Watchmen ep 6: Nostalgia

Watchmen ep 6, Nostalgia, is one of the best episodes of television I’ve watched this year, quite possibly ever. It’s specific about Will Reeve’s personal trauma and also clear-eyed about the national, generational trauma that white supremacy inflicts on our country. It suggests that trauma, quite literally, colors everything, by having Will’s fragmented memories of the Tulsa massacre and the death of his parents pop up in color at moments in his life, otherwise filmed in black and white. His trauma is generational too, since it’s now part of his granddaughter Angela’s memories.

Along with the Tulsa massacre, the near-lynching attack on Will by his fellow white police officers is foundational to his origin story as Hooded Justice. The scene is masterfully, harrowingly shot, notably through its use of Will’s POV during the lynching; the simple shift in perspective is radical and centers black pain without feeling exploitative – we’re not just observing the horror, but we hear Will gasp for breath and can almost feel him struggling against the noose. Angela-as-Will’s howl of ineffectual rage and grief after his attackers cut him down from the tree is a gut punch, and Regina King plays it stunningly. Moments later, when Will puts the hood and noose back on in his first act as Hooded Justice, we feel the cathartic fury and desire for retributive justice that fuel it. For me, these brief scenes, especially with Will’s memories of Tulsa popping up, succeed in capturing Will’s angry, almost desperate motivation for vigilantism in a way that the many depictions of Batman, whose vigilantism is similarly sparked by childhood trauma, somehow never have.

So the lynching hood, a symbol of white racist terror, is transformed into an emblem of black resistance and vengeance. The hood, not to mention the whiteface Will wears around his eyes as Hooded Justice, provides the protection of anonymity, but also, specifically for a black man, confers a default whiteness – the same default assumption of whiteness operating in the show  within the show about the Minutemen, which imagines Hooded Justice as a white man. It’s as though Hooded Justice’s default whiteness weakens his white opponents, in one case the very white men who overpowered Will and carried out the near-lynching. Is Will able to take them down as Hooded Justice simply because they’re disoriented and thrown off-balance by the hood, or is it that their assumption of his whiteness disrupts their belief in their own racial superiority over a black man and somehow undermines their strength?

Or is it that Will is stronger, more lethal in a fight, when he puts on the hood? Perhaps the protection of assumed whiteness somehow frees Will, so that the full expression of his own anger and of a collective black rage against historical racist violence becomes Hooded Justice’s “superpower.” Of course when reporters ask Hooded Justice about his “superhuman strength,” they’re unknowingly evoking racist stereotypes about black men’s “brute” strength, but since we know his real identity, we recognize the ways in which a full expression of black manhood can be read as threatening by white society.

When a newsstand vendor shows Will the very first Superman comic, it highlights the irony that an alien who looks white can become a paradigmatic American, but Will, as a black man, is not considered fully human, let alone authentically American, in a white supremacist society. So it’s especially galling when the Minutemen use Hooded Justice in service of a marketing message that dehumanizes black people – see the ad showing Hooded Justice apprehending a criminal, depicted as an offensive caricature of a black man.

In fact, the episode succinctly catalogues several racist stereotypes that are still familiar to us today: the Cyclops member Fred T. basically calls Will oversexed and says that all black folks look the same to him (just before Will gratifyingly, if unnervingly, shoots him dead); at the Harlem theater attack, white police officers refer to the black people involved as “animals,” and claim that Will “speaks their language;” they some inherent violence in black people for tragic incident.

The Harlem theater attack also points out a white supremacist feedback loop in the world of the show – mind control technology developed by the white supremacist (Nazi-sympathizing) organization Cyclops causes the violence, which itself reaffirms white people’s racist stereotypes about black people. And by having Will’s memories of the Tulsa massacre intrude into this scene, the episode reminds us that the white folks in Tulsa, unlike the black people in Harlem, perpetrated horrific violence all on their own, without psychic manipulation, to uphold white supremacy. Rather fittingly, Will later uses similar mind control technology to make a white man, Judd Crawford, hang himself.

There’s just so much to say about this incredibly dense episode, so here are some disjointed thoughts:

*The technical skill on display is astounding, and I don’t have the formal background in cinematography to fully discuss it. Just one example – when June hands Will a small mirror and the camera travels to reveal the reflected image of Angela-as-Will in the mirror.

* The music choices are on point without being on the nose, from the vintage cues of “Smoke gets in your eyes” when Will/Hooded Justice sets the Cyclops headquarters ablaze, to “I’m not angry” underscoring Hooded Justice’s raison d’etre, to the score transitioning to the modern, unsettling theme of the scenes set in 2019.

