I’ll be mostly off for the rest of the week, doing holiday and holiday-adjacent things with my family and friends. I hope you all are getting some time to rest up and recharge, and I’ll see you around for occasional posts (including a belated Boardwalk Empire open thread).
This post contains spoilers through the Nov. 20 episode of The Walking Dead.
Last night on The Walking Dead, the prospect of new life, whether in the form of a pregnancy, a revitalized sex drive, or the dream of a cure for “Mom. Sean. Mr. and Mrs. Fisher. Lacy. Duncan,” got everyone in trouble.
First, there’s the question of the walkers in the barn, fed by chickens and kept safe. Dale, providing at least half-successfully wily, lets Hershel know he knows what’s up without implicating Glen, only to find himself in a moral debate with their host. Hershel’s upset by the walker’s death at the well, suggesting it was coarsening. “You killed a person,” he tells Dale. “We don’t shoot sick people…My wife and stepson are in that barn. They’re people.” But he has the benefit of isolation, something that still doesn’t quite strike me as plausible. And Maggie has their beliefs on that score challenged when she’s attacked by a walker in the pharmacy and saved only by Glen’s brutal and brutally efficient intervention. But the budding affection between them is too much for her. “You’re smart, you’re a leader, but your friends don’t see it,” Maggie tells Glen. “They don’t want to see it. You’re just their errand boy. Walker in the well? Send Glen down. You’re walker bait.” Rick and his people may be right about what it takes to survive, but Hershel may be right that it’s cost them something along the way.
Then, there’s the matter of Lori’s abortion. Maggie’s right that there’s something horrible about Lori making Glen take risks for her, particularly for something she’s not even sure will work. And I appreciate that the show suggested it would be entirely reasonable for Lori to not want to bring a child into a zombie-ridden world. “I got a deep well to draw on. I still remember joy. But I think Carl’s is already running dry,” she explains. I understand that keeping her pregnant makes the show more complicated and provides a lot of dramatic tension, or as Glen puts it, “You’re pregnant. You need vitamins. Medicine. A nice pillow.” And it’s interesting that the show presented her decision to vomit up the morning-after pills as less rational than trying to go through with an abortion. But it’s still a fairly typical television approach to abortion on television: get absolutely up to the edge of the prospect, then back aggressively away from it.
And then, as Lori decides to have Rick’s child, Shane and Andrea, hyped up by stress, have sex in a car and return to Hershel’s farm changed. What will it mean for Lori, who’s been unable to do the right thing and relinquish her hold over Shane, to see his affections shifted. What will it mean for Dale to have Andrea revitalized, not reliant on him for her ties to life and to the group? In a world dominated by death, the life force, and the hope it engenders, can be awfully dangerous.
In yesterday’s post about biopics, I wrote that “we need a more creative approach to biopics that’s oriented towards truly great stories instead of just the most famous people who a talented actor would enjoy impersonating.” Today, Hollywood gives me exactly what I want! (I really should make demands more often.) Apparently, a biopic’s under way about Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who, though he wouldn’t carry a gun, at great personal risk worked as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa and saved the lives of 75 men who were wounded. He also won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The story poses really interesting challenges: I can’t wait to see someone dramatize a major action sequence where the main character can’t, or won’t participate, which I assume has to be a really difficult stance to maintain in the midst of a battle people later named the Typhoon of Steel.* And given how far we are from the last American draft, I wonder if audiences who have never had to face the prospect of being forced to go to a war they’d rather not fight personally will have trouble relating to Doss’ character. But even if this was fiction, it would be a pretty creative take on action and war movies. And the fact that it’s true just makes it astonishing.
*Side note: how has George R.R. Martin not stolen that title?
I’m running around New York today, so no links, except a wish that someone would make me a Breaking Bad-Breaking Dawn supercut. Walter White would never let his daughter marry one of the undead.
Because I have a tendency to make foolish decisions while in New York, I let a group of my friends talk me into seeing Breaking Dawn. As will surprise no one, even aesthetic and feminist objections aside, it’s not a good movie: the shots are endless and empty without meaningful dialogue to fill them, the action sequences are incomprehensible and lack even the slightest tension, and for all the vampire wealth we’re supposed to be lavished with, the sets often look ugly and cheap. There are bits and pieces that suggest the missed opportunities had someone had the fortitude to do some real surgery on the novel: a series of very funny wedding toasts, some nonsense with lingere, a nicely nervous loss-of-virginity prep. And it tip-toes up to something very interesting and scary about pregnancy before walking away.
