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THE LEFTOVERS: The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)

The Leftovers, Kevin Garvey standing in white suit in front of portrait of himself

“This isn’t my first visit to the other side of the world. Each time I’m here, it gets harder and harder to leave.” — Pres. Kevin Garvey, The Leftovers

“Of course this is all happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it isn’t real?” — Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“Everything is… just comes together.” — Aron Ralston, 127 Hours

The penultimate episode to the fantastic and under-appreciated series, The Leftovers, was the most enlightening, explanatory episode of all three seasons (which is no small feat, considering the majority of it follows Kevin through the world of the dead). It also is, quite possibly, the most explanation we may ever get about anything. Take the Departure, the event the series is born from: 2% of the population of Earth suddenly disappears one day. What the foop?! (As Titus Andronmedon would say.) But the series has never really been about where those people went, but about those left behind. How do you cope with an event that no one will ever be able to understand? How do you live with just never knowing why? I don’t think we can expect answers to those questions. And, honestly, I don’t really want them–I feel certain that any explanation would be an underwhelming disappointment.

Co-creator of the show, Damon Lindelof, is no stranger to the grand themes explored in The Leftovers, nor to a show that presents mysteries with clearly no intention of ever solving them. This show has so many echoes of his other series, LOST, that it captures both what was great and what was completely infuriating about that series.

But those themes lend themselves quite well to this story, based (kind of loosely) off of a book by the same name, by author (and series co-creator) Tom Perrotta. The show’s protagonists grapple with faith, existentialism, belief, higher purpose….all with a kinda-maybe-sorta mystical science-fiction thing going on. Is the show going to explain how Kevin can die and come back to life? Apparently not. Does this mean that Kevin is important at all? Maybe not. Do random occurrences just happen, with no meaning behind them whatsoever? Probably. Is that infuriating to learn at the end of the series, once you have already theorized online with other people and have a million questions? KIND OF.

Like LOSTThe Leftovers has relied on creating intriguing mysteries that, ultimately, really have nothing at all to do with the story. LOST never told us what the Island was. It led us on a series-long path to the god-like character of Jacob, only to take him away almost immediately and show how little he mattered to the whole story. But a show filled with characters who have faith in something that maybe isn’t there is a compelling story to tell. It’s just, when Lindelof tells it, you have to wait until the very end to learn that all of those questions you have? Yeah, they don’t have answers. They’re simply catalysts. Like I said…infuriating. 

But he does it so damn well.

The choice of faith.

The Leftovers, Matt Jamison

The Leftovers has presented a dichotomy between choosing to believe in a higher purpose, or choosing to believe in nothing at all. We turn to faith for answers about the world, or we see the events of the world as a random occurrence, and we react accordingly. Following the Departure, Pastor Matt believes even more than he ever did before that he is God’s instrument. Whereas Kevin’s ex-wife, Laurie, joins the Guilty Remnant cult, where they believe that nothing matters at all. Matt searches for a reason for the Departure. The Guilty Remnant sees no reason in anything, including being alive.

Nora, whose entire family departed, works for the Department of Sudden Departure, an agency investigating whether there are any links between the people who departed, in order to find any kind of explanation whatsoever. Her job is to visit the homes of people whose loved ones Departed and ask them a series of questions from a questionnaire. She asks questions as seemingly inconsequential as, “To your knowledge, did the departed have any food allergies,” or, “To your knowledge, did the departed enjoy cooking;” questions that suggest a scientific approach, “To your knowledge, did the departed regularly use aerosol hairspray and or deodorant;” and questions that insinuate that a higher power may have had a hand in this, “To your knowledge, did the departed ever attempt suicide,” or, “in your opinion, was the departed a charitable person?”

Nora leans in to her pain. In season one, she puts on a bullet proof vest and regularly hires hookers to shoot her in the chest. And while she investigates fraud following the Departure (people who claim they have some sort of answer), she also participates in it (hugging Holy Wayne of season one, and now entering a machine in season three that claims to Depart people using radiation). But she also only wants to believe it. She’s furious at the world–her job in the Department of Sudden Departure demonstrates how hell-bent she is on exposing fraud, and how offended she is that anyone would try and capitalize on her pain, which she clearly believes she has more of than anyone else.

There is simply too much about this show to unpack in one essay. And this particular essay is about the episode, “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother).” Like I said, this episode provided answers. For three seasons, we’ve been following Kevin Garvey through his seeming psychosis, consistently speaking with a dead person tethered to him (the inimitable Anne Dowd, as Patti Levin, the leader of the Guilty Remnant). Through Kevin’s character arc, we are exposed to many of the mysteries of the show. In season one, we see him black out for long periods of time, not knowing what happened to him, and not knowing what is and isn’t real. In season two, we see him take increasingly more dangerous measures to rid himself of the dead Patti, culminating in his death and rebirth. And in season three, we see a Kevin who seems to have it together on the outside, but is also duct-taping a bag to his head when he’s alone in his bedroom.

And we see him come to the conviction that he has a Messiah-like purpose; a mission, a reason.

“Why does it matter?”

And that’s where we open in “The Most Powerful Man in the World.” Kevin, who told Laurie an episode earlier, that he had never felt more alive than when he had died the last time, is convinced he must drown, return to the other world he visited to rid himself of Patti in season two, and learn a song that will stop a flood that may or may not be coming to destroy the world. Kevin feels a sense of importance, ready to drown with a series of tasks that he goes over before submerging–find Evie and tell her she was loved (the message from John), find Faith’s children and ask them where their shoes went when they died, and most importantly, find Christopher Sunday, the aboriginal Kevin Sr. sought out, and learn the song that will stop the rain. And so, with these missions and a staunch dedication to a purpose he believes he has, Kevin allows himself to be drowned.

