Ranking The Deaths In [Jurassic Park]

Jurassic Park is a subtle tribute to the inherent duality of life. How technology can both be good or bad, nature can be both beautiful and deadly, life is both good and evil. 

So let’s RANK THE DEATHS BY DINO IN THE FILM FROM WORST TO BEST! 

4. SHOOT HERRRR!!

Just to establish a baseline, all the deaths in Jurassic Park are epic. So even though the opening scene death comes in last, it is still terrific. 

What happened: Muldoon and his crew are unloading a velociraptor into the velociraptor paddock. The raptor is able, in what seems like a structural oversight, to push his cage away from the opening, reach outside of his cage and drag a worker into the cage by his legs in one of the best “grab the doorframe” deaths in cinema history. Muldoon grabs the man’s hand screaming for the other workers to drop the effing tasers and “SHOOOOT HEEERRRRRR!!!”

This scene is good for the same reasons it is ranked as the least great JP death. This entire scene is hinting at what is to come, at the danger that we see before we are blinded by the splendor that masks the menace. We don’t get to see the raptor- it would be too soon- so we don’t get to see how she maneuvers her way to her kill. We also are generally unsure of what we are watching at all at this early point, so Muldoon isn’t fully fleshed out, the significance of asking his crew to kill a precious raptor isn’t fully realized. But all of that stuff is present during the re-watch, so the death ages well. 

On the whole, however, there is just not a lot to go off of. The mystery of the death makes it intriguing and it does a good job setting up the tone for the rest of the film, but compared to some of the other, more blatant and developed deaths, it doesn’t stack up.

3. No wonder you’re extinct.

 What happened: Dennis Nedry, fleeing Jurassic Park with stolen dino-DNA, crashes his jeep into a mini-waterfall in a rainstorm. He tries to pull the vehicle out of its predicament using the winch on the front of his jeep and a tree. As he does so, he comes across a dilophosaurus, which at first unsettles him, but the dino’s curiosity rather than threatening nature lulled Nedry into think it was dumb, useless, and deserving of extinction. After he hurls insults at it and nature, he falls down on the way back to his jeep. The dilosphosaurus follows him, threatens him with a freaky cowl and rattle, shoots an acidic dino-lugie into his eyes, and then Nedry locks himself in his jeep with the “dumb” dinosaur before we see it rocking and shaking to the soothing sounds of Nedry’s death.

This dino-death is great because Nedry was a character we didn’t mind watching die. We can fully appreciate the dino-damage. However, the scene was still tense enough that the power of the dinosaur was fully realized.

The scene could be seen as a transitional moment, where the beauty of the dinosaur (the first half of Nedry’s interaction and the movie) makes way to the threat and danger of the animals (the second half of the interaction and the movie) emphasizing the dual nature of technology, nature, and anything man tries to wield or control. 

And what’s fun is that we see it all coming. From the moment Nedry leaves his car we sense he is going to be eaten. And certainly when the dilophosaurus shows up we know this is going to go terribly wrong. So the majority of the interaction is a tense waiting for when the shoe’s gonna drop.

This makes Nedry’s insults even more unforgivable, and the quick shift from cute dinosaur into a cowl rattling monster even more shocking and fearsome. Sometimes the scariest stuff are the things we know are waiting around the corner.

2. Clever Girl

What Happened: After Dr. Sadler and Muldoon follow Dr. Arnold to turn the power back on, their journey becomes complicated. Muldoon informs Dr. Sadler that, “We’re being hunted…” Muldoon engages the velociraptor long enough for Dr. Sadler to get away, but in a later scene gets blindsided by a second velociraptor in waiting while he was distracted by the first velociraptor. Muldoon, who showed his love for the hunt all film, took a moment to appreciate his demise, “Clever girl…” before he was dismantled by the raptor.

Muldoon does a lot with very little. Maybe it’s the accent? But every line pops, and he presents a cool character who tries to physically control the animals. He stands in contrast to the many other characters who are trying to control the dinos through intellectual or technological means. 

After all the technological and intellectual means fail, we still hold onto hope that maybe, in a balanced playing field, we humans can take on the dinos in a hunter vs hunter battle to the death and assert our dominance at the top of the food chain.

And Muldoon is the man for the job. He respects the dinosaurs, unlike Nedry and Hammond, so he will not die for taking them too lightly, and he also appreciates and understands their tactics. When he describes the raptor’s attempts to escape, he says proudly, “They remember.” And when the t-rex almost catches his jeep and devours him and his passengers, Drs. Malcolm and Sadler sigh in relief at their escape, but Muldoon smiles at his near death.

So there is always a sense that Muldoon wanted it this way- him versus the raptor, one-on-one. I imagine he has been a big game hunter his whole life, killing alpha after alpha (he does claim to have (hunted most things that can hunt you”), looking for the beast that would finally best him. This desire could have drawn him to Jurassic Park, and he may have even felt disappointment at the cages that surrounded the raptors, and hoped that one day they might escape, and he could test his meddle against theirs.

Then, when Dr. Sadler was leaving the safety of the control room, Muldoon had his opportunity. And when he declared that they were being hunted, it was not with fear, but the tension of the test he had been waiting for, and the understanding that it would be his toughest one yet. And when the second raptor bursts out of hiding, catching him with his gun pointed the wrong way, he was not afraid of imminent death, but appreciative of the new greatest hunter on the planet, “Clever girl…” This scene is awesome.

1. When you gotta go, you gotta go.

What happened: When the t-rex breaks out of his paddock and starts to mingle with the tourist jeeps, Genaro, the blood sucking lawyer, immediately bails on his jeep of small children and heads for the bathroom, showing his cowardice and causing daddy-issues in both children for the rest of their lives- “HE LEFT US!” After Dr. Malcolm gets the t-rex’s attention with a flair and takes off, the t-rex destroys the bathroom, causing it to fall down around Genaro, revealing him sitting on a toilet. The r-rex cocks his head at this interesting specimen, bites him, and shakes him to death.

This death portrays the futility of man in the face of dinosaurs, and since that is the main idea of the movie, it feels like the best dino-death. Genaro, continually portrayed as a fish out of water in any situation outdoors, tries to run from the t-rex, both showing their menace and his lack of understanding. These people will not escape Jurassic Park by running or hiding. 

Therefore, Genero’s bathroom demise sets a tone for how the more important characters need to operate in order to get out of Jurassic Park uneaten. But less thematically, there is a pacing to the death that is hard not to enjoy. The t-rex paddock scene is one of the greatest in film, with tension for days. And by the time Dr. Malcolm starts running from the t-rex, we expect someone is not going to get out alive. On top of this, everyone watches this movie with a special anticipation for the t-rex, the most fearsome of all dinosaurs, and therefore, wouldn’t mind seeing it hunt and kill. But maybe don’t kill Dr. Malcolm… we’ve all come to like him. Then, when the bathroom falls apart revealing the long forgotten Genero, there is some glee. We no longer have to fear a beloved character dying, and we also get to see the t-rex eat someone. But also, are we actually going to see such an exposed kill? And what will it look like to see a t-rex eat someone? Oh, just you wait.