In the movie, as in the book, Bella finds herself unexpectedly and terrifyingly pregnant with a rapidly-growing fetus that does her great harm — starving her, kicking her bruised, breaking her ribs and ultimately her spine. I don’t agree with everything in this essay, but I agree it’s a good, scary metaphorization of the huge things one’s body goes through when one gets pregnant. And in the movie, it’s horrifying. Bella becomes a living corpse, and not one that sparkles in the sunlight. She’s terrifyingly emaciated. She’s bruised. Her hair is dirty. When her labor begins and her baby breaks her spine, it’s one of the scariest things I’ve seen on screen all year, and I’m not being facetious — it’s a body doing something it’s not meant to, and it’s sickening. The c-section via Edward’s teeth is shot such that it’s a deeply uncomfortable riff on oral sex. It all could have been more lurid, but it’s the one part of the movie where writer Melissa Rosenberg (no relation) and director Bill Condon really seemed to commit.
Of course they, and the novel, back away from the horror. Bella gives birth to an angel who entrances her best friend, rather than to a monstrosity. She survives her horrific birth and is transformed into a being more beautiful than she ever was as a human. It’s an inverse of Rosemary’s Baby, promising that no matter what you endure, everything will be fine, no need to worry about your health, or any anxieties you might have about motherhood. I still think that a real aversion to having children, or even an antipathy to them in general, is one of the few views that remains fairly taboo in popular culture, where motherhood rules over almost any other alternate priority. Breaking Dawn may make a bunch of its vampires straw pro-choices, treating them as if they’re dumb and insensitive for valuing a sister-in-law they love over a child they don’t know. But it’s not really willing to have an honest debate about what motherhood means after you give birth.
I’m not usually exceptionally fond of either contrarianism or remakes, but I’m going to buck a trend here and say I’m kind of excited about a darkish reboot of The Munsters. We’re certainly seeing a bit of a trend towards the horrifying on television this fall: if American Horror Story can sell people on Connie Britton eating brains, I guess anything is possible. And Grimm is doing something I appreciate, increasingly partnering up straight-man-to-the-point-of-invisibility Nick with a Big Bad Wolf. But both Ryan Murphy’s wannabe-transgressive drama and NBC’s semi-bland procedural essentially use monsters in the same way, to test the extent to which there’s a bit of a wild thing inside all of us normals before reasserting our essential humanity. Instead, I’d like to see a show about what it’s like to be a monster in America, something as proudly but a little less triumphalist than The Addams Family. What does it mean to grow up really, profoundly different, without the promise of a big-city gay community or the rise of hipster glasses as a fashion trend to power you through? What does it mean to find your community — and your family — and what would you do to protect it from outsiders? America’s pretty quick to kill or assimilate the things it sees as monsters. We’re less good at making art that at the things we can’t eliminate easily or decisively.
This post contains spoilers through the Nov. 20 episode of Homeland.
“Call him a terrorist. What happened here won’t matter very much.” -The FBI’s liaison to the CIA on the Tom Walker detail
“I’m going to be alone my whole life, aren’t I?” -Carrie
Tonight brought another twist in the mystery of what happened to Brody in Afghanistan and who he is now. But I think I’ve decided that I don’t much care about the final destination of this show as long as it keeps taking us to these fascinating, heartbreaking places. Whether Brody is guilty, innocent, or merely beyond our comprehension, Homeland is, I think, a story about how our country breaks our hearts.
On a policy level first, the botched apprehension of Tom Walker pulled together three central themes of the show. First, Carrie turned out to be wrong about the extent to which she could wrangle Walker’s traumatized wife, who made a grand, stupid gesture to try to absolve herself for the sin of moving on. But she was right to order caution in the raid, and disaster resulted when the FBI ignored her, leaving two men dead at prayers and the Muslim community up in arms. Second, that tragedy continued the show’s dedication to finding beauty in prayer: the agents’ sights picked out the iconic arches in a mosque that from the outside was so non-descript, it looked like a warehouse. And finally, it was an example of a government agency being so callous about Islam that it would be nice to believe it wasn’t true, though of course it mirrors an ugly reality.
Then, there’s the human heartbreak of the work-service to country can be salvation and damnation both. Saul, mounting a last-ditch effort to make Mina stay, compares himself to Walker, saying their fatal flaws are that they both love their wives. But of course he has it wrong, admitting, too late, that “I always come when they call me.” And even in his own home, there’s someone he loves more than his wife. Twice Carrie’s come to his home in tense moments with Mina, and twice Saul’s admitted her. He can take time to chastise Carrie and to comfort her, but not to save his marriage.
Then, there’s Jess, who is in an agony of guilt, and Brody trying to absolve her and himself. What pulls them together is an invitation to a party thrown by a power-broker from their church with political plans for the Brodys. It turns out that playing perfect saves them. Their children watch for the arrival of a hired car like it’s something far more powerful than a prosaic sedan, and when the parents return home, drunk and excited by having lived up to the imaginations of powerful people who see the promise of America in them, their children are sober, placid, and watching uniquely American dreck. It may not last, but a single night of Ice Age, popcorn, and accord feels like heaven.