Don’t End up in the Garden of Bones

GoT: Don’t End up in the Garden of Bones

            So, I’ve noticed that a lot of people are confused about the unifying theme of this episode, and I’d like throw in my reading: the whole episode boils down to Tyrion’s line about Sansa that she “may yet survive us all.”

            This episode is about what people will do to stay alive, and if anything they can do will help save them. Almost scene involved a character facing a deadly situation, in which they had only one way out and usually didn’t know what it was. Sansa couldn’t get Joffery to stop hurting her, but she could follow Tyrion and stick to the party line. Ros could either sadistically torture a particularly vulnerable-looking prostitute or be sadistically tortured herself. Petyr could shut up about love or Cat could stab him (great scene).

            In a lot of cases, the characters had no idea what they could do to escape, like when Dany tried desperately to figure out how to get into Qarth, or didn’t even realize they needed to look out. Renly had no idea he was bargaining for his life, and no one in Harrenhal knew anything about anything, much less how to avoid getting killed.

            Which brings us to the agonizing soul of tonight’s episode, the little people. The high lords and ladies are playing at their games, and occasionally they get captured by the enemy or threatened with Joffery, but they all live largely in comfort, and widows can even get the bones of their husbands returned. Not so for the nameless commoners, who are viciously tortured for information without even knowing why, or the random soldiers like the crippled boy, whose enemy never knew his name or bore him any hate, but who will never walk again. The gray haired woman in Harrenhal represented all these people for me, with her thousand-yard stare and her utter resignation to her fate, to the fate of all those she loves. Most of the people dying in these battles at court and in the field have no names and no luxury of choice.

Spoiler discussions:

            So I love that they added in the prostitute scene and I think it was totally essential, although I’ll never ever watch it again. I think it’s a really good show-don’t-tell setup for Joffery’s eventual fate at the hands of Margery’s aunt, and solidifies that long term plot in a way the tv show really needed.

            Also, I think all the additions work really well here to flesh out non POV characters, like Robb and Jeyne’s story (I can’t remember—did she have any lines?), Tywin (Yes, I laughed, I couldn’t believe it), and Littlefinger (I always wondered in the book why he didn’t try to get Cat after she was widowed).

            Finally, I’d like to applaud the choice to not make Qarth incredibly racist. I don’t quite remember if the people in Qarth were as Orientalized as the people in Meereen, but it was an easy trap to fall into and I’m pleased they sidestepped it. 

Why I Won’t Be Going to See The Hunger Games

Now, I adored the novels, even parts of the ending. I loved Katniss and rooted for her as much as anyone. And I’ll take a craze centered around her over one around Edward Cullen any day. But the part of the novel that enchanted me the most, that made me just fall on the floor in the first book, was its fascinating metaphor for the voyeuristic entertainment experience. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Hunger Games themselves are fully televised. Every moment of them is broadcast across the country, and much like in reality television, fan favorites develop, theories are advanced, and the real people involved become lost in the characters they project.

But the most fascinating part of this is that the things which thrill the grotesque instigators of the games are also the sections that thrill the readers. Everyone who devoured those books like I did (all three in 24 hours—I had a TON of fun) did so for the same reason that the almost cannibalistic, and deeply inhuman masses within the novel did. The twists and turns of the arena, the sudden deaths of non-favorite characters, all designed for the pleasure of the watching public were also designed for the voyeuristic pleasure of the readers.

The main romance of the first novel, between Peeta and Katniss, is deliberately fashioned by Katniss to win the support of the viewing public. “Intimate” moments were televised nationally, and thus, any reader like me who felt at all touched by that relationship was metaphorically part of the audience, the depraved bloodthirsty stooges of the Capitol.

SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH. This is the reason that I was truly upset at the resolution of the central love triangle. The development of the relationship between Peeta and Katniss was constructed by the two of them in order to please the viewing public. Thus, I felt uncomfortable when the book demanded a large emotional investment in them on my part, and when Katniss chose Peeta in the end I was extremely unsettled because this marked the point at which the part Katniss performed, the fake part of her, became the same thing as Katniss herself. Katniss’s decision in that triangle was the point at which the Capitol beat her, because not only her actions were dictated by them, but her self.

