Motherless six-year-old looks at the World in 2020

The 13th century poet, Rumi asked, “Who looks out with my eyes?” Lately, it has been my 6-year-old self.

When I was 6, a bad thing happened and I nearly died. I was hurt bad physically, but much more deeply in my heart and my soul. For a while, I was drifting away until the loving care of my Aunt Mae pulled me back and healed me up with nothing more than a few herbs, a tin bath tub and raspberry pie.

By the time, I returned home, I had no memory of what had happened. Mae had taught me to put the pain away in the inner-most doll of a series of Russian dolls. And under her care, I learned to read the whole of the first Dick and Jane book and add numbers all the way to 10. I had missed almost the entire month of September, but I was way ahead of the other kids. On the December report card, I came first.

I didn’t work my way down to that innermost Russian doll for 60 years. Only then did I learn her story.

For over twenty years now I have had to return to that child and try to address her despair and depression. It hasn’t worked very well. There are dolls around my house and teddy bears, a child’s rocking chair and certainly, I have catered to her love of reading. One of my best friends is my younger sister, whose newborn croup figured significantly in the ‘bad thing’. But the 6-year-old, let’s call her Jo as her maternal grandfather did, has been subject to what is best explained by the old spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child/ a long way from home, dear Lord/ a long way from home”. (See my memoir Never Tell  at

Naturally, she has sought to attach herself to substitute mothers, and to feel equally abandoned when these people didn’t do the job. One of these has recently pointed out that I have within me the power to deal with Jo and her insatiable needs myself. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse – not that I didn’t want to.

So I began the tearful task of confronting Jo’s feelings head-on. (I have described this process.)

I thought twice a day meditations on the trauma would fix things pretty quick. On the 4th day, I felt sufficiently together to go to the grocery store. Rude awakening. Jo was so depressed I could barely concentrate. I weighed a bag of mushrooms at the self-check-out and put in the code for whole wheat dinner rolls. I tried to walk out without paying for 2 gallon jugs of spring water. The friendly helper finally decided I was just dotty not larcenous. I unloaded my groceries into the car’s trunk and sat in the driver’s seat getting a grip.

At home, I decided that little Jo needed more conversation, so I started to talk to her – in my head, I hasten to say.

Now Jo belongs to an earlier time, September 1942 to be precise – when things weren’t going well in the war. It was not at all clear that Hitler wouldn’t win and send his bad men knocking on our door even in the province of Quebec in Canada. Children knew as much about the war as the CBC was permitted to tell us while we ate our dinner at noon and we understood how dire things were because we eavesdropped on adults in the time- honoured childhood way. That’s not to mention the school propaganda campaign that had us dragging in carts of glass bottles, tin cans, newspaper and stinky leftover fat to win the war.

Moreover, we were not only poor, we were rationed. Butter, eggs, lard, sugar and even molasses, the stalwart nutrients of any poor family were hard to come by.

As a result of this background Jo burst onto the scene full of -not grief – but wonder and curiosity. I spent a whole evening explaining – in my head. Her daddy had told her about the fact that after the war, radio would have pictures. She hadn’t believed him, but seeing it was not surprising. She had seen a refrigerator in the house across the street, but could I make ice cream like our neighbour. It was an exciting evening. Jo just would not calm down. In between these lessons, I reminded her that I was a big person now and I was her mommy. I didn’t choose to watch anything scary on television, but I did have to sing three verses of Amazing Grace. She was disappointed that my voice had got old, but it improved on the third rendition.

Today, she is quieter, but I know she isn’t going to let me bury her back inside that Russian doll and I can feel her looking out of my eyes.

Who Says Words with My Mouth

Who looks out with my eyes? What is
the soul? I cannot stop asking.

If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.

I didn’t come here of my own accord,
and I can’t leave that way.

Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

Rumi trans. Coleman Barks. The Book of Love p. 57


Dark: personal response #2

After I had watched Dark with English dubbed, I decided there was a better experience to be had and learned how to set the original German with English subtitles, as I said in my previous post. Then I went to the Internet and read several blog posts about the series. I printed 18 pages from Wikipedia, including a list of characters, who they are, and plot outlines of all 18 episodes.

I began watching again, stopping frequently to check these notes to figure out, for example, how the 1986 cop, Egan Tiedemann, fit in with the others: Claudia’s father, in uniform in 1953, FYI. That lasted until I got to episode 2 when I gave in and accepted confusion. In fact, on this second run-through even in a foreign language, I began to sort things out myself. But the best advice of all is just let it wash over you. Watch it twice if you want to but accept the fact that it’s like the ebb and flow of the ocean or the inevitable cycle of repeating events depicted in the story. Incomprehensible. But fun.

I feel a certain pride because I have observed my 24-year-old grandson watching Black Mirror and other such esoteria that way.

