Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Tuesday

6

April 2021

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Revisiting The Wire’s Finale “-30-“

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Season five of The Wire was always going to be a tall order under the best of circumstances. HBO’s finest series to date had its final season order slashed by three episodes, putting immense strain on its ever-expanding cast. The inclusion of the Baltimore Sun newsroom fit the series’ habit of shining a spotlight on new elements of the city’s culture each year, albeit with a cast of characters inevitably destined to pale in comparison to the schoolchildren who carried season four.

Television has no shortage of terrible series finales. Some play too hard for shock value, betraying their core ethos in the process. Others simply leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. Any finale that doesn’t make one recoil with disgust should be considered a win.

As far as finales go, “-30-” is hardly one for the ages, not exactly a sentiment one may want to be attached to one of TV’s crowning achievements. The final episode of The Wire deserves a lot of credit for being among the more effective finales in the television medium, providing closure for much of its massive cast while reminding viewers why they fell in love with the show in the first place.

The Wire is not an optimistic show, constantly shining a light on government incompetence and corruption. Good rarely triumphs over evil, not where apathy and bureaucracy can wear down even people with the best intentions. Lester Freamon and Bubbles spent much of season five on opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to this dynamic, one fed up with the nonsense getting in the way of his investigative prowess, while the other struggled to rise above a world that had kicked him while he was done so many times.

“-30-” understands its duty to wrap up a series, not necessarily the ideas it put forward. Baltimore may not change, but the characters who made the series so special carry with them concrete senses of growth. Perhaps none more than Cedric Daniels, constantly forced to balance his no-nonsense attitude toward police work with the politics associated with his ambition. Seeing Daniels survive all of McNulty’s crap to become police chief would’ve made for a happy ending. Perhaps too happy.

Instead, The Wire split the difference. Daniels leaves the department with his dignity intact, forgoing the top job in service to his own sanity. Returning to criminal litigation, Daniels emerges from the events of the series a better man, allowing swamp creature Stan Valchek to enjoy the perks of doing the mayor’s dirty work.

As a whole, season five buckled under the weight of the series’ ambitions, delivering the show’s silliest casework for what was left of the Major Crimes Unit. McNulty’s serial killer story was bound to end poorly, but the show struggled to paint this outcome as anything other than inevitable. For all his careful concern toward policework, Freamon never had a reasonable endgame.

­­­-30- puts this all in perspective, to an extent. Marlo Stanfield walked because the Baltimore Police Department wasn’t willing to put the basic resources together to catch him. Dozens of bodies left in his wake, the bureaucracy lets him walk free, instead merely nabbing his lieutenants. That’s not justice in any sense of the word, but The Wire wasn’t really about that.

Catching Marlo would leave the impression that detectives could actually succeed in pushing the never-ending boulder up the hill to bring about real change. There’s a reason arrests were few and far between after the triumphs of season one’s wiretap. Real change isn’t easily boxed into the sense of dramatic payoff that finales are expected to produce.

Characters like Stringer Bell, Prop Joe, and Bunny Colvin tried to change the rules of the game, but the game pushed back at every turn. Strong-willed people are no match for systemic rot. Those who try and cheat the system for noble purposes like McNulty fare no better. Only the shamelessly selfish like Tommy Carcetti, Clay Davis, and Maurice Levy get ahead. American capitalism at work. The game is the game.

-30- leaves us with little hope at the end, but David Simon deserves a lot of credit for his compassionate approach toward the audience. Hearts may break at the sight of Duquan shooting heroin, emulating an earlier Bubbles, or Michael morphing from quiet introvert to the heir to Omar’s throne, but the show let up a little bit, giving Namond a chance to shine in a late-season five cameo. Bubbles, the heart and soul of the show, ends the narrative with hope for perhaps the first time.

Simon also takes the chance to honor the characters who made the show so special. McNulty’s destructive behavior had gotten a little tiresome by season five, exacerbated by his sincere rehabilitation efforts the previous year. The “wake” held in his honor doubles as an opportunity to eulogize a show that was often the best thing on television.

The Wire wasn’t afraid to be gentle while laying out a bleaker truth for its viewers, delivering one of the more satisfying finales in television history. It shouldn’t be satisfying. The world that The Wire shined a light on is so infuriating and hopeless.

There are lingering thoughts brought about by the truncated final season, which followed two straight seasons of top-notch television. Some characters, like Kima Greggs, definitely get the short end of the stick as a result. -30­- isn’t a hopeless finale, instead putting the past five years in perspective in a way that manages to bookend a series that grew far bigger than itself. As far as TV endings go, it’s hard to think of a better note that The Wire could’ve realistically ended on.