And now we’re seeing a sequel, of sorts, to the season two episode in which Kevin dies the first time, “International Assassin.” Post-death, he emerges from the ocean on a secluded beach in Australia. Once again, no clothes (which we’re all okay with). Immediately, a Russian man tries to kill him. He is saved by, lo and behold, good-old dog-killer Dean, who takes him to a hut a ways down the beach and gives him his assignment–he must assassinate the President of the United States. But first, he must destroy all reflective surfaces, as that is how “they found him” at all to begin with (“they” being the enemy we haven’t been introduced to yet). Shoving an earpiece in Kevin’s ear, we hear the voice of “God,” AKA David Burton, the man mauled by a lion two episodes prior to this, and the man who met Kevin on the afterlife bridge right before he pushed Patti into the well.

The Leftovers, David Burton talking to Kevin on bridge

And guess what? We finally learn what he whispered in Kevin’s ear on that bridge! He whispered, “You’re the most powerful man in the world.” You’ll also remember that he told Kevin on that bridge that what was happening was more real than Kevin even knew. This is an important piece of the puzzle.

There’s also a typewriter in the room with him, where Kevin is apparently writing a romance novel. Dean reads out loud the line, “He stood on the bow of The Merciful. The water endlessly stretching to the infinite horizon as he contemplated the impossible distance between them but he would not stop until he found her.” More on this later.

Kevin notices a scar on his chest as he is informed that his target is getting ready to launch a nuclear attack that will destroy the world, and he must put a stop to it. But Kevin demands something in exchange–he needs to talk to Evie, Faith’s children, and Christopher Sunday, who is the Prime Minister of Australia in this world. Cue God in Kevin’s earpiece: Look into the shard of the mirror that Dean smashed.

Kevin does, and we cut to a clean-shaven Kevin, standing at a podium in a white suit, addressing a cheering crowd. With teleprompters feeding him a speech, Kevin realizes that he is the President, and that he speaks on behalf of The Guilty Remnant. And there, in the front row, are Faith’s children, dressed in white, ready to perform a skit they prepared on the futility and pointlessness of the family. None of them are wearing shoes.

So Kevin, ready to accomplish his first important mission, asks them why they aren’t wearing shoes. And one of the children, a boy, responds, “Why does it matter?” And because in this world, Faith’s kids are in the Guilty Remnant, nothing matters, especially a family member who wanted to know. Here is the first crack in Kevin’s belief that he is important–his first mission doesn’t have a reason. Or an answer.

Time for crack two.

“That was just a pickup line.”

Evie appears in the crowd, in a red shirt that says, “I remember.” She is singing Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” into a megaphone. As Kevin is whisked away by secret service, he ensures Evie gets in the car with him, so he can complete his second important mission. He tells Evie that her father wanted her to know that she was loved. But in this world, Evie’s entire family was blown up by the Guilty Remnant, not the other way around. She doesn’t know what the hell Kevin is talking about. There is no closure here, no meaning behind Kevin’s delivering of her message, no point to the Evie mission. On to crack three.

Kevin begins to throw up water, and is briefly pulled back into the world of the living, as the ranch is flooding. He lets John know that he delivered his message to Evie (but leaves out the part where it didn’t mean anything). He also tells Faith that her kids had no answer about their shoes (but leaves out the part where they don’t care about family at all). As Kevin is carried inside, John and Michael start to question whether they’re taking this too far. Kevin Sr. locks them all out of the bathroom, fills the tub, and drowns his son.

And it’s back to the world of the dead, with Kevin as President. The secret service takes Kevin to a secret bunker that only he can access. Unless, of course, he has “an identical twin brother, which would be ridiculous,” as his chief of staff quips. Haha. Kevin knows he’s the assassin that is coming to kill himself, the President.

In order to enter the bunker, Kevin has to have his face scanned, and his penis scanned (more on that later), and he has to answer three security questions, the final one being, “Who is your Secretary of Defense?” Kevin thinks. He chooses here. He names…”Patti Levin.”

The Leftovers, Patti Levin

Enter: Patti Levin. Dressed in her white Guilty Remnant garb, the politician that she was in “International Assassin.” She informs Kevin of the mission that he is to carry out: He needs to launch a nuclear missile at Russia, who will retaliate with a nuke of their own, and then that will be the end of the world. Patti says that this is the ultimate purpose of the Guilty Remnant: “We give the people what they’re too chicken-shit to do themselves, what they elected us for. We give them what they want. And they want to die.”

BUT before any of this Armageddon can go down, they will need to follow what is called, “The Fisher Protocol,” an ethical deterrent where the nuclear launch key was surgically embedded into the heart of a volunteer, so the President has to murder that volunteer himself in order to launch the nuke. We learn this because the Vice President arrives to tell us, and it is Liv Tyler’s Meg, the one who inherited the Guilty Remnant from Patti and who, I think we can all agree, was a total bitch. And whose heart is the key in? Someone who discovered a scar on his chest in a hut on the beach. And he’s 15 minutes away!

Kevin looks at his reflection in Patti’s glasses and we’re back to International Assassin Kevin, who passes the security measures with flying colors, being identical in every way to himself.

Turns out, Meg is on Kevin (and God’s) side; she’s here to help. She tells Kevin that she is in love with the most wonderful man, and that man is…God. Kevin then shoots Meg, killing her. God, on his earpiece, asked what the noise was. Kevin says that he should know, if he’s God. David Burton replies, “That was just a pick up line.” While it seemed pretty clear that David Burton wasn’t really God, it’s nice to have this overt confirmation that he is a fraud. Kevin then removes his earpiece and destroys it; no Meg and no “God”–now he’s on his own.

Kevin is now hell-bent on finishing mission three (this one HAS to be important, right?): talking to Christopher Sunday, who is the Prime Minister of Australia here, remember. He video chats Sunday, who is aware that they are dead. International Assassin Kevin tells Christopher that he needs to learn the song. Christopher informs him that he already told Kevin’s father that his song brings the rain, it won’t stop a flood. Furthermore, he asks Kevin if he truly believes that his father can sing a song that will stop a flood coming to destroy the world. And you know what? Kevin actually doesn’t believe that. Crack three. Chicka-plao! (Just gotta throw in a Hamilton reference there, sorry not sorry.)