There are a few narrative problems with the series that you will have to accept as well.

When I was a child, there was a popular country/western son which proclaimed, “I’m my own grandpa”. It detailed the convoluted mating/marriage history of the singer’s hillbilly family, not so unlike present-day convolutions of divorced and recombined contemporary families. By carefully tracing his lineage, the singer comes to this conclusion. (I myself had a great grandmother who was also my great aunt.) This relates to Charlotte Doppler’s burning question. She finally meets her father as she searches through the artifacts in her adoptive grandfather’s clock shop. Who is her mother, she demands. He assures her that her mother loves her, implying that the mother is alive. She is and actually feels very close to Charlotte, but you get a prize if you figure out who this is before the big reveal.

Then there is Jonas Kahnwald’s discovery, which puts quits to his love affair with Martha Nielson, despite the fact that they are a ‘perfect fit for each other no matter what anyone says’. But the good news is that his discovery also explains the otherwise inexplicable suicide of his father Michael.

Then there is the puzzle of how Alexander got to be a Tiedemann, when we know that Claudia is the only Tiedemann offspring and her only child is a daughter.

Of course there is the burning question of where the disappearing children and adult go and sometimes return from radically changed or altogether dead.

This brings us to the whole question of time.

Okay, so let’s suspend our disbelief and accept time machines. But FOUR different time machines! Even in 1952, someone is trying to build a transporting chair, which has deleterious effects on its test subjects, even leaving out the bad taste wallpaper on the prison bunker. Then there’s the cave, which was always problematic, but became even more so after an incident at the nuclear power plant. If you find yourself in 1921, don’t even go there. The passage isn’t ready. Then there’s the brass thingee in a wooden box, which Charlotte’s grandfather built, before he first saw it. I know. Cold compresses help. Finally, there is the GOD PARTICLE, which looks more like a hairball your cat spat up if it were possessed.

And all of the people desperately trying to traverse time have the same goal to save the one they love by, incidentally, saving the world from the apocalypse. Some of these people describe others as the White Devil or evil incarnate, and the describee returns the favour.

And who the hell is Adam? We know his disfigured visage has resulted from time travel. But how did his soul get that way? What unforgettable event warped him? Did he actually cause it himself? And how does he relate to our innocent hero, Jonas? Jonas, who’s lost his father and his girl and who’s mother was never much of a prize.

And what of Ulrich, that rascally adulterer, who hasn’t turned out to be any better at finding lost boys than Egon? Gets a little impatient with his over-worked wife and look at the karmic pit he digs for himself.

As for Mikkel, his lost son – there’s a problem getting him back to 2019 and his over-worked mother. If he returns, others will never have been.

As my Aunt Mae taught me – first rule of seers and prestidigistators: don’t try to change events that you see are going to unfold. Such a change will have repercussions, you cannot foresee.

The only way the future can be changed is by changing the inner being.

Will season 3 wise up to this?


Dark: a personal response to the Netflix series

screenshot from Dark

It has taken great self-control not to watch both seasons and all 18 episodes of Dark for a third time. First, I watched the dubbed version. (Avoid that.) Then I watched the original German version with English subtitles. Altogether a much better experience. It took me over two weeks and given my advancing years, I held out against wasting time by perennially repeating this experience.

“Time is always with us. Time sees everything”

(Yes, you can. Go to options and opt for the original German as the language and English subtitles. Don’t have options, you’ll have something like it, the same place where you can opt for closed captions. Never did that? You have a whole new world of experience to discover. You will even be able to understand The Wire afterwards.)

Initially, I couldn’t understand Dark’s complexity. (Face it, kid, ultimately you couldn’t understand it either.) It starts with the disappearance of a child in 2019. Well, no, it starts with the suicide of a 43-year-old man in 2019.

Four different families find themselves in tumult: the Kahnwalds, the Nielsons, the Dopplers and the Tiedemans. But wait, another child disappeared 33 years before in 1986. From the same family – the Nielsons. Policeman Egon was so ineffectual at solving the mystery that Ulrich Nielson, brother of the disappeared boy, has become a policeman in order to do better. Now his son is missing.

The town of Windem is set in the midst of a great evergreen forest, but rising from its centre, far from the red tile roofs of the tidy houses, is one of Germany’s first nuclear generators. Snugged up to the guarded perimeter of the plant is a cave, which all the children are warned against, so, of course, it is a child magnet.

Windem, we are told repeatedly is a town of secrets. Initially, these secrets seem to be adulterous, but then again they could be ecological or incestuous.