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Wednesday

27

January 2021

1

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The Lady and the Dale provides a riveting perspective of a trans pioneer

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Trans people often have to deal with people claiming that the trans identity is some sort of “new” phenomenon, despite all the history to the contrary. The life of G. Elizabeth Carmichael is a pretty wild story even before you take her gender identity into consideration. The new HBO four-part documentary The Lady and the Dale offers a wide-ranging portrait of a colorful American life.

True to its title, the series largely splits its attention between Carmichael and the Dale, a three-wheel automobile designed to be the flagship offering for Carmichael’s Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation, which fizzled out in the late 1970s amid criminal fraud charges for Carmichael. The life of Carmichael and the Dale itself would make for fascinating documentaries in their own right, though co-directors Nick Cammilleri and Zackary Drucker do an excellent job weaving the many strands of their story through the four episodes.

Carmichael, a skilled con artist from an early age, makes for a fascinating subject. Though Liz died in 2004, interviews with her family, as well as archival audio tapes provide a thorough examination of her as a person. Carmichael is a complicated figure, a loving mother and a force of nature in the business world, flying a bit too close to the sun with some of her ambitions.

The series uses extensive cut-out animation to liven up some of the archival footage. This approach makes the experience a bit more colorful, while also adding to the emotional resonance of the material. The pacing is quite exceptional, a highly-bingeable experience that leaves you hungry for more at the end of each episode.

Trans people are frequently accused of deception by our very existence. For Liz, a trans woman, this dynamic is complicated by the fact that she was a literal con artist. Her story, especially her prosecution, exposes some of the ways that marginalized people are treated differently both by the justice system and the public at large. Cammilleri and Drucker spend a lot of time on the media reception to the case, including some fascinating interviews with some of the newscasters who worked on the story.

Popular culture is filled with con artists like Jordan Belfort, celebrated by many for their bombastic greed. Shows like Billions and Succession revel in their protagonists’ abilities to game the system. People like Liz Carmichael get treated differently, not necessarily because of the particulars of their crimes, but because of who they are as people.

Which isn’t to say that Liz Carmichael was actually a hero or that she didn’t deserve to be prosecuted for violating securities law among plenty of other offenses. Liz Carmichael did bad things, but The Lady and the Dale isn’t concerned with judgement, providing testimony from her relatives and former employees that paint a much fuller picture of the woman.

In her own way, Liz was a trailblazer. Trans people still face rampant employment discrimination. To see a woman like her take on the big auto companies can give inspiration to anyone looking to carve out their own mark on the world. For too long, women have been told we can’t succeed in a men’s world. Much of Liz’s problems were her of her own making, but she had some impressive achievements. Above all else, Liz lived her life on her own terms.

The Lady and the Dale thoroughly explores a complicated figure in trans history, a fascinating glimpse at a rebel who dared to dream big. One may not necessarily aspire to be like Liz, except in the courage she exhibited to live her truth and ask for more. Being out can be hard enough sometimes. To remove the weights of discrimination will hopefully create a world where more trans people can wield the power that Liz held, if only for a moment.

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Thursday

25

June 2020

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Welcome to Chechnya is a harrowing look at an underreported human rights atrocity

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We live in a time of unparalleled global acceptance of LGBTQ individuals. It has never been easier to be openly gay. The truth of that statement can make it easy to forget just how oppressive some countries are toward their own LGBTQ populations. The documentary Welcome to Chechnya shines a light on a part of the world woefully underreported by the media.

Director David France does an excellent job breaking down the complex political structure in Chechnya, a republic within the Russian Federation. Its leader Ramzan Kadyrov, portrays himself in a similar over-the-top strongman fashion as Vladimir Putin. Kadyrov enjoys great latitude from Putin to carry out human rights abuses due to his stranglehold on the region.

The documentary mostly follows the work of an underground LGBT resistance group, tasked with helping gay, lesbian, and transgender people flee the region. Despite Kadyrov’s statements to the contrary, Chechnya is home to many gay concentration camps, routinely torturing its own citizens merely for being who they are. It’s deeply uncomfortable to watch.

Often utilizing hidden cameras, France gives his audience a front row seat to what life is like behind enemy lines. The film takes great care to present a three-dimensional perspective on its subjects, people who possess many of the same natural desires for companionship and community that we all hold dear, even despite their apocalyptic circumstances.

France is less effective at building a cohesive narrative. The footage he presents is extremely interesting, but as a complete product the documentary appears to be crafted largely on the fly. There are obvious limitations to what anyone could achieve under such circumstances.

The film utilizes a face-swapping technique to protect many of the identities of its subjects. The technology is quite impressive, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired. The face-swapping robs some of the interviews of their potential impact, constricting the body’s ability to express emotion, already exacerbated by the language barrier.

