The Good Wife: Everything is Ending


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Four years ago, after a spate of increasingly ridiculous sex scandals (vacation to Argentina, anyone?), CBS asked us to consider the woman standing on the side of the stage. They sold us a bleak scenario; home in tatters, a woman past her prime is forced to start over, not only to take care of the family, but to find her misplaced self.

That woman evaporated years ago, leaving us one of the most dynamic characters this side of Walter White. From beginnings so humble, Alicia Florrick is now the most powerful actor in this fictional world; she holds the fates of the Illinois Governor, Lockhart/Gardner, and a crew of young upstarts in her manicured hands. And she knows it.

It's remarkable that she's managed this ascent without ever playing the trickster; that she's playing that role now sets us up for high comedy and (one hopes) a new ruthlessness. The first casualty appears to be any last embers of the once great friendship between Kalinda and Alicia. (I always held that friendship up as one of the things that made the show unique, but in many ways, the show's refusal to easily rekindle that friendship makes it even more so. It's how these things work in real life.)

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But who will she become? By running off with Cary, she implicitly rejects Will+Diane's moral indifference. I can't be the only one who cheered when, after a momentary hesitation, Cary's simple statement that "we are the new Will+Diane" causes her to double down. (Related but not: "What's going on? West Side Story?" may be one of the greatest line deliveries in a show tripping over itself with great line deliveries).

Wild card: Alicia+Cary vs. Will+Diane may spar in the main theater, but I wouldn't bet against the impact of the looming proxy war: David Lee vs. Kalinda.

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Alicia may have changed, but her central relationship hasn't changed much since my salad days of weekly reviews:

Whenever Alicia and Peter stand in the same room, there's a massive inflow of oxygen, ready to stoke the fires of everything that lies simmering under the surface. So much hatred, and also so much love, a love that pollutes and infects and prevents them from ever having a meaningful conversation about anything.

That strange rush of air still exists, but now that they're "together" again, it stokes a dangerous symbiosis.

Peter makes what will surely turn out a terrible decision. The first time I watched, I saw it as a failure to challenge his own failings by taking the easy (and likely fateful) way out by "promoting" Melissa George. The second time, I noticed that his decision immediately followed his musing that Alicia's leaving Lockhart/Gardner to get away from Will. He's saying, quite simply, "If she can be good, I can be good." Which makes me wonder if, until he had that assurance about her, he was planning on being less than good.


1. The show runners have decided that esoteric baroque strings are part of the show's new DNA, and I'm ok with that. It just makes me doubly excited about the return of our favorite dead client.

2. If we see Cary and Alicia slamming tequila shots in every episode henceforth, I might (MIGHT!) almost (ALMOST!) get over the loss of my darling Kalinda/Alicia superhero friendship.

3. Love that Robin literally put a bird on it:

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4. These death row cases BREAK MY HEART. STOP IT, SHOW.

5. Um, I love Melissa George and can't wait to see where this story goes. Taste the pretty:

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6. Today in Kalinda Accent-Watch: "Well, aye caunt leagly access their cawls."

7. This is the only premiere that lacks a gratuitous sex scene. Did the censors finally catch on, y'all?

8. "You're right, but that doesn't mean it's his." "You're right. But it does mean there's no convincing you." Why isn't Geneva Pine a series regular? Come on now.


10. I actually don't even know what to say about Monica the telecommuter, because I'm too busy laughing hysterically at how Alicia's throwback do-gooderness last season has blown up in her face.

11. I enjoyed how the show's new fissures were brought to life in the filmography. There's not a single shot of Alicia and Diane together where they're not crowding each other off the screen:

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12. Not to mention Alicia and Will:

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Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children

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I did not want to love The Emperor's Children. In short order, Claire Messud fixes us into a particular milieu - the wealthy, white, overeducated, and purposeless - the only story anyone ever wants to tell about Generation X. However, this is no Reality Bites or Rent. Messud doesn't celebrate their commitment to abstraction and continental drift, she sees it for what it is - the seeds of a lifetime of anxiety and impulsive self-destruction. No wart remains uncovered in her indictment of wasted privilege.