So, if Kevin isn’t here to tell Evie she was loved, or learn from Faith’s kids where their shoes are, and if he absolutely isn’t here to learn a song then, as Christopher Sunday asks Kevin: why is he here? At this point, Kevin is attacked by security. He looks at himself in the computer screen and now he’s back as Kevin the President, with Patti pressuring him to launch the nuclear missiles. But Kevin says all he wants to do is go home, to which Patti replies, “Do you? Because you keep coming back here.” And now here is the crux of the episode: Why is Kevin back here? What does he really want?

The bow of The Merciful

Enter International Assassin Kevin, brought in as a prisoner with a bag on his head. Sitting at opposite ends of the table, the two Kevin’s finally come face-to-face.

Both Kevin’s say they don’t want anything to do with the removal of the key. Patti pulls out Kevin’s untitled romance novel, a page of which was on the typewriter back at the hut on the beach. Both Kevin’s insist they didn’t write it, but Patti suggests that both of them wrote it. As Kevin reads aloud the last page, he begins to cry. The ending of his book has Kevin on a ship, alone, sailing and thinking of a woman he lost, who he drove away. It is filled with tragedy, and doubt, and fear. And it ends with the woman being alone, far away from Kevin, and because she is far from him, all is well. Kevin finishes reading and stands up and says, through tears, “Take the thing out of me… so we can’t ever come back here ever again.”

So President Kevin cuts himself, International Assassin Kevin, open, and digs around in his heart until he extracts the key. And the International Assassin bleeds out and dies, but not before telling Kevin, “We fucked up with Nora.” Kevin takes the key, launches the missiles, and stands hand-in-hand with Patti as they watch them fly across the sky.

The world ends.

The Leftovers, Kevin and Patti hold hands look at missiles in sky

Kevin wakes up back in the world of the living, covered in a sheet, outside on the church that was being built on Faith’s farm. He is calm. His agony seems to have dissipated. John and Michael are asleep and his father is on the roof of the house (which harkens back to the opening scene of the season, where we see a woman in a cult continue to stand on top of her house, awaiting God, and God continues to never show up). Kevin Sr. tells Kevin Jr. that he thought that he had lost him (it seems they had covered him in the sheet believing he wouldn’t be coming back to life this time around). And that now he doesn’t know what to do. “Now what?” he asks. And Kevin smiles, a face of hope.

“Now what?”

In this episode, we have here a group of characters who believe they are working towards a higher purpose, only for them to discover that they are not. A tale as old as time, when you consider the cult woman on the roof all those years ago. Kevin, especially, believes he is important on a grand scale. And can you blame him? He did die and come back to life, after all. David Burton told him that he was the most powerful man in the world; he told him that all of it was real even when Kevin doubted it.

At this point, there is no disputing that Kevin has died and come back to life. He’s done it four times. But the things Kevin encounters on the other side are simply versions of things Kevin has already experienced, in the world of the living. The people on the other side are people Kevin knows or has met–Patti, Meg, Dean, David Burton. They are just playing different roles than their living roles. This other side is a Kevin-specific other side. And Kevin chose his role. The first time Kevin dies, when he emerges naked from the tub in the hotel room in “International Assassin” and opens his closet to grab clothes, a note tells him,

“Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.”

Leftovers_adorn

Kevin passed over his police uniform, which was also hanging in the closet, and donned a suit. He chose International Assassin. Which means Kevin sees himself as some harbinger of justice, revenge. He’s powerful, skilled. James Bond. And when he returns to the other side in “The Most Powerful Man in the World,” he is the International Assassin again, and the President of the United States. Double power and importance!

One by one, Kevin’s belief in his importance and his higher purpose is systematically torn down. As Faith’s son says to him, “Why does it matter?” It doesn’t. Kevin is not as important as he thinks he is. The whole thing where he has to pull out his penis and have it scanned to get into the bunker? What a display of ego! Every part of this world puts Kevin at the center of his own greatness, his superior skills, his savior-complex.

But maybe there is nothing important about Kevin. When David Burton told Matt that he was God, he also said that nothing mattered, and he didn’t even care about Matt, who spent his life trying to get God’s attention. Why is Meg the Vice President in Kevin’s dead world? Why does it matter? Why is Evie’s whole family dead from a bomb? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean anything. Even Kevin doesn’t believe that a song his father sings will stop a flood. Why is it that Kevin can die and come back to life? It doesn’t matter! He’s not the only one able to do so–David Burton has done it several times as well, and Evie’s grandfather. Who knows why. But he’s not special.

Kevin’s death trips to the other side have served one purpose and one purpose only: For Kevin to rid himself of something. He died and released himself from Patti’s hold on his life. And then as President, he brings her back to help him release the part of himself that feels guilt and fear, that pushes other people away, that can’t be satisfied, that sails off on The Merciful in the end of his romance novel, without Nora. He tears that man’s heart out, he takes the key, and he blows up the whole goddamn world to make sure that part of him is gone forever.

The Leftovers, Kevin and young Patti at well

And now, Kevin seems to finally be at peace. He destroyed the world that allowed him to die and come back to life; he doesn’t need it anymore. But Kevin Sr. isn’t ready to let go yet, he’s not ready to come down from the roof yet, to accept that he has no grand purpose. Kevin Sr. asks, “Now what?”

Next week, we’ll find out. Or not, it’s Damon Lindelof so who knows. But I think what we should all prepare for, just in case, is the show’s Departure, of sorts: How do you cope with an event that no one will ever be able to understand? How do you live with just never knowing why? Because that might be what The Leftovers leaves us with–questions with absolutely no answers. Adorn yourself accordingly.

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The Walking Dead: No. Eff you, you effing eff.