None of the face-swapping drawbacks would be much of an issue if the necessity to protect one of the subjects hadn’t been rendered irrelevant by the events of the film, which turned him into a public figure. France’s approach to that particular reveal made the face-swapping feel like more of a gimmick, obviously not reflective of the circumstances at play. For others, the approach made perfect sense.

Welcome to Chechnya is an important wake-up call to the atrocious human rights violations in Russia, shamefully ignored by the mainstream media. Our president may not care about Putin’s oppressive regime, but decent people will be swayed by France’s powerful documentary. The advances in equality enjoyed in America should not make anyone forget how tough it is to be gay in far too many parts of the world.

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Thursday

18

June 2020

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COMMENTS

Bully. Coward. Victim: The Story of Roy Cohn is an esoteric look at an American monster

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The stain of Roy Cohn may never be fully removed from America. A man who championed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare and shepherded Donald Trump through his early days in business, it can be hard to understate his impact on this country. The new documentary Bully. Coward. Victim: The Story of Roy Cohn sheds some light on Cohn’s troubled existence.

Instead of aiming for an overview of Cohn’s life, director Ivy Meeropol focuses her attention on a few aspects of his career and personal interactions. The prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Meeropol’s grandparents, weighs heavy on the narrative. Meeropol’s father Michael is interviewed in the film, providing an intimate perspective to the specific human cost of Cohn’s carnage.

Meeropol also includes interviews with Cohn’s cousins, who hold nothing but disdain for their relative. The intimacy that these interviews suggest is not necessarily reflected in the documentary, but Meeropol’s angle is a valuable one, especially since there are plenty of works about Cohn’s life. It would, however, be easy to watch the film without realizing the relation between Meeropol and her grandparents.

Cohn’s homosexuality frames much of the narrative. Though closeted for his entire life, Cohn’s sexuality was not exactly much of a secret to those who knew him. Meeropol points out the ample hypocrisy present in Cohn’s endless bigotry toward homosexuals, a key figure in the Lavender Scare who repeatedly denied his own HIV diagnosis even in the last few weeks of his life.

The narrative is much more contemplative about Cohn’s life than biographical. Those who know little about Cohn might feel a little lost amidst Meeropol’s scattershot pacing. She’s a director with a singular focus to carve her own niche with regard to her subject. In that regard, she most certainly succeeds.

Trump doesn’t play a very large role in the documentary, though anyone familiar with his combative nature will see obvious parallels in Cohn’s speech patterns. Meeropol includes plenty of interviews that essentially let Cohn speak for himself. His own words are pretty damning, painting the picture of a detestable man.

The documentary hardly humanizes Cohn, with the “victim” in its title referring to a specific event rather than a general sentiment. There is some sympathy to be garnered in his tragic life, but Meeropol hardly endorse this idea. Cohn is repeatedly referred to as “evil” by subjects, though his true villainy hardly needs to be outlined. In that sense, Meeropol is perhaps a bit generous toward Cohn.

Bully. Coward. Victim: The Story of Roy Cohn is a compelling film, albeit one that hardly tries to be the definitive voice on Cohn’s life. Meeropol is a skilled storyteller with a keen sense of emotion. The documentary is a must watch for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of a truly loathsome figure in American history.

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Monday

15

April 2019

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Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 1

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It’s the beginning of the end! Table setting and reunions seemed to be the themes of the first episode of Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season. With only five episodes left, it made sense to take stock of where the major players found themselves heading into the final battles of the series. While the season might be shortened, six episodes still leaves a fair amount of time for things that don’t involve bloodshed and resolution.

The throwbacks to the first episode were apparent throughout the episode. The procession into Winterfell looked a lot like one that Robert made to visit Ned, and Jaime’s arrival harkened back to his first steps into the castle. It’s always fun when a show entering its final season takes everything back full circle.

The antagonistic relationship between Daenerys and Sansa makes plenty of sense for a lot of reasons, but few of them were on display in the episode itself. The Northerners have every right to be miffed at Jon for bending the knee not long after they gave him his crown, but politics contrasts with the dire nature of their situation. Questions of monarchy seem out of place in a region that’s currently being evacuated for the first time in either the books or the show. I get that the show needs additional conflict besides the Night King, but it still seems kind of weird that the Northerners are so hostile to a woman whose army is their best shot at survival.

Sansa’s scene with Tyrion was my favorite of the episode. Sansa has been underestimated by many in the show, as well as the fandom, but she’s been a survivalist all these years. As the natural choice to lead House Stark moving forward, Sansa did a great job throughout her scenes making sure that her family would remain power players even if Jon was willing to bend the knee.

