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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The Leftovers, Season 2

Look, I knew that The Leftovers was a bizarre show.  Kish and I watched it faithfully (pun intended) last year, found it weird but fascinating, and were primed for this season — which has turned out, if anything, be even stranger and more inexplicable than the first.

In season two, we get glimpses of a social order, and people, falling apart, now years after part of the world’s population suddenly vanished.  People are still trying to figure out what happened, and one set of investigators suggests that its simply geometry run amok — and that it will probably happen again.  A man digs up a body of a woman who dies from a punctured jugular vein, goes to the police to confess his presence when she dies, and is simply released by a police officer because the woman is a member of a hated cult.  People are flocking to Miracle, Texas, because no one supposedly vanished from that town, but not everyone can get in.  And the encampment of the unfortunate — who have been left behind, in effect, a second time — is a toxic mix of filth, perversion, and religion.

The characters each are moving along their own arc, too.  Kevin Garvey continues to sleepwalk, now seems to be suicidal in his slumber, and is routinely counseled by the dead cultist — and now he’s starting to talk back to her.  His daughter seems at peace with the weirdness, but his son looks to be on the cusp of starting his own hug-based evangelical movement.  And his girlfriend Nora Durst — our favorite character — is willing to do just about anything to try to get back to a normal life, from spending $3 million on a ramshackle house in Miracle to adopting a baby left on her doorstep to handcuffing herself to her sleepwalking boyfriend before they go to bed at night to making anonymous phone calls that will allow her to smuggle her brother and his comatose wife back into Miracle.  Her moxie and her willingness to do whatever it takes to try to have a real life are enormously appealing.

And speaking of Miracle . . . well, something’s not right there.  There are earthquakes, and a hermit who lives on a downtown flagpole, and a kind of armed camp feel.  High school girls are glimpsed running naked through the woods.  People have disappeared, even though the general public won’t admit it yet, and one of the chief citizens is just angry at the world and his predicament.  He’s willing to burn down the house of a friend who he thinks is a charlatan, and he lurches between normalcy and simmering rage — and he nevertheless is somehow one of the most likable people in the town.

And then a guy with a goat appears.  Sometimes the goat gets its throat cut in a busy cafe during lunch hour for no readily apparent reason, sometimes the goat trots by without incident, and sometimes the goat is hit by a car.

We watch the show with keen interest (and some dread) and we wonder:  what the heck is up with the goats?  We really are enjoying this season’s voyage into weirdness.

The Return Of Twin Peaks

The BBC is reporting that, according to creator David Lynch, Twin Peaks will be returning to your TV screen, in a series that will air on the Showtime network in 2016.

There’s not much news about the new show, other than that Lynch and Mark Frost, who created the original series, will write and produce all nine episodes of the new series.  No word on whether the Log Lady, dancing midgets, Agent Dale Cooper, lots of coffee, the White Room, or any of the other mainstays of the original series will be returning.

I wonder if the success of The Leftovers and some of the other bizarre TV series of the current day made the return of Twin Peaks possible.  The Leftovers is weird, but I maintain that Twin Peaks was the most otherworldly, head-scratching, chillingly strange TV show ever broadcast.  It had a certain hypnotic creepiness that made it impossible to miss.

I have no idea what the new show will be like, or how it will relate (if at all) to the old show.  I just know that, when the new series kicks off, I’ll definitely be watching.

The Leftovers

Most of our lives are pretty conventional.  We drive to work in the mornings, do our jobs, try to watch our weight, and behave in reasonably appropriate ways in social settings.  If we are going to venture beyond that conventional world, we’re probably going to have to do it through the TV set.

This is why Kish and I are now watching The Leftovers on HBO:  because everyone should watch a TV show that causes them, at regular intervals, to think “What the hell . . . .?”  I loved Twin Peaks — which I would nominate as the single most bizarre TV show ever broadcast on a mainstream network — so this kind of stuff is right up my alley.

The context of The Leftovers is simple.  Three years ago two percent of the world’s population mysteriously vanished, and now the leftovers are trying to deal with it.  I think it’s fair to say that most of them aren’t dealing with it very well, including the chronically unshaven town police chief who is the central character.  His wife has joined a cult, his son is protecting a woman apparently impregnated by a messiah-like figure, and his daughter has gone rogue.

Social order seems to be on the verge of totally breaking down.  Attendance at conventional churches has plummeted.  Lots of cults have since sprung up, including the Guilty Remnant, a white-clothed, chain-smoking, non-talking group that engages in civil disobedience tactics and clashes with townspeople who just want to move on.  One of the signs in the GR enclave says rather, than “let us pray,” “let us smoke.”  Why do they smoke so much?  Is it because they just don’t care if they die horrible, cancer-caused deaths?  Is it because they think breathing and talking are interfering with recognition of what is really happening?  We don’t know, but we hope to find out.  Watching the show is like slowly peeling back the layers of an onion.

Each episode, inevitably, some oddball incident occurs that makes you wonder whether any of what we are seeing is reality, rather than the fevered dream of a person in a coma.  A mystical deer trashes a kitchen, then gets chased and devoured by a pack of now-feral dogs on a quiet suburban street.  White shirts mysteriously go missing.  A car suddenly stops its standard operation.  And then there are deeply disturbing scenes, such as a brutal stoning of a member of the GR.  Oh, and there is a governmental agency that deals with the cults that seems to exist mostly to dispose of the bodies of cult members who have been killed by the rest of us.  All of this is presented through deep symbolism that I can’t begin to appreciate or even describe.

When Sunday night rolls around, Kish and I are primed for our bracing dip into the cold world of existential, left-behind weirdness.  After watching The Leftovers, we’re ready for just about anything our conventional, everyday worlds might throw at us.

Sunday Night TV Apocalypse

Many Americans begin their Sundays with a visit to the church of their choice and end them with apocalyptic visions — watching TV characters struggle with catastrophic scenarios that have put the human race on the brink of extinction.

Sunday night is the prime TV viewing period in the Webner household and across America.  Lately, though, it seems like every show has an apocalyptic theme.  On Falling Skies, the Earth has been invaded by multiple alien species who are hoping to wipe us off the face of the planet.  On The Last Ship, a weaponized virus has swept across the globe, killing and infecting 80 percent of humans, toppling governments, and leaving only one American ship and one scientist as humanity’s last, best hope for a cure.  And on The Leftovers, two percent of the world’s population has mysteriously vanished, leaving the remaining population to wonder why, struggle with the aftermath, and witness a slow breakdown of the entire social order.  (I recognize there are other apocalyptic TV shows out there, but one couple can only endure so much televised disaster.)

Why are these shows so popular?  For one, Americans like to see people in peril, and have enjoyed it since The Perils of Pauline.  Apocalyptic shows just allow the peril to occur on a much grander scale.  Too, the broad plot lines give ample room for action and adventure, heroism and cowardice, charismatic leaders, people finding inner strength, romance amidst the carnage, and acts of sacrifice and betrayal, and therefore can appeal to just about everyone.  If you like battles, you can watch the freedom fighters on Falling Skies gun down “skitterers” or the Navy personnel on The Last Ship fight al-Qaeda terrorists and rogue Russians.  And occasionally bigger picture questions can be addressed, too.  What is the role of hope in life?  How would ordinary people react to Armageddon?  What role, if any, would religion play when people are dealing with the end of life as we know it?

It’s all very interesting, and it makes for a good night of TV viewing.  And, having immersed ourselves in catastrophe on Sunday night, we awaken on Monday morning refreshed and well positioned to face another week of work.