A Courseload of [Breaking Bad]

The concept of Breaking Bad is so tantalizing as we shuffle through life, wishing it was more exciting, imagining a path to greater success, praying that which hinders would disappear. Amidst the slog, Vince Gilligan creates a show that makes it appear like we are one break from unbridled wealth and a life’s storyline worthy of television. Walter White’s life becomes the alternate reality none of us dares take, but instead choose to imagine peeking out, just around the corner. 

When I watch a mundane chemistry teacher, so talented and so gifted, trapped in the confines of social expectation and morality, and then find release from those ties that bind, I wonder what teachers of other subjects would do if morality and social restraint were no longer considerations.

Below is the summation of the pilot episode for Breaking Bad and a few more that imagine the main character as teachers of other subjects.

Pilot

Walter White was a very ordinary, middle-class chemistry teacher, who also worked a second job at a car wash in order to make enough money to feed his family. But one day, he collapses, and is given a terrible diagnosis: stage-3 inoperable lung cancer. While watching the news along with his family and friends on his 50th birthday, namely a segment on a methamphetamine drug bust, he discovers the amount of profit in the meth business. His DEA agent brother-in-law Hank Schrader offers Walter a ride-along to a methhouse sting. A while later, Walter accepts, and accompanies Hank on a drug bust. While on the ride-along, he finds out that his former school student Jesse Pinkman is part of the drug house operation and watches him escape. As Walter considers the financial benefits of drug trafficking for his pregnant wife Skyler, and his physically disabled son, Walter Junior, he sees only one way out; forcing Jesse to teach him about the drug trade. Using his chemistry knowledge, Walter ends up making the purest methamphetamine that anyone has ever seen. Thus, both are drawn deeper and deeper into the abyss of organized drug trafficking.

Gym

Hunter Hanks was a very ordinary, middle-class PE teacher, who also worked a second job at a car wash in order to make enough money to feed his family. But one day, he collapses, and is given a terrible diagnosis: stage-3 inoperable lung cancer. While watching the news along with his family, he sees an old college football buddy, Carl Elfmann, signed a new multi-million-dollar deal to play football for the Broncos. After receiving pressure from his pregnant wife, Hanks called up Elfmann to see if he could help him out financially. What he receives is a mutually beneficial offer to “scare” one of Elfmann’s childhood friends who is blackmailing him. In return, Elfmann will help him pay his upcoming medical bills. Hanks agrees, but the scare goes terribly wrong, Hanks ends up killing the blackmailer, and he gets away with it. Elfmann was elated with the unanticipated result and paid him more than the agreed upon price. When Elfmann starts telling friends about how Hanks helped him out, Hunter Hanks enlists the help of a particularly aggressive student, Bobby Scopes, who is on the verge of getting kicked out of school, and becomes a blacklist bounty hunter. As his ‘favors’ to Elfmann’s friends become more and more lucrative, they start to push the boundaries of what Hanks is able to justify.

Math

Adam Arn was a very ordinary, middle-class math teacher, who also worked a second job at a car wash in order to make enough money to feed his family. But one day, he collapses, and is given a terrible diagnosis: stage-3 inoperable lung cancer. While watching basketball on TV he noticed the money line posted on the HUD. As an avid watcher of sports, he thinks he can make a better one using his sport’s knowledge and mathematic calculations. Soon after he was watching his school’s basketball team play and noticed parents making jokes about who would score first and the over/under at halftime. The next day he pulls a player from the basketball team, Ricky Levins, who was going to fail his class, into the hallway and offers him an ultimatum: give him all the information he has on his own team and all the teams in their division and get an A or end up becoming ineligible for the rest of the season. Together knowledge they compile a ‘big board’ for bets for all the team’s games, which grows into one of the most lucrative sports books in town. As his book grows, Adam finds out he is not the only bookie in town, but he is the least connected.

Art

Turner Tate was a very ordinary, middle-class art teacher, who also worked a second job at a car wash in order to make enough money to feed his family. But one day, he collapses, and is given a terrible diagnosis: stage-3 inoperable lung cancer. While lying at home convalescing he watches a documentary on art forgery. He marvels at how much money is in the business. As the bills mount, he catches a student, Mikey Redman, using the art studio to make Fake IDs and Hall Passes. In exchange for not reporting him, Turner offers to team up with him and start forging artwork. As their pile of forged art grows, Turner turns to sketchy art dealer, Lucas Yeats, to find buyers. Yeats finds the buyers, but Turner may not like the way they do business. And when one of the forgeries ends up in the hands of government officials, Turner must dive deeper into a world he didn’t even know existed.

History

Arthur Abe was a very ordinary, middle-class history teacher, who also worked a second job at a car wash in order to make enough money to feed his family. But one day, he collapses, and is given a terrible diagnosis: stage-3 inoperable lung cancer. While watching the news he sees a speech given by a former friend, Rob Martins, who was now heavily involved in state politics. He calls Martins up to talk about the speech and ask if he had any opportunities for work to help pay medical bills. After they both decided his speech was a dud, Abe was put in charge of writing the next one. It was a resounding success, and Martins began entrusting Abe with more and more responsibilities. As a thank you, Martins offered Abe the opportunity to bring a student to the capital. When they arrive, Abe and his student, Johnny Connors, walk in on Martins making underhanded political maneuvers with local law enforcement. As Martins explains himself, Abe realizes he is in deep trouble. When Connors helps using something Abe had just taught in class, Abe and Connors become involved in the darker side of politics. What at first seemed to be helping Martins navigate local squabbles with a few corrupt local agencies, turns into political corruption that reaches all the way to the federal level.

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Hollywood Cats

In the midst of a sea-change in the elitist and demographically uninspiring world of film, cats have every right to post their picket signs along with women and minorities. #OscarsSoDogs, amiright? 

Think about the great dog roles of our generation. Old Yeller, Marley, Beethoven, Benjy, Lassie, Air Bud, the list goes on. Now consider the great roles designed for cats. There is no need to consider for long, there are not many. Yet anyone who has spent any amount of time on the internet will know that cats are the world’s great performers. Dogs are people pleasers to be sure, and lovable as anything on this planet, but there is not a creative bone for them to gnaw on. Cats on the other hand… cats provide YouTube videos like, “Cats knocking shit off tables,” and “Cats getting scared by cucumbers,” and “Cats riding Roombas,” and the list goes on. This strong Indie presence reveals the categorical denial of an entire species to leave their mark on the big screen. They are type-non-casted by their strong will and independence.

To contribute to the quest for equality for our feline thespians, I want to consider the few roles cats have been awarded in Hollywood and show how they make an undeniable case for more roles in future films. I compiled a list of the great cat roles that overproduced and should pave the way for cators and catresses of future generations.

Like Chris Rock so eloquently put it in his opening monologue for the 2016 Oscars, “What I’m trying to say is, you know, it’s not about boycotting anything. It’s just, we want opportunity. We want cat actors to get the same opportunities as dog actors.” Or something like that.

Jones [Alien]

I figured there is no better place to start than Jones. How badass is this cat? He is given the role of the first ever space cat. A space cat that travels in stasis across lightyears and regular years. Also, this space cat intermittently wakes up from stasis in order to survive infestation and annihilation by the most perfect predator of all time, built to kill all inferior beings. Which is not Jonesy. Who, despite being encumbered by the crew who insist on trying to capture him and put him in a carrier (look in Jones’ eyes when he’s in his carrier and the alien is nearby, “Fuckin’ humans.” The best line in the film and it wasn’t even spoken), is able to survive the alien. By extension this makes Ripley and Jones the greatest predators of all time (I am assuming this title is transferred like titles in boxing).

His on-screen connection with Sigourney Weaver, who portrays Ellen Ripley, is unparalleled, even by the classic buddy dog films (suck it Hooch and Hanks). They produce one of the all-time film rescue moments when Ripley runs out of the escape pod in order to save Jones, who she abandoned in the carrier on the ship. Jones was Ripley’s last lifeline to humanity and as she flamethrows her way back to him to return to the pod united again, it takes a pretty heartless bastard not to appreciate the connection built in only a few short scenes together. 

Godfather Cat [Godfather]

Godfather Cat is the cattest of all Hollywood cats. His role is small, his impact is large, and his such a cat the whole time. The great performance of the Godfather Cat begins with its backstory. Apparently, this ballsy little bastard wandered onto set and rubbed up against Marlon Brando’s leg to get the job- because that’s how down on their luck cators and catresses are right now. The role was probably supposed to go to a dog. But Godfather Cat took matters into his own paws and picked out the greatest actor on set and, with a flick of his tail said, “let’s make movie magic.” And that they did. Brando picked up the cat and made him a part of Godfather’s iconic opening scene. Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola see the benefit of cats in films, how is this not something we can all get behind?

Also worthy of consideration is how iconic the image of the bad guy stroking a cat has become. I am aware From Russia with Love and Blofeld’s cat need to get major credit for this as well, but I had to look up which movie that was from, and everyone remembers that the Godfather Cat was from The Godfather.

And lastly, but most importantly, Godfather Cat is such a cat for the entire scene. Here is a cat that wanders onto a set, is given a role in one of the coolest scenes in all of cinema, and when that camera cuts back to Brando, and Godfather Cat is in the scene for the first time, he is wiggling on Brando’s lap looking for attention (this might be the largest example of cat attention seeking behavior ever documented). He’s begging to be played with as Brando is delivering some of the greatest dialogue in all of film. 

But also watch as Brando expertly controls this cat. He gives the cat his hand while deftly avoiding his claws and secures the cat on his lap with one hand at all times. At one point he lifts the cat up by his arm and sits it on his lap like a child, and what does Godfather Cat do? He stares down Amerigo Bonasera for not coming to Vito before going to the police, for believing in America rather than in family. The rat bastard. And then…Godfather Cat reaches out for Brando’s hand like, “Shit man, don’t let the scritches stop.” 

