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Mirror Mirror II @ 2dcloud.com

July 21, 2017

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Our anthology Mirror Mirror II, edited by Julia Gfrörer and myself, is now officially for sale from our publisher, 2dcloud. Click here to order, and see an extensive preview.

Contributors include Lala Albert, Clive Barker, Heather Benjamin, Apolo Cacho, Sean Christensen, Nicole Claveloux, Sean T. Collins, Al Columbia, Dame Darcy, Gretchen Alice Felker-Martin, Noel Freibert, Renee French, Meaghan Garvey, Julia Gfrörer, Simon Hanselmann, Aidan Koch, Laura Lannes, Céline Loup, Uno Moralez, Mou, Jonny Negron, Claude Paradin, Chloe Piene, Josh Simmons, Carol Swain, and Trungles.

Our contributors come from Australia, Brazil, England, France, Mexico, Russia, Wales, and the United States. The youngest is 24. The oldest is 77. The majority are women. They are trans and cis, straight and queer. They make comics, zines, fine art, music, film, literature, and journalism. For our book they made work basted around horror, pornography, the gothic, and the abject. They made dark, vulnerable work that reflects the dark, vulnerable world, in hopes that confronting it moves us toward empathy.

Here’s what people are saying about it:

Mirror Mirror II is troubling and challenging, but it is also rewarding and stunning—a thrilling experience that readers won’t soon forget.” —Shea Hennum, The A.V. Club, “The A.V. Club’s Favorite Comics of 2017 So Far”

“It awakens the long-underused [horror] genre and pushes your fear buttons in ways you could never have anticipated. It’s hard to pick the most memorably mind-devouring portion.” —Abraham Riesman, Vulture, “8 Comics You Need to Read This June”

“Reading this is like dreaming — though whether you’re immersed in a nightmare or a wet dream is unclear….This book is like a porn stash you’d find in the cupboard of a medieval demon.” —Dan Schindel, Hyperallergic

Mirror Mirror II is at once a frivolous memento mori and an outright challenge to your own personal space.” —Austin Lanari, Comics Bulletin

“This is a book that provokes, that pushes and pulls, that strips down to the bone and re-clothes in different flesh any notions you might have about horror, pornography, and abjection. It’s wonderful….I haven’t had a book challenge me this much in a long time.” —Sarah Miller, Sequentialist

“A thought-provoking, richly entertaining collection from some of the most exciting comic artists working today. A must read for fans of the horrific and perverse.” —Bryan Cogman, Game of Thrones

“An impressive collection of beautiful depictions of grotesque things and grotesque depictions of beautiful things.” —Alan Resnick, Unedited Footage of a Bear / This House Has People in It

“Editors Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer have assembled an exquisitely creepy and seductive new collection of comics with Mirror Mirror II. From Uno Moralez’s pixelated noirs to Dame Darcy’s ornate Gothic ghost stories, the wide range of horror here is fantastic, as characters creep and fuck in the shadows of unimaginable darkness throughout. It’s certainly the perfect, freaky anthology for you, your lover, and all the demons in your mind.” —Hazel Cills, MTV News / Jezebel

Mirror Mirror II invites the most innovative creators working in the form today and proves just how expansive the pornographic and gothic can be, encapsulating the pop cultural, fantastical, and realistic in one fell swoop.” —Rachel Davis, Rookie / The Comics Journal

I am so proud of this book and hope you enjoy it. 

Game of Thrones’ John Bradley Reveals What Was Actually Inside Those Bedpans: ‘Soaking-Wet Fruitcake’

July 20, 2017

Before we tackle the big issues, I’ve got to ask: What was in those bedpans?

Well, if you want to re-create human feces onscreen, the best thing to do is to use soaking-wet fruitcake and mold it into the shape of turds. The thing about wet fruitcake is, when you see it for the first time at 6:30 in the morning, it’s fresh. But when you get to 5 in the afternoon and you’ve been shooting all day, and the wet fruitcake has been in the water and under the hot lights all day, it starts to become only slightly less unpleasant than the real thing.

I recently found out, because our producer Bryan Cogman reminded me on Twitter, that while I was shooting that sequence on my own over five days, the rest of the cast were at the Emmys! They were on the red carpet in L.A. while I was on my own in Belfast, dry-heaving and pretending to scrape shit out of the bedpan. The balance is a little bit off here.

