cliff. Elated by the cash crop of injured individuals, the amoral lawyer strolls through the ER, handing his card out left and right. A darker version of this cheerful-to-be-alive-and-profiting-from-pain persona is revealed south of the border where Alonzo Lozano (Clifton Collins Jr.) dispatches an informer for cartel head El Despiadado (Marco Rodriguez) while smilingly spouting his deterministic philosophy. His storyline dovetails with our central case when his boss' ex-wife Silvia (Alanna Ubach) convinces the powerful drug dealer to avenge her nephew Gabriel's death. Alonzo and Dodie Mendoza (Frank Gallegos) hit the road with a generous cash allowance and a promise they can keep everything they don't spend - as long as they deliver the bomber's head on a platter. Back in California, the Maloofs hire the Mars family to find out who maimed Alex, destroying his promising athletic career, and, very secondarily as they make clear, killed the woman his family did not want him to marry. Wounded like Alex, albeit to a much lesser extent, is Penn Epner (Patton Oswalt), a garrulous pizza delivery man; wounded emotionally if not physically is Matty Ross (Izabela Vidovic), Sul's daughter whom Veronica sees wandering the wreckage after they take the case. Something about this figure calls to her, and as Veronica's voice returns on the soundtrack to bookend the episode, she remarks, "There was a girl. And I started to care about the girl. And if you know anything about what I do, that's never good."

Forget it, Veronica - it's Neptune.

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