Even before the end of season 6 of The Walking Dead, I was so over this show. Having watched it religiously for 6 years, (even suffering through season 2), as a loyal fan, I felt completely disrespected by the showrunners. This is one of the highest-rated shows on television. There’s even a show AFTER the show, where the sole purpose is to talk about the show for ANOTHER HOUR. And yet, for whatever reason, The Walking Dead has turned away from even attempting to write compelling storylines, and instead has chosen to throw cheap tricks at us, for nothing more than a lazy grab at ratings they don’t even need.

The Walking Dead spent almost all of last season crawling along at a glacial pace, telling the same goddamn story they have been telling from the beginning–you either accept this new world as corrupt, or you believe there is salvation still to be had (except you’re wrong, you freaking idiots). Our heroes arrive at a town in Alexandria, Virginia, which has managed to escape the worst of the zombie outbreak. The people living there are naive to the reality of the world. And so we spend yet another season watching the consequences of people either choosing to accept it or not choosing to accept it. YAWN.

The thing that has always angered me about The Walking Dead, is that the show spends time making you care about these characters, only to rip them away from you, usually by the next episode. There’s a huge difference between killing a character for the sake of the story to move forward (i.e., Hershel), and killing a character just to kill them (i.e., pretty much everyone else). That’s not entertainment.

Let’s talk about the shit the show pulled with Glenn last season. He seemingly fell off of a dumpster and had his intestines ripped out and eaten before his very eyes. Several episodes later, we learn that the other guy on the dumpster had fallen on top of Glenn, and HIS intestines were being eaten, while Glenn pulled himself under the dumpster until all the zombies eventually shuffled away.

Why. Why would you do that? Why would you tell that story? It’s not a story! It’s a cop out. It’s a ratings grab. It’s bullshit. It’s disrespectful to the fans.

And then let’s bring in Negan–the show’s new Big Bad, who has been hinted at for quite some time, and has excited the fan base who has read the comics. Negan is pure evil. And everyone knew he was going to kill someone.

Of course, I tuned in for the last 10 minutes of the finale to find out: Who was Negan going to kill? Pulling the SAME SHIT they pulled with Glenn’s dumpster dive “death,” The Walking Dead hyped this finale up, only to make us wait until the next season to learn everyone’s fate.

Of course, I was not even the least bit excited to learn who got killed. The Walking Dead marketed the forthcoming death(s) as a game; as a teaser. Posting videos to their Facebook page of each character and asking, “Is this the end for Maggie?”, “Is this the end for Daryl?” No, I don’t want to play that game! These are characters that I care about. I have been with these characters since the beginning. I love them all. I don’t want to take bets on who is going to die!

So, season 7 opens with an extreme close up of Rick, sweating and wearing a smear of someone else’s brains on his face. People sobbing around him. Horrifying, horrible, awful stuff. Where is the entertainment value in this? We learn fairly quickly that it was Abraham who took the bat to the head again, and again, and again, until his head was nothing more than a puddle of blood on the ground. Where is the entertainment value in this?

Later in the episode (and the point at which I stopped watching), the bat is brought down on Glenn’s head. He didn’t die right away though. His eyeball popped out, and he struggled to say one last thing to his pregnant wife as she knelt horrified and hysterical, watching her husband (and a beloved character, plus one of the only Asian men on TV right now) ALSO have his head beaten to a soup of blood. Where is the entertainment value in this?

Not only did it happen, but we had to watch it. Violence for the sake of violence. Gratuitous horror for the sake of gratuitous horror. Why? Why?

I’m not buying Jeffery Dean Morgan’s portrayal as Negan–if this is supposed to be a psychotic, maniacal villain, Morgan is just not selling it. I imagine there are few actors in this world who can deliver the line “pee pee pants city” with any kind of believable conviction to make it not ridiculous. Negan doesn’t scare me, he doesn’t seem unhinged. Which makes the violence even more unnecessary than it already is. If the story is to demonstrate a psychopath, then yeah, maybe the brutal deaths would have been warranted. But Jeffery Dean Morgan is just not pulling that off. He’s not a worthy adversary to Rick. And frankly, I’m sick of seeing Rick’s sweaty hair in his face as he trembles in baffled agony at the events unfolding before him.

What I find particularly disturbing is the reaction of the audience to Negan. They couldn’t wait for this character to show up. Knowing how horrible he would be. Jeffery Dean Morgan is undoubtably a babe (Denny Duquette forever and ever amen), but what was this that I saw at Hot Topic last night:

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The description of this shirt on the Hot Topic website is:
“You really like the bad boys, don’t you?!

This fitted black tee from AMC’s The Walking Dead features a black & white photo design of Negan and his bat Lucille with text that reads “I (heart) Negan.”

There are not enough emoticons in the world to depict how I am feeling. This character BEAT THE LITERAL BRAINS OUT OF TWO CHARACTERS. HE’S NOT A BAD BOY, HE’S A SICK TWISTED MOTHERFUCKER WITH NO REDEEMABLE QUALITIES.

Seriously, what the actual fuck am I looking at? Negan is not a misunderstood emotionally unavailable man with a secret heart of gold and the ability to be saved if a woman loves him enough. This disturbs me to my core. Why aren’t more people angry about this? Where is the entertainment value in this?!?

You know who the target customer at Hot Topic is? Teenagers. Teenagers. TEENAGERS. (And me, but we’re not talking about that right now.)

The Walking Dead is one of (if not THE) most popular shows on television right now. Its scope stretches far and wide. Its marketing suggests entertainment in violent death, and now it glorifies villains. This shirt has a man on it, holding a bat that is dripping in blood, with the words a middle schooler would doodle on the sides of their looseleaf paper. Do you like me? Yes. No. Maybe. Circle One.

No. No. Fuck you The Walking Dead you fucking fuck. This show is dead to me. And yet, like every dead thing on this show, it rises back up from the dead and crawls toward me with evil intentions–it’s already been renewed for two more seasons.

