Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Endorsement, a Concession and a Far-fetched Prediction

It has been nearly eight months since I wrote about the 2016 election cycle.  In a sane world, it would be another eight months before I felt compelled to break that streak.  But we are now living in a world of more or less permanent campaigns and now that the front-runner has officially declared, I think it's worth going on the record with how I see the next 16 months playing out.  I will start with the race, such as there is one, for the Democratic Nomination.

1.  This Blog Endorses Lincoln Chafee.  He will not win. 

The foolish decision to invade Iraq in 2003 is the most important moment of this nation's history that I have personal memory of.  For the first time since the Polk administration, this country began a war not just of choice, but of naked aggression. And the consequences were disastrous. The United States lost 5,000 lives, several trillion dollars and untold prestige around the world.  The results for Iraq were much much worse, in human casualties and in future uncertainty.

Next year, I will probably vote for a woman who voted for that war in the presidential election.  But I have no intention of doing so in the primaries.  Luckily, there is one candidate with stellar anti-Iraq war credentials.  His name is Lincoln Chafee.  In 2002 he was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against the authorization of force in Iraq.  He has since left the party. He was elected as an independent governor of Rhode Island and eventually registered as a Democrat.  I will be voting for him in the Illinois primary next year.  Dozens of others will join me.  But he has no chance of being nominated.  None.

Here's a look at the rest of the field:

1. The Nominee in Waiting: Secretary Hillary Clinton.

Hillary has been the presumptive 2016 nominee from the day she agreed to be Barack Obama's Secretary of State.  Although her tenure was short on specific achievements, she didn't do anything to compromise her standing with the party or the voting public.  So even eight months ago I wrote that she had a 70% chance of being the nominee. Since that writing, Elizabeth Warren has made clear that she will not run.  Senator Warren was always the most credible challenger to Hillary and it's now obvious that she won't take up that challenge. Vice-President Biden has also shown no interest in running. I didn't think he was likely to beat her in a competitive primary season, but he could have at least sucked up some of her donor and volunteer base. He also had the right to run as Obama's preferred choice, a role that would have helped him a lot in the primary.  I expect that Biden will try to keep a toe in the water just in case Mrs. Clinton screws up.  But he's not making the steps necessary to run. That may have been related to his son's health challenges but I don't think Beau Biden's passing will change his plans for 2016.  It's hard to put a precise number on Hillary's chances of being nominated but it is comfortably over 95%.

But Bernie Will Have  a Surge.

Bernie Sanders has been actively campaigning for weeks and a few polls have shown him putting up respectable numbers in New Hampshire.  He has also raised enough money to put up a respectable boutique campaign in the early primary states.  And there are plenty of young people who will trot out to Iowa to knock on doors for him.

But he can't win.  At some point he will probably have to choose between a serious effort in Iowa or New Hampshire.  Hillary will run big in both states.  Bernie will make the debates interesting and the media will desperately want him to make this race competitive.  If he loses New Hampshire by less than 10%, they will act like this race is a contested one. It is not.

Someone Else Will Have a Boomlet.

The rest of the field is remarkably weak.  That's not surprising given that most of the serious contenders to be President one day are sitting this one out rather than spend a year sleeping in motels only to get crushed by Hillary. Here's the rest of the field:

1. Martin O'Malley.  A mediocre governor of a medium-sized state.  He also picked the wrong year to run for President on the strength of having been a mayor of Baltimore.  His biggest claim to fame is being the basis for Mayor Carcetti on the Wire, a distinction that he loathes.  He did a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" and about half of the questions were about the Wire.  More damning than his fictional portrayal on that show is his horrific record as a stone cold war on drugs enthusiast.  He can't outrun that in a democratic primary.  He might have been a VP contender but I expect him to go all-in on the primaries and he might burn some bridges along the way.

2. Lincoln Chafee.  My aforementioned candidate of choice.  He is bright, moderate and competent. He is as exciting as a grilled cheese sandwich. He has no ties within the national party.  He won't break double-digits in Iowa and might not get there in New Hampshire either.  But like I said, a good man.

3.  Jim Webb.  Oh, this guy had promise.  He holds the Navy cross and he was Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Navy.  Pretty hard to swift-boat that, if he ever got the nomination. While in the senat he also took some principled stands on issues like prison reform. But he's a bit too "principled" when it comes to things like being unable to say the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. I also doubt he will be able to connect with the left-wing of his party and I doubt he'll make a serious run anywhere.  But I do think he would elevate the debates and be an interesting candidate to follow.  But he can't win.

Hillary could run the table and win all 50 primaries, as Al Gore did over Bill Bradley in 2000.  And as Hillary did in the imaginary world of Bill Kristol's prognostications in 2008.  Bernie will carry Vermont and he might be able to pick off another state somewhere.  Jim Webb might carry Virginia or some oddball state like Oklahoma or some other state that does not matter in the general election.  And O'Malley could theoretically win Maryland, but I doubt it.  If I was making book, I would put the over/under for states won by Hillary at 48.5.

I haven't exactly made a lot of news in the blog post so I'll take one long term flier on Hillary's running mate.  I expect her running mate will come from Virginia, but it won't be Jim Webb. Mark Warner will be on the short list, but I think a better and more likely choice is Senator Tim Kaine.  He's a former governor, he's very smart and perhaps most importantly, he is fluent in Spanish. (He lived in Hondurdas for on year and has given the Democratic Spanish-language response to the State of the Union.)

So here comes the Far-Fetched prediction.
I think the GOP nominee will be very wise to pick Governor Susanna Martinez of New Mexico as his running mate.  The Republicans will need to do something to close the gap among Latin voters and women.  If the nominee is anyone other than Marco Rubio (it won't be Ted Cruz), then Susanna Martinez will make the most sense.

