Archive for October 30, 2013

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 22!

October 30, 2013

DOWNLOAD IT HERE – Vendettas and Hypotheticals: The Consequences of Vengeance, plus a few “What If?”s (feat. Amin Javadi)

Don’t call it a comeback! Stefan SasseSean T. Collins return with our first BLAH since June, and we’re bringing our chum Amin Javadi of the mighty A Podcast of Ice and Fire along for the ride. It’s basically two episodes in one: For the first half hour or so, we discuss Stefan’s essay “Savoring the Taste?: On the Role of Revenge in A Song of Ice and Fire” from the expanded Collector’s Edition of Tower of the Hand: A Flight of Sorrows — TotH‘s excellent collection of essays by various luminaries in the ASoIaF community. Stefan argues that quests for revenge, no matter how horrendous the crime being avenged, are self-perpetuating engines of violence that have had awful consequences for these characters and their culture. Please note that the Collector’s Edition — a print book, no less — is only on sale through the end of this Friday, November 1st, after which it will disappear forever. Buy it now and let’s talk!

In the back half of the ep, we get exquisitely nerdy and discuss various what-if scenarios, predicated on major events and decisions going a different way than they had before. I had an absolute blast teasing out the consequences of each of these divergences and hope you’ll enjoy it too. It’s good to be back!

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Eight: “The Old Ship of Zion”

October 30, 2013

* We open on Dunn Purnsley walking in slow motion. This is what my mind looks like inside, if you were wondering. Thank you, Tim Van Patten.

* Ha, this nice old lady runs a crackhouse! Or whatever you call its heroin equivalent in period-appropriate slang.

* God I love his reptilian smile, his gold tooth, his oily purr. Such a fun character.

* “The Doctor’s expecting everyone.” Lovely line. Thank you, Cristine Chambers and Howard Korder.

* Knox is such a prick. That said, “We’ll get the crooks. Then we’ll find the law” is undoubtedly an American recipe for success.

* Assuming Nucky’s nephew is the weak link, that’s some Boardwalk-ass tying together of disparate strings. And kudos to the show for presenting this information to Knox in the form of an unnecessarily articulate, righteously indignant fellow agent. Even the bit parts don’t respect Knox, and that sends a message to the viewer.

* Willie’s staying in Eddie’s place. Another strand.

* “We all have to move forward, Will….I want you to give some thought to how to turn this into an opportunity.” Nucky in a nutshell.

* “Daddy, are you alright? People were lookin’ at you.” That’s Chalky’s gift and Chalky’s curse. His part of town looks to him as a leader because he delivers for them, but his power is therefore dependent on them. Nucky, by contrast, has increasingly withdrawn from the public-service aspect of his career the more it’s involved outright criminality. You can’t be worrying about electability when you’re fighting a gang war, or vice versa, as Mayor Ed’s concerns make clear.

* Mrs. White is wise to Chalky’s affair, and Chalky’s unconcerned, we learn later on. So my earlier question about what she sees in him is answered at least in part, or at least as far as Chalky’s concerned: She appreciates the refinement his unrefined money can purchase for herself and her kids. Carmela Soprano.

* I like the look Narcisse shoots at the Mayor when he “Amen”s. Like he smelled a fart.

* The new preacher’s got a good question: “Might we ask why his leave need be so swift and so violent?” It’s interesting to see how soft power drives hard men like Chalky and Nucky into action.

* “Turns out…this was her sister!” “Twin sister?” “No. That’s the peculiar aspect.” Never change, Mickey Doyle.

* I’m coming around on Sally Wheat. Patricia Arquette has a fabulous look for this show, the toll of age on her striking face and frame transmutated into Southern charm, like Spanish moss on an old building. Flirting with Mickey Doyle would read like a transparent ploy, or simple bad writing, were any other woman we’ve met to do it, but Sally legitimately seems like someone who’d relish his entertainment value enough to actually enjoy his company, as far as it goes. And her chemistry with Nucky is genuine, much to my surprise. Maybe it’s just that she’s an age-appropriate love interest, for once, or maybe it’s that her appeal in no way relies on subverted sexual innocence, like his countless girlwomen showgirls (just compare her unfathomably prominent bosom and cleavage to those flat-chested flappers), or Margaret’s nice-Irish-girl vibe. She’s as in control of her desires as he is.