Because of this aspect of voyeurism, which I felt was a powerful commentary on modern entertainment and even reading as a rather bloodthirsty voyeuristic experience, I find the idea of making a Hunger Games movie somewhat grotesque. The entire point of the first book is that entertainment focused on the suffering of others, experience emotionally but from a safe distance, is not as harmless as it looks. The experience of watching, the fandom that develops in the capitol, and the decision to turn on the games each day, are the most direct examples the readers get of the inhumanity of the Capitol citizens. So putting that same experience on our television screens, so that we can get voyeuristic pleasure out of it in the same way that they do, except that our version is (this time) fiction, is an ugly example of a meta moment when reality and fiction run headlong into each other. I’m not saying that anyone who goes to see these movies is as bad as the villains, or is a bloodthirsty spectator; what I’m saying is that the entire marketing campaign, the existence of this movie at all, and the anticipation of this movie are all predicated on missing the central voyeuristic theme of the books. The important and fascinating critique is being lost, the metaphor is veering uncomfortably close to the truth, and I don’t want to have anything to do with it.

X Files Pilot Review

“Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?”

It could be a scene out of a Victorian ghost story. A girl in a long white nightdress tumbles through a dark forest, terrified of what’s following her. As she falls to the ground, the wind begins to whirl around her, and light begins to shine, brighter and brighter. A dark man stalks towards her as the wind hurls leaves in a circle, and girl and man vanish as the light overwhelms them.

So begins the X-files, the classic paranormal drama of the 90s. The show went far, far beyond its origins, becoming virtually unrecognizable by its end. It is thus easy to forget that it all started with a brilliant piece of television, a pilot episode that promised that the Truth is out there, and it will be revealed.

The town in Oregon, the zip code where the laws of physics don’t apply, is “based on documented events” and deeply creepy. As each reveal comes, one on top of the other, Mulder and Scully are perfect representations of the audience’s dual fascination and fear, as Mulder runs around with a camera and Scully freaks out about mosquito bites. Every single one of the town’s inhabitants seems to be hiding some desperate secret, a secret which has cost the lives of four members of the class of 1989. Little things, innocuous things that in most scenarios would be bits of everyday life, take on terrifying significance, from nosebleeds to turbulence to dirt in the woods.

The directing is fantastic, giving the whole episode the feeling of reality, a vaguely documentarian air. The camera becomes a character, zooming in and out on the characters, the bodies, and the alien spaceship. It too is affected by lost time, as the screen changes color and the scene cuts straight out. The viewer is given a sense of participation, of involvement.

The plotting is perfectly executed, attaining a beautiful balance between answers and questions that, in later years, the X files would have so much difficulty reaching. We know that aliens probably kidnapped kids, we know why they kidnapped them, how, and have some idea of what happened to them. At the same time, specifics are elusive, and the smoking man’s pentagon connection tantalizingly dangled in front of us. The box, one of thousands, labeled simply “evidence” offers spectacular possibilities.

Of course, this is the pilot episode for two classic characters as well. First introduced is Scully, a dinky but strong woman sitting before three old white men using her to spy on a fellow agent. She is carefully set apart from these men, smiling at their frowns, openly revealing that her parents think the FBI is an act of rebellion to men who don’t even speak. We are given her measure at the same time we are introduced to Mulder, by reputation only. We are told that he will be brilliant and a bit crazy, but through Gillian Anderson’s acting, we know that he’s the good kind of crazy.

When Mulder arrives on the scene, he stands in stark contrast to the buisnesslike atmosphere of the ground level FBI. He’s having the time of his life, cracking jokes to a woman he’s well aware has been sent to spy on him by unknown forces. Duchovny imbues Mulder with delight at every turn, whether he’s teasing Scully about her thesis or the existence of UFOs, or calculating how many minutes of time have vanished from reality. Things that freak the viewers, and Scully for that matter, make him jump around like a little boy. And his joy is infectious—it seems that half the time he turns his back, Scully is grinning at him.

The character development that takes place in these 48 minutes is astounding, as we are exposed to Mulder and Scully at their strongest and at their most vulnerable. Scully is forced to question beliefs she once took for granted, and is so overwhelmed she even thinks for a few minutes that she may be an abductee. At the same time, she holds her own arguing with Mulder, demanding proof and searching for answers. It is their desire for answers, their desperate need to know the truth, which makes the bond between these characters so instantly believable. Scully may have been sent to spy, but Mulder trusts her instantly because he recognizes in her that same drive. Mulder’s vulnerability too is revealed, his desperation to find out what he’s not supposed to know, to connect the pieces of his life that he’s forgotten and to find his sister. The motel scenes are beautifully acted and written, beginning a partnership that would become the stuff of TV legends.

I usually hate pilot episodes, preferring to skip to the point at which the show had matured enough to know what the hell they were doing. But this episode is simply brilliant, a classic piece of creepy television that proves that, though there were many missteps (Fight the Future, anyone?) this was a damn fine show, and one of the best.