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Big Monkey Breaks Stuff [Kong: Skull Island]

Tony’s Pride [The Sopranos] (Season 5) Part 2

In my first post about season five of The Sopranos, I addressed how heavy the season felt due to an existential crisis the likes of which the series had not experienced to that point. However, underlying that tension is a much more subtle theme that holds the season together, Tony’s pride.

Sylvio calls it out towards the end of the season, amidst Tony’s refusal to hand over Tony B to Johnny Sack. Tony struggles with pride and refuses to bend the knee to Johnny. So, instead of turning Tony B over, he tells Johnny Sack to go fuck himself, turning a dangerous situation into a full-blown crisis.

That was the moment Tony’s pride was named and pointed to, but it had been there all along, causing tension and driving storylines for the whole season. In some ways, it had been driving storylines from before the series began.

Take Tony’s relationship to his cousin Tony B (may he rot in hell). We start the season thinking the relationship is strong, believing that Tony was about to have something he has never had on the show, a true friend. Instead, the relationship grows more and more fractured and Tony screws up more and more frequently in his dealings with Tony B, leading to a less harmonious friendship than we came to expect.

Before the series began, Tony was supposed to be there the night Tony B was arrested, but he missed the job due to a panic attack that led to him cracking his head open. Everyone, including Tony B, is over it, and wondering why Tony isn’t as well. And the reason Tony can’t get past it, is because he had lied about why he wasn’t there. He claimed he was mugged, and this lie and its subsequent guilt, kept him from moving on like everyone else. And the reason he was lying? Pride. He didn’t think anyone would understand that a fight with his mother could cause him to pass out and crack his head open or, if they did, he didn’t want to deal with that stigma. He was trying to preserve his image due to his pride, a decision that would have dangerous ramifications many years later.

Tony faced his pride in other ways too. This was the season where Tony was separated from Carmella, a situation he told everyone was a major blessing. He could go where he wants, fuck who he wants, and do what he wants when he wants. However, the reality was much different. His house was a sty, he drank himself to sleep, he ate like a pig, and he was lonely, often having nothing to do, and he would call people and then hanging up without saying anything. After this lifestyle became too awful, Tony went back to Carmella. Heapproached her to get back in the house. Tony was the one who never wanted the divorce, Tony’s life was the one that was noticeably worse after the separation, and so he had to swallow his pride and go back to his old life. 

We see small instances of his pride as well. He refuses to let Finn pay, and loses his shit on him for doing so behind his back (a great Tony blow up), he lies about his skin cancer that served as a representation of his mortality and commiserates with Ade over their illnesses. 

And ultimately Tony had to recognize his own futility in the face of the much bigger New York by killing his cousin as a peace offering to Johnny Sack. And in so doing, he had to overcome his own pride, recognize New York’s dominance, and bend the knee. Admittedly, he did it his own way rather than turning over Tony B carte blanche for Philly to torture to death, but he did it. And to be honest, even if he had turned Tony B over alive, there is no reason to believe Philly would’ve been satisfied with that either, he doesn’t appear to be the forgive and forget kind of guy.

And this lack of humility, a decision to hold on to a bit of himself in the face of Johnny’s request, led to Tony having to eat even more humble pie, by offering Philly retribution in terms of money and percentages while humbling himself before Johnny Sack at Johnny Sack’s house, in a place Johnny Sack dictated, at a time Johnny Sack dictated, in the way Johnny Sack dictated. 

This is a far cry from the Tony at the beginning of the season, who was trying to convince everyone around him, every opportunity he got, that he had life by the balls. Instead, he progressed through the season to the point where he had to face his own humanity through illness and the threat of New York, his own need for companions through Tony B and Carmella, and ultimately admitting his mistakes through an offering that served as an apology.

Through that lens, Tony’s flight from Johnny Sack’s house at the end of the season as it is being raided, his walk through the woods with a torn coat and ruined suit, his trek through a river soaking his shoes during his journey back to civilization while bloodied by tree branches was the ultimate humbling of a prideful man. Even when he called his lawyer who told him he wasn’t indicted and that he should celebrate, there was no desire on Tony’s or our part to celebrate. Instead, it was a slow slog back to the house and wife he had tried to leave behind, with an expected explanation of how he ended up in this situation. It was the journey of a man humbled through circumstances.

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

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Long Overdue Recap Of Season 1 [The Sopranos]
It’s business. We are soldiers. [The Sopranos] (Season 2) Part 1
Sometimes we’re all hypocrites. [The Sopranos] (Season 2) Part 2
You’re a captain, Ralphie, when I say you’re a captain. [The Sopranos] (Season 3)
The Long Slow Burn: [The Sopranos] (Season Four) Review
The Threat Of New York [The Sopranos] (Season 5) Part I

Language, Wharfianism, Diplomacy, and [Arrival]

Arrival is a movie about language- its importance and how it impacts those who use it. Most of the movie is based on a linguistic field of study popularized by Benjamin Lee Whorf (and named after him) called Whorfianism or an updated version called Neo-Whorfianism. Whorfianism is even mentioned in the film.

The gist of the belief system is that the structures of different languages shape how those language speakers view and understand the world around them.

It is a tantalizing idea and one that has some fascinating studies connected to it. In one such study, linguists compared how different language speakers measure time (maybe a basis for Arrival). Certain languages, like English, measure time in length (i.e. a long time), others, like Greek, measure time in amount (i.e. a big relationship; which does not measure significance, like it would in English, but the length of said relationship). The test asked certain language speakers to guess when a line would reach the end of a screen, or when a screen would be filled from top to bottom, and those who spoke a language like English were better at the first, and those who spoke a language like Greek were better at the second. Pretty cool. 

The most famous study measured language speakers’ ability to measure blueness. Using a cool test that asks participants to identify which blue square matches other blue squares, linguists were able to show that Russians who have different words for different types of blue are more sensitive to ‘blueness’ than English speakers who only have one. 

The studies are fun, but the significance of them is up for debate. Does this really prove a difference in the way we conceptualize the world? That we are a little worse at noticing how blue something is… Villeneuve puts all that aside for Arrival and plays out this concept to its largest possible conclusion. If small differences in language can slightly change the way we conceptualize the world, then what could massive changes in language- alien languages, that are entirely and fundamentally different from our own- do?

Ultimately, this creates an amazing movie, and an equally amazing commentary on language, the least of which is the fantastic twist about perceiving time in a nonlinear way. As our linear time goes on, what has aged the best about Arrival is not its commentary on language’s affect on speakers, but on people’s willingness and ability to use language.

