Posts from the ‘television’ Category

forget the butterflies: Lost Season Five

Daniel Faraday and Jughead

Daniel Faraday and Jughead

Lost Season 5: Jughead and The Little Prince

It’s almost starting to seem normal to have the A- and B-plots separated by thousands of miles, three years, and uncountable metaphysical planes.

Like a polar bear let loose from its training cage, the action continues to galumph in great strides in both LA and back on the island. The Island 6 are far more compelling than the adventures of the Oceanic 6, although the action in LA will certainly be interesting in retrospect and there are scattered moments of brilliance – particularly the evolution of Sun into corporate shark and vengeful assassin. Ben’s use of human chess pieces is always entertaining as well, especially now that the moves are revealed within the same episode.

(Who could be challenging Kate’s custody of the narcoleptic turniphead? Maybe we’ll find out by the end of the season or – oh, it’s Ben. Hmmm. Oh, oh, but his lawyer – what’s that guy’s story, huh? Is he Kelvin’s secret lovechild half-brother, or what? Ah Lost, never really answers it’s true mysteries…)

Still, these moments are rationed throughout the LA plotline, crammed in the spaces between plot gears. The island 6 are encountering nothing but great chunks of interesting backstory, and – in between being attacked and bewildered and nearly dead, which is any given day on the island – developing an almost warm group cohesion. Juliet abandons her self-imposed isolation to stabilise Sawyer’s shaky emotional state; John begins to explain his motivations, and their lack of solid evidence, rather than clinging to his deluded mystical-John Wayne image. Faraday jumps to protect the group – and Charlotte – from gun-toting hardliners with only his wits and scientific background. Sawyer – who 100 or so days ago was an amoral conman preying on fellow survivors – immediately launches a rescue ambush when he sees Faraday at gunpoint, berating John for looking out for his personal interests.

Even Miles asks for help when he admits he’s joined the nosebleed club.

No wonder I spend the LA times wanting to get back to the island, where the group is pulling together and investigating immediate mysteries, instead of going on with Lost’s business as usual – a loose collection of deeply flawed characters continually compromising their few principles, who each may or may not be plotting to kill the rest, with the world possibly at stake and not nearly enough information to make these decisions.

I’ll probably be fascinated by it in a few episodes, but for now…

Lost uses the interesting form of time travel, in which the timeline is resilient. Someone who goes back in time has always been there at that time, and unless they did a thing with a key and a magnetic field no one’s ever quite figured out, they can’t do a thing to change the future. Stomp on all the butterflies you want, kill all four grandparents, rip open the box with the alive-dead cat – none of it can change a thing. You were always there in the past and you always did exactly as you are going to do, as time and space are far too powerful to be inconvenienced by mere paradox.

This form still allows for character pitfalls. For instance, Faraday, confronted by a leaking hydrogen bomb, tells the 1950’s-era Others to simply bury it in cement and forget about it – after all, he knows the island didn’t blow up. His knowledge of the future makes him ignore its limitations. After all, in 2004 the bomb hasn’t gone off, but what about 2005? And what effect could the loose radiation from a shoddy containment job have had on the mysterious power course behind the donkey wheel? And, now that he knows there’s a powerful, if dangerous and unstable, weapon, will Faraday ever be tempted to dig it up to face off some seemingly greater threat?

There are also pitfalls of a bootstrap nature, the undermining of one’s personal (assumed) causality. John Locke is a particular demonstration of this. He grows up feeling there is some destiny he’s meant for that he’s always just failing to grasp. Arriving on a mystical island that heals his spine and gives him an outlet for his aborted Walkabout studies, then joining the locals as their leader, John feels he has finally achieved his true place. He is King of the Others for all of five minutes before he’s sent reeling into the past, given a compass that will somehow prove his identity (an item that seems trapped in its own closed time loop, eternally passing between John and Richard across fifty years). There he tells the (somewhat) younger Richard that he will be their leader in the future, casually giving them his upcoming birthdate and location before disappearing in a flash of light, leaving behind a prophesy. Based on this, the Others attempt to groom young John for leadership from a distance, eventually culminating in his five minutes in charge.

One mystery solved: does John Locke really have a mystical connection to the island? No. Does he have a destiny? Only the one he’s created for himself – always seeking leadership and validation, and always just overshooting it.

