Posts Tagged ‘the a.v. club’

“Godless” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Homecoming”

December 5, 2017

The massacre at Blackdom that follows is tougher to justify, or enjoy. For one thing, it’s unnecessary. Frank Griffin’s bona fides as an indiscriminate killer of men, women, and children in any place that crosses him were established in the town of Creede way back before the opening credits rolled on the series premiere, and his likely intention to do it all over again in La Belle was the dramatic underpinning of the entire season that followed. Having him and his gang slaughter the town right next door mere minutes before the final face-off feels like gilding the lily, in blood.

Worse still, it undercuts the stakes of the showdown in La Belle, in an ethically dubious fashion. For seven episodes we’ve wondered if this town of outcasts from an oppressed class of people would be able to stave off an atrocity. What narrative or thematic purpose does answering that question solve if we’ve just seen another town of outcasts from an oppressed class of people succumb to that very atrocity in the same episode? The people of Blackdom may not be our main characters, but it’s not like that’s their fault. Only the nature of the story and script renders their lives more disposable than those of their counterparts in La Belle. Our interest in the showdown at the Hotel La Belle is predicated on whether or not the worst will happen—but as Alice’s horrified glimpse of scores of corpses in Blackdom earlier that day makes clear, the worst already has happened. What difference does it make if if it happened an hour’s ride away?

I reviewed the pointless-seeming finale of Godless for the A.V. Club. It was interesting to find most of the commenters (who are basically unavoidable when you use AVC’s back end to file your reviews) agreeing with me as the season progressed.

“Godless” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “Shot the Head Off a Snake”

December 1, 2017

Another series of flashbacks reveal how Roy came to be the ward of Frank Griffin in the first place, but this too is mishandled. The episode’s cold open shows Frank and a young-adult Roy getting caught red-handed with stolen horses, nearly getting hanged before their associate Gatz Brown comes to the rescue. Frank tells Roy to finish off the angry ranch owner whom Gatz had merely wounded; this is his first kill, and Frank rewards him with a gun, indicating that both his skill with the weapon and his willingness to use it are relatively recent developments. There’s something vampiric about this induction into Frank’s bloody brotherhood.

The next flashback segment jumps us way back in time to Roy’s childhood, showing the day he departed from Sister Lucy Cole’s orphanage when it became clear his brother Jim was never coming back from his job hunt in California. From there, we follow him to a town where he steals a horse that winds up belonging to Frank, who takes a shine to the kid as a fellow orphan. When Roy first meets the rest of the Griffin gang, then a much smaller bunch, Frank describes them as one big happy family. “These are your brothers,” he tells Roy. “And I am to be your pappy. A good one, too. I won’t mistreat you, I won’t beat you, and I won’t ever lie to you, ever.” As best we can tell by how they’re shown interacting during the horse-theft episode several years later, Frank kept these promises.

But that’s the problem: We already know how things go. The first-kill incident is the logical conclusion of Roy’s origin story, but the show places it first, removing any sense of mystery or anticipation about how this innocent but resilient little kid became a crack-shot lieutenant of one of the West’s most notorious outlaws. You might be curious about what came before, but you’re not worried or intrigued or frightened or moved or anything more substantial. Once again, a ton of time is dedicated to building up to a foregone conclusion.

I reviewed episode five of Godless for the A.V. Club. It’s fascinating to see all the ways this show manages to be not-great but also not bad at the same time.

“Godless” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Fathers & Sons”

December 1, 2017

[Circumstances bring] Sheriff Bill within striking distance of Frank for the first time…which the bandit sees coming, presumably thanks to his own scouts and trackers, and responds to by lying in wait. A tense conversation ensues, in which Bill first dissembles about his business, then comes clean when it’s clear the jig is up. Bill talks a tough enough game, but Frank nevertheless senses that something’s wrong with him on a spirit-deep level. Echoing the Native American characters who’ve told the Sheriff he’s lost his shadow, Griffin says “the life has gone out of your face,” and speculates that the true goal of his hunt is to get himself gunned down at Griffin’s hands (er, hand), so he “can die attached to a purpose.” Bill denies this, and Frank seems disinclined to offer him that dark deliverance no matter what.