Arrival points out how flawed language is first. How a simple word like ‘weapon’ when taught in the context of playing chess, a competitive game built on winners and losers, could seem like an ample substitute for ‘tool.’ And in some ways, that feels like enough to explain the troubles in the film and the troubles in our corresponding reality. They struggle to communicate with the heptapods because they do not have the same language, and they struggle to work with other countries because of a language barrier. After all, only the most arrogant of men would claim that human-to-human and language-to-language translation is exempt from the lapses in communication we saw between the human-to-alien language process. In many ways, the language barrier, rooted in the differences in cultures that created those languages, is explanatory of the issues of diplomacy our world slogs through.

But to me, this feels like a secondary commentary of Arrival. Because, after all, errors in translation and lapses in communication can only happen when people choose to use language. And it is far from a given, that people even try to communicate with each other in the first place.

The most striking and tense moments in the film are not when issues in communication happen, or when deadlines loom large for Louise and she must conjure some sort of advancement in her understanding of the alien species. Instead, the heightened suspense happens when online video links go offline and when the heptapods move their ships a mile upwards or tilt them sideways into a defensive posture and when countries line up with tanks and missiles rather than video cameras and white boards.

Arrival is commenting on the difficulties in language yes, but more so pointing out how quick we are to cast aside communication for a much easier and more self-serving route, when diplomacy makes way for an offensive.

That happens on a national level, in the film and in reality, but it also plays out on an individual level. The soldiers in Arrival, who listened to fringe radio, hosted by men who use their words to rile up their listeners- a gross abuse of the power of language- are reminiscent of some of the radicalized men and women who have asserted themselves into our national conversation. Those in the movie distrusted the government, the aliens, and any diplomacy, conversation, or cooperation they might engender by talking to each other. And instead, without any attempt to understand, they tried to, quite literally, blow it all up. These men silently sat in their bunks signaling to each other with glances and nonverbals. They needed no words as they loaded their bombs into the heptapods’ shell with the most nefarious intentions.

But this radicalized view of foregoing language for personal beliefs is less nuanced that how it normally plays out. More viewers may connect to Louise’s conflict, after she transcends time and discovers she will have a child and that she will lose that child to a terrible illness, and she must decide whether to avert that pain and all of its happiness by telling the future father or foregoing the conversation and going forward without his consent. She chooses silence.

And here is the beauty of Arrival. It is not a banner for diplomacy, it is an explanation of the difficulties language presents. It is hard to learn a new language. It is hard to understand how someone from another culture or race understands or uses my language. And it is infinitely harder to understand when to speak, and when to remain silent.

We clearly haven’t figured this out yet. And Arrival does not make the case that we should have, but only that we should keep trying.

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The Threat Of New York [The Sopranos] (Season 5) Part I

The Sopranos season five is heavy. Spurred on by the release of imprisoned mafiosos back into the hands of both the Jersey and the New York crime families, the season rides upon their velocitation of old ideals in a new world, new relationships, new objectives, new values, and new bosses. And as the released mobster’s lives go from 0-60 in the matter of a bus ride out of prison, so do the lives of all those around them.

This shows in small ways through characters like Feech La Manna and Angelo, old school- and now just plain old- gangsters who have a tough time fitting into a family that operates in a new age way. Feech is a pain in Tony’s ass similar to Ritchie in season two. He constantly wants a taste of this or that, impedes on other earners, not quite understanding that the mafia he left- where respect, honor, and prestige were top billing- has made way to a family that focuses on funding and feeding families. The mob can no longer operate in the open with impunity, but nobody told Feech. So he creates unnecessary headaches, and then asks for forgiveness not permission. 

Angelo is a much less played out character, and more self-aware. He tries to stay out of the way, recognizing his time is up. But he is drawn back into the mob-life (just when I think I’m out…) because Little Carmine and Johnny Sack start a war over who should be boss of the New York family. 

Both of these characters provide an interesting look into just how changed the mafia has become, a microcosm of the changing American Dream and the ideals that comprise it. Tony misses the old days of Gary Cooper, where his dad and uncle could do whatever they wanted in broad daylight, and Feech and Angelo show how far away from that this world we are watching is. As a result… Feech ends up going back to jail on a set-up from Tony, who was, in a moment of smart governing, choosing to avoid another situation like Ritchie. And Angelo ends up murdered in the back of a trunk, a most fateful action that spurs on the rest of the series.

This murder of the loveable Angelo, who got back into the game at just the wrong time, intersects with two other newly released convicts, Tony B and Philly Leotardo. In some ways, these two are opposites. Tony tries to rehabilitate, go to school, work a real job, and become a small business owner, only to be dragged back into the crime world through dint of his relationships with lifestyles he could not match, and a bag of money that reminded him how easier it was to have some. Phil on the other hand, dove right back into the world. And unlike Feech, he hadn’t missed a beat. Phil shows a keen insight, a strong hand, and an ability to fit in when necessary and assert dominance in order to gain power. In short, he is immediately hateable, and deserving of the viewer’s fear.

And when Tony and Phil clash, the world we love in The Sopranos, which up to this point has felt stable (besides some dips in money intake due to the economy) comes crashing down. And the whole Jersey family faces an existential threat from New York, when Tony B takes Angelo’s death into his own hands and kills Philly’s little brother. 

Obviously, in classic The Sopranos way, tensions had already been building. Tony’s relationship with Johnny Sack remained fractured after Tony bailed on Johnny’s desire to whack Carmine, Phil and Tony hated each other after Philly refused to pay Tony his dues (showing his contempt for Jersey) and then cut and run after Johnny Sack ruled against him, and the whole New York family was in an upheaval after the battle between Johnny Sack and Little Carmine. So, Tony B’s vigilante justice was a major explosion, as well as the snowflake that started the avalanche. And for the first time, as Chrissy goes into hiding and Benny gets beat to hell, the future of Tony’s organization, and by extension the show, gets very dark and uncertain. 

This uncertainty, this existential threat, lends a profound weight to the series, that hadn’t been around until now. The Sopranos in seasons 1-4 found its wheelhouse in the interpersonal rooted in political intrigue in the ‘family’ life (and all that means on the show)- intense therapy sessions, marital strife, parenting issues, mob politics, broken friendships, murder. And it was all fascinating, but the show rolled on, and Tony’s family, though always facing some crisis, felt safe. Season five shows a precariousness to their situation that makes the whole show seem significant, as if at any moment all of the people you love might die at once.

 Ritchie, as hated as he was, never threatened to overturn the apple cart. Junior’s plotting on Tony’s life was too early in the series to ever be an existential threat, Big Pussy or Adriana or Tony’s mother’s potential narking was an interesting wrinkle, but not one that would end everything as we know it. But now we face New York, and the series is later in its years, and there is a real fear that this will not end well, or maybe that this might end.