* “It’s always good to save something to talk about for later.” Criminal caginess as courtship etiquette. Nice work, Nucky.

* It’s to the show’s great credit that during the entire series of scenes between Chalky and Dunn, I had no idea who was going to die. I suppose I’d have put money down on Dunn if I had to, but last night when I saw a tweet to the effect of “We talked to Boardwalk Empire’s Dunn Purnsley about…” I stopped myself from reading the rest of it and suspected that he’d died but also thought it was entirely possible he’d staged a successful coup and killed Chalky.

* “You’re uncle, he’s…involved in other enterprises now.” Mayor Ed’s got a gift for understatement.

* The raid on the heroin house (someone please give me a term to use here) was engrossingly brutal. It’s relatively rare on this show to see a full-fledged assault on someone completely incapable of defending himself, let alone an entire one-sided battle full of such things. Sickening, yet cathartic given all the delayed and deferred tension — tension Dunn preserves by executing his contact before Chalky can interrogate him. Not, however, before he can discover a connection to the Doctor, whose vanity is starting to prove to be his undoing.

* “Know what I see? A house full of trouble.” Another lovely line.

* Three packs of Chesterfields and “Tell me all about William Thompson.” Chillingly efficient.

* “It’s not my style of music, but you can’t say it doesn’t have an effect.” “Chalky. Don’t let your life get out of hand.” Nucky Thompson, student of human nature.

* “If you’re bored, you’re boring.” Betty Draper offered a variant of that line in Mad Men, too, which means it’s safe to assume it’s something David Chase said to Winter and Weiner when they complained about the long hours sometime.

* “Enjoyed our conversation. You have a fine evening.” Hahahaha, Mickey Doyle responds to a rap on the head with a cane like a dog getting hit with a newspaper. To be fair, he hasn’t had the best luck with pissed-off bosses in boardwalk nightclubs.

* “He gets on my nerves.” “He wasn’t getting on mine.” Double entendre of the night.

* Hahahaha Willie kept up by Nuck and Sally. The thought of lying in bed forced to listen to the coital noises of your uncle is truly gross.

* As he mouths his own turgid lines from the side of the stage, as his play lands with a thud, as he theatrically bows in front of a blank curtain to no applause whatsoever, as he self-deprecates with obvious phoniness and egotism, the true character of Dr. Narcisse is revealed at last: Just as I suspected, he really is just a vain piece of shit.

* Marvelous Godfather-esque staging for the street confrontation between Chalky and Narcisse. And I loved the unspoken menace of Dunn, an enemy hiding in plain sight.

* Willie wants to try making it on his own. “If I don’t, it means I didn’t deserve it.” Looks like he internalized that morality-of-capitalism lecture he attended after all.

* Daughter Maitland suffers from depression, and Dr. Narcisse has her apologizing for how badly she upsets him when she gets that way. Wonderfully loathsome, and recognizable.

* “Will you keep him here? There will be…another visitor.” Another lovely line.

* I’d assumed Willie was going to be the next weak link Knox attempted to break, but of course it makes more sense to use his plight to blackmail Eli, a tried and true tactic of law enforcement targeting medium-sized fish with big-fish bosses and little-fish kids who’ve got legal trouble that can be made to go away. My thing about this development is this, however: Eli’s gotta go to Nuck with this, right? I mean, wouldn’t you? Eli’s sore at Nucky for his involvement with Willie, but not so sore that he wasn’t amused by Sally’s antics at the warehouse earlier that day, for example, or that he didn’t seem to be on the road to accepting Nucky’s truce. And god knows the two of them have weathered far worse.

* But maybe that’s the point — some wounds never fully heal. The part of Eli so hurt by Nucky’s paternal condescension and intrusion into his nuclear family is the same part of Eli that was hurt by Nucky’s political condescension back in Season One when Eli’s attempts to become a macher in his own right wilted in the face of his lack of innate talent for the game.