The scenes with Jon and Dany also made a lot of narrative sense, as fans responded with lackluster enthusiasm to their pairing last season. Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke don’t have a ton of natural chemistry, but it’s good to see the show try and put in the effort to make their relationship seem convincing. The CGI dragon ride was well put together and sort of made up for the lack of elephants brought to Westeros.

As much as the Cersei/Euron pairing looks born out of convenience, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Lena Headley is perhaps the best actress in the series and is always a delight to watch, even in filler scenes. Euron is similarly delectably evil, aided by a standout performance by Pilou Asbæk.

Bronn’s plotline is a total mess.  While Jerome Flynn and Lena Headley aren’t on speaking terms, which explains why they’ve never shared a scene together, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to have him carry out some farfetched revenge plot against Jaime and Tyrion that the viewers know isn’t going to go Cersei’s way. If this is all they have planned for Bronn, they should have sent him to the North with Jaime.

Arya had a few great scenes this episode, but the best was her reunions with Gendry and The Hound. Arya and Sandor have been through quite a lot since their days roaming the Riverlands, but clearly still maintain at least some degree of affection for each other. Gendry looks at home as a blacksmith, unlike his stint at a marathon sprinter beyond the Wall.

Poor Sam. It’s bad enough to have to share a scene with Ser Jorah, but the news of his family’s demise was pretty brutal. The one positive thing that came of it was that the senseless Tarly loyalty displayed to the Lannisters last season appears to have in service to this scene. At least Dickon died for Sam’s tears!

Bran is a weird dude. There’s not enough time for small talk, but plenty to sit around the Winterfell courtyard. We don’t really know how much he knows, but the show is doing a good job treading carefully with a character who can deus ex machina whenever he wants. I’m a little bummed that he didn’t get to have a chat with Jaime but I’m sure we’ll see the two of them together next week.

Who could blame Yara for wanting to go back home to her nice island that’s far away from the ice zombies? I hope Theon heading North means that he’ll die in the Battle of Winterfell. I used to think Jaime would be the first major character to go, but apparently, he’s needed for the ever-important Bronn subplot so maybe it’s time for Theon to stop beating himself up for all the bad things he’s done.

Did the Night King preserve the arms in a Tupperware container to prevent them from becoming zombified as he made his mural? Does the fact that he knew there would be people left in the deserted far North to see poor Lord Umber strung up there mean he’s omniscient? I don’t know, but that creepy scene provided much food for thought. Always fun to see Beric and Tormund, though we don’t much clarity as to how they’re still alive after the wall blew up.

Jon finally knows the truth. I liked that the reveal happened in the Crypts of Winterfell, the only logical setting. It was weird to see Sam rail on Dany before dropping the news, but it’s understandable given the whole burning of the family situation. Jon took the news better than I’d expected, but it looks like they’re setting up a power grab between Dany and him. As much sense as that makes, it seems weird for them to fight while the show is simultaneously investing in their relationship.

That’s it for this week. Very strong episode, despite the abundance of lazy eunuch jokes. Quick programming note, if my written recaps aren’t enough you can catch me right after the show on Facebook for my live recaps, or on my new podcast every Tuesday for in-depth analysis. Thank you for reading and see you next week!

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Tuesday

5

March 2019

0

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Leaving Neverland Lets Michael Jackson’s Accusers Speak Their Truth

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Leaving Neverland is the kind of film that forces the viewer to question the very mandate expected of documentaries to present the truth, or at least its very best interpretation of the facts. The narratives of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who both accuse Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them as children, hardly produce much evidence to prove their cases other than the disturbing similarities in their accounts. For diehard fans of the legendary pop-star, the failure to offer up a definitive smoking gun proving their allegations might be enough to dismiss them entirely, to keep on believing in the man they adore.

Much of the coverage of the #MeToo movement has focused on the punishments doled out to the accused, fired from their cushy jobs or cast out from polite society. Such narrative framing is inherently transactional in nature, with the notion of justice guiding the reaction to each termination. Leaving Neverland lacks an outlet to pursue this objective, with Jackson’s death and the statute of limitations laws complicating any idea of closure.

Lost in the broader headlines of #MeToo is the more nuanced objective of many of the people who have spoken out over the course of the movement. For many, justice never enters the equation. For many, all that’s desired is simply to be heard.

Leaving Neverland is not a film about justice, but rather the long-term corrosive effect of years of abuse. Both Safechuck and Robson had complex relationships with Jackson that neither appears to have fully worked out just yet. There is no notion of righting these wrongs. The film paints a clear picture of the damage done to both of their families for the simple mistake of trusting the perceived generosity one of the most powerful celebrities in the world.