So Frank and company ride on, sparing Sheriff Bill’s life…because it’s the dramatic thing to do, I guess. Honestly, I can’t think of any other reason a mass murderer who presided over the execution of an even more senior lawman several days prior would let a cop who’d just announced plans to kill him a chance to continue his quest. You could say it’s Frank’s vision of his own death that does it, giving him confidence that no one with a badge will be the one to do him in. Or you could say it has to do with his screwy moral code: tending to smallpox victims and quoting the Bible one moment, massacring entire towns and proclaiming the supremacy of “the god of the locust” the next. But both of these factors are just different ways of saying the same thing. Frank spares Bill, because he’s written that way, because it makes him a cooler villain and gives the story more (horse-)operatic stakes.

There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. Most of the time, even the best genre works come with a side of corn. But nothing we’ve seen on the show so far has added anything of real sustenance to this particular meal. Godless boasts solid, if not spectacular, performances from a suite of likeable TV veterans — Merritt Wever, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Jeff Daniels, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster most notably. They speak clever but not particularly quotable dialogue. Their story is overburdened with B-plots, but it’s still heading toward an inevitable, and I’m guessing entertaining, climactic confrontation. This happens against a backdrop of beautiful Western scenery, shot with an eye for light that’s most welcome when contrasted with your typical murky green prestige-TV palette. All of that is what keeps the show from ever sinking below that little B- grade you see above. But it has yet to reveal any signs that it will get substantially higher, either. Frank’s comic-book behavior and all the show’s other tics and flaws would be easier to accept if it had.

I reviewed episode four of Godless, the very definition of a B- show, for the A.V. Club. 

“Godless” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “Wisdom of the Horse”

December 1, 2017

From its title (“Wisdom of the Horse”) on down, Godless’s third episode is full of horse shit. I don’t mean that it’s bad! I just mean that in terms of story and screentime, it is simply consumed by shit about horses. Roping horses. Breaking horses. Riding horses. Falling off horses. Getting back on horses. Searching for missing horses. Worrying about abused horses. If you’re a Dothraki screamer or a Rider of Rohan, then boy oh boy have I got the episode for you. The rest of us? I dunno, pardner.

I reviewed episode three of Godless for the A.V. Club. I want to apologize to all the horse-loving members of ASoIaF/GoT fandom in advance. Read it and you’ll see where I’m coming from no matter how much of an equestrian you are, I promise!

“Godless” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “The Ladies of La Belle”

December 1, 2017

Truth be told, you could maybe get a good show out of Frank’s hunt for Roy, and Marshall Cooke’s hunt for Frank, and maybe Alice’s decision to take in and fight for Roy when push comes to shove. Or you could get a good show out of Bill, a sheriff who’s slowly going blind, and Maggie, his queer widowed sister, and the complicated family dynamic they have, with either a mass murderer or an unscrupulous mining company providing an antagonistic spark. Or you could get a good show out of a town full of widows coming together to fend off either the killer or the capitalists, and requiring the talents of women they’ve looked down on because of the race or gender of the people they love, i.e. Alice and Maggie respectively.

At this point, however, I’m not convinced you can get a good show out of all of those things at once. Despite the hour-plus running time of both episodes so far, it still feels like Godless is in a necessarily big hurry to whip from one storyline to the next, which in turn necessitates a shallow reading of each set of characters. The dinner scene in which Merritt Wever’s Maggie tries and fails to singlehandedly prevent her town from getting swindled by a sweet-talking mining company is a highlight of the hour, but I’d happily have followed her for an entire episode to see how she’s maintained a leadership position among her fellow widows despite her unorthodox, masculine style of dress and her relationship with local schoolteacher Callie Dunne, I also could have stood to spend more time in the company of Alice, and to learn the story of her lethal land feud from something other than an expository infodump between young hotshot deputy Whitey Winn and the incarcerated Roy Goode. I could have settled for either a look at life in a frontier town without men surrounded by a hostile world full of them — the kind of story promised by the episode’s title, “The Ladies of La Belle” — or a more straightforward Western thriller centered on the Frank/Roy business. As it stands, I got just enough of each to tantalize, and not enough of any to satisfy.

I reviewed episode two of Godless for the A.V. Club. Looking over this piece, I’m pretty pleased with all the different things I was able to say about the show, good and bad. Please do give it a full read.

