When All Will Be Revealed

Tomorrow we’ll see the finale of HBO’s Westworld.  We’re being assured that all will be revealed, and after the episode the show will actually make sense.

Yeah, right!  I’ll believe it when I see it.  That’s like expecting triumphant Trump staffers  and bitter Clinton campaign operatives to reach friendly consensus on why Donald Trump won the election, or imagining that fair-minded Michigan fans will freely concede that the referees correctly spotted the ball on the 15-yard line after J.T. Barrett’s fourth-down keeper in the second overtime of this year’s classic version of The Game.

Westworld is right up there with The Leftovers as the most confusing show since Twin Peaks.  It’s so intentionally mystifying that I don’t even try to understand it, or piece together the disparate threads of the plot.  I just wince at the horribly bloody violence that is likely to occur at any tender moment, groan at the show’s troubling core assumption that any human who goes to a fantasy world will promptly turn into a blood-soaked, sex-crazed lunatic, and recognize that any character in the next instant could be revealed as a robot, a cold-blooded killer, a psychopath, or all three.  (I also cringe for the actors who have to routinely sit buck naked on chairs on a sterile set while other characters question them and tap iPads, but that’s another story.)

I’ve stopped trying to figure it all out.  Kish and I watch the show, and I just let it kind of wash over me, rather than struggling to make sense of why Dolores’ outfit changes from instant to instant or why Bernard’s interactions with his fake dead son are so significant.  I realized that the show had reached the point of ridiculousness this past week, when I was walking back from lunch with two friends, one of whom watches Westworld and one of whom doesn’t.  The watcher and I started talking about the show, and after a few minutes of discussion of “Billy” and the possibility that the show’s plot is running along different timelines and the importance of the photo of Billy’s bethrothed and whether the twitching beings at the church Dolores visited were troubled robots looking for some kind of salvation, the non-watcher asked, with a baffled laugh:  “What is this show?”  And I realized that it was all pretty silly.

So I’ll watch the finale, but I’m not expecting that I’ll get everything in this episode, because that sure hasn’t been the case in the past episodes.  I just make one request:  before we move on to “the new narrative,” can you at least let us know what the old narrative was all about?

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Moving Too Far, Too Fast

We all knew that, this season, Game of Thrones the TV show would move past Game of Thrones, the books.  What I didn’t fully appreciate was how far, and how fast, the TV series would progress.

game-of-thrones-season-3-osha-630x355One of the most enjoyable things about the books in my view has been the deliberate pacing.  The stories have taken a long time to unfold, and in the meantime we got to revel in the sigils of the minor houses and what kind of elaborate food was being served at a banquet and the colors and cut of the doublet of some obscure lord who appeared briefly and then vanished from the storyline.  With the TV show, there’s none of that.  Major characters come and go and get knocked off at breakneck pace.

I hate it that characters I really liked are being killed right and left — like the wildling woman who watched after Bran and Rickon after Theon Greyjoy conquered Winterfell — but mostly I’m concerned that the story is just moving too darned fast.  In the George R.R. Martin world, it would have taken 300 succulent pages to get to the point of Daenerys torching the leaders of the Dothraki, and Sansa and Jon Snow resolving to march on Winterfell and try to kill the execrable Ramsay Bolton, but in the series it takes only an episode and a half.  How far are we going to get in the story line this year, anyway?

And that’s the big issue for me.  Much as I think the TV is great, I like the books even better.  What’s going to be left of the plot when this year’s episodes are over?  And if George R.R. Martin doesn’t bring out the next volume until next year’s episodes air, the disconnect is just going to be too much.

Slow down, HBO!

Bad News For A Song Of Ice And Fire Readers

If you are a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series of books, upon which the fine HBO series Game of Thrones is based, you’ve learned to be patient.