 

Why ‘The Walking Dead’ is Still Unwatched on My DVR

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SIGH. I’m starting to really get tired of The Walking Dead’s shit. Over the past 6 seasons, the show continuously got better and better. And yet, it was getting better at telling the same damn story. That story being: Who are we after the world collapses? And, also, this is the world we live in now, you have to adapt to it.

Well, fuck, I’m bored as hell with that! The first half of the current season was spent introducing us to a slew of new characters that we all know are gonna die eventually and probably pretty soon. All of these characters have had the privilege of living behind the walls of a neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia, where some temporary geographical circumstances had the worst of the zombie mobs kept away from this pristine little place. All of the people inside are, obviously, totally oblivious to how the world works now. In marches Rick and his merry band of badasses who have seen some truly horrific shit, and now they have to co-mingle with a group of doofuses and, boy, do they butt heads! lol

Except, you know what? I already saw HOW many seasons of people accepting this new world? I’m over that. I got it! It sucks and you either die or you live. I don’t need to see the character development of some rando Joe Schmo who’s going to die in the next 30 minutes anyway. I don’t even need new characters! Stick to the main characters you still haven’t killed, they’re the only ones we care about.

I also really don’t need characters like Morgan believing that there is still redemption to be  found in all humans, and that killing is a mistake. Nobody has time for this shit, Morgan. I know you’re plot point one, but see plot point two: This is the world we live in now, adapt to it!

Not only am I just generally bored with the storylines, but the show gives us so much awful and hardly any relief. I know it’s a show about zombies eating people and people killing people. But the audience does get invested in these characters. Not only are they consistently killed, but we’re also hardly ever given some happy moments or satisfying ones.

Take the shit this season pulled with Glenn and the dumpster–we thought he was dead (which was awful), now he’s alive (but the reason is bullshit), and for most of this season, we’ve been waiting for Glenn and Maggie to be reunited. It happens, but WE don’t see it. I briefly saw Glenn walking toward Maggie in the infirmary after the zombie shitshow was over and all the annoying characters got eaten. I thought I was going to punch something. You put me through all of those hours of agony, and then you don’t even give me anything in terms of a reunion? Nothing? You couldn’t give me Glenn’s hand on a baby bump, or a simple kiss? Am I machine without feelings?

And people die now just to die. Their deaths don’t add anything to the story. Hershel’s partial beheading was the last death to really mean something to me on this show. His character was important. He had become a voice of reason and a leader. He was a good man. And killing him pushed the show’s storyline ahead.

Beth’s death? EFF. THAT. That was ridiculous. And what is Maggie going to do if Glenn dies? She’ll be sad. The end. What intriguing storyline can there possibly be with that? They’ve run out of character arcs for these people, so now they’re just doing cheap tricks (like pretending to kill Glenn) and recycling old storylines with new people.

And now I hear all of this talk about Negan, from the comics. I hear that he’s a horrendous person. I hear that he kills a beloved character by bashing his brains in with a baseball bat. So Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead is sitting unwatched on my DVR. Because here’s what I’ll find when I hit play: Boring overused storylines, death and pain and no satisfaction or gratification, and the promise of terrible things to come. I just don’t know if I can do it anymore. Nah, you know what, I’ll probably just go watch it.

No, wait, there was a moment of satisfaction recently. When that weird kid got eaten by the zombies. Finally. Yeah, that part was great.

sam

Tiptoe through the tulips indeed, Sam.

 

#TBT Completely Valid and Legitimate Ramblings about ‘The Bachelor’ (from 2 years ago)

It’s been a long time since I posted and I very much want to get back into writing about things. So I’m sharing with you thoughts on The Bachelor that I posted to Facebook on this day 2 years ago. Remember the season with Juan Pablo? Yeah, me either. Timehop had to remind me.

February 26, 2014

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Douchebag alert, douchebag alert.

You should know that I only watch The Bachelor during Fantasy Suite episodes and for purely sociological reasons. I’m being serious when I say I don’t watch for entertainment value (though I’m not proud to admit that I do laugh at it). I don’t like the way it portrays women, nor glorifies a man who is a self-important douche, and I understand even less how all of the women proclaim to “fall in love” with him. Most of all, I just do not understand how this show happens. Last night, one of the women was a pediatric nurse, and the other an assistant district attorney. These are intelligent women, with a lot going for them.

The Fantasy Suite episodes are the most fascinating of all though because it’s the episode where each woman in turn gets to publicly decide whether or not she’ll have sex with the guy by spending a night in the “Fantasy Suite.” I was appalled last night that all three women chose to have sex with Juan Pablo (single most ridiculous Bachelor name ever) after the conversations they had with him. Every time one of the women would try and talk to Juan Pablo, he would say, “You’re doing a lot of thinking tonight,” and then start to kiss them. (Because thinking would definitely lead to the obvious conclusion that Juan Pablo’s a piece of shit, and he can’t have that.)

One woman said, “I’m in love with you” and when he said nothing back, she quickly said, “I understand that you can’t say anything right now!” and started kissing him before deciding that, yes, she would go to the Fantasy Suite with him. The self-consciousness it must take to be on this show. The fear of rejection so vast that she would rather end all conversation and have sex with the man, than maybe hear that he doesn’t love her. It’s delusional and it’s sad and I think it’s how many women in America approach and react to love, or the desire to be loved.

Another woman said, “I’m in love with you,” and Juan Pablo said, “I didn’t know that. I…..like you. Like……” and then kissed her and then SHE had sex with him. These women delude themselves into thinking they are in some kind of relationship with an emotionally unavailable man who wouldn’t even be available if he was dating ONE woman. But the women just can’t or won’t see what’s in front of their face.