And when Vito rises and places Godfather Cat on the desk during a moment of extreme intensity, Godfather Cat delivers his only line, “Meow.” 

Nailed it.

I imagine Godfather Cat is a lot like Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. At first, no one liked what Johnny Depp did with the character. He was too over the top, too distracting, not serious enough. But great actors and cators always know. And, over time, they are revealed to be transcendent performances.

Orangey [10 films and 8 television shows]

This is a bit different than the others. Orangey’s place on the list is more like a lifetime-achievement award. Orangey starred in many roles throughout the 50s and 60s and won two PATSY (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) awards as Rhubarb in Rhubarb and “Cat” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and thus can be considered the Meryl Streep of cators. He was not the catalyst (pun overly intended) for societal change in equality in animal roles in film, but it damn sure wouldn’t have been possible without him.  He won the awards, did it before anyone else, and was better than everyone else. 

He was so good that studios put up with his ridiculous antics- reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s onset shenanigans. According to Cats Most Wanted, one studio exec claimed Orangey was the “world’s meanest cat” and would often bite actors and actresses. He also was known to run away and cause the set to shut down until he was found, causing directors to post guard dogs at the door to deter any further getaways. 

But he was legendary for his ability to ‘stay’ for several hours, and his onscreen performances spoke for themselves, a quick flash of his two PATSYs was undeniable, and the onset behavior quickly forgiven. There is still an uncomfortable disparity between the treatment of dogs and cats in Hollywood, but what little progress has been made can largely be attributed to Orangey.

Goose [Captain Marvel]

This whole thought experiment dawned on me after watching Captain Marvel and thinking about how awesome Goose was. He flerkin stole the show. I walked out of the theater thinking that he might have had the best performance of any cat in any film. And my second thought was… what other cats appear in film? I struggled to conjure the list of great Hollywood cats that now sits before you. This was that kind of performance. One that demands more performances like it from other animals just like him. 

There are two elements of his performance that are undeniably fantastic. The first is his comedic timing. Goose provides most of the comedic relief that is so crucial to any Marvel film. His banter with Captain Fury make for some of the funniest moments in the beginning of the film, and his scene smashed against the cargo in the jet is the funniest moment in the entire film. His meows are delivered not a millisecond too late or too soon, and his body language as he sits and stares (a cat must) and as a cat floating in space are all on point.

But let’s not ignore how technically difficult it would be to pretend to be a flerkin pretending to be a cat. Goose shows us his cacting chops as he created an entire alien race for us as that alien race pretended to be a cat. The role is so complex it almost doesn’t make sense, except it does, because we had Goose to show us.

Goose had an opportunity to bring attention to an issue that can no longer be ignored. Cats must be provided with the opportunity to act with the best in the biz. And with this performance that call for action is undeniable and demands a response. And that response should be “Let the cat act!” They are even spelled with the same letters goddamnit.  

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The Closing Scene of [Mindhunter] (Season 2)

The closing scene of Mindhunter season two lasts one minute and nine seconds. One minute and nine seconds of the freakiest shit in television. When I first watched this scene, I behaved like a person pretending to be a person watching a horror movie. I turned away. I grabbed my hair. I covered my eyes and peaked through my fingers, and I want to explain why. Because in subsequent viewings of the scene, I had no visceral reaction at all, but as a culmination of that season and with no understanding of what I was about to see, this scene dun messed me up a-a-ron. 

The best I can figure it, the reason this scene was so creepy was because of three factors 1. The narrative of BTK in season two, 2. Not knowing where the scene was going to end, and 3. That damn music.

1. The Narrative of BTK

The opening scene of season two onwards amounts to the failed rehabilitation of BTK. Season one told the story of who this guy is and what he does, and then, in season two, we see him forced to acknowledge his “proclivities” and struggle to hide them in plain sight. All of this was initiated by a nerve-rattling scene in episode one of season two, where BTK’s wife comes home, notices her bathroom door rattling and, in slow motion, approaches the door for two painful minutes as we watch, semi-aware of what were about to see, fully aware of how unpleasant it will be. She opens the door to discover her husband pleasurably choking himself with a rope while dressed as a woman (that was even painful to write). So when we get to a hotel room in Junction City, Kansas in the last scene of season 2, with BTK fully realized, we know it’s about to go down in the worst kind of way. This was a culminating moment, and in a TV series like Mindhunter, culminating moments should be approached with caution. I was set on my heels and it made the subsequent repetitive body blows of creepiness unbearable.

2. Not Knowing

Even though I knew the scene wasn’t going to be pleasant, I did not have any guesses as to what we were about to see. And in horror stories, not knowing is the worst part. This scene capitalized on this phenomenon particularly well, because as it unfolded I kept guessing (incorrectly) what I was watching. I went through a series of false revelations that started when I saw BTK eye-fucking himself in the mirror and ended with the closing credits. It went something like this, “OH GOD! This is just like Silence of the Lambs.”

*BTK puts mask on* 

“Oh no, he’s about to do that weird stuff from episode one again.” 

*camera shows the video recorder* 

“Is that a video camera? What is he filming? Why is he filming? Oh no…does he have a woman in there?” 

*BTK kneels and the camera pans his trophies* 

“Wait, what? He is just remembering all his kills?” 

*BTK puts rope around his neck* 

“NOPE. NOPE. I’m not watching this!” 

*BTK strains against the rope* “Holy….” 

*camera cuts* 

“Oh thank god…I’m going to change my pants now.”

I felt like I was travelling through that freaky tunnel in Willy Wonka with Gene Wilder singing that creepy song. Except there was no Gene Wilder and the music was way worse.

3. That Damn Music

Nyun yun nyun nya. Its like an instrument meant to sound like a man, pretending to be a child making noises. That is the best I can explain how it sounds. But its effect? That’s like cold hands reaching under your shirt and grabbing your rib cage. It makes you look over your shoulder just in case. And it makes this scene so uncomfortable. Music is often best when you are not even aware its affecting you, this music announces itself and has its way with you and you can do nothing about it. Anyone who watched both seasons of Mindhunter was ready for the eyes of Ford and Tench to turn towards BTK, but this scene made me realize how powerful this vignettes were in affecting me and establishing the character. I wouldn’t mind a third season of Ford and Tench honing their skill elsewhere before turning towards BTK. But if we get the BTK hunt, I definitely have no problem with never having to hear that music ever again.

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Animated Dogs…Who Knew? [The Call of the Wild]

I was an unwilling participant in my emotional investment in The Call of the Wild, a movie hemorrhaging money and featuring an overly-obviously animated dog as the main character. However, I not only connected with this movie, I was laughing from the moment Buck ripped through his home in the opening scene, bouncing his owners children off their beds, and I was already sad and angry at Buck’s forced displacement from his home in the scenes that soon followed. Like really angry and really sad. There is a scene where a man threatens Buck with a club, and I still hate that man. I wanted the movie to break from its story line and show that man stalked and killed like this was Kill Bill. Similarly, when Buck found a new loving owner in Perrault, who was patient and kind and allowed him to learn and grow with a pack, I was so goddamn happy. I wanted the movie to end right there, after only an hour, and for Buck to continue to deliver mail for the rest of time (alas, this was not to be). And I wasn’t alone. In the theater there were so many audible laughs and groans and mutters of dismay, more than I remember hearing in any other movie. These were powerful emotions, and maybe they happened because I wasn’t expecting them or prepared for them like when you steel yourself for an emotional film, but I am shocked at them, mostly because they came from a dog…No. An animated dog.

Especially since this dog was not a paragon of new age special effects. There was never a moment where it dawned on me that the dog was animated after thinking it was real- it was painfully obvious from the first scene. I never marveled at how lifelike Buck looked- he looked really animated the whole time. But it worked. In fact, I eventually started to think of the movie as an animated film. We have seen instances of lots of animation in a ‘live’ film, but to me this became lots of ‘live’ action in an animated film. And that worked for me. This blending was done well enough that we got the best of both worlds and a great way to tell this story.

Buck is way beyond your average dog in emotional intelligence and ability. They could never have gotten a real dog to play Buck even if they wanted to put the work in. And since Buck was animated, we got to see all the best parts of dogs, the looks, the emotions, the sadness, the tongue mlems, those big brown eyes, and those moments all perfectly timed (the secret recipe for any funny animal moment). Buck is the perfect dog in The Call of the Wild, and he needed animation to portray him.

So why animate the people as well? They didn’t have to, and they didn’t, and the movie was better for it. Because a dog’s emotions may become better with animation, but a person’s becomes worse. I don’t want an animated Harrison Ford, give me Harrison Ford in all his grumpy old man splendor. So as Buck romped on screen and raised hell and loved and cried (that part might have been me), it was all the emotions of a dog film on steroids. They washed over me like a tidal wave. And as Ford stalked the screen, searching for meaning in the wake of his family’s demise, we got all of his emotion as well. And then together, they form an emotional Molotov cocktail. There is an awesome scene towards the beginning  of the movie where Buck is going to be sold, and he runs into Harrison Ford and helps him out by returning his dropped harmonica, and you think, “Okay good, Ford will buy Buck, Buck will be safe, and the movie can get going with these two.” But it didn’t. It took forever for Ford and Buck to get together, they kept teasing it, and I wanted them to be together so badly-and expected it based on the marketing- but neither of them were ready for each other. And when they did finally end up together, the journey was all the sweeter. 

