The Grief of Personal Shopper

A study of the people who move forward, and the ones who don’t, following tragedy.

Personal Shopper is not the first of Olivier Assayas’ collaborations with Kristen Stewart to involve a train nor the first to involve messages being exchanged on said train. Clouds of Sils Maria opens on one, finding Stewart’s Valentine mid-conversation on the phone, an assistant to Juliette Binoche’s Maria Enders. Maria derides the idea that she will be starring in another X-Men movie, she’s tired of acting in front on green screens.

Clouds of Sils Maria is about how our perspective on art changes as we grow older, how it is possible to see in it a new light with more life experience. Assayas has said before that he sees cinema as ghosts – an intriguing thought. You write a movie, go through the stages of production, produce a cut of the film with which you are satisfied with enough to set it aside for x amount of time, until the press tour comes and you need to get back out there to lavish the movie with praise, but having had time apart from it. Perhaps even seeing it differently.

Personal Shopper is a literal ghost story. Maybe. It might be fair to say that it’s one-third a ghost story, one-third a Hitchcockian thriller and one-third a character study. It might be more than just these three movies. It might not work entirely in every frame, but it’s wholly fascinating and unsettling in equal measure. It invites you to be uncomfortable. I shift around a lot when seated, but here, I realised that I wasn’t shifting to get comfortable. Instead, I was moving to pull myself closer to the screen, perhaps to avoid reaching a point where I felt safe and secure about what was going to happen.

Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper. Someone who’s stuck in the material world when she’s feeling disconnected from the real world. You see, her twin brother, Lewis, died three months ago, from a condition that she shares. Opening on her arrival to the house that he once owned,  it feels appropriate to suggest the nouveau Gothic nature of this. The cast-iron gate secluding the chalet as the carriage of the time (in this case, a Volvo) draws nearer. She’s come here to see if she can feel her brother’s presence, in her own words, she’s waiting.

Others are waiting as well, a couple of Lewis’ friends are interested in the house and are waiting on Maureen to determine whether the house is inhabited by a presence which may or not be Lewis’. On the other hand, Sigrid Bouaziz’s Lara, his ex, has come to realise that it’s appropriate to mourn, but that we do so, in order to carry on. As such, she’s found someone new, but it’s impossible for her to do so completely, evident in how she has an interest in carpentry, Lewis’ profession.

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Maureen hasn’t moved on yet. The movie finds her in a unique position of grief. In fact, the camera always wants to find her. In Stewart, Assayas found his muse. The camera floats through the scenes, gradually panning around, then it’ll rush to hold on Maureen and rightly so, because this is Stewart’s finest performance. Much like Jackie, the film hinges on this central performance and it’s so captivating throughout.

If you’re surprised by the notion that Kristen Stewart can act, then it would pertinent to remember that she delivered a striking child performance for David Fincher in Panic Room. Being honest, the time for being surprised that she could act should’ve passed back in 2009 following Adventureland.

Since then, she’s moved past the Twilight movies (although I would argue her androgynous blank slate approach is a smart approach for a YA franchise when teens are looking for protagonists like them) to create a space in which she can operate without anyone trying to encroach on it. A naturalistic approach that feels effortless, you’ll never catch her acting and that’s kinda the point. Other, more showy actresses, could take the role of Maureen and decide that certain beats deserve bigger, more clearly emotional reactions that you can identify as acting. Instead, Stewart encapsulates the character. As much as it’s possible to say this is a movie of Olivier Assayas, it’s perhaps easier to call this Kristen Stewart’s movie. She’s created this brand where she’s cool, but doesn’t care –– where she can drop the f-bomb on live TV and come back from it in three seconds flat –– and this movie is modeled after that in a way. It’s not a standard ghost story and it doesn’t give a damn if you’re not on-board with that.

It’s the tics that become noticeable with how laser focused the film is on her at all times. During the most atypical sequence, set on the Eurostar, she texts with an unknown number. Her thumbs twitch, as if she knows how she wants to respond, but is hesitant to do so. Throughout the movie, it’s the way that she doesn’t always know what to do with her hands, the way that she goes to board the Eurostar and seems to have forgotten that she’s holding the ticket in her mouth, trying to balance the rest of her luggage, the way that she stammers in a way that clearly isn’t like an actor for David Mamet would. The line readings aren’t ones which have the exact number of repeated syllables written on the page, they’re ones from someone in the moment, playing off the spectral energy.