The MOST frustrating thing in last night’s episode, though, was Andi. Who did go to the Fantasy Suite but woke up the next morning proclaiming to the cameras that it was a “nightmare” and that she was “Not in love with Juan Pablo, and never will be.” And I’m sitting on the couch like, “All right! Finally! Bring it, girl!” But THEN, when she confronts JP about it, he simply says, “Okay. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. I respect you.” Which I thought, okay, that’s legit. But then Andi started to get ANGRY because Juan Pablo wasn’t upset that she wanted to leave. And she started to get into an argument with him, trying to get some sort of emotion out of him when it was clear that he didn’t care and wouldn’t ever care. I mean, it was her own damn fault for sleeping with him, I’m sorry it took her so long to open her freaking eyes.

I instantly started to lose respect for as she pathetically tried again and again to get him to feel sorry that she was leaving. She got hung up on the semantics–she claimed he said she was in the top 3 by default, but he claimed he never used that word and told her she “BARELY” made it to the top 3. Which, in my opinion, is WAY more offensive. She just kept bringing up, “You SAID ‘default.’ You said it.” And I think this is what’s happening to these women on the show. They get so caught up on a tiny, trivial thing that they fail to see the huge picture (in this case, that he actually said something way more offensive than what she was offended about).

Glaring communication errors aside, I think the reason the women act the way they do (participating at all, catty competitiveness towards the other women, agreeing to share a man with 27 other people, claim that they are “falling in love” with this man–and maybe even believe it, agree to have sex with him, desire a proposal from him) is most closely related to the cognitive dissonance theory that is used to explain why normal, intelligent people who also have a lot going for them would participate in crude and violent hazing rituals (either as the one being hazed or the person doing the hazing) to gain acceptance and entry to a fraternity or sorority.

In these women’s desire to find “love,” what we’re really talking about is the desire to not be rejected. To have validation. They’ve come to the wrong place. Because the very act of appearing on The Bachelor–manipulated and edited to portray the worst about women–gives you a huge audience. And everyone in it is judging and rejecting you. Not just Juan Pablo.

Another Year, Another Controversial Rape Scene on ‘Game of Thrones’

Sansa and Ramsay

Some things come around every year. Birthdays. Holidays. Paying your taxes. Uncomfortable rape scenes on Game of Thrones. This most recent rape scene (yes, these are sentences we write now when talking about Game of Thrones) occurred in the 6th episode of season 5, entitled, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.”

The victim was the unfortunate and forever-tormented Sansa Stark, whose storyline throughout the show takes her from bad situations to worse ones. The rapist is her new husband, Ramsay Bolton, whose onscreen time has been used to demonstrate how sick, twisted, sadistic, sociopathic, and cruel his character is. The additional uncomfortable element added to this scene is that Theon Greyjoy (also named “Reek,” the man who Ramsay tortured, imprisoned, and psychologically broke) was forced to stand and watch it happen.

I have to say, I was really surprised that this particular rape scene elicited any sort of controversy. What did viewers think was going to happen? That Ramsay—who cut off Theon’s penis, who literally hunts the women in his life down and kills them because they’re boring—would marry Sansa and suddenly be a loving and gentle husband?

Game of Thrones has always been pretty liberal with their rape scenes. The show has been criticized heavily in the past for its gratuitous depictions of sex and women’s bodies, and for its numerous (numerous!) depictions of rape. And in the past I’ve been on board that ship, at the helm, with my arms flung out wide like, “Jack, I’m flying!” with my opinions on the problems with these particular scenes. However, the rape of Sansa Stark made sense narratively; it wasn’t gratuitous, and it had a purpose to the character’s arc and this season’s overall storyline. Did I want to see Sansa raped? No. But it certainly made sense to the narrative. And besides, was there any doubt that’s what would happen upon seeing Ramsay’s “I do” face?

Ramsay

Of course, though, I do have teensy problem. As Sansa is getting brutally raped, the camera zooms in on Theon, who was forced to stand there and watch. We, as the audience, can’t see Sansa’s rape, we can only hear it and interpret it in the horror, anguish, and turmoil on Theon’s face.

I’m down with this scene portrayed as it is but I do take issue with rape being used as the catalyst for a man’s storyline and personal character growth. Because watching that scene, we are to assume that the show is leading Theon toward some kind of redemption story, one in which he takes revenge on Ramsay, or at least tries SOMEWHAT to help Sansa. Either way, the focus of that scene was not on Sansa’s pain, but on Theon’s.

And this is always how it seems to go down when it comes to rape on Game of Thrones. Rape or almost-rape are used on this show in one of two ways: It happens but we all just pretend it didn’t, or it is a catalyst for a male character’s story development. And that really grinds my gears. As if I’m not sick enough of male narratives, they also get to have a better storyline than a woman because she was raped? Games of Thrones has often been criticized for using women’s bodies as props and set dressings, and to use violence against women as a backdrop to a man’s storyline is…ugh, just ugh.

Let’s look at the evidence. In season 1 of Games of Thrones, Daenerys is consistently raped by her husband, Khal Drogo. How does this plot progress? It finds Dany having a pretty girl-on-girl moment with her handmaiden in which she is instructed on the ways to please a man. During the next rape session with Khal Drogo, Dany tells him, “No,” while getting on top of him and taking control of the situation. Drogo then falls in love with her and then it was like, “Hey, she was never raped, Drogo was just doing sex all wrong lol!” Ah, love.

In season 2, Sansa is almost raped during a riot in King’s Landing, but in swoops the Hound to save her. The Hound is mean, and terrifying, and just so complicated, and his rough exterior seems to soften only for the beautiful and innocent Sansa Stark. What will happen with the Hound next? I mean, he saved a girl from getting raped! He has depth!