I understand why people are shying away from it. Seeing trailers with Ford interacting with an animated dog looks silly. But it’s not silly. It’s a recipe in making people feel things they weren’t willing to feel. It’s streamlining a feel-good movie. They found a way to include all of the ways we should connect with Buck, all of the best parts of watching a movie, and all of the best parts of great performances from Harrison Ford and Omar Sy. It didn’t try to do too much or be anything it wasn’t. It punched me right in the heart-balls, and I could do nothing but feel it.

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The Man the Internet Created [My Dad, the Facebook Addict]

Vincent Levine is a 56-year-old retired schoolteacher who loves memes, Facebook, and his family, in that order. And it’s impossible not to wonder, as his addiction plays out in this ten-minute video, how he is the way he is. Don’t get me wrong, this may be my favorite video on the internet (Vindog, please don’t meme me off the internet. Nothing but respect). But somewhere in the glee of Vindog talking about alphabetizing his memes to make them more readily available to meme people to death, in the midst of those smiles and chuckles, I asked myself, how the hell does this happen? 

To answer this question, I think we need to go to the movie that serves as the warning and answer to all technology issues, Jurassic Park. In a great scene, Jeff Goldblum- or whatever his character’s name is- warns the spared-no-expense guy that the technology the park is wielding is a problem because, “It didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took it for yourselves. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves.” Too true, Jeff Goldblum, too true. Now, if only he could tell my Grandma this so she stops posting in all caps. 

If only we could sit him in front of an entire generation of people who were handed the internet when they still didn’t know how to use a personal computer, who wanted to use Facebook before they could download the app for themselves. They “were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” I love Vindog because he is the embodiment of all of those we know and love who found a niche on the internet even though it wasn’t meant for their purposes, like a homeless man asleep in the doorway of a store you need to enter. So content, while making us all so miserable. 

This becomes evident as the video swaps back and forth between Vindog explaining his meme war strategy (he starts with the good memes and moves to the best ones) and his family voicing their annoyance at his Facebook usage. There is something profound in one of his sons saying that if he blocked his dad, he would probably receive the memes in the mail. We can all picture it happening. We have all helped a parent, relative, or friend-often old but sometimes young- maneuver the inner-workings of some social media platform, only to have them turn around and wield it for ‘evil’ rather than good. Many of us have had to secretly block someone we love from our feed to avoid the political fallout, idiotic content, or incessant nature of their posts. But maybe that shouldn’t be held against them.

Most of us, at this point, grew up with the internet and social media. We made our mistakes and decided that they were mistakes together. We learned that certain posts were unacceptable and that a certain amount of posting is too much. Vindog didn’t learn these lessons with the rest of us. He didn’t get an opportunity to make these mistakes and autocorrect with the rest of the world. He found Facebook and discovered memes relatively recently on the lightning fast timeline of technology. And therefore, his enthusiasm for this discovery is as hot as ours was when we first logged onto Facebook. We were all like this at one point, we just grew out of that phase together through self-regulation, and now we have convinced ourselves that this man-made etiquette has turned the Internet into something different than Dancing Hamsters and I Haz Cheezburger, as if we ascended to some higher plain of virtual existence.  But we haven’t. The Internet is still the same place. 

If only we all could be Vindog again, pecking away with two fingers on our keyboards, enjoying social media for the simple pleasures rather than using it to develop our moral commentary. If only we could fall in love with it all over again and have Vindog’s joy as he brags about having every meme on the internet and his excitement for the “right top…little ‘1’” that causes him to get out of bed and hit refresh over and over and over again. 

As we watch Vindog explain his love for his arsenal of memes, let it serve as a reminder not to take anything or anyone too seriously on our feeds. We have gazed on the internet’s true face. And it looks a lot like Vindog. He knows how fun the internet can be. He is willing to exploit it for his maximum enjoyment and, rather than bickering and fighting and dissenting, this is probably what we should do too. Because he doesn’t want to do it, he really doesn’t, but if he has to, and if you poke the wrong bear, Vindog will click that folder, start with the good memes and move to the best ones, and meme you off of the internet entirely.

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Who is more full of shit? The Pierces or The Roys (Pt. 2) [Succession]

If you have not yet read Part 1 of Who is more full of shit? Check it out before continuing if you want to get caught up.

The Pierces had more significant moments where they revealed themselves to be full of shit. But the converse needs to be examined as well. Which family had more moments where they were authentically themselves, for good or for bad. But given the situation and the families involved…mostly for bad.

10.  Eunuch Besties

Tabitha, Roman’s date to all special events, is an amazing character. One of Succession’squirks is taking storylines that seem minor or completed and launching them into the spotlight with awful timing for the Roys (and delightful timing for the viewers). Tabitha is one of those storylines. Originally the girl who made Tom swallow is own semen, “like a closed looped system,” she is portrayed as a comical pit-stop in the Succession road race, only to resurface, at Tom’s wedding of all places, as Roman’s date, making it seem like a joke drawn out further, and better, than we initially expected. But then she becomes an even more significant part of the show and significant part of Roman’s life in season two. She reveals herself to be smart, well connected, funny, and at times kind and supportive of the psychologically messy Roman Roy. 

At the dinner table, she shows her authentic self in a moment where she refers to her and Roman’s non-existent sex life and calls themselves ‘eunuch besties,’ much to Roman’s chagrin, and overpowers Roman’s half-assed attempts to prove that they were ‘quite relentless in that regard’ and that they resided in ‘fuck-city.’ Overall, the moment was incredibly authentic in the most inappropriate way.

         Authenticity

         Roys- 1

         Pierces- 0

9. King of the Edible Leaves

Tom, the font of wonderful quotes, let’s loose a real doozy during dinner. He is getting his haunches caned, as he was warned he might in the before-meeting prep. The Pierces voice their worry/concern at the idea of Tom being in charge of PGN. Tom plays along at first, referring to himself as the ‘conservative ogre’ and laughing along as he is wont to do. The caning becomes painful when Logan assuages the fears of the Pierces by saying he is not sure whether Tom would be put in charge of PGN, something Tom was not told about beforehand. The Pierces glided past the awkwardness by telling Tom, that everything rests on the thing he said next. His next words, after an interruptions and delay, were in fact, while scooping a healthy serving from the salad bowl….”Oh, King of edible leaves, His Majesty the Spinach.” And just like that…authentic Tom for all to see.

         Authenticity

         Roys- 2

         Pierces- 0

8. What makes the world go ‘round?

Tom with back-to-back moments (heat check?). The Moment-maker, before he shows his regard for the majesty of spinach, has a more profound and significant authentic moment when the Pierces and the Roys debate the importance of money over values-Nan argues that money is a social construct but things like virtue and honesty are real things… I’ll just leave that here. A Pierce comments that ‘money makes the world go ‘round.’ Another Pierce responds, incredulously, by asking if there is any room for virtue in the world. Tom answers by telling an anecdote, “This morning I went to the store and bought a pound of ham, and I paid for it by telling them I was really worried about the environment.” 

If there is anything that Tom understands it is being rich. He is the only Roy that wasn’t born rich (or at least filthy rich, he probably was normal rich because we know that his mother was a lawyer, and you don’t marry a Roy without at least some pedigree). He also has a penchant for exulting in the positives of the rich lifestyle to anyone who will listen (but mostly just Greg). And the best part of these moments of candor is that they are often the best commentary about the lives and thoughts of the Roys who have lived this life for so long they probably couldn’t verbalize the differences in their lives to others. This is one of those moments where, with cutting authenticity, Tom both effectively shoots down an argument and defends the Roy’s perspective on life. It’s well done, but so terribly inappropriate in this discussion and his relationship to it that it probably hurt more than helped.

I also love this quote because it clearly indicates that Tom has maybe never been to a grocery store. The fact that he chose to use ‘a pound of ham’ as the item of choice in his grocery store shopping metaphor is all the evidence I need to prove this.

         Authenticity

         Roys- 3

         Pierces- 0

7. Penis Cat

I really like cats. Penis Cat is awesome. Everyone’s reaction to Penis Cat is equally as awesome and unfiltered. Points for everyone for owning and/or reacting to the Penis Cat

         Authenticity

         Roys- 4

         Pierces- 1

6. Maxim’s Wit

 As seen earlier, Maxim is a tool for fighting the joke presidential candidate. But damn if he doesn’t have some good lines. He dances circles around Con (not that Con would see it that way) starting with his greeting of Con as, “The man who would be king” and “Don Quixote of Iowa, tilting at straw polls.” He also voices his shock that Con called Brookings an “elite institution” (It is assumed that Con does so merely because he has no fucking clue what the Brookings Institute is) by telling Con, “I thought you were of the whole abolish the Federal Reserve, fluoride is poison, pissing in jars end of things.“ 

He presses Con even further at dinner to the point where he gets Con to lash out, an especially fun reaction because it’s easy to see how hard Con, the perpetual do-gooder and people-pleaser (Like when everyone is leaving his ranch after a nuclear family meltdown and he asks everyone if they had a good time or like when he flips his shit over butter being too hard or like when he just goes along with whatever his siblings want him to do when signing very important documents) is working to get along and ‘stay in his lane.’ But Maxim’s question about whether he could name one member of the House Congress Committee took him too far (for the record Ferdinand D. Who-Gives-A-Shit from the great state of No One Fucking Cares is not a member of that particular committee). 

For an initial interaction that ends in cheers and a day that ends in a Secretary of State offer, Maxim gets off some solid jabs.