Why is there a door in the cave that is welded shut? What does Sic mundi creatus est mean? And, whoops, why has another and another person vanished? Who is the man dressed like a priest, lurking near the cave and chatting with children? Why does the body of a boy dressed in 1980’s clothes and dead only 16 hours suddenly appear? What is this book that keeps surfacing – Eine Reise durch die Zeit – A Journey Through Time? Could there be such a thing as time travel? Could the question be not ‘Where is Mikkel?’ but ‘When is Mikel’?

Is Charlotte Doppler, Winden’s police chief, the key to these mysteries?

Then we find ourselves back in 1986, same town, same school, same nuclear plant, same people, just younger.

So you have home work. Get well into this series because I need to keep writing about it and there will be spoilers.



House of Cards- season 2: a personal response


The best thing about the release of Season 2 of Netflix’ House of Cards is that it made this interminable northern winter more bearable for two weeks. Yes, I rationed myself. The worst thing is that it led me to lower my estimate of my IQ.

I could follow the Zoe story, the Rachel story, the Freddy story, the Adam Galloway story, even the hacker story, but the Tusk/Walker/Underwood story not so much. More than once I said to myself, “Wait, what just happened there?” Nobody else was at the same episode as I was, so the only available answers were on-line. I got Donald Blyth, chief Underwood congressional hater, mixed up with Michael Kern, Senate Whip. I didn’t figure out where that damn bridge was/was not going to built until yesterday. Over Long Island Sound?! But mostly, I couldn’t believe that a sitting president could be impeached on such flimsy grounds.

I told myself to suspend my disbelief. Shakespeare played fast and loose after all – Birnam woods coming to Dunsinane! Perhaps I don’t understand the U.S. government. True, I studied it in my senior year in high school for a whole term, but as a Canadian, I find it easier to see how a British prime minister, in a parliamentary system, can be put out of office by a vote of non-confidence. (See U.K. House of Cards by Michael Dobbs, adapted by Andrew Davis) Really, I felt I needed a flow chart to figure out which side of Xander Feng Underwood was on this week. Tusk would automatically fall on the other side. In the end, of course, Xander, sexual proclivities and all, found himself on the altogether wrong side.

Still is it believable I kept asking myself that Walker can be impeached? He knows absolutely nothing about Feng’s money being laundered through the First Nation Casino into Democrat coffers. When Tusk breaks his silence at the congressional hearing, he lies. That Senator Kern would rather see the president impeached than face a Democratic minority, I couldn’t believe either. And Walker’s approval rate sinks to single digits, lower than Nixon’s. Whoa, those Americans can sure get riled up over a little incomprehensible financial hanky-panky. And possible Xanex!?

But, really, I didn’t care I was so sick of Garret Walker! He was so naive, such a git. How is that possible to rise to the highest office in the world and be so un-calculating? For a brief moment, he actually has Underwood’s measure and freezes him out, but then Frank “cuts out his heart and hands it to him” in a letter typed on an -wait for it- Underwood typewriter. At that point when Walker welcomed Frank back, I didn’t care that he was being railroaded He was in Kevin Yeoman’s words ( ) “the most feckless, susceptible individual on television today”. He needed to be put down.

I can see the illogic of this opinion. Shouldn’t I be blaming inept writing?

Some of the best writing was in Season 2, episode 1, which packed a real wallop. Even for me and I had been expecting it, having seen the U.K. version. It was brutal enough, but Francis Urquhart push for self-protection did not involve such sudden, noisy violence. And Mattie in the British show had a creepier relationship with Urquhart. Zoe was more likeable, more of a warrior, a worthier opponent. Indeed with her gone the game got less interesting. Lucas is less self-assured, more easily outwitted. (Lucas, don’t fall for random internet invitations!) As devious as Tusk can be and as powerful as he is -turning off the power and plunging Camden Yards into darkness just as Frank is about to throw out the first pitch – he doesn’t hold up.

Jackie Sharp, a military hero, whom Frank has chosen to take over his old position of Democratic Whip now that he is vice president, is a strong woman who makes up for the loss of Zoe. I predict that she will continue developing into worthy opponent for Frank, just as devious, but possibly slightly more principled.

Doug Stemper’s fate didn’t surprise me either, although it’s manner did. The U.K. version was filmed during the ongoing IRA crisis, so the odd, extra car explosion involving a Chief of Staff was taken as par for the course. As I remember it, I didn’t care much that such an evil manipulator had met his end, but this Doug Stemper had been turning into a human being, albeit, a creepy one. He had fallen in love with Rachel and loved to have her read to him. But you can only drive a person so far. Rachel leaps out at a stop light and flees into the woods where Doug, like Augustus Underwood in days of yore, finds himself a goner.

The British House of Cards dealt with political problems as they emerged, including the effects of Conservative politics, increasing marginalization of the working classes, homelessness, civil unrest. Indeed production came to a standstill when Margaret Thatcher resigned. Fiscal debate and uncompromising party lines bring Walker’s government to a standstill. White powder in the mail causes a lockdown, trapping Frank in the Capital. But these events don’t seem as raw as the U.K. version, perhaps because each of its seasons was shorter and real people, more clearly referenced.