Thus, it’s really worrisome to discover that the origin of the ‘Return the O6 to the Island’ world-saver came from our Mr Locke.

Is it too late for him to embrace the advice of his high school guidance councillor and see if Faraday won’t take him on as an apprentice jack-of-all-sciences?

Where are Rose and Bernard, and, if alive, have they joined the nosebleed club as well?

What other sleeping time bombs lie Cthuhlu-like beneath the innocent jungle?

How did Jin not only survive but get caught up in the island’s time warp? Oh, I don’t even care. I’m just happy he made it. There’s nothing like a bitter vengeance arc undercut by the lost object’s inconvenient existence. This could fill the Desmond/Penny gap left by their reunion – lovers whose relationship is defined by absence, with enough remembered sweetness to leave viewers illogically anticipating an unlikely happy ending.

Not to mention – the poor fellow – he finally learns enough English to communicate with the rest of the group, and now is back in the situation of having only one other person who can understand him! And by the time he’s picked up enough French to ask for a drink of water, he’ll be lifted away to another group, probably one that only speaks Norwegian. By next season, he’ll be the island’s official interpreter.

Speaking of sweetness, there is Jin’s new friend: Danielle Rousseau, marooned with her research team. Assuming the actress’ availability, it would have been easy enough to youth-inize Mira Furlan by 16 years with little more than some conditioner and lip gloss. But with the new actress, Melissa Farman, the young Danielle’s softness and vulnerability is painfully obvious – her rounder face and sunless complexion, with a ready smile and unguarded expression. Furlan has been the paranoid and pared-down survivor from her first appearance – both crazy and hot, as I and everyone else with eyes have noted – and it does require the jolt of a different actress to illustrate the character’s change. Somehow this sweet young woman will have the inner strength – or psychotic break – to murder her dangerously ill teammates, give birth unassisted, and survive 16 years of constant warfare with those who know every inch of the Island.

I can’t wait to see how that happens.

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men in high castles

Frost/Nixon Interview

Frost/Nixon Interview

Frost/Nixon, 2008

“That poor poor man,” I said once to my wife, with tears in my eyes. “Shut up in the darkness, playing the piano in the night to himself, alone and afraid, knowing what’s to come.” For God’s sake, let us forgive him, finally. But what was done to him and all his men—”all the President’s men,” as it’s put—had to be done. But it is over, and he should be let out into the sunlight again; no creature, no person, should be shut up in darkness forever, in fear. It is not humane.

Philip K Dick, How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart in Two Days

Nixon just doesn’t seem so bad any more. Not after the last eight years, and not when he is up against the lightweight avatar of politics’ television-ruled future, trying to convince himself this is a worthy adversary.

Frost/Nixon is an uncomfortable experience. Our “hero” is a placeholder protagonist – the promo materials promise a flawed white knight who stalks, fights, and eventually slays the mighty beast, but it gives us a fluffy chancer who is driven only by a vague entrepreneurial greed and the petulant desire to have his face on telly. The devil himself is a miserable man in poor health who dreads the inactivity of early and ignoble retirement, who would trade anything for a return to the challenge, excitement, and stress of politics.

Is the dichotomy of cultural meta-narrative against the worth of characters purposeful? The infinitely annoying framing device – faux documentary cutscenes, with the actors still playing the roles – continually provide exposition and character motivation that has usually been imparted quite well by the actors (and if it wasn’t, it damn well should’ve been) or blandly trot out the well known myth.

(Seriously, Ron? Either leave it for the audience to learn on wikipedia later or directly stage it in an engaging manner. If all else fails, at least get in the actual people to have the stage, describing their place in history!)

The “interviews” tell us one thing – Nixon ruined America, man! – but the action presents a more complicated story, one that doesn’t exonerate Nixon but does kind of hate Frost-the-cipher and the men who passionately want to pillory the ex-president.

Of the characters presented, Nixon is a much better fit for a hero story: the disgraced and beaten former champion seeking redemption while battling the internal demons that ruined him. He is compelling in a way the other characters aren’t, a self-loathing and charmless intellectual who brutally forced his way into the one field that absolutely requires charm and bulletproof confidence. He’s fixated on his finances – after all, he can hardly count on the high-paying speaking and consulting milk runs an ex-president can usually expect. He envies the happiness and hedonism of his political and cultural enemies desperately, but can’t identify with it. His eyes may linger on the lovely body of Frost’s girl-of-the-moment, but when he tells Frost to marry her, it’s not so he can vicariously keep her nubile charms close but secure his fiscal future: she lives in Monte Carlo, where they pay no income tax.