776466_510_promo_frames_16_00170187[1].jpgLike me, you’ve read the existing books in the series, reached their end with the epic tale still completely midstream and tantalizing plot threads dangling, did some reading about the pace of Martin’s writing, and realized that the next volume wouldn’t be coming out for years — but the books were so good that you were willing to wait, and wait, and wait, in hopes of seeing where the plot line goes and finding out, at some indeterminate date far, far, far into the future, how the story finally ends.

So when we all heard that the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter, was planned to be released in conjunction with the airing of the next year of Game of Thrones, this coming April, we rejoiced — but many of us also maintained a healthy bit of skepticism and an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude.

Now we learn that that skepticism is justified, as Martin has announced that the book isn’t done, it won’t be released by April, and he doesn’t know, in fact, when it will be finished because the writing is going slower than he anticipated — and this is from a writer who took six years to produce A Dance With Dragons, the last book in the series.  It’s disappointing, but I can’t say it’s really surprising.

So this leads to a quandary:  should the fans of the books and the TV series watch the next season of Game of Thrones, when the storyline moves past the end point of the last book?  I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m going to watch, because the TV show has diverged from the book plotting, anyway.  In my view, the world created by Martin’s fertile imagination is sufficiently rich that it can support two alternative approaches to a great story, and I just can’t wait much longer before I learn about what happens to Jon Snow — in the TV universe, at least.

In the meantime, I’ll wish George R.R. Martin a long, long, long (and productive) life.

A Song Of Fight And Ire

As a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, I view the HBO series Game of Thrones as both a blessing and a curse.

The TV show is a blessing because it helps to fill the Westeros void as we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait for Martin to finish the next installment in the series of epic books.  It’s a curse because the course of the TV show is, increasingly, veering away from the established plot lines of the books.  The variances are both large and small.  Unless you have a complete recall of what happened in A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons — something I cannot claim — you can’t even identify all of them.

There is no way that a TV show could possibly present all of the plot lines in Martin’s vast landscape of characters.  I can understand the Game of Thrones producers taking shortcuts in the storytelling and lopping out characters — like, apparently, the tale of the Iron Islands and Greyjoy clan and the post-death Cat Stark.  Even so, this year the TV show is treading on increasingly thin ice (and fire).  Sansa Stark back at Winterfell and betrothed to the sadistic Ramsay Bolton?  What the hell?  Jamie Lannister off to Dorne on a half-assed mission to retrieve his daughter?  Sir Barristan the Bold killed, and maybe Grey Worm, too?  And where is Bran Stark, anyway?

I still enjoy the TV show, because it is well done and the Martin-inspired tapestry is so rich.  But increasingly I view it as an alternative history of Westeros, the Wall, and the rest of the world, a tantalizing kind of “what if” approach to the characters we’ve come to enjoy while we all bide our time waiting for the release of the next book — which will tell the true story.  And when will that be?  Only George R.R. Martin knows for sure.

Character Study

Sunday night was the series finale episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.  Kish and I have watched the show with pleasure since its inception, and we were very sorry to see it end.  (Spoiler alert:  if you haven’t seen the last episode, you may not want to read this.)

Part of the attraction of this terrific series was its lush recreation of bygone and forgotten places, whether it is Atlantic City in the late 1800s, America in the early days of Prohibition after World War I, or New York City during the grim days of the Depression.  The sense of period accuracy was total, down to the starched collars and spats.  Part of the attraction, too, was the many tremendous performances the show routinely delivered, from Michael Kenneth Williams’ simmering Chalky White, to Jack Huston’s partially masked, tortured Richard Harrow, to Kelly McDonald’s deeply conflicted Margaret Thompson, to Vincent Piazza’s Lucky Luciano, who probably changed more over the more than a decade covered by the show’s story arc than any other character.