In Messud's pre-9/11 New York, pretensions are easily mistaken for substance. Even still, the pretensions of our cast of characters are so small as to be laughable, with the exceptions of Frederick "Bootie" Tubb, the poor kid who still believes in heroes despite a finely honed sensitivity to phoniness. He comes to New York to find his future under the wings of the esteemed Murray Thwaite and his daughter, Marina.

Marina's lack of principle, lack of value, lack of even the basic ethics of friendship shoots all the other characters into a tense orbit around her. Like a black hole, she sucks them in and transforms them into the opposite of themselves, killing their desires and stealing their dreams.

Modern fiction loves for us to spend time with the abominable. Never truly villainous, he or she is defined by the singular desire for selfhood - in their zeal to define themselves, they're never moving toward, but always away.

So it is with Marina Thwaite. Marina idles against inherited privileges, against the book deal others can only dream about, against the very real needs of her less-privileged friends, the highly intelligent lost lambs Danielle and Julius. How this motley crew came together is irrelevant; rebellion against its disintegration is all that ties them together. Danielle and Bootie both fast-track the whole process - she jumps into bed with chaos (literally), and so does he (figuratively). 

Danielle's latent desire to humiliate Marina seems weak compared to Bootie's appetite for destruction, but contribute to her ultimate downfall.

From Marina's introduction, I waited for something terrible to happen to her. Sadly, nothing happened of the magnitude I was hoping for - no death in a burst of flames, no withering in the boiling rage of her so-called friends, not even a shameful comedown in front of her father's best society. You may ask why she inspired such apoplexy. Her driving need to claim what already belongs to others, her casual cruelty, her complete inanity of purpose, all conspire to make her the abominable.

There's no shortage of cruelty in the novel. As even the noblest characters embrace their less-than-best selves, they're driven by some higher philosophy, some need to make something of themselves and their lives (or perhaps that's just justification, as Murray Thwaite often reminds us). But not so with Marina - there are no ideals driving her forward, just a craven need to fill the emptiness of her own existence. And so she becomes the engine of her own destruction - she fills that emptiness with someone even more purposeless than herself. Ludovic Seeley caught her in the worst trap of all - ripping her from all she knows, she who has no capacity for self-recognition will be left with nothing and no-one but herself. For Marina, perhaps that's the cruelest fate of all.

However, you can't help but think that Marina could never have fallen into such a situation if Danielle hadn't distracted her father, if Danielle had herself taken the empty life with Ludo as ordained in the first few pages of the novel. But it's the tiniest moments of coincidence that lead to the most fateful endings. The Emperor's Children winds its way through vagaries both big and small, and its a pleasure to watch these characters twist and turn in response.

Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing

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Canadian indie band Stars once sang that when there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire. I can think of no better way to convey the shocking final 15 minutes of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.

When you watch the film, you'll marvel at how fresh it feels. Following a credits sequence that hits you in the face with "angry-dancing", we're introduced to the social world of a Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Then, as now, the outstanding existential threat is gentrification.


Spike Lee chooses to face character complications head-on, and no one's free of scrutiny. Giancarlo Esposito's "Buggin' Out" , the film's would-be Malcolm X, swings easily from overblown concern at the lack of black faces on the wall of Sal's Pizzeria to inviting universal ridicule when a cyclist scuffs his Air Jordans. Lee's camera treats his affectations unkindly, the upward zoom adding extra heft to his already comical hairstyle. Even so, much like Falstaff, this thoughtless dilettante sets the film's tragedies in motion.


Sal, our pizzeria owner, professes love for the people of Bed-Stuy, citing his pride that the young adults in the neighborhood grew up on his pizza. Nonetheless, he does not hesitate to call them "animals" and "niggers" when the mood takes him. And yet, there's little doubt that he loves the people he serves, even as a deep-seated disrespect for them wins out over his seemingly better nature.


Disrespect really is the order of the day here: whether you're Mookie, Tina, Radio Raheem, Sal, or even Sal's useless sons, how you deal with disrespect defines your character (at least up to a point). Mookie does nothing for so long that his big act almost feels like a triumph. Raheem hides behind his music, and when that's disrespected, he explodes. Sal's deep-seated racism comes to the fore. He's not an anti-social racist like his son, but guilty of ugly prejudice none the less.

