Category Archives: television

more from LOVE IN THE AGE OF TRUMP

Four

Paulina

“Do you think Trump got away?” said Paulina, with a slight edge of desperation in her voice. “Do you think he’s alright?”

Willy shrugged. “If you haven’t noticed before, he always gets away.”

“Those guys looked scary this time.”

“He’s fine,” said Willy. “They got him off the stage. Looked like a couple of Resistance folks took a real beating onstage, though. They’re probably in a hell of a rough shape right now, if they even survived it. But Trump is okay.”

“Are you sure?”

She looked at him with a wide-eyed, nervous expression that made him think she might start crying if he said just the wrong thing at that moment. It always surprised him, how his wife seemed so fragile and weepy whenever she sensed her beloved President in danger. Most other times, she was about as fragile as a lead pipe.

“I’m sure,” he said. “I saw everything myself. It happened live, on television. Trump is fine.”

Paulina relaxed. That was what she wanted to hear. Still, she sought another ounce of reassurance.

“Yes. But are you sure?” she asked.

“I saw it on TV. Right there,” he said. “If you can’t trust the TV, who can you trust?”

“That damned Resistance. Those idiots deserve whatever they get,” she said, as she walked into the adjacent kitchen and took a Diet Dew from the refrigerator. “You would think that they would know when to quit by now.”

“Some folks just aren’t happy, no matter what,” he said. “They try a stunt like this, what, three or four times a year now? And what do they get out of it? Not a damn thing.”

He switched off the television.

“Turn that back on!” Paulina interjected.

Will stood up. He held up his hands for added emphasis. “Trump is gone. There’s nothing worth watch anymore.”

“He might come back.”

“He won’t be back. Not today. They’ll have a press conference some time tomorrow and show us pictures of business-as-usual, tell us everything is okay, but we all have to be vigilant, keep our eyes on each other. Pray for us all, pray for Trump. You know how it is.”

“You don’t think we all should, how you say, keep our eyes open for each other? These animals – ”

“Keep our eyes on each other. It’s different, a little different. Of course I think we should keep ours on each other.”

“Uh-huh.” She thought about it. “You want a Diet Dew?”

“Sure.”

She opened the refrigerator back up, grabbed one of the green plastic twenty ouncers. and tossed it across the room.

Willy caught it without so much as a slight juggle.

He sat back down on the couch, reclining against the soft red vinyl. Closing his eyes, he listened to the sounds of Paulina rummaging through the cabinets, looking for something to eat.

A couple of minutes later, she sat down next to him, holding her own bottle of green soda along with a paper plate overloaded with barbecue-flavored potato chips and shredded mozzarella cheese.

It was astounding, how she could eat that type of food and not gain so much as a half-inch on her trim waistline. He counted his calories, read all the ingredient labels, always aimed for the right proper carb/protein balance, and still he wore 4XL t-shirts. And barely fit into those.

“How was school?” he said.

“Fine.” She scooped up several of the chips and plunged them into her mouth. “The children wanted to watch President Trump’s speech on television but he started late. The buses loaded first. After that, everybody else left so we could get home and watch for ourselves.”

Paulina picked up the remote and turned the television back on.

Now, the news channel replayed the day’s footage of the Resistance attackers on an apparent endless loop. The announcers fired question after question at their panel of astute guests, seeking insight and explanation into terrorist actions that seemed arbitrary, senseless, unexplainable.

“We never dealt with such things like this in Russia,” she said. “Not before, not now, not ever. My great-great-grandfather, he was KGB, you know.”

Willy knew.

“He told me things about old Soviet Union. Back then, they would have gathered everyone in this Resistance and made them disappear in one night. End of story. Resistance would never exist. Even if it did exist, it would not be around for long. All you Americans, you allow this.”

“Last time I checked, you’re an American now, too,” Willy said.