To get to the titular focus of the film, she zips around Paris (and London), picking up clothes for Kyra, her boss. She’s not a fan of this job by any stretch of the imagination, but she sticks with it, even when presented with other prospects. An offer she receives is more glamourous, both in what she’d have to do and where she’d be, not to mention easier. It’s a movie about grief, but also about the inability to do so. Others do their best to move on, Maureen keeps going back to Lewis’ house. She’s not able to move on, but she keeps moving around, running countless errands for Kyra in the hope that filling her time will keep her mind busy as well.

Film Review Personal Shopper

I think my viewing of this movie has been enhanced by the conditions in which I saw it. You see, it wasn’t playing anywhere near me, I had to travel ninety minutes to do so, which meant I had to get the train. Into St. Pancras. The station from which the Eurostar departs for Paris. I didn’t so much walk back through the station, instead I let the balls of my feet carry me to the platform without giving me a moment to properly acknowledge I’d walked through a section depicted on screen not two hours ago. It made me hesitant to get on the train to come home, in the same way a standard horror movie may make you reluctant to turn off the light and go up to bed. I decided to turn off my phone, so I needn’t run the risk of getting a notification.

I found a lot of myself in Maureen. I said that I shift around a lot and that extends to generally, not just in a seat. I don’t know what to do with my hands, I palm at the sides of my hair to push it over my ear, and noticed I was doing it more as I walked back. There were things I noticed, but Personal Shopper made me realise something as well.

I’ve lost relatives, but unlike many, this didn’t really happen until the back half of my teens. Which meant it coincided with depression and familial breakdowns, the pressures of achieving grades to get into uni and the need to display outwards that none of this stuff was having any real impact on me.

There was a time shortly after my Granddad died that I was in History. We were split into groups, it was something about the Berlin Wall. I finished whatever I had to do pretty quickly and I just did the work tasked to everyone else in my group. This extended outwards, I kept, and keep filling time, I’m at uni as I do two podcasts a week, one of which I edit, as I hold down a job as a comics critic as I read to keep up in order to do so as I consume pop culture at a rate which can’t seemed to be matched by the people around me as I write this post as I plan to have a movie, which could easily be one hundred and fifty pages, written the end of the month as I don’t, and haven’t, grieved for any of the losses of the past four years, minimum.

Personal Shopper does it’s best to offer a distinction between the material world, the physical and the spiritual. I’ve avoided discussing the ending, but it doesn’t provide definitive answers to some of the questions that the movie, and the audience, will posit, but I think it can provide answers to questions we ponder regardless. It is so strikingly different from everything I’ve ever seen, that over the course of the screening, it dawned on me that I was watching my new favourite movie, art is at it’s best at it’s most ambitious, even if imperfect. Were a movie to present these ideas in a more conventional fashion, it would likely not have the same effect on me. The unconventional nature of this magnificent film eschews the turns of phrase that conventional movies, and people in general, rely on, in order to talk about grief and mourning – there’s no stressing of “take your time”. Due to this, I listened instead of brushing it aside and finally heard, in a way that didn’t feel part of the motions in the wake of tragedy, that it was okay for me to grieve.

It’s ‘No Longer Just Us’ for Gretchen & Jimmy and Becca & Vernon in the season finale of You’re the Worst

For Lindsay and Edgar, it’s now just them.

Whether it was down to the fact that Thanksgiving is next week, or if there was conscious thought put towards grouping these final two episodes together, it was a smart choice nonetheless and because of this I think it’ll be easier to treat them as an hour long thing rather than two separate episodes.

There’s three main storylines this week, for the first half, these all adopt a similar structure in that they center around arguments. The one which is simplest to understand is probably Dorothy & Edgar’s because their relationship has been heading this way for a few weeks now. Something to appreciate about this one in particular is how neither of them are really in the wrong, granted Edgar did spend the wedding working out sketches, but I can (and will) put the blame onto Doug Benson for making him work during this time. The contrast between Edgar’s success and how hard Dorothy has worked in an attempt to be successful has been overtly telegraphed since he stumbled into his job and it’s here, that it well and truly gets to her, causing her to suggest he was hired because affirmative action, which is horrible, but it’s undoubtedly hard for her to keep being knocked down while Edgar walked into a job. And in the end, she decides to leave, it’s bittersweet because there’s still a connection there, just now they both realise it’s not a strong enough one. Within the grand schemes of the season, this is the one that’s been deadset on it’s course since the start, so it’s appropriate it comes to a head in the first half, with an epilogue of sorts in the second.