The exception is the Greek chorus. They constantly comment but never act. They are less characters than narrators, involved less with the specific lives of the neighborhood than in defining the shapes of the setting. Lee treats them to some of the most beautiful videography in film history as they lounge under umbrellas against a wall painted the brightest red ever seen outside a Tarantino film.

I don't want to linger on the ending; if you haven't seen the movie, you need to experience it for yourself. I will say this, however: la plus ça change, la plus la même chose.


On J.K. Rowling's "Cuckoo's Calling"

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In this edition of Law & Order: Private Detective, TotallyNotRowling rips a story straight from the headlines. Row-Braith takes the sordid tale of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty and wraps it all in a entertaining-if-predictable bow.

After a string of improbabilities and coincidences, Detective Cormoran Strike is called in to investigate the death of Not!Winehouse, which had been written off as suicide by the tabloids and the police.

Following another string of improbabilities and coincidences, he's granted an assistant from on high. He doesn't want this assistant, oh no, but then she wows him with her ability to make tea and not ask any questions about, well, anything.

One would think the latter characteristic would immediately disqualify anyone from working in a private investigator's office, but mmm, biscuits. I would like to think that Mr. Strike had other reasons for keeping her on, but Robin*'s character is basically defined by three things:

  • a) Aforementioned ability to produce steaming cups of tea at opportune moments.
  • b) Recent engagement to a banker wanker named Matthew, who strongly disapproves of her line of work.
  • c) Being rather pleasant, occasionally.


In case you hadn't noticed, I'm more than a little bothered by the regressiveness of the females on display in this novel: one's a secretary (and aspires to be nothing more, apparently), and one's a dead object. Rowling's portrait of the dead girl tells us little about who she is, leaving us to trust the smarmy words of her brother, her fashion guru, her leechy best friends, and her boyfriend (Not!Doherty).

Now, I didn't set out to write such a negative review. While reading Cuckoo's Calling, I was generally enjoying the (very long) ride. But the facts remain: it doesn't really succeed as a detective novel (unless your idea of a good detective novel involves one man talking to millions of characters in sequence), and it doesn't really succeed as a cautionary tale on the perils of fame.

Where it does succeed is in providing a detailed portrait of the less glamorous parts of London (and the parts of London I spent considerable time in when I lived there). She has a strong sense of place and atmosphere, but couldn't quite bring that power to her character work.


*And isn't it adorable that they both are named after birds? Someone really needs to hit J.K. Rowling over the head with the terribly cutesy names she's saddled us with (Cormorant-Robin, to be fair, isn't as bad as Albus Severus Remus Dumbledore Potter).

No Forgiveness for Only God Forgives

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By the time Detective Chang jabs a fifth chopstick into Van Gogh's brain, we're not just covering our eyes, we're wondering why. The senseless act perfectly mirrors the senselessness of the story: Chang's trying to find out who put out a hit on him, but when he begins his chopstick dance, we already know the answer to that question and so does Chang.

This scene, like so many others in Nicolas Winding Refn's disaster of a movie, made the impossible possible: falling asleep while a man's limb is severed, falling asleep when a sword passes through a woman's body, falling asleep while Ryan Gosling just stands there, waiting.

Oh god, the standing and waiting. A better actor might have sold this role, but while facing all his ethical turmoil (I assume that's what he's facing--it might be a particularly disappointing bout of constipation) he never achieves anything more than blankness.

Ryan Gosling

So thank goodness for Kristin Scott Thomas. She swoops in, a bundle of bleach and poison, bringing the only forward movement to a story that really doesn't need to move forward at all, and should have been terminated at the outset.

Utterly against type, she takes her character to a level of malevolence unseen since Jackie Weaver in Animal Kingdom (a movie you should not miss, if you haven't seen it already).


I don't know what to do when there's a single performance that shines like a diamond in a pile of shit. Is she objectively good, or is she better only in comparison? I've heard early clamors from the Twitterati for an Oscar nom for Thomas, and I find the thought strangely distasteful. Isn't the performance a failure when it's not in keeping with the rest of the movie?

