“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”
August 22nd, 2010
Ted, the Don Draper-equivalent over at rival agency CGC, is not in Don Draper’s league: he is neither visionary nor genius, and yet by virtue of his insistence that he is a competitor he has been elevated to Don’s level. It’s the ultimate example of self-definition, of putting something out there (in this case, to the New York Times) and then turning it into reality. It doesn’t matter that Jai Alai went with another agency because its owner is delusional, or that Clearasil was a conflict rather than business lost: as it would appear to the outside world, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lost two accounts and CGC (under Ted’s leadership) gained both of them.
“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” is filled with various examples of situations where appearance becomes reality, to the point where it even becomes a meta-narrative when the series’ positioning of Betty as a child-like figure becomes rendered in three-dimensions. It’s not the most pleasant or subtle of episodes, but it ends up making some fairly interesting observations regarding Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as an agency, as well as the series’ general approach to simulating the past.
“Shame, Shame, Shame”
May 9th, 2010
There is a certain familiarity within Treme that has seemed a little bit foreign in the early stages of the series – community is obviously a key theme for the series, but it seems like everyone knows everyone else, or at least seem to know everyone who they need to know in order to allow Simon and Overmeyer to make the arguments they want to make. It just so happens that Lambreaux knows a city councilor, and it turns out that Ladonna’s brother worked at Janette’s restaurant, and it seems Toni Bernette represents just about everyone in this city. There’s a point where we start to wonder just how all of these connections could be possible, moments that pull us out of the sense of “realism” and authenticity the show seems to be trying to capture (and which Christopher Cwynar wrote about here).
And yet, “Shame, Shame, Shame” opens with a dream sequence, which is precisely the opposite of realistic and yet which sort of places everything into perspective. There is a certain level of spiritual fantasy to New Orleans, a lyricism which the show wants to be able to capture: it wants to show people struggling in the wake of the storm, certainly, but it also wants to emphasize that they are always part of a community, and what better way to capture that than by having them know one another, or at the very least having their paths intersect more than we could have imagined. The show’s various cameos are not so much meant to overwhelm us with star power (although tonight’s got to me for reasons I’ll get into after the jump) as they are to place these characters within “real” communities, providing them a sense of hope within a situation that isn’t going to be getting better anytime soon.
Sure, there are occasionally moments when things seem a bit too serendipitous, but there are enough moments where this episode nicely delineates between hope and reality that I think I’m along for the ride.
May 9th, 2010
Serialized television is more or less defined by consequences: while all television series feature actions and reactions, what defines a series as serialized is when those actions have consequences which extend into the following episodes. We’re meant to remember what happened in the past because it will affect what happens in the future, and the show revels in the ironies or tragedies which result from these remembrances.
The Pacific is effectively a meditation on the serialization of life, or the ways in which war erases one’s memory of anything but the drudgery these soldiers experienced in battles like Iwo Jima or Okinawa; we remember that Eugene Sledge started out as an innocent child because we’ve seen his story in a serialized form, but Sledge himself has forgotten his former self in ways that human beings are not supposed to. At the same time, though, “Part Nine” plays out like a terrifying series of actions and consequences, trapping these characters within an environment where one small mistake leads to a chain reaction of events that leaves men dead and dying.
The only way you can cope, perhaps, is to forget about what came before, to ignore the decisions that brought you to this point and focus solely on the nature of survival. However, as much as you might want to shut off the man you were before as you fight your way through a battlefield more terrible than you can imagine, you can’t help but remain haunted by who you used to be, and “Part Nine” presents a horrifying image of that futility which stands as a series highlight.
April 25th, 2010
It’s been a while (three weeks, in fact) since I’ve checked in with HBO’s miniseries, and I want to go back for a moment to the first scene in last week’s “Part Six.” The episode begins in Mobile, Alabama, where Sidney Phillips nearly gives the Sledgehammer’s parents a heart attack by showing up unannounced. After being graciously welcomed into the home once their fears were put to rest, he sits at the dinner table and informs the concerned parents that Eugene is not in too much danger, and that he isn’t worried about Eugene.