Lindsay & Paul’s plot in the episode follows a similar structure in that it falls apart within the first half and then the second half set-up their direction for Season 4. This one obviously comes to a head over Lindsay choosing to abort their baby without running it by him first. Their argument then begins to encompass everything that’s happened this season with them, initially Lindsay stabbing him was perhaps going a little overboard and at the time, I was happy that we eventually moved on. In this case, I’m fine with it coming back up because Paul gets his Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright turning the table moment where he throws everything back in her face, including the way that their relationship began to include others (again, I’m still not using that word for election related reasons). Paul’s been one of those characters who’s mainly stayed the same over the course of the show thus far, and it wouldn’t be unfounded to brush this argument off as just something they do, considering the season started with him making an impassioned plea to get back together. However it would be unfounded after he leans in close, Lost in Translation style and tells Lindsay to lawyer up. This heel turn from Paul is ridiculously satisfying due to how he’s suffered in silence up until now (outside of talking to Vernon during the road trip) and by the second half he gets to relish in the moment, with a wardrobe change to boot. Seeing him go on the offensive is a strange phenomenon, but it’s been clear for a long time that Lindsay has been the perpetrator of many events that should have spelled the end for the two. Which makes it a real shame to see him cast out of the house at the end once Vernon & Becca arrive, while Lindsay essentially lands on her feet, despite her ineptitude when it comes to the pre-nup and negotiations.

I’m going to take this moment to focus on how Becca & Vernon fit into the finale because in the first half they allow the arguments to get some air as the six find out that Becca has had her baby, Tallulah. In an episode that kept piling on the sad beats, it’s a moment of respite and warmth. In the second half, Becca’s conversation with Lindsay highlights how quickly Lindsay chose to abort the baby, as well as how she kept it on the down-low, so much so that her own sister didn’t even find out. Vernon’s interaction with Paul demonstrates a role reversal from the road trip, considering Vernon’s now committed to staying and looking after his daughter, even if it’s partly because he doesn’t think Becca can do it by herself.

Which brings us to the Gretchen & Jimmy of it all, both still reeling from what the other put on their con list at the wedding. Gretchen’s is able to concede her point very easily, telling him that she does think he can make, his con is more deep rooted than that and takes more work for him to move beyond that. Their argument spirals through ideal mates and lands at a point where they both have to yell about what they’re dealing with. Jimmy’s still grieving, while Gretchen’s contending with something that can’t necessarily be beaten. The idea that one of them has to be okay to help out the other is a shaky one at best and it seems that Jimmy comes to realise this, reaching the conclusion that they should try, even if failure seems to be what humans do best, because there’s a chance they won’t. Being quite honest most of their plot had me in tears this week, the scenes they have are some of the most tender and heartfelt ones of the show thus far, and when Gretchen finally realises what Jimmy’s book is about, everything seems to get better for them.

This emotional catharsis then allows for the second half of the episode where everything is much improved and the pair set off for a ‘murder site’, made up by Jimmy. There’s a change in how their relationship has been shown over the past few weeks here, it’s more in line with where they were at the last Sunday Funday. After ditching the car (and the car booze), the pair run into Justina, who’s leaving town to be with her boyfriend. The therapy plotline is the one that I assumed would be the driving plotline of the series and I was kinda wrong it came to that, it certainly had a focus, but there’s also been a lot of off-screen development in how Gretchen copes with her depression. It’ll be a shame to lose Samira Wiley as she was a wonderful addition to the cast, but the way this season has developed, there’s not really an indication that she’d be necessary for Season 4.

Now like Jimmy & Gretchen, we come to the scene on the hill.  There’s certainly something to be said about how ecstatic Gretchen is about reaching the murder scene, but it’s even more delightful when she sees realises he brought her there to propose. And it’s a beautiful, tender moment which the show has gradually pushed towards, it wouldn’t be possible without this season having them both admit they loved the other. The problem with it being a gradual progression is that Gretchen pushes too far by saying they can be a family, which sends Jimmy into a spiral of confusion and leaves the hill as the fireworks fly, leading to that split-screen, which works much like last week’s did in creating even more distance between the two as well as the idea of heading into unknown territory.