You’re like Sam, sacrificing for the greater good.

Yeah, though I was even less happy about it than Sam seemed to be. I totally forgot they were even there! I think they tried to make me forget, and not notice this kind of injustice writ large. [Laughs.]

But no, I needed to be able to shoot that sequence. It was so fragmented in those little five-second shots, so I didn’t get a sense of the overall shape until I saw it all edited together, but I knew it was going to be something special. It’s something that was never quite done on Game of Thrones. We’d never done an edited montage like that. It’s a comic set piece with such a different kind of flavor that it took people by surprise. I love the fact that we are able to take risks, because we do abandon the formula and introduce new elements and styles to it.

I think that’s why people keep coming back. Even after six seasons and 60 hours of TV, you never know quite what to expect. That could be a character dying or a pivotal plot development, or just a funny little montage they weren’t expecting. There’s so much scope to surprise people, and it’s something that Game of Thrones mines very thoroughly, and always has.

I interviewed John Bradley about Samwell Tarly, bravery, morality, and fake poop for Vulture. It’s been a while since I’ve interviewed someone from the show, but my streak of discovering that every single cast member has put a great deal of thought into their character, their performance, and the world they inhabit remains unbroken here.  Anyway, I’m psyched to be speaking to the cast and crew of the show for Vulture throughout the season, just like I did for Rolling Stone back in the day.

‘It’ Star Sophia Lillis on ‘Shocking’ First Encounter With Pennywise, Remake Details

July 20, 2017

This September, Lillis stars in director Andrés Muschietti’s highly anticipated adaptation of horror master Stephen King’s signature work, It. She plays Beverly Marsh, the sole female member of a close-knit gang of teen outcasts called the Loser’s Club. During one long, nightmarish summer, the Losers find themselves face to face with the child-murdering, shape-shifting entity that’s haunted their small town for centuries – a creature that most frequently takes the form of a sinister clown called Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård.

“We actually weren’t allowed to see him until our scenes, because we wanted the horror to be real,” Lillis recalls. “Everyone had different reactions, but all of us were like, ‘Wow, what did we get ourselves into?’ One look at him, and… you know, he’s a really scary clown that wants to kill us. I was a little bit shocked,” she laughs. “But then he went up to me afterwards and was like, ‘Hi, how’s things?’ He’s really nice, but I didn’t know how to react.”

Lillis had no such trouble connecting with her fellow Losers, who include Jaeden Lieberher as ringleader Bill Denbrough and Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard as class clown Richie Tozier. “I spent all my summer with them, so we got really close. We still keep in touch, send messages to each other.” That closeness helped Lillis connect with her own character. “I relate to Beverly – the way she deals with her emotions, and the way she was around the Losers. I felt that way around the actual actors.”

I wrote a little profile of Sophia Lillis, aka Beverly in the new IT movie, for Rolling Stone.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Ten

July 17, 2017

If all this reboot did was alternate ridiculous scenes with horrifying ones, it would still be relatively easy to get a handle on: You’d just hold your breath each time the show cut to a new location until you figured out what you were in for, and that would be that. But this series isn’t just a coin that its co-creators repeatedly flip – it’s something more multidimensional and a lot messier. Consider the scene in which Rodney Mitchum, the intimidating co-owner of the Silver Mustang Casino, gets accidentally whacked in the forehead with a remote control by his daft showgirl girlfriend Candy, who’s so intent on killing a pesky housefly that its human landing site failed to register. The emotional cacophony that follows – Candy screaming and sobbing in horror, Rodney howling in pain, his brother Bradley (Jim Belushi!) rushing in to see what’s wrong – makes you laugh. And then you cringe. And then you get genuinely worried for all involved.

This goes double for the trio’s subsequent scenes. The brothers watch a news report on Ike the Spike‘s arrest after his attempted murder of Dougie while poor Candy wonders aloud if her beau can ever love her again. Later, Mr. Jones’ sleazy coworker Anthony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore) shows up at the Silver Mustang on the orders of the Mitchums’ rival – and the evil Cooper doppelganger’s minion – Duncan Todd to pin the blame for a costly insurance loss on Dougie. He hopes that the bros will finish the job the Spike started. But Sinclair is waylaid by the increasingly unhinged-seeming showgirl, who spends an inordinate amount of time explaining the benefits of air conditioning instead of simply showing him into their office.