*The episode handles Will’s relationship with Nelson Gardner/Captain Metropolis with nuance – it’s not about labeling Will as queer but an almost matter-of-fact depiction of him having sex with a man. It even looks like June knows about his sexual relationship with Nelson.

*The particularly lovely sequence showing the passage of time for Will and his family, with “My echo, my shadow, and me” playing over it – it’s all about echoes of memories and shadow selves: children as reflections of their parents; the shadow-self of Angela-as-Will as she experiences her grandfather’s memories.

*When Will kills Fred T. and other Cyclops members and burns their warehouse headquarters, he’s not in costume as Hooded Justice. This suggests that he’s expressing his rage authentically without the cover of his costume. Will’s memories of Tulsa once again play over this scene, suggesting that this act of vigilantism is retribution for and perhaps partial exorcism of the trauma of the Tulsa massacre.

*I love how this episode and the show in general center black experiences and the history of black people in our country, which is most likely because there are black writers on the show. I thought about this when I was talking about Watchmen with my bestie – I mentioned that the first episode briefly features a black production of Oklahoma!, and she said that on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Titus refers to an all-black production of Oklahoma!, called Alabama! and featuring the song “People will say we’s in love.” That feels somehow emblematic to me – the idea of a black Oklahoma! as a joke because of a limited notion that black people only live in the South and speak a clichéd vernacular versus a straightforward, if pointed depiction of black people starring in Oklahoma! as it’s written (which is in part what the new Broadway production of the musical does). It seems like the difference between an all- or mostly-white writers room versus a diverse writers room, with folks educated in the parts of our history we tend to be ignorant about, who choose to write the black people who lived in the Oklahoma territory back into our history.

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Before We Go: Before Sunrise with Captain America

So apparently what Captain America really wants to do is direct. Sadly, his directorial debut is less than marvelous (*groan*). To be fair, I don’t think Chris Evans’ direction is actually the problem with Before We Go, starring Evans and Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness, Starter for 10). The main problem is the clichéd dialogue, which just doesn’t sound like two strangers slowly, haltingly getting to know and fall for each other over a limited period of time. For a stellar example of that, watch the much sexier Cairo Time or Before Sunrise.

Before We Go follows a tired, by-the-book script of how two beautiful strangers, Nick and Brooke, should interact with each other – initial wariness, antagonism that masks attraction, conflict based on how each really “knows” the other, and finally, acknowledgement of their mutual attraction. It even has the moment in which Nick and Brooke momentarily pretend to be together to ward off some troublemakers on the street – establishing their chemistry in a wholly unoriginal way.

New York City serves as the picturesque yet lived-in backdrop for Nick and Brooke’s night on the town, but not much of their interaction feels genuine or earned. Evans has an easygoing charm and light touch that help with the clunky dialogue, but Eve seems stiff and uncomfortable. I can’t really blame her when her character, impulsively suggesting that they go see a psychic, says things like, “You know my past, now I want to find out my future.” The movie tries to create suspense about Nick and Brooke’s backstories, but none of it feels surprising or worth the pay-off. I can’t really think of anything else to say about this movie, which makes me sad for Chris Evans. He makes some interesting non-Marvel film choices (see the exhilarating, whacked-out Snowpiercer), but this movie is generic and forgettable.

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Reflections on Madonna and Child at the Met

At the Met today, I was moved in a new way by depictions of Mary and Jesus, especially those of Mary mourning Jesus’ death. The paintings and sculptures of Mary holding and cradling the baby Jesus made me think of our son Satya; her grief made me imagine a parent’s worst fate – seeing his dead body. The emotion of the sacred images struck me in a visceral way, different from the appreciation I’ve always had.

I look at Satya toddling around the apartment or playground, and I think, twenty years from now I’ll watch him walking across a room and I’ll remember him like this. When Mary holds Jesus’ dead body does she remember the chubby, squirming baby reaching for the Magi’s gifts or tugging at her cloak? When Chris and I carry Satya now, we invariably remember that when he was born, he was tiny enough to fit in the crooks of our arms. There’s something so unexpectedly tactile about watching, feeling, and experiencing Satya grow – every inch, every muscle. Mary must marvel the same way as Jesus’ body grows and develops. So she must endure unfathomable pain as his lifeless body spills across her lap. This is what Christ’s humanity entails – not just his suffering, but Mary’s, too.

There’s a tragic juxtaposition between the themes of the most common depictions of Mary and Jesus together – Madonna and bouncing, lively Child, and the Pietà – Mother cradling adult, dead Son. Does Mary have an inkling of this future when she’s cuddling the baby Jesus? Is this among the things she “keeps and ponders in her heart”? Her haunted gaze, directed out toward the viewer, in Caravaggio’s Holy Family certainly suggests as much.