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

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The Battle Of The Titans: And The Roundabout Way We Got There [Godzilla vs Kong]

On my journey through the Godzilla and Kong movies to get to the debut of Godzilla vs Kong, I have come to love the series for all that is good and bad about it. The positives and negatives seem to come in equal proportion, and the victories and mistakes are as large as the main characters. Therefore, I was sad to see the credits roll on Godzilla vs Kong. And while I cannot say it was a great movie, maybe not even all that good, it was fulfilling in its ability to, one more time, provide giant monsters roaring and mashing and destroying cities. 

The last installment in this series was not the worst (Godzilla: King of the Monsters was guaranteed that spot), and it was far from the best, but it provided what fans asked for- Kong, Godzilla, massive fights, and Mecha-Godzilla. And maybe this specific desired recipe made the movie feel all too contrived. 

Godzilla vs Kong was at its best when the monsters were mashing. It is hard not to be entertained by a giant gorilla and lizard, say, leaping from aircraft carrier to aircraft carrier in a battle to the death. But these bouts were often unsatisfying because there wasn’t any story to move the scene along in a way that made sense. For example, the fight with the aircraft carriers ended when all the boats turned off their engines with an almost dead Kong onboard, leading the bloodthirsty Godzilla, who came to kill Kong, to swim away. 

What the hell??

We just established these two behemoths were fighting to the death, to become alpha in the world of titans. But… maybe… if we stop some puny boat engines Godzilla will take a timeout while Kong is on the ropes? It is this type of human narcissism, the need to have the humans play a meaningful role- outside of their own safety and survival- in affecting the outcomes of the battle of the titans that leads to weird moments like this (and it happened in King of the Monsters as well).

However, because of the story, the monsters needed to have a preliminary fight, so they had one, and then limped apart. The fight was fun and memorable, but… contrived, with no organic storytelling by which the fight came together and separated. The same goes for all the technology in this movie and the last. The human race went on a technology splurge in the wake of Godzilla’s first attack, and it makes sense, but it was overdone. The movie felt like a mix between Tron, Ready Player One, and a Marvel film. But they wanted to establish a base to create Mecha-Godzilla, which was cool, and the battle with Mecha-Godzilla was pretty awesome, but the road to get there was bumpy, because it was forced.

And none of the fighting really mattered. The first Godzilla was awesome because it made me cringe every time an apartment building tumbled as I thought of the potential death toll or the task to rebuild the damage. And we were never sure how much of the world these monsters would destroy, we just knew that something needed to be done to stop them. Humanities fate was on the line. In Godzilla vs Kong everything felt isolated. A city was being destroyed sure, but it barely looked real, as if we were watching an animated film, and there was no story of humanity trying to preserve their creation to lend weight to what was happening. No unbeckoned-for concern about the clean-up effort or the refugee camps that would need to be established. No fear for the loss of human life, no real significance to these behemoths waging war on each other. But the fight was cool, so it kind of didn’t matter.

In another way, Kong: Skull Island made viewers care about the individuals that might die as a result of Kong’s war. The movie told a great human story, and with great acting, viewers were concerned about the well-being of Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston and John C. Reilly, and therefore, on edge as Kong did battle. In G vs Kany one of the main characters could have died, and it may have been a relief. The beginning of G vs K did a good job of making Kong the sympathetic hero, but that only makes the fight as good as any that might happen between two people or animals of normal size. The magnitude of Kong and Godzilla demands an equal-sized impact for their battling. Instead, this could have been a street brawl between Kyle Chandler’s character, and the villain to the same effect (not a bad idea… at least it would have given Kyle Chandler something to do).

And this isn’t even to mention Kong journeying to the center of the earth which is actually hollow, and getting a giant glowing axe, and Godzilla drilling a hole to the center of the earth with his dragon breathe, or any number of detours or re-routes that the story added to try and get these monsters together to fight.

So I guess what I am saying is, for a movie where the best parts were when two giant titans were duking it out in the streets of Hong Kong, they sure took one hell of a trip to get there. 

Godzilla vs Kong was fine, it gave us what we wanted. But sometimes simpler is better. I can’t help but salivate over the potential movie this could have been. Where Kong comes to America (no crazy storyline necessary, human greed or climate change destroying Skull Island would do) and Godzilla comes to ‘balance’ the world once again. Give me a few human characters in high power position using a ‘contingency plan’ they have been creating since 2014, and now all the pieces are in place. Tell the story from the humans look up at their awesome size and power and voila. We didn’t need all the…contrivances.

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Ishiguro’s Unreliable Narrators [Klara And The Sun]

A lot has already been said about Ishiguro and his new book, Klara and the Sun– the consistency of his tone and theme, the simplicity of his prose, his foray into many literary genres, and his return to science fiction, the role of inconsistent or conflicted narrators in complicating his stories. And this last point appears to be the element of Ishiguro’s writing canon that Klara and the Sun most advances.

Because in some ways, Klara, the Artificial Friend for the very-ill Josie, is a unique narrator for Ishiguro, but one that perfectly fits the rest of his book’s voices.

Ishiguro’s narrators have taken on legendary proportions in the literary world. They present a Masterclass of unreliable storytelling. Three of them stick out to me (before we add Klara to the mix), as an excellent overview of how Ishiguro uses their voices to tell his story, Stevens from Remains of the Day, Kathy from Never Let Me Go, and Etsuko from A Pale View of Hills.

Stevens represents a narrator at the end of the story, looking back on what transpired, and wondering if he had screwed it all up. His unreliability lies in his desire to justify his life’s work as well as a social blindness he adopts in the name of service. He eschews love, friendship, and in some ways his own values for the sake of serving Lord Darlington, a Nazi sympathizer. His inability to make sense of what he did only grows our empathy for Stevens, since it is so clear to readers what is so often not to him. In some ways, this type of narrator also appears in Artist in a Floating World and makes a side appearance in A Pale View of Hills, which both include older Japanese men of a generation that served the Empire, an act that the younger generation brings into question. 

The world moves on from what once was considered venerable, leaving these men to look at their life’s work, once valuable and respected, and question what it all meant. Their obvious conflict brings every recollection and conclusion under scrutiny, and often puts the reader in direct disagreement with their assessments.

This unreliability is similar to Kathy but different enough for Kathy to represent a different category, especially considering what Klara adds to these voices. Kathy was never honored, or doing work considered valuable- quite the opposite. She was on the lowest rung of the social ladder her whole life, and at the end of her shortened life (I am tiptoeing around big spoilers here), she is not shocked at the shifting view of society around her, like Stevens. Instead, she tries to make sense of the value of her life in the face of a blatant lack of humanity towards her. 