“Godless” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “An Incident at Creede”

November 28, 2017

Godless has two major factors in its favor: the sun and the stars. The former glares into the mud-caked eyes of Sheriff Bill McNue (Scoot McNairy), a lawman who’s secretly going blind, then shines down on a field where he collects flowers to place on his late wife’s grave with a brightness that echoes his still-warm sentiments. (“I can see just fine,” he announces as he picks primroses and whatnot, to no one in particular except perhaps the sunlight itself.) It burns like the fire of fate itself when bandit-turned-babyface Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) exits the barn where he’s recuperating from gunshot wounds and sees the silhouetted form of Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), the outcast widow who shot and then saved him. It creates an ironic, halo-like nimbus around the head of Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), the one-armed madman robbing and slaughtering his way through the mining towns of 1884 Colorado in search of loot and his one-time apprentice Roy, when he rides his horse right into a rural church and promises he’ll rain the wrath of God Himself on the parishioners should they ever lend his rogue ally their aid. It’s reduced to a dim, dun haze by the dust swirling around the site of Griffin’s latest massacre, dust from which mustachioed Marshall John Cooke (Sam Waterston) emerges to gaze in penitent horror at Frank’s grim handiwork. Finally, it reflects off the water that splashes and sprays from beneath the hooves of the horses ridden by Griffin’s and his gang as they cross a river in slow motion, dazzling and luminous and, it seems, imbued with the sheer joy of filmmaking within a beloved genre.

By now you’ve probably picked up on the “stars” side of the equation. The series premiere of writer-director-creator Scott Frank’s Godless, “An Incident at Creede” (referring to the aforementioned massacre), parades its cast of familiar and friendly faces before the camera in all their well-worn Western finery like a herd of prize cattle. One of the big under-covered pleasures of the past few years of Peak TV is getting to see its stars re-mixed and re-mingled once they’re freed from the commitments of shows that launched and ended earlier in the era. Want to watch Halt and Catch Fire’s Gordon Clark confess his love to Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary Crawley? I know I do! Want to see Sam Waterston play Old West Batman to Jeff Daniels’s horse-opera Joker, like the weirdest reboot of The Newsroom imaginable? Now’s your chance! Years of totally omnipresent TV culture have turned its actors into one giant repertory company where we viewers are concerned; it’s often delightful, as it is here, to sit down and see what this season’s production will give them to do, even if you’re not nuts about the end result.

In Godless’s case there’s not much to disappoint you just yet. The show falls very, very, very squarely within the confines of its genre; it’s an old-school oater the new-school aspect of which, namely nasty (and sometimes sexual) violence, hasn’t actually been new at least since The Wild Bunch rode into town nearly fifty years ago. Thus, while it’s hard for the show to knock your socks off, it’s equally difficult for it to shit the bed. Soup-strainer facial hair, stern-faced gunslingers filmed against big sky, metaphorically biblical imagery and literally Biblical dialogue: If you like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing you like. And that’s exactly the experienced the algorithmed-out-the-wazoo metrics by which Netflix judges its programming are designed to deliver.

I reviewed the series premiere of Godless for the A.V. Club, where I’ll be covering the show’s first season. Yee-haw!

who watches the watchmen

November 3, 2017

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I know it shouldn’t, but it shocks me how people who devote time to criticizing arts criticism can understand so little about arts criticism.

BTW, not that you should go by letter grades, but my averaged-out grade for the show I tried really hard not to like for some reason? B.

(PS: That’s not really Nev from Catfish)

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten

October 25, 2017

Holden’s meeting with Ed Kemper, who attempts suicide and names Ford as his medical proxy in order to force another meeting, is the first time any of his conversations with murderers has felt like something out of a serial-killer-as-supervillain movie. It’s not actor Cameron Britton’s fault—he plays Kemper with the same unnervingly conversational affect as ever. Rather, it’s the mechanics of the meeting: revealing the stitches from his suicide attempt like he’s a breath away from one of the Joker’s “Do you wanna know how I got these scars?” speeches, leaping from his hospital bed with cat-like reflexes, threatening to murder Holden and make him akin to the “spirit wives” he gained when he killed his previous victims, then reversing course and hugging Holden, thanking him for his honesty. When Holden says he doesn’t know why he came, it turns Kemper into a criminal mastermind, luring the FBI’s best and brightest into a potential deathtrap just to show he could. I’m sure it’s supposed to say something about Holden’s increasingly agitated state of mind, but it just makes him look dumb and indecisive, two things he’s never been.