So here's the long shot prediction.  Next year, there will be a vice-presidential debate held in Spanish. And the next election will be decided by Latino voters. By the time the general election is underway, both parties will be vying for every last vote in Florida.  And New Mexico might become a swing state if the Republicans put Gov. Martinez on the ticket.  Yes, this will make head explode among the Fox News crowd, as so many things do lately.  But this is the way of the future and once the election is on the line, it will make sense for both parties.  The Republicans will probably need a long shot to come in and the Democrats would be crazy to decline the offer and risk alienating the fastest growing segment of their base.

Of course this won't happen if Donald Trump is the nominee.  But more about that in my next post.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Where Does the Carousel Stop?

"When our boys are fighting, and they need it, and America needs it, Dow makes it and it works." Don Draper, on Napalm

I think of Mad Men as two shows.  The first few seasons covered a lot of ground and much of it was new for television. Eventually it fell into the inevitable rut pock marked by tropes and under developed supporting characters.  But the narrative matured eventually, with latter seasons each ending with a payoff that landed well enough to justify the digressions and meandering episodes.

The turning point was season five.  That was the season that Don was newly married to Meghan and committed to trying out monogamy, which of course threw off the pulse of the show. The writers took this device to its ultimate absurdity by having Don tag along to a whore house only to spend the night bullshitting with bartender.  This felt like watching Batman whistle Dixie while watching the Joker rob a bank.  But then the season finale redeemed it all by having Sterling Cooper relaunched as a new agency and by having a blonde approach Don for a light and ask him if he's alone.  Don looks back at her. Without saying a word, we know: Gotham can rest easy.  The Caped Crusader is back.

Season six ended with another great one-two punch of Don telling the Hershey executives about his tawdry childhood, and then being put on a leave of absence by his partners.  This is Don's lowest point. But rather than run off and hide, Don, for once, does something brave.  He drives his kids to a sketchy neighborhood and shows them the dilapidated remnants of the brothel where he spent his adolescence.  It is the most honest thing that Don has ever done; it is the closest Sally Draper has ever gotten to meeting Dick Whitman.

The first half of season seven ended with man landing on the moon and a recently departed Bert Coooper returning to wish Don happiness via a memorable song and dance number. Speculation ran rampant that the final seven episodes would take place after a considerable time jump.  But the story resumed eight months after Don watched Bert's soft shoe routine.  We have stuck our toes in the 70s, technically.  But decades end in zeroes, not nines.  The second half of season seven has been on familiar if not comfortable territory so far.

What does Matt Weiner have in store for us tomorrow night?  

Weiner has given us several hints of varying clarity. One is that he has known what the final shot would be since before the pilot was filmed. He has also said that he just hopes no one gets this shot first, which implies that it's something iconic   Another was that the teaser trailer for the final half-season contained Diana Ross' "Love Hangover", which came out in 1976.  This suggests the time jump may come after all. The third hint is a little less direct.  But we know that Mad Men was not guaranteed a second season, so he wrote season one well aware that he might have to tell the whole story in just 13 episodes.  For what it's worth, that episode includes Don's brilliant presentation to Kodak for the Carousel, and his progressive decision to promote Peggy out of the secretarial pool, although he was probably more motivated by a desire to tweak Pet Campbell than to help Peggy.  The final shot is of Don sitting alone on the stairs, having just missed his chance to join Betty and the kids on a Thanksgiving with Betty's family.

Don mentions happiness in his pitch to Lucky Strikes in the pilot.  ("Happiness is...a billboard on the side of the road that screams, the reassurance that whatever you're doing, is okay. You're ok.") If Matthew Weiner wants his characters to have a happy ending, then this episode will assure us that hey are okay.  What constitutes a happy ending for Don Draper probably depends on your perception of him as a man. I have long believed that Don Draper is a bad man.  This idea was best explained by Mary MacNamara in 2010 when she wrote an article for the L.A. Time putting forth the idea that Don Draper is a well-dressed, handsome devil whose evil deeds get glossed over because of his charm and looks:

   While everyone has been sidetracked by tortured-soul vampires and loveable werewolves, Don                    has been quietly taking over the world, one manipulative half-truth at a time. Think about it.                      In the three years we've known him, has Don Draper done one single thing that wasn't driven by rabid      self-interest? Sure he kept quiet about Sal ( Bryan Batt) being gay, but did Don step up and demand           that Sal not be fired? And yeah, he didn't condemn Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) when he figured out she           had had a baby, but how did he help her exactly? By telling her to nail down those emotions, keep her       painful secrets secret and get back to work. So he could continue to profit by her underpaid creativity.

So maybe Don doesn't deserve a happy ending.  But I think this show isn't about justice or growth. It's about how we really are.  And I expect Don to land on his feet, not because he deserves to, but because he's talented and because people like him, even when they shouldn't.  In that season one finale, Don's brilliance and bliss are mirrored by Peggy having her promotion out of the secretarial pool by a trip to the hospital that ends in the maternity ward.

My most in-depth writing on this blog has been about the Walking Dead, an entertaining but infuriating show.  I feel comfortable making predictions about that show, because the plot leads to predictable places, and it often feels like it is written for 11 year olds. Mad Men is several cuts above that, and Matthew Weiner's artistic vision is way more ambitious than any show based on a comic book about zombies ever could be.  So I gladly admit that I don't know what will happen tomorrow night.  But I would like to put forth three broad categories of endings we might see.