* I suppose my point is that I don’t fully buy this turn of events, particularly if they lead into the death-of-Eli territory virtually demanded by a second betrayal, fool-me-once-etc.-style. I really enjoy that character and that performance. But I also recognize that as the historical figures on the show evolve from supporting characters in the larger story of organized crime into leading players, the less pivotal/non-fictional characters are going to have to make room, by any means necessary.

* All that being said, there were two marvelously revealing details in that diner confrontation. The first: Eli struggling in vain to remain in place and not allow the other agent to sit down next to him. It reminded me of nothing so much as doing that exact thing to a sibling when they want to smush in and steal your spot. That’s telling. So too was his inability to stop it.

* The second: Knox’s sole technique, it seems, is to bully people. His schemes so far: Orchestrate the execution of his corrupt partner; beat, blackmail, and terrify Eddie into betrayal and suicide; blackmail Eli by using his son to get him to betray his brother. For Knox, spycraft consists solely of getting into a position where you can more successfully kick someone in the face. I think that will come back to bite him.

“Jack Dempsey came to your hotel.” “You remember that.” “I remember everything.”
Will’s got political ambitions! “I want the family to be back where it belongs.”

* When we hit that final scene, I thought to myself, “Wow, between Eli and Chalky, this could be a tough, tough episode.”

* “When you sing…that sound…like, like you tyin’ up a secret.” Lovely!

* The moment she persuades him to stay, you can hear a car pull up.

* All these shots of Chalky’s face. Guy’s like a monument. a weathered monument, his scar a crack in the edifice.

* Daughter broke because she saw he was moved to tears by her singing. That’s an incredibly accurate portrait of how discovering someone is affected by your art can move an artist. You get the impression that Narcisse’s compliments were always more about him hearing the sound of his own voice and congratulating himself on its powers of persuasion. I doubt her singing ever made him think of his mom and weep.

* And so passes Dunn Purnsley, one of my favorite television performances of all time. I’ll follow Erik LaRay Harvey pretty much anywhere now.

* Don’t do it, Eli. Don’t do it.

The True Black

October 28, 2013

“The True Black,” a short horror comic that William Cardini and I contributed to Josh Burggraf’s anthology Future Shock #4 (buy it here), is now available to read in its entirety on The True Black, my comics tumblr.

“Homeland” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Five: “The Yoga Play”

October 28, 2013

I reviewed last night’s post-twist episode of Homeland for Rolling Stone. It’s a very odd feeling to find myself on the high end of the “enjoying Homeland” curve relative to my peers.

Who Cares? (new comics tumblr)

October 22, 2013

I started a new tumblr where I’ll be posting my comics. I hope you’ll follow it.

The inaugural post is a new comic called “Who Cares?”, written by me and drawn by M. Crow. You can read the whole thing by clicking that link. I hope you like it.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Seven: “William Wilson”

October 21, 2013

* Oooh, nice: We open with a widening aperture, just like the pilot! I’ve often missed that old-timey flair that Scorsese brought to the first episode, neither he nor it ever to return.

* It also occurs to me that you don’t see a lot of cops on this show anymore. Not uniformed police officers, anyway. They’re such a marvelous signpost for the era in their uniforms and with their ruddy Irish faces, too. One of the show’s pleasures is what a period-y period piece it is, so when I realized how long it’d been before we’d had a good look at a beat cop, that surprised me.

* And Capone just straight-up executes him in broad daylight. That’s our Al! Thinking about him during this episode, I compared and contrasted him with Gyp Rosetti, another mad dog. Ever since the death of Jimmy Darmody, Terence Winter has said that one of the things the show’s about is comparing people who can hack it in this world with people who can’t. Why was Rosetti doomed while Capone will (however briefly, extremely famously) flourish? Is it Capone’s ability to take and make a joke?

* As I suspected, Eli’s got it figured w/r/t Knox. And with Patricia Arquette, as it turns out.

* “Cherry blossom season.” I don’t know why, but Knox’s explanation for why he was sneezing in his meeting with Hoover, Randolph, and Remus is one of my favorite moments of the episode. Humanizing, perhaps? I mean, not that it turns him into a sympathetic figure — god no, I’ve almost never wanted a character to lose more than him — but that even ice-cold undercover agents have seasonal allergies.

* Remus is back. Remus is a breakfast fan. Remus should get together with Walter White Jr. Remus would call him Flynn if he asked.