It all revolved, however, around Nucky Thompson, as brilliantly portrayed by Steve Buscemi.  The last season, in particular, drilled down to the core of this fabulous character who is loosely based on a real Atlantic City politician.  Through the splices of scenes from his childhood as a straight-laced, polite boy trying to help his sick sister and protect his mother from his abusive father, to his early adulthood as a deputy sheriff trying to lift his family up and making choices that would set his future path, to the fully grown man who was a mixture of master political manipulator, far-sighted visionary, and ruthless criminal, we got to know Nucky as well as you can get to know any TV character.  When Nucky saw the early TV broadcast in the last episode, you just knew that he was looking at it with wonder — but also with an eye toward how he might profit from it in the days to come.

What a complex character Nucky Thompson was!  Consider his relationship with his faithful manservant, Eddie Kessler, who he risked his life to save.  Or his mentoring of Jimmy Darmody, only to turn and kill him in cold blood when Darmody became a rival.  Or his refusal to give up on the ne’er-do-well brother who betrayed him, even to the point of giving Eli a bag of cash (and shaving utensils) so he could clean himself up and reconcile with his wife.  Through it all, Nucky showed a deep understanding of the meaningful people in his life and their motivations, anticipating and defeating their moves against him.

And that’s why I don’t buy the last scene of the show.  I refuse to believe that the Nucky Thompson we came to know could so completely lose touch with the son of Jimmy Darmody and the grandson of Gillian Darmody that he wouldn’t even recognize him and therefore could be shot and killed by him.  Given the significance of the two Darmodys to his life, I think the Boardwalk Empire Nucky would have always kept an eye on the Darmody boy, recognizing him as a potential threat and dealing with it by helping him and co-opting him.  Nucky’s shocking death was a powerful way to end the show, but I just don’t think it was true to the character that I came to know.

Vince Vaughn On True Detective?

HBO has confirmed two of the four leads for the next season of True Detective.  They are Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn.

Wait . . . Vince Vaughn?

Is this the same True Detective that featured tough, riveting, two-fisted portrayals of Louisiana cops by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson?  You know, the one that followed two radically different personalities over a number of years and believably depicted how they became close friends while they were trying to track down a terrible, twisted serial killer?

The same True Detective that Kish and I concluded was one of the very best TV shows we’d ever seen, period?

I thought Vince Vaughn only made stupid, cookie-cutter comedies with Owen Wilson that people stopped going to about five years ago.

HBO is pretty good at casting against type.  Maybe Vince Vaughn is tired of portraying an oily, bloated, fast-talker and wants to get into a serious role that allows him to show he can actually act.  I’m not sure it will work, but it’s certainly an intriguing casting choice.

As for Colin Farrell, if he shows the same acting ability he showed in In Bruges, I’ll buy it.

Silicon Valley

Thank God for HBO On Demand!

I missed Silicon Valley when the show was first aired earlier this year.  Over the weekend, though, I sat and watched all eight episodes from Season One in one sitting, with only an appropriate mid-season bathroom break.  It was tremendous, and I would argue that the final episode of Season One ranks as one of the great single episodes of any TV sitcom, ever — right up there with the Death of Chuckles episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show or the Seinfeld episode about The Contest.

If you haven’t seen the show, the plot is straightforward.  Four computer geeks decide to start their own company, with a product based on an advanced compression algorithm one of them has developed.  The show is a satire of the Silicon Valley culture — drenched in cash, but also insisting that it is altruistically making the world a better place — and is chock full of memorable characters and scenes.  It’s about time we saw a lampooning of the technology/money culture in America, and this show really delivers — with a few detours into Satanism, American immigration policy, technology shows, billionaire egos, and some other sources of hilarity.

The principal actors on the show — Thomas Middleditch as the vomiting software genius, T.J. Miller as the brash and self-deluding Erlich, Martin Starr as the deadpan, Satan-worshipping Gilfoyle, Kumail Nanjiani as the acerbic Dinesh, and Zach Woods as the boring but capable Jared — are spot on in their depiction of nerds and geeks trying to find their way in the cash culture, and the rest of the cast is equally good.  The writing is terrific and sharp.  If you haven’t seen it, give it a try.