Most painfully, this Nixon is intensely conscious of his flaws and their permanence. He muses with Frost that perhaps they should have lived each others’ lives: Nixon the brilliant, incisive interviewer and Frost the motivating, emotive politician. This character, though, could never have been happy with a career path that would leave him happy; he needs an outward doomed struggle to mirror his internal self-hatred in order to simply function.

This Nixon defends himself: every other president has done exactly the same things, but (it’s implied) had the savvy to delegate the dirty work. How much of Latin America was covered in Nixon’s fingerprints during his vice-presidency in Eisenhower ‘do-nothing’ era? He not only got caught masterminding the amateurish mess, but couldn’t bring himself to confess or deflect the fallout before this had eclipsed all other political matters in the country, as well as wiping his earlier accomplishments from the nation’s memory.

This is the Nixon that even Philip K Dick, author of VALIS and occasional Nixonian arch-enemy, could feel some compassion for.

His opponent, David Frost, is a man whose main talent in life is knowing what will bring the maximum number of eyes to television sets. He has talk shows in the UK and Australia and once had a third in the US, which he recalls as a fairyland celebrating his specialness. Frost wants to interview Nixon because it will draw a large audience, which would give him the chance to pitch another US show, which would allow him to once again get good tables in exclusive restaurants. He assembles a two-man research team, who are bent on taking down the devil, to provide him with information and strategy – and then ignores them. They pull endless material from obscure archives, pore over the details, and roleplay scenarios, gleefully embodying Nixon’s larger-then-life persona, while Frost chases advertisers and races to the opening of every envelope in LA.

It is difficult to root for this hero. Frost has no great goal, nothing he is burning to prove – when his team asks what he hopes to achieve in the interview, his face is blank with surprise. The thought hadn’t occurred to him; he had Nixon, they’d fill time, and people would watch. The end. He didn’t even review the material his team had painstakingly gathered until the final hours before the last recording session, and even that was only motivated by a shot of Nixon’s poisonous vitality in the form of a midnight drunk dial.

Even this montage is de-motivating for the audience. He’s gambled his career and savings on this one event, and he’s never glanced at the research he commissioned? It’s as if Rocky consisted of a somewhat successful boxer who’d been briefly on top, who spends all the time leading up to final his title fight gorging on KFC and chasing endorsement deals, finally hitting the gym during a break between rounds.

He could have put the slightest bit of effort into this interview, and all 8 hours would have been brilliant.

In many ways, to continue to film’s overt boxing metaphor, the final fight is before the last interview. Nixon, having uneasily accepting the premature praise from his staff at how well he’d managed the interviews, has a few drinks and calls Frost at his hotel room. He may be winning, but it’s against a pitifully overmatched opponent with whom he has no connection. There’s no satisfaction, no real struggle. He convinces himself he’s dealing with a worthy adversary based on a history of succeeding beyond the situations they were born into and because they both want to return to past success – wilfully ignoring the fact that he wants to wield real power again, while Frost just wants the warm glow of the limelight and better party invitations.

At least the call does level the playing field. Frost does his research, allowing Nixon to take a longed-for dive with some dignity.

This last interview session could be seen as the moment Nixon began to move out of the dark. True, he would never hold office again, and he would be forced to fill his time with inane retirement activities. But he did go on to give more interviews, write more books, and was even quietly consulted as an elder politician, allowing him some measure of influence. More importantly, though, it allowed him to take his place in the American pantheon as a timeless personality, like Elvis or his great rival, Kennedy. Years after his death, Nixon (…er, his preserved cranium) became a popular recurring character on Futurama, making a successful grab at the President of Earth slot, a position that suited his Machiavellian schemes.

David Frost reads the Sunday papers on television every week.