For both narrators, society advanced and left them behind. But for Stevens this happened at the end of his career, calling into question actions committed at a time where no one would question him. For Kathy, this happened at the beginning of her career, leaving her to wonder how the world could normalize such behaviors, and what her life meant amidst that new society (one he paints as an alternate present). 

The third, Etsuko, is a more standard unreliable narrator (it is worth noting she was the narrator of his first book). She has lapses in memory, provides obviously incorrect commentary on concrete events that she does remember, and, in the end, shows a break with reality that calls even all of that into question. As standardized as she is, she provides less insight and commentary into the role of the narrator in the story, but she set the standard for Ishiguro’s blending of narrators, their memories, and a reader’s role in sifting through the story for the truth that eludes the storyteller.

At this point, I could and would enjoy diving into Ishiguro’s social commentary based on all these elements, but instead, I would like to ask the question of how Klara, the AF, fits in with these narrators.

Klara, in some ways, is the most reliable of Ishiguro’s narrators. She is AI, at the mercy of fact and observation. She will not tell a story wrong or provide commentary that is manipulated by wishes and fancies. But this does not mean Klara is always objectively correct. She is often wrong, unable to make sense of the quintessentially human experience she observes. But when she is wrong, readers can easily recognize the errors. So her lapses in understanding provide the same tension as Ishiguro’s other storytellers, but her commitment to that which she can understand, and her painfully unbiased opinion on what she sees, allows the reader to take her at face value.

It is a brilliant narrative choice by Ishiguro, that reveals how important his selection of a voice is to his stories. Those who criticize Ishiguro, often complain about nothing happening, about the boring sentences that construct such a plain façade- a butler reflecting on his life of service, an artist questioning his life’s work, a woman wondering about her role in a society that treated her poorly- and they only allow his stories vindication because of his flair for twists at the end of some of his books. But these twists are supplemental to his stories, a sugar high after a main meal of nutritious food. The twist is the result of an entire book of reading between the lines, learning a narrator intimately through that which they cannot grasp, leaving the twist as a last fitting of a puzzle piece. Ishiguro is not a detective novelist, but these twists are good enough to make us believe they are the point of the story.

However, the main meal is always that narrative voice constantly trying to make sense of a world that either moves too fast or normalized too quickly. Amidst this backdrop, Klara enters as the most trustworthy storyteller in some respects, and in others, the most flawed. Where she is utterly reliable, she is limited, and therefore allows for the elements of Ishiguro’s narrators I like best, room for the reader to do meaningful work interpreting and guessing, and in the cases of some of his stories, including Klara and the Sun, guess and wait to see what comes next, to fill in those blanks that nag at the reader like a word on the tip of a tongue.

Klara is a wonderful narrative voice that, as time goes on, will settle amongst Stevens and Kathy as one of Ishiguro’s best, and it also, as all his narrators do, enhances the meaning of the story.

Klara and the Sun deals with the question of what makes someone human, a droll question as far as stories about artificial intelligence goes, but complex enough in the hands of Ishiguro. To oversimplify it a bit, Klara comes to the conclusion that a person is made human by their relationships to those around them. The love of a mother or friend or husband or wife solidifies a person’s place in the world, a powerful conclusion to draw considering where Klara ends up at the end of the story. Therefore, the idea that Klara is never quite in on the complexities of the relationships in the room, that she is overly optimistic at strange times, or thoroughly confused at social gatherings, helps show all of the ‘humanity’ that transpires in our interactions with each other. 

Amidst this commentary, is one similar to Never Let Me Go, of a society that has normalized behavior that dehumanizes some, and therefore all. The world Klara inhabits is not made better by AI, it only enhanced all the technological problems we see today- the disparity between the elites and the working class grew, accelerating the difference between the haves and the have-nots, more ethical questions are raised about genetic engineering and how to treat an AF, more controls are put in place to deal with the problems created by the initial technology that was supposed to solve a completely different problem. And in the midst of this, relationships- the elements that throw Klara for a loop- take a back seat to these advancements, causing more confusion between mother and daughter and young boys and girls. Sometimes, Klara seems to be the clearest headed amidst humans made less and less adept at their relationships to each other through the technology they created to advance themselves, the part of them that Klara determines makes them most human and her not.

As a quick overview, I do believe Ishiguro has done it again. Of his eight novels, this will certainly be in the top half, and I think it will probably be considered his third best as time settles. That is in large part due to his narrative choice that is both new and consistent with what came before.

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

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Collective Memory: [The Giver] And Literature For Our Youth
Reticence and Memory, a Beautiful Duo [Kazuo Ishiguro]
Personal Top 50 Fiction Book List (Ranked)
Book List For Young Readers: Nurturing Literacy In Our Youth
Are We Living In An Orwellian State? [1984]

[Godzilla: King of the Monsters] But That’s About It…

Well that went bad really fast. I loved Godzilla (2014), and I loved it even more on the re-watch. I thought Kong: Skull Island was a delight, and just when I assumed this universe had a system in place for telling these monster stories, they went and did a thing like this. 

Everything that was good about Godzilla was completely absent from this film, almost startlingly so, as if the creators of this film actively looked at the way the previous film was crafted and chose to do the opposite. 

For starters, Godzilla made the monsters, Godzilla and the MUTAs, seem gigantic, both because they delayed the reveal of their magnitude, and we never see them in their entirety. They are hazed in smoke, only part of them can fit in the camera at once, or we only see the destruction wreaked by one massive body part. And rarely was the story told from the monster’s perspective. The monster was always being perceived, through the lens of the camera, by the characters in the film, thus the monsters would be passing by in the background or complicating a human story. This style created the affect that the monsters were both large and uncontrollable, and too big for the story too contain. 

Enter King of the Monsters. The first time we see Godzilla is as a tiny pinprick of a monster off in the distance, swimming towards the base. He then scoots by the window from which the humans are viewing him, frightening those in the film, but only those in the film, after all, we just saw the monster as a tiny little fish. We fit it into our lens, how massive and uncontrollable could it be? 

The movie then proceeded, to not only tell a story using the monster’s perspective, this making them feel more like the computer graphics they actually are, but they even created a storyline where humans control these monsters through biorhythms. An interesting idea but devastating for a series about the menace of these monsters and how powerful nature is. And the invention worked! Sure the attempt to control nature had consequences, but the consequences were because the humans overperformed, not underestimated what they were dealing with.

Contrast this with the futile efforts of the humans in Godzilla. They were always up to something- transporting a nuke, fleeing cities, trying to lure monsters here or there, shooting missiles and bullets at the giant monsters with little to no impact at all. Their ineptitude and futility in trying to impact what was going on around them highlighted the monster’s awesome power, and it showed the impotence of humans when nature comes clawing back. Godzilla and the MUTA were not only gigantic and unaffected by humans, but they were instinctual, largely unconcerned with anything the humans did. The characters in the film just rode in the wake of their disaster, watching as things got figured out. That was the power of Dr. Serizawa’s awesome line, “Let them fight.” It was a recognition of human’s weakness and a relinquishing of control to nature’s awesome ability to correct itself. 