The American series had good currency this week when a general faced charges of sexual abuse. Claire Underwood reveals in a television interview that she was raped by a man who is now a general. She works to pass a bill providing civilian oversight in such cases. It is possible that this is actually well-intended and not just another manuoevre. In the end, that turns sour and with a witness attempting suicide and Claire sitting at the bottom of the stairs, crying in genuine regret.

She doesn’t show much regret when she throws her former lover, Adam Galloway, under the bus. And talk about creepy – she has a thing for Meechum, the security guy. And not only that… Well, I wondered how the Underwoods were going to resolve their wandering ways, given the tight security around them now.

So what’s to come in Season 3? No more early morning ribs at Freddy’s. Freddy, like Galloway had to be sacrificed. Like Claire’s brief dream of a child. Like her brief excursion into humanity. All in the name of ambition. So Frank Underwood is president, what lies in wait for him? Or who?

Jackie Sharpe: Remy Danton; Rachel Posner who knows too much about Russo; Tom Hammerscmidt  and Ayla Sayyad, investigative reporters; Gavin Orsay, hacker; Linda Vasquez, former presidential chief of staff: Heather Dunbar, special prosecutor? All of the above? And what about Claire? is she actually the more villainous of the duo? To those wondering if there will be a season 4, I recommend season 3 of the U.K. series.

Macbeth and his lady wife rose to the top in their murderous ambition, but they were doomed to fail. Birnam Woods did come to Dunsinane.

Macbeth and Walter White: the death of the tragic hero

This post is about the conclusion of Breaking Bad and contains spoilers.

A tragedy such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth has to end with insight for the tragic hero and catharsis for the audience. The last episode of Breaking Bad broadcast on Sunday, September 29th had both. As a result, it left its viewers stunned but satisfied.

Macbeth realized how futile his murderous efforts to seize power had been when his beloved wife and partner went mad and killed herself. He had already concluded that his power had been paid for with loss of friendship and respect:

And that which should accompany old age,
As honour troops of friends,
I must not look to have, but in their stead
Curses, not loud but deep,

After Lady Macbeth’s death, his despair deepened:

Out, out brief candle,Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is seen no more.

Nevertheless, he whales into battle, vowing “At least we’ll die with harness on our back”. He refuses to “play the Roman fool” and fall upon his sword when it is obvious that he will lose the battle. “Lay on, Macduff, and damned be he who first cries ‘Hold, enough’.  Exeunt fighting. The next sight we have of Macbeth is his severed head, flaunted by Macduff.

He became an awful man and we are truly glad he is dead, but we are also sad and shocked by his catastrophe. Pity and fear have washed us clean.

Walter White was of the same sort of heroic stature.

His insight is clear when he confronts his wife Skylar in her downmarket accommodations. When he begins to talk about why he did it all, she says, “I don’t want to hear you say you did it for the family once more.” He continues, “I did it for myself. It made me feel alive.”

He has already arranged for his few remaining millions to be transferred to his son in trust on his 18th birthday, ostensibly from his wealthy ex- business partner and philanthropist. He sets out to rid the world of Lydia, who now owns his meth business – ricin in her stevia, Todd, Uncle Jack and his gang, in the process freeing Jesse from enslavement. He does not take revenge on Jesse when he has the opportunity nor does he force Jesse to shot him. He even acknowledges that he wants to die.

We see him in the meth lab, caressing a piece of apparatus – he loved what he achieved, 97% pure blue crystal meth. He was a brilliant chemist. Only then does he realize he has been shot – in the right lung. He falls to the floor of the lab. From high above, we see the police enter and stream around his body as the Badfinger lovingly sings, “It’s all over now, Baby Blue”.

Insight and catharsis! Like chemistry, tragedy is all about transformation.

See also

House of Cards × 2: U.S. and U.K. (spoilers)

H of Cards title cardNow that you have spent 25 irretrievable hours of your life watching both the U.S. and the U.K. version of House of Cards let us consider who is more ruthless Francis Urquhart or Frank Underwood. Urquhart begins as Conservative Whip in the British House of Parliament and moves on to Prime Minister. Frank Underwood, Democratic Majority Whip in Congress, ends season 1 as potentially vice president of the United States.

What is not in doubt is that House of Cards has been a phenomenal streaming success. Netflix which produced the U.S. version of the political thriller, House of Cards, now has 29 million subscribers, 7 million of them international and has posted earnings of 1 billion dollars in the first quarter of 2013. Apparently the dire warnings of reviewers that releasing all 13 episodes at once was a reckless $100 million gamble were greatly exaggerated. Moreover, many viewers, like me, steamed through the U.S. series and immediately began watching the U.K. version.