The follow-up is even more of a misfire. The instant Holden hits the door out of Kemper’s hospital room, Led Zeppelin’s “In the Light” kicks in. The song’s creepy-cool John Paul Jones synthesizer opening had been used to great effect during Holden’s flight to California, but this time the track is fast-forwarded to Jimmy Page’s triumphant, upward-climbing riff. The transition is so abrupt, the musical sentiment so poorly matched to the moment, that I actually laughed out loud—yet that’s not even the half of it. Holden staggers down the hallway and collapses, in the grips of a full-fledged panic attack so severe he thinks he’s dying. As the hospital staff frantically tries to aid him, he hears the voices of other characters in his head, reliving times they called him on his bullshit and warned him about his behavior: Bill, Shepard, Wendy, Kemper, even Principal Wade. “Wait,” you may be thinking, “you mean like the ‘I made my family disappear’ scene in Home Alone?” Yes, exactly like the “I made my family disappear” scene in Home Alone. Add a few floating-head visions and a “You’re what the French call les incompétents” and not even David Fincher and Chris Columbus could tell the difference. The device is so hackneyed it comes across like a joke from a children’s comedy.

Worse, it’s unnecessary. Did we really need to hear people telling Holden he fucked up for us to understand, while watching him have a panic attack brought on by a serial killer who took advantage of him and could easily have murdered him, that Holden fucked up? I can’t remember the last time I saw a season finale swing and miss this hard.

I reviewed the season finale of Mindhunter, which I did not care for, for the A.V. Club.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine

October 23, 2017

For the Behavioral Science Unit, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The penultimate episode of Mindhunter Season 1 shows the team operating at the peak of their powers, working in in tandem to create the term for which they’ll go down in history: “serial killer.” It also depicts faultlines forming that could jeopardize the whole project (if this weren’t verifiable historical fiction, anyway). If you’ve been following along, it’s not hard to understand why the former aspect of “Episode 9” works much effectively than the latter. Mindhunter is always better when its characters are all on the same side.

The “serial killer” scene is the most satisfying example of this phenomenon yet—a conference-room scene between Holden Ford, Greg Smith, Bill Tench, and Wendy Carr that feels like watching a tight jazz quartet trade eights. Wendy tries to come up with a term for murderers who carefully prepare for their kills versus those who go on a spontaneous rampage. Smith asks if that isn’t simply organized versus disorganized killers. Wendy says, no, that refers to the process during the crime, not the pattern behind it. Killers like Charles Whitman or Richard Speck, she says, take random victims during rapid-fire rampages, so their existing term of art “sequence killer” doesn’t work. “Whitman was on a spree,” Holden says, with Wendy and Greg backing him up. Bill agrees too, but then expresses doubt about the “sequence killer” label for a killer like Ed Kemper: “It feels too…cadenced,” he explains, starting to actually sound like a musician. Debbie thinks he might be on to something. “It should feel like a long story,” Holden follows up, “continually updated.” “A series of killings,” Bill replies. “Serial?” Holden murmurs. “Serial murderer?” Greg suggests. “Serial killer?” Bill says, refining the concept, and you can see on everyone’s face that he’s hit the mark. “That’s better,” Wendy says, impressed. “Let’s see if it sticks.” Yeah, let’s see!

I reviewed the penultimate episode of Mindhunter Season 1, with David Fincher back in the director’s chair, for the A.V. Club.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight

October 23, 2017

For Mindhunter to succeed, its investigations have to be successful too. That doesn’t mean Holden, Bill, and Wendy need to solve every case or understand every unique pathology they encounter. It simply means that the temperament and technique that help them produce their best work — the blend of curiosity, cooperation, openness, and uncertainty I spelled out last time, during an episode where those traits were largely absent — help the show produce its best work as well. Given what came before, “Episode 8” makes the biggest leap in that direction since the series began, in what for my money is its most riveting and revealing interview with a serial killer to date.

I reviewed episode eight of Mindhunter, powered by <deep sigh> a great Jerry Burdos scene, for the A.V. Club.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven

October 21, 2017

To paraphrase the great Yakov Smirnov, on Mindhunter, case cracks you!

I reviewed episode 7 of Mindhunter, in which the team meets cartoonishly nasty serial killer Jerry Brudos and starts to lose their shit because of it, for the A.V. Club. I get why the show did what it did here—I just don’t enjoy it as much.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six

October 20, 2017

But once again, Mindhunter refrains from the mistake it made in its earliest episodes, where Tench and Ford’s boss was a mouthpiece for outdated and ignorant views—a convenient obstacle to be overcome by the real visionaires. It’s true that the D.A. doesn’t quite grasp the complex interplay of impulses and triggers that shaped Benjy, Frank, and Rose’s respective involvement in the murder and its aftermath. But it’s not that he can’t understand it, or doesn’t want to understand it. Wendy, Holden, and Bill simply haven’t figured out how to express it in a way that will get a guilty verdict out of a jury. When Wendy asks him “How do we translate this so you can use it?”, it’s neither a rhetorical question nor a passive-aggressive dig—she really wants to find a way to make their findings useful outside the laboratory conditions of their office.