Both scenes dance back and forth across the boundaries between funny, creepy and skin-crawlingly uncomfortable – a shuffling boogie not unlike the one our beloved Man from Another Place used to dance across the Red Room. So, for that matter, does the whole damn show. Thanks to canny policework by Albert and Tammy, as well as supernatural interventions by the Log Lady and the spirit of Laura Palmer, lawmen like Gordon Cole and Deputy Hawk are closer than ever to cracking the mystery of Coop’s disappearance and duplication. But the creative riddle of Twin Peaks still maddeningly, gloriously unsolvable.

I wrote about the horror of Richard Horne, the comedy of Dougie Jones, and the who-knows-what of Candy in my review of last night’s Twin Peaks for Rolling Stone.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode One: “Dragonstone”

July 17, 2017

“Shall we begin?”

Seven hells, yes! After a longer-than-ever wait between seasons (for a smaller than ever run of episodes) Game of Thrones has returned – and so, for that matter, has. Daenerys Targaryen, heir to Aegon the Conqueror and rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. The Mother of Dragons has finally touched down on her ancestral soil to reclaim what was once hers. The premiere of the show’s more-anxiously-anticipated-than-ever seventh season, entitled “Dragonstone,” concludes with a five-and-a-half minute wordless sequence depicting her arrival at the island fortress that gives the episode its title. When Dany utters those three words and the show smash-cuts to the closing credits, the message is clear: The game is on at last.

Not that the waiting for winter to come was ever boring. If it’s a neatly summarized story you want, one that proceeds neatly from beginning to end with no detours or delays, read a wikipedia article. The fact is that without the preceding six seasons’ many twists and turns, few of this premiere’s many beats would have an iota of their impact.

[…]

Yet despite the cast of dozens (seriously, we haven’t even touched Samwell Tarly‘s bedpan-and-broth montage, or Bran Stark‘s arrival at the Wall), the real protagonist of this episode is the audience. From the very first season’s inuagural scene, we’ve known the White Walkers were coming – and from that season’s parting shot, we knew dragons had been born. For over half a decade we’ve simply waited for the pieces to come together, while countless characters fought and died in ignorance of the big picture. How fitting, then, for this episode to feature not one but two gigantic maps – the boards on which the game of thrones is played. We’re getting closer and closer to the moment when the major players see the whole thing for what it really is.

Indeed, like the small-scale replicas of the Seven Kingdoms studied by Dany and Cersei, “Dragonstone” was the Season One model in miniature. After Arya’s lethal prologue, the main action began with the march of the Night King and his army of zombies, and ended with the arrival of the Mother of Dragons and her reptilian children. The show has essentially scripted our anticipation of this grand convergence from day one – a huge difference from basically every single other great show of the era, which kept audiences guessing at the endgame. Game of Thrones is designed to make us the greatest players of all. We’re finally beginning to reap the rewards.

I reviewed the premiere of Game of Thrones Season Seven for Rolling Stone. 

The 25 Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Episodes – Updated

July 14, 2017

2. “Hardhome” (Season 5, Episode 8)

Bran Stark’s plunge, Ned Stark’s death, the Red Viper’s skull-crushing, Jon Snow’s assassination – all of them take a back seat to this episodewhen it comes to shocking the entire Game of Thrones audience. With no precedent in George R.R. Martin’s novels, which merely allude to a cataclysm at the titular village without giving us a clue what happened, “Hardhome” stunned book-readers and TV-viewers alike. After an ominous buildup, the armies of the dead descended on Night’s Watch and wildling forces alike in a literal avalanche of walking corpses, guided by the demonic Night King. As Jon Snow sailed away from a legion of zombified humans, the true menace of the White Walkers was made unbearably clear.

I re-ranked the 25 best episodes of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.

The 40 Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Characters — Ranked and Updated

July 13, 2017

37. Wun-Wun

He was a giant among men. Literally. Wun-Wun was the only member of his ancient, towering race to survive the wildlings’ battles against White Walkers, Night’s Watchmen and Stannis Baratheon alike – as well as the only one to cross south to supposed safety beyond the Wall. He wound up battling fiercely for the cause of his one-time enemy Jon Snow, giving his life to defeat Ramsay Bolton and defend the North against its many enemies. He may not have been human, but he was one hell of a guy.