In season 3, Jamie lies to his captors that Brienne is very wealthy and will fetch a handsome ransom price, so no one should rape her. Brienne is the strongest woman in Westerns, hands down, but she is never given the chance to take control of a situation in which she is victimized, because Jamie is always there to save her. He ensures she does not get raped while they are being held captive, and he also risks his life by jumping in to a bear pit to save her life (though she was probably capable of saving it herself, but I guess we’ll never know). Am I saying I want female characters to be raped? No. Am I saying I don’t want male characters to stop a rape if they can? No. I’m just saying I’d like female characters to be able to command their own storylines for once. Jamie going out of his way to help Brienne is a huge part of his redemption storyline. It’s where we finally see that he is a good person inside, even though he’s done terrible things. Seemingly, in the books, Brienne exists just to propel  Jamie’s story forward. (Mercifully, the show is giving her her own independent storyline this season.)

And there was season 4’s rape of Cersei Lannister. This one was the worst rape scene because the showrunners insisted that it wasn’t even rape, c’mon. The problem that I had—well, the BIGGEST problem that I had—with this rape scene was that it was purposeless. It didn’t happen like that in the book. And while the scene we saw on television was exactly the same scene from the book, the exception was that in the show Cersei was raped and in the book it was consensual. To change just this one factor was very jarring and it challenged the integrity of the character of Jamie as a whole, and destroyed all of the character building that we had to have Brienne almost get raped like 12 times to get! And for what? That scene made no sense, and then it was never brought up again.

And just this past week, we had yet ANOTHER attempted rape. Sweet Wildling Gilly was almost raped at the hands of two brothers of the Night’s Watch. But poor, sweet, weak Sam stepped in and saved her (but not before getting the crap beat out of him). As Gilly nurses Sam back to health, she admonishes him for trying to save her and makes him promise that he will just be sure to take care of her baby should anything happen to her (anything being, we can assume, rape followed by death). And then, as a reward for Sam’s bravery and character development, she climbs on top of him and has slow, awkward, fully clothed sex with him. The story here wasn’t about Gilly at all. The story was about Sam showing his strength and courage and how that should be rewarded.

And see, it’s just a damn shame. The females of Game of Thrones have great stories in them. But the show seems determined to have them resigned to the reality that they might get raped, and to exist mostly to drive a man’s story forward.

As I said before, I support the narrative choices the showrunners have made in having Sansa be raped by Ramsay Bolton. I’m just crossing my fingers real hard that the story be Sansa’s to tell, and not Theon’s or anybody else’s.

Check back for next week’s essay: Even More Objectification on Game of Thrones or, Why Did That Sand Snake Take Off Her Clothes? C’mon.

My Cat From Hell and the American Dream

Guys, I recently fell down this weird rabbit hole where I watched like 7 hours of My Cat from Hell. For anyone unfamiliar with this gem, My Cat from Hell is a show on Animal Planet starring Jackson Galaxy (real name Richard Kirschner): a cat behaviorist by day, and a musician by night.

So when does he find time to groom his beard like this?

So when does he find time to groom his beard like this?

Jackson travels across the United States of America in his pink convertible ­­­to the homes of people with rambunctious and problematic cats. Once there, he assesses the situation with his calm demeanor and knack for just really getting along with cats. Cats act like dicks for all sorts of reasons: their environment, the people in their lives, sometimes even feline illnesses. Mr. Galaxy won’t give up until he figures out why your cat attacks you and pees on your stuff.

Jackson will calmly and without fear enter the room where the cat has been corralled and spend some quality one-on-one time with the alleged demon, where he usually discovers the cat is actually pretty nice.

Then the real drama begins. If this cat can get along with a chap like Jackson Galaxy, then what the deuce is going on in this home that’s making the cat go crazy? See, this show isn’t just about how Jackson can unite a cat with its owners; it’s about how Jackson can really get to the root of a familial problem and solve it together, as a team. You’ll see such telenovelas as the guy who kicked the cat ONCE but only gently with one toe, or the woman who doesn’t want to get rid of her cat even though it attacked her child. Jackson Galaxy is a level-headed, unbiased presence who just wants people to enjoy these majestic creatures, damn it!

However, his job doesn’t seem hard. After the third episode I was like, “Okay I could have figured that out.” There’s not what you would call a wide range of stories going on here, or even moderately entertaining drama.

But I love the dream behind My Cat from Hell. That you can just reinvent yourself into a pseudo-intergalactic musician with a guitar case full of cat elixirs and be successful. This is the American Dream, people! You love two unrelated things? Why not be both of them? Jackson Galaxy is unafraid of who he is and that’s why he’s compelling. That’s why I can’t turn off the TV when there’s a show on that marries the concepts of cats and perceived outcasts, which is really just the internet on Animal Planet.

My Cat from Hell knows exactly what it is: A slightly absurd show that capitalizes on the fact that it’s sometimes really funny when cats are jerks. God bless America.

Aside

The “I’ll Never Let Go, Jack” Television Theory

Every Monday at work, my coworkers get together and talk about the latest episode of Downton Abbey, which is a show I do not watch. They consistently complain about the plot, how boring it’s become, how dissatisfied they are with any number of events, and how the show should have ended after season 2. Yet simultaneously, they never fail to turn to me and say, “You should watch it!” I reply back, “Why should I watch it? You guys hate it.” And they say, “No, no, it’s really good!” And I say, “You said it should have ended after season 2.” And they say, “Yeah, but you should still watch it.”

Which I find to be interesting and confusing logic.

I have heard from any number of my friends that they are still watching shows that they think have peaked and can’t stand, but can’t bring themselves to stop watching. I like to call this the “I’ll never let go, Jack” phenomenon. This is true of books as well–so many of us start reading a book that, 50 pages in, we decide we hate, but feel compelled to finish anyway. Anytime I’ve done this with a book, the only thing I end up hating more than the book is myself.

So why can’t we let go? Nostalgia? A need to know what happens next, even if we don’t care anymore? A need to know how it ends? We can find those things out by Googling recaps; there’s no need to suffer through an hour of television every week, so why do we?