Now we come to the curtain call on these recaps. As a whole I think that most, if not all of the episodes of the season worked in isolation, they were all funny and the plotting within each episode was efficient. As a whole, I think the season was a little bit too ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ which isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, a lot of shows succeed when creators are allowed to go all out, but You’re the Worst felt a little scattershot when it came to narrative cohesion. Part of this is on me, for expecting the show to lean harder on Gretchen’s therapy, but the season did shift focus quite a bit, from that to the death of Ronnie, and taking time out to spend a night in the woods with Vernon and Paul. Retrospectively that stuff came together by the end, but it almost felt as if a direction hadn’t really been decided until Ronnie’s death spelling out how the season was about family. As a result it wasn’t as tight as Season 2 was, but it was still affecting, still funny and still engaging television. Much like Bojack Season 3, if you want a point of reference.

Doing these recaps has been fun in a way. The main problem was how I didn’t anticipate my school schedule so I wasn’t aware that I wouldn’t be able to dig as deep as I would like to each and every episode purely to make sure this didn’t pull my focus away from the work I actually had to do each Thursday. As a result, I’m going to say that I won’t be doing recaps for the show (or probably any show moving forward) just because I expect even more work next semester and in the final year of my degree. But at the same time, I proved that I can commit to doing these for a season and have something to show for it, which is a positive. I think that I’ll move to doing reviews of some shows as their seasons come to end and the occasional movie review, but there are some larger pieces I want to do at some point, so perhaps I’ll aim to get one of those done a month.

To everyone who read this recap, thank you, if you read all of them thank you.

You’re the Worst weighs up pros and cons to determine ‘The Inherent, Unsullied, Qualitative Value of Anything’

Pro: Happy Scenario, Con: It got progressively more sad.

I’m going to have to be brief with this one [Edit: Having now written this, I lied]. Yesterday’s still screwing with my head, I’ve got to write an essay, but I’m pushing through that so I can do something longer next week, what with the final two episodes of the season airing and I’ll hopefully be able to write a segment about my thoughts on the season in retrospect.

It’s going to be impossible to write this without mentioning how strong the direction was this episode. Not only were the tracking shots a feat in themselves because of their length, but the crew also had to contend with the main cast and the supporting players, who were blocked in such a way there was never any real down time, once a story beat happened, we drifted over to the next pairing. But it’s also appropriate that this moment in the story happened at a wedding because Jimmy and Gretchen met at one back in the pilot.

This time however, we get to spend time with Edgar and Lindsay as well. The former’s there with Dorothy, but he quickly gets sidetracked by Doug asking him for pitch ideas to bring in the following day. While pitching ideas, they come across Brian Posehn who’s happy to give Edgar the time of day and hear his ideas (and also doesn’t outstay his welcome), but who’s also met Dorothy years ago. She remembers, he doesn’t. Much like last week, there’s an obvious rift being weaved between the two due to how easily Edgar stumbled into a job, made even worse by how quickly Edgar jumps at prioritizing his job over spending time at the wedding and ignores how Dorothy is clearly hurting. Neither of them say anything which leads to more sorrow. On the other hand, Lindsay and Paul’s story leads to sorrow when someone finally decides to say something. Acknowledging that she’s now not with child, Lindsay looks forward to being able to divorce Paul and leave lavishly, unaware the pre-nup she has works the other way. So she sets off to find a job, which causes her to stumble into a stylist. All goes well as they talk, eventually Paul finds them and pushes Lindsay to tell her about the baby. Her refusal leads to him trying to inform the stylist, for Lindsay to blurt out that she got it aborted and how she plans to divorce Paul. This has always been a relationship that’s been miserable for Lindsay on the outside and normally Paul has masked his frustrations, but he’s visibly crushed and he staggers away. This is a man who so desperately wanted to be a father and he’s had that taken from him.

Briefly, I’ll mention the storyline of Sam, Shitstain and Honey Nutz which looks like it’s going to veer into heartbreak and tragedy only to veer in a different direction at the end. The set-up of Honey Nutz struggling with public speaking pays off well because it’s so understated in the original conversation, a segue in the heat of the moment that then hasn’t run out of steam by the time the episode gets to the actual best man speech.