         Authenticity

         Roys-4

         Pierces-2

5. “I can just tell…”

Naomi Pierce is the Pierce with the most depth, and so she will naturally have more moments of authenticity. Right from the time she was mentioned by Rhea to Logan she feels complex and significant. The clincher of her complexity is at the dinner table talking to Kendall. Naomi is a ‘recovering’ addict,’ Kendall is a ‘recovering’ addict, Naomi is one of the most important swing votes of the family and Kendall has been charged with winning her over. His first opportunity to do so is at the dinner table (he sits across from her). After Naomi’s previously mentioned Shakespeare prayer (check out Part 1), Kendall takes the opportunity to tell her how cool it was-honorable mention full of shit moment-and then introduce himself as Kendall Roy. “I know,” is her response, a nice way to acknowledge someone while also not giving them the time of day. He also mentions he is a recovering addict. “I know,” Naomi replies. “My, uh, not-so spotless reputation precedes me,” Kendall quips, in reference to her Shakespeare quotation. Naomi corrects him, “No. I can just tell.” And Kendall’s insides liquify, his testicles retract into his abdomen, his palms spew sweat onto his lap, and we the viewers laugh.

         Authenticity

         Roys- 4

         Pierces- 3

4. “’Cause that’s not my fucking job.”

Logan and Rhea’s relationship is a masterpiece of development. Born out of necessity and opposition, bonded through common greed, forged in mutual respect. I believe we have the start of the second and third phase of this relationship in Tern Haven. 

We don’t know a whole bunch about the Logan psychology. He’s a complicated guy. His decision-making is inscrutable and borderline reactionary. His relationships are Machiavellian, the ends will always justify the means. His emotions, volatile at best. But we can put together that Logan seeks one thing, being challenged. The irony is that he hates being challenged, he responds by lashing out at the challenger and in a greater degree than their initial challenge. But anyone who doesn’t challenge him is worthless to him. So Succession becomes this hodge-podge of him ruining people for challenging him-Kendall and Frank-and destroying people he finds complacent because they pander to and won’t challenge him-Tom, Roman, Carl. The converse can also be seen. Logan long term respects those who challenge him, like with Stewie after the first time they talk (“I just love the way he spends my money”), Jerry, Marcia during rehab, the banker who is in charge of brokering the deal with the Pierces, and now…Rhea.

In the midst of Rhea informing Logan that Naomi had arrived and she was putting a wrench in his master plan, Logan asked her why she hadn’t told him she was coming, and she responded by saying, “Um ’Cause that’s not my fucking job…and…ask your people.” This was the perfect response, and the basis of their relationship moving forward for two reasons. One, because it’s the adult version of “you’re not the boss of me,” and I have to imagine Logan hates/loves that in the best possible way. Two, the number one question lingering in Logan’s mind and the mind of the Pierces is who will succeed Logan and take over Waystar Royco. This may be the moment where Logan first thinks, “What if that were her job?” And it may be the first moment where Rhea plants this in Logan’s mind. 

Authenticity

Roys- 4

Pierces- 4

3. Shiv Admits It

Shiv is intolerable in season two. She is also tragic and empathy-inspiring. Season one Shiv had it figured out. The only way to deal with the Roy family is to be as removed from it as possible. She had a great job in politics with a senator who is likely to become president and who’s stances align entirely in opposition to those of the Roy’s interests. She could be kick-ass and call her own shots, dropping into the Roystar Wayco fray only when necessary and on her terms. It appears Logan both recognized this bad-assery in Shiv and wanted it as a part of the Waystar Royco family, and probably was frustrated that his own daughter was in opposition to him. So, in his complicated Logan-way he both bestows Shiv his ultimate display of respect by telling her she will be the next CEO, and then slowly begins to withdraw that offer after her leverage is dismantled and she becomes an utter paranoiac. 

The promise of her succession went straight to Shiv’s head, and she believed she could do no wrong. The only problem is she knows nothing about running Waystar Royco, and in the ultimate unforgiveable act in Logan’s eyes, she is unwilling to work for it (in a scene where Logan, still fully on-board the Shiv-train, outlines the process she will go through before becoming CEO, it amounted to close to five years in training. I don’t know anything about business, but to me, five years seems a reasonable amount of time to spend learning how to be the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar business. Shiv disagrees, and protested profusely, the first reveal of a deadly sin in Shiv, she simultaneously downplays what Logan does, and shows her entitled nature by wanting to get what she wants right away, this to me, is the beginning of the end for her). 

This inflated ego with no basis in reality causes her to make bad decision after bad decision which leads to the equivalent of the business decision-making yips. She second-guesses herself, she second guesses every time Logan does anything, she has minor freak outs in front of Tom, and it ultimately leads to a major freak out in front of Tom after they excused themselves from dinner with the Pierces. She breaks down and says with tears in her eyes and voice, “I really want this,” referencing CEO. It’s both a relief to finally hear her admit it, and also a little sad to see how all her weapons have been stripped from her and all the power was in Logan’s hands, which is exactly what Logan didn’t want when naming a successor.

Authenticity

Roys- 5

Pierces- 4

2. Logan Quotes Shakespeare

In order to beat the game you gotta play the game. And Logan knows all the rules. And he shows us how well he knows the rules and how to play. Logan is full of shit this entire episode, but he gives us a wonderful moment where he calls out the bullshit in the most authentic Logan moment of the episode (season? show?) entirely without ulterior motive or mask. He has voiced his disdain for Shakespeare even before the Pierce name was mentioned when he derides Frank for his penchant for poetry. So we are left to guess how nauseated he is at the Shakespeare recitation at the beginning of dinner (my guess is he swallowed vomit at some point in the proceedings). However, he does not leave us guessing for the entire show. 

During his meeting with Nan, the morning after the dinner, to see if they could salvage a deal, things take a turn for the proverbial lake beside a bridge. Logan, using his legendary people reading-negotiation skills (the one element of business that Kendall lacks, he utterly fails in season one to close any deal, but in season two, while closing deals with his dad, he is a fucking animal, like a weird business-terminator), walks away from the deal because he is getting the screws put to him. On the way out the door he turns and tells them he has his own Shakespeare quote that seems apropos for the situation. This is where the road forks. I thought he (or the Succession writers if you are more meta) would have Logan pull a Shakespearean quote out of his back pocket that reflects his business motto, one that is in opposition to the Pierce’s business motto and so suitably full of fuck-you for being better at even their own game than them. But this is not what he does. What he does is so much better. He introduces his Shakespearean recitation and quips, “Take the fucking money.” 

It was so good and perfect, I thought to myself which play is that from? (That’s real). Because this whole episode is so fraudulent and shitty that this strange break from the fake engendering of good will is startling in its authenticity. Then I realized this was him being the real asshole Logan, and he both told them their business model sucks and their whole demeanor (as reflected by their devotion to Shakespeare) is bullshit. One of those we can all agree with.

         Authenticity

         Roys- 6

         Pierces- 4

1. Shiv Announces Herself as Successor (Goddamn)

Shiv announces herself as successor. Shiv announces herself as successorShiv announces herself as successor. No matter how you look at it this is one of the most significant and mind-blowing parts of Succession and only becomes more so when the dependent clause, ‘at a dinner party with the Pierces,’ gets added to it. The show is called Succession. The show is based on waiting for Logan Roy to declare is successor. Similarly, the conversation surrounding the entire show is the Pierces wanting a successor named and Logan not wanting to be bullied into giving one. The table is full of said Pierces, and other people whose entire lives have been dedicated to becoming the successor or wanting to know who will be. Amidst all this, Shiv goes for the biggest goddamn hailmary of my lifetime. Maybe the biggest ‘fuck it’ moment I have ever witnessed, and says, “Oh, for fuck’s sake dad, just tell them it’s gonna be me.” 

Sift through the emotions on the faces of the dinner guests in the wake of that statement. The disappointment of Roman, the anger of Logan, the no-you-didn’t of Kendall, the this-is-bad of Jerry, the pleasure of Nan, the uncomfortableness and shock of all the Pierces, the what-have-you-done of Tom, and the what-have-I-done of Shiv, and then in the silence that follows, watch them trade emotions with each other like they are playing Yankee swap. Then watch as the Pierces try to salvage the moment because Logan clearly will not, then watch as Logan remains seated and Shiv stands at attention behind her chair like she would have as a child, as her father flicks his glass with disappointment. Then watch her be dismissed without acknowledgement of what she just did. 

As Tom so eloquently puts it, “Jeepers fuckin creepers. What a shit piñata. That was the most Roy thing I have ever seen. It was like I got a quart of Roy injected into my eyeballs.” 

That is how an episode meant to close a storyline, opens the main artery to an even bigger one. Its fearless and under control in a way that, today, only Succession is doing at this high of a level.

     Authenticity

     Roys- 7

     Pierces- 4

Apparently, the answer to the question ‘Who is more full of shit?’ is, quite handily, the Pierces. However, reflecting on the authenticity of the Roys and what it shows about them, maybe they should steal a page from the Pierce playbook. 

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If you liked this, you may also like:
Who is more full of shit? (Pt. 1)
Rulebook for Boar on the Floor
The Many Kendalls [Succession]
Best Insults In All Of [Succession]
“L to the OG” Grammy Acceptance Speech by Kendall Roy [Succession]

Who is more full of shit? The Pierces or The Roys (Pt. 1) [Succession]

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An Introduction

In the fifth episode of the second season, ‘Tern Haven,’ the Roys go to meet the Pierces, a moment so couched in significance that Jesse Armstrong could’ve just left it as is, and the episode would have been phenomenal. But nothing is ever so straightforward with Succession,and the episode ends up taking on a whole new level of messed up than viewers could have possibly expected. 

As a set-up the Roys, the bloodthirsty, greedy, power-hungry, relentless, conservatives, are going to meet the Pierces, who we have not met but are portrayed as the consummate American News family, as steadfast in their journalistic integrity as they are in their duty to each other. Their meeting is set up to be a collision of moral and political disparity that can’t be missed. But there’s more. The Roys’ collective back is against the wall facing a proxy battle for control of the family company, making the acquisition of PGM (The Pierce’s news company) seemingly their only avenue of escape. The get together is not merely a meeting on two ends of the worldview spectrum, but also the Roys must now be on their best behavior, and if you have made it to season two episode five, you are burning with an intense desire to see what the Roys on their best behavior even looks like, even the sentence seems unutterable. We also learned that Nan, the person ultimately in charge of the sale, won’t make the decision on her own, she will only sell if her family is in agreement. Therefore, every interaction and every conversation between a Roy and a Pierce feels like a one-on-one duel to the death.

