If history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, what follows? In high school — high school, Scheuring — I got acquainted enough with Tom Stoppard’s 15-minute Hamlet to be thoroughly underwhelmed by last Friday night’s coda to the Prison break series finale. The 84-minute special felt a little something like Stoppard’s revision of Shakespeare, only, y’know, completely idiotic and entirely bereft of literary import: a full, season-worthy story arc of classic Prison break, replete with prisons, betrayals, thwarted moves, strange bedfellows and an anti-climactic escape. (That penultimate flashforward didn’t help your narrative cause, guys.)
There’s really not much to be said about the post-finale finale; it served principally (and gratuitously) to remind us of Scofield’s unqualified heroism. America loves few things more than a handsome, wrongly-persecuted, self-sacrificing genius.
Summer is nigh, and with it new seasons of Weeds (June 8), True blood (June 14), and Mad men (August). TubaTV can’t wait, because all these season finales are leaving some serious holes in our week nights.
As the two-hour special prior to this season of 24 made totally clear, Day 7 is all about Bauer’s “Redemption.” How, exactly, is Bauer to be redeemed, you ask? By standing trial and serving jail time for violating the Geneva Convention on a daily basis? By admitting his mistakes and dedicating his life to the peaceful resolution of international conflict? By embarking on the twelve steps to recovery from violence addiction, confronting his countless victims or their families, and asking for their forgiveness? Or maybe he’ll redeem himself by becoming even more intransigent and recruiting even more of the simple-minded to his one-dimensional vision of the world?
This season’s dupe is very obviously Renee Walker. Was anyone fooled by her presence? Is it not patently obvious that Renee’s femininity (which has been on prominent display ever since she changed into that translucent, V-neck sweater) is meant as an apology for or vindication of Bauer’s politics? Just because a womanly woman serves as Bauer’s “hard won” ally-slash-mouthpiece, is his extremist patriotism now suddenly something other than the fulfillment of a conservative’s wet dream? (Chloe O’Brian’s unconditional trust in Bauer was a lot harder won, but her femininity is, shall we say, less than convincing.)
The season’s other strategy for redemption is of course Bauer’s martyrdom: he has now been tragically infected by an experimental bio-weapon in the line of duty. The problem with this particular plot twist, however, lies in the fact that we’ve known since January that we can expect yet another season of 24 next year. So unless the show’s producers have the guts to write Day 8 as the immediate, “real-time” continuation of Day 7 (during which we might finally see Bauer get in a well-deserved cat nap or two), we already know that Bauer’s gonna be just fine at the end of this season. No dice, then, Bauer: TubaTV, at least, will not be granting your redemption any time soon.
For the lulz, here’s some more priceless dialog from this season:
Jack: I think I found us a new way in. Look: these are Senator Mayer’s files. This is Douglas Knowles. He’s the chairman of Starkwood. He was actually helping the senator with the investigation. He’s the one who brokered the deal to open the company’s books.
Renee: What, another insider? Didn’t we just get burned?
Two minutes later, we cover the exact same ground when Jack relays the budding plan to Larry and Tony.
Jack: Tony, you’re gonna need to find a way to stay behind. We’re gonna get your vectors over to a man we contacted inside Starkwood. His name is Douglas Knowles, he believes he knows where the weapons are.
Larry: Isn’t that how we got into this mess? Almeida and some supposedly friendly contact?
Renee: Knowles is chairman of the Starkwood board, but he was cooperating with Senator Mayer’s investigation of the company. Larry, he’s all that we’ve got.
[24‘s writers just LOVE the Only Option scenario, by the way. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that the Only Option structure is what organizes the development of all seven seasons of the show. There should be a 24 drinking game that requires a shot for every time the writers resort to the Only Option logic, every time someone (usually Jack) says something along the lines of “We don’t have a choice” or its kindred invocation, “You’re just gonna have to trust me.”]
Well, Kings has survived another week, and there haven’t been a great deal of changes from where we last left off: King Silas is still suspicious of David; David is still infatuated with the King’s daughter; and Jack is still miffed at David’s meteoric rise to fame. Thankfully, all the prophetic signs and wonders that got my goat last week have abated for the moment, or at least, have become more ambiguous (Ian McShane snapping a deer’s neck was much more ominous than David dreaming/seeing the phrase ‘don’t go’ over and over). The teen melodrama subplots, unfortunately, don’t seem to be going away soon, and David is still squeaky clean as ever (are we really to believe that making out with some random chick is to be read as a moral trangression?). But hey, when you cast two Desis in a scene together on network TV, all is easily forgiven.