* God, I love how fucking thick Hoover is.

* Ms. Randolph is back! That character and that performance is a lot of fun, and, in a rarity of the show, something of a mold-breaker — she manages to be tough and competent and able to survive the politics of her work situation without being a ballbuster or a shrew or frigid or any other stereotype/archetype. She got a sex scene and everything! It served enough of a purpose that you can almost forgive how it was the most gratuitous nudity in the history of the show, which as we’ve seen in the rest of this episode is saying something.

* “Agent Tolliver.” okay.

* Capone goes to Torrio all coked up. Again, what does he have that Rosetti didn’t?

* Capone wants to remind people you bleed before you die. Torrio says “We’re not startin’ a war.” That’s a philosophical conflict is what that is.

* Hahahahaha, Margaret’s thing about her husband is all some gross sexist routine she cooked up with her boss to bilk rubes. It’s both uplifting and depressing to see what she’s gotten up to on her own. Making a dishonest living!

* I’m curious to see how Luciano setting up a heroin route for Masseria and Frankie Yale will square with Nucky, McCoy, and Lansky’s rum-running operation.

* College Girl to College Boy on Leopold and Loeb: “They thought they were supermen who could get away with murder.” Falls like a thud, like almost everything else about this storyline. On the other hand, College Girl turns out to be the cutest gratuitously nude lady on this show in a while. And the way the camera lingered on her after Willie left makes me wonder if the show’s gonna give her some kind of interior life we can recognize rather than constantly relegating her to “thing that makes obliviously ironic statements for Willie Thompson to react to.” Honestly I’m kind of rooting for Doris to put this annoying creep away.

* So Gillian’s kicking with Piggly Wiggly’s help. That’s what I like to do on third dates. Seriously though, I love her in that giant room, all the way in the corner, dwarfed by it. When we revisit them later, as she reclines on her fainting couch, the camera moves us in through the door, locating the action in the physical space. There’s way, way more house than there is Gillian.

* “Daughter Maitland” is a good character name.

* Yay, Gaston Means is back! But the fixer’s been fixed. Well, that explains it — previously I’d just assumed that Hoover’s FBI was just a new animal that Means hadn’t seen before.

* “You ever wake up, have a vague feeling of unease? Like you know something’s wrong, you just can’t put your finger on it yet.” “When I do, I usually just go back to sleep.” Knowing what we now know about Means, that’s an awfully revealing statement.

* Aw, Chalky smiling because he’s in love. How often do you get to see that?

* Arnold Rothstein appears at the real estate shark’s office and demonstrates what a real shark looks like. Jesus, what a smile!

* It didn’t occur to me until a couple hours after I finished the episode that Rothstein was buying into the lousy real estate package because he knew it wasn’t lousy anymore — it contains the Florida swampland that Nucky’s buying up.

* Chalky still turns to Dunn for advice when Narcisse proposes opening his political group in AC. Interesting, and of course not smart. But I really did think that relationship had come to an end, in terms of any kind of advisory role.

* “The murder of Wilson’s doppelganger is also what? His own suicide!” Between this, and Eli’s upset over Eddie’s suicide despite having sons, and the similarity between Willie telling Nucky he’d live up to his expectations and similar previous scenes between Nucky and Jimmy, I’m not optimistic about Willie’s future.

* “Mrs. Thompson, this is Arnold Rothstein calling. Did you receive my gift?” Margaret eyes the alligator.

* “Ambition at the expense of family, of love….Without people you care about, it’s all…”

* Haha, nice subtle cut from Gillian and Phillips getting it on to O’Banion’s bottle opening and fizzing all over the place.

* “Warm though, like your people drink it.” “Like it’s meant to be drank.”

* Raid! Not a great deal of respect for Torrio’s intelligence on O’Banion’s part.

* Purnsley is not handling his business well. The deacon has turned on him. I mean, that becomes obvious later on, but you could see there’d be trouble from the way Purnsley eyed him at the end of the scene.

* The big question about Narcisse’s racket: How do you both dirty the community and clean it up? Nucky basically walked the same tightrope for quite some time, but he kept the dirt in little pens, basically. There’s not really much of a way to contain a heroin epidemic, it seems to me. How long before more people than the deacon catch on to Narcisse’s hypocrisy?