Futurama's Earth-President Nixon

Futurama's Earth-President Nixon

an inconstant island – Lost Season Five

Lost Season 5.1 – 2: Because You Left / The Lie

Faith and science continue to tango in issues surrounding the island. We’re given shiny new pseudo-science chewtoys to work on – the “nearly infinite power source,” the survivors bouncing Billy Pilgrim-style through the island’s past, return of the universal bloody nose of time-sickness, the resilience of the timeline that refuses to allow the past to be changed, and the resistance of Desmond to that inertia by virtue of his timey-wimey key-turning specialness – but issues of faith carry the plot.

Faith is one step removed from the island’s miracles; here, characters need their loved ones and enemies to have faith in their unbelievable truths, to save the world, serve their own ends, or just rest their consciences. Ben needs to convince the group that knows he’s a compulsive liar and manipulator to return to their exile – while not breaking his inner imperative to never give a provable reason to support his demands. His poor wee skull would apparently break if he did that. Locke has to accept he is no longer King of the Others and rejoin the group that needs his skills and intuition – and somehow convince them to accept him, yet again.

Hurley, despite his stated intentions to screw over Sayid at the soonest opportunity, continues to be the dependable hero and finds relief in telling his mother the insane-sounding truth of his survival. Hurley, as well as being the audience identification figure and occasional Greek chorus, is often the overlooked centre of the cast and plot. He has a set of morals that it makes him sick to violate, and at the core of these is the simple “don’t hurt people.” The hatred of lying is a newly introduced mental foundation – that is a callback (and more suited) to the first season’s thematic establishment – but it fits with his character. In a twisted, multilayered situation, he follows his rules instead of believing his intended outcome with justify his means. Hurley connects and, to the best of his ability, protects; thus when he is in needs, others pull him through. The rest could do worse than follow his example. Not lead, as leadership is obviously not what he’s skilled or comfortable with – see Juliet and Sawyer, below for the opposite state.

Late and perhaps most interesting: Sun. Sun is playing her own game, connecting with those she will work with and those she plans to use in gaining revenge – but who is the former, and who the latter?

Juliet and Sawyer, the perpetual second-stringers step up to the role of leaders, and so far at least have slightly more success at it then Jack. Sawyer still attacks any situation with blunt force, but he turns that force on the people with information he needs to make even basic decisions that will affect the group’s survival. Juliet, finding herself more or less accepted into the group given their much larger problems than her origin, integrates her insider knowledge of the island with Faraday’s hypotheses and generally pushes the others to think instead of fight. Neither of them is hung up by Jack’s desperate need to prove himself, which helps.

Slate’s

Þ Time-sickness and the infinite power that causes it (hmmmm). I was embarrassingly moved by the sickness and resolution of The Constant, and fear continuing to play with the concept will weaken it, a la the Turok-Han vampires of Season 7 Buffy.  But the infinite power that cannot be safely harnessed, that powerful people will continually attempt to harness? Accessed by a donkey wheel? Interesting.

I want to believe (in God)

The premier pic that says it all.

The premier pic that says it all.

The X-Files: I Want To Believe
2008

It’s 1995, and I’m watching X-Files with my parents, while my dad (who was one of the five people watching from the very first episode) explains the backstory. Three years later, it’s a half-dozen college students crowded around a 10-inch dorm room tv, and I’m the one explaining where Scully got her implant and why Mulder’s so funny about his father. In 2002, I’m watching the finale on mute while talking on the phone and looking up Buffy trivia online.

I re-lived all of this recently when we came to possess the entire X-Files run and blew through them in a month. The husband and I compared the memories it brought up, mine aging along with the show, his scattershot as they were caught in nonlinear UK airings. We agreed that if anything captured the gestalt of the mid- and late-90s, it was X-Files: the paranoia and suspicion that came with the communication explosion of the internet’s unattractive adolescent years, along with the righteous attitude that us ordinary people had the right, even responsibility, to investigate our power structures.

The show followed to arc of the times. First, the excitement and cost of venturing where unquestioning citizens feared to tread, all new information tempered by the loss of safety, health, and loved ones. Next, the winking postmodern self-parodies that deconstruct the patterns and the show’s intensely loyal audience, interspersed with straight episodes that expect to be taken as seriously as the first season’s. Finally, the disintegration of intellectual irony and recreational scepticism as religious terrorism took the nation’s focus, with the alien and government conspiracies all but replaced by po-faced explorations of evil and demonic possession. This last era was marked by a switch in characters, adding in the straightforward and unimaginative Doggett as the new sceptic (lacking even Scully’s religious faith) and the less individual, believer in woo-woo, Reyes. I quite like both characters, particularly compared to the tired, reluctant performances of the former leads, but the fact remains that neither had the same rigorous, researched imagination of Mulder or the intellectual background of Scully. It could have worked quite well, but as an honest spinoff: CSI: X-Files.