“I am just saying, in Russia, a Resistance starts one day, then that night it is crushed. Good-bye. End of story. But here, all these protests, people speaking against our leader. I do not understand.”

Willy gulped some Diet Dew, then set the bottle down on the floor in front of the couch. “It’s called freedom of speech, honey. We still have that in America.”

“Freedom speech. This freedom speech, always with the freedom speech. That is what you call it.”

Paulina laughed, a sardonic snigger, coated in her icy eastern European sarcasm that hung in the room long after the words dissipated.

“This stupid resistance, do you know what they really want? They want anarchy. These are murderers,” she said. “You talk about freedom and you let these bastards always try to kill your president. What kind of country is this?”

“They’re not going to kill him,” said Willy.

“If you let them keep trying, one day they might succeed,” she said. “This is why they must be stopped. Now. You understand me, right?”

Willy shrugged his shoulders. He grabbed his soda bottle off the floor and stood up.

“Always shrugging your shoulders,” said Paulina. “I ask you serious question and you just say, ah. Whatever. You never have answer, do you?”

“What would you like me to say?”

She handed him her empty plate. “Say nothing,” she said. “Just take this to the trash, fatso. I’m finished now.”

He hesitated, waiting for her to laugh. She never did. It didn’t surprise him. Laughter would show playfulness, a softer side, a facet of his girlfriend that perhaps did not exist. She never did.

Willy took the plate and headed for the kitchen, wondering what it was about him that made her want to stick around. There must be something, He hoped.

*

That night they made sweaty, passionate love, at least what sufficed as a reasonable approximation of passion between the two of them. Paulina straddled her husband as he sat with his back resting against the bed’s headboard and wrapped her legs around his waist as best she could get them around his girth, then clasped her hands behind his neck and held on for the ride.

She stared straight ahead the entire time, grunting, rarely making eye contact, never saying a word until they were finished.

“Not too bad tonight, fatso,” she said, as she rolled off him and reached for the night stand on her side of the bed, and the pack of Marlboro Lights that lay there. “It feels good to last more than five minutes with me, no?”

“Yes. It does,” he said.

“It feels good for you, anyway. I suppose.” She laughed, more out of boredom than anything else.

Willy let out a long, slow breath, and pulled the flat bedsheet across his naked body so his full natural glory couldn’t be seen in the moonlight that cascaded through their bedroom window.

A thick silence took over between them.

After a little while, he said, “I don’t understand why you talk about me that way,”

She laughed, a frigid snicker devoid of even the slightest sliver of human empathy. “What do you mean?”

“I mean… I love you, that’s all.” He rolled onto his side, away from her, towards the window, and looked out the window towards the yard, at the bluish moon beams that skitted off their yard’s summer grass. “It just seems like, sometimes—”

“Oh, stop it.”

“What?”

She rolled her eyes. “I hate when you do this. Is it the part where I am supposed to say I love you?”

“No, I didn’t mean it that way—”

“All right then. Willy Richmond, I love you. I love you. I love you. Does that sound good, Mishka?”

“Don’t call me Mishka.”

“Why not?”

“You know I don’t like that.”

“Mishka. Mishka.” Again she laughed. “Mishka mishka mishka.”

“I told you not to call me that.”

“Do you know what it means?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know you don’t like it?”

“I just know.”

Paulina shook her head, smiling. “I have been calling you Mishka ever since we first met, and still you do not know what it means. You never even bother to look it up.”

“I don’t need to know,” said Willy. “I can tell you from the way you say it that it doesn’t mean anything good.”

“You Americans, all of you only speak one language, it is so sad. In Russia most people speak three or four or five—”

“Oh, come on.”

“They do!”

“Most people in Russia speak five languages? You expect me to believe that?”

“It’s true.”

“I doubt it.”

“You Americans, you never believe what people say if they are from outside your country.” She shook her head. “It is as if you think that the truth can only exist here. It can only exist in United States.”