Here’s my guess as to where it’s all leading, thanks to an intense half hour of wikipediaided catechism. The show, as everyone has already pointed out, is built on the Old Testament narratives of David, Jonathan (Jack), and Saul (Silas) and the trifecta’s struggle for power in the old Israeli kingdom. And so, if creator Michael Green stays true to his source material, then the likely outcome is this: like Saul’s son Jonathan eventually siding with David instead of his father, Jack will side with David as the legitimate heir of Gilboa. Though in the Bible, the J & D relationship is a deep, homosocial (scholars say -erotic) love, I’m guessing in the show things will stay tame; Jack will first envy (as we’re seeing now) David, then fall head over heels for him, with David responding in more tepid, bro-like ways. Maybe with a dap, and a “thanks.” Crushed, Jack will die. Silas will keep trying to kill David, to no avail. Facing an insurmountable rebellion led by David, old Silas will commit suicide. And if the show survives long enough, David will be crowned King.
That’s more or less how it all goes down in the holy book. Will it play out that way in Kings? Maybe. Still, it doesn’t really matter. Assuming that Green is interested in subverting the classic Biblical narratives in interesting ways, and in exploring what the narrative could mean in a modern day dystopia – well, that’s enough to compel me. Now, to rope in the twenty million others watching Amazing Race.
There’s a very simple reason why Friday night’s conclusion to the overly-acclaimed Battlestar Galactica wasn’t convincing. It wasn’t the triteness of the notion of “breaking the cycle of violence.” (Peace in the Middle East, y’all.) Nor was it the anticlimactic Starbuck ex machina resolution to her story arc this season. Nor was it the unabashed sacrifice of coherence for melodrama, as, for instance, when former Admiral Bill ‘Craterface’ Adama explains elliptically to Lee and Kara that he “[doesn’t] have much time,” thus prompting an unnecessarily tearful goodbye before he schleps moribund former President Laura Roslin off to some African hillside… so they can be alone when she dies, like, five minutes later in their Raptor? Because dying in a Raptor was way more comfortable for her than dying on the savannah where they’d been chatting pleasantly moments earlier?
If I were being generous, I could forgive these indulgences as the adolescent sentimentality of a group of science fiction writers mourning the loss of their all-too-short-lived source of self-esteem. What I can’t forgive, especially since generosity isn’t my strong suit, was the (increasingly inevitable, it seems) recourse to flashbacks. Even when a flashback is used to good effect, it’s a plot device for the simple-minded. Shakespeare never needed to flash his shit back to sustain drama, did he? (Feel free to chime in, Thumbu.) Worse still, the final two episodes of BSG left me feeling like the flashbacks were used both to eat up screen time, and to coat the development of the entire series with a hasty, post hoc veneer of gravity. Part I of “Daybreak,” especially, seems to have been an exercise in frustrated masturbation. As a result, the multiple climaxes proferred in Part II felt artificial and fundamentally empty.
Part of the problem was editing: in one scene, present-day Boomer delivers Hera to Helo and Athena, asking that they relay to Adama her message that she “owed him one.” Only then are we shoe-horned into a totally contextless Caprica-era scene during which Adama and Tigh jointly humiliate a rookie Boomer for not being able to land her Raptor properly. Adama, adhering faithfully to God’s plan for the future, decides to give her another chance (to land properly?), to which Boomer replies that she owes him one, an obligation she will fulfill “some day” — i.e., today — “when it really means something.” Do you see the problem here? Using a flashback to illuminate the words or actions of something that’s just happened in screen-time isn’t just weak, it’s wasteful. Had that scene been part of an episode in an earlier season, it might have been legit (albeit heavy-handed) to flash back to it at this point. But riddling a series finale with entirely novel flashbacks, especially when those flashbacks *immediately follow* the scenes they’re meant to contextualize, is just lazy storytelling. I’d go so far as to say that it’s disrespectful.
Similarly, I derived no special insight from witnessing the prelude to and aftermath of Roslin’s unfulfilling one-night stand with her former student, even if this was the immediate precursor to her decision to continue with politics, even if this decision then put her in a position to become President of the Republic. This level of storytelling produces precisely the same breed of banality that structured J.J. Abrams’s mercifully euthanized experiment in coincidence, Six degrees. Adama remained as captain of the Galactica because he was too proud to take a lie detector test? Lee and Kara almost got freaky on a kitchen table while Lee’s brother-slash-Kara’s husband Zak was passed out in the next room? Who fucking cares, at this point? BSG‘s writers drastically overestimated the privilege such scenes would exercise in our understanding of these characters, when really, they afforded no insight whatsoever. We already knew that Adama was a stubborn, self-righteous prick; we already knew that Lee and Kara would find other opportunities to trespass the boundaries of fidelity, propriety, whathaveyou.
For these reasons (and a host of others) BSG was not the ground-breaking drama everyone seemed hysterically to want it to be. It was a space opera, whether Ronald Moore realizes it or not. Not that the genre itself can’t be groundbreaking — the fourth chapter of Star wars was, after all, an allegorical denunciation of the Viet Nam War. The problem with uncritical praise for BSG is that it confuses middle-brow aspiration with high-brow achievement. We here at TubaTV believe that television as a medium can be great; transcendent, even. Battlestar Galactica was entertaining, sure. It even had its inspired moments. But great?