For a documentary with a runtime of nearly four hours, Leaving Neverland feels surprisingly intimate in its scope. Relying entirely on accounts from the accusers and their families, the film painstakingly explores their relationships with Michael Jackson. The documentary bounces between both families, chilling the audience with the consistency of each narrative. The broader context of Jackson’s sexual abuse trials and his death are held until the second part, though always framing the narrative through its impact on Robson and Safechuck. This isn’t Michael Jackson’s story, but theirs.

Leaving Neverland is a very hard film to watch. The documentary wields tremendous power in the simplicity of its narrative, almost like listening to the two families sit in therapy as they worked through the repressed horrors they endured. It’s clear that many members of each family loved Jackson and found it incredibly hard to cope with what he put the children through. This dynamic creates several moments of frustration toward the parents that failed to see the seemingly obvious, but the film rarely concerns itself with judgment. Reality is far more complex than any truths hindsight could have illustrated.

While the film will undoubtedly earn some criticism for its one-sided approach that never gave anyone from Jackson’s estate a chance to respond, Leaving Neverland never goes out of its way to vilify the pop star beyond laying out his alleged crimes. The film presents its case without any broader call to action. Michael Jackson’s legacy is a complicated one, but the documentary doesn’t concern itself with trying to deal with that. Its only focus is to finally allow the Robson and Safechuck families the chance to tell their side of the story.

Public opinion on Michael Jackson can be (broadly) divided into three categories. There are those who reject the claims of his accusers entirely, those who view him as a creep and want nothing to do with his body of work, and those who seek to separate the complicated man from his artistic genius. Leaving Neverland doesn’t try to move people from one of those camps into another, but it does force a light on the complicated mentality of the third group. People can enjoy his music while accepting the merits of his accusers, but much of the coverage of Jackson since his death has sought to sweep the unseemly portions of his legacy under the rug. This documentary reminds the public at large that there’s still a lot about the man that shouldn’t be forgotten when remembering him.

Leaving Neverland is a timely film for the #MeToo era, focusing less on the idea of justice than the simple power that comes from finally being heard. There’s nothing on earth that can fix the wrongs done to Wade Robson and James Safechuck. Their lives and those of their families were permanently damaged as a result of their relationship with Jackson. While justice won’t be served, the film draws its greatest strength through the closure that the process has hopefully offered these tragic victims.

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Tuesday

15

January 2019

0

COMMENTS

Mahershala Ali Brings True Detective Back to Form

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The TV landscape has changed quite a bit in the half-decade since True Detective’s debut in 2015. The novelty of seeing big Hollywood names on the small screen has diminished in the wake of new series featuring A-list talent such as Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Michael Douglas. “Peak TV” exists as much as a cliché as a universal truth in this current era. There are more good shows on right now than anyone, even critics, has actual time to watch.

True Detective has always embraced the slow burn, a concept increasingly harder to sell in this bloated environment. After squandering much of its cultural capital on a forgettable second season, the show finds itself needing to balance suspense with the notion that its audience doesn’t necessarily need to accept that anymore. Mystique is an increasingly tougher sell, especially for week-to-week series.

Casting Mahershala Ali in the lead role was perhaps the best decision the show could have made. Ali has the power to mine intrigue from the mundane, an expressive actor capable of playing the same role across three time periods in a way that makes each feel fresh and unique. We don’t learn all that much about his character, Wayne Hays in the early episodes, but he plays the minimalism to his advantage. His ability to captivate in each scene makes the episodes fly by in a way that was sorely missing from season two.

The time jumps also provide some interesting commentary on the nature of America’s current cultural obsession with true crime series. Unsolved crimes, particularly ones involving children, remain alive years after their cases have gone cold through podcasts and Internet message boards. The unsettling nature of these heinous acts exists in a puzzling contrast with their status as entertainment symbols, something that essentially applies on a broader scale to fictional series like True Detective that deal with brutal murders.

Season three marks a return to form for True Detective, even if though it fails to reach the highs of its freshman effort. America seems less enthralled by anthology series in recent years than it has in the past, perhaps an inevitable development for a medium pushing its saturation point. A strong performance from Mahershala Ali keeps things interesting enough to wash the stink of season two away, even if the series isn’t likely to capture the country’s attention in quite the same way again.

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Wednesday

29

August 2018

0

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Ser Jorah’s Empty Redemption

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One of the great triumphs of the #MeToo movement has been the way it’s helping to change the way we look at what constitutes acceptable male behavior. Society has offered a lot of excuses for the persistent man who won’t take no for an answer, forgetting that there is a woman forced into the position of not being able to have her wishes accepted for the answer. “No means no,” somehow gets clouded when a man’s hurt feelings garner enough sympathy to seek shelter somewhere in the “boys will be boys” trope.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont is a bad man.