Following on from last week, Jimmy’s obsessed with cleansing his dad from his life, working out if he really needs anything he has, through a pro/con list. Eventually he comes to Gretchen despite her protests. Her curiosity leads to her attempting to take a peek at the list in it’s current state, but Jimmy’s swapped the notebook out for an identical and blank one. Which of course means that now Gretchen has one and sets about creating her own list. And the sorrow comes in that final third of the episode when they agree to share one item – any other sitcom would play this for laughs, I’m fairly certain that Friends did this with Ross and Rachel, but this is You’re the Worst. It gets real the moment he says he doesn’t see himself having kids with her. Jimmy’s always been someone who’s kept his emotions inside, it took until the premiere of this season for him to say I love you, so it’s hard to watch him as he lays out the vision of the future he wants compared to the one he expects. In response, she responds how she doesn’t know if he’ll be successful. Not as extreme as Jimmy’s item, but it cuts deep in the moment.

Outside, he offers her a cigarette as they wait for their cars, not realising until both of them are delivered to the entrance by the valets that they came alone. And so they drive off in different lanes. The split-screen works well here, like it did with Fargo S2 because it’s about contrast and separation. The pair have been isolated by this incident and we go into the season finale with all of the stories having coalesced and with no idea what happens now, which is somewhat terrifying considering how much work the show has done to get us invested in Jimmy and Gretchen’s story. Guess we’ll find out if that fear’s unfounded or justified next week.

Introspection means the You’re the Worst gang spend time ‘Talking to Me, Talking to Me’

In which many mistakes (and abortions) are considered.

So I really don’t like Doug Benson. Let’s just get that out of the way from the outset, stoner comedy really isn’t my thing and I was apprehensive that he would bring the episode down dramatically for me. Luckily this wasn’t the case because he had a smaller part than Ben Folds earlier in the season and the larger plotting of the Dorothy/Edgar storyline was poignant. We don’t spend a lot of time with them this week, but a contrast is clearly shown between ageism persists in the industry towards actresses and while she struggles for bit parts, Edgar manages to have a job fall into his lap because of the Dr. Weed character and in spite of her wanting to be happy for Edgar, it also serves to highlight how much she works to gain so little. Edgar also takes this point to tell Dorothy about coming off his meds so from here, it looks like the relationship may be over, just no one wants to call it yet.

That’s basically the crux of this episode – whether relationships are worth continuing/pursuing. Lindsay starts out intending to get the abortion she texted Gretchen about at the end of episode 8, it seems like no big deal to her in those early conversations between the two, who knows if she had a plan prepared to break the news to Paul or if she’d just wing it when he asked. But it’s that lovable goofball of a man and his multiple texts in conjunction to the Pro-Lifer(*) sit down discussion that add some gravitas to the situation, a weight that feels lifted once they return to the restaurant post-abortion and backed up by Gretchen’s assertion that she’s there for Lindsay whenever (which when paired with her recommendation of therapy highlights some off-camera growth that’s been progressing this season). After leaning so heavily on Paul last week, it was a smart choice to just have him pop up briefly, make a point and bow out for the rest of the episode because his presence was still felt. That said, it’s the conversation with the Pro-Lifer which ties back into that introspective nature of the episode by having Lindsay come right out and say what’s happened to lead up to this moment so it can register on the appropriate level.

(*) = with some caveats

For Jimmy, this getting the words out there becomes a problem at the end of his plotline, but to backtrack, his early morning routine clearly highlights how he’s running himself ragged to stay focused on things other than his familial fears. While Gretchen tries to get to the bottom of these by being pro-active and going through the appropriate channels of self-help, Jimmy looks to stick it to his dad one last time and build a treehouse. Here Chris Geere gets to be a one person Abbott and Costello with some slapstick which ultimately leads to his one mistake – when he triumphantly tosses the tools over the edge, the ladder goes with it. Leaving him stuck up there, what’s interesting is how Jimmy found himself satisfied before he even finished the work, it wasn’t this compulsion to finish it and gain closure, just the feeling of doing something which could help him from being overwhelmed amidst family tragedy and the ever present book deadline. It’s his downfall because the isolation forces him to be introspective (complete with camera push in to show this) and observe how other people live and then how he lives. How he’s done everything to defy his dad, including with helping Gretchen make it through the storm that was depression at the tail end of last season.