Also, by zooming into the characters just a little, each character has their own complexity that is sure to make this liaison a failure. For one, the Roys have to bring back Frank, the oft-beaten stray dog of the Waystar Royco, in order to make contact with the family. He informs the Roys that the Pierces do not drink, causing Logan Roy to put a two-drink limit on the family, an amount that, through casual observation, the family consumes before the before dinner drinks commence. Roman says it best while staring at Kendall, “Well that’s okay. Nobody here has any glaring substance abuse issues that almost brought down the company.” Meanwhile, Conner is running for President of the United States based on a desire for one flat-rate tax for all, a platform I am sure the liberal Pierces would find less than convincing. On top of that, Shiv is a paranoid mess, completely thrown off her game in her desire and pursuit to be CEO and hoping that this will be the perfect time for Logan to announce her as successor. And lastly, and leastly in everyone’s eyes, Tom has been made head of ATN (the Roy’s news network) and was prepped for the evening by being told the Pierces hate ATN and they might have to “cane his haunches a little bit” to appease the masses. 

The upcoming episode feels spectacular, significant, and unmissable. But in true Succession form the waters get even muddier. As viewers watch the meeting of the Pierces and the Roys, the before dinner drinks, the dinner, the star gazing etc… it dawns on you. My God! The Pierces are full of shit too. Thus, the episode becomes an homage to all that is good about the storytelling of Succession. A tit-for-tat war between two families with money coming out of all orifices to see who could seem more…familial. One to prove that they should be allowed to buy the other for…24 billion dollars. The other to prove that they didn’t care about the…24 billion dollars. So, to analyze this great episode of Succession and to glimpse the greatness of the show in general, I am going to try and decide who is more full of shit. The Pierces or the Roys.

The means of deciding will be quite simple. I am going to tally the top ten most shit-filled moments, and then I am going to tally the top ten most authentic moments. I will subtract the number of authentic moments for each family from their number of shit-filled moments and the family with the highest total is more full of shit.

I will go in order of least full of shit or authentic to the most full of shit or authentic. But there is one moment that is so completely full of shit that it would probably take the top slot (maybe), but we can’t include it for good reason. At one point during before dinner drinks, Logan Roy brings his family into a side room for a pep talk (read: ass chewing) to refocus them on why they were there and what their assignments were. It is the ultimate in bullshit. It shows us just how organized and strategic Logan is being. But we can’t include it on the list because we only get this glimpse of the Roy family doing this because the narrative follows them (an argument could be made it is a super authentic moment seeing as they are doing it while no one is watching, but I digress). In fact, the more I watch this episode, I more I like to image Nan in another room across Tern Haven, giving a pep talk of her own to her family. Although it would look very different from Logan’s but probably just as full of shit. So, it’s a wash and removes Logan’s speech from contention.

Part 1: Most full of shit moments…

  1. “You, me, and a martini.”

This was maybe the earliest sign of how this dinner with the Pierces was going to go. The one where it dawns on you that this is going to be awful… Because, as usual, the set-up is perfect. Logan and Rhea are having a real moment (more on that in Part 2) where Rhea is informing Logan that Naomi has unexpectedly joined the families’ get together. She also informs him that this is not good for the Roys and their much-needed sale because Naomi is in opposition to it and has a lot of sway with Nan, which prompts Logan to ask if he can do the deal without Nan, as important a question as has been asked on the show. To which, Rhea… hop-skips over to a member of the Pierce family and says in a voice that couldn’t be farther from the serious and devious one she had just been using, “You, me, and a martini, now,” and locks arms with her. It was like she had an internal shot clock for how long she could be seen talking to Logan, and right after he asked the most important question of the day, the clock was at one and she needed to shoot evem with a defender in her face. 

Just like that, the, up to this point, straight-shooter Rhea reveals herself to be full of shit, and the direction of where we think this afternoon will go shifts. The interaction ends with her looking back from her arm-in-arm embrace and mouthing to Logan, in response to his question, “No.” To which I responded by digging into my couch. This is going to be good.

Full of Shit

Roys- 0

Pierces- 1

9. “Break Bumper!”

The first field of war for the Roys and the Pierces is during before dinner drinks. Everyone is drinking a cocktail when Nan interrupts to welcome all to their home. While doing so she randomly announces, “the Break Bumper!” and thrusts her drink into the air. A call immediately echoed (in cult like fashion) by the rest of her family, also with glasses in the air, leaving the Roys awkwardly out of the loop and maybe a bit freaked out. A break bumper in normal parlance is a brief commercial break between a television or radio program, a fitting name for a drink break from the alcohol sipping news family. Nan goes on to explain that they are all drinking a cocktail recipe that (“no one believes,” yeah right…) was found in the wallet of Teddy Roosevelt’s valet, which is maybe the height of American snobbery. Plus, I imagine Teddy would be throwing more than two drinks back with Logan Roy rather than quoting Shakespeare with Nan Pierce.

Full of Shit

Roys- 0

Pierces- 2

8. Connor and Maxim Spar in the Political Ideas Primary

This is a tough call as to who, in this interaction, is more full of shit. Connor Roy is running for President of the United States, which is absurd for more reasons than can be enumerated or should be said. Just bask in its ridiculousness, because only Succession could have a character run for President as a joking side story and have everyone buy into it. But equally as absurd is Maxim Pierce for picking a fight with the crazy candidate. It’s the ultimate liberal-idea elitism that can’t resist any opportunity to pick a righteous fight. But the interaction ultimately ends in a tie, not because those two faults are equal, but because during the entire interaction they both pretend to be having a healthy and fun discussion when in reality they are both seething at each other’s stances. Which, for the next President of the United States and someone who works for the Brookings Institute is pretty full of shit.

After further review, I am going to break the tie by pointing out that, after a bottle of wine, Con offers Maxim the role of future Secretary of State, which is the ultimate sign of how little any of this actually matters to him. This moment goes to the Roys.

         Full of Shit

         Roys- 1

         Pierces- 2

7. The Electric Circus

Roman almost makes it through the whole day being his most authentic asshole self. But he slips in his own shit when he gets glib with a Pierce family member who explains how he likes to be reading two fiction books and a memoir at all times. Roman snarkily agrees, to which he is asked to recommend a book (not in Oprah’s book club however *snooty chortle*). Roman, who probably couldn’t name any book, Oprah’s book club be damned (in season one he told Vaulter he thought the world was going paperless and was going to run on “tasty morsels,” pointing out that in the future people would be laughing at the absurdity of books) recommends the painfully obviously non-existent book “The Electric Circus.” The Pierces go on to ask him questions about who wrote it and what the plot was like, one member of the Pierce family even Googled the title on her phone. Throughout it all, Roman didn’t back but doubled down and took a bath in the bullshit, making up a plot and an author and wondering to himself if he got the title wrong when it wasn’t on the internet. The look of dismay on Logan’s face says it all.

         Full of Shit

         Roys-2

         Pierces- 2

6. Logan walking hand-in-hand with wife and daughter

When the Roys get off the helicopter upon arrival at Tern Haven, Logan Roy gives them a quick pep talk, tells them to smile, and then walks towards the Pierces, hand-in-hand with Marcia and Shiv. The moment is such a tone-setter for the Roys. Even with all the build towards this meeting, even with how important this acquisition is for Logan, never, in a million years, did anyone imagine he would walk hand-in-hand with anyone. Con voices the shock well, “Jesus, this is too fucking weird already.” And later, “I like this dad, why couldn’t this be dad.”

         Full of Shit

         Roys- 3

         Pierces- 2

5. “Welcome…to our funny little house.”

Moments after the familial stroll to meet the Pierces, Nan greets them by welcoming them to “Tern Haven [their] city on a hill.” Later, during her Break Bumper Speech, she welcomes the Roys to their “Funny little house.” I threw up in my mouth. No one holds it against them to be blindingly rich in this scenario, and they could even probably get away with false modesty (although at the point of considering a 24 billion dollar sale, that might be a bit much) but calling their 42-acre property both ‘funny’ and ‘little’ is a bit much for even the most capitalist of Americans. This was the first moment of the Pierces (it came right away) that rang false. It was the warning shot across the bow that something might be up with this family. 

Upon reflection, the statement is nonsensical. These are the liberal representatives, their politics is built around the poor and destitute and taxing the rich, and yet they live on 42-acres in a home that, if sold, could probably run the government for a few days, and are down-playing it upon introduction. What an awesome contrast as they face the Roys, who could give two shits about anyone who gets in the way of their bottom line, who are best summarized by Tom’s explanation of their lifestyle to Greg, “Here’s the thing about being rich…it’s fucking awesome.” It makes Nan’s introduction shift from tone-deaf to egregious. She’s fooling no one.

         Full of Shit

Roys- 3

Pierces- 3

4. Star Gazing

After the dinner blows up like Roman’s satellite launch, there is a moment of calm that contains all the awkwardness, anger, confusion, and fear that fuels Succession. But this time, the Pierces are also a part of that moment. The look on their faces as they sit in the aftermath of the explosion, the awkward lines as they try to overcome and move past the anger is all so perfect and real. It leaves the viewer feeling like a grizzled veteran of these affairs, chuckling to themselves and muttering, “Oh, you don’t know the Roys.” But in that vacuum of awkwardness where anything now goes, the true face of the Pierces emerges, and it is as fake as we had become accustomed to. 