The second X-Files movie picks up where the series left Mulder and Scully: the grinding misery of conspiracy chewtoys, driven into a half-hearted relationship by inertia and a lack of other options. In an effort to be edgy and deep, these characters suffered the inevitable losses of all non-investigatory aspects of their lives, with even miracles introduced only to punish them by their removal. Both look old and tired (Duchovny now a dead ringer for Gary Shandling), and their interactions, even their pillow talk, betray only decades of bottled up resentment and disappointment in their present lives. When Scully threatens to end the relationship throughout the film, there’s no tension – why should we be pulling for this lifeless codependent slog to continue?

Mulder and Scully don’t want to be together and they don’t want to investigate for the FBI, only getting pulled in by the tug of a half-remembered youthful passion. As the director is not named Bergman, it’s painful to watch, almost guilt-inducing – as if the audience is forcing an elderly, arthritic showpony to limp through its old routine.

The plot is also reminiscent of later X-Files episodes, focusing on good v evil with only passing references to aliens or conspiracies, but also barely glancing across a potentially rich Dr Frankenstein-esque Monster Of The Week. There’s a lack of both set-ups and resolutions, while more time is spent on far-fetched and weak morality plays. Plays with little to ponder because, as far as any characters with extensive dialogue are concerned, God’s existence and activity in earthly matters are both a given.

Scully is possibly affronting God, or at least her be-collared bosses, by using stem cells to treat a deathly ill boy in a Catholic hospital? The dying, altar boy raping, defrocked priest is possibly having visions, possibly with one of his former victims as a conduit, because the victim (now dying of cancer himself) is gay-married to the Russian (always Russian in this show) kidnapper and organ harvester? And is it the organ harvesting, child raping, stem cell treatment, the use of Google, or gay marriage that is most affronting to God, possibly causing Him to send punitive visions? And Scully’s ending her relationship with Mulder because he’s pursuing the case she persuaded him to take on? But it’s all ok because they end up in a rowboat in the tropics?

And there’s a two-headed Frankenstein dog? And a late-arriving Skinner wraps up Mulder’s case in three minutes and has a wee cuddle with him in the snow, the most genuine emotional connection in this entire beast?

And the ultimate moral of the story: people should put some damn chains on their tires during a Vancouver West Virginia blizzard, which would make so much of this plot not happen.

…I miss Doggett and Reyes.

Who, if Chris Carter writes another movie, will be miserably married in Mexico and have had three kids, all of whom were abducted and brutally murdered, on sequential Christmases. So…let’s hope he doesn’t.

prozzies and other respectable women

Ashes to Ashes 1.03

Ashes to Ashes continues, hitting many of the same notes as Sam’s stint in Gene Hunt’s world.  Since the pilot, Alex has reliably featured moments of headdesking stupidity in the presence of her mother and her mother’s law firm partner (in 2008, the godfather of her daughter).  Abandoning her ‘you are all figments’ stance, she alternates between amazed gawping and craven attempts to elicit approval.  Rather than backing away slowly from the crazy woman, they offer brief but meaningful insights into their perspectives that inadvertently guide Alex through her hallucinatory new world.  Again like Sam, the gang surprisingly takes her lapses of cranial continence in stride while being horrified by her minor futuristic faux pas…but I suppose without this contractual genre blindness (or just plot-induced stupidity?), the show would be called Special Woman Is Instantly Institutionalised and Spends Thirteen Episodes Heavily Sedated.

Still, it bugs me.  Almost as much as Alex’s club-appropriate workwear, set in a time when a female professional, let alone a detective, would have been strapped into restrictive chin-to-knees pseudo-Victorian armor, heavily featuring those awful high-necked blouses with sewn-in bows and boxy pleated wool skirts.  A few years later, she’d be clad in a solid-color power suit with shoulder pads up to her ears.  Professional specifically did not equal sexy, outside of fetishes similar to those surrounding schoolgirl uniforms (and bearing as much relation to the reality).  A white-collar female was an impenetrable tank.