None of this is in King of the Monsters, where humans had huge impact over these monsters. This movie claims that we write our own destiny. Sure, we screw up, but only because of the awesome heights to which our technology takes us. We released the monsters, we hatched our own, we controlled its biorhythms, we killed Godzilla and then raised him from the dead, we went into battle with Godzilla, and then lured the big thing with three heads (who even fucking cares what its name is it’s so bad) away from Godzilla and saved his life. The switch from the narrative and greatness of Godzilla is so striking it feels intentional. At the very least, it neuters Godzilla, making him some large version of what we would see in any version of Jurassic Park not directed by Spielberg. 

Plus, Godzilla is not special. Oh! You thought he was a unique gigantic specimen lying in wait (no one knows where) to write nature’s wrongs? Nope, he is one of seventeen other giant monsters and we are not even really sure he is the strongest, like he won this fight, but only because Mothra and we, the all-powerful humans, helped him out, so really he could be like third or fourth best, we just supported him like a proxy war in the Middle East to ensure his victory supported our own interests. Oh, and we found where he lives, so we took that away from him. I hear there is a giant leash in the works for the next film. And that is just what’s wrong with the way the monsters are portrayed- neutered and phallic, only as good as their ability to receive human support. 

And I don’t even have time to address the dialogue, which is quintessential shoehorned exposition, so bad it completely disengages the viewer from even the tiniest redeeming qualities of the film (I do love me some Kyle Chandler). Nor is this mentioning the horrible CGI of the monsters, making them seem fake on top of weak, or how sometimes skyscrapers are taller than the monsters, or how at one point Godzilla was blown up, with pieces of flesh floating to the surface of the ocean, and then he is found, completely whole, taking a nap in a place he could only have swum too. Or the nonsensical moves the characters in the film take- just absolutely incomprehensible moves- that even, with all the terrible exposition that was crammed in, the film still found no way to explain.

King of the Monsters felt like an attempt at being some weird version of a Marvel film. High tech equipment and planes, an existential crisis, a hero’s internal conflict, and a huge battle at the end, where only the strength of the indomitable human spirit could save mankind. But… and I cannot stress this strongly enough… this is not a Marvel movie, nor were the two previous films in this ‘multi-verse’ headed in that direction.

This is my first negative review on this site, but I backed myself into a corner. I wanted to do a review-down to the release of a movie I was really looking forward to, Godzilla vs Kong, but there was no way, in good conscience, I could say much of anything good about King of the Monsters. But I am going to try: I really liked when all these actors and actresses were in the other stuff they did. 

Here’s to hoping Godzilla vs Kong gets this series back on track.

Check out the last installment of this series here: The Battle Of The Titans: And The Roundabout Way We Got There [Godzilla vs Kong]

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
Controlling the Control: A Disaster Film Meets a Monster Movie [Godzilla] (2014)
Big Monkey Breaks Stuff [Kong: Skull Island]
Advertising For [Jurassic World] and [Jurassic Park]
Can We Talk About [Jaws]?
Top 50 Favorite Movies List

Harry and Meghan and [The Crown]

My wife and I resumed watching The Crown (we re-entered at season 3) at the most culturally relevant moment we could have hoped for, just as Harry and Meghan sat down with Oprah to spill all the tea on the royal life and its pitfalls. 

I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to use The Crown as a foundation for understanding the controversy surrounding Harry and Meghan. And having not yet seen season four, which includes Harry’s mother Diana, I may actually be behind in my assessment of how they both overlap. However, the connection I made as I watch them both play out, one in the ongoing present and the other in the written past, I don’t feel like I am making the same connections my American counterparts are. I find myself empathizing with the stodgy old Brits who are steeped in the pomp and circumstance of royalty and are loathe to get rid of their traditions- no matter the negative impacts those traditions may have on a younger generation who has not bought into them. 

This type of argument needs heavy mitigation and caveating in 2021, as it should. I don’t want to appear unsympathetic to Harry and Meghan (I don’t know them from Adam) or those with mental health issues (I couldn’t be more sympathetic). In fact, my thoughts inspired by The Crown are rooted in my inability to know anything about these royals or their lives. My lack of understanding created my mindset. I want to look at the situation from 3,000 feet up, without the messy nuance of the individual, which is important, but cannot possibly be understood by me. Because, unlike some of my fellow Americans, I do not believe that I now know Harry and Meghan or their entire situation because of one interview. I know what happened to them was wrong. But I can’t go much further…

And I do not believe that Oprah’s interview was meant to help us understand the individual and to therefore make an objective judgment on the Royal situation in Britain. If that were the case, we would also need the opinions of Charles and the Queen and those who rest firmly on the traditions of the royal family. Instead, the Oprah interview was Americans finally getting what they have always want out of the Royal Family, and the Royal Family finally losing control of that which they tried to prevent (at this point I will also say for “good or for bad,” because I am also not sure if it is a necessary evil or not).

What Americans want out of the Royal Family has always been obvious. They want reality TV. There is no group on the planet who seems riper for reality TV drama than the Royal Family. This struck me during the episode Bubbikins in season three of The Crown, where the Royal Family actually allows televisions into their daily lives to make themselves more accessible to the British people. The people loved it. But the result was contrary to the goals of the Crown in general, which is to inspire, rise above, and represent the British institution in an unbiased and measured way, to serve as a surrogate. Thus, they never allowed documentation of their lives again, and never allowed for that which was documented to be aired again.

Now, in our Instagram influencer, reality TV obsessed American entertainment driven world, we all but salivate at the opportunities for entertainment and conflict inherent in the Royal Family. We hunted Princess Diana to her death when she allowed us just a peak behind those palace walls. We flock to our televisions at ungodly hours for Royal Weddings and Birth announcements, and we will for coronations as well. These serve as the sum total of our access to Royal lives outside of their royal duties (which we do not pay attention to because they are not sufficiently ‘realistic’). We, and I am speaking mostly from the American perspective, don’t care about what their jobs are, we care about them as people, as we do with all reality shows from Keeping Up With The Kardashians to Survivor, as well as sports, which is a personality driven entertainment program (just reflect on the NBA’s path to success and the news cycles on sports talk shows if you don’t agree with me on this point). We care about the human element more than official duties. And, quite frankly, Americans find it silly that the Royal Family would not provide it. There must be something nefarious going on behind the scenes, if they are unwilling to let us in on there every moment. Why else would they lock us out?