1. A Soprano.
Weiner wrote for the Sopraons, the show with the most discussed ending in television history.  Last week's episode contained a moment where Don's motel television conks out on him, right before a Red Foxx punchline, an obvious call back to that moment when millions of people thought their TV died at the worst possible time. Much of the debate around that show has focused on what happens after that infamous cut to black.  Did Tony live or die?  I actually think that's irrelevant.  The very first shot of the Soprano's Pilot is of Tony, sitting in Doctor Melfi's waiting area, staring up at the Romanesque statue of a nude woman.  When we last see him, he is facing the front door of that diner, presumably looking at Meadow.  Tony ends right where he begins, just like Sisyphus. Just like a Kodak carousel.

Naturally, we first met Don in a smoke filled Manhattan bar. After a swirling establishment shot of the boozy, well-dressed crowd, we find Don at a table by himself scribbling ideas on a napkin. Moments later he strikes up a conversation with a black busboy, about cigarette brands. The conversation culminates with them sharing a laugh about how women are silly because they like to read magazines. I would love an ending where Don is told by a waiter or bartender that he's in the no smoking section, so he gets up to walk to the other end of the bar, and we get a final shot of a smoking crowd, wearing slightly less elegant clothing than he.  Society has moved on, but Don has not.  However, I think we'll get something a little more dramatic.

2. A Monolith.

Last week's episode was brilliantly constructed to show Don tramping around the country, while we know the terrible truth of his future.  Betty Hofstead-Draper-Francis is about to die.  And while Henry Francis is a heck of a nice guy, he's not going to assume the parenting of another man's children.  Don's wondering is about to be replaced by a large dose of single parenthood.  I expect the finale to take place after Betty has passed away. I don't think we're going to see Don's live reaction to the news of her diagnosis or her passing. It will probably start sometime early in 1971.

The economics of his new plight, recently aggravated by walking away from two million dollars of McCann money, making Meghan a millionaire to spite her and giving a Cadillac to a grifter that reminds him of himself, might cause Don to crawl back to McCann.  Especially if the ink is not dry on his buyout.  McCann will probably want him back, especially if he's slightly humbled and measurably desperate. And Weiner might just want to torture Don by putting him back in those hallways, but this time he has to be there.

One great internet rumor is that Don will go back and get put on the Coca-Cola account, just as he was promised in the meeting where McCann tells them they are going to pull the plug on Sterling Cooper partners.  In 1971, McCann created the first "I'd like to teach the world to sing" commercial for them.  It's an incredibly iconic ad and it would be great for Don to go out with the pitch for that meeting.  Weiner could do a really great comedic musical number where the commercial rolls, with all the women Don has bedded in seven seasons singing on that hill. But that's a bit much.

3. A Downer.

I suspect the show will end where the first season ended.  Don will land on his feet at work, whether at McCann or in a less prestigious setting. But what about his kids?  I know he loves Sally and he's more than capable of providing for all of them, even with his reputation flawed.  So I don't think we'll see him shaft them or run back to Iowa to be Dick Whitman again.  But that shot of him on the stairs of an empty house is probably close to the emotional tone of the finale. I don't think we'll get the "Happily Ever After" vibe, however it ends.

4. A China Beach.
Kevin Rahm, the actor who plays Ted Chaough, confirmed that only five actors know how the show really ends. The other filmed what they thought was an ending, but those five were brought back later for additional scenes. He described these 5 as "the originals".  By my count that would be Don, Peggy, Roger, Joan and Pete. (Betty would have been a 6th original, but she doesn't work at the agency and for obvious reasons is unlikely to be involved in extra shoots.) So maybe Mad Men will end, as China Beach did, with an update of where our heroes land, well after the show's story lines conclude.  This could ruin the period mystique of the show.  But it might be satisfying to the audience in all the ways that the Sopranos finale left some people (mostly dullards) aggravated.

So what might the future hold for our heroes?

JOAN: I think Joan will get a happily ever after vibe, because she is in many ways the most admirable character of the core cast.  Not just because she's been through a lot, but because she has genuinely grown as a person through those experience. Re-watching early episodes, it is remarkable how shallow and snippy she is.  She never became a nice person, but she matured into someone who deserves to be happy.

ROGER:  I hope that Roger's ending won't require him to change at all. Times do change, but men like Roger Sterling are still doing perfectly well in this world, and Roger is to clever to be felled by any of the traps that might undo a less calculating man of his generation.  If this was fan faction, I'd show him drunk as a skunk on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

PETE:  I think Pete is a wonderful plot device.  He is exactly as shallow and petulant as Don, but he doesn't get away with it because he lacks Don's looks and charms.  One of the great disappointments of this season was when they has some other underling spell this out to Don.  Great television is about showing without telling.  Mad Men rarely gives into the impulse for the latter option. I'm a little surprised that things appear to be turning out so well for Pete, but I guess his destiny was determined when he was born to the right blood lines of Dutchmen and English aristocrats.

PEGGY: I want Peggy to be happy, but I hope they don't over do it. She should get married but I think her professional life is more important to her than having a family.  I don't want them to slap a romance with Stan Rizzo. She deserves to be a success without any cliches.

DON: If there is a China Beach conclusion, I expect that the last shot will be of Don, sometime in the future, perhaps with kids played by adult actors.  (Kiernan Shipka has proven to be a great young actress but she is 15 years old.  I don't think Weiner would use her to play a 22 or 30 year old Sally.) I think he'll be smoking and I think he'll be lonely, whether or not he's alone.  I think something in the closing moments will remind us of how far we have come in race relations or (more likely) gender roles. I just hope it's not too on the nose.