I really shouldn't complain. At least she brought some entertainment to the whole dour business.

Thoughts on the Trayvon Martin Trial

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I've struggled to record my exact feelings on yesterday's acquittal. The court delivered an awful verdict that suggested that certain key questions are beside the point: What is the crime? Who committed it? Why? How?

Apart from the racial aspects of the case, which others have covered far more eloquently than I could, I'm disturbed by the way the final decision failed to reflect an actual crime. Isn't the whole notion of Western justice based on cause and effect? Crime and punishment?

We're left with the fact that a man was murdered, but hey, that's cool, just an annoying gnat of a fact irrelevant to the case at hand.

No one seems bothered by the proportionality of Zimmerman's act. That a man with a gun shot a kid without a weapon of any kind. That a guy who wilfully ignored police orders should not be allowed a gun in any circumstance.  That even when you strip away all the politics around this, the facts remain: a man with a gun shot an unarmed teenager.

A man with a gun shot an unarmed teenager, and apparently that's ok. What is our justice system even worth when that kind of core simplicity can be flim-flammed away?

This verdict is a travesty, and even if Zimmerman's acts are perfectly lawful, then we have to question the substance of the laws themselves.

Let's see how the civil trial fares.

When Bill Clinton asked Octavia Butler to Imagine the Future

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For whatever reason, I went down a mad Octavia Butler-related rabbit hole yesterday, which led me into, among other things, the classification of a movement called "afrofuturism", and the musical legacy of that terribly named movement.

My favorite find, however, was this little nugget from Essence Magazine (full pdf here)

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Now, I'm ashamed to admit the total failure of my Google-fu, but I can't seem to locate the actual memo! I've scoured blogger, Google search, and even Clinton's digital archives to try and find the actual work, but I've been unsuccesful! Does anyone want to give it a go?

Great Effing Novels: Mockingbird by Walter Tevis

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In brief: I have one thing to say: Mockingbird is one of the best novels I've ever read. I never thought I'd be moved to say such a thing at my age, but there you go. The rest of this review goes into why, but the point is simple: read it, then talk to me about it. It also corrected my belief that no one could read anything original about New York City anymore.

Walter Tevis also wrote The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth, and despised both adaptations.

The Full Review

When you know that humanity's coming to an end, what would you want your legacy to be? These are the thoughts that drive us; we pretend to be concerned with a bigger picture, but that view tends to sit just out of reach, something we strive for but never achieve, trapped as we are in our own petty quests.

What if your single driving goal in life is to die? That you want this one thing so badly that every decision you make services that desire, with no regard for consequences to others? That's the question that Walter Tevis' Mockingbird asks. What depravity would that desire drive us to, and how will we mutate if we can't succeed?

Walter Tevis' Mockingbird overflows with character. Dystopian fiction, especially the kind designed to stimulate "big ideas about the dangerous direction society is headed", doesn't tend to concern itself too much with people ("big thoughts" being the operative concept).

Think of 1984 or Brave New World or even Yevgeny Zamyatin's We: there's a male lead who's notable for his very inhumanity, and some female who spurs thoughts of "zomg my desire to act on my desires for love and sex will set me free even if they kill me for it!"

If I'm being reductive, it's with reason. These women are objects; the science fiction equivalent of the manic pixie dream girl saves our hero from a life of total conformity.

But in Mockingbird, there are no heroes, just people striving to be human, which is a heroic enough feat. Because no one's elevated to being more than they are, the characters are actually allowed to breathe: we know Mary Lou, and we understand why she doesn't wait for Bentley (which is a thing every other woman in every other fucking dystopian novel would have done, or felt tortured for not doing).

Not just people; robots too. Spofforth the philosophical android is unique enough: you never forget that he's a product of cold human design, yet he still evolves into a peculiar personhood of his own. Did I mention he's black? A black fucking android roaming the streets of New York City, distracting the world with his perfect physical form while trapped in the darkness of his own driving ambition.