The answers may differ for everybody but my theory is that while nostalgia does play a giant part in it, I also think it’s because, deep down, we may still like the show despite the fact that it’s changed. Or at the very least, we desperately want to. And the part that we actually hate is that we like it now, or want to like now, even if it’s worse than the show we once thought was perfect. Perfection can’t last for 9 seasons. It can probably barely last for 5. Shows that continue on past their peak have run out of story lines to tell. They’ll introduce new characters and repeat the same kinds of things that made the show great with their original cast, but with a lesser impact because this very show already did it before. It can still be entertaining though, and you can still enjoy it in the moment, while simultaneously mourning the loss of when this show used to blow you away.

It’s our own expectations and standards that stop us from enjoying a show that maybe should have ended 3, 4, 5, seasons ago. Take Arrested Development for example. I’ve watched that series start to finish 3 separate times. I could quote to you any number of lines, as can so many people (probably anyone on the internet, actually). The show was sheer perfection, cancelled before its time, and worshipped and memorialized by so many  that Netflix decided to bring it back as a Netflix original programming. Suddenly this show, which had seven years to build a cult following after its cancellation in 2006, was going to be revived and try and recapture the magic that made it so incredible in the three years it was under-appreciated on regular television.

The pressure and expectations placed on this new season of Arrested Development were more than all the money that’s always in the banana stand. Netflix released all 15 episodes of season 4 at once and many, including myself, barricaded themselves in front of their laptops and binge-watched the entire season. The response and reception was mixed, and many felt that the show lost what it once had.

But I, personally, thought the fourth season was absolutely brilliant. Brilliant! Each episode focused on a different character (mostly to account for scheduling conflicts with the actors), with the storytelling non-linear, often slightly disjointed, but brought together in the end for one cohesive story. The creators put so much thought into this timeline, and stuffed the episodes to the brim with fun easter eggs for the diehard fans. One could spend quite a long amount of time dissecting every episode to find the clues, where the stories intersect, and piece together a more linear timeline of events. The season should be watched multiple times, and its format opened the door to a new kind of internet storytelling.

But more than that, I was fascinated by where the characters went in this story. The original three seasons of Arrested Development focused on the Bluths: a broken family of millionaires who lost everything when the patriarch was sent to prison for treason. Main character, and only competent son, Michael, had to take over the family business and try and save everyone. The hilarity of the show was in the ridiculousness of these characters, whose antics made the fact that they were despicable people hysterically entertaining (in a Seinfeld kind of way).

But season four opens with six years having actually passed between the events of seasons three and four (the character arcs follow the events in between 2006 and 2012). The characters are still ridiculous, still despicable and selfish, but somehow this is less funny than it once was. Whereas the characters of seasons one through three were outlandish caricatures, when we find them in season four, they are suddenly much more human and sad in their failure to change anything significant about their lives. And watching these truly pathetic people flail through life, even if it was funny at times, made me sad. At first this sadness disturbed me, and I would finish an episode and think, “What the hell?!?” I would feel angry at Arrested Development and I, too, felt let down and was ready to say they failed.

But, for reasons of nostalgia, I kept an open mind. And the further I got into the season, the more I realized that this was the only direction I believe the show could successfully go. You can’t bring a show back after seven years, and not change the way you approach the storytelling or even change the characters themselves. For instance, regarding the character of Tobias: The running joke with this character was that he was a closeted gay man. I was surprised when, in the fourth season, Arrested Development almost instantly buried this storyline and chose to come out and say that Tobias actually ISN’T gay. And then they took his character forward from there. They chose to not solely rely on the same jokes that people have grown to memorialize in favor of trying to do something different. Which should be commended.

They also chose to put a more serious spin on the characters overall, but in the seven years since Arrested Development was cancelled, we as the audience have grown and matured, and it’s only fair (and I would say necessary) that the show and its characters grow and mature as well, even if sometimes it’s not funny. There were moments where I was actually perturbed by where they took the characters–GOB’s very dark, sad, and confused “gay” storyline; Michael’s lonely inability to let his son go once he’s at college; Maeby’s failure to move forward at all with her life because she’s stuck still trying to get the attention of her parents, who still continue to ignore her. And I wasn’t sure if I should be laughing at these things at all (I actually teared up during the Maeby episode). And while a lot of season four was hilarious, there was also something distinctly unfunny about much of it.  But I liked that. I like a show that challenges me like that, and I like that Arrested Development chose to become that show.

Many would say (and I think have said) that a show as hilarious as Arrested Development has no right to become more serious. That’s not why people tune in. And I concede that the uncomfortable sort of comedy that makes Girls the show that it is and what Arrested Development chose to do is not for everybody, and there’s a certain betrayal that the audience might feel by that.

But it became very clear to me early into the fourth season that this show wasn’t, and never would be, the show that I had grown to love. Nor do I believe it could ever be successful falling back on what it was seven years ago (Arrested Development used to make Saddam Hussein jokes–these kinds of things aren’t relevant anymore). But that didn’t mean that the show still couldn’t be compelling, interesting, or hilarious and that I couldn’t grow to love this version of it as well. I simply had to accept that though I was watching the same characters, this truly was a completely different show. And once I accepted that, I could let go of my expectations or disappointment and see it as a wholly different beast, one that allowed the characters to grow as if seven years had passed for the both of use (oh wait, it totally did).

Now, I didn’t set out to write a review or critique on the fourth season of Arrested Development, so there is still so much to be said about that. But I think Arrested Development serves as a good example of the way that shows can change over time, and the need for shows to reinvent themselves to still be fresh. The way I see it, shows have two options: End when they’ve hit their peak, or try and continue and potentially disappoint the audience. Either way, I think fans will be unhappy, but loyal. After all, everyone I talk to still watches shows they loved and grew to hate. I urge these people to try and find some redeeming qualities in these shows, because if they insist on making themselves miserable by tuning in each week, perhaps there is some enjoyment still to be had.

All that being said, there are some shows that are just…truly terrible. For that…I have no answer for you. Viewer discretion is advised.