The China Beach Scenario opens up to a lot of possibilities for the last shot.  The one that Weiner fretted about having someone else get to first. I don't have a strong feeling about any of these, and I'm hoping to be surprised but let's consider a few possibilities.

a. The Twin Towers, under construction.  The towers opened in 1973, but were construction was well underway by the time we're up to.  (1970 photograph here.)  It's a little obvious but it hasn't really been done since 2001. And it would bring the story into the "present" in a sharp way. (And the shot of a plane flying past the Empire state building seemed ominous.)

b. Nixon's resignation.  The Pilot contains a joke where Roger Sterling tries to get Don enthused about doing work for a 1960 Presidential candiate.  "He's young, he's handsome, he's a navy vet. Shouldn't be hard to convince America that Dick Nixon is the man for them." This requires a jump of more than three years but it's as good a symbol for the end of that era as any other.  But Watergate as a symbol for the end of that era has been done, countless times.  So I'm expecting more.

c. The Bicentennial.  Well, the Donna Summer song is from 1976.  If that's authentic period music, we might see something about the bicentennial. I have nothing else for that year.

d.  The aforementioned Coke commercial.

e. Some other iconic ad, like Mean Joe Greene's Coke ad.

f.  Don Draper's suicide from a tall building.  The original Mad Men conspiracy theory. I don't buy it.

g. Where the fuck is Sal?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

No, Really, what was conquered? (Immediate reaction to The Walking Dead Season 5 Finale)

I enjoyed the finale, very much. I thought Morgan's return was fantastic and his anti-climatic reunion with Rick was handled perfectly. Immediate impressions:

1. What was conquered?  Well, Glenn conquered some fear in letting Nicholas live.  That was actually pretty impressive and it's consistent with his character.  I guess Rick's way of doing business conquered the Alexandrian's denial.  And of course Morgan conquered two huge scum bags with W's carved into their foreheads.

2. What was gained and what was lost? They lost an architect and a doctor but they gained a Jedi in Morgan and a huge dose of reality in the Ricktatorship's way of doing business.  Perhaps most importantly Dianna lost a husband but gained a very competent general.  I love that she gave the order for Rick to kill Pete.

3. Carol is the Paulie Walnuts of this Zombie Apocalypse.  I keep thinking that she will die, but she hangs around. And she's also being asked to deliver some of the comedic relief, albeit a more ironic tone than Paulie's was on the Sopranos.

4. There probably will be a time skip but I don't think it will be as long as I had hoped.  The Wolves are 50 miles out from Alexandria and I don't think those photos will have any revealing signs because Aaron knew they could fall into the wrong hands.  The ones Rick saw had no such signs at least and the ones they added just showed people. (Probably in response to Rick and Michonne's freak out that there were no people in the pictures.)  So they can play with the timeline as much as they want. I expect it will be like the jump between season 2 and 3: a few months but not more than year. Probably the first way to tell will be when we see Judith for the first time.

5. Morgan and Rick are going to have some great conversations next year.  Lenny James has already revealed on The Talking Dead that Morgan had some kind of life-changing experience between when we saw him in Season 3 and his meeting up with Rick and gang in Alexandria.  Rick of course has descended nearly into the kind of madness that Morgan was grappling with back when he had a booby-trapped town to himself.

6. The Wolves have great potential.  I hope they don't screw up the casting.  When Michonne first appeared in the Season 2 finale, they never showed her face.  We did see a couple of the Wolves tonight but they don't have to be the, well Alpha males of the pack. So they will probably cast someone with at least a bit of name or face recognition for that part. The show has an uneven track record of casting.  Hopefully they will cast someone more like Andrew J. West (who played Gareth) than David Morrisey (the Governor).

One interesting thing is that they do not seem to be well supplied. After all those 2 dudes that confronted Morgan had to do so with an empty 9MM.  Makes you wonder how efficient that food trap is.

7. Negan is another year away.  I don't think we will see Negan in Season six but he's probably on track for a Season 7 story arc.  The Wolves should be able to up the cruelty ante and only Negan will be able to top that.

8. Lennie James is the best actor in this company and I love his British accent.

A Final Thought, Much Repeated.

Please for the love of God can this group think a little more Strategically next season?  Now that they have a congressman, a UNICEF veteran and a Jedi to go along with the sheriff, the archer, the samurai  and the soldier, there is no reason they can't start to think more than 2 moves in advance.  A few suggestions:

1. Dig Zombie Pits.  Why on Earth was the Governor the only person to figure out that gravity is our friend?
2. Send a search team to destroy that food truck trap.  It's obviously a tool of very bad people.  You don't want them to survive and you don't want them to kill any more good people, like poor Mr. Red Pancho.  Send a team back and bring enough explosives to destroy that whole yard.
3. Eugene needs to contribute more.  Maybe he can design the perfect way to destroy the Wolves food trap or figure out a way to make bullets. (Something he apparently does eventually in the comics.)

Law & Order was  really successful show that eventually launched two spin off.  Law & Order SUV was more salacious and less challenging than the original. Law & Order Criminal Intent was slightly brainier and attempted to be clever from time to time.  Of course of the 3, SUV became the most successful and is still on the air.  I'm sure Fear the Walking Dead will follow in that vein. But I'm a dreamer and I choose to hope that the smarter version of TWD will come along, eventually.

Conquer what, exactly?

One of my criticisms of The Walking Dead has been its predictability. But I don't think tonight's Season 5 Finale has been telegraphed at all. For one thing, the title is "Conquer" and it doesn't get more vague than that. The last several episodes have had one word titles taken from something that Dale said all the way back in Season 1, episode 4,when explaining why he still kept time on his watch. The words in bold have each been the title of  a recent episode.

  • ‘I give you a mausoleum of all hope and desire which will fit your individual needs, no better than it did mine and my father before me. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you may forget it. For a moment, now and then, and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it.’

So what is to be conquered tonight? Alexandria? The Dianna Regime?  Time Itself  I really don't know.