The reason is because the desire for the ‘human’ is antithetical to the purpose of the royal family. In episode six of season three of The Crown, “Tywysog Cymru” Charles laments the suppression of his voice at the hands of the Queen and the royal family in general. He feels he can make a difference in people’s lives as a unique person with unique things to say to the world. The Queen assures him otherwise…

“Not having a voice is something all of us have to live with. We have all made sacrifices and suppressed who we are. Some portion of our natural selves is always lost… I was a similar age to youwhen your great-grandmother, Queen Mary, told me that to do nothing, to say nothing, is the hardest job of all.It requires every ounce of energy that we have. To be impartial is not natural, it’s not human. People will always want us to smile or agree, or frown or speak, and the minute that we do, we will have declared a position, a point of view, and that is the one thing as the royal family we are not entitled to do. Which is why we have to hide those feelings, keep them to ourselves. Because the less we do, the less we say or speak or agree… The better… Let me let you into a secret. No one wants to hear [your voice]… No one.”

I am not a genius for making the connection between this and Harry and Meghan. And I am not even sure I am right. But I do know, in the face of this view on what the royal’s job is, what their duty is, that the gloating of American’s ‘felling’ the Royal Family after all these years, through Oprah, seems obscene. I also know that Harry and Meghan doing a tell-all about their experiences as royals (no matter how badly they were treated) seems like it is exactly what the Royals exist not to do and is, in some ways, self-serving (they had already escaped that life). The unwavering support for this decision by the hands of Americans, considering their desire to turn the Royals into reality TV, seems blind to the other side of this argument. 

Were Meghan and Harry mistreated? Absolutely. And the racism, and the lack of empathy are inexcusable. Should those elements of the royal tradition be eradicated for good? Yes, unequivocally yes. But something feels off about how the American public opinion has factored into this conversation, and the glee with which we ‘toppled the regime.’ It doesn’t feel like our goal was to correct the horrible elements of Royal Family. It felt like our goal was entertainment, and we justified it by claiming accountability.

But who knows? As I stated at the top, I don’t know these people, maybe this was the best avenue to create lasting change. Maybe the American desire to use entertainment as accountability was the best means to a positive end. But I don’t know, and neither do you. We have seen this go sideways one too many times, uprooting traditions in the name of American progress, to blindly feel great about it in this instance. Plus, that works for Americans and our eschewing of the old and stodgy in the pursuit of the American Dream, but I respect the tradition and prestige of Britain and the Crown, and I don’t think we should force them to cast off that which is old because we love to watch televised car crashes. 

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

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Addiction And Obsession: The Ending Of [The Queen’s Gambit]
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Big Monkey Breaks Stuff [Kong: Skull Island]

Kong: Skull Island gives anyone wanting to watch a monster movie exactly what they are looking for, a big-ass monster who wrecks shit right from the jump. 

Godzilla (2014), which I wrote about here, builds slow and burns long, equal parts disaster film and monster movie. Kong at times, maybe due to their eventual convergence, feels like it is trying to tap into the philosophical quality of Godzilla, but only tangentially and when it is at its worst. Most of the time it is pure, in your face, chest pounding monster mashing. 

I’m here for it. In fact, due to the overuse of the slow reveal of the monster, which, more often than not, feels lackluster and anti-climactic, there was something exciting about that tree that flew through the front windshield of a helicopter in the opening half hour of the movie. And then something akin to shock, when we don’t just glimpse a fading hindleg of a receding Kong, but the entire monster in all his glory, beating his chest amidst swirling helicopters. No teasers, no taunting. These guys dropped bombs on Kong, and we are about to see some shit. 

And that shit is really cool. It is highly stylized, probably due to the reliance on special effects, with freezes in the action at the moment of greatest impact, huge explosions, fast cuts of men getting weaponry ready and in position, and lot of Kong fodder. In short, when the movie leans into the whole “giant monkey kicking the shit out of annoying humans” shtick, Kong: Skull Island works.

But there is a whole other aspect to Kong that confused me. I had an annoying itch that I was missing something.

This Godzilla/Kong multi-verse is quite obviously leaning into man’s relationship to nature, and I enjoy it, the commentary feels appropriate (if maybe heavy handed), and it creates some resonance inside movies that could feel hollow. But Kong also has this Vietnam era period piece feel that seems highly interwoven with the plot and the series’ overarching storyline about Mother Nature but gets lost in the sauce.

I really thought that I’d be writing some piece about the intersection between Mother Nature and imperialism, some weird amalgamation of how Vietnam style tactics reveal our deepest insecurities about our inability to control the climate, or how climate change is the next proxy war we cannot win. But like… those pieces suck… and it doesn’t reflect Kong at its best or even what it is most often.

But that phantom thread that lingers like a word on the tip of the tongue does affect the feel of the movie. We seem to be rolling into an amazing monster movie, and then, after the helicopter fleet got its ass handed to them by Kong (How amazing was that shot of Kong in front of the rising sun? Got me so hyped) and they are all scattered to the four winds of Skull Island, things seem to get more serious- a twitch of the phantom thread- as Samuel L. Jackson’s character Col. Packard locks eyes with the beast and declares it his mortal enemy. There are some serious ‘Nam fucked me up overtones to that storyline, some path of vindication that Packard looks to walk after America lost its first war (‘withdrew’ as Packard put it). But, as we walk down that new path, we get… John C. Reilly… as a slightly crazy WWII era pilot after being stranded on the island for two decades?

We think we are heading towards Jaws and instead we get Talladega Nights. But lest you think the problem is John C. Reilly, it’s not. He is really funny. But it took a while to embrace that funny when we thought we were headed towards something more profound. 

And just to be fully refutational, movies can be funny and profound, but not like this. My point is not that it could never work, but that it did not work.

By the end, I gave up on the Packard storyline having any significance other than the need for a villain, and once I did, I was much happier for it. Give me Kong running through napalm, give me pterodactyls carrying away annoying scientists and ripping their arms off, give me John C. Reilly with a katana, or Michael Fassbender- wait, is that Tom Hiddleston? Okay- give me Tom Hiddleston in a gas mask killing dinosaur birds, give me a skull crawlers brain ripped out of its skull by its weird tongue-thing…. Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. 

In the spirit of Godzilla vs KongKong: Skull Island was not up to the high standard of Godzilla, but it succeeded where it did not attempt to be like Godzilla and leaned into its own unique monster, and the storyline that monster dictated. And when it did that, *chef’s kiss*.

