2:8 Decembrist: Tom’s “about us” tease (11/16/2014)

Dear @A.M. @CES2 @Laocoon @Richard

There seems to be a lot of disappointment on the show’s somewhat glib resolution of some issues – and failure to resolve others – that had been really played up through both seasons. People seem to feel a bit jerked around. I characterized the choice the showrunners have as being one of a balance between plots on the one hand and thematic and character development on the other. I think it’s good for the future of the show that they have this long break to get their act together, so to speak. They need to be working a couple months ahead and not a couple weeks and be able to deliver on thematic resolutions. The finale did a lot to resolve things, even if just to clear the clutter. They need to rein things in a bit and go forward somewhat more deliberately.

I am still hopeful for the ability of the show to allow the kind of Sherlockian analysis this blog has attempted – and which has taken place in other forums as well. The question: can a weekly television show engage the viewer and withstand the detailed scrutiny that one would expect of a first-rate novel? The demands are huge on the creative staff (& actors, who need to know a few weeks out where their characters are going) and the production requirements must be enormous. I want The Blacklist to succeed because what they are trying to do is so ambitious and so potentially transformative. I’m someone who believes in art as the epitome of culture. But it must address issues that connect with the issues, questions and dilemmas people encounter in their own personal lives and the world they live in. It can’t avoid, simplify or shortchange these issues, or it risks becoming mere “entertainment,” a distraction – we might as well, then, be watching Ziegfeld’s Follies.

I hope The Blacklist can chew all that it’s bitten off and really deliver moving forward. But even if it fails, it will be a grand failure, reminding me of this image in a Yeats poem:

No handiwork of Callimachus
Who handled marble as if it were bronze,
Made draperies that seemed to rise
When sea-wind swept the corner, stands;
His long lamp-chimney shaped like the stem
Of a slender palm, stood but a day;
All things fall and are built again
And those that build them again are gay.

I assume, this being 1939, “gay” meant happy. Though I still wonder about that twitch in Red’s eye and the meaning of “about us.” This was picked up some on other blogs. We’re supposed to be okay with “the gay” now aren’t we? Would an honest treatment in a drama be totally out of the question? People are complicated, with complex & secret histories. Heck, Seinfeld and Boston Legal ventured there.

Anyway, so much for that flight of fancy.

As for the mid season finale. Though filling in the Tom story seemed rushed & the Zoë story relied on a distorted timeline, I still think this was the best episode of the entire series, both seasons. The acting was great – Megan, Ryan, Diego – and James Spader was even better than usual. The Lizzingtonians got their fix, yet the show carefully walked the fine line so the Daddy/Daughter-ists are not alienated. How long can they do this? Who knows. But the intrigue of that question really is part of what makes the show compelling, especially when combined with the mystery of what happened to Red’s family. especially for women. It sets it apart from Homeland – and it looks like it, from State of Affairs – that both now are going with a central, accomplished female character who finds release in casual oddly unerotic sexual relationships with strangers. Go figure.

All three of these I prefer to House of Cards (in which everyone is so mean!) and Game of Thrones, which struck me as soft porn with stunning visual effects and scary monsters.
None of these matches the narrative power of The Blacklist or is as engaging to watch (for me). I’ve got Season 3 of Homeland and Season 2 of Newsroom on DVD but now it seems almost like a chore to watch them. I’m done with Game of Thrones and House of Cards as well as Downton Abbey which seems to have petered out in the last season. After 3 seasons of Mad Men, I just asked myself: do I even care about any of these characters? Answer: no. My kids like Breaking Bad. I watched about 3 episodes and couldn’t connect with the theme or the characters – and the West Texas backdrop was just too bleak. Funny how little it takes sometimes. BTW, I loved the animé series “The Last Airbender” – watched it twice with my teen-aged daughter. I love Pride & Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.

I’ll be re-watching The Blacklist on Amazon Prime and going over the scripts, looking for more clues (and trying to catch goofs) and getting on with the holidays. I started watching The Blacklist to distract me from the elections, giving up MSNBC essentially cold turkey. I never expected it to be so good, honestly. I’d be interested in ideas for other shows that might be comparable. I’ve read maybe Person of Interest, 24, Sherlock, The Wire, Lost, even The X-Files. Is anything really as good? I do love Vikings and look forward to Season 2 of that. I don’t plan to watch any other show on a week-to-week basis. I’ve got to get back to work, which for me is writing and tweeting about politics, economics & foreign policy – & taking my stock portfolio back from Warren Buffett (who probably does a better job with it).

P.S. @Belle It’s been pointed out at another blog that Lizzie’s scar resembles the Chinese/Japanese character for fire, picture: http://bit.ly/1A6JbI7

[Cross-posted at WSJ Speakeasy]

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