He rolled back over, looked up into her face, as she stared down at him with a mix of amusement and disdain.

“You’re not in Russia anymore,” Willy snapped.

Paulina rolled her eyes.

 The two of them lay there for almost half an hour, saying nothing, listening to each other’s breathing.

Finally, he propped himself up on one arm, and said, “Your voice sounds like freezing to death.”

“Like freezing to death.”

“Yes. Pretty much. Like freezing to death.”

“Why do you say that?” she said, sounding hurt, which he found hard to believe. In his experience, Paulina had shown little patience for, or evidence of, such quaint little notions of humanity.

“It’s the best way I can describe it,” he said.

“Oh-kay.” She didn’t care.

Willy sighed. He rolled back over, away from her, and looked out the window. In the black night sky, lightning flashed a pale blue show among the distant clouds. A summer storm in mid-pop, not expected but not entirely unexpected, either.

Raindrops spattered against the window, soft taps at first that quickly transitioned into heavy gunfire on the glass, echoing across the canyon of silence between man and woman.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Paulina said at last, standing up. “But, I have an idea that I have been thinking about. I will talk to you about it when I come out.”

“Fine,” he said.

“I’ll be right back. It’s a good idea. You will love it. Trust me.”

It rained, harder.

The X-Files: yes.

For those out there who just aren’t getting the X-FILES revival, let me help you: it was the best show ever aired on television. Not network television. Any television. If you aren’t that familiar with it (or plain just don’t believe me), go to Netflix and stream these episodes, most of which don’t even involve the larger UFO-conspiracy stuff:

“Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” (Season 3)
“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (Season 3)
“Beyond the Sea” (Season 1)
“Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” (Season 4)
“Elegy” (Season 4)
“The Post-Modern Prometheus” (Season 5)
“Bad Blood” (Season 5)
“Triangle” (Season 6)
“Humbug” (Season 2)

Worth it.

And for what it’s worth, the 6-episode “event series” is off to a great start – it lives and breathes exactly like the original run. Is it as good? Not quite. But then again, nothing is that good.

So long, True Detective. We will miss you.

My thought about the True Detective finale: as a season ender, greatness. Moody, haunting, and thought provoking, just like we all wanted. But as a series ender — and let’s face it, this series is over, with brand new characters and storyline for next year — it didn’t quite fulfill the promise of what came before. Too many threads and allusions left unattended. I’ll take this back if they pick up the storyline next season, using different main characters to attack it from another angle, but I haven’t seen any suggestion that’s happening.

And here’s one SPOILER ALERT: that spinning blue vortex at the end could work so much better if they would just stop saying it was one of Rust’s drug flashback hallucinations. (Or so I have read in a few reviews and interviews today.) Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if they left it open to interpretation?

Piss-Poor Storytelling: WALKING DEAD edition

Fair warning: there are huge massive gigantic powerful ***SPOILERS*** below. If you haven’t yet watched Sunday night’s episode of THE WALKING DEAD, read no further, unless you want me to give away the sequence where one of my all-time favorite shows finally bit the big one. (Nice pun, huh?) Then again, maybe you should just read on and let me ruin it for you rather than sit through it yourself.

Seriously, Hershel’s death. You have got to be kidding me. The way it played out was awful, and spit in the eye of decent storytelling in a way that I didn’t think The Walking Dead could ever do.

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about the basic fact that the man died. He was going to die sooner or later because ALL characters on this show are going to die sooner or later, except for Daryl (who will flat kill Death) and maybe Rick’s son Carl, who I’m afraid might never go away because he now owns Andrea’s position as “the one character that can’t die fast enough to suit me.” (Although we did get rid of her eventually, so hope springs, I guess.) Yes, we get it, death is the theme of the show. The world is hard. Only the strong survive. Even nice folks die. Hope is lost, people are bad, in a land of the dead it’s the living you have to worry about, the walking dead are really the people who are left alive, etc. etc..