He sold slaves on Bear Island in a feeble attempt to make his wife happy living in a place he would have known would make her miserable if he had ever stopped to consider her feelings before taking her away from Oldtown. He ran away to Essos to escape justice for his crimes. He tried to sell out Daenerys in a similarly pathetic attempt to be allowed back home.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont is a pervert.

Daenerys is a teenager at the start of the series, in both the books and the show. The show aged her up a bit from thirteen to make sexualizing her a bit less creepy, but the idea that an older man/sworn protector would court her should still make one uncomfortable. Despite this, Jorah presses on, only to be politely rebuffed by Dany time and time again. The power dynamic is a mess, but Ser Jorah doesn’t care. Ser Jorah only cares about himself.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont is a disgrace.

When Daenerys learned of Ser Jorah’s treachery, she banished him. Many would have executed him for treason, but Dany took mercy on her disloyal advisor. You might think he’d take her kindness and leave her alone. Dany gave Jorah countless verbal cues to leave her presence and never return.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont only cares about himself.

Moving on is a key aspect of the human experience. We all face rejection at some point in our lives. Ser Jorah experienced plenty of his own, but he never learned to accept that another person might not want him in their life. He portrayed himself as a man who would do anything to earn Dany’s forgiveness, but this mentality is a disguise for his true intentions. It’s never about what Dany wants, only about how Jorah wants Dany to make him feel.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont cannot take a hint.

Upon delivering Tyrion to Dany, Jorah found himself banished again. No amount of rejections would matter to Ser Jorah, because Ser Jorah cannot process rejection. It’s only ever about him, what he wants, on his own terms. “No means no, unless I don’t want it to,” is the motto of Ser Jorah, even after he contracts an infectious disease. Not even greyscale can keep Ser Jorah away from the pursuit of a woman who had rejected him many times. No amount of rejection could ever be enough for him.

Ser Jorah of House Mormont does not care about service.

What drives Ser Jorah’s many comebacks? He frames the narrative as a chance for redemption, but such a situation would require Jorah to let go of something he cannot give up: control. Jorah only accepts others on his own terms. Dany is not a Queen to him, no Khaleesi to his greyscaled soul. To him, she is the woman who politely refused his offer of a drink at the bar. He cannot accept any outcome that doesn’t console his bruised ego.

Those of you who have followed my Game of Thrones recaps over the years know that I have not been a fan of Ser Jorah for a long time. I think he’s beyond creepy and should have been killed off a long time ago. As I think more and more about what I want out of season eight, I realize that my biggest wish is one that should have been granted already. I want Jorah off the show.

Jorah’s story is not an important story. You might be inclined to disagree, perhaps because you like him, or just because you don’t view this as an objective truth. One of Game of Thrones’ greatest strengths is that its ensemble cast has many different narratives. Supporting characters live fully fleshed out lives, with goals that can exist independent from their leads.

The depth of GOT’s narrative complexities means that protagonists like Jon and Dany can have goals that conflict with each other. Jorah can certainly desire Dany even if she doesn’t want him back. A viewer doesn’t have to view him as an antagonist just because he won’t take no for an answer.

Trouble is, Dany’s story isn’t allowed to exist without him. Even when she turns him away, he always comes back. This woman cannot live her life independently of a man she politely rejected many times. Too many women in the real world know this feeling all too well.

Jorah’s narrative is full of empty redemption. He seeks forgiveness only under his own terms. The greatest gift he could have given Dany was to not return to Meereen. The books may be able to alter course from Game of Thrones by killing him off in the Battle of Fire, but the show has let his stain linger for far too long already.

No means no. That means you too, Ser Jorah. We all heard Dany loud and clear the first a hundred times. All of us, except you and every other man who felt he was owed something from a woman who rejected him. Do Westeros a favor and go away.

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Monday

15

June 2015

1

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap: Episode 10

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. Spoilers will largely be kept to comparisons between the show and the books within the episodes themselves, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading. 

While it should come as no surprise to those of you who have followed along that I’d love nothing more than to lead off with Stannis, I will in fact address the question that you’re all wondering.

Is Jon Snow really dead?

If there hadn’t been an Entertainment Weekly interview that suspiciously popped up immediately after the finale aired, I would say absolutely not. While Kit Harrington and D.B. Weiss are adamant that he’s really dead, this does reek of red herring. Problem is that a leak is inevitable if he isn’t dead so if that’s the case, maybe Harrington and Weiss are just trying to preserve the shock value.