 I have expected for a long time that this season would end with relative calm in order to set up a time skip for this off-season. And there isn't an obvious conflict to resolve tonight but it is a 90 minute episode and we do know about a few loose ends that need to be tied up. I think if you put them all together, you can get a good idea of what we're in store for.

1. Rick's Punishment.  Last week ended with Michonne punching Rick's lights out. We know from the previews that Deanna convenes a meeting to discuss what to do with him.  There is a shot of him in a small room that look like it was set up to confine him.  Of course the Alexandrians are going to be inclined to punish him but Dianna's made clear that killing him is not an option. And they're not about to exile the father of a teenager and a baby. We've already heard Deanna's husband rave about how many great things Rick's group said about him.  So they'll probably come up with some ham-handed BS punishment that involves him not being a constable and being put on some petty work detail.  But then....

2. Darryl and Aaron are in Danger and the Wolves are Not Far. Throughout this half-season we have seen a number of Walkers with a "W" carved into their forehead.  A screen shot from Episode 9 shows grafitti in Noah's neighborhood that refers to "Wolves Not Far".  This is probably a reference to a group of bad guys, although no such group exists by that name in the comic books.  Last week we saw Darryl and Aaron come across a couple horribly mutilated people and they saw in the distance the light from a camp fire.  So that's probably the antagonist for tonight.

3. Morgan.  One very clever detail from last week is that the one of bodies Aaron and Darryl came across seemed to match Morgan.  The hand was about the right coloration and it featured a wedding ring like the one worn by Morgan back in Season one.  The clothing also matches the sneak peaks we've seen of Morgan as this season went along.  This has naturally led to some speculation that Morgan is dead and maybe we will see his demise in a flashback of some kind.  I don't think that's right.  I think that was a purposeful misdirect by Nicotero's crew.  They like to have fun like that.

Morgan is the most popular character on the show after Darryl and possibly Michonne.  His return has been hyped since the season opener and I'm actually impressed that they have waited this long to bring him back to the story. They're not going to waste him on a one-off flashback of a death at the hands of bad guys we have never met.

So this is how I think everything gets tied together tonight: Rick gets put in the penalty box.  But then Aaron and/or Darry run afoul of these new bad guys.  My hunch is they have Darryl hostage but Aaron makes it back to Alexandria and wants to raise a posse.  Having been away when Rick went ape-shit on Pete, he will insist on Rick coming. Rick of course will jump at the chance and everyone else form our group (with the possible exception of Michhone) will want him to lead the mission.

He will.  But things will still be hairy. And the group will need saving.  That's where Morgan comes into play, earning hero status and joining our group in Alexandria for good.  All of which leads to the inevitable question about a season finale of The Walking Dead....

Who Will Die?

The Walking Dead's willingness to kill popular and important characters has become its trademark.  When the plot meanders, they usually justify it by killing someone like Tyrese.  And it's a pretty standard part of every season and mid-season finale although the season 4 finale was an exception to this rule.  Season 5 started with a lot of dead weight in the group and they have not been shy about shedding those folks this season.  I still think they have one more big death to go and here's who I think are the likely candidates.

a.  Carol. Her sweet-talking in public, threatening innocent people in private act is a time bomb.  I think someone will see through it tonight and she'll pay a price for her bullshit. Death Chances: 70%

b.  Dianna.  If the danger comes inside the walls, I think Dianna is on the short list of people to be killed.  After all, we need Rick to be the undipsuted Alpha character, right?  (65%)

c. Glenn.  All season long I have thought that Maggie or Gleen would die this year. Glenn seems to be in more danger, having punched that D-bag who stole Ricck's 9MM from the blender outside the gate. (50%)

d. That D-bag Who Stole Rick's 9MM from the Blender.  We need to have a kill to root for. He's the obvious choice.  (50%)

e. Pete See above (45%)

e. Tara.  She's not doing well and her friends are busy threatening the only doctor who can help her.  (40%)

f. Sam.  The story probably doesn't need another kid to slow the story down. But they can always re-cast another actor if they do in fact do a time-skp after this season (35%)

g. Enid.  It's probably better for her survival chances that Carl didn't actually kiss her last week. But she still could become a poignant symbol of Carl's suffering.  (33%)

h. Gabriel.  It's bad enough that the Walking Dead killed off Cutty and DeAngelo this year but is there any worse indignity for fans of The Wire than to make Carver a snitch?  (30%)

i.  Abraham.  Earlier in the season there were some ominous signs about Abraham but lately he seems to have settled in to his expected role as a bad ass and a 2nd tier leader. (20%)

j. Maggie.  I don't think they've set this up right, so I'm leaning against it.  More likely she lives to either Mourn and/or take over the administrative duties from Deanna in a new Rickatorship. (10%)

k. Darryl Okay. This is the big one.  Nothing would hurt the show more than his death. But there's always the chance that Norman Reedus over played his hand in contract negotiations.  I think it's unlikely but if they want to go out with a bang, this is the way to go.  (1%)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Aaron and Deanna are the People We Have Been Waiting For (The Walking Dead Season 5 Second Half)

It's been a while since I have posted about the Walking Dead.  The first two episodes of the second half of season five were basically filler.  First they gave up on one of the best characters in the company by building an entire episode around Tyrsese dying during a digression that barely advance the narrative at all. The episode after that was even less relevant to the main plot.  We spent an hour learning that Ricks group were hungry and tired. I'm pretty sure we knew that since about the 3rd episode of season one, but they spent an hour hammering it home.