So, yeah. I long ago accepted that, eventually, Hershel Greene would be a goner. “Eventually” turned out to be the Season 4 mid-year finale, which was sooner than I would have liked (and judging by the fan reaction I’ve seen, it was sooner than most people would have liked). But the WAY they killed Hershel last night… I think it might have ruined the whole show for me.

The gist is this: there is a right way to kill off major characters, and there is a wrong way. My favorite show of the moment, Boardwalk Empire, does it the right way.

***HERE COME MORE SPOILERS, ESPECIALLY FOR MY DARLING WIFE LESLIE, WHO DOESN’T KNOW WHAT’S COMING ON BOARDWALK EMPIRE LIKE I DO.***

At the end of Season 2, Boardwalk killed off what was to that point the show’s single greatest character: Jimmy Darmody, the wounded soul that came home from World War I wondering why he hadn’t died there, then spent two years searching for himself before finally being gunned down by his one-time father figure Nucky Thompson in an ending that would have gotten a standing ovation from Shakespeare himself. (Jimmy went willingly to his death, just like Lefty in Donnie Brasco and Fredo Corleone in The Godfather Part II, which, now that I think of it, are two more perfect endings. These gangster stories get it right.) After that, Jimmy’s disfigured fellow WWI veteran Richard Harrow — the only guy in the show with a more heartwrenching story than Jimmy — continued as the soul of Boardwalk, the character we loved despite all of the ugly acts he committed, as he sought his way out right up until the moment he died, shot through and bleeding under the boardwalk in the last episode of Season 4.

(Actually, Richard Harrow didn’t become my favorite character after Jimmy died. He was the reason I started watching Boardwalk Empire in the first place, my favorite character from the moment I caught him in a brief scene while flipping through HBO one night. His line, “It occurred to me the basis of fiction is that people have some sort of connection with each other. But they don’t,” is one of the simpler, sadder things ever said by anybody.)

So that’s Jimmy Carmody and Richard Harrow, both from Boardwalk Empire, not coincidentally the best show on TV right now. They were two characters that seemed doomed from the start – just like Hershel – and yet when their end finally came, it felt earned. It felt like the right way.

***BOARDWALK EMPIRE SPOILERS ENDED***

The Walking Dead used to do it the right way, too. Clearly, at least, they know how to do it. See, among others: Shane, Dale, and my personal favorite, Sophia. Merle, and Milton. The crawling woman zombie in the first episode. The crazy scientist at the CDC. This show has proven that when it wants to, it can provide a satisfying send-off for a beloved character. And even in the case of Andrea, they provided one for a character I hated. (Don’t you look at me like I’m the only one!)

So, after building a great character in Hershel – who has been unquestionably the most noble person on the show for two years running now — did the folks behind The Walking Dead give the man a great send-off, befitting such a profoundly decent soul?

Uh, no.

Of course they didn’t.

Here’s what they gave him: Hershel dies on his knees, at the hands of the Governor, who cuts his head off with a sword. THE GOVERNOR DECAPITATES HERSHEL. But wait, it’s not that simple. The Governor cleaves Hershel in the neck, then, as Hershel is trying to crawl away, pounces on him and finishes the job with a few more hacks. So, our last vision of one of the two or three best characters on the show is his headless body lying on the ground. And that’s it.

No last words. No drama. Absolutely nothing. Hack, hack, dead. Maudlin reaction shots from the prison crowd, then BOOM! Bullets are flying and everybody is trying to get the hell out of there.

Piss-poor storytelling.