Nan, after trying to gain his attention and failing, prompts Mark of the two PhDs (I hear the second one is much harder, those five years are such a grind) to take them all… star gazing! Which is so perfect. It’s clearly what they had planned to do before the dinner turned into a clusterfuck, and by pressing onward we get one of the more full of shit moments in the episode. 

This seems to be the Pierce way of operating, in wonderful contrast to the Roys ham-fisted, bull in china shop approach. They rub away all the dirt and grease in the dirty world they live and do business in, and when it doesn’t go away, they construct a façade to cover and hide it from view. When Mark of the two PhDs takes them outside, all of them hating each other and fearing for the future, and shows them “their corner of the sky” (as if they own it, entitled bastards) and couching his spiel by explaining he is “not what Whitman would call a ‘learned-astronomer’,” (which is one of the most underrated lines in all of Succession, why in the actual fuck would you need to quote Whitman to call yourself a novice astronomer, its maddening! It, all by itself, is an honorable mention full of shit moment), it becomes the thesis statement, the baseline, for how we understand all of the actions and comments and full of shit moments seen thus far and will continue to see. These aren’t the Roys who wallow in their shit like pigs in…shit. The Pierces could be eating shovelfuls of it and call it caviar.

         Full of Shit

         Roys- 3

         Pierces- 4 

3. Shakespeare as Grace

Before dinner starts, setting up the most tense and awkward dinner in all of television, there are two moments that make the top three most full of shit moments in this episode. If we had a separate category for most nauseating, this would probably be the winner. Nan announces that the Pierce family has “given up on Jesus,” and, in lieu of a prayer, they prefer to quote Shakespeare as grace. To which she hands a ladle, a goddamn ladle for Christ’s sake, to Naomi, who pauses, thinks, smiles, and recites, in her best Shakespearian monologue voice, a text from Richard II about how reputation is the most important possession a man has. Which is simultaneously fitting and passive aggressive to the extreme (but also comical because I am guessing at least three of the Roys don’t understand what she said, so no harm no foul). Maybe the most unforgiveable part that launches this moment into the top three is, after a line or two, a close-up on Nan, who is listening intently, and as she recognizes the passage that Naomi is reading she casts her gaze downwards and gives a knowing smile that is equal parts, “I figured it out” and joy at the fact it is a dig at the Roys. It’s the worst.

But also, think about this scenario a bit deeper. It’s a terrific TV moment, tone setting, character developing, and it tells us more about the Pierces and how they are going to get along with the Roys over this dinner than seems possible for a moment only a minute or two long. But the real kicker is the implications for how Naomi, Nan, and ostensibly the rest of the Pierces spend their time. Because, based on this scene, one of two things is true. Either… 

A. Naomi has read so much Shakespeare that when The Ladle of Bill is handed to her, she must peruse her mental compendium of Shakespeare’s plays to come up with a fitting quote. 

As someone who reads a lot, that is SOOO much fucking reading. Like a gross amount. But also, reading with an intent to memorize. Nobody memorizes accidentally, at least not Shakespeare, so option A is that Naomi liked Richard II more than anyone else in human history, to the point where she knew it so well she could recite it when appropriate (like super appropriate given the quote’s meaning in this context), but also not just Richard II, she was clearly thinking about many options for recitation at the table and settled on that one, which to be safe, allows us to guess she knows a solid amount of quotes from at least five of Shakespeare’s plays in order to be that selective and on point with the quote used. Which is terrible and weird to think about, but option B is so much worse. 

B. Naomi does not read Shakespeare all that much, she does not have multiple quotes memorized, but she knows that The Ladle of Bill gets passed around for grace before every dinner, and she should probably have a quote prepared just in case she is selected, so in-between snorts of cocaine as she recovers from her addiction, she Googles quotes from Shakespeare to find one that would work. Then she must pretend to be thinking of a quote before she recites it for the table. Honestly, this seems way more plausible to me, but then there are two implications for Nan as well because she recognized the passage Naomi was reciting. So either…

         1. Nan does read that much goddamn Shakespeare, and her entire family knows she reads that much goddamn Shakespeare, so they all pretend to know Shakespeare in order to appease her.

         2. She was a part of the set-up. This may have been in the pep talk we did not get to see that Nan held with her family while Logan held his. In this scenario, Naomi did not google Shakespeare quotes, she was told she was going to be given The Ladle of Bill and provided a quote to recite. And then she smiled knowingly to make it seem like she knows Richard II so well that she can recognize an entire passage from a line or two.

So, a seemingly odd tradition for the Pierces, upon further review, becomes one of the most full of shit moments in the episode.

Full of Shit

Roys-3

Pierces- 5

2. Kendall Arriving Late

A sign of a good show is when moments that seem forced and tone deaf get attributed to the characters rather than bad writing. Succession puts so much development into the characters that a moment like Kendall’s late arrival to the dinner party makes for a fake and ham-fisted moment, rather than poor writing like it could have seemed in a show that wasn’t top tier writing and acting.

I also appreciate the subtle anti-climax of this moment. In the Roy’s meeting before they leave for Tern Haven, Logan confirms with Kendall that he is going to show up “an hour late” and to “make no secret about where you’ve been,” which makes the viewer look forward to the reason Kendall will give for being late, and also sets up a pretty solid full of shit moment all by itself, with no further development.

Then the moment happens, Kendall shows up late, Logan makes a big deal about his son arriving (also full of shit, because that whole relationship is fucked), but before he ever walked in the door he made sure to let Nan know that he was late because he was *drum roll* doing charity. The most obvious choice of things that Kendall could be doing, that would make him late, that would also portray him and his family in a positive light. Logan goes on to explain what the charity is and why he does it, and the whole thing rings so false its painful. Once again, it could almost be considered bad writing if it wasn’t a moment among many moments of falseness and obvious ploys to win the opposing family’s affections. This moment ends up number two because, of all these full of shit moments, this one seems the most obvious and lacking in any genuine representation of truth, which is really saying something on this list.

         Full of Shit

         Roys- 4

         Pierces- 5

  1. The Roast

The winner of the most full of shit moment in this episode, is when Nan walks the roast that she had no part in making to the dinner table. Normal people with normal levels of money would assume that if for some reason they found themselves lucky enough to have another person cook a meal for them, that they would, in that scenario, sit at the table and wait for that person or those people to serve that food. It would be a package deal. But apparently, as the Pierces show us, when you have God-level money, you have other people cook for you and then walk the food into the room as if you cooked it, receive a round of applause, ACKNOWLEDGE THE APPLAUSE, and have people scamper to make room for your stolen roast, all while the person who actually did the work stands in the doorway and watches (the same woman you told earlier in the episode “you never treat yourself”). This would never even occur to me to do, because I barely have normal people money. But that’s the point. These people are not living on the same stratosphere as us, they don’t operate by the same rules, they do shitty things couched in familial love. 

In the Roys’ case they seem aware and uninterested of and in their shittiness, but what makes the roast scene the number one most full of shit moment is that all of it was in the name of seeming like they were on the normal American stratosphere. They wanted it to seem like they could make their roast and eat it too (by the way, this is a direct comparison because earlier in the first season, the Roys have Thanksgiving together and the cook brings out the turkey for Logan to cut, he can’t because he is recovering from his stroke and that scene is also an awesome dinner scene, but the Roys in this case are provable-y less full of shit than the Pierces). 

The Pierces lie to themselves and the Roys through the roast walkout in order to appear like the American family their news tries to represent, but the shittiest part is the blurred image of the cook in the background over Nan’s shoulder. She is there for one of two reasons by my estimation. Either she wants to hear and see the applause that Nan receives but was rightfully hers, or she wants to make sure Nan doesn’t mess up her work, by, I don’t know, dropping it or something. In this case, it is probably the first, but I hope it is the second, because that would mean Nan is even more of a fraud than we can prove, and we can prove a pretty high level of fraudulence at this point.

Full of shit

Roys- 4

Pierces 6

After Part 1, the Pierces hold the lead over the Roys. Return to Did you blank it? for Part 2 to see if they hold on to become the most full of shit family on television.

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Can We Talk About [Jaws]?

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…

I have no reason to bring up Jaws.

Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain…

But who the hell needs one?

For we’ve received orders to sail back to Boston…

I just want to talk about how amazing it is.

And so nevermore shall we see you again…

So, here is the stuff I want to talk about in Jaws.

Best monster movie of all time

This is admittedly a hot take but hear me out. Every good movie does the same thing well… the intrigue and fear of the unnamed terror. This build could be considered the easy part of the genre. Whether people are dying or getting the shit scared out of them, most monster movies find some way to get us to buy-in to the unnamed horror. Where monster movies struggle, is the reveal. The build is often so great, and the unknown is so terrifying, that when it becomes known, the fear is removed (there is a lot of philosophy to be unmoored from this concept, but alas that must wait for another time). So, ipso facto, the truly great monster movies, the next level, top-tier, come back for more monster movies, have a reveal that lives up to the hype. Like Jaws.

The reveal itself is such an iconic scene, as Brody chums off the back of the Orca muttering about how much he hates the job, distracting the viewer by making us believe it’s a character developing, comedic scene, before whoosh, out comes the shark and all of Brody’s urine, setting the table for him to deliver an all-timer in cinema, “I think we need a bigger boat.”