If you look at reviews comparing the 2 productions, you will come across those that say, for example, that the U.K. version, although 20 years older, is “faster, leaner, tighter and a far more rewarding watching experience” ( Indeed I had read that opinion several times before I began watching either and mindlessly parroted it. But comparison is not that simple.

Francis Underwood had me at the get-go. It could have just been Kevin Spacey in high definition and close-up. He exuded vitality and sex appeal. He seemed like such a sincere fellow and the newly elected president, Garrett Walker, had done him wrong. Walker had promised Frank the position of Secretary of State, but once he no longer needed Frank’s support, he broke that promise. Underwood and his high profile wife, Claire settled in for long sleepless nights plotting their revenge. I was with them all the way in episode 1. Little did I know…

Thirteen episodes and 7 days later, I tuned in to the U.K. version with Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart. Wait a minute!  This Francis is cold, bloodless and decidedly not hi-def. He speaks with a posh accent in an arch almost campy style. It took 2 or 3 episodes for me to get over that reaction, but the story itself and the assurance from others that Richardson was a great actor kept me at it. They cited Richardson’s charm. Although Spacey was called more menacing, his southern charm – Underwood is the representative from South Carolina – and old-fashioned courtesy was also noted.

Michael Dobbs, who wrote the books on which the British version is based, called the American version, written by Beau Willimon, “much darker”. He must be referring to the mood, for Urquhart has a higher body count.

The U.S. show has had one season of 13 episodes at this point, while the U.K. show had 3 seasons of 4 episodes each. A second season is planned for Spacey’s production, so conclusions now are only provisional.

Certain similarities are obvious. Both are stories of Machiavellian leaders intent on revenging a political slight and rising to the top. Both shows reference Shakespeare’s Macbeth, although Richardson’s more directly. He frequently quotes from that play, but he has none of Macbeth’s initial ambivalence. He jumps right into the bloody fray and says, “I am in blood stepped in so deep..” without apology or regret. Both have wives worthy of Lady Macbeth. Both break the fourth wall, peer into the camera and address the audience directly. We are never in doubt about their opinions and overall intention, although we may be misled about specifics.

Yet the stories are different. Well, they would have to be. The British show is about the parliamentary system, in which the prime minister is the leader of either the Conservative Party or Labour Party, chosen by party members before an election is called and elected by only one riding. The prime minister then chooses his cabinet, appointing a minister for each portfolio. The president of the United States,  having been chosen as leader of either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, is of course elected to that position by voters nation-wide, . Once elected, he is secure in his position, but the British prime minister can lose the position in a non-confidence vote over a budget or other important bill. In that case, an election has to be called even though the term is not up, unless another leader is chosen who can rally the vote in the House. On the other hand, a president can continue in office in such a case although it is a tough slog as we have seen lately. Both, however, have the position of party whip, the House leader charged with ensuring that party members vote in support of party policy. Both Francises begin as majority whips, Urquhart for the Tory or Conservative Party and Underwood for the Democrats.

The U.K. series was first broadcast in 1990 and begins with Margaret Thatcher’s  fictional successor, Henry Collingridge winning an election and then betraying his chief whip by passing him over for Foreign Secretary.  Two days after the first episode aired, Thatcher resigned. John Major took over as party leader and prime minister. Campaigning for the now necessary election -in the middle of a recession – was suspended  ( in order to watch episode 2.

The U.K. series strikes me as extremely exciting because of its topicality. It did not, of course, cause the Iron Lady to resign after 4228 days in office. That was forced upon her by her own party, which was as fed up with her increasing despotism as the working class was with her crushing reforms. In the course of 3 seasons of 4 episodes each, the despair of the disenfranchised poor becomes one of the main themes. We see the bonfires of the homeless as they huddle for warmth. We also visit the palace and meet the new king, played by Michael Kitchen, who seems to share many of Prince Charles’s preoccupations. In this alternate future, Queen Elizabeth has passed on. But some things seem familiar. There is, for example, a beautiful blonde princess who has charge of the heir to the throne and a “fat princess”, a decidedly sportive red head. Viewers in 1993 (season 2) and 1995 (season 3) would have had no doubt who these characters were modeled on.

The U.S. production is not as specifically scandalous perhaps, but it does tackle current issues in government such as the influence of lobbyists for big business. Remy Danton, who lobbys for petrochemical interests, turns out to be an unlikely comrade-in-arms for Claire Underwood and her Clean Water Initiative.