I ranked the 40 Best Game of Thrones characters for Rolling Stone. It’s a very different list than it was when I first wrote one of these a few years ago!

Return to ‘Oz’: 20 years ago, HBO released a seedy prison drama that changed the rules of TV forever

July 13, 2017

Twenty years ago today, HBO went to prison and changed the course of television history. Oz, the network’s first foray into hourlong scripted drama, was the opening shot in a cultural revolution. Created by Tom Fontana, whose Homicide: Life on the Street was one of the pre-“prestige TV” era’s finest shows, and set in New York’s fictional Oswald State Penitentiary, the series utilized its “anything goes” cable setting to push the boundaries of sex, violence, subject matter and sheer scope beyond anything that had come before. Sex and the City would follow in 1998, and the almighty Sopranos arrived in 1999, but Oz is where it all began.

If you imagine a world where The Sopranos never happened and Ozbecame not just the prototype for ambitious cable dramas but also the template itself, the TV landscape would look different indeed. While not a stupid show by any means, Oz is far less cerebral in its pacing and approach than the shows for which it served as proof of concept.

Its six-season plot involves dozens of characters in multiple warring factions whose conflicts rocket along at a breakneck pace. It tackles the big issues with the bluntness of an after-school special rather than the therapist’s-couch thoughtfulness of The Sopranos or Mad Men — or, for that matter, the socio-political agitprop of The Wire (created by David Simon, whose reportage Fontana adapted into Homicide) or Orange Is the New Black (Jenji Kohan’s even more popular and acclaimed prison drama), the major series with which Oz arguably has the most in common. Twenty years later, Oz is a glimpse at a TV world that might have been.

On the occasion of its 20th anniversary (!!!), I wrote about Oz and its very different brand of pre-prestige TV for Mic. The result is of a piece with the essay I wrote for Thrillist using The Godfather to lampoon complaints about showrunners saying “it’s a 73-hour movie” and suchlike. There’s no one right way to do TV narrative, any more than there’s one right way to do film narrative, and I’m dismayed when people act as if there obviously is.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Nine

July 13, 2017

Last time we visited, Twin Peaks unleashed the fires of the atom and the demons of the Black Lodge. For the follow-up, the show wants to talk about … love. Why not? If director David Lynch and co-writer/co-creator Mark Frost have proven anything in this inventive, powerful relaunch of their supernatural soap opera, it’s that they can do pretty much anything they damn well please. A show that spends minutes on end inside a nuclear explosion one week can depict lovable goofballs Deputy Andy and Lucy Brennan ordering living-room furniture the next.

I reviewed this week’s Twin Peaks and talked about its attention to emotional detail for Rolling Stone.

The 100 Greatest Movies of the Nineties

July 13, 2017

49. Heavenly Creatures (1994) 

Before Peter Jackson took us all to Middle-earth, he brought moviegoers to the mad world of two troubled teenagers – a fictional universe every bit as engrossing as J.R.R. Tolkien’s, but far more romantic and lethal. Based on a true-crime story, the film depicts pre-stardom Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as Pauline Parker and Juliet Hume, two New Zealand teenagers whose BFF-ship blossoms first into love, then madness and ultimately murder. Jackson’s kinetic camera captures the rapturous swirl of teenage dreams before plunging us into its brutal, bloody endpoint. It’s a beautiful dark twisted fantasy. STC

I wrote about Natural Born Killers, Heavenly Creatures, and The Blair Witch Project for Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Movies of the ’90s. My editor David Fear assembled an absolute murderers’ row of writers for this thing — it’s a real treat.

‘Game of Thrones’: Everything You Need to Know for Season 7

July 7, 2017

When you play the game of thrones, you learn to expect the unexpected. But even so, the previous season of Game of Thrones did something totally unprecedented in the history of HBO’s blockbuster show: It got less complicated from start to finish, not more.