He makes so many bad decisions, like any good human. And yet his value his clear. You see what happens to the world when he stops paying attention. The real answer? It doesn't fall apart, but he feels it does. That's not a human feeling at all.

Mockingbird's world came to be not because of outside concepts like technology and politics, but from human mistakes (if you think that's a weird statement to make about a robot, you haven't yet met Spofforth). The tension between a desire for privacy and a desire to be part of something bigger than oneself drives much of the narrative.

But I've just spent a lot of words to say one simple thing: read this novel. You will love it. The end.

On Apple's iOS 7.0 "Refresh"

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The office put up Apple's WWDC keynote on a giant projector screen, and hilarity ensued (and swiftly turned to horror). Five comments from work that perfectly capture the complete and total awfulness of Apple's new iPhone operating system:

  1. Person who casually walks into kitchen, unaware of what's onscreen: "Oh hey! What's that on screen? Is that Android?"
  2. Apple fanboy, slowly deflating: "Didn't the Nokia phone fail?"
  3. Smug Apple-hater: "It's like they kidnapped the designer of the Windows phone."
  4. Bewildered so-and-so: "Did Apple buy out Yahoo so they could steal the design of the Yahoo!Weather app?...And make it worse?"
  5. "It's funny that they're making album covers so prominent. You know who taught me not to look at album covers anymore? ...iTunes."

You may detect a common theme in these remarks (which are closer to verbatim than you might think): there's nothing remotely original about this design. It cobbles together aesthetic ideas that have existed for years in various smartphones, failing to tie them together into a coherent whole (and let's face it, this is what Apple used to do best).

It's possible that this is a functional problem with the technology of the smartphone itself. Think about it; the iPhone debuted almost 7 years ago, and hasn't really changed interaction. What devices have stayed so static? Even with dumb phones, every year there were new ways of interacting, from standard buttons to touchscreen buttons to horizontal keyboards to different kinds of screens entirely.

The technology is stuck and so the design is stuck. Which brings me to the greatest shortage in my industry today: creative hardware developers.


The Peculiar Orientalism of The Orphan Master's Son

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Orphan Master's Son

Have you ever consumed an Eton mess? A popular English dessert, it earned its name from looking like what remains after a bunch of teenage boys beat each others' brains out and then have a drunken orgy with a dingo.

But it's delicious, and you can't stop eating it, even though the Oreos and the strawberries battle each other with textures that feel similar but don't fit together in any way shape or form.

Ahem. I'm hungry now. Anyway...

If you take two steps away from Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son, it looks like a fucking mess; it moves from cold gritty realism to picaresque fantasy to delusional fiction (which, ironically, is a dangerous quality in a work of fiction) without bothering to clue in the reader.

When it succeeds, it ruins you so bad that you feel cowardly for even wanting to look away. 90% of the novel falls into that camp. But Johnson disrupts the flow too often with cheap (and insensible) tricks that leave you questioning any truth in the world he fashions.

I imagine any discussion of North Korea has that problem: all we know about that country is how much we don't know. But think about constructing an entire nation from the views of the ones who choose to defect. If the United States were suddenly closed for business, how might Texan secessionists describe the country?

This is what The Orphan Master's Son struggles with. As Barbara Demick said in her own review of the novel:

"People are inclined to believe whatever outrage they read about North Korea, but bad as it is, I've not heard of political prisoners being lobotomised with nails inserted over the eyeball or with electrical charge."

And this is where it hurts to be such a structural mess. If the narrative kept focus, you can overlook the muddy details and choose to follow the highly compelling story of one Jun Do (whose homophonic resemblance to John Doe is no accident).

I love science fiction, so I'd never belittle a setting for being imaginary. But the fact remains, this is not science fiction. North Korea is a real place, with real people. Crafting a dystopian view of a mysterious place seems like an impossible talk; for a dystopian novel to work, you need to understand the society it critiques.

Choosing to set this work of fiction in a place you know nothing about (and don't pretend taking one trip for a couple of days in a highly controlled environment tells you anything about a society) smacks of orientalism of the worst kind. All our knowledge is based on what we imagine their lives are like, which erases any space for true humanity.

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