What exactly was the point of doing that, other than cheap shock and special effects? Doesn’t The Walking Dead pride itself on being so much more? Couldn’t they have come up with something that served the overall story better? How about this: instead of that annoying woman with the daughter and sister, what if it was Carol that the Governor found? What if he took her back to the prison, to intimidate Rick, then killed her to set off the shitstorm? That would have been a nice circle – Carol loses herself when she gives in to violence by murdering the two sick people earlier in the season, then ultimately gets murdered herself by a truly sadistic killer. That death could also give Rick some great guilt since he was the one who sent her out to the world in the first place, and yeah, BTW that death right in front of Rick and Daryl would also have set off the same firefight that we saw between the prison folks and the Governor’s tank team. We could wrap up the Carol storyline, the Governor storyline, and the prison plotlines all at once, losing a couple of weaker characters in one neat finale while strengthening the story on the whole.

That, my friends, is economic storytelling.

Then again, if that annoying woman and her daughter hadn’t come around we never would have gotten to see the mean ol’ Governor shoot the poor little girl in the head after she got munched by a mud zombie. And I guess that moment was important to the show’s writers, just in case, you know, we forgot that the Governor was a bad person, had lost whatever was left of his soul, saw the world in stark kill-or-be-killed terms, wore an eyepatch, etc. Just like it was important that other little girl shoot the bad lady in the forehead because kids grow up quicker than we ant them to in this harsh world, there is no such thing as innocence, sometimes you have to fight violence with violence, Lord of the Flies, etc. etc.

Anyway, Carol’s still wandering out there, alive and well and bound to come back in the latter half of Season 4. Whatever.

After all the stirring death scenes they’ve given us – like Dale, Shane, and Sophia (my favorite of all) – we were robbed with Hershel. Hell, like I said, even Andrea had a good death – not to mention one that was true to her character. Hershel’s fate wasn’t true to anything. They took arguably the most beloved character on the show – actually, that is downright inarguable — and gave him a death that could have been died a hundred times by a hundred other generic faces. What was the point of that? To show how OOOH CRAZY! the Governor is? LOOK AT THE GOVERNOR. HE’S MEAN! HE’S CRAZY! HE KILLS PEOPLE! It’s safe to say, that was already established. And just in case you needed that little extra bit of proof, may I remind you: he shot a little girl in the head. A little girl! In the head! He’s so damn crazy!

(He’s also a stupid, poorly drawn cartoon character that doesn’t fit in the rest of the show. It’s like the writers can’t resist moments of, “Look at the Governor! What a bad man!” “Look at his face in the flames, he’s so evil!” “Look at what he did to Milton, his right hand man!” “Look at what he did to Andrea!” “Look at that, he shot all those people!” “He’s wild! He’s crazy!” Yes. The Governor is wild. The Governor is crazy. We get that, by God. You know what else he is? Boring. He single-handedly made Season 3 the absolute worst of all and he’s nearly brought down Season 4, too. That’s an article for another time, though. This one is for Hershel.)

When you build a successful character like Hershel, you get people to invest in that character. It’s your greatest goal as a storyteller. You want your audience to care about what happens to their favorite characters so that they go along for the full ride with you. In hindsight, it would have made more sense and been a much more fitting ending if he’d just succumbed in the prison a few episodes back, heroically trying to save all those sick people. There’s actually a part of me that thinks the whole reason they sealed off the infected wing of the prison was so Hershel could die at that door, with the walkers closing in and his daughters safe on the other side of the glass. But alas, the show didn’t have the balls to go full-on Wrath of Khan and I guess it’s been done a few times anyway. Still would have been better than what we got, though.

And so, here we are. A spectacular show having suffered a serious, self-inflicted wound. A once-great series possibly ruined by the ill- conceived and poorly executed death of one of its best characters. The creators of The Walking Dead have put a lot of effort into building their characters and making it actually mean something when they died. Hershel was one of their best, which is why it’s so disappointing to see how it went down. With Hershel, we cared. We did from the moment we met him in that big farmhouse in Season 2. There was a great end waiting for him somewhere, but instead, he got his head hacked off with a sword.

‘preciate ya,
Aaron

BTW
The Governor sucked. He was a half-assed character and I’m glad he’s finally dead. There’s another spoiler for you.