Mr Robot – Season Two Premiere

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This is an intriguing show, and the effort by director and show-creator Sam Esmail is nothing to turn your nose at. Most series have a team of writers, directors, show-runners and executives to assist in the production. Esmail has single-handedly written and directed every episode of the show – that’s borderline insane.

At the same time, the show is – in my opinion – on shaky ground. It’s a long-form version of ‘Fight Club.’ It’s a narrative with a malcontent protagonist who uses his intellect to try and cripple the global financial system. He has disossiative personality disorder – with elements of schizophrenia sprinkled-in for flavor – just like the nameless protagonist of ‘Fight Club.’ Their taget? Credit card companies and banking systems, with a specific goal to create global financial chaos.

These kinds of stories are played out. The notion of multiple personalities has been thoroughly debunked by the psychological community, which injures ‘Mr Robot’ at its premise; we, the audience, have to take a leap. And so far, the show has been reasonably convincing in it’s portrayal or this disorder, engaging in its narrative, and fun to watch. Elliot isn’t just preternaturally intelligent, but he’s mentally ill and he suffers from substance abuse – all of these things work to sell the notion that he communicates with an imagined dead father. In season two, after kicking his drug habit, the whole idea is starting to feel flimsy.

Esmail and Co. are going to have to work harder to sell this character and keep the show as interesting as it was in season one. Right now it appears to be riding on a razor’s edge – it isn’t too cliched and campy to not enjoy, but it’s structure is becoming predictable and it’s characters too wooden and archetypal.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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Game of Thrones – Eddard Stark

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“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”

In this modern world of long-form story-telling on television, the quality of ‘virtue’ almost always proves to be a death sentence. Although “Game of Thrones” is based on a series of novels that were initially published in the mid-1990s, this new age of “literate programming” has brought audiences a greater depth of character development and a newfound fearlessness on behalf of networks, writers, and show-runners to visit harm on beloved characters.

If audiences don’t care about the characters on the screen, audiences won’t feel anything if a terrible fate befalls them. That’s why we are seeing fewer and fewer “immortal” characters (central characters that audiences know will never ever die). With “Game of Thrones,” the show-runners established, during the climactic moments of season one, that absolutely nobody is safe. This ramps up interest in the story and multiplies the value of the drama.

Eddard “Ned” Stark is the enduring symbol that expresses how dangerous the continent of Westeros actually is.

In the series, Ned Stark is arguably the most honorable character, ruling over the northern kingdom of Winterfell, patriarch of House Stark. He is the moral compass of the story, inherently compelled to remain away from politics, courtly intrigue, and deception. Literarily, the family name, Stark, serves as a clever indication of his resistance to moral compromise.

After being appointed the “hand of the king,” he is duty-bound to travel to the capital city of King’s Landing. After the accident death of King Robert, we watch as Ned becomes increasingly entangled in the political upheaval of the city. He begins to struggle as his own sense of honor draws him into corrupt dealings at court. Near the end of his story arc, he is forced to choose between his family’s safety and his own sense of honor.

This is one of many paintings I have made in my ongoing series, “The Portraits of Westeros.” I hope you enjoy the work, and implore you to tell me who you would like me to paint next!

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The Matrix, The Wachowskis, And Transgender Issues


Most of us remember the 1999 groundbreaking film “The Matrix,” and most of us enjoyed it enough to forgive Warner Brothers for the cash-grab follow-ups, which will not be discussed here. It introduced a revolutionary new visual style and participated in the invention and popularization of bullet-time photography, which has been adapted, modified, and used in movies and television ever since.

We might also remember that the film was directed by The Wachowski Brothers.

As it turns out, Larry Wachowski (now Lana) is transgender. Rumors began to circulate in the early 2000s that Lana was transgender, but the siblings kept this information private until after Lana’s transition in 2008. The earliest publication to mention Lana by her new moniker, and to refer to the siblings simply as ‘The Wachowskis,’ occurred in 2010. She has been very active in the transgender community ever since, eventually receiving The Human Rights Campaign’s ‘Visibility’ Award.

In March of 2016, Andy Wachowski also came out as transgender and has adopted the name Lilly.