Margaret Thatcher

Despite this incongruity, the show is starting to play with a more complex morality.  Along the lines of the impenetrable tank…after subtly hitting on Gene and being shot down, Alex lets herself be picked up by a red suspender wearing Thatcherite, who she drunkenly boffs to the energetic beats of Bucks Fizz.  Her coworkers start out teasing her when she drags herself into work the following day, hungover and exhausted, but she reacts the way a modern woman working in a chauvinist environment should: yes, I’m dead tired because I was up all night shagging a total stranger, and it was bloody fantastic.  No shame, no cringing, just one of the boys.

Unfortunately…1981 wasn’t quite modern enough for that, or at least for these blokes.  No matter what Aaron Spelling and his Starsky & Hutch taught us in the late 70s, a confident, pretty woman interested in getting laid wasn’t a great girl but someone who should be far more discrete.  The men are uncomfortable, Gene is furious and offering the hard truth that she won’t be respected if she’s known to have sex—part advice for someone working beneath him who needs the respect of his crew, part fury that a woman who’d made herself ‘his’ in some vague but definite way by hitting on him had flipped over to someone who wouldn’t look after her.

This is set in an episode focusing on prostitutes, specifically whether one can be raped, as she claims.  Gene & Co display the sentiments that continue to linger in many minds today—prostitutes, as people who sell their bodies for sex, cease to be properly human.  A woman who doesn’t strenuously resist having sex with men, let alone chasing them for her own pleasure, becomes something closer to a prostitute.  These aren’t rational preconceptions, by any means, but divisions usually instilled before a child hits puberty and are rarely challenged.

Ray, however, possibly the thickest member of Gene’s squad, does rise to the challenge.  He befriends a traumatised young woman and, while he’s obviously disturbed by her revelation that she’s a ‘lady of the night,’ it leads him to the second moral quandary of the episode—framing the man who raped and assaulted her for cocaine possession.  Ray is now unable to accept that a man could go unpunished for violating just a prostitute, and betrays the law he is sworn to uphold in a satisfying but disturbing way.

Even more jolting, this takes place during the denouement, and Alex and the police watching the rapist being arrested on an obviously bogus drug possession charge applaud and congratulate Ray.  None of them acknowledges Ray’s legal violation or suggests there was a better, legal way to go after him—ideally by following the bugger and establishing relationships with the local prostitutes to catch him repeating his crime, rather than bunging him up on a charge that will likely fall apart in court.

This department feels that, together, they can answer to a higher morality than the law when the law fails them.  What terrifying disaster awaits this crew of celibate ersatz Dark Knights if they continue to follow this ‘higher’ calling?

fire up the quattro!

Ashes to Ashes:1.01
2008

The spin-off from the acclaimed (if sometimes excruciating) Life on Mars is self-consciously extreme, with both the drama and dark humor ratcheted up to the appropriate 80s excess.  This year’s timetraveller-slash-madman is DI Alex Drake, a police psychiatrist and single mother who has been investigating the suicide of Sam Tyler.  Familiar with Sam’s fantasy world and characters that suddenly surround her after being shot in the face by druglord-cum-vagrant Arthur Layton, she believes she’s having an elaborate hallucination in the seconds before she dies, but still fights to wake up from it and return to her demanding, impulsive daughter.

Ray Carling, who BBC informs us is now “The Bear,” tells her with regret that her acquaintance Sam Tyler died with the 70s a year earlier, crashing his car into a river after leaving Gene behind on a police chase.  His body was never found, allowing speculation on his Schrödingeresque state to rampage on.  He tells Alex that they key to surviving is to stay with Gene, not only expressing his own philosophy of life but possibly offering a key to why the two officers have been drawn back into the past.

The pilot was a conscious retread of the Life on Mars pilot.  Set-up of current life in the present, spotlighting the few personal connections?  Check.  Introductory Make Ass Of Self scene?  Check.  Enigmatic flashbacks in old-film filter?  Check.  Parent issues centring around that year?  Check.  There’s even similar avatars of hostile knowledge in the form of different childhood icons (which, lacking a UK childhood, had no more significance to me than ‘sort of like Sesame Street’ and ‘some freaky Euro-clown’).  The subject is partly aware of this reality—or only thinks she is—and seeks out the missing signifiers from Sam’s reports.  Unfortunately, phones, radios, and tvs give her nothing; her only communications come in dreams and visions.