From a storyline perspective, it makes no sense. Melisandre went back to the Wall, presumably to revive Lord Snow and deem him to be the real Azor Ahai. Season three’s encounter with Thoros of Myr showed her that people can come back from the dead, though people pointing to that as evidence are forgetting that that storyline was about capturing Gendry and may not have been foreshadowing. It’s worth noting that none of the traits associated with Azor Ahai were present in the death scene.

So maybe he’s dead. Maybe Kit Harrington wants to go to movies. He wouldn’t be the first actor who wanted to make the permanent move to the big screen. Maybe D&D decided that Dany was the only young savior they needed. We will see in a few months when fans start posting pictures from the set.

Many fans, including my own sister, may hate me for saying this but I’m perfectly okay with Show Jon being dead. It’s basically a given that Book Jon will be revived and it’s also a near certainty that The Winds of Winter won’t be out before season six. Taking two drastically different directions would preserve the books. As a fan of books, this doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t make much sense for the show, but that’s true for a lot of things.

Like Davos being at the Wall. What’s he supposed to do? Become Lord Commander? I made at joke about this on Twitter last night, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen.

The only other thing worth noting about the mutiny was the unnecessary presence of Ser Alliser Thorne. The show flip-flops on whether or not we’re supposed to like him with just about every appearance and it’s really unimpressive. He didn’t need to stab Jon.

Sam and Gilly finally go to Oldtown! In the books, this happens early on in A Feast for Crows and it was Jon and Aemon’s idea and certainly not Ser Piggy’s. The only problem I saw with Sam’s logic is that it makes him look even more craven for wanting to put as much distance between himself and the white walkers as humanly possible. I don’t blame him.

Let’s switch gears to the “battle” of ice. I can kind of sympathize with the show deciding to basically not show it all. I imagine their budget is pretty spent after fairly elaborate fight scenes in the past two episodes (though Vikings manages to have them in almost every episode). We all know the show hates Stannis. I don’t need to go on another diatribe about that.

Except it was stupid and lazy. The show should’ve just killed Stannis after the Battle of the Blackwater. He was season two’s “big bad” and became an afterthought once the wildfire started consuming his ships. We’re constantly told that the show and the books are different. Well, they should have been different more in this case. Book Stannis, I will always love you.

So Brienne comes back. Remember her? I love how the show has her talk nonstop about duty for a few seasons, only to have her neglect that for vengeance. Oathkeeper is great for oaths, except when it’s needed for spite.

Were we really expected to believe that Stannis would still be alive after all (except for that one guy) his men died? Ramsey is crazy, but he isn’t stupid. He would know to make sure killing the Mannis was a top priority. The show said no to logic so that Brienne could have her moment. Great…

Reek and Sansa was fine. I’m glad Miranda is dead. She sucked. In the books, Reek and fake Arya go to Stannis’ camp. You see, in the books, Stannis is great and isn’t a complete idiot who burns his daughter (#StandWithStannis). I imagine they’ll go to Brienne, but who knows? Maybe they’ll go to the three-eyed raven because they know Bran is alive (I wish I believed that this isn’t going to happen more than I do, though I’m putting it at maybe 25%).

Back to Brienne for a moment again because I hate how the show decided that this was a good idea. She neglects her oath to Sansa to fulfill some “oath” to Renly, who never told her to kill Stannis. Nice going! Also, your squire left a perfectly good rabbit in the snow. Where’s PETA when you need them?

Littlefinger, where’d you go? Waiting in the snow pile to catch Sansa? I hope so.

Arya! That was fun. I’m surprised they stuck with A Feast for Crows and made her blind. I don’t imagine that’ll last long. I’m also happen Jaqen isn’t dead. His appearance this season might be my favorite change from the books. Poor Ser Meryn (just kidding). Maybe he should have been more like Brienne and focused on his vows, provided there wasn’t something better for him to do…

I liked the Meereen scenes because of the talent involved, but much of what was said was silly. Killing Tyrion should never have even been discussed. It was pretty clear from the previous two episodes that Dany liked him. Ser Friendzone was just being a curmudgeon and not in the typical fun Ser Jorah way. It was nice to see Varys too. I don’t imagine Ser Jorah will be pleased to see him either.

Say it with me for one last time this season, why does Jorah have greyscale? Say it to yourself a few times and maybe you can make some sense out of it. I certainly can’t.

Dany seeing the Dothraki was also fun, though I would have preferred some Quaithe visions like the books. Oh well. The only thing I’d add is that the Dothraki have been absent for so long that their reintroduction might have lost some of its impact. I’ve long hated how the Unsullied have replaced the Dothraki as Dany’s personal guard (in the books, they stick around as well), but that’s probably nitpicking.