For Mary, does the Pietà obliterate or sanctify the joy of Madonna and Child? The lifetime of shared moments between Mother and Son, all the small intimacies and shared rituals – Mary feeding Jesus his first meal of solid food; the last time she nursed him; her pride at his first steps – all those  moments must collide in Mary’s mind as she holds Jesus’ body in her lap one last time.

 

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Playing House: Your perfect summer treat

I’m loving Playing House right now, mostly because the two main characters, Emma and Maggie, remind me of my best friend Ashley and myself. They’re played by the creators of the show, Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair. The two women are also best friends in real life, and their relationship comes through onscreen in their genuine affection and in their perfectly-timed, sometimes prickly comic interaction.

The show kicks off as Emma moves in with her very pregnant best friend Maggie after Maggie kicks her cheating husband out of the house. It has a sweet, Gilmore Girls-ish temperament and focus on small-town life. But it’s saved from being too treacly by the droll comic talents of Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele – he kind of sneaks up on you as a bit of a hottie, no?) as Emma’s ex-boyfriend Mark and Zach Woods (Silicon Valley) as Maggie’s brother Zach. The show isn’t afraid to get truly bizarre occasionally, as when Maggie dons a wig and trucker hat and assumes the persona of bow-legged, tobacco-chewing Bocephus. But it also has enough heart to treat Tina, Mark’s wife, with more empathy than your average show might afford the uptight, too-perfect character. And the last 2 episodes of season 1 had me chuckling at some nice callbacks to earlier episodes and crying at the genuine emotion surrounding the birth of Maggie’s daughter.

I somehow completely missed the show’s first season, so I thoroughly enjoyed bingeing it, and I’m looking forward to diving into season 2. It feels like the perfect summer fizzy-drink of a show.

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I finally watched Fruitvale Station, and you should, too

Hi folks, Pop Goddess is back after a 2-year hiatus! My husband and I now have a 1 ½ -year-old baby boy, so that means all the movies I watch have to be on-demand on TV, and I’m a lot more particular about the pop culture I do invest my time in (Mr. Robot, you’re solid but I can live without you; Orphan Black, I know I should be addicted but I’m just not there yet; Jane the Virgin, love you!). Hey, I only have about an hour every day to watch TV/movies, so it has to be worth it!

Speaking of worth it, I finally watched Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler’s film about Oscar Grant III, the young black man fatally shot by a BART police officer in 2009. I’d heard great things about it, and I love Michael B. Jordan from Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. But I also knew the movie would be challenging to watch. It is, but it’s also a great showcase for Jordan and a testament to Coogler’s talents as a writer and director. In a compact 90-some minutes, spanning the course of a single day, Coogler paints a compelling portrait of Oscar, his challenges and flaws, his sincere efforts to be a better person and a good father and son. It’s impressive that Coogler doesn’t portray Oscar as a saint or “good” victim, but still leaves us heartbroken at his killing and at the grief it causes his mother (an excellent Octavia Spencer), girlfriend, and daughter. Coogler only has the narrative space of a day to establish Oscar’s personal relationships and sense of family, but he does it with such warmth and humanity that we fully grasp his family’s immense loss.

Coogler is clear-eyed, but not didactic, about the systemic challenges that limit Oscar and the implicit biases that lead to his killing. There’s a quiet exchange that highlights the difference between how we treat young white men and young black and brown men who might make similar mistakes in life. During New Year’s Eve celebrations, Oscar chats with Peter, a white man, about how he doesn’t want to propose to his girlfriend when he doesn’t have any money. Peter admits that he had no money when he proposed to his girlfriend and that he actually used stolen credit card information to buy an engagement ring. “Now I have my own business and bought her a new ring with my own money,” he says. We don’t know the details, but clearly Peter has benefitted from white privilege – the benefit of the doubt, second chances and employment opportunities that Oscar, a young black man with a prison record, doesn’t have. Peter gives Oscar his business card; we can imagine that Oscar might have called him in the New Year, that he might have gotten a steady job and might have succeeded in escaping the history of his struggles and crimes. Heartbreakingly, that potential and possibility are snuffed out in a fog of confusion, bias, and abusive power.

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The Good Wife season finale recap

Hi folks – as promised, here’s my recap of The Good Wife’s season 4 finale, “What’s in the Box?”