* “The true scourge, however, is not disguised at all.” Damn, he’s gunning for Chalky right in public. I guess the deacon was the only person there considered a risk in terms of relaying this information to Chalky himself.

* Wow, Eli’s daughter had no idea Eli was even in jail. Did we know that the kids had gotten a bullshit explanation?

* More gratuitous nudity! And people give Game of Thrones a hard time.

* Dr. Narcisse found Daughter after her pro mom was murdered. Chalky’s really sad about it.

* “You and him ever–” “No. He’s a decent man.” “So what that make me?” “That makes you my man.”

* Nucky’s a solid partner, according to Chalky’s pillow talk, yet Daughter reads unhappiness with the relationship into this. I’m not sure I follow.

* I don’t know about you, but “integrity, zeal, and sense of morality” are certainly the first words that spring to mind when I hear the name John Edgar Hoover.

* Huh, he’s on board with the nationwide criminal conspiracy, taking credit for Knox’s idea. Perhaps we’ve found the weak link in Hoover’s organization?

* Here’s the thing about Knox/Tolliver working Means: Can’t Means tell Nucky and get Knox killed, thus removing the threat? Or do more people in the Bureau know about this deal to keep Means out of jail, so that it’d fall apart if Knox were killed?

* Huh, Ron Livingston’s more naked than Gretchen Mol!

* “Your best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” Gaston Means, you swiped that from Dr. Phil!

* “Nothin’ ever came from you. Mabel died tryin’ to give you a son.” Was her cause of death news? I can’t remember.

* “My family, Nucky. My goddamn family!” Getting alarmingly close to It’s About Family territory, but Eli is an interesting character and an interesting performance, a kind of neither here nor there figure in this world, so we’ll see where he takes it.

* “Actually, there is one thing I’d like you to do. Kill that Irish fuck.” What is it about we Irish Americans that we get so much enjoyment out of hatred for us in period pieces?

* Purnsley’s going after the deacon. Huh. Ha, I thought the Lord’s Prayer was a little much, but then he undercut it with “C’mon, how’d it go?”, and all is well.

* Actually this is quite a fine scene both because it’s a callback to Rosetti assaulting the priest for the offering money, and because it’s a direct illustration of the toll Narcisse’s hypocrisy is going to take on more genuine public service in that neighborhood.

* The connection to Rosetti is particularly welcome once we discover that Narcisse was the man who killed Daughter’s mother. (!!!!!!!!) In other words, he’s a Rosettiesque supercreep, a cartoon villain. Believe me, that’s no insult, not on this show. You need to provide the likes of, well, everyone else with people who are even worse.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Six: “The North Star”

October 20, 2013

* I look prescient for making such a thing out of Eddie’s shaky teacup a few episodes back now that it’s the visual callback that represents Nucky’s sadness about his passing. “You go your whole life with things right under your nose…”

* He’s there to meet with Margaret! It was awfully good to see her given this season’s dearth of female characters that command attention.

* Oh, Penn Station. How sad.

* “I wouldn’t put something alive in a box.” Oh jesus. hahahahahahaha

* “No one knew how to look after you like Mr. Kessler.” It’s a nice little double meaning, but it’s also true on the surface level. The Commodore, Jimmy, Eli, Owen, even Margaret — only Eddie was steadfast.

* Hahaha, Knox getting dressed down. Love the sarcastic laugh as Hoover snorts “A nationwide network of organized criminals.” Comsymps and Negroes, now that’s where the FBI should be spending its money.

* “If this was my room I’d kill myself. Oh I didn’t mean–oh fuck it, he can’t hear me, hee hee.” Was that Mickey Doyle’s first great line of the season?

* “He had kids?” Huh, Eli’s genuinely moved by it all. And he feeds the birds. Nice touch.

* Aaand that’s how he finds the safe deposit box key. Box 23, lol

* “New pianist?” lol

* “Don’t you ever feel bored?” “If I do I keep it to myself.” “That doesn’t stop you from feelin’ it.” This is a well-written show!

* I have a bad feeling that Richard’s girlfriend’s dad’s alcoholism will be used against them in the custody hearing by Piggly Wiggly guy.