Lana has expressed in several speeches and interviews that she had considered committing suicide in her youth because of her feelings of confusion about her gender identity. In retrospect, it’s interesting to note that themes of identity are ubiquitous in films made by the Wichowskis. One of the earliest examples is “The Matrix.” The main character struggles with accepting the possibility that he may be a messiah figure. But there’s also an interesting tertiary character, Switch, who is a clear expression of the Wachowskis’ struggle with their gender identity. One of Morpheus’s cohort, the character was intentionally designed to be androgynous, and the script even reveals that Switch was supposed to be female in the ‘real’ world and male while in ‘the matrix.’ This was narratively designed to illustrate the concept of “residual self image” explained by Morpheus as a projection, while in the matrix, of one’s most concise and accurate image of Self. While biologically female, Switch views himself as being male.

Casting the character proved to be challenging; finding a male actor and female actor that could be made to resemble each other closely proved nearly impossible. Time and budget constraints eventually motivated the Wachowskis to abandon this concept, and the androgynous character of Switch that we see in the film was developed, with a pretty ‘on-the-nose’ name. The fact that the character of Switch was written in the manner it was, however, clearly points to the very real possibility that The Wachowskis were working – whether consciously or unconsciously – through their own gender identity circumstances, and reflects how meticulously the first Matrix film was assembled (and why that first film continues to be a contemporary classic).

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Better Call Saul 2.03 – Amarillo


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“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. McGill.”

The third episode of season two, “Amarillo,” begins with Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) at his smarmiest, charm-inflicting self. Swaddled in pristine white cowboy gear, he positions himself on a street corner, looking beyond conspicuous. We already know he’s up to something – it’s just a question what, exactly, his scheme is. In this case, it’s sweet-talking the elderly – something he’s incredibly good at – in order to collect additional clients for his class-action suit. He accomplishes this by doing what he does best – twisting the rules to fit his own needs. From a plausibly deniable position, he breaks the bar association’s guidelines for client solicitation by ambushing a busload of retirement community residents.

Jimmy’s ploy is successful, and the annihilating glow of fresh new clients is enough for everybody in the conference room. That is, everybody except Chuck (Michael McKean), who knows what kind of a smooth operator his brother is. Naturally, Chuck throws a wrench in Jimmy’s machinations, forcing him to find new ways of securing clients.

Enter: local low-production commercials.

In an entertaining callback to Breaking Bad, we bear witness to a wonderful distillation of Jimmy’s core gifts: intelligence, creativity, intimate knowledge of his clients, and a knack for showmanship. It’s actually quite a treat to see how the future Mr. Saul Goodman cut his teeth in the advertising game. The commercials he makes may be grating, poorly edited, clichéd, even predictable – but Jimmy knows how predictable people can be, and he knows how to stack the deck in his favor. Knowing his production would never pass muster with his firm’s focus-group atmosphere, he does the next best thing: he goes rogue.

While wrestling with the decision as to whether or not he should run the ad without authorization, we get another subtle callback to Breaking Bad in the form of a music queue. Ominous digital drones creep into the scene, illustrating his internal struggle; this is highly reminiscent of the mood-setting tones in Breaking Bad. This isn’t an indication of moral ambiguity, but rather an indication of outright rebellion against the order of things. And we know there are going to be consequences.

Jimmy knows he’s taking a risk, just like Walter White (Bryan Cranston) knew he was taking risks. Naturally Jimmy bets on himself, and this is precisely what makes him such an appealing character. With so many forces against him – a complicated personal/professional relationship with Kim (Rhea Seehorn), a brotherly feud of biblical proportions, a fraudulent corporation, and a dangerously ambivalent attitude toward legal ethics – we want to bet on Jimmy, too. Everybody loves an underdog, even if we know that he is flat-out wrong.

When he struggles and succeeds, we smile along with him.

In a beautifully acted, wordless sequence, we watch Jimmy squirming in his office chair, staring at the silent telephone, wondering if his bet is going to pay off. He already knows his flagrant disregard of protocol can only be forgiven if the phones start ringing. Minutes pass. The scene drags out. Then the phone bank starts to fill, miraculously, and we exhale a sigh of relief. A shiny smile of self-satisfaction washes over his face.

And we smile along with him.

At the end of the episode, wreathed in calm domesticity, Jimmy and Kim snuggle on the couch to watch “Ice Station Zebra” and unwind from the day. “Anything blow up yet?” Jimmy asks, plopping onto the couch in front of the flickering television.

Not yet, but it’s safe to say something will soon.

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