It also updates media influence. In London, Mattie Stornin is a reporter for the right leaning tabloid, the Chronicle. She does have computer access, but certainly not to the wealth of information that Zoe Barnes, in Washington in 2012, has at her command. Nor does she have a mobile phone, although another character has a wired-in car phone. Mattie cannot easily switch gears and go to work for an internet news blog called Slugline as Zoe does. News happens in an instant in 2012. Reaction via Twitter, ditto.

Claire Underwood is the more prominent of the two wives as director of the not-for-profit Clean Water Initiative. Elizabeth Urquhart is less of a figure in her own right, but gains power as time moves on. Both readily approve of their husbands embarking on affairs in pursuit of their goals and expect the same in leniency in return. Frank and Claire frequently ask each other, “How can I help?” Initially at least, the Urquharts and the Underwoods are at one with their spouses.

Both stories have a Stamper, chief adviser, confidante and co-conspirator, ready to implement even the most devious of plans. Both have trusted security men to do their bidding although the British Corda plays a more important part, particularly in the final solution to Urquhart’s problems at the end of the series.

Both have a cocaine and alcohol addicted stooge -M.P. Roger O’Neill and Rep. Peter Russo- whose weakness is exploited, who do their master’s bidding and meet their deaths and not at arm’s length either. Both Francises are willing to be hands on.

The love affairs are different in that Urquhart tells us that he really did love Mattie even though he was using her newspaper pieces to further his plans. He is haunted by her. Frank Underwood does not seem capable of love but does show us he is capable of brutality in his treatment of Zoe. Zoe is not the soft, unworldly creature that Mattie is and she has the advantage of still being alive at the end of season 1. Creepily, Mattie calls Urquhart ‘daddy’. Indeed it is the very last thing she ever says.

One advantage of 1990 London is that the IRA is still blowing things up, so an extra car bomb here and there gets blamed on them. No one even suspects they are inside jobs, inside the P.M.’s office, that is.

Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards is incredibly rich. Even the titles, time-lapse photos of Washington throughout a day, are a pleasure to watch, all 13 times. There are grace notes like Freddy’s BBQ where Frank retreats to indulge his taste for ribs, Adam Galloway’s artist’s NYC loft where Claire takes refuge; the abandoned library at Frank’s old school, the Citadel; the S.C. town of Gaffney complete with peach- (or bum) shaped water tower. There is time for meandering through the woods, however irritably, or running through graveyards.

On Thatcher Day, the 4228th day Urquhart holds the office of prime minister, Elizabeth Urquhart assures her husband that Corda knows how to preserve his legacy in spite of recent disasters. Oh, good grief, Francis, parse that sentence before you agree. Or does he know somewhere in his benighted soul exactly what is about to happen?

So what will happen next season in the U.S. series? Will Frank’s body count match Francis Urquhart’s. Will Zoe, her Chronicle boyfriend, and her pal at Slugline uncover Frank’s machinations? They are well on their way. And surely Frank doesn’t really want to be V.P. The job bored even the boring Jim Matthews out of his mind. Isn’t it likely he has a “grassy knoll” plot waiting in the wings?

It looks as if judgement as to which Francis is more ruthless will have to be postponed.

Downton Abbey and Spoilers

I never mind finding out the ending of a book I am reading or a series I am watching. Doing so takes the pressure off. I can relax and enjoy the journey. If you do mind, take note that while there are no explicit spoilers here, beyond the discussion of events in the episode broadcast by PBS on Sun. Jan. 27, 2013, there are hints.

The third season of Downton Abbey, which many of us are watching on PBS on Sunday evenings, included in its British run a Christmas Day special that elicited cries of outrage. People declared it had ruined their Christmas. Julian Fellowes, the series creator, took most of the heat, but really he wasn’t to blame. He can only working with actors that are available to him and within the logic of the plot so far.

I had heard a rumour that an important actor was quitting, but I had ignored it, until last Sunday’s episode in which Lady Sibyl died in childbirth. I began digging around on-line and, among tearful comments about Sibyl’s all-to-realistic death from eclampsia, I chanced upon the December news from Britain. Clearly, we do not like to have our favourite characters cut down before our eyes. Our response in this case has been to grieve. I wonder if North Americans will be as angered as the British by the remaining episodes (two, #6- 2 hrs long and #7-90 min. long, ending on Feb. 17).

The ruling class is in decline in England in 1921. The war has made inroads into the capital of the wealthy and made the people, who fought and won the war, less accepting of that  power. The sheer boneheadedness of that patriarchal system is apparent when Lord Grantham, Sibyl’s father, insists on employing a noted obstetrician from London instead of local Dr. Clarkson. It is Dr. Clarkson, who has known Sibyl all her life and knows, for example, that she has not always had fat ankles, who sounds the alarm that Sibyl is in trouble and needs a caesarean section. Grantham convinces Sibyl’s husband that the noted and knighted specialist is right. And, at first, after a baby girl has been successfully delivered, it seems so. Unfortunately Sibyl starts to have seizures, as Dr. Clarkson predicted she would. By the end of the episode, Grantham has been exiled to the dressing room by his wife and it seems unlikely, he will that he will ever get back into Lady Grantham’s bed.