* He’s the walking wounded.

* Richard!

* “You alright?” “I’m dying.” “Right now?” “Christ, I don’t know.”

* Mrs. White can’t stand that rock and roll.

* How’d Chalky wind up with this lady anyway? What does she see in him that prevents her from seeing everything else about him?

* “I killed those men, Paul. Every one of them….And, um, other things.” “How many?” “I’ve stopped counting.”

* “I am who I am. Who else could I be?”

* “You came home. You know why you did that. The rest is bullshit and I don’t wanna hear it.”

* I’d like to point out that the presentation of Paul’s war-criminality is one where we’re meant to empathize with his current plight but not forgive him for having murdered a little girl. Compare and contrast to True Blood‘s unforgivable handling of Terry.

* Hothouse atmosphere down in Florida lol

* I never won’t be happy to see Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky together.

* Oh lord, they’re using Knox to get into the bank. But what I realized at the end of his fishing expedition at the warehouse is that when he went there, he thought it was possible Eli and Mickey knew he was a narc and were going to kill him.

* Richard oh oh oh oh oh oh.

* “That man got a heart like a rock cast in the sea.”

* Eli still moved by Eddie’s death, and his birds: “No one’s been looking after them. What do they know what’s goin’ on.” But Knox is upset that he killed himself, too.

* Eli! Eli! “And the thought that…that I could just…leave them…” I’m awfully moved when grown men are moved.

* Ohhh, the monogram on Knox’s handkerchief is different. Eli’s gotcha, you fuck.

* Honeymoon’s over for Lansky and Luciano, huh?

* “I’m trying to build something. I don’t know why. And I’m wondering if I did nothing, nothing at all, would I be happier. But I can’t stop. I tried, but I get wound up.” Nucky can’t understand why he’s Nucky. Arquette is bored by this.

* Ha, she punched him! “I just hate a goddamn whiner.” The full-fledged fistfight as foreplay is not something I’ve seen before, I don’t think. Shit, why not. Although the best bit was what she said when they actually started having sex: “Let’s go, smart guy — I’ll give you something to cry about.”

* There’s enough going on in this episode that I actually wasn’t waiting with bated breath for Richard’s scenes.

* Lansky to Arquette: “Delighted to have you on board.” He makes even the minor players feel major, and gets in their good graces. He’s good at this.

* And he knows about Eddie. Yep, he’s good.

* Chalky White, graduate from the third-grade pull-your-hair school of flirting.

* Chalky on Narcisse: “He ain’t nothin but a nigger with a dictionary.” Invective aside, it remains to be seen if Narcisse’s vanity is merited.

* At last, Chalky and Daughter hook up. That’s a great dress, admittedly.

“Homeland” thoughts extra: Seven ways to save “Homeland”

October 20, 2013

In anticipation of tonight’s kinda make-or-break episode, I wrote a piece on how to save Homeland. Macro and micro alike.


October 16, 2013

The fifth and penultimate installment of BIEBERCOMIC by me and Michael Hawkins has been posted. In this chapter, Justin Bieber encounters One Direction and The Wanted in the Great Grey Room, where they strip nude.

Comics Time: Coyote Doggirl and Nux Yorica

October 16, 2013

Recently I reviewed Coyote Doggirl by Lisa Hanawalt and Nux Yorica by Cameron Hawkey for Vorpalizer. It’s really remarkable how much strong artcomics work is being made without ever needing touch a single paper page to read it.

Flash Forward

October 15, 2013

Jonny Negron and I made a new comic called Flash Forward. It will debut at CAB on November 9.

Music Time: Nine Inch Nails, Barclays Center, October 14 2013

October 15, 2013

Nine Inch Nails’ 20th-century iteration was a matter of excess. It was excess of abandon during the Broken and Downward Spiral period — smashed instruments, trashed dressing rooms, primal screams on the records. And it was excess of ambition during that era’s summary statement, The Fragile — live-in recording studios, Bob Ezrin on the boards, a level of sonic perfectionism that literally drove Trent Reznor to drink.