And when the D.A. approaches them after allowing Frank to cop a plea, he’s sincere when he tells them why his hands were tied. It’s a utilitarian numbers game—“the lowest cost for the highest quality justice”—and he couldn’t take the risk of confusing a jury and letting justice of any kind slip away. Even when Holden and Bill grumpily reject his offer to take them out for dinner by way of an apology, they still shake his hand when he offers it. There are no hard feelings. How can there be? “What difference does any of this make if we can’t communicate it to the people who matter?” Holden asks Bill before they drive away. “I don’t know,” Bill sighs. Their own uncertainty about the trail they’re blazing makes them more forgiving when others demur from following.

I reviewed episode six of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. Solid and thoughtful.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five

October 20, 2017

The late great Halt And Catch Fire famously took a while to actually become great. It got there because its writers figured out a new way to create personal and professional dilemmas for its characters. Rather than present black-and-white choices in which someone was clearly in the right and someone else in the wrong, or follow the shades-of-gray antihero-drama approach where the interest lies in studying why people do the wrong thing to begin with, Halt took a third route: It constructed scenarios in which the protagonists faced two equally compelling options and had to choose between them with no clear-cut right answer at all. For example, should they gut the creative innards of their new computer, lowering the price tag and guaranteeing competitiveness in the marketplace at the expense of what made the product special? Or should they keep their innovative interface intact and take a shot at something great, risking not just their livelihoods but those of everyone who worked for them in the process? Each path had its partisans, each argument was persuasive, and in the end they had no more idea of what would be best than any of us do when we face turning points in our own real lives. The show’s total lack of hand-holding for either its characters or its audience made for riveting viewing.

I thought about this a lot while watching this episode of Mindhunter. Focused almost exclusively on the murder and mutilation case that Bill Tench, Holden Ford, and local cop Mark Ocasek started working in the previous installment, it’s the story of three investigators hashing things out as they go, testing competing theories of the crime with no slam dunks in sight. It’s not about winnowing out false leads until the one true answer is found—even though they make an arrest by the end of the hour, the exact circumstances of the killing remain a mystery. Rather, it’s about trying to figure things out in a field, and a world, where there are no sure things. It’s a very different way to write a procedural.

I reviewed episode five of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. It’s become a much better show. There are still music-cue misfires and problems with Debbie galore, but it’s settled into a highly watchable groove, particularly if you’re a serial-killer buff and are interested in seeing how the conventional wisdom got hashed out conversation by conversation.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four

October 19, 2017

Twitter is a portal straight into hell, but every so often a li’l angel of insight manages to spread its wings and fly out of its maw. So I offer a sincere thank you to the twitter userwho put into words something I might not have been able to put my finger on otherwise: The more like a procedural Mindhunter becomes, the better it gets. Sure enough, the show’s fourth episode spends nearly all of its time watching Holden Ford, Bill Tench, and their new partner Wendy Carr at work, and it’s the best episode yet.

I reviewed episode 4 of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. It’s like VH1 Classic Albums, but about the concept of serial killers.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three

October 17, 2017

Kemper [is] back for another round of interviews so thick with gallows humor you can almost see the nooses. “Big Ed” had a sick sense of humor during his murders, one he can’t help but chuckle about to himself as he recounts the details to Bill and Holden—like how he shoved his mother’s severed vocal cords into the garbage disposal to shut her up permanently, or how he buried the decaptiated heads of his victims face up near her window, because “Mom always liked people to look up to her.”

These exchanges say a lot about both the killer and his questioners. Ed thinks he’s winning them over with his gruesome gags, but he’s really revealing the depths of his disregard for other people: The women he killed meant nothing more to him than becoming potential punchlines for sick jokes played at his hated mother’s expense. Bill and Holden, meanwhile, react with the reluctant but irrepressible exclamations you might hear from the crowd at comedy club where the stand-up said something particularly off-color—until they get to their car afterwards and simply stare at each other in disbelief. They’re good enough at their jobs to instinctively transform their shock and disgust into reactions that will keep them on Ed’s good side, so they can keep getting what they want from him in turn.