Dorne… I’ve got nothing. Talk about wasting Dr. Bashir all season. In my last Interview of Ice and Fire, I asked Radio Westeros if they would have preferred if the Ironborn had been in this season instead of the Dornish. I know I would have. Poor Myrcella. No more Mr. Nice Ser Stumpy. I wish I cared more.

Which takes us to King’s Landing, our final destination for this recap. I thought it dragged on a bit, but I like Cersei’s shaming. Great acting from Lena Headley.

We also got to see Ser Robert Strong, who actually did look a lot like Frankenstrong. In the books, you can’t see his face at all because we’re not sure if he actually has one since his head was promised to Dorne. I imagine that the show switched this because causal viewers might forget that this is supposed to be Gregor Clegane. While I’ll okay with showing a little bit of face, it does make you wonder how Kevan and Pycelle let Qyburn parade him around.

That’s all I’ve got to say for this episode. I will do a review of this season as a whole (leave your guesses for the grade I’ll give it in the comments) sometime later this week. Perhaps when I’m done grieving over the loss of Stannis, though it was for the best.

I want to thank you all for reading. The feedback on these recaps has been spectacular, which is surprising since I wasn’t sure how a book heavy recap would be perceived. It’s been a fun ride, even when the show wasn’t so fun.

One bit on shameless self-promotion. If you enjoyed these recaps, please consider buying one of my books. They’re all $4 on kindle and only slightly more in paperback. I don’t get paid for these recaps and while I’d do it for free, it seemed prudent to inform you all of another great opportunity to read words that I wrote!

For the Watch!

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Should HBO Skip Screener Copies for Season Six of Game of Thrones?

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

It took HBO about two weeks to respond to the pirates who leaked the screener copies of the first four episodes of season 5 of Game of Thrones. Given the ratings records set by the premiere, it’s hard to accurately assess the damage. The warnings sent out suggest that HBO isn’t particularly interested in a bunch of lawsuits which would likely lead to nowhere anyway. It’s hard to imagine that HBO is particularly pleased with the leak though, which makes me wonder how HBO will handle the release of season six.

Networks generally send out screener copies of the first four episodes of new seasons to publications as a way of generating buzz. Since most shows aren’t a worldwide phenomenon, piracy tends not to be too big of a problem. With a show like Game of Thrones, a leak was practically inevitable.

HBO has been pretty proactive in its efforts to combat piracy. The recently launched HBO NOW offers HBO without a cable subscription for a flat rate of 15 dollars a months (currently only available on Apple Devices). This was also likely done as an effort to try to get millennials and others who have gotten rid of cable, but use their parents’/friends’ HBO GO to pay. HBO NOW hasn’t been around long enough to determine whether or not the service has been a success, but the idea is fundamentally sound.

While the presence of HBO NOW might help cut down on piracy in general, it wouldn’t have prevented the leak. The screener copies had content that no one could see legally for weeks after the premiere. The only way to prevent the screener copies from leaking is to stop sending them out entirely.

The benefits to this are pretty easy to see, but the risks are a little more complicated. One might argue that a show like Game of Thrones doesn’t need to get a stamp of approval from The New York Times or Entertainment Weekly and there’s something to that. Problem is that buzz has value that’s hard to quantify. The mass exposure from hundreds of publications does play a part in the success of the show.

Many of those features would still exist without the screeners, but it’s not hard to imagine a reduction if they weren’t sent out ay all. It’s harder to write about something when you don’t know the specifics. Those publications might turn their attention, and cover stories, toward other shows instead. Game of Thrones’ massive popularity makes that harder to fathom, but it’s still a risk that HBO would need to take into consideration.

Which brings us back to the damage. If Game of Thrones sets ratings records, are the leaks really a problem? Would 10 million people have watched the premiere instead of 8? There’s no way of knowing, but it does stand to reason that the number would be higher. How much that matters is up to HBO.

The solution that I would consider if I were head of HBO would be to reduce the number of episodes included in the screener copies. Four might be the standard, but cable shows also generally have thirteen episodes a season. The screener copies account for 40% of the whole season. Cutting that down to two would reduce the potential damage while also appeasing the big publications.

One option I would not consider is a switch to a Netflix delivery style, mostly for reasons I covered in my recent article on House of Cards. For a show of Game of Thrones’ magnitude, dropping all the episodes in one fell swoop isn’t a great way to get proper bang for your buck. That would actually exacerbate the spoiler problem as people would know the ending right from day one.

Piracy will always be a problem for massively popular shows. HBO could reduce its subscription fees to a dollar a month and this would still be the case. There are some possible ways to cut back on the damage though which HBO should consider as the show goes on and the stakes are raised. When the final season rolls around and the death count starts to skyrocket, HBO isn’t going to want people knowing who lives and who dies weeks in advance.

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