And then we met Aaron. The great challenge before the writers of this show is to take a show that has been about survival and zombie kills and elevate into a show about rebuilding civilization. The prison season had moments of this, and those remain the best episodes we've seen.  But mostly the show has been content to put our friends in danger and expect us to be satisfied with the fact that it sometimes lets them die.  But this approach is losing its power as the remaining characters seem to be easily identifiable as Untouchable (Rick, Darryl and Michonne) or Biding Their Time (Everyone else.)

Aaron is the first character with the skill set to make the show about something more than the endless cycle of being chased by zombies and killing incompetent bad guys.  He worked in the Niger delta for an NGO.  He knows how to negotiate with hostile clans and he knows what really matters in building bridges.  The writing on his first full episode was of course uneven.  (The bit about not wanting to eat apple sauce because his mean mommy made him eat apples to make him more manly? Is that a thing? And  I can't for a minute believe they couldn't find a less insulting way to let us know that the new good guy was also our first gay guy on the show.) But there was good stuff too.  He showed that he knows how to negotiate and how to empathize with desperate people.  There is great potential in him.

Last week we met Deanna the putative boss of the Alexandria Safe Zone.  The best characters on this how bring something to the Zombie Apocalypse that was also meaningful in their old life. Deanna was a Congresswoman. For all our national ambivalence about the current congress, the fact is that the House of Representatives is still the best collection of former High School Class Presidents in the world.  You don't get there by accident and you don't stay there without some people skills.  I think Deanna has great promise, although I suspect her run on the show might be short in order to make Rick the unquestioned leader again.  This story is still a hero's quest and Rick is our hero.

It was great to see Rick back in uniform last week.  Andrew Lincoln is a pretty good actor but the show has demonstrated the limits of his range at times.  Rick isn't very convincing when he's overly anxious or bordering with insanity.  Rick is still a cop and a great one.  I think these next few episodes will give us a chance to see him revert to his basic humanity. That doesn't sound especially exciting but this gets me back to the challenge of the show in the first place.  Can they make this horror show a compelling story about how to rebuild a civilization?  It's a tall task but the Aleandria Safe Zone seems like as good a stand in for the Garden of Eden as anything we're going to get.


There are two kinds of Walking Dead fans.  Those who enjoy the zombie kills and can take the story as it comes and those who really want to see where the story goes.  I'm in the latter group and that makes the somewhat pointless art of predictions necessary.

1. Episode 5 will be relatively calm.  I think we get one more hour of the Group getting acquainted with Alexandrians.  There will be an obligatory action scene, most likely involving Aaron and Darryl teaming up to kill some Walkers outside the walls.

2. The next bad guys will be the people that Deanna exiled.  (But not Negan).  I think the last 3 episodes will involve a now familiar pattern of meet a threat, suffer a setback, beat the threat.

3. Morgan will return in Epsiode 7 and bail out Rick's group in the finale.

4. Deanna will die during this confrontation with the bad guys.

5. Of course someone major will die in the finale.  My hunch is Carol because I don't think Deanna buys her Suzy homemaker act for a second.  If there was any doubt about this, her line to Rick about being a great poker player is a less than subtle tip off.  (Tell, if you prefer.) This either leads to her proving invaluable in an unlikely way (for the 10th time) or she will be mistrusted by Deanna and somehow that will go to shit.  The other contenders for a serious death are Glenn and Maggie but they have not built that up at all.

6. We could get a bonus death of a group member, but it won't be anyone we care about. It strikes me that Abraham might not be very useful in Alexandria but I think he will be very useful once Negan shows up and the group truly finds itself fighting wars.  (Season six could be great!) So I don't think it will be him but between Tara, Rosita, Gabriel and Noah, there are some spare people taking up oxygen in the group.

7. The season will end with relative calm and we'll have a time jump before season six.  I expect that Season 6 will find the group having lived a couple years of relative peace. At some point they have to explain Carl going from nine years old to a teenager in such a short time.  And it would be helpful if Judith were out of infancy.

8. I saved this for last because it's the most specific.  Rick will start a relationship with Michonne by season's end.  Of course I have been wrong before.  But I think this is the love story we have been waiting for.  If you think about the group as currently constituted, you essentially have  four adult couples: Glenn & Maggie, Abraham and Rosita, Darryl and Carol, Rick and Michonne.  Only two of these couples are actually having sex but I think that will change soon.  Alexandria should give them the chance to enjoy life a little.  Come to think of it, I think Darry will finally bone Carol...and then she will die.  His many fans of the distaff gender will finally see him have sex with a woman and then he will be the sexiest thing of all: a widower.

The rest of the group are probably not going to pair up anytime soon. In the comic books Eugene ends up with Rosita after Abraham gets killed but that doesn't feel believable on screen.  Father Gabriel is an Episcopal priest but I don't think he's still wrecked with grief about what he did.  Sasha is still mourning Bob and Carl has made the mistake of falling for a feral Emo girl. (We've all been there kid.)  I don't see that working out well which leads me to my last prediction.

9. Enid is a spy.  No one that young survives on the outside for very long.  I think she is a spy for the next group of baddies.  She's probably the person we saw watching the group as they headed towards Alexandria a few weeks back. And she seemed a little too nonchalant about hopping that wall.  I think she was going with a purpose.  I think she was reporting to her old friends, probably the people that Deanna exiled.  She will deliver the trouble to Alexandria and break Carl's little heart in the process.

Monday, February 23, 2015

This Blog Endorses....Anyone But Rahm (But preferably Chuy Garcia)

Spoiler Warning: 90 minutes of your life you can not get back.

Chicago goes to the polls tomorrow for a mayoral election.  This is a non-partisan primary with five candidates.  There are only two possible results.  Either the incumbent Rahm Emanuel will gain 50.01% and be re-elected or he will be below that threshold and be forced into a run-off in April.