Check out the rest of this series here:
[Godzilla: King of the Monsters] But That’s About It…
The Battle Of The Titans: And The Roundabout Way We Got There [Godzilla vs Kong]

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
Controlling the Control: A Disaster Film Meets a Monster Movie [Godzilla] (2014)
Advertising For [Jurassic World] and [Jurassic Park]
Can We Talk About [Jaws]?
National Pride [Dunkirk]
Top 50 Favorite Movies List

The Long Slow Burn: [The Sopranos] (Season Four) Review

Season four of The Sopranos is a victim of its own greatness. For me, Whitecaps, is the best episode in the entire series, a wrenching, hour long tour de force by Gandolfini and Falco. But to reach that peak, the show needed to burn slow, slower than they normally burn. Which means the first half of this season toddled along, lighting fuses that would eventually set off fireworks, but not yet, and until we get there, we must content ourselves with the small embers cast our way by the burning wick.

After finishing season four, even remembering what happened at the beginning of the season is difficult. Those moments were consequential (some of them at least) but only in relation to how they started a conflict, and once that conflict ignited, those early storylines receded out of memory. There is a beauty to that type of storytelling, a real ‘heart of the human condition’ situation where, at the point of highest conflict, what got us there rarely ever matters, and it certainly is not on our minds, or even decipherable to us.

So at the end of the season, when Ralphie was murdered by Tony, and his body had been chopped up and buried, and his role had been reassigned, and the damage had been mitigated, we stop thinking about his fights with Janice, his bickering with Paulie over no-show jobs, and his joke about Ginny Sac’s weight. What we remember is that Johnny Sac hated Ralphie, that Paulie was glad to see him go, and that Janice, in a long struggle to find someone to love and appreciate her, has now found a modicum of happiness in the big lovable oaf, Bobby Bacala. 

And take Bacala for example. At the beginning of the season, he was just named as acting capo for Junior’s crew. He was happily married, and Janice meant nothing to him. He was such a small character at that point in the show, but through the course of the season, in storylines that largely served other purposes, Bacala became a whole new character by the end of the season. Its brilliant. But it’s not always engaging.

Especially considering not every character had that same payoff. In what might be one of the worst episodes of The Sopranos, ‘Christopher,’ Sylvio takes offense when Native Americans protest the Columbus Day parade. In the process, he disagrees and disobeys Tony’s wishes, turning into a surly figure that Tony has to deal with. There are inklings of this dissent in Sylvio in other moments as well, a subtle sign that Tony may lose the confidence of his top guy. And because The Sopranos takes these small embers and blows them into big flames, we expect this to happen, maybe even more so because why else were we put through that horrendous episode? But nothing ever comes of it. Sylvio, at the end of the season, is the same guy, with the same amount of loyalty to Tony. And so it goes I suppose. But this is the weakness of season four. When the slow burn pays off, the victories seem to make it all worthwhile, but sometimes it didn’t seem worth it. 

A storyline that seems to bridge this gap, as equal parts great and questionable, was the slow burn of Chrissy’s descent into addiction. At the beginning of the season, he is still a casual user. Was it problematic? Yeah, but not debilitating. And by the end of the season, Tony can’t even call the guy without him showing up high on skag or not show up at all because he is high on skag. The best part of the storyline is how slowly they get us there. It’s a frog in boiling water. Through each episode they just slightly increase the temperature on Chrissy’s drug use, until we don’t even remember that he used to handle both heroine and the gangster life fairly well. But the payoff seems odd (in this season). He goes to rehab and gets out in a couple episodes, and becomes a Coke (the soda not the drug) guzzling workout fiend, and we are left to wonder, what became of this? Obviously, this is an important lift off into the next few seasons, but in the moment, it seems strange.

But the storyline that holds it all together, that all other storylines contribute to and, in the parameters of just season four, exist for, is Tony and Carmella’s marriage. Edie Falco carries this season. Her facial expressions, her subtleties, her ability to communicate so much more than words ever could or should, feel both worth the slow burn and the payoff. For a while now, we knew Carmella was unhappy with her marriage in an abstract sense. She did not like that Tony cheats, she did not like that Tony did not let her in on their financial situation. And in season four, these two elements merge and become much more real. She did not trust Tony because of his unfaithfulness and that extends to their finances. She asked to be a part of their finances through her own connection, Brian, but Tony is unwilling to grant her this small control over her own present and future, and even that which he does concede is manipulated and controlled and ends with Brian becoming one of Tony’s guys, making Tony money and completely committed to him. This seemed like the shuttering of the last window overlooking a world of freedom and control for Carmella. 

Concurrently, she finds a nail from one of Tony’s gumars, Tony re-meets, if not reunites, with Irina, Bobby mourns the death of his wife, Svetlana starts taking care of Junior, and Furio buys a home. All storylines that seem unrelated but meet at the point of their impact on Carmella and her unhappy marriage. She feels suffocated by Tony, trapped in her own home. One of my favorite images from this season is Carmella laying underneath Tony as they have sex, covered by his gigantic body, the shot is crowded and we can barely see Carmella’s face, turned to the side, eyes shut. She appears to be, quite literally, smothered by Tony. 

Conversely, we see the light in her eyes whenever Furio arrives, the small glances in the mirror to adjust her hair, the shifts in tone when it is not Furio, the joy when it is, and the disappointment when Furio says he will stay in the car. And it never feels over the top, like someone wouldn’t act that way, or if they did it would be obvious to all those around. It was obvious enough for viewers, following her story, but made such painfully perfect sense in each moment as well. 

Furio, for his part, did this well too. In the span of a season, he went from a fun but static character, to a conflicted, dynamic character full of longing and love and a need to be loved that all seemed so out of reach, trapped in the concrete jungle as he was, longing for the beauty of Naples. 

Also, and maybe this was just because I dreaded that phone call from Irina at the end of the season, but I couldn’t help but notice how frequently the phone rings in this season (and maybe it is just in the series overall). It becomes such a nothing-moment, to be interrupted by a cell phone or the home phone. It happens multiple times in a lot of episodes. Tony even decries his cell phone for always interrupting him (a quaint notion in the early aughts). So when Carmella, sick with grief after Furio’s disappearance, answers the bedroom telephone, we are primed for… nothing. And what we get, is a shock to the system, and all those stories, burning bright or merely sizzling along, explode.

We feel it like a punch to the gut- the fingernail, the finances, the stolen 40,000 dollars, Svetlana, Tony actually having broken it off with Irina, Furio, the fact that Carmella never acted on her love for him, the emerald ring, Whitecaps, Bobby’s love for his wife. And Tony and Carmella hurl a season (and a series) worth of issues at each other, a list of how they weighed and measured each other and found their spouse wanting- the jab before the MRI, the list of lovers, ex-boyfriend’s, the money they lived off of, hypocrisies big and small. 

And each fight is more spectacular than the last. Falco and Gandolfini pull of some of the most intense and deep expression of emotion and conflict that television has ever offered, and it happens in three rounds of character development as Tony and Carmella come to grips with the loss of their marriage.

This is a storyline that makes the whole season feel worth it, even if it didn’t always feel like it along the way.

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