Most of the direct communication from the hostile avatars in fact goes over her head, couched in subtle visuals only the viewers see—such as the clown’s head on a shelf in Layton’s junk store, or its reflection looming over her shoulder in a shiny interview table.  While Life on Mars followed Sam’s point of view, DI Drake of more an active object of the mystery than an identification figure.  The audience has more pieces of the puzzle.

Alex thus far seems to be a less sympathetic character than Sam, but a more confident timetraveler-slash-madman, hopefully less likely to likely to commit the forehead-smackingly boneheaded moves that Tyler’s run included at least once per episode.  Instead of acting generally unhinged in a manner that would leave most professionals escorted by security carrying a box of personal belongings, Alex calmly treats the others as both people and figments in turn and with equal sangfroid expects to be treated with respect while stuck wearing uncomfortably revealing clothes.  She also gains a few points by getting drunk with the team and groping Gene on her very first night in the past, thus ensuring they’ll overlook a greater proportion of weird behaviour than if she’d remained in the remote and dismissive pose Sam initially chose.

This spinoff so far seems to retain the parent show’s flaws, particularly in the imbalanced drama/comedy tone.  Particularly, scenes and setups still misfire as often as they catch.  The “A-Team”’s emergence in the gunfight via speedboat with machine guns, while a good visual gag, destroys the delicate dream vs time-travel question.  That could only be a modern person’s fantasy moment.  When scenes catch, though, they really really catch.  When Ray tells of Sam’s death, he is a man more comfortable with his place in life than the resentful demoted DI of the earlier decade.  Gene’s frustration while on the phone to his superior shows a big man who’s time has passed, and knows it.  And entire shows could take place in their new hangout, a wine bar where a long-suffering Magical Italian possibly takes Nelson’s place as the wise bartender.

There is one unbearable bit, though.  I don’t know how I’ll get through a season of an entire cast in those terrible pleated trousers and white jeans.  For the love of Oxford Street, let no lazy designers take those on as this fall’s new look!

Darkly Dreaming Dexter: blood and ethical sociopathy

Dexter Season One

Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Jeff Lindsay
2004

Dexter, Season One
2006

Dear Dexter is a single white male in his thirties who lives alone and works peripherally in law enforcement, and is generally considered to be a quietly well mannered and quirky guy.  He is, of course, an insane serial killer preying on the residents of Miami.

However: that “prey” is only those who he can prove to his own high threshold of satisfaction are like him: serial predators who have escaped the law’s prosecution who will continue to kill innocents.  The undisturbed lives of those innocents, unfortunately, are an incidental by-product of scratching his itch to main and kill.

The novel upon which Dexter’s first season is based calls this urge the “Dark Passenger”.  It’s worth experiencing this introduction in all its purple glory:

Moon.  Glorious moon. Full, fat, reddish moon, the night as light as day, the moonlight flooding down across the land and bringing joy, joy, joy. Bringing too the full-throated call of the tropical night, the soft and wild voice of the wind roaring through the hairs on your arm, the hollow wail of starlight, the teeth-grinding bellow of the moonlight off the water.

All calling to the Need. Oh, the symphonic shriek of the thousand hiding voices, the cry of the Need inside, the entity, the silent watcher, the cold quiet thing, the one that laughs, the Moondancer. The me that was not-me, the thing that mocked and laughed and came calling with its hunger. With the Need. And the Need was very strong now, very careful cold coiled creeping crackly cocked and ready, very strong, very much ready now—and still it waited and watched, and it made me wait and watch.

Urgh.  Take a moment—that was a thick chunk of corrugated prose to force down an unsuspecting reader’s throat.  The series, fortunately, lacks the Dark Passenger.  The Dexter who partially garrottes a secret paedophile, forcing him to confront the bodies of the boys he’s murdered, before antiseptically dismembering him, is the same Dexter that greets his girlfriend’s children warmly and patiently guides the career of his impatient sister.

With his deserving victims, Dexter is a more honest version of himself, ironically closer to connecting, but he stalks and kills on his own impulse rather than obeying a voice in his head.  Unlike the common perception of a sociopath, Dexter does want to connect, and with some logic seeks an understanding from monsters like himself as much as he tries to force upon them an understanding of their own crimes.