Rahm Emanuel is a competent administrator. He's also a completely conventional politician who is primarily motivated by making Chicago a place for wealthy people to "invest" in and for middle-class folks to visit, either as day trippers from the suburbs or as tourists from around the country.  This election has been the rare time that he has to at least pretend to care about the people who actually live here because we actually control whether he keeps his job or not.

So the important thing tomorrow is to keep that window open.  Six more weeks of a mayor pretending to care about all of his residents is about the best we can hope for.  So this blog humbly endorses Anyone But Rahm.

Two Ways to Choose your Anyone But Rahm Candidate.

The latest poll shows Rahm winning 48% of the vote. His closest competitor, Chuy Garcia is at 26%. The third place candidate is back at 15%.  So if there is a run-off, we know who it will between Rahm and Garcia.  There are two strategic goals to pursue here, leave Rahm looking weak or give Rahm an incentive to run to the left.  But the field does not have a clear-cut Lefty.  It's basically 5 centrists of varying credibility and experience.

 I really wish there was an actual reformer in the field, but there is not.  I've done some research on all of the candidates and none of them particularly inspire me.  But he is the only candidate with a chance of surviving to the run-off.  It's better for him to be strong.  If nothing else, that will give us six more weeks of  Mayor who has to pretend to care about the people who live here.  So in lack of a better alternative, this blog endorses Chuy Garcia as the marginally best candidate of four alternatives to a lousy but not terrible incumbent. I somehow doubt he will use that quote in any of his ads, but it has the advantage of being true.   So please, Vote Garcia.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Scattered Thoughts on a Jumbled Narrative: Walking Dead Season 5 Midseason Finale Predictions

The Comic-Con Pre-season Trailer, discussed throughout this blog in Italics.

Last week's episode was pretty pedestrian.  The previous three episodes focused on just one subgroup of the Survivor's-Beth in the hospital, Glenn and Maggie with Abraham's trio, and then Darryl and Carol's big adventure in Atlanta.  Last week they gave significant screen time to those three sub-groups as well as a 4th story involving Father Gabriel at the church.  The result was a narrative felt that felt rushed and only one truly suspenseful sequence.

More problematic than the distribution of screen time was the rather large story plot that involved Sasha getting duped into doing something incredibly stupid.  I just didn't buy that she would be that gullible.  But this was the device they chose to set up some suspense for tonight's midseason finale. I have also re-watched the pre-season coming attractions for clips that we haven't seen yet.  Discussion of such clips are in italics below, with the time stamp of where the scene can be found.

It's hard to intelligently predict what will happen tonight because the episode ended in a bit of a jumbled mess.  The clips on AMCTV.com are also unhelpful for making predictions about the whole story because the lengthy clip focuses on Father Gabriel. The description that AMC posted for the episode is "Rules and Morals have been tossed aside by new enemies. Rick will try to find a  peaceful agreement, but they might prefer violence." That's about as opaque as you would expect but there's at least one hint in there that's worth speculating about.  (See Below.)

1.  Father Gabriel, man about town.

Last week we watched Father Gabriel leave the church without a weapon. He duly ran afoul of a walker, who he was able to neutralize without having to kill.  The preview shows him making his way back to the school where the Termites were camped out when they took Bob captive.  He discovers Bob's charred leg on their abandoned grill.  I would be very surprised if he died tonight, becau he's played by a fairly famous actor, by TWD standards, and the audience has no emotional investment in him yet.  That means they spent money to get him and they're not going to waste him after a handful of scenes.  So he'll probably make his way back to the church and slip back through the crawl space.  Most likely he'll have to kill a walker while he's out there though. That will be his big emotional moment.  And that's just not very interesting so I hope they don't waste a lot of time on that.

2. Abraham and Company, Where to?

The worst story line last week was the one focusing on Abraham's group.  The obvious thing for them to do would have been to head back to the church.  The bit about waiting for Eugene to wake up before moving seemed forced, especially in light of the fact that they were within nose range of a colossal Walker herd.  And the only thing we learned about this group is that Tara is still capable of  joy because she found a yo-yo.  That's a small point but given that I often wish they would let the survivors have a little more fun, I was happy to see it made.  I think Gleen, Tara and Rosita might just be the three mentally healthiest characters left so it was good to see them off on a harmless jaunt to the creek.

What happens next?  The logical thing would be for them to get back on the road and head back towards the church. But I don't think that's going to happen. The only clip in the coming attractions of this group shows Maggie and Glenn in the back seat of what appears to be the Fire Truck.  Glenn has his gun drawn and Maggie looks scared. That doesn't tell us much other than the group runs into some kind of trouble.  One online theory is that Eugene actually died last week and turned to a Walker. I don't buy it, although I do think the show runners left that possibility open on purpose when they had Eugene moan in that awkward way as he regained consciousness.

My hunch is that this group will not meet back up with the church folks or the team in Atlanta.  I think the separation will continue into the 2nd half of the next season, perhaps with Team Glenn heading north for some convoluted reason. Maybe they get caught and/or distracted by a new group of survivors.

A very brief shot at 1:14 of the previews appears to show Glenn and some other characters approaching the giant herd of walkers that their fire truck is now close to.  It's hard to say for sure but I think the figures in the back ground include Glenn, Tara, Eugene, Maggie and Rosita. Two figures are impossible to identify but they could be Abraham and Rosita. They are walking on foot and the fire truck can not be seen. The herd seems to be behind some kind of fence so this might not be the herd that they smelled two weeks ago.

3. Michonne, Carl and Judith: On the sidelines.
One of the strangest points about the story unfolding thithats way is that it will apparently leave Michonne far from the action in a cliff-hanger episode. Maybe she discovers that Gabriel left the church and goes out to find him.  One hellacious possibility is that Rick and Judith will then be caught unawares by walker and Judith will end up dead.  I really hope they don't go for that because I think Judith is the heaviest emotional card that the show has left to play.  It would be a wasted to do it this soon and way too depressing.