And they both return to their living room. Gretchen’s watching Wheel of Fortune and not solving the puzzle despite how easy it is if she wanted to, finally moving past the compulsions that her mother drilled into her. While he concedes everything he’s done with his life so far may not be real decisions. That it all may be wrong. Including being with her. One heck of a way to mess with Gretchen’s new position of mindfulness. For a couple that refused to truly commit until the start of this season, they’ve been put through the ringer regardless and this is another wrench being through into the works. From that final lingering shot of the pair, together but alone, it might be too early to assume they’ll be able to just overcome this as if it were nothing.

Ronnie Overly kicks up a stench in You’re the Worst’s ‘The Only Thing That Helps’

Gather round the campfire and we’ll learn the true story of Brick. Turns out it was in our hearts all along.

Sometimes you don’t get closure, things get left unsaid. Sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes it’s their, that doesn’t really matter when they’re gone. Just that you didn’t get chance to say anything.

Sometimes you get a second chance, like Jimmy does, by being given the opportunity [read: instruction] to host his father’s funeral, but even though he grants his father his final wishes, it doesn’t feel particularly cathartic. We’ll circle back once we cover the other stories briefly.

Edgar’s trying to get his pot card but the VA won’t allow him because of it being an illegal substance in the US, even though it’s legal in California. I won’t say anything about the debate of legal/illegal regarding pot, but this is a damning statement of American jingoism and patriotism in my eyes – the idea that to some, service to your country should be held in higher regard that your own well being. Also that someone has opportunities to get the card in other ways and that’s the best option for many.

In the Paul/Lindsay household, they appear to have found the sweet spot for their relationship…

Well Lindsay has now she gets to have sex with other people. Paul’s not so pleased with how he’s getting benched each time the Jillian team goes to the mound, but it’s no surprise that he’d be willing to grin and bear it for the family after how messed up their relationship has been thus far.

Finally You’re the Worst Ben Folds > Community Ben Folds. Admittedly he gets more than five seconds to leave an impression here, but he also doesn’t outstay the joke’s lifespan. If he showed up in the remainder of the season every now and again, that’d be fine, especially if he can provide dietetic music gags with the piano that’s forever within reach.

These stories don’t take up much of the running time, but they do pull focus away from Jimmy’s. They all converge by the time we reach Jimmy’s funeral which works to place him as the character in the spotlight for what follows. The funeral is typical You’re the Worst considering this is anything but a subdued sorrow filled affair. Ronnie’s written his own [false] eulogy which explains Jimmy’s more narcissistic tendencies and in response he brings the heckles out. Back at the end of episode 4, the drawer with his dad’s things was open, an overt metaphor to show how things can’t just be buried inside from that point forward so it was expected it would all come to the surface when given the chance.

Which brings us to Jimmy outside Tony Shalhoub’s house to fulfill his father’s preemptive dying wish and scatter the ashes on the actor’s land. Chris Geere got the opportunity to great work back at home during the funeral, but here he’s given the chance to get mournful. He kicks the ashes over the fence and heads off, some of the ash falls onto him. As much as Jimmy wants, he can’t just forget about it, his father’s always going to have an impact on his life. It’s not wholly cathartic, part of this seems intended, part of this could stem from the episode not being a full showcase on Jimmy. It’s counteracted by the rest of the episode ensuring that it delivers on laughs, just what if the episode had given Jimmy a chance to say a little more?

Thing I couldn’t figure out how to work into the main review:

  • Poor Vernon. This requires no explanation
  • Of course Paul is the kind of guy that would a fedora.
  • That cold open is an accurate depiction of writing. Minus the adding your own webbing to the pin board conspiracy web you’ve set up to track plot lines.
  • I really hope that Jimmy’s book gets released in full somehow between this point and the start of the next season.
  • The comedy with the box at the start of Act One is ridiculously simple, but incredibly effective.

Luke Cage has Multiple Avenues it Could go Down, but is Content to Go Around the Roundabout

The show exemplifies numerous problems with the Netflix model, but also seems comfortable operating with these problems.