Meanwhile, his son-in-law Matthew, whose money has saved Downton Abbey is about to tackle Grantham about his mismanagement of the estate. In short, the old power structure is beginning to crumble. Patriarchy is doomed.

Only a few of the great houses survived that second excursion into democracy, World War II. It and the subsequent heavy taxation of the wealthy ended them. They became residential schools or eventually found themselves in the hands of wealthy Americans. A few of them like Chatsworth survived because the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire turned it into a tourist attraction.

Baron Fellowes of West Stafford is a life peer and, therefore, a member of the British House of Lords. His wife is Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Michael of Kent. He knew Highclere Castle, the house where Downton Abbey is filmed because he had been a frequent house guest there. Highclere, itself, needs the tourist dollars of Downton Abbey fans to keep going. It seems likely that it will continue to be in the public eye for another one or two seasons at least.

Macmeth: Walter White begins his tragic fall

“Macmeth” turned up as a search word used to get to my blog, so I decided to put it into Google myself. There I found a series of short videos posted on Youtube, beginning with the 3 witches in a decidedly un-90%-pure lab, said witches sporting southern drawls and declaiming really bad lines. On a later post, we were told these scenes were intentionally bad. Wise disclaimer. I once had a grade 11 class that did a Jamaician Macbeth, which was really funny and also referenced illegal substances. Alas, we were living in the dark ages then and it didn’t make it to Youtube.

Here you are if you are interested:

This post is a follow-up to my previous post, “Walter White: A Macbeth for our time” in which I looked at the protagonist of Breaking Bad and compared him to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Now to get back to Walter White. SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched Sunday, Sept 2nd’s show, turn back, turn back!

Unless like me, knowing the ending just adds to your pleasure. Yes, I read the end of novels first, even sometimes mysteries. So you see I am in a unique position: I understand the pure evil that lurks in the human heart: evil bad enough to read endings first.

It was Tuesday morning before I could sit down to watch. I had had my admin assistant (Joyce) clear my calendar. Then I had the cook (Joyce again) prepare me a light lunch and serve it to me (Guess who? Joyce) in front of the television set. It takes a lot of person-power to keep the renowned critic going. I wasn’t unprepared, my sister, Georgia took time out of her birthday celebration to describe the entire plot of “Gliding Over All”, the final episode in this half of season five, the last season.

Look at the reviews and you will see that people are seriously ticked off at Walter. He didn’t actually shoot the kid on the dirt bike in the desert, who saw them robbing the train of thousands of gallons of the meth precursor. That was trigger-happy Todd. And it is possible that if the child had been allowed to live, he wouldn’t have caused a problem. After that, Jesse had a breakdown and refused to continue as Walt’s assistant cooker. Mike, who was in charge of distributing, also opted out, but, alas, Hank, Walt’s DEA brother-in-law, seized Mike’s money. When Mike sought to flee, he didn’t get far. Walt suddenly shot him in the stomach and he died sitting on a river bank, saying, “Let me die in peace”.

By now Walt has not only contributed to the inevitable decline of all his blue meth users, he has had Jesse kill his rival Gale Boetticher, he has poisoned a child with Lily-of-the-valley, he has arranged for a paralyzed pensioner to blow himself up taking his archenemy Fring with him, blown up Fring’s state of the art meth lab -complete with eyewash stations and safety equipment, robbed a train, allowed the boy’s murder, shot Mike and in this episode, arranges for the murder of 9 of Mike’s crew and their lawyer.

How does that stack up against Macbeth? Well, he began by carving up his king who was his cousin, who had honoured him lately with a new title and who was a guest in Glamis, Macbeth’s castle. He went on to eliminate his friend and fellow officer, Banquo, but failed to kill Banquo’s son, Fleance. He attacked Macduff’s castle and finding that Macduff had fled to England, made do by murdering Lady Macduff and their children. Meanwhile he ran the country into the ground. The people turned against the once popular general and a great military force was being marshalled to invade Scotland.

Is Macbeth worried? No. For the three witches have promised that no man born of woman could kill him and that he will reign until Birnam Woods shall come to Dunsinane. He hadn’t apparently heard of Caesarean birth, although Macduff had and even those who never read the play can figure out how a woods can move. By then Macbeth is grief-stricken over his lady’s suicide. He’s has had enough. He cries, “Lay on Macduff and damned be he who first cries hold, enough!”

I have been known to cry that myself.