At 1:15 of the coming attractions, Michonne is stomping on a walker.  I don't think we have seen this yet and it looks like it might happen near the church, perhaps after she sets out to find Father Gabriel.

4. Team Rick: heading for a fight.
I just watched the previews scenes slowly and learned a few things.  When Rick is shown introducing himself to (presumably) Dawn, Darryl is shown up on the roof of a nearby parking garage. I thought last week that he was with Noah but the pause button makes clear (about 28 seconds in) that it is Sasha.  Another clip appears to show Rick asking Sgt. Bob "Do you want to live." It looks like this scene takes place in the same building where Sasha was left guarding the three police officers.

This would imply that Rick heads back to that building.  Maybe they heard the tumult of Sasha being knocked out. Or maybe the cops get out of that place and confront Rick before he makes it to the hospital and a fight ensues.  I'm starting to think that the "main" story line tonight might be even more convuluted than last week.  Some of the rumors I've read online imply that tonight ends with a cliff hanger, just like last season did.  We might get another spectacular start to a half-season in February. (AMC has probably figured out that big starts lead to big ratings for several weeks after.)
So I think tonight's episode will end with Rick and Dawn in a standoff.  The biggest question is, who might die in the interim.

5. Carol and Beth: Darryl's Not-girlfriends.
Probably the biggest source of speculation on tonight's episode has been Norman Reedus' declaration that he cried for a half hour before filming tonight's episode.  The simplest reading of that is that Norman knows one of Darryl's good friends will die tonight.  Of course Norman could have been crying because of the loss of an actor that he admires.  And he could be exaggerating and he could be trying to drum up interest in the episode.  But precedent suggests that someone important has to die tonight, and Beth and Carol both seem like prime contenders.

I don't think Beth will die.  Two entire episodes have been dedicated to her story and I think she's supposed to be reunited with Maggie at some point.  They also have potential for a nice story line of her and Noah becoming a couple.  There is one clip (2:46) of her looking down an hospital elevator shaft. Another flash in last week's sneak preview showed her in a similar position. I think she lives tonight and I still am going with my theory that Dawn is somehow redeemed.

Carol is a closer call.  The driving tension of tonight's episode is that Rick will negotiate for the safe return of Carol and Beth.  When last we saw Carol she was still unconscious and being kept alive by an IV drip administered by Beth.  Dawn could use this as an excuse to not turn Carol over. "Why should we give you her if only we can take care o her?"  One popular theory is that Beth will die doing something heroic to save Carol.  I think it's more likely Carol will have a miraculous recovery, only to die in a horribly Walking Dead fashion.  Thinks about the guilt consequence for Rick, Beth and Darryl.  That could really drive some emotional baggage for a season and a half to come.

6. Death Predictions.
There is no single logical candidate for death tonight. But I think the most likely sympathetic character death is Carol.  Beth and/or Noah seem like possible deaths also.  Tyrese would be a logical candidate but I don't think they have hinted at that enough. The bald asshole from last week are most likely to die. I think either Dawn or Sgt. Bob will die tonight, and my hunch is Sgt. Bob.

7. Wild Card: Is Sasha Pregnant?
Sonequa Martin was a guest on The Talking Dead last week and revealed that she was eight months pregnant.  I'm not exactly sure of the shooting schedule but it would seem likely that this will become visible by the end of the season.  A convenient way to avoid that is to kill Sasha off. But there are dangers there for at TV show.  Huntery Tylo successfully sued the producers of Merose Place for $5 million dollars when they made a similar decision.

Now I have no reason to think that Sasha was going to be killed, but it would be reasonable for TWD to want to incorporate her pregnancy into the storyline.  Consider that Bob tried to kiss Sasha towards the end of Season Three and was rebuffed.  On that night episode of the Talking Dead, Ms. Green explained that Sasha appreciated the kiss as a gesture but made clear that she had no romantic interest in Bob.

Well something changed her mind.  Maybe the writers decided that it would be better to incorporate the pregnancy into the story line than to try to hide it for a half-season.  Babies certainly create tension and hope.  Tyrese's roll as Judith's primary caretaker takes on new significance if he's about to become an uncle to a child with a dead father.

Sasha being pregnant also repeats the story line of Lori Grimes getting pregnant in Season 2.  (Or One, if in fact Shane is Judith's real father.)  That story line put added incentive on finding a safe, stable place to live, the prison.  It is anticipated that the next major location for the show will be the Alexandria Safe Zone, a spot that has been one of the main locations of the comic book story line for the last several years.

So we may not learn this tonight, but my biggest prediction is that Sasha is pregnant, Bob is the father, and the two major groups will eventually meet up in Alexandria.  Rick and company after all have no idea that Eugene was full of shit. (They would probably pass the overturned church bus on their way north, but I think the producers are more than willing to overlook a detail like that.)

I will miss the show for the winter break.  It's a frustrating show but I've never enjoyed speculating about the plot of any show as much as I do this one.

8. Bonus Prediction: No Morgan Tonight.

Okay, the episode is about to start but I wanted to add a prediction that we will NOT see Morgan tonight but that he will be a major part of the second half of the season.  I'm still intrigued by the clip we saw of him after the credits of the season premiere.  He is in the area near Terminus and he notices an intricate carving in one of the trees.  I think that's a flash forward and we'll know before we see that scene pickup what the significance of the carving is.  The Hunters made a crude mark while tracking Rick's group but this is something much more involved. I suspect it's the sign of a group like Nagin's or some other new bunch of survivors. Okay. It's showtime!