Blood

“Blood. Sometimes it sets my teeth on edge. Other times it helps me control the chaos.”

Dexter works as a blood splatter technician with the Miami police department.  Early on, he tells the viewers (or the inside of his own echoing head) that he chose this position and city to monitor his own criminal activity, and feels Miami, with its law enforcement’s 20% solved murder rate, is the best setting for a journeyman killer.

Blood is the one indulgent memento he keeps from victims, single beads dried onto slides and tucked away in his ac unit.  He enjoys flicking through his collection and remembering his work, fingering the dry red ovals.

He reveals in later episodes a great antipathy toward blood, despite making it his life’s work.  His plastic sealing of his killing scenes turns out to be not only a practical method for hiding DNA but a way of containing the splash and gush of sticky blood.  His job, as well, while it requires he confront and contemplate his personal bugaboo, allows him to explain and contain it as well, like his kills, tidying away his corner of the world.

Dexter begins to realise why he has such an intense connection to such an abstract bit of life, eventually unearthing a long-repressed memory of not only witnessing his mother’s brutal murder at the age of three but also spending over two days in a drying pool of the victims’ blood.  He was discovered and rescued by Harry Morgan, then an ordinary policeman, who fostered and then adopted the young boy, but his fixation with blood and murder was already set.

Sociopath

Harry recognises in dear dark Dexter (to follow the book’s alliterative nomenclature) the signs of a budding sociopath, specifically the torture of animals and lack of normal emotional responses.  When he pushes young Dexter into admitting his need to hurt and kill, the boy clings to his foster father for comfort.

Harry, by now a detective and growing jaded with the justice system, becomes a more sophisticated Pa Kent.  He teaches Dexter how to fake normal with the rest of the world, encouraging a dual identity.  One side he makes into the perfect son, helpful, happy and obedient, and shows him how to feed the other side with socially acceptable murderous acts, like hunting.  This doesn’t totally satisfy Dexter, and perhaps doesn’t totally satisfy his mentor, either.  Dexter’s high intelligence and physical strength, combined with his need to ritualistically murder, are wasted on deer when there is a city full of dangerous men outside the hunting range.

Dexter voiceovers that he can’t connect with people, and to the degree that someone without remorse can be bothered, he is bothered by that.  Here is where the book and series diverge most sharply; book-Dexter ends up breaking from the Code of Harry, killing LaGuerta and planning to kill Doakes to remain undetected.  Deb has learned the truth about him but he’s sure she’ll come around to approving what he does, like their father.

Series-Dexter comes to care for Rita, becomes frantic that Deb will be tortured and killed, and mourns after killing his truly sociopathic brother.  He is helped by talk therapy (even if he does later murder the therapist).  He leaves a session that has begun to bring up memories of his Traumatic Event to finally have sex with a girlfriend without creeping her out.  He also seeks out a connection with a young serial murderer, intending to be the mentor to the teenager that Harry had been to him.  In the end he imagines himself surrounded by normal Miami residents who would cheer him on, even love him, if they knew what he did, and smiles.  The saving of innocents is no longer purely a byproduct.

His way of life is only possible because of his bond with Harry, whose approval and comfort he needed as much as understanding and protection.  Young Dexter really really really wants to kill people, especially a bullying jerk at school, but he doesn’t because of Harry—not because he doesn’t want to be punished or imprisoned, but because Harry would be disappointed and hurt.  The 1 sociopath in 25 individuals one encounters any day wouldn’t have that connection to prevent his or her destructive actions.

Brian deliberately brings Dexter to the realisation of his past, in the hopes he’ll be free to join him in the ritualistic killing they share.  They’re both the children of criminals, and may possess the faulty mental wiring in their shared DNA.  Harry thought that Dexter might be young enough to remain unaffected by his gruesome experience, leaving Brian to mental institutions, but when proved wrong labelled the boy a sociopath and trained him like an attack dog.  But, while he’s a deeply disturbed man with a compulsion to kill, Dexter’s emotional growth suggests he’s something less than that.  More pathetically, he may have spent over thirty years with the emotional acuity of a three-year-old.

Ethics

To come: Bats and Supes In Tropical Bowling Shirts