The build to the reveal also has become archetypal. They did not show the monster for three-quarters of the movie, only the horror on the faces of those who did, and the aftermath of its reign of terror. It’s a method that had been done before, but never so well, and one that is adopted plenty since then, but rarely as effectively. In fact, this type of build often contributes to the failure to live up to the hype of the reveal since the audience has no way of easing into conceptualizing the monster-I’m looking at you Super 8. Really? An alien? You gotta be kidding me-with well-known exceptions-I love you Alien (It also should be noted that the inverse has happened, where the monster’s best moments are in the build where it is seen frequently, as opposed to a culminating reveal. It does this. Pennywise is maybe the greatest monster of all time until the closing scene. Pennywise the spider sucks…Pennywise hiding behind balloons makes my testicles shrink).

Jaws is able to make the build as good as any, and then somehow makes the reveal, and subsequent scenes where the monster is seen even better. This seems like the challenge and point of monster movies existing. Therefore, I would argue it is the best monster movie of all time.

Hooper and Quint

These two are so good on both an entertainment level, and an underlying thematic perspective. The character layering of this film is fascinating. And Hooper and Quint both have their entrances into the narrative that set them as complete opposites. Quint demands attention by dragging his nails over a chalkboard and quieting a room of riotous citizens (only after drawing a picture of a shark eating a human on said chalkboard. I see you Quint). Hooper fails to get any attention at all for almost the entirety of his scene as Brody is too busy trying to wrangle a crowd of bounty hunting fisherman. Both scenes are engaging and set the two for a big clash when they meet. This is developed as we learn their approach and philosophy to sharks. Quint wants to kill them with reckless hate, Hooper wants to learn from them with awed respect. All of this is established before they meet each other, so when they do, it gives way to some of my favorite scenes. 

Like when they first meet and Hooper is so pumped to look at all Quint’s shark jaws, thinking that he most definitely is going to like this guy, before realizing he is most definitely not going to like this guy. After he introduces himself and his over-qualified credentials, Quint tells him, “I’m not talkin’ ’bout pleasure boatin’ or day sailin’. I’m talkin’ ’bout workin’ for a livin’. I’m talkin’ ’bout sharkin.’” Then he tells him to tie him a sheepshank knot, which I know nothing about, but can tell from Hooper’s reaction that it is super insulting and a strange sailor flex by Quint. When Hooper tosses it back shortly after, Quint doesn’t even look at it (so badass) but instead grabs his hands and tells him, “You got city-hands, Mr. Hooper.” And so we know all we need to know about how much these two are going to get along. Different worlds, my man, different worlds.

Like when Quint sees the shark cage and asks Hooper, “What are you? Some kind of half-assed astronaut?” and later when Hooper tells him it is an “anti-shark cage”-oh, Hooper- Quint replies, “…you go inside the cage?” Hooper nods, thinking Quint is getting it now, “…cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark.” Smile and… “Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…” Hooper’s smile and nod in response like, “Oh its gonna be like this? Utter and complete disrespect? That’s cool, I just didn’t know.”

Like when they are trying to harpoon the shark with flotation barrels, and Quint is screaming orders to Hooper and Hooper decides to go full nerd and attach a homing beacon to the barrel as well. It adds so much intensity to the scene. Will Hooper get it in time? Will Quint be able to shoot it in time? Is Quint going to rip Hooper’s head off? But it also creates this beautiful symbiotic teamwork. And the dialogue reflects it. Quint demands Hooper to “tie it up will ya?”, “Hooper, tie it up now will ya?” and Hooper telling him, “Don’t wait for me,” before he yells, “Clear!” and Quint shoots the barrel right into the dorsal fin and the barrel rips loose from its carrier right as Hooper lifts his hands free. It’s a moment of real hope against a shark that has been winning the entire time. They are both so focused and smooth and really freaking good at shark hunting. These two who seem incompatible reveal they are the most compatible. It’s the best form of on-screen romance. Also, to this day, whenever I am yelling to get someone’s attention, I cannot help but yell, “HOO-PERRRRRRR!” while doing so.

Like when…

The Monologue

One minute there is this great moment where Hooper and Quint finally appear to be getting along, comparing scars and swapping shark tales, drinking too much liquor and forgetting about shark hunting, and the next minute the mood shifts. When watching the film, it takes Quint approximately 0.2 seconds to bring you in to his story on and offboard the Indianapolis. His body language is both defeated and desperate, unable to stop himself from telling the story but with no desire to relive that nightmare in the ocean. His eyes become as dead and glassy as the sharks he speaks of. His delivery is mesmerizing, slurred either from liquor or memories, steady as she goes, but also weak, fully aware of the futility of the situation they were in and the silliness of their efforts to group up like the calendars of Waterloo and the pounding and hollerin’ they did to make the sharks go away. There is real horror in watching the larger than life Quint, full personality, life, and knee-jerk decision-making adopt a persona of contemplation, sadness, and resignation. He shows the deepest scar he’s got, and the tale of how he got it explains why he is the way he is. 

And the story is so damn interesting. Who knew? This was a thing and the only reason anybody knows about it is because of Jaws. This element of secrecy, and the way Quint communicates makes you appalled that anything like this can happen, but also unsure about whether you should be hearing it at all. Like walking in on someone sharing something you aren’t sure you’re supposed to know. My brain pushes back against this scene, wanting to be polite and tune it out more than know (something that Hooper’s face and posture also reveals in the background, and Brody’s face shows as he uncomfortably becomes the isolated audience for the story), but we can’t help but listen. That conflict makes this monologue so memorable.

And there are also the lines that stick with us, the indelible mark of great filmmaking. 

“Y’know how y’know that chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail.”

“And the idea was, shark comes to the nearest man, then start poundin’ hollerin’ screamin’ and sometimes the shark go away…Sometimes, he wouldn’t go away.”

“You know the thing about a shark? He’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes.”

“Bobbed up and down in the water, was like a kinda top.”

“I’ll never put on a lifejacket again.”

The Setting

The last thing I love about Jaws is more existential than the rest. A feeling captured by the movie that I haven’t ever shaken. Amity (which means friendship as the mayor informs us) is the perfect setting for this movie. A complete tourist location, with transient people, blissfully unaware of what goes on in this place they are merely visiting for a little while. Unaware of anything going on, escaping from the seriousness of what awaits them at home, ignorant of what lurks below the surface. Vacations to tourist destinations always feel like this to me, full of possibilities of who you can be to those around you, how perfect a life here could be, wonder at what it would be like to never go back, not paying attention to the deep dark reality that looms both at home and also where you are. But life happens, and it will bite your legs off if you choose to pretend like it isn’t there, or if you want to go on living as if it won’t chase after you. The mayor is this way as he refuses to acknowledge the shark and close down the beaches, Brody thinks this way as he escapes city life for the ‘simplicity’ of life as a sheriff in Amity, Quint acts this way as he tries to kill his way to justice rather than face emotional scars. And they are all surrounded by a sea of unknown and unknowing faces who reinforce their desire to just make life disappear for a while. Every time I walk along a beach on vacation, I look at the water and imagine what might be right below the surface, and I look at the people sunning themselves or reading their escapist fiction, and I wonder the same thing.

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The Ring Thing [The Fortress of Solitude]

The Fortress of Solitude is a coming of age in the city novel that captures the emotion of childhood’s isolation and desire for belonging in a uniquely powerful way. Its uniqueness is its strength. The coming of age novel is not new, often trite and draped in clichés, written by authors who are more interested in plot than understanding and empathy. For The Fortress of Solitude, this is not the case.

The setting for Dylan Ebdus’ childhood is Brooklyn in the 70s. And every sentence used to portray it feels as draped in graffiti as the brick walls that comprise the city. The language and descriptions are surprising and delightful, making no sense at all (“Eighth grade’s a distant rumor, a tabled issue, and Dylan knows from experience that the summer between might change anything, everything”), until they make perfect sense. Then the understanding of a world you may or may not know anything about grows stronger, and your empathy for Dylan, trying to find his place, begins to bloom (“But the stories you told yourself– which you pretended to recall as if they’d happened every afternoon of an infinite summer– were really a pocketful of days distorted into legend, another jailhouse exaggeration, like the dimensions of those ballpoint-crosshatched tits or of the purported mountains of blow you once used to enjoy, or how you’d bellowed an avenger’s roar when you squeezed the trigger of a pistol you’d actually brandished in self-pissing terror. How often had that hydrant even been opened? Did you jet water through a car window, what, twice at best? Summer burned a few afternoons long, in the end”). I enjoyed these sentences as much as I enjoyed the novel, amazed at where they ended considering where they began (“The key to mostly anything is pretending your first time *isn’t*”), and in awe of the strange comparisons that shouldn’t work but do (“The cars rushing below knew nothing. People in cars weren’t New Yorkers anyway, they’d suffered some basic misunderstanding. The two boys on the walkway, apparently standing still they were moving faster than the cars.” And “Winter days were static glimpsed between channel flips.”). They created an air of unreality to the story of Dylan’s childhood that connected with my relationship to my childhood which seems completely unreal to me but one hundred percent true. An emotional stamp on my brain rather than a movie to be rewatched at my leisure. And as I journeyed through Lethem’s book those emotional stamps were pressed and triggered, and I recalled my own experiences that were fashioned after Dylan’s.

That unreality plays out further in the plot devices. Specifically, a magical ring that can make its wearer fly or later, turn invisible. Lethem is able to bring Brooklyn to a vibrant reality rooted in conjured images, so when a drug addicted superhero falls from the sky and bestows his power-imbuing ring on Dylan, it feels out of place. Yet the weight of significance of the ring as it weaves in and out of the conscious narrative is undeniable. This disparity between significance and clarity is off-putting, and probably at the core of why The Guardian called it “a ruinously unconvincing subplot.”  But I am a sucker for magical realism, and I connected with superheroes as a child in a similar but less devastatingly needy way as Dylan and Mingus and Arthur. I felt clarity in my understanding of believing you could transcend the world you lived in, the lifeline that superheroes provide for children.