Bill spells all this out to Holden on the flight home, in one of the show’s best conversations yet about the nature of their job. “There’s nothing behind Kemper’s eyes,” he says. “It’s like standing near a black hole. And he thinks we’re his friends!” He pauses. “Well, he thinks you’re his friend.” Then he leans in to Holden for the conclusion: “Which makes you a pretty great FBI agent.” These guys are uniquely equipped to gaze into the abyss without its returning gaze getting the better of them, for now at least.

I reviewed episode three of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. It’s improving for sure, but the conversations that don’t include serial killers still sound like they were written by aliens.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two

October 15, 2017

Edmund Kemper is not your average pop-culture serial killer. That’s the point. Mindhunter’s second episode may be dogged by many of the same problems as its premiere—we’ll get to that later—but its decision to cast “The Co-Ed Killer” at the Hannibal Lecter to restless FBI Agent Holden Ford’s Clarice Starling is as smart and sinister as the man himself. Played by actor Cameron Britton, whose performance is already one of the most chilling of its type, Kemper is the embodiment of Ford’s argument that this new breed of killer is too crazily complex for the existing rulebook to cover.

The “we’ll get to that later” is doing a lot of work in the above paragraph, but nevertheless I enjoyed the Ed Kemper material in episode two of Mindhunter, which I reviewed for the A.V. Club, a great deal. Just be prepared for my very different thoughts on the music cues and the female lead.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode One

October 14, 2017

“It’s not like there’s some magical machine that makes identical copies of things.” To its eternal credit, Mad Men got the single worst line of dialogue in the entire series out of the way in its pilot episode. Don Draper’s brief aside about the state of the art in office equipment functions as a gag only from the perspective of its 2007 audience, at the expense of its 1960 characters. What we know, and what Don doesn’t, is that of course there are magical machines that make identical copies of things, or that there will be eventually. The poor sap has the temerity not to have journeyed via time machine to an era where photocopiers are a thing. Joke’s on you, buddy!

I thought of this line a lot while watching Mindhunter, Netflix’s new serial-killer procedural from writer-creator Joe Penhall and producer-director David Fincher. The difference is that while Mad Men relegated its “look at these troglodytes who haven’t even heard of Xerox yet” hindsight to one brief, bad joke, it’s Mindhunter’s entire premise.

Based on the influential true-crime book Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by Mark Olshaker and John E. Douglas, and featuring analogues for Douglas and his fellow Fed Robert K. Ressler, it chronicles the birth of criminal profiling and the concept of the serial killer as we know them, during an era when law enforcement’s skepticism of such notions—and of psychology in general—was ingrained and endemic. In other words, it’s a war story written from the perspective of the winners, one which enlists its audience as recruits for the retrospectively inevitable victory. That’s the problem, really: It’s a tale of bone-deep uncertainty in uncharted territory, told with the quiet confidence of a sure thing.

I’m covering the first season of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club, where believe it or not I’ve never written about television before! Here’s my review of the premiere, which helped me realize there’s basically a whole subgenre of “based on a true story” that I don’t care for: the origin of something everyone thought was wrong but which we in the audience know turned out to be right. Also, you gotta hear the dialogue in this thing. It’s like an alien wrote it.

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.

Phoebe Gloeckner on reopening “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”

August 13, 2015

It was funny: I haven’t talked to the real person that [Monroe] was based on in a long, long time, but then I saw he was on Facebook. I wrote to him and I asked him if he’d read the book, and he hadn’t, so I sent him a copy. He said he read five pages and couldn’t read any more because it was “too intense.” Then he kept saying he’s going to read it, but he can’t. But when he found out there was a movie, I sent him the trailer, and he was really excited. He showed the trailer to some friend at a bar—I don’t think he’d said that it was supposed to be based on him—and that person said, “Wow, that relationship is really screwed up. Why are you showing me this?” The guy said “What do you mean, ‘screwed up’? That’s a real man!” You know? “He’s a real man! He’s going for it!” You can see that that particular person, that character…I mean, if I treated him correctly, he’s not the type of person who’s able to reflect on any of that. Which contributes to Minnie’s loneliness. It takes her a while to realize that, because she’s thinking she’s in love with him. What do you do when you’re “raped,” in quotes, by someone who’s thoughtless and unaware? There’s no way to have a discussion about that with him because he’s not on the ball enough to even grasp the situation. I don’t know what people think. You could argue rape or not—I mean, I don’t fucking know. It’s a complicated situation.

For my A.V. Club debut, I interviewed Phoebe Gloeckner, my hero, about The Diary Of A Teenage Girl. I first interviewed Phoebe 12 years ago, and she’s been my hero ever since.