Yes, we are nearing the endgame, which means a whole lot of major players got knocked off the board last year. Now the unholy trinity of King in the North Jon Snow, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms Cersei Lannister and Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen are in undisputed charge of their respective realms. Meanwhile, north of the Wall, the menace of the White Walkers and their eternal winter draws ever closer. This is the real war that all these minor squabbles between rival human factions have done nothing but enable.

And if the true enemy is about to reveal itself, you won’t wanna go into battle without good intel, right? That’s where we come in. Below you’ll find a region-by-region rundown of where everyone and everything stands prior to the start of the new season on Sunday, July 16th. The royals and their retinues, the human and the superhuman, the living and the dead – you’ll find all the info you need, and then some, before winter falls for good.

The annual tradition continues: I wrote a cheat sheet for Game of Thrones Season 7 for Rolling Stone.

Thought Leader

June 30, 2017

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I really couldn’t ask for a more delightful criticism of my Game of Thrones Evil Rankings than Ross Douthat defending the High Sparrow

The A.V. Club’s favorite comics of 2017 so far

June 30, 2017

Mirror Mirror II (2dcloud), anthology

As with any anthology, Mirror Mirror II features some entries that will leave more of an impression than others, but the totality of the work presented is both haunting and astounding. Collecting comics, prose, and illustrative work from such luminaries as Clive Barker and Al Columbia, as well as work by younger authors like Céline Loup and Trungles, editors Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer have curated quite the book. The theme unifying all of these pieces is the convergence of the erotic and the macabre—some works being more explicit than others—but that may be the only commonality between them. Each one offers a striking aesthetic vision. And though some will resonate more deeply than others—which works stand out will most certainly depend on the reader—they accumulate to form an impressive volume. An enormity of spectacle is brought to bear on exploring the commingling of the pleasurable with the painful, the fantastic with the nightmarish, and the result is a series of truly shocking and often deeply moving images. Mirror Mirror II is troubling and challenging, but it is also rewarding and stunning—a thrilling experience that readers won’t soon forget. [Shea Hennum]

I’m proud to say that the AV Club selected Mirror Mirror II as one of its favorite comics of the year so far.  The reviews for this book have been just wonderful.

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 64!

June 30, 2017

Children of Men (A Patreon Production)

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour goes dystopian this month! By the special request of our Patreon supporter Jason, who earned the right to choose a topic for the podcast by subscribing at the $50 level, Sean & Stefan are taking a deep dive into the world of Children of Men, director Alfonso Cuarón’s gripping 2006 political science-fiction film. Starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore and set in a near future where the world has been rocked by an infertility epidemic that has completely ended all childbirths for 18 years and counting, the movie is striking both for its technical virtuosity, particularly during its white-knuckle action sequences, and its emphasis on very human cruelty and empathy. How does its technical prowess affect its message? Where does the storytelling and imagery succeed, and where does it falter? What does its bleak yet ultimately optimistic vision of the future portend for our own grim present? We’ll do our best to answer those questions. Needless to say, spoilers abound!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 64

Additional links:

Abraham Riesman’s article on the making of the film for Vulture.

Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour.

Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via boiledleather.com).

Our iTunes page.

Mirror.

Previous episodes.

Podcast RSS feed.

Sean’s blog.

Stefan’s blog.

Every Major Game of Thrones Character, Ranked From Good to Evil

June 29, 2017

Jon Snow
A reformer with results. Ned Stark’s (alleged) bastard rose from the ranks to become Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, then rose from the dead after his underlings murdered him for being too humane to their lifelong enemies, the wildlings. He then helped liberate the North from the bloody grasp of House Bolton. He’s also a generous lover (“You know nothing, Jon Sn — oh!”), a secret Targaryen prince, and most likely the messiah.

Sansa Stark
There’s a line in George R.R. Martin’s books about how alone among the Baratheon brothers, Robert was “the true steel,” strong and sharp and flexible and durable. Out of the Stark siblings, Sansa is the true steel. She’s shaken off a short lifetime of sexist princess stories, survived the lethal court intrigues of King’s Landing, weathered the untoward attentions of Littlefinger and the Hound, outlived her rapist Ramsay Bolton, and saved her brother Jon’s life. It’s possible that Petyr Baelish may win her over to the dark side, but until that happens, she’s on the side of the angels.