The ring thing was admittedly strange and felt underdeveloped. Like an idea for a book that never panned out, the vestiges still clinging to the plot’s skeleton like a malnourished subplot. But maybe necessarily so. Dylan’s discovery of the ring and subsequent sharing of that secret with Mingus bound them together in a shared experience inside of their shared experience. It was the physical manifestation of their friendship. It gave them a shared responsibility to each other that both of them felt as they wandered the streets in an ill-fitting super-suit looking for crime, but only actually stopping themselves from getting yoked. At the end of the day, they never quite understood that it was themselves they were trying to save. The ring was the physical secret that bound them to each other. They used each other to discover their hormonal young bodies and as an outlet for their insecurities and fears. And it was the physical representation of the link that brought them together again after years and the color of their skin sent them tail spinning into vastly different lives as adults.

All of the unspoken elements of a child’s ascent to adulthood were imbued into that magical ring, and so it remained an ever-present part of the background. A plot device used to flesh-out the unstated and subconscious narratives of our lives. Instead of seeing Mingus strive to defend his street from dealers and gangsters-which we discover he did towards the end of the novel-we see him arrested for breaking up a drug deal, dressed as Aeroman. We are able to see Dylan try to make things right for Mingus by giving him the ring. We follow Dylan’s dance of dependence and belonging as the ring shifts owners and usage over time. We get to glimpse, early in the book, the fate they are trying to transcend, as Aaron X. Doily crashes to earth, disgusting and near death, and passes the ring to Dylan, hoping he might fare better. It became the shorthand for all the complexities that go along with the fantastic writing and character work in this book. 

I found myself questioning whether the ring’s power was real or perceived. There was no indication for most of the book that anyone other than Mingus and Dylan-children given to fanciful thoughts, and who wanted to believe in its power-witnessed the ring work. In fact, every indication was that it did not work, its power was present only in their solitude. Dylan was only able to use the ring when no one was watching, which is why he gave it to Mingus, who used it to bust drug deals-an act Mingus was capable of without flight. And no tale was told of him using the ring to do so, until he was arrested as Aeroman, where it was reported that he jumped from a tree rather than flew (who was right?). Before that he had tried to use it to save Dylan from a yoking but ended up merely jumping into the river and floating away, unable to fight the current in his cape and ill-fitting suit. Even Dylan’s invisibility was aided by distractions (knocked over ice buckets and skewed papers) until he snuck into jail to free Mingus. A scene that seemed to show the ring’s undeniable power. But the story had already been told, and I had gone through the book questioning the ring’s power. But it didn’t matter. Whether the ring made Dylan and Mingus capable of flight was inconsequential. The ring had made Dylan and Mingus believe they were capable of flight. It made Dylan confident enough to leap and catch previously unobtainable spaldeens, and I envied them for it. 

So the ring is strange. More than a little. But so is growing up. It’s an act of facing and overcoming the strange. And Dylan has a lot of strangeness to sift through as he finds his place as a white kid in Brooklyn in the 70s. The ring thing is just one way he, and we, can try to make sense of it all.

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Reticence and Memory, a Beautiful Duo [Kazuo Ishiguro]

Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2017. On that date, I put him on my to-read list, and since that date I have read every one of his novels. I couldn’t stop. I found the author that wrote the way I wanted to read. At first, I sat back and enjoyed it, getting excited about my next Ishiguro book, intermittently breaking up the normalcy of other books with one I knew would be special. 

I recently finished, A Pale View of Hills, Ishiguro’s first and my last of his novels, and ending with his first book made me realize how present his ideas and style are in all his novels. Ishiguro, admittedly, is fascinated by a person’s or people’s relationship to their memory of the past, not the past itself, but how we relate to it through our memories, and how often our memories fail us. In an interview with Malcolm Bradbury, his creative writing teacher that spurred this incredible career into action, Ishiguro mentioned this fascination and how, “Sometimes we look at our memories and they don’t line up neatly. They don’t help us.” This becomes the crux of his novels (most of them), a narrator looking back at a significant moment in their past, trying to understand it through their recollections of it (and when this is not the case, as in A Buried Giant, memory is still an all-important plot device). 

The problem, though, is that our memories of our past do fail us, especially when we don’t want to admit to ourselves the truths they reveal. And the narrators in Ishiguro’s books definitely don’t want to come to grips with the truths their pasts reveal. In the same interview with Bradbury, which was done after the release of A Pale View of Hills, Ishiguro mentions that he likes to write about, “How to evaluate your life in total social change.” In A Pale View of Hills,that is life in Nagasaki in the wake of the bomb, in An Artist of the Floating World, that was social life in the wake of the war, in Never Let Me Go, that was people reflecting on life as they come face-to-face with a much-to-soon death, in The Remains of the Day, that was post-romantic England in the wake of the decline of the major houses, and on and on it goes. What is created with this blend of memory and social change is an unreliable narrator that eventually reveals more about themselves in what they are unwilling to see than in what they tell us. Thus, reading Kazuo Ishiguro is an effort of reading between the lines. The reader often sees more than the narrator ever could from our safe and objective vantage point with a book in front of our noses, and if someday, we were to put our own harrowing memories down on a page, the reverse would be true.

Ishiguro attributes this unique reading relationship between his readers and his novels to his origins as a songwriter. His songwriting is what gained him entry into his creative writing class, and therefore becomes the basis for how he writes his novels. In an interview for “What it Takes,” Ishiguro explains that “great songwriters leave something important for the singer to do,” emotion to portray, ad-libbing to be done, and consequently his writing tends towards the method of great songwriting by leaving important work for the reader to do every time they turn the page.

The most obvious means of accomplishing this is by what Ishiguro refers to as his “reticence” to portray emotion in his novels. This is different than writing emotionless books, in fact Ishiguro’s books might create more emotions in me than any other, but he never tells the reader the emotions that his characters are feeling. So often in reading we relate to characters by reaching into the page and empathizing with the emotions the characters are going through- as it is explained to us by the author- and thus growing in our capacity to understand and connect to people with a different experience than our own. But what happens when the story is told by a narrator who is trying to make sense of their memories during total social change? They are incapable of informing us of the emotions at play, they are tone-deaf to every line and scene, which become rich in texture, because in this information vacuum- one that is normally over-stuffed by other authors- we have room to authentically connect with his writing. We look at these memories through the eyes of a narrator who cannot comprehend them and understand the people in the stories through the flaws in the story telling, the misunderstood body language and dialogue, the consequential scene that makes no sense based on what was told to us had come before. The relationship with the writing becomes complex and intimate, mirroring the relationship the narrator has with their memories. 

In A Pale View of Hills, Etsuko, as she comes to grips with her daughter’s suicide, portrays this flawed relationship with memory as well as any of Ishiguro’s books. Scenes like her husband and his father passively-aggressively fighting over when to finish a chess game, her father-in-law confronting one of his son’s friends about an article which was critical of his past, her friend drowning her own daughter’s pet kittens in a river right in front of her, and others, all are rich in power and emotion, and yet Etsuko the narrator is incapable of articulating those feelings, and therefore the reader is left with important work to do. 

None of this work is as important as what is left to the reader’s interpretation after Etsuko’s final memory of Mariko before she moves to America. As Etsuko confronts Mariko, who had run away after the murdering of her kittens, she scolds her in a tone of voice much different than the placating one she had used with the child thus far. Then she switches to the pronoun ‘we’ as she refers to the upcoming journey to America. Then she brings out the rope (noose) that had made eerie appearances earlier in the book, and the narrator’s recollections of the past, carefully manicured for the ease and the comfort of the narrator has broken, and the truth of her past starts to break through like rays of light through cracks in the wall. 

At this moment, the novel makes a big shift. Leading up to that moment, the reader was left believing that this was a story of flawed interactions that portray how the narrator and her daughter got to their present state, and by that alone it was an engaging and interesting read. But after that moment the book shifts to something so much more. The narrator is more unreliable than we could have imagined, and everything up to that point is left open for interpretation. It was a turn that was mildly expected after having read all of his other novels, but I was able to imagine how even more shocking it would be as his first.

My initial reaction in the immediate words after Etsuko brought out that noose one more time was that she was the child murderer that had been a minor backdrop that brought tension to whenever Mariko ran away. But as so many of our initial reactions to reading are, this was too blunt a take for a delicate work. My secondary reaction, after I had finished the rest of the book, was that Etsuko was Sachiko and Mariko was Keiko, an easy one-for-one trade. It seems even a bit poetic, Etsuko as the narrator-character that watches from the doorways and corners of her memory, watching her life play out before her in a third person point of view as she retells it from the first-person narrative. But this also seemed a bit ham-fisted in comparison to the elegance of the writing. Plus, it wasn’t believable. This was a narrator that in the wake of her daughter’s death was hungry for answers. There is no way she would buy into such an elaborate lie as to convince herself that her past self was someone else. 

As I considered the book in the days that followed my reading, and as I listened to interviews with Ishiguro, I realized the answer was probably simpler than that. The answer is much more likely that we just don’t know what Etsuko’s past is and what is Sachiko’s. Etsuko can’t differentiate because her relationship to her past -marred by an atom bomb, fractured relationships, and total social change- is so muddy. What remains true is the emotions that remain, unnamed, on the page. The only things we can know for certain are the things unstated, because what is stated just won’t do. 

In many ways it is the most beautiful relationship Ishiguro is able to create between his reader and his work, most representative of all our relationships with our past, and therefore is such a wonderful starting point (or ending point for me) to view Ishiguro’s works about memory.

When asked if Ishiguro ever put himself into one of his novels, he said that he did not. That his novels were a way of asking if the reader experienced the things he experienced, if they felt the same things he felt. His books ask his reader the question, Is this true for you too? Do you see it this way? And a more beautiful question has never been asked.

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