Since the band’s post-sobriety return with 2005’s With Teeth, however, Nine Inch Nails has been about keeping control. With Teeth pared the act down to a tight, pummeling rock-band model, one that remains a centerpiece of its live shows. Year Zero belied its concept-album dystopia with a quick-and-dirty recording process — a couple of laptops on a tour bus, pretty much. Ghosts may have been an instrumental triple album, but each track was more of a sketch than a song. The Slip blended several of these modes.

The pattern culminated in Hesitation Marks. It’s a throwback to The Downward Spiral and The Fragile in terms of its visual and sonic vibe, but lyrically it’s a contemplation and rejection of the Reznor of that period. It’s about an emotional life he now has control over, and his fear of losing his grip the way he once did. All told, the career trajectory that emerges from juxtaposing these eras evinces a great deal of thought about what this band does and what it means to its architect.

Nine Inch Nails’ live show reflects that care and attention. It starts in full muscular rock-band mode, with stark white lighting that’s equally no-nonsense. When the set expands to encompass more expansive material from Hesitation Marks and The Fragile, a pair of backup singers are added — their first vocals got a big audience pop, since that’s pretty much the last thing anyone expects at a Nine Inch Nails show, but for the most part they serve to unobtrusively shore up and support Reznor’s vocals, which often play off subtle but crucial harmonies or calls-and-responses in the songs’ studio version that have traditionally been lost in live translation.

A digital light show of genuinely stunning sophistication and ambition fleshes out the visuals accordingly, rivaling if not surpassing your widescreen rock band of choice for sheer spectacle. But again, the range of effects is carefully considered, primarily involving shifting digital colors, three-dimensional wire frames, and silhouettes. It’s evocative but non-narrative, designed to command audience attention during lesser-known or more difficult songs.

The lighting cues often get very specific, highlighting individual musicians in frequently unorthodox ways: I think pretty much every trick in the book was used to spotlight drummer Ilan Rubin except an actual spotlight, while one memorable solo from guitarist Robin Finck was reverse-spotlighted, a digital projection sort of burning away to blackness as he played. Bassist Pino Palladino, who takes his on-stage comportment cues from the similarly stoic John Entwistle (whom he’s replaced in the Who), is barely ever lit at all.

And for all its high technology, a couple of its strongest moments were callbacks to the band’s rich design history: a Batsignal-like projection of the classic NIN logo ended the main set during the final notes of “Head Like a Hole,” while the encore’s closing performance of “Hurt” was accompanied by the same black-and-white montage of disturbing images that ran when the band played the song during the Downward Spiral’s arena tour nineteen years ago. It’s a clever way to emphasize the time period during which his relationship with the largest segment of his audience was forged, while connecting it visually to his more recent and forward-thinking work — a capstone for a thoughtful, frequently spectacular show that incorporates the person he was then into the artist he is now.

“Homeland” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “Tower of David”

October 14, 2013

I reviewed last night’s Homeland for Rolling Stone. The gap between that show’s ambition and its ability to execute is a lot of fun to write about.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Five: “Erlkönig”

October 8, 2013

* This was a fine, fine episode, and that’s largely down to Tim Van Patten, the show’s go-to director (and an executive producer). The constant, sumptuously staged and shot off-center framing of its characters was dramatic and gripping and unsettling — simple enough to do, sophomore-year film school shit I suppose, but so rare on television, and so thoughtfully applied here. Characters addressing each other through the discontinuity of the edge of the screen from shot to shot; memorable set-dressing choices like the mountain of discarded chairs in Eddie’s interrogation room; the choice of who to show in close-up (Knox, Nucky) and who to show in a medium shot (Eddie, Willie) in order to establish the power dynamic…beautifully done. One of the most visually impressive television episodes I’ve seen all year.

* Oh boy, I didn’t like that opening montage of shots of Eddie’s stuff, no sir. Ominous.

* “That is for protection.” “Against who?” “…Apaches.” Lots of memorable one-liners and exchanges from writer Howard Korder, too.

* “Everybody is talking always, everybody has the opinion, nothing gets done.” Van Alden’s wife (wouldn’t it be nice if we were given enough to remember her name?) is the fertile soil from which autocracies would spring worldwide in the decade to come. Of course, she also straight-up murdered a guy once.