[WARNING: SPOILERS. WATCH THE SHOW BEFORE YOU READ]

There are things you never really want to write. A eulogy, that term paper you’ve held off on doing and now it’s the day before because you thought it was a bright idea to spend your time writing a review of a Netf–– and then there’s a less than glowing review. It’s easy to write about something you love, you have all of these elements that spoke to you. More than likely, the consensus is that it’s liked and so you can get away with surface detail:

  • “the direction is amazing”
  • “O-M-G [actor/actress’ name] is incredible in this”
  • “It’s so well written”

The next item on the list is something you hate for similar reasons if it’s widely panned, then if you love/hate something which goes against the consensus. When this situation occurs, then you find yourself pushed for reasons and your criticism or elements that you like need to be more specific. Case in point, I loved the new Ghostbusters, but it wasn’t just enough to say this in a comment online, it required a mini thesis about why I liked it and a response to the people replying and telling me that the movie’s misandrist because the quartet shot the big bad ‘in the dick’. [Which isn’t true, it’s a PG-13 movie. No one’s hanging dong and maybe you’re projecting if you saw that and though Ghost Dick]. On the flipside, Suicide Squad is a movie I loathed and represents everything that needs to die in summer blockbusters. While it didn’t have major acclaim from every avenue, people liked it as a popcorn movie, so for me to then abhor it – I needed to break down why I felt the movie was monotonous or doesn’t live up  to what the cast suggests with regards to diversity.

It’s harder to write something about a show that just is. I didn’t like Daredevil S2 after I finished, but at the time I just considered it average. Now having seen Luke Cage, I would happily say that it’s on the level of Luke Cage. Problem with that is that I don’t like Luke Cage. It’s disappointing and seems okay with this. While DD S2 feels like a bigger trainwreck, it’s at the very least, trying to achieve something. Whereas Luke Cage isn’t a disaster that can be dragged beyond belief, but I also can’t find much to like.

I wasn’t able to binge watch the show in a day like I have the previous MCU Netflix shows. Normally I find that watching them in one day breaks me because no Netflix dramas have been able to fit their episode orders and lengths perfectly yet. The closest they’ve has gotten is Stranger Things. For the record both Horace and Pete and The Girlfriend Experience have. Part of me hoped that spreading it out over a weekend would allow me to savour the good parts. Instead it gave me multiple opportunities where I had no desire to push forward.

This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have good parts. The cast the show has assembled is wonderful, the soundtrack is great and the first two episodes are decompressed, but present some choice scenes that make comparisons to The Wire appropriate. The stuff in the Barbershop gives character to Harlem and the shootout in the pilot suggests the show will be dealing with some thematically relevant content to today’s world. As the show progresses, these elements drop out and leave a show that meanders too much. Mike Colter is good as Cage, but could be great if he had more than stoic available to play and if he had an actual plot which his hero’s journey could link to. A show can make a location a character, but a character needs a story.

The standout part of the show is Misty Knight, played by Simone Missick, but even then her story doesn’t have enough plot to fill a 13 episode arc and also shows a key problem of the show. Which I’ll affectionately call the Bloodline effect.

Essentially Bloodline is a show that circles the drain of drama, going round and round, but never committing with not only too many episodes, but episodes which are too long. Even when it pulls the trigger, it can’t push beyond that [see: Ben Mendelsohn]. So the Bloodline Effect is when a show seems very happy to savour in it’s setting without doing anything with it. Misty’s arc shows this in that in the final third of the season she gets shot in the arm and instead of using this as the reason to give her the metal arm we expect the character to have, it just gets resolved and her arm heals. When she’s being interrogated, we spend 30 minutes of the episode as her colleagues attempt to get her to crack only to reach a point where she repeats what she’s been saying all along and gets her gun back just because… I dunno, rule of three?

This reluctance to commit to drama is only hampered by how comfortable the show is with being generic. Cheo Coker worked on SouthLAnd. That show once attached bulletproof vests to a car to make a mobile position during a shootout. Luke Cage kills a mentor for motivation. Has a hallway scene. Luke and Claire walk around and talk about staying friends. There’s a cop on the take who gets killed, a daring escape, a situation where cops take an episode before they breach into a location. These aren’t just familiar to drama, but Marvel’s Netflix shows. The show just feels uninspired.