I thought it was a solid episode. I especially loved the scene between Peter and Will – a good example of the show’s economical writing, which counts on the viewer to remember the history between the characters without a lot of exposition. And I have to say, I’m glad it was Cary at Alicia’s door, not Will. Let me know what you think of the episode and of season 4 overall (Nick makes threatening scrambled eggs! Nathan Lane plays a surprisingly soulful accountant!) in the comments section below.

Episode 22: What’s in the Box?

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Weekly recap: The Good Wife

Hi folks, I’ll post the link to my recap of last night’s finale within a day, but till then, check out my recap of the April 21 episode:

Episode 21: A More Perfect Union

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Weekly recap: The Good Wife

Hi all – get ready for tonight’s episode of The Good Wife with my recap of the April 14 episode:

The Good Wife, ep. 20: Rape – A Modern Perspective

Couple things – they (the producers? showrunners?) changed the title of this episode from “Sex Dolls and Videotape,” which I thought was actually connected more specifically to the story. Maybe they felt it was too flippant for the subject.

Also, can we PLEASE move The Good Wife to a night when we don’t have to sit/fast-forward through an hour of The Amazing Race just to watch it?? It’s getting SO OLD. And then we have to put up with the annoying time-delay alerts popping up at the bottom of the screen throughout the episode. I was surprised to read a couple weeks ago that The Good Wife‘s ratings are actually rather low and that there was some question about whether it would be renewed for next season (it was). It might help if it actually aired at its scheduled time.

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Dancing the Gods: Nrityagram’s Odissi dance recital

I was lucky enough to attend an Odissi dance recital by the members of the Nrityagram dance company recently, and it was just as exhilarating as the first performance I saw last year. Unlike last year’s show, which included several Nrityagram dancers and members of a Kandyan dance company, this performance featured only Surupa Sen, the artistic director of Nrityagram, and Bijayini Satpathy, the director of their dance school. This streamlined aspect somehow made the experience even more immersive.

I was reminded again how indispensable the live musicians are to the recital: Sanjib Kunda on violin, Soumyaranjan Joshi on flute, Sibasankar Satapathy on mardala (percussion), and Jateen Sahu, harmonium and vocals, provided an essential musical foundation and accompaniment to the dancers. I also think the English translation of the poems/hymns on which the dances are based, included in the program, enhanced the performance. For those of us who don’t speak the original languages of the verses, it allowed us to appreciate how precisely Ms. Sen and Ms. Satpathy communicated everything from intimate human emotions to divine cosmic power through their graceful movements, intricate gestures, and mobile facial expressions.

My favorite section of the first piece, a hymn in praise of Vishnu, was when Ms. Sen and Ms. Satpathy depicted the narrative of Krishna’s birth. Even though those particular lines of the song weren’t translated in the program, the dancers portrayed the event with such clarity that it was instantly identifiable: Devaki cradles the infant Krishna and then, distraught, hands him to his father Vasudev so that he can take the newborn to safety. Vasudev tenderly carries Krishna, in a basket, on his head. With a few economical movements of her arm, Ms. Satpathy even depicted the flooded river Vasudev has to cross to reach Gokul. Once there, he leaves Krishna with Yashoda and turns away, heartbroken. This whole episode played out in a few moments, but the dancers’ precision and sensitivity lent it great emotional weight.

For me, the highlight of the recital was the final piece. It was based on a hymn celebrating Ardhanarisvara, the deity that embodies both the male and female principle, commonly understood to represent the union of Shiva and Parvati. Both Ms. Sen and Ms. Satpathy alternately represented the male and female aspects of the deity, with subtle yet powerful shifts in posture, gestures, and expression. In one instant, a dancer portrayed the female aspect, with her golden skin, gold ornaments, garland of flowers; in the next instant, she embodied the male aspect, his skin smeared with ashes, adorned with serpents and a garland of skulls: “She is draped in silks, he is clad in the sky; her hair is like the monsoon clouds, his matted locks flash with lightning.” Each dancer enacted both the female deity’s bounteous dance of creation and Shiva’s Tandava, his fearsome dance of dissolution, with his drum sounding the rhythms of destruction. Ms. Sen and Ms. Satpathy complemented and conversed with each other through their movements and gestures, until both dancers came together in a unified posture, reminiscent of a sculpture depicting Ardhanarisvara – half male, half female, united in a single harmonious form. It was a thrilling, transcendent performance, and it left me eager for my next chance to see a recital by these supremely skilled dancers.

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Weekly recaps: Justified season finale and The Good Wife

Hi folks! Check out my recaps of this week’s episode of The Good Wife and the excellent season finale of Justified:

The Good Wife, ep. 19: The Wheels of Justice

Justified, ep. 13: Ghosts

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