However, just so we’re clear: I am indescribably worried about Eugene, just as I am worried about every character whose name I don’t even know but whose face is etched into my mind. Part of what makes The Pacific, and Band of Brothers before it, so arresting is how it puts faces to people who were marching to their death, who were part of gruesome slaughters and conditions you couldn’t imagine. While special effects and production design work to capture those conditions, the true function of the Miniseries is to force us to look the young soldiers in the eye before they are gunned down while running across an airfield, facing the harsh reality of not only war but death itself. Sidney Phillips, having seen what we have seen (and lived it far more than we could have), is lying to Eugene Sledge’s parents: he may have more faith in Eugene than in the other soldiers, but he is worried about him as much as we are.
“Part Seven” is like a trip through Eugene’s worst nightmares, with brief moments of levity shattered moments later by unspeakable horrors; for every moment of hope on Peleliu there is fifteen moments of terror, and for all of the maturity that the Sledgehammer has portrayed over these past few weeks after entering the conflict there is no one who would not break down under these conditions.
March 21st, 2010
The Pacific is a show designed to tell the story of a war through the story of three men, but sometimes this isn’t a particularly easy task. Sometimes war is about the inhumane, the loss of identity and humanity amidst absolute chaos, at which point following characters seems almost counterintuitive. In other moments, meanwhile, conflicts become entirely personal, becoming disconnected from the “why” of the war and the big picture and becoming about one man battling against the enemy, or one company struggling to hold the line against an invading force.
“Part Two” is all about how these two perspectives start to speak to one another, how a large-scale offensive can become a personal tragedy and how the personal struggles of these soldiers are not being done for nothing. It’s not a substantially different story than “Part One,” but it uses the sameness to its advantage by avoiding desensitization and delivering some intense dramatic action.
March 14th, 2010
As an “amateur” television critic, I don’t receive screeners in advance, which means that I was not amongst those who received the entirety of HBO’s The Pacific, the followup to the channel’s Band of Brothers, a month ago. This would normally be a bit annoying, in that it means that Sepinwall’s review is up as soon as the first part finished while I’m putting this together two hours later, but I think with The Pacific that it’s probably for the best.
In some ways, I don’t want “Part One” of this miniseries to have time to sink in, time for me to really pull together my thoughts. With material of this nature, material that is meant to capture tense moments in the midst of an uncertain conflict, there is some value to just responding to what you witnessed, considering how and why the show goes about creating those responses. A masterpiece in dramatic pacing, “Part One” depicts the silence in chaos, the inhumanity of survival, and reminds us that many of the young men who went to war knew as little about war as they know about what they plan on doing with the rest of their lives.
In other words, it’s just like Band of Brothers except for all the ways in which it is quite dramatically different; in short, it’s fantastically engaging television.
“They Thought Godzilla was Walking Down the Street”
September 27th, 2009
There’s a point in the 15th Season Premiere of the 7-time Emmy winning The Amazing Race where Sam and Dan (the gay brothers) note that they have a problem: at various point in the race, both of them step up to be the leader and the result is a heated argument in Vietnam and a delayed arrival at the pit stop. At heart of that moment, and this episode, is the idea of leadership, of being able to find an individual dynamic that allows two teammates (who could be very similarly or very different) to trust one another to get to the mat in first place.
Leadership was the central theme in a premiere that challenges racers to herd large groups of both people and fowl, something that is challenging for one person when they don’t speak the language but which becomes even more difficult when you have two people who can’t decide who the leader is, or when you have one teammate completing a task while another yells at them from the nearby gazebo. The teams that succeed on the race are those who are able to establish a team, which operates in such a way that they each lead one another, and where splitting them apart or asking them to lead others sees them shifting roles to fit the situation.
This year’s premiere isn’t quite as emotional as last year’s, nor does it feature such an intense finish line dash, but over its two hours we get to see a good balance of tasks which test the fortitude of these teams, challenge their ability to handle both luck and the game’s contrivances, and perhaps most importantly answers the question of whether or not Phil Keoghan would make a good Japanese Game Show host (the answer? Of course he would.). It’s an enjoyable return for a show that I really enjoy, although one which is particularly tough to cover in the early going.