So what of Walter White? Certainly he is a tragic hero about to meet his downfall. There is speculation that his cancer has come back. After his MRI he looks at the towel holder in the washroom that still bears the imprint of his fist, but he is completely controlled. Something is going to knock him off his prideful perch. The cancer? Some disaster relating to a child of his? Some machination of Lydia who thinks she has a deal that he will supply the Czechs with his great product? How can he in fact step back out of the meth business?

And then there is Hank who has discovered an inscription in a book in Walt’s bathroom, a book of Walt Whitman’s poems, that leads him to remember the “W.W” in Gale Boetticher’s notebook and what Walt said about it. Whatever else happens in next summer’s season, Hank will have to pursue Walter, without somehow bringing himself down in the process.

Ah, those were simpler times, back in Macbeth’s day. Evil comes in more shades now, not those 50 shades of gray, but black and ever blacker.

The worst downfall might be that Walter gets to live with what he has done.

Walter White, a Macbeth for our time

I’m on the point of cancelling a week at a cottage. So far my satellite company has not posted Sunday’s schedule and I can’t set my TIVO/PVR to record Breaking Bad. I am supposed to leave tomorrow morning, but how can I go away and leave Jesse at the mercy of an ever-worsening Walt?

I know. I’m deranged. That’s what comes of watching Season 4 in its entirety and the first  4 episodes of Season 5 in 4 days.

I’m catching up. I saw only an episode here and there in the first 3 seasons, but when Season 5, episode 1 proved incomprehensible -what happened to Ted and why is it Skylar’s fault? how did Walt blow up the meth lab? what happened to the little kid?- I decided to back track to season 4. By a miracle, I actually found Big Daddy Video up on Dundas St., next door to a shuttered Blockbuster. (I haven’t made the jump to an Apple box and Netflix obviously.) There was a flaw in my plan, of course, because there were things I didn’t get about the beginning of Season 4 because I hadn’t seen Season 3. Never mind.

What I want to say is that Walt is a latter day Macbeth, a good, highly competent person who makes a choice to go over to the dark side.

Macbeth is the charismatic leader of King Duncan’s army and has just successfully defeated a rebellion against the old king. The throne of Scotland is not strictly hereditary, Duncan’s son is young and inexperienced and if Macbeth had not been so impatient, he might well have become king without resorting to violence. In addition, he has the three wryd sisters plotting to make him the devil’s agent and his social-climbing wife calling him a coward if he does not take the knife to Duncan, his cousin and a guest in his castle.

Walt has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, has lost his job as a high school chemistry teacher and, therefore, has no medical insurance. He has a teenaged son with physical disabilities and, at this point, a new-born daughter. Knowing he is going to die sooner rather than later, he wants to provide for them and what better way than to become the cook of the purest methamphetamine possible.

Walt’s wife Skylar is not instrumental in pushing Walt into a life of crime. Initially, he keeps it a secret from her. But by Season 4, she is in on the act and is laundering the money, always cash of course that he is making. And she is making decisions that are equally questionable.

Macbeth has a good friend in Banquo, who is almost his equal in Duncan’s army, just as Walt has his former student, Jesse, almost his equal as a chemical genius. Banquo and Jesse enable an exploration of the theme of loyalty, although Banquo doesn’t survive until Act 5 as Jesses has.

Duncan, the good, mild old king has a polar opposite in Gus, the cold, meticulous target of Walt’s homicidal urge.

At first after the initial murder, Macbeth’s true nature asserts itself and he is appalled by what he has done. Lady Macbeth imagines that she is not so lily-livered and goes back to the murder scene to plant the knives on the drunken guards. After that, Macbeth grows in evil, committing or commissioning murder after murder, reaching his lowest point when he has children slaughtered.

Surely, you say, Walt would not stoop to that. Watch Season 4 very carefully. And what about all those meth heads that hung out at Jesse’s?

Walt’s brother-in-law, Hank, the DEA agent takes the role of nemesis, the agent of justice, and has only narrowly failed to catch the cook of pure meth, nicknamed Heisenberg. Macbeth’s nemesis is Macduff, he who lost “all his little ones”.

The trouble for viewers is that they actually want the hero (protagonist is just such a long word) to succeed. At least at first. And what does that say about us?

True most people have gone off  Macbeth by the time Banquo’s ghost crashes the banquet, although we may falter momentarily when Lady Mac, who was not so tough after all, kills herself. “My way of life is fallen into the sere and yellow leaf….” By the end, Macbeth is dead as he should be, a truly tragic figure for he could have been so much more.

Walt is getting nastier and nastier and more remote from human relationships. Even Skylar is afraid of him. Without a doubt, the second half of Season 5 when it arrives next year, will bring us Walt’s demise as well. Will we still be cheering for him?

Hey, I just remembered. The cottage gets the same satellite service as this place does. I’ll just have to arm wrestle the remote away from the other 10 people staying there.