Eddard Stark
Ned is dead, but he didn’t deserve to be. He made moral compromises over the course of his life, from lying to his wife Catelyn and everyone else about Jon’s parentage (including Jon himself) to playing the game of thrones alongside his dissolute old friend King Robert. But in the end, he sacrificed his honor to save his daughters’ lives. It’s not his fault that Cersei, Joffrey, and Littlefinger repaid his kindness with a knife in the back and a sword through the neck.

93 Shades of Gray: Because I am insane, I ranked every major Game of Thrones character in ascending order of evilness for Vulture. This trio of faves is on the good end of the spectrum.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eight

June 26, 2017

What is clear is the birth of Bob’s bracing message. This disturbing, disorienting episode explicitly ties the demon’s creation to the atom bomb’s detonation, an act of man that rivals, or betters, the dark deeds of any religion’s devil. The connection is no accident. Nor is it without precedent: Ever since the original Twin Peaks introduced supernatural horror into its director’s body of work, the link between otherworldly evil and real-world brutality has been a constant. Lynch treats human cruelty like a rupture in the fabric of reality through which demons of every shape and size can enter — think Lost Highway‘s white-faced Mystery Man, Mulholland Drive‘s monstrous dumpster-dweller and gibbering old folks, Inland Empire‘s balloon-faced Phantom and, of course, the dwellers of the Black Lodge. They all  feed on and perpetuate the cycle of violence that enabled their emergence.

Some experiences and emotions are so cataclysmic that our everyday imagery and vocabulary cannot possibly do them justice; monsters give shape to those feelings, the same way an aria in an opera or a song in a musical gives human passion a voice. In crafting creatures like that denim-clad monster and his dark brethren, Lynch is doing what all great horror does. He’s taking the agony and fear we already feel and, like Dr. Frankenstein in his lightning-streaked laboratory, bringing it to unholy life. The real question this episode asks, then, is no more or less than the one pilot Robert A. Lewis asked when he dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima: “My God, what have we done?”

I reviewed last night’s Twin Peaks, the most artistically ambitious episode of television I’ve ever seen, for Rolling Stone.

MIRROR MIRROR II @ Amazon

June 24, 2017

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Mirror Mirror II is now available for purchase at Amazon. It’s already shipped, and people have already received their copies. You can order it from Amazon, or pre-order it from our publisher 2dcloud — copies will ship soon.

I’m so glad this book is in the world for you.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Ten: “Somebody to Love”

June 24, 2017

The question facing us is simple. Does Varga walk away, or is he locked up? Will he exalt himself like the eagle and make his next among the stars, or will the Lord bring him down? Is Schrödinger’s metaphorical cat dead or alive? Is the ethical universe half-full or half-empty? The lady, or the tiger?

I want to focus on writer Frank R. Stockton’s extremely famous short story of that name here, because I think the ending of this episode will be similarly misconstrued. The gist of “The Lady, or the Tiger?” is simple enough: In ancient times, a barbaric king offers a condemned man a choice inside a gladiator-style arena where two doors stand before him. Behind one is a ravenous tiger that will devour him on the spot; behind the other is a beautiful woman who will marry him on the spot. The process is completely random, and the prisoner has a fifty-fifty chance of life or death. (“Call it.”)

At least that’s the version of the story you may recall from the dim recesses of memory of English classes gone by. In reality the situation’s a lot more complicated. For one thing, if you get lucky and wind up with the lady, the capricious king will insist you marry her no matter your previous familial commitments or romantic entanglements. Happily married already? Tough luck.

For another, the specific case at the center of the story is a unique one. The condemned man in question, described by the story’s narrator in a sardonic and self-aware voice not far removed from that of Fargo’s occasional voice-over commentators as “a young man of that fineness of blood and lowness of station common to the conventional heroes of romance who love royal maidens,” has been sentenced to this ordeal for the crime of falling in love with the king’s daughter. Like her father, the princess is herself a barbarian by nature, and through sheer force of will has discovered the secret of what lies behind each door. But that same barbarian blood makes her intensely jealous of the other lady in the equation, to whom her suitor will be betrothed should he dodge that tiger-shaped bullet. It’s up to her to signal to the dude which door he should take, and up to us to guess whether she’s sent him to his death or to a life without her, a fate less bloody but possibly no less cruel, in the princess’ eyes anyway.