[As a brief aside, if goons could stop shooting at Cage after we and everyone knows that he’s bulletproof, that’d be swell]

The monologues also exemplify these. People quote bible verses ad nauseum, but Age of Ultron used them and made them powerful/relevant. Chess analogies are played out. This comes less than 12 months after Bokeem Woodbine delivered a monologue about the freaking Jabberwocky. That kind of thing stays with you, ones about pawns don’t.

It goes further off the rails when Cottonmouth gets booted out of the plot to make way for Diamondback, a villain who seems to have stumbled away from the Joel Schumacher version of this show (with a costume to ) Heck, Luke himself gets shot for a second time with a Judas bullet and falls onto the back of a garbage truck. But when we find him next episode, he’s on the streets again, shot, but what’s the point of ending on that dour note if he’s going to be walking it off within twenty minutes of show.

And now we come to the bit which I’m not entirely sure about. The New York Times review essentially says that the show is too black, but I don’t think it’s black enough. It’s here I should probably mention I don’t know whether I’m correct with this stance, I’m not black and could be missing a key element [If I am, then I’d appreciate having it explained to me]. Anyways, yes, Luke Cage wearing a hoodie and being bulletproof is a statement which is undoubtedly important enough for many people and it would be remiss to discount this. It would also be dishonest to skip over the fact that the final four or so episodes bring in some ideas – the dash-cam scene in Episode 9 and the montage in Episode 12 both broach the idea of theme and it certainly deals with them better than UnREAL did – seriously Season 2’s sixth episode is a horrible way to approach a black character being shot by police. [For those that haven’t seen it, it asks how does the white protagonist feel about this and is sloppy in set-up]. Like I said, that first episode shows a black teen getting shot and when I saw that I thought the show would be grappling with these ideas head on. It doesn’t really. The other two elements are attempts, but come too late to make significant difference and are counteracted by the way that Mariah takes a rally about the death of a black teen as opportunity to turn the crowd on Luke Cage. There’s a piece from The Ringer that I’ll link below along with the NYT piece. While I don’t wholly agree with it, I also don’t wholly disagree, just I don’t think Luke Cage does enough as say Atlanta which has provided infinitely more poignant storytelling in a fraction of the time thus far.

Before we conclude this I’ll add in two things which annoy me quite a bit. The first is making Reva part of the program that gives Luke his powers. She doesn’t need to be evil and hinders his arc thus far from Jessica Jones. The second thing annoys me even more, but it’s twofold:

  1. The Luke/Claire romance is a horrible idea that not only makes their conversations prior to the end of the season redundant, but goes against how she was characterised in Daredevil where she passed on Matt’s advances. Now if you’ll allow me to take off the wannabe critic hat and replace it with the comics fan hat – I’m mad with how Jessica is treated. Not only is she considered a rebound chick, but this relationship makes it difficult to bring her and Luke back together. Jessica Jones #1 comes out this week, I’m reviewing it for Newsarama come next Monday and I’ll be furious if it does something on this level.
  2. Rosario Dawson deserves better than this.

So that’s where I’m at. I may be tapped out when it comes to Netflix hype for the next two years unless Melissa Rosenberg swoops in and takes everything over. I strongly dislike Daredevil S2 and that feeling only grows the longer I spend detached from it so I’m not going to get excited about S3 because I expect them to flounder again, same thing applies to Defenders considering that Ramirez/Petrie are in charage, the Punisher bores me and will only have my interest if they attempt Rucka’s run and after this, why should I expect Iron Fist to grapple with the themes it has open for exploration?

Luke Cage is a Netflix show. If you’re the type to binge watch every show they put out and call it amazing, then great, I wish I had your ability to enjoy things. If you like them, but have issues, you may have significantly more issues with that than usual. If you’re like me in that the ‘prestige’ of Netflix never sucked you in, then it may be safer if you just give this a skip. Luke Cage could have been a show with a strong important message that stretched beyond the surface based on how it’s titular character dresses, instead it’s as pedestrian as the attire would suggest in any other climate.

Guess I’ll just take this hype and invest it in Legion.

RATING: 5/10

LINK DUMP

https://theringer.com/luke-cage-black-conservative-f5be622daf67#.mprh533pi

Give a read of these and see what you think and where you lie on the spectrum.