* Whoa, Willie was arrested! Or at least detained. I assumed it’d all be about whether he got caught, not how he’d handle it afterwards. The College Boy storyline surprises me for the first time.

* Gillian’s a very gauzy junkie. Okay, that’s a fine way to depict it, sure.

* In its way, the POV shot of Frank Capone coming up the stairs at Al’s HQ was as much of a tip-off regarding his fate as the montage of Eddie’s belongings was of his.

* “You know who dat includes?” “I don’t.” “Guess.” “I can’t.” “He likes flowers.” “Mr. O’Banion.” It would not have occurred to me to use Van Alden as a comic foil to the Capone Brothers, but that’s my loss.

* Al’s crude peer pressure, lol: “Don’t you wanna be my friend?” He’s a big child, right down to his rough-and-tumble affection for his brothers.

* “I didn’t want you to know.” “But now I do. You see?” Nucky’s philosophy of power comes through in that exchange with Willie, I think. Power is getting into the position to know about everything that concerns you, and to have the power to do something about it.

* Gillian already using Piggly Wiggly guy for custody purposes? Soliciting the judge? This storyline is moving a lot faster than I expected, but then that’s often the way for this show. The shattered glass was unexpected, too.

* It was clear very quickly that Nucky and Willie were gonna throw that other kid to the wolves, which is admirably shitty of them. But more importantly, taking all this time to hash this stuff out kept Nucky from actively worrying about Eddie, which he’d otherwise be doing, and which fact Knox used to help break the poor guy.

* “That’s who I am. And I’m going to own every last bit of you.” The vomit-punch was truly gross, and lingered on in a soul-shriveling way.

* “Stick with me, huh? I’ll put grass in your fucking lawn.”

* So did Van Alden suck at his job, or were the numbers just never in their favor at all? I can’t quite figure what we were supposed to take from the initial stage of the confrontation, when the workers retreated and locked the gate.

* Dunn Purnsley and Gillian Darmody, hot damn. Didn’t see that coming. Loved his throne. Loved this:
“May I examine the preparation first?” “No, you mayn’t.” Now, did Dunn give her that H gratis, or was the implication that he’s taking her up on her offer?

* Nice to hear Nucky mention both Mabel and the Commodore. I like links to the show of old.

* Oh, Gillian, please stay away from Tommy. Boy was I relieved that that plan didn’t work out. “I have to give him the Abba Zabba.” Guh.

* American flag hanging behind Willie. “I promise. You can live with it.” “Is that what you do?”
“The only thing that you can count on is blood….The rage you feel, listen to me carefully–it’s a gift. Use it. But don’t let anyone see it.” Nucky is really formidable, huh?

* Haha, Van Alden could have killed Capone.

* The death of Frank Capone took me by surprise — I hadn’t boned up on him. But gosh, that was some wholly convincing rage and grief on Al’s part. He’s lethal.

* Beautifully staged stuff with Roy in Gillian’s sickroom. “Roy, I’ve done the most awful things.” Interesting to see her and Richard arrive at roughly the same place in roughly the same time.

* Oh, Eddie ran off with the money and the mistress. Another thing I didn’t see coming.

* Sun and wind through the newspapers.

* “Every fuckin’ thing that crawls is gonna pay.”

* I feel bad for this College Girl character. She’s a dupe, she has no agency, she exists solely for Willie to have something to do, to be juxtaposed against him. You might could get away with this if your only female lead wasn’t Gillian Darmody now.

* A part of me thought Eddie might — might — play ball with Knox following Nucky’s insensitivity to him upon his return, but now that I think of it, that’s just Eli S1-S2 all over again, so they couldn’t go that way. The sad thing is that I found myself, god help me, rooting for Eddie’s suicide. Much as I enjoyed that character, and that marvelous little performance by Anthony Laciura, seeing him put to the screws over and over again in order to ruin things for Nucky on behalf of Knox was just going to be too much for me. Better to get it overwith. And he went out with perhaps the loveliest shot of the episode, centered at last, the open window paying off all the episode’s window imagery leading up to that moment.

“Homeland” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Two: “Uh… Oo… Aw…”

October 7, 2013

I reviewed last night’s Homeland for Rolling Stone. It lived up to its title.