Apply these lessons to our current story, and the simple choice between good and evil we’re asked to make when we speculate about the outcome of Varga and Gloria’s meeting becomes way less simple.

I reviewed the finale of Fargo Season Three, and quite possibly Fargo itself, for Decider. I think it’s a far more complex episode than surface readings of its ending give it credit for, and I think overall it may be the season that haunts me most.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Ten: “Lantern”

June 20, 2017

In the gorgeously shot sequence that helps open the episode (following the portentous cold-open flashback in which young Chuck assures young Jimmy that everything will be alright in the story they’re reading by lantern-light together), Howard faces the older man down across the lighted arches of HHM’s conference table, before dismissing the other partners so they can speak alone. Actor Patrick Fabian is…well, after seeing him in this role, where he has to take his natural USA Network blue-sky legal-eagle-drama good looks and imbue them with complexity and depth, you wanna see him sink his teeth into something even juicier. For now, though, he’s completely convincing as a straight-and-narrow, buttoned-up guy who worked for years to protect a man he considered a friend, only for that friend to attack him when he dared suggest a different course of action. “Your first instinct is to sue me?” he asks, the incredulity written all over his face. He winds up buying Chuck out of the firm using funds drawn from his own pocket. The ensuing faux-farewell scene, in which the entire office floods the foyer to wish Chuck goodbye, is like something out of The Young Pope—figures lining balconies, overhead shots of curvilenear staircases, a system working in concert to expel a person who does not belong.

This leaves us with Chuck himself. Between his humiliation at HHM and his severing of ties with Jimmy, he suffers a psychological blow that not even his hard-fought recovery from psychosomatic illness can surmount. At first I was kind of bummed out by what ensued: prestige TV’s umpteenth homage to The Conversation, as Chuck’s mental dissolution is metaphorically depicted by his dismantling and destruction of his house in search of a stray electrical current he can’t seem to shut off at the source. But between Michael McKean’s go-for-broke performance and Dave Porter’s evocative, trumpet-based score, something happens that transcends the sequence’s origin. Before too long it’s clear that something deeper than metaphor is at work. Chuck is losing his mind, permanently. As in, it’s lost. He’ll never find it again.

The episode ends with an image that’s all but nauseating in its unfiltered depiction of this loss. With his house a debris-strewn ruin, Chuck sits at his desk, eyes vacant, his legs repeatedly—almost automatically—kicking. The only satisfaction remaining to him is that of destruction, a feeling his brother Jimmy knows only too well. He just kicks and kicks and kicks at his desk until, finally, his lantern falls off, and explodes, and starts a fire we witness silently from across the street. Chuck has no friends, no family, no sanity. But death is always there for you, waiting. Like the brother you wish you had.

I reviewed the beautiful season finale of Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

How ‘Better Call Saul’ Secretly Became One of TV’s Best Dramas

June 20, 2017

Better Call Saul has also secretly morphed into one of the most visually accomplished shows on the air. Bad‘s riotous visuals echoed its chaotic plot, but this prequel has taken a more austere, slow-and-steady approach to its storytelling – and its cinematography follows suit. Directors of photography Arthur Albert (for Seasons One and Two) and Marshall Adams (his successor for Season Three) favor shot compositions that emphasize the geometry of the spaces that Jimmy & co. find themselves in: rectangular windows, square glass bricks, the diagonal slash of a staircase, the glowing arches of a conference table’s lights. The result is an elegant claustrophobia, in which the characters look pinned to a grid or a game board, unable to control their own movements.

And during the show’s third season, Adams adapted Albert’s already impressive use of different lighting styles into a cleverly coded system, to the point where you could almost tell which character’s story we’d be following before they appeared on screen. Jimmy’s segments are brightly lit by the New Mexico sun or by the glare office-light fluorescents, casting a spotlight on his sins. Chuck exists in a shadowy world of his own making, silhouetted in the darkness of his house against a clean white haze of daylight from his windows or the glow of his indoor lantern. Mike’s nocturnal prowlings are given an amber yellow cast – the color of caution, warning and ear, all subliminally signaling us to slow down and watch out.

Saul Mighty: With some help from editor David Fear, I wrote about how Better Call Saul transcended its prequel roots to become one of the best shows on television for Rolling Stone.