Last night’s episode, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” was the best one of the season so far… the first time I felt really emotionally engaged and moved by a character’s plight. Locke is a really complex character, so I’m glad to be groping through the darkness with him.
And I realized for the first time WHY I’m dissatisfied with the show this season (besides the obvious; it’s clear by now that the producers do not intend to ground The Answers in anything that makes scientific/rational sense… so it’s like we’re at a bullfight, watching a really talented toreador do his thing, and suddenly find out there’s no bull… which can be fun, but a lot less thrilling).
For me, the real oomph of Lost came from each character’s story on-and-off island, and the way the island represented an opportunity for redemption, and the way it wove everyone’s back story together. Oh my god, there’s Libby in the background of the bar! Oh my god, there’s Jack’s dad on the roof of the building across the way! The story of Kate’s crimes and punishments, her troubled relationship with her mother - these were all really powerful. Smoke monsters and bombed slave ships and polar bears and magic hatches are great storytelling, but they’re not what makes a show great. Sawyer’s history of scamming, and the note for the man who scammed his family that he carried with him all the time - THAT is some really compelling, powerful stuff.
We’re winding down now, and all of that stuff has fallen by the wayside. We know these characters - their flaws and their secret sadness, their loves and hates - and the new characters we meet remain flimsy. They are there to fulfill a narrative function, but they have no agency. Daniel and Myles are damn close to caricatures.
I miss that sense of magic, that deep emotional resonance, that comes from watching these people break down… but this episode held out hope that the old magic will be replaced by something new - and wonderful - and terrifying.
In the BSG episode “No Exit,” we got to spend our first bit of quality time with Number One, or Cavil, or John. Up to now we’ve just seen him be evil and manipulative in little fits and jerks - a cylon board meeting here, an interrogation there… we’ve never gotten an up-close look at who he is and what makes it tick.
The events of “No Exit” paint a picture of Cavil as far more evil and powerful than we ever suspected. He murdered the Final Five and blocked all access to their memories when they resurrected. He tortured them by giving them “front row seats” to the Fall of the Twelve Colonies. In fact, he is the closest thing we have to an “architect” of the Cylon Holocaust.
And yet… in this episode, I would argue that we finally see how human Cavil is. When he delivers his excellent soliloquoy about the limitations of the human body, its sense organs and its instruments of communication, his anger is utterly comprehensible. After all - what is more human than being frustrated with our own physical frailty and shortcomings? Men have always been angry that they can’t see x-rays or microscopic animals - that is WHY we created x-ray machines and microscopes! Man has always raged and wept about the fact that we must die, that our consciousnesses are so flimsy - that’s why we create great art, or hunt for technological means of extending and enhancing life! And in the universe of Battlestar Galactica, the human dissatisfaction with our own limits is what led to the creation of the cylons… to fight our wars, and dig our ditches, and bear our grudges, and want to grow up to be just like us… in all the worst ways.
Cavil’s complaints are very human, and the irony is that he can’t grasp the connection. He thinks he’s so different from the humans. He’s not. He’s scarily human. That doesn’t mean he won’t continue to pursue a genocidal course of action against the humans. Because the humans, also acting out of rage and fear, have a genocidal strategy of their own for the cylons.
Sometimes youre rushing for the train or the train is hustling past the local stops and you’re late but not ridiculously late and life feels like Nintendo, you’ve stepped into Castlevania 3, and the music’s pulsing fast, that urgent simple music when you’re so close to the end but everything’s moving too fast, gears are grinding and skeletons throw their bones and bats fly in their elliptical deceptively simple lines, even the slightest mistake will kill you, you’ve spent weeks and months crouched down on the cold carpeted basement floor fighting your way past endless monsters and over dizzying precipices and booby trapped bridges, to arrive here, in this place, and you belong here, you are equal to this world, its horrors will not overwhelm you and its herculean challenges won’t stop you, and now you’re back on the train, and the city is dirty and your apartment is too expensive, and miserable people are all around you, and bombs are going off in gaza, but you are not overwhelmed, you will not be crushed, you’ve spent a long time practicing for this moment and the music thrumming in your head says you can master this world just like that other one, the 8-bit brightly colored digital one, the place you started from.
I’ll buy anythng even tangentially related to Saves the Day, so of course I was excited when Chris Conley’s side project, Two Tongues, released its first album. Chris shares singing duties with the dude from Say Anything, who I don’t love, but hey, it’s Chris, right? Anything he does is awesome. Right?
I’m listening to the Two Tongues album and I’m trying hard to put my finger on why I don’t like it, and I can come up with lots of little things - the wannabe Beatles flair that’s been popping up in Saves the Day for the past couple albums is front and center here; the poppiness is too bright and shiny, whereas with Saves the Day it’s always a little dark and dirty…
But the big reason, I realize, is pretty petty. I just can’t stand to hear Chris Conley play backup singer. Or rather - I can’t stand to hear his voice alongside anyone else’s. It’s such a marvelous, fragile, special thing that when you hear this other dude’s conventional manly-man voice boxing it in, it sounds flimsy, diminished, naive. Like a child’s. There are some good songs on Two Tongues, but they’re pretty conventional, and Chris Conley’s uncanny blend of stark joy and real pain get lost in the mix.
My favorite literary meditation on turning thirty is this one, from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“Want any of this stuff? Jordan? . . . Nick?”
I didn’t answer.
“Nick?” He asked again.
“No . . . I just remembered that to-day’s my birthday.”
I was thirty. Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade.
It was seven o’clock when we got into the coupe with him and started for Long Island. Tom talked incessantly, exulting and laughing, but his voice was as remote from Jordan and me as the foreign clamor on the sidewalk or the tumult of the elevated overhead. Human sympathy has its limits, and we were content to let all their tragic arguments fade with the city lights behind. Thirty—the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair. But there was Jordan beside me, who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age. As we passed over the dark bridge her wan face fell lazily against my coat’s shoulder and the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand.
So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.
My manuscript “Haunting Your House” was on the shortlist for the first Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Prize.
Click here for the complete details, including lots of info on the winning collection, which sounds excellent, and which, in the spirit of being a good sport, I will buy…
Workers at the Stella D’Oro cookie factory in the Bronx have been on strike since August, when management proposed a new contract that takes away a week of vacation, twelve sick days, and asks workers to pay 20% of health insurance costs.
I love those Stella D’Oro cookies, lord knows I do, but I won’t be buying another damn Breakfast Treat or Anisette Toast until the strike is over. Scab picket-line-crossers are making the cookies now, and I find the concept of scab cookies revolting.
For more info on the strike, go to: