Category Archives: pop culture

My prediction for _Twin Peaks_ Season 3, Episode 18

OK, here’s what we know (SPOILERS)
1) The Black Lodge and the White Lodge are presumably Hell and Heaven, respectively, though the show has left room for the interpretation that they’re parallel universes/other worlds.  The “Twin Peaks” (Blue Pine Mountain and White Tail Mountain) are a particular nexus, and each has a portal to one of the Lodges.
2) Fire/Electricity is a means of opening dimensional gates.
3) Whether because of the moral atrocity, the immense power, or both, the invention of the atomic bomb opened up apparently lots of random portals in different parts of the world, and the Black Lodge released its spirits on the world.  Though MIKE suggests that BOB is Satan himself in early season 2, in season 3, episode 8, we see BOB being unleashed by some evil mother spirit in response to Los Alamos.
4) The White Lodge, seeing BOB released, releases a spirit into the world, which looks like Laura Palmer.
5) The claims of disappearances, abductions, alien encounters, etc., in the 1950s and later, as well as rises in violent crime, are attributed to these portals in random places and to these spirits walking the earth, sometimes by possessing human hosts and sometimes through physical clones/dopplegangers.  Electricity/Fire/Heat/the Smell of burning are associated with the transportation of Lodge spirits.
6) Project Blue Book led to the government’s awareness of the Lodges.  Some, like Maj. Briggs, thought the goal was to achieve enlightenment, but the real goal was to tap into their power.
7) Over time, the FBI joined in on Project Blue Book, and after the first case of a doppleganger–encountered by the young Agent Gordon Cole–who called herself a “Blue Rose” (something not found in nature) cases that touched on the Lodges or their inhabitants were called “Blue Rose” cases.
8) Of the FBI agents involved in Blue Book/Blue Rose, every one that encountered the Black Lodge turned evil and/or disappeared–Windom Earle turned evil.  Chet Desmond disappeared and was never heard from again.  Philip Jeffries disappeared, reappeared briefly, then apparently became or was replaced by some kind of important figure in the Black Lodge.  Dale Cooper went in the Lodge, was replaced by BOB in a Doppleganger, then after apparently raping Audrey Horne and the paying a visit to Maj. Briggs (who himself disappeared in a mysterious fire the next day), “disappeared,” but in his case just went off the grid and became a crime boss known as “Mr. C.”  Only Gordon Cole and Albert Rosenfield remain.
9) For some reason, BOB was supposed to inhabit Cooper’s body for 25 years and then return to the Lodge.  He decided he liked being  “Mr. C.” however and created another doppleganger, named “Dougie Jones,” placing him in Las Vegas.  Dougie appeared in Las Vegas in the late 90s as an amnesiac who’d recently been in an accident, and apparently would have periodic bouts of odd behavior.  He got a job as an insurance salesman, and met and married Janey-E, who is also the estranged sister of Cooper’s former assistant, Diane.  Dougie was the Jekyll to Mr. C’s Hyde, per the _Once Upon a Time_ approach to the characters, essentially representing not so much Cooper’s goodness as his weaknesses.  So  Dougie was a “nice guy” but a gambler and adulterer who indulges in coffee and sweets.  When Cooper is released, instead of his own body, he gets Dougie’s body.  Somehow this puts him a state of amnesia, and everyone who knows Dougie takes it as another of Dougie’s spells.
10) Mr. C’s plan is to have Dougie killed, but his agents keep failing/getting the wrong man.
11) The original plan for Season 3, had it aired 1991-92, was to have Sheryl Lee return as a third character, this time a redhead.
12) In Fire Walk With Me we learn that BOB had intended to possess Laura, not kill her, because his time in Leland was running out.  Ronette Pulaski was supposed to be killed but prayed to God for mercy, got rescued by a pair of angels, and then fled into the woods, so BOB killed Laura.
13) Maddy speaks of how she always felt that she and Laura had some kind of bond.
Conclusion: just as there are three “Coopers,” the “real” Dale Cooper, Dougie and Mr. C., there are three “Laura’s”: Laura, Maddy and the Redhead.  Just as Mr. C. doesn’t want to go back to the Lodge, and like the woman in Gordon’s early case, the “Laura” who died on February 24, 1989, was a “Blue Rose.”  Somehow, in returning the “Real” Dale Cooper, the “real” Laura Palmer will also be returned, with possibly the “real” Leland as well.

_The Good Place_: “It’s All In Plato” and “These People Need Jesus.”

We have a saying in our house when TV shows get too morally or ontologically problematic: “These people need Jesus.”
C. S. Lewis says several places, himself following Chesterton, that everyone who thinks they’re saying something new is really saying something that one of the classical or medieval philosophers already said.  (snippet unfinished by John)

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Symbols mean things

I’m a big supporter for formalism/”New Criticism.”  I always forget who said which, but often, when writers are asked what things in their books “mean,” they say things like, “I wrote a poem, not a puzzle,” (pretty sure that’s TS Eliot) or “If I wanted to write an essay, I’d write an essay.  I wrote a story” (Flannery O’Connor, paraphrased).
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A Patient Reacts to Medical Dramas.

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This is me, 2 months after aortic graft surgery with complications, in 2013.

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A patient in recovery on _House_.

There must be some kind of HIPAA for TV patients because after numerous search combinations I can’t find many pictures of TV patients in recovery from surgery, but we’ve all seen them: awake and talking hours after a complex surgery, with maybe a fake ID or a basic oxygen cannula or a bandage or two.  No blood or other fluids oozing all over the place.

I don’t watch a lot of medical shows.  I like House and I like The Good Doctor and a few others that are more dramas that happen to be about doctors than they are “medical shows.”  Usually, when surgery is depicted on TV, it’s either so graphic it causes me PTSD  or it’s so unrealistically “clean” it’s frustrating.
The season 2 premiere of The Good Doctor features a patient  who needs a “piggyback” heart transplant, a procedure that has been around since 2004.  The episode frustrated me so much I wanted to see if anyone wrote about it, and I discovered a couple YouTube shows where doctors review medical dramas or sitcoms.  Then I looked to see if there was an equivalent series for patients, and there is none. Since I can only speak above a whisper, and since I don’t know how to do all the fancy effects of a YouTube channel, I decided to do it as a blog post.

So, the Good Doctor episode: they’re getting ready for this surgery and discover a massive aortic aneurysm that they somehow never picked up on previous tests.  A dissection would be believable.  But an aneurysm?  Then they refer to a “teflon” graft–aortic grafts are made of Dacron, which contains teflon, but I have never heard a doctor say “teflon” graft.  Then they act like the aortic graft is what’s “risky,” and not this heart procedure.  I have had an aortic “teflon” graft that goes “all the way to my heart” for 22 years.  It’s nothing new.  Also, IRL if they discovered such a potential complication, they would do two separate procedures.  When I had the surgeries in the picture above, they first grafted from my left carotid to my left subclavian.  Then, a week later, they grafted my descending aorta.   Then I had some kind of surgery about once a week for a month and a half.  Were it a  TV show, it would be all done in less than a week, and I’d have left the hospital happy and smiling, instead of barely functional after 3 months.

To wit, medical dramas are their best when major characters are patients and their care is actually shown in a realistic timeline with realistic reactions and complications.

Non-medical shows are just as bad: character has some health crisis and it’s all resolved in an episode or two: no long term scars or broken bones that never quite heal right–unless the storyline is to account for an actor’s real life health issues.

Every time I look in the mirror I see the scars.  If I look at my hands closely enough I can see the scars from various long term IVs from hospitalizations.

You never see that on TV.

Then there was this week’s Good DoctorShaun tells his supervisor, Dr. Melendez, that he thinks the janitor has pancreatic cancer because of acid reflux, jaundice and some other symptom.  Melendez walks by the janitor and agrees.  They do a “full workup,” whatever that means.  In less than a day, they’ve given him all sorts of tests, “on the hospital’s dime,” and sure enough he has cancer, and they do a surgery, and well, in this case he dies but you know the drill.  Either the patient dies and there’s some kind of ethical debate or life lesson for the major characters, or else the patient lives and (see above).

Real life: doctor sees a lump on your foot.  Combined with other symptoms, he thinks it might be cancerous.  He’s pretty sure it’s just a bone spur but wants to be sure.  So he orders an X-Ray.  That doesn’t  settle it, so he orders an MRI.  This whole process takes nearly a month, not a few hours.  MRI thankfully confirms bone spur, but after a month of worry you now have to deal with the fact that your insurance company has denied the MRI.

Doctor show: patient goes to the ER with a cough.  “I think you might be having an [insert “zebra” diagnosis here] because you have all these other symptoms you didn’t mention.”

Real Life: patient goes to the ER with, say, Marfan syndrome, multiple grafts and an abdominal aneurysm, and sharp pain in chest and back. He tells them that it has to be really bad for him to show up at all, that he’s having this pain in spite of high doses of pain medication, anti-gas meds, antacids, etc., and that he just wants a CT and an echo to make sure everything’s functioning properly.  He even tries to hand them a signed ER plan which they hand back to him.

Instead, I sat in the ER waiting room for 5 hours, surrounded by people coughing and hacking, later heard one of the people at the triage desk say, “We have to clear out all these Class C” people and looks up what that means, and found out it’s basically the ER term for hypochondriacs.  While I had been sitting there, they gave me an EKG and chest X-Ray, both of which I know are useless in showing whether anything is dissected or leaking, and both of which were “normal” when I had my actual aortic dissection.

Having arrived around 7 PM, I finally got into room, way in the back, at 11:45.  A nurse came in and I explained why I was there and handed her my sheet.  She looked at it, asked if she could keep it, and I said, “Yes, that’s why I brought multiple copies.”  She said she’d enter it into my chart (I had updated information from another hospital).  [A week later, when I went to see my regular doctor’s office at that hospital for a scheduled test, they did not have the updated information].
She ended her shift, and I went through the same routine with another nurse, and he was impressed I wrote the care plan myself.  The usual sequence of increasingly ranked doctors came in, and the highest ranked one actually seemed to be concerned that they’d made me wait this long. Then he finally ordered the CT which my wife had been assured over the phone around 9 PM that they had already ordered.
It was, of course, “stable,” though I know from experience that “ER stable” could mean a mm or more of growth in my aneurysm, which is the change my surgeon said would make it time for my next surgery.

TV Drama: Person has a dizzy spell.  Someone calls 911.  The hospital admits the patient till they know exactly what caused the dizzy spell.  Wants to know entire history.  House gets mad patient didn’t mention a dizzy spell in 1984, or sends his residents to break into the patient’s house to find information the patient might not have shared.

RL, Different Hospital: I lost my memory briefly.  I have a history of neurological complications of Marfan syndrome, including 2 or more venous ectasias (essentially brain aneurysms but supposedly they won’t burst), and potential dural ectasia and CSF problems but I can’t have the tests to formally diagnose them so when I have symptoms of a CSF leak I just confine myself to bed rest till I feel better.

My whole life I’ve had dizzy spells, loss of feeling in my legs, slurred speech, “migraines,” etc.  Some of that is explained by either or both of those conditions.  Usually, I’ve only gone to the ER when other people were concerned enough to insist on it, like when I’d nearly pass out in the hallway in high school.  I hate ERs because I know the’re pretty much useless.

For the past couple years, I’ve been getting migraines with audio aura, or something like waking dreams. It’s hard to explain, but I would feel woozy then get a sense of deja vu or nostalgia or whatever, feel like I was remembering something but not quite sure, and if I tried to focus on that, it would just get worse and worse, with this cacophony of noise in my head.  Usually, an aspirin or a nap would wipe it out.

In June, I started having such an experience and went back to my room.  My wife sent one of the kids back to check on me and I didn’t know who or where I was (from my perspective, I thought I’d slept for hours and just woken up).  They asked me all sorts of questions.  I  remember the experience but I remember “knowing” but being horribly confused and just unable to get the words to my mouth.

So they called 911.  I took the ambulance to the hospital, and felt better by the time I got there.  They did some meaningless tests, diagnosed me with “migraine,” and sent me home.

A month to the day later, it happened again, only this time I didn’t make it to the bed.  I feel and lost consciousness on the bedroom floor.  My wife had recently done an online CPR class and had the kids watch it with her.  Our 11 year old said, “Dad’s having a seizure!”

Called 911.  I woke up surrounded by EMTs.  They took me to the ER.  Yes, I was having a seizure, spent most of the night in the ER, but they didn’t admit me.  For once, I don’t remember a lot of details about what happened next, but I came home, and the next night my wife woke up to me seizing in my sleep.  She called again.  This time, she insisted they admit me.  The neurologist on duty was a cerebrovascular neurologist I’d seen before about my venous ectasias.  The first neurology resident was OK but the supervising resident insisted I was faking it or something and did some kind of physical assault to show that I wasn’t really having a seizure, ignoring my wife’s pleas for him to stop that he could kill me by the way he was applying pressure to my chest.

After my wife’s pleas, they admitted me.   We told them all the history above, and they said, “Well, that’s probably unrelated.”
After a frustrating weekend, they sent me home.  We didn’t understand at the time why they refused to do an EEG while I was there, but now I understand: the way to diagnose epilepsy is to wait till the patient is *not* in an obvious seizure, and if there’s seizure activity, they know it’s epilepsy and not anything else.  So after a week, I got the EEG.  Another week later, they called and said to come in for the follow up ASAP.  Yes, I had epilepsy.  Yes, they admitted that those audio migraines, dizzy spells, etc., had probably all been partial seizures.

Medical Drama (Again): “Tell us every health problem you’ve ever had.”
RL (office visit): “Don’t tell me all that.  What is the most urgent issue you’re dealing with right now.”

_The Last Jedi_: _Star Wars_ is finally honest

When I first introduced my kids to Star Wars, I followed up with an explanation of Dualism, Gnosticism, the “Ray of Truth” concept, and authentic versus dangerous forms of spirituality and spiritual gifts.

C. S. Lewis argues against Dualism that  we cannot define “Good” and “Evil” without an external standard to define them.  If “Good” and “Evil” were truly opposite “forces,” they would not balance; they would cancel each other out.  Even if there were two equally powerful “gods,” one good/one evil, to know which was which there would still have to be a “God” to tell us which was which (e.g., the JW idea that Jesus & Satan are brothers).

“Only Sith deal in absolutes,” Obi-Wan tells Anakin in Revenge of the Sith, and that is the fundamental paradox at work in a Dualistic narrative.  The interesting irony is that the more honest Star Wars is about its flawed philosophical underpinnings, the more the fans complain–first the prequels undermined the narrative that the Jedi and the Republic are “good,” a narrative already flawed from Obi-Wan’s lies to Luke.  I think they’re viscerally reacting against the implicit and now explicit rejection of objective standards.

“Good guys, bad guys: made up words.  It’s all a machine,” says “DJ,” the early Han Solo-esque hacker who takes his money and runs.

Dualists and moral relativists always want to have their proverbial cake and eat it, too.  They want “good” and “evil” to be relative terms when it suits them and then appeal to morality or to vague concepts like “hope” and “energy” and “good thoughts” when it’s convenient.

So we’re supposed to support the Jedi because they’re the “guardians of peace and order,” yet the Sith also insist they want peace and order.  From a Thomistic standpoint, and from what we see of the Republic in the films, the Sith make the stronger claim to promoting “peace and order.”  And the “good guys” seem to ambiguate between whether they want “peace and order” or “freedom,” since the two concepts cannot coexist.  Hobbes tells us what “freedom” means: the war of all against all for all.  It’s the “Outer Rim,” ruled by warring gangsters.  The only way anyone can functionally have absolute freedom is to enslave others to some extent.

In the Force religion, as in Modernism and all other permutations of Gnosticism, we hear about “Hope,” and “Freedom” and “Peace,” but we hear no explanation for what these words mean or imply or why they are good things.

We love Star Wars because it seems to be about “good” versus “evil.”  However, in The Last Jedi, we’re told to “let the past die,” to destroy all the books, to look within for wisdom.  This was really the most honest movie in the Star Wars franchise in terms of expressing what we’ve been hearing all along.

The Doctor, The Dialogue, and Dean Koontz

“The pilgrim, having passed the Bridge, arrives at the door which is part of the Bridge, at which all must enter, wherefore He says—‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he who follows Me does not walk in darkness, but in light. And in another place My Truth says, ‘ That no man can come to Me if not by Him,’ and so indeed it is. Therefore He says of Himself that He is the Road, and this is the truth, and I have already shewn thee that He is a Road in the form of the Bridge.”   The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin, Catherine of Siena: Dictated by Her, While in a State of Ecstasy, to Her Secretaries, and Completed in the Year of Our Lord 1370

Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble has provided insightful reasons for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to embrace the practice of “memento mori.”   Many spiritual classics encourage us to keep ever mindful that our paths all lead to one place–to death, to God, to our final judgment.  In a world that has long valued health, fame and fortune, perfection in anything but the spiritual life, the practice of remembering one’s death, one’s judgment before Christ, will always be a challenge.

I struggle with the fear of death, both my own and my loved ones, but God granted me my husband John, now a Third Order Carmelite, whose strong faith enhanced by the extreme medical challenges from his genetic disorder, Marfan syndrome, has allowed me to understand and embrace my mortality through my Catholic faith.  

Are there days when I falter and allow fear to overcome me?  Yes, just about every day. But thanks to God for bringing John into my life, I have slowly come to a better understanding of how to climb the ladder of theosis, to dialogue with God, to explore my interior castle, and embrace the Little Way.  So many times, Christ delights me in the amusing ways He brings my interests together in my life to remind me to get back to the path that leads to Him.

Recently, John chose a book he has owned for years, entitled Praying with Catherine of Siena, by Patricia Mary Vinje, for our family Bible study and saint study.  St. Catherine is a doctor of the Church, a title given for the insights into the Faith she provided in her life and writings.  I just happened to be in the middle of reading The Silent Corner and The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz when we started the studies.  I confess I pouted about being interrupted in the midst of the thrillers when God suddenly reminded me that His Way is the only way, and that He loves irony.

I sat down with the family, and we began reading. Each chapter takes an image from St. Catherine’s Dialogue as a means of meditation and contemplation.  The first one we came to was the “inner cell.” As we pondered the life of St. Catherine who had chosen a cell for her prayer life and was called from there by God to take on politicians who were corrupting Christ’s teachings, and adjure the Pope to go back to Rome, the higher meaning of Koontz’s new series dawned on me.  

Every one of Dean Koontz’s books I have read (most of them published since 2000, the year of his reversion to Catholicism) have made me marvel, laugh at the absurdity of humanity’s pride, be filled with proper fear, squirm in my sinfulness, and repent. His work is a true horror, meant to entertain, yes, but also to bring the reader to reconciliation with God.  And he does provide some great laughs along the way–a skilled mixture of bathos and pathos. Drawing from Flannery O’Connor’s discussion of Biblical exegesis applied to literature in her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” every one of his books can be considered literally, allegorically, typologically, and anagogically. His new Jane Hawk series is no exception.  

As we read excerpts from St. Catherine’s Dialogue, my mind reeled with the understanding that Koontz’s “silent corner” is a synonym for the “inner cell.”  Thus began the revelation of the higher meanings of The Silent Corner that I would never have learned if I had tried to bow out of the saint study.  (Pray for me.)   With that realization of the parallels between St. Catherine’s Dialogue and the names and imagery in Koontz’s Jane Hawk series, I continued to find the gems of allusion he had used from Catherine’s spiritual work and incorporated into his fictional yet spiritual masterpieces.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers in my brief analysis, but I would like to provide a few key points.  In her Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena refers to Christ as the Bridge, and she refers to the importance of having an inner cell of the soul recollected to God, essentially a “silent corner.” In the Jane Hawk series, Jane has a son named “Travis,” which means “bridge.”   The name “Jane” means ” God is gracious” and one of the meanings of the name “Hawk” is “nook” or “corner,” so, her name blended could be construed as “God’s gracious corner.” Catherine in her Dialogue refers to the sin of the world as a “river.” So, extending the imagery, Jane as the soul recollected to God’s grace can use her focus on Christ as the Bridge (Travis) who has overcome the river of sin.  Every hotel room (silent corner, inner cell) she stays in as she pursues and is pursued by the enemy, she considers her actions and inspiration (Holy Spirit) as a means to return to her son and honor his father (so, the Trinity). In that sense, Jane could be the Blessed Mother, God’s full of grace corner.  Dean Koontz made Our Lady a rogue FBI agent! Or, taken another way, Jane is Catherine herself, a soul recollected to Christ, who took on the powers that be to bring them to repentance and to bring them to Christ.

As a final insight, in St. Catherine’s Dialogue she describes the Body of Christ as the staircase to Heaven…the next Jane Hawk novel is The Crooked Staircase...and the fourth novel in the series is The Forbidden Door, yet another reference to Christ in Catherine’s Dialogue.  I can only guess what images will be taken for the fifth, sixth, and seventh books in the series. 

So, if you were looking for a unique way to practice “memento mori,” I suggest reading The Dialogue of St. Catherine and Dean Koontz’s Jane Hawk series.  All of his books since 2000 can be considered a type of “memento mori,” as he encourages us readers to see our good deeds in the work of the heroes and heroines, but also to see our sins in those of the villains, and thus consider our final judgment, all the while providing suspenseful, amusing, inspiring, sobering, and terrifying fiction.

 

—Mary Hathaway

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THE WHISPERING ROOM Review

(My wife, Mary Hathaway, was given a free e advanced reader copy of THE WHISPERING ROOM, by Dean Koontz, but due to health and other issues, she could not finish the novel until now.  This is written from her point of view and shared on Amazon as well. The links go to Amazon, but we are NOT getting any money for it.  You can find the books elsewhere and even some are free for download.  They just enrich the meaning if you have read them.)

Many read Dean Koontz for his horror and suspense. I read him because he makes me laugh, brings me hope in our very fallen world, and his plot twists and character development serve as an amazing examination of conscience, one that usually leaves me squirming and landing on my knees in repentance. The higher, anagogical meaning is what I look for and am never disappointed.

In her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” found in the collection, Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor writes, “I think the way to read a book is always to see what happens, but in a good novel, more always happens than we are able to take in at once, more happens than meets the eye. The mind is led on by what it sees into the greater depths that the book’s symbols naturally suggest. This is what is meant when critics say that a novel operates on several levels. The truer the symbol, the deeper it leads you, the more meaning it opens up.”

O’Connor could have been predicting the work of one of her biggest fans, Dean Koontz, in this essay. He may be known as the “Master of Suspense,” and aptly so, but it’s his use of symbols and their anagogical meaning that has me pondering his works long after I finish them and brings me back to them again. The “suspense” of what happens after earthly life is what he wants his readers to consider and I do, with every novel of his I have read.

THE WHISPERING ROOM, the second novel in what is promised to be a 7-book series features the intrepid and determined Jane Hawk, a rogue FBI agent on the run, investigating a series of deaths while attempting to guard herself and those she loves against the unseen enemies. Having been startled, enthralled and moved to tears by the end of THE SILENT CORNER, the first book in the series, I was anxious to see where Mrs. Hawk would land next in her quest to bring justice for her husband and safety for her son and others imperiled by “them.”

While THE SILENT CORNER is meticulously crafted to introduce the Jane Hawk universe, THE WHISPERING ROOM immediately draws the reader into an intimate scene of the slowly unveiling iniquitous underground. The pace is fast and the mood sinister. Jane’s quest for justice introduces her to some of the most foul and disgusting people one can imagine, as well as some of the bravest and kind. One’s conscience is pricked and left mourning for evil and its web in which we are all entangled. Its end left me puzzling and wondering where Jane was headed next in the quest for justice, an answer that is coming in May 2018, in THE CROOKED STAIRCASE. If you have not read The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense yet, I strongly recommend reading it first and then reading the sequel, THE WHISPERING ROOM.

I also suggest reading T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems, 1909-1962 or read this excellent analysis of “The Hollow Men,”  as well as reading Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories (FSG Classics). A look at CS Lewis and his book The Four Loves will also provide more insight into the deeper meaning of the fantastic Jane Hawk series and the other works of Dean Koontz.

In closing, I would strongly recommend reading a novel by his apprentice of sorts, Frank RedmanELIJAH: A Suspense Novel and reading Redman’s publisher web site for his Koontz story.   Redman’s influence on Koontz’s writing and his life cannot be exaggerated, as once again, Redman’s integrity, bravery, faith, and health battle are featured in the Jane Hawk series, hidden in the characters’ names, words and actions, just as he served as the inspiration for ASHLEY BELL.

Like most adults, my spare time is limited, so I can cover all my reading needs in one of Koontz’s amazing novels– a spiritual work, a fantastic suspense, a deep romance, a political critique, a futuristic sci-fi thriller, and an examination of conscience, all in one incredible work of art.

quote from THE FOUR LOVES

“Pro-life, homeschooling committed Christians who abstain till marriage then stay married to the same person are freaks”

I tolerate a lot, maybe too much, when it comes to TV and movies, but I appreciate seeing the consequences of actions, even if the writers depict those consequences unwittingly.

20 years or so ago, when Ellen Degeneres and her eponymous sitcom came out of the proverbial closet, ABC said that LGBT were about 10% of the population and deserved to be represented on TV.  Now, most studies have said that even if those who have “experimented” to some degree or other are included, LGBT are at most 6% of the population, and really more like 3%.  Interestingly with all the propaganda in recent years, that number has risen a whole half a percent!  Amazing how the number of people who are “born” a certain way increases.

But, fine, 4%.  Yes, there are people who identify that way and yes they should be depicted *honestly*.

But a year or two after the Ellen controversy, when the Catholic League lead a coalition of pro-life, pro-family, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations protesting Nothing Sacred, ABC said, “We can’t have what amounts to 10% of the population dictating to us.”  Yet *that* coalition represented the views of 50% of the population.

Close to 70% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal under at least some circumstances, yet to most TV shows, pro-lifers are a minority and freaks.

I read an article once about the unrealistic depiction of sexual relationships on TV that pointed out for example how many characters known on TV shows as “losers” who can’t find a girlfriend actually have more sexual relationships, particularly in a short time, than even relatively promiscuous people in real life.

How often, outside of sitcoms and a couple reality shows that may be exceptions that prove the rule, do you see couples who are happily married and stay married?

How often do you see people on any fictional TV show who are committed Christians and serious about their faith and love their faith?  Even The Middle and recently cancelled Last Man Standing depict religion as something important but still a kind of chore or ideology (though Mike’s monologues on Last Man Standing sometimes make up for it quoting the Bible and even the saints).  Characters who are in any way serious about religion are, again, freaks and weirdos (which, yes, many people who are serious about religion in real life are also, and should be, but not the way we’re depicted).

How often do you see families on TV with more than 3 kids that aren’t “blended”? (and yes, child labor laws come into play).

I could go on with examples, but if it’s a question of “equal representation,” all the demographics I listed are a higher percentage of the population than LGBT yet they hardly ever show up and are treated as weirdos and bigots when they do.

Meanwhile, in the inverted Natural Law, where Neuhaus’s Law is in full effect, sex is meaningless recreation.  People on TV don’t even wait for a commitment, much less marriage, sex is a “test”–and saying “I love you” is a big “event” that comes after a couple have already engaged in sex not as an act of consummation of love but as a fulfillment of desire.  And, yes it has been this way on television for decades, and in “real life” without the Biblical moral framework, but what strikes me is how, in recent years it hasn’t even been a semblance of concern for decency or depicting any kind of negative view of sexual promiscuity, but an overt sense of saying, “This is perfectly normal, and it’s Judeo-Christian morality that’s aberrant and bizarre.”gs5x4j0

When Cross Promotional Deal Mechanics Misfire

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Jen Fitz was recently shocked to see a Stranger Things branded Ouija Board at Target and asked if there was anything about the show that promoted occultism or Ouija.

  1. Jen’s post, linked above, focuses more on the dangers of Ouija boards, so I’ll refer you there.  I’ll say that one of the holiest priests I know is also an experienced exorcist, and is of the mindset that paranoia is just as bad as involvement with the occult.  He’s not against Harry Potter or fantasy fiction or trick or treating, but told us a very powerful story of one of his most dramatic “cases,” and it was a home infestation caused by involvement with Ouija and seances.  Ouija is not just a board game.
  2. In the evil realm that is capitalism, “branded” board games have been around now for quite a while, and they come in part from a Wal-Mart policy that products must change or lower prices.
  3. I don’t recall a Ouija board being used on Stranger Things, but if it was, I wonder if the FCC would require that the product placement be disclosed.  Does Netflix fall under the separate rules for television or streaming?
  4. The “connection,” as depicted on the box, is where “Joyce” (Winona Ryder) paints a giant alphabet and “Yes” and “No” on her wall, to communicate with her son, “Will,” who is not dead but is trapped in a parallel universe and able to communicate through electrical surges.  It would be really no different than someone who’s “locked in” blinking “yes” or “no” for each letter or someone who’s mute pointing to a letter board (been there; done that).
  5. On Twin Peaks and Supernatural, “aliens” are ghosts/demons.  On The X-Files and Doctor Who, “ghosts” are aliens.  Stranger Things, so far, follows the latter formula. So if there’s a spiritual danger in the show, it’s more the “Devil tricking us into believing he doesn’t exist” than it is occultism.  But it is a really good show, whose artistic merits have been widely discussed.  The most improper content on the show is a lot of filthy language which at least is realistic and sometimes has the Flannery O’Connor “showing how people talk to show why it’s bad to talk that way” function, as well as the “Are they technically blaspheming or praying in this case” function.  There is also some teen sex which still depicts some of the psychological and spiritual consequences of fornication.  Indeed, a prominent storyline spins out of an act of fornication, and the guilt of that and attempt to atone for it carries through some of the stories of season 2.  This is a stark contrast to many other shows, as I also plan to discuss in a post.
  6. One of the things that attracted me to the show was the viral story about the “cool” C&D letter Netflix sent to an unauthorized Stranger Things themed bar. The letter professes concern about “art” and “loving their fans” and having “a say in how our fans encounter the worlds we build.”  Apparently, bars are bad, but occultism is good.
  7. Ergo, if you have a relative who’s trapped in a parallel universe, and you have some way of communicating with them, maybe a Stranger Things branded Ouija board would make sense, but really paint or paint brushes would make more sense.

 

On the Fear of Trick or Treating:

As far as “secular” Halloween/Trick or Treat, I have always appreciated it as a means of building community. I remember when I was a kid, being amazed at how there was this one day a year where, ironically, people *weren’t* afraid of each other, and we were saying hello to our neighbors, not just going up to their doors and getting candy but stopping for a moment to say hello. I remember this lady inviting us in to tour her “haunted house” setup. Being Mr. Social Anxiety, I wasn’t scared at all, of the strange situation or the display, just impressed by the gesture of hospitality.
Just a few years later, everyone was suddenly living in fear of alleged Halloween poisoning….
Cut to this year: cars.

Not just “driving to another neighborhood and parking,” but driving from house to house, including cars from our own neighborhood.

Our kids, the “unsocialized” homeschoolers, the “autistics,” go up to houses, say “Trick or Treat”, “Happy Halloween,” and “Thank you.” Wait patiently for other kids to have their turn.

Car or truck piles up. Kids pour out. Don’t say anything. If they *do* say anything, their parents tell them not to. Hardly anyone smiling. It’s like some kind of automated process. No walking. No community. It might as well be practice for putting on a mask and robbing someone.
People probably spend more on gasoline than they “get” in candy, for what? Hardly the “experience.” They don’t take the time to enjoy the experience, and it’s not like anyone has time to even see the costumes, if the kids are wearing them at all (and anyone can make an effort to at least be mildly creative–our son didn’t want to wear a costume, but at least wore a jacket and carried a stuffed Pokemon so he could say he was a Pokemon trainer).
I had to split up from the family to keep Frank from tugging, and it ended up being just another walk except having to dodge more people and and cars, and having the occasional moment of joy when a little kid said, “Look, Mommy! A man in a chair with a doggy!” Oh, wait “Don’t stare.”

“Is it the End or the Beginning?” David Lynch and George Lucas, Pt 3 (of 3?)

I have had more thoughts about the mystery of Twin Peaks the show itself, but I wanted to explore another thought I’ve been having all season, regarding the nature of “art” versus “entertainment,” and the tension of the “artist”/”entertainer.”

david-lynchSteve Granitzf

It is one thing to consider oneself an “artist” and produce work to express oneself and whatnot, without concern for profit.  Even so, if you’re going to “express yourself,” you still need to use symbols that people understand.   On the other end of the scale is the “entertainer,” who uses talent strictly to amuse audiences and make money.  There is little reason to look on each other with mutual disdain.  But most creative types, whether artists, writers, musicians, or filmmakers, operate somewhere in between, and when one operates in a mass market context, there is a certain contract at work between creator and audience.  A few weeks ago, I found a blog that a younger viewer wrote several years ago, discussing how Lynch was known for completely rejecting the principle that he owed anything to audiences, and while some say that makes him a “great” director, this lady argued (and I’d agree) that that ultimately makes him a bad director.

In the 1980s, give or take, there were four great young cartoonists who often get compared to one another in terms of their impact and the extent to which they followed Charles Schulz as role models: Jim Davis, Berkeley Breathed, Gary Larson and Bill Watterson.  Davis is often used by critics, fans and other cartoonists alike as the embodiment of a “sell-out”: he embraced commercialism and licensing early on.  While Charles Schulz took years before he began licensing Peanuts and allowing the animated spin-offs, which he carefully supervised, Davis recognized Garfield as a cash cow (cash cat) and cashed in, maintaining a similar legal control to that which Schulz enjoyed but generally allowing a great deal of flexibility..  On the other extreme was Watterson: who introduced the world to Calvin and Hobbes in 1985, consistently refused merchandising or animation, and suddenly retired after 10 years, saying he’d said all he needed to say and becoming something of a reputed recluse (though those who know him say he just kept such anonymity in his career that no one knows who he is when he’s out and about), occasionally popping up for guest stints at other comics or writing a public message here and there.

 

Somewhere in between is Breathed, who has “retired” several times–Bloom County became Outland originally so he could do Sunday’s only and supposedly have more creativity; Outland became Opus as he reverted back to form but still wanted to keep an episodic format.  And a few years ago, he made another comeback, reviving Bloom County as a webcomic posted at his leisure, sometimes in color, sometimes B&W, sometimes a mix, and exploring whatever topics he wants unencumbered by the constraints of syndicates and newspapers.  Breathed, like Davis, embraced, and continues to embrace, merchandising but kept more creative control and, other than one or two outings, has never embraced animation.  He’s also explored screenwriting and children’s literature.

I see a certain parallel at work in the directorial careers of George Lucas and David Lynch.  Both are known as young directors who showed promise straight out of film school in the 70s.  Both are known for exploring New Age/Neo-Gnostic/Pseudo-Eastern mysticism/philosophy in their works.  Indeed, David Lynch was almost the director of Return of the Jedi.  However, many critics and fans might balk at the comparison, since Lucas is to Lynch as Davis is to Watterson.  My own critique of my own analogy would be that Watterson at least made a creation that people could understand beyond a select subgroup of a subgroup that probably all share the same MBTI type.

Lucas made his name, and his fortune, very early on as a master of licensing.  In  his initial agreement with 20th Century Fox, in fact, he got himself licensing rights that the studio didn’t think were worth anything–few movies before Star Wars were adapted into toys, or had hit soundtracks or had spin-off novels and comic books.  Much like the older office product and computer companies that passed on Apple and Microsoft, Fox passed on the merchandizing rights to one of the first true blockbusters, making Lucas a billionaire.

However, the success of Star Wars came from collaboration: Gary Kurtz, Lawrence Kasdan, and studio executives took Lucas’s initial ideas and shaped them into the franchise as we know it.  A few years back, the earliest known script was adapted into a comic book series called The Star Wars, and showed Lucas’s original treatment to be far closer to a blend of the original trilogy and what became The Phantom Menace.

Many years ago, I read an observation somewhere online that “Ewoks were the first sign of genius turned to insanity.”  Except maybe Lucas always was insane–it was the collaboration and “studio interference” that made him look like a genius.  The more power he achieved, the more autonomy he achieved as a producer and director, and the more audiences rejected his “vision.”

On the other side is Lynch, who was never that commercially successful but directed a few slightly more mainstream pictures like Dune and The Elephant Man (if one can call either of those mainstream), while producing “arthouse” films (few of which I’ve seen or been able to make it all the way through without significant muting and FFing).

Lucas used his financial empire to free himself from “studio interference.”  Lynch used his “artistic reputation” and “devoted fanbase” to somehow con studio after studio into funding his projects until a series of commercial failures made him more or less go into retirement, and when CBS/Showtime came knocking about reviving Twin Peaks after fans demanded a follow up to “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” he notoriously fought for more money and more time to “tell his story,” then didn’t tell much story at all.

So “Lynchians” tell us that Twin Peaks would have been a much better show if the network hadn’t interfered with “Lynch’s vision.”  Supposedly, Lynch and Frost never intended for Laura Palmer’s killer to be revealed, though they always intended for it to be her father, though it’s also unclear if they ever had any intention or understanding of how long the show would last.  Many people blame the sharp ratings decline in the latter part of Season 2 on the fact that Lynch had little to do with it, but some of the writers and directors involved with the show at that point say they were still following his orders on a lot of things.  However, as some have pointed out, the show’s creators made a huge error in not building enough interest in the ensemble. Laura Palmer was supposed to be a MacGuffin, but she ended up being the only character most people cared about.  If they had to use the “unsolved murder” conceit to keep people tuning in, they weren’t doing a very good job.

Ironically, though it was months from our perspective, on the show’s timeline, with every episode corresponding to approximately a day, the murder of Laura Palmer was solved in little lesson than a month.  Given how long murders and disappearances often go unsolved in real life, particularly headline grabbing cases like JonBenet Ramsey, a month was relatively fast, and the notion of the unsolved crime–which other shows handled with slightly more success later–was an interesting spin.

Merely doing something “different” does not make something “art.” Indeed, T. S. Eliot, to whom I just yesterday compared Lynch and have done in the past, argues that art requires doing something different in the bounds of what’s come before.  A lot of what seems “weird” or “different” in Eliot is that he’s writing of modern urban life the way the Romantics wrote of country life or of the past.  He twists traditional metaphors and uses fragments of literary quotations and allusions he expects his readers to be familiar with.  To the extent that he works, Lynch does some of that, but more often than not he seems to turn conventional techniques so far upside down as to be unrecognizable.

But as I’ve argued many times, much of what makes Twin Peaks is hyper-realism.  The oft-maligned storyline of Ben Horne thinking he’s a Confederate general is a slightly exaggerated depiction of what happens in real life: when white American men feel defeated by society, they relive the Civil War.

Nevertheless, the other part of it is that Lynch creates a world that operates according to the principles of his belief system, and that’s where people say “It’s weird.”  David Bowie’s Philip Jeffries getting reincarnated as a coffee percolator seems strange, but is that any stranger than a dead person getting reincarnated as a carpenter ant, or as the fish that Pete Martell found in his teapot? Is Philip Jeffries the fish in the teapot?  Shirley Maclaine got criticized by people who speak fondly of their jumbled pop understanding of Hinduism and Buddhism for saying that Holocaust victims were being punished for sins they committed in past lives, but that’s what karma is, according to Hinduism.  Similarly, Lynch is drawing from a lot of disparate non-Western ideas that are collectively Gnosticism, and when viewers balk, I think they’re balking at the inherent flaws of the Gnostic world view when presented without the usual corporate filters.

What most people find appealing in Star Wars and Twin Peaks is the extent to which, by authentically expressing the Gnostic worldview, they express the rays of Truth in Gnostic/New Age/Neo-Platonic/Buddhist thinking.  Where they start to get uncomfortable is precisely where those worldviews diverge from Christianity.

This is another parallel of art and liturgy.  It’s said that traditional liturgies can be reverent when said by sinners because they were written by Saints, but the Ordinary Form is only referent when offered by Saints because it was written by committee.  In the arts, committees can take bad ideas and make them into better art, or they can take good ideas and make them into bad art.  Artistic freedom only creates true success if the artist is, if not necessarily a Saint or even a Christian, he or she at leawst tries to operate with Truth.

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“Is it the End or the Beginning?” A Tale of Three Artists: Eliot, Lynch and Koontz, Pt 2 of 3

…With a mandatory touch of C. S. Lewis.
[SPOILERS for both Twin Peaks and some recent Koontz novels; usual warning]

My previous post addressed the series finale of Twin Peaks as such (given the age of the creators, the time it took to make this season, and the 18 hours spent supposedly telling this story that could have been told in half the time, it likely is the series finale).

I addressed Lewis’s argument that we should not read too much into a work of fiction that isn’t there, and suggested that Lynch’s point is to criticize his own fans, and TV/movie viewers in general, for doing the same.  He essentially says, “This is all just a fantasy.  Stop making more of it than it is.  These aren’t real people.”

Now, some thoughts on the whole “David Lynch is an artist” “argument” and the notion of “fans’ expectations.”  To this, I bring in Lewis’s criticism of the view that a poet could just say “I’m a poet,” and that makes his view of poetry superior to the view of “non-poets.”

It annoys me when I take my kids to a museum to learn about art and the curator says, “Well, art can be whatever you want.”  No, it can’t.  It has to have rules.  It has to express something.  If a person writes the word “appeal” and means “apple,” that expresses something different.  If a person draws a picture, it has to be something the viewer can understand before it can convey any message.  Most modernism and postmodernism is just the Emperor’s New Clothes: everyone saying “It’s genius! He’s a genius!  It’s amazing!” and dismissing anyone who disagrees as an uncultured buffoon because the “art” is not about expressing something so much as providing an avenue to elitism: a tendency Lewis saw in Eliot and condemned among the intelligentsia in “Lilies that Fester.”

When an entertainer/artist has a long and relatively successful career, he inevitably changes.  Either he gets “more commercial” or “more artistic.”  Either he gains confidence in putting more of his worldview into his work or perhaps he changes/matures in it.  Thus, I often speak of the three camps of Eliot fans: those who prefer the “Prufrock/Waste-Land Era,” those who prefer the “Four Quartets Era,” and those who see them as a continuum.  When I taught literature, I would point out how two writers can use very similar situations with slight differences to demonstrate their worldviews.   Flannery O’Connor and Edgar Allen Poe, for example, can use a similar circumstance to show hope and despair, respectively.

MIKE’s line on Twin Peaks: the Return: “Is it past or is it future?” recalls the famous line from Four Quartets: “In my end is my beginning.”  To the secular reader, Four Quartets is a meditation on time and destiny, while the Christian reader sees Four Quartets as Lord of the Rings: a sophisticated Christian epic deeper than a mere allegory.

Others have pointed out the parallels between Twin Peaks and Four Quartets, and someone even captured this screenshot:
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To date, I’ve read Brother Odd and Odd Thomas, and have started Forever Odd.  My wife has read many Koontz novels and told me about them, as well as interviews, discussion groups, Amazon reviews, etc., and speaks of how many “longtime Koontz fans” are disappointed by more overtly books like the Odd Thomas series and Innocence, even though the titles should be huge spoilers.
From a Catholic perspective, Saint Odd and Innocence have the happiest endings a story possibly could, like every C. S. Lewis novel.  From the perspective of someone expecting a classic horror story or a classic romance story, however, they’re disappointing.

“David Lynch fans” look at Twin Peaks: the Return and say “It’s genius,” like the Emperor’s subjects in Andersen’s fairy tale, or the snobs at Lewis’s proverbial cherry party, because they don’t want to be counted among the philistines who “don’t get it.”  Some, however, admit they don’t get it, that it should be different from a “typical Lynch movie,” or even that it is different in the wrong way from one.

However, I’d say Lynch is conveying a message.  He’s conveying the message he wants to convey, and that’s why some people dismissively say “It’s existentialism,” because it is.  To the existentialist, life is ultimately despair, and you piece it together by enjoying cherry pies and chocolate bunnies.  It is “about the bunny,” Lynch would answer Lucy.   To the Platonist and Hindus, we’re all spirits in another realm controlling bodies that are essentially avatars, reliving our lives till we get them right.  This is one possible interpretation of the tulpas in Twin Peaks.  Another is that the finale shows the “Balance in the Force.” Whether they’re all dream-selves of the same dreamer, or reincarnations/avatars of the same being in the Red Room, or something else, the lesson that evil is inevitable and needs to be balanced, not stopped, is in keeping with the Dualistic worldview of Gnosticism/Platonism/Hinduism-Buddhism/New Age/etc.

There is something Catholic in the notion that we can’t “destroy” evil.  We can’t have a magic fist that bashes the Devil into smithereens.  We can’t go back and undo the evil of the past without destroying the future because the past dictates the future.   Once Barry Allen saves his mother, the cosmos can never be completely the same, even if he goes back to let her die again, and Barry has to live in the personal hell of knowing how many times he’s changed everyone’s lives.  This seems to be the almost-tacked on lesson of Twin Peaks, not because Cooper needs to learn it but the viewer does.

Koontz gives us a similar blend of horror, mystery, humor and romance with the lesson that all this misery points to Heaven.  As Chesterton would say, Lynch gives us the gargoyles–with fragments of the Temple.  Koontz gives us the gothic cathedral.  Both draw from Eliot, and both get in their long time fans the same polarized reactions as Eliot did.

Twin Peaks: Is it the End or the Beginning? Pt 1 of 3

[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched Episode 18 of Twin Peaks: The Return, and intend to do so, stop at 17; if you have watched 18, or don’t care about spoilers, proceed]

T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis had Part 18two great published arguments: Eliot’s response to Lewis’s Preface of Paradose Lost (and Lewis’s reply), and their similar exchange over Hamlet.
In the former case, Eliot took the stance that only poets are qualified to analyze poetry.  Lewis attacked this self-justifying elitism.  In the latter case, Lewis expressed disagreement with criticism that treats a work of fiction as something real: the title of the essay is “Hamlet: the Prince or the Poem.”  Shakespeare critics debate Hamlet’s psychology, what he’s studying school and other details extraneous to the text as if he were a real person.

Now that Twin Peaks is (presumably) over, many are saying it’s probably the most sophisticated troll/prank in history.  25+ years and 18 hours of sitting through catatonic insurance salesmen, musical sequences, bizarre CGI sequences and people driving in the dark mixed in about 8 hours of actual story to be left scratching our heads.

Some are saying David Lynch is a genius.  Some are saying those people and Lynch are idiots.  Some are saying Lynch is an evil genius.  The latter group are probably right.

Somewhere in the original run of Twin Peaks, Cooper says something like “Do you ever feel like you’re in a dream?”  In Fire Walk With Me, Philip Jeffries says, “We’re all living in a dream,” a quote Cooper reiterates in Episode 17 of The Return.  The question has been posed other places in season 3/The Return.  When some of us speculated that the finale would turn out to be a dream, or something of the sort, some people said “David Lynch is too much of a genius to do something so cliche.”

Well, he did.

And now people are still insisting he’s a genius.  “It’s existentialism,” some say.  “Well, existentialism leads to suicide,” I say.  [More on that later].

So what happened?

The Return features the return not only of the original cast but some of Lynch’s favorite actors.  One of Lynch’s favorite movies is Sunset Boulevard, to which he makes frequent allusions/easter eggs, such as the name of Agent Gordon Cole, or the presence of the street sign in Mulholland Drive, a movie named after a street in LA known for being the home of wannabe stars as Sunset is known as known as the home of established stars.

Lynch originally created Mulholland Drive as a television pilot, and said it was supposed to be a Twin Peaks spinoff, telling the story of Audrey Horne after the explosion.  In a reverse of Twin Peaks, which was shot as a movie with a hasty ending in case the series wasn’t picked up, and the ending was cut out and recut as a dream on the show, Mulholland Drive was shot as a pilot and then re-edited as a standalone movie with a hasty ending.

Either way, Lynch said to think of it as how Twin Peaks was supposed to end, so especially when Audrey “wakes up” in Episode 16 (never to be heard from again), it was predictable that The Return would end in a similar fashion to Mulholland Drive: the hero is a different person, in a different reality, with memories of the idyllic world we just spent most of the story becoming familiar with.  There are mobster brothers, weird assassins, etc.  Mulholland Drive, like Sunset Boulevard, is a commentary on the film industry and its audience.  Twin Peaks may be seen as a commentary on television and its audiences.

The Black Lodge spirits are beings who live off of other people’s fear and suffering, are they just TV viewers?  They manifest as people who could have any face or any name.  They live in trailers and middle class homes.  They sit in leather armchairs.  They live in apartments above convenience stores.  They live in a dark motel.

In that sense,  Lynch seems to agree with Lewis.  In the final scene, Cooper (or the man who thinks he’s Dale Cooper) and Carrie, another Laura, like many a fan over the years, arrive at the infamous white house and knock on the door.  A woman answers.

Her name is Chalfont, and she bought the house from someone named Tremond, and knows nothing of Laura, Sarah or Leland Palmer.  The significance of this is that the lady who answers the door is the real owner of the house.  Thus, the two central characters become the obsessive fans, trying to bring to life the fictional reality they’ve come to love, and Lewis would likely point out that today’s obsessive fans are no different from the people in Shakespeare’s day who would jump on stage and draw their swords or the generations of literary scholars who’ve argued whether Hamlet was really mentally ill or just faking it.

Seen as a dream, we have several clues, like Mulholland: if the ending is the “real world,” the dream world is constructed by “Richard’s” memories of different people and places.  It struck me that the dopplegangers are called “tulpas.”  In Eastern mythology/mysticism, a “tulpa” is basically a parallel self that we encounter in dreams.  So the multiple Coopers, Lauras, Dianes, etc., are tulpas in shared dreams.  “Who is the dreamer?” Monica Bellucci asks Gordon Cole in a dream: Dale the almost naively optimistic, pop Buddhism practicing, coffee and doughnuts loving, Sherlock Holmes lawman; Mr. C., the callous, murderous, sociopathic criminal; and Dougie, the dimwitted, bored, unfaithful husband and father.  We see elements of all three in the “Richard” we encounter in the show’s final half hour.  Are they just the lives he lives in his dreams at night, a kind of Walter Mitty?

Perhaps he’s a real FBI agent tracking down a missing person from decades ago.    More

Or else, The Return is Flashpoint: Cooper, like Barry Allen, changed the entire universe to save one girl’s life.  As soon as he altered the past at the end of Episode 17, I thought, “Wouldn’t BOB just kill Ronette Pulaski, then?  How is BOB going to be stopped? Why not go back a year earlier and save Teresa Banks?”  One action can, as Prufrock muses, “disturb the universe.”

*Or,* as I reflected several years ago, the whole point is Nirvana: Cooper has to “bring balance to the Force,” which does not necessarily mean a Western/Judeo-Christian understanding of the triumph of goodness.  The beings in the Red Room are the souls, which inhabit different bodies in different times, living different lives.

All of these interpretations lead to the same “lesson”: evil can never be completely destroyed, except in our fantasies.  “Dale” spends 25 years in the Black Lodge–if he ever actually leaves.  “Richard” is a middle-aged FBI agent who’s so jaded he shoots some guys for getting rough with a waitress and then puts their guns in a deep fryer, casually pointing out that they might just explode.  Both suffer the consequence of trying to take on evil directly.  There is an inverse Catholic truth to this which I will explore in my next piece, but it says something to the jaded Lynch, disappointed in the poor reception his films or the original series received from audiences.

The outline for Twin Peaks season 3, had it aired in 1991-1992, would have seen Cooper leaving the FBI and settling down in Twin Peaks.  That ending did not happen because

_Twin Peaks’_ Maj. Garland Briggs–a sincere Christian in television

WARNING: If you haven’t seen Twin Peaks, and believe spoilers do just that, proceed with caution; if you have never watched and agree with Flannery O’Connor that fiction is better enjoyed when you know what’s going to happen, read on!)
With “Season 3” of Twin Peaks airing, I’ve been reading a lot of websites and just began reviewing the original series/first two seasons.  This will be my fourth viewing of the series since its original run–once on DVD about 15 years ago and on Netflix about 5 years ago, after the Psych tribute episode.
Before the show was “put on indefinite haitus” by ABC–Whovians, Trekkies and Star Wars fans have nothing on Twin Peaks fans in terms of waiting–there was an outline written for season 3.  As with many cult shows that have been continued in comic book and/or novel form, some fans who were comic book writers approached David Lynch about 10 years ago to try and convince him to let them turn that outline into a comic book series.  Lynch famously declared Twin Peaks dead.
Whether he changed his mind or actually intended to surprise everyone for the show’s 25th anniversary (“I’ll see you again in 25 years”), had that comic book been made, we might not have gotten an actual show.  Amazingly, of the characters who were not already killed off, five cast members have either passed away or refused to participate.
Ironically and problematically, two of those five play characters who are immortal: the late Frank Silva, who played the immortal demon BOB, and the living Michael J. Anderson (“Man from Another Place/Dwarf/MIKE’s arm”).  The other actor who passed away (though a Warren Frost, Miguel Ferrer and Catherine E. Coulson died shortly after filming of The Return was completed) was Don S. Davis (1942-2008), who played Maj. Garland Briggs.  A veteran sci-fi actor, he played Capt. William Scully on The X-Files, and IMDB quotes him saying he enjoys playing science fiction characters because it’s one of the few genres where you are still able to have flawless good guys.
Rolling Stone (in an article I just found) lists him as the show’s 8th best character, noting that he is the inversion of its “you can’t tell a book by its cover” theme.  I’ve seen at least two websites (possibly from the same person) calling him not just the greatest character on Twin Peaks but one of the greatest TV characters ever.
The scene that introduces Maj. Briggs is a family dinner.  His son Bobby, Laura Palmer’s “official” boyfriend, has just been released from jail after being held for fighting and for suspicion of being Laura’s murderer.  Family dinners, whether at home or at the homey RR diner, are a recurring motif of the original series (which could be contrasted to the motif of Roadhouse and barroom dinners in the new series/third season).  Whether it’s the Haywards who are set as the model of the loving, wholesome family yet the parents are clueless about their daughters’ lives, and two of the daughters show up only a couple times, the Palmers and their horrible secrets, or the Hornes and their facade of respectability amid mental illness and infidelity, the dinners usually have the same dramatic function as Ewing family dinners on Dallas.
The first time I saw the scene, it seemed like Maj. Briggs was being presented as another example.  Sitting in his USAF uniform, he starts the meal saying grace–the only character who does so, IIRC, though the Haywards go to church.  He then proceeds to calmly but formally lecture his son (“Robert”) on the value of teenage rebelliousness but his job as a father to guide Bobby’s rebelliousness within the standards of society and their family.
Bobby doesn’t speak, leading to a talk about the various meanings of silence.  He pulls out a cigarette, and his father reaches across the table, slapping it out of his mouth.  The cigarette lands in Mrs. Briggs’s meatloaf, and she barely reacts.  Maj. Briggs says that he is very tolerant but has his limits.  Again, at first sight, he seems to be another example of hypocrisy, and a seemingly wholesome family covering up abuse that leads to the child’s reckless behavior.  As time goes on, Maj. Briggs is revealed to be a very different character and becomes by the end of the second season, the show’s moral center.  The first time the show aired, I puzzled in retrospect over that scene.
When I rewatched it the second and third times, I assumed that it was just an early scene before the character had been sufficiently developed.  This time, it struck me as very well-planned.  As Rolling Stone put it, they want us to see him as a seemingly authoritarian and abusive father.  But just as the seemingly loving and gentle Leland Palmer (spoiler alert) was possessed by a demon which drove him to molest and murder his own daughter, the seemingly stern and gruff Maj. Briggs is actually loving and gentle.
In the aforementioned outline for Season 3, the plan had been for Maj. Briggs to become the main hero.  Whether it was resolved quickly or over the season, the plan was that (spoiler alert) Maj. Briggs would go into the Black Lodge and rescue Cooper.  Though Cooper is superficially an innocent, we know that he is gluttonous, lustful and has committed adultery.  When he invades the Black Lodge to rescue his girlfriend, he gets trapped there and replaced by BOB occupying his physical body because of his own sinfulness.  Originally, had Don S. Davis not passed away, Maj. Briggs would have been the only character worthy of facing the Black Lodge without being corrupted, so whether it would have been a long or short storyline, Briggs would have been the one to bring Cooper back.
(Spoiler) On the new show, one of the mysteries is that his decapitated body was found in South Dakota, and, even though he was reported dead in a fire in 1989 (the events of the 1990-91 series all took place fictionally in February and March 1989), he was in his early 40s when he died.   We recently learned on the new show that he had been in another dimension for 25 years–whether it was the Black or White Lodge has yet to be revealed.
Seen through those eyes, as well as the eyes of real world experience, that first scene looks very different.
Maj. Briggs, even though he refers to patience having its limits, does not lose his cool.  His son, already in trouble with the law, does something completely disrespectful.  It is a controlled and calculated gesture.

EDIT: Don’t know why I never noticed this before, Bobby Briggs standing before a huge crucifix/home altar:
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_Riverdale_ Challenges Obama’s Rhetoric

I haven’t been blogging much lately, both because of doing more micro-blogging on Facebook and saving my “big writing energies” to focus on my many ongoing major projects.

However, one of my raisons d’etre popped up the other day and I had to mention it.  A very pro-life episode of the CW’s new show _Riverdale_ seems to have gone under everyone’s radar (Ep. 8 “The Outsiders”).  Produced by Greg Berlanti of _Gotham_, _Arrow_, _Flash_, etc., it does to Archie Comics what Berlanti’s other shows do to the DC characters: essentially _Twin Peaks_ meets _Dawson’s Creek_ with the characters from “Archie.”  Not knowing much about the characters other than their status as cultural archetypes, and intrigued by the premise, I started watching the show and read up on the characters to know what was going on.

Cut ahead to episode 8.  There is a teen pregnancy central to the storyline.  I was annoyed at first by the story where the girl was sent up to a stereotypical “home for troubled teens” run by nuns who are depicted as a mix of traditional habit-wearing nuns and the kind Dean Koontz described as “social workers who don’t date.”  Compare to the similar plotline on last year’s _X-Files_ revival.  In the first several episodes, the girl’s mother (played by Madchen Amick of _Twin Peaks_ fame, who will also be reprising the role of Shelley Johnson in next month’s “Season 3”) has been shown to be obsessed with social standing and a hypocritical veneer of righteousness while being very cold and strict towards her daughters.  The pregnant daughter has been shown as angry at her parents for sending her away to “that place,” but when her mother softens and offers an olive branch, she asks about her father.

The word “abortion” is never used, to great effect.  The girl tells her mother that before sending her away, her father offered to pay for her to “see a doctor.”  The mother confronts her husband, recalling how he paid for her to have an abortion when they were teenagers and aghast that he would do the same to their daughter (again, the word is never used–perhaps to avoid “controversy” yet effectively showing the horror/pain at even referring to it by name).

The father practically quotes Barack Obama verbatim and says, “I didn’t want her punished for her mistake.”
“Get out. . . . Get out before I do something we’ll both regret.”

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality” Frank Redman’s ELIJAH

I don’t know exactly where to begin this review, which angle to take. I’m reeling. My wife and teenager have been commending Frank Redman‘s  ELIJAH: A SUSPENSE NOVEL to me for weeks now, and I finally read it. In short, I can say it was amazing, entertaining, chilling, and a punch in the gut in ways for which I was not prepared.  Apparently, I am not alone in this regard.  My wife remarked to me that with the internet’s instant access to so much information, when one writes about a book, a review is not sufficient.  Rather, an encounter would better describe it, where one meets the author, reads the background and influences, and embraces the story and its characters.  It certainly is true for our experience with Frank Redman and ELIJAH.

Frank Redman is a brand new author, whose own journey in the writing profession sounds like something out of a movie.  It’s his debut book, so I was thinking it might be something like early C.S. Lewis with a few twists in the manner of Dean Koontz, but it’s that and more.

By the time I got to the end of ELIJAH, I’d say it’s better than the early C.S. Lewis. This story has the mystique, chilling suspense, and humor of a Christian “Twin Peaks” or a more tightly written THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.   It takes you into levels of evil that many of us would rather not know at all, but far too many people actually live through. Many writers depict such evil and either glorify it or give it a worldly punishment, but few provide a sense of hope that there is something better, that victims can still find happiness and holiness. Frank Redman is one of those few writers, and ELIJAH  is a book with a message that needs to be read.

St. Augustine says a work of perfect logic may be true but if it’s boring to read, it won’t do any good, and people are more willing to read and believe something that’s eloquent. The same is true of literature and movies: it doesn’t matter how true it is or how artistically “well crafted” it is. If it doesn’t draw people in, nobody will read it. HAMLET may have psychological and moral depth, but it’s basically a story about murder, ghosts and revenge.   ELIJAH has it all.  It immediately drew me in with the supernatural and suspense, has great depth in the character’s dealings with his horrid past, as well as fantastically funny insights with well-crafted characters who open your eyes to the devastating horrors that are hidden in daily life.   The reality of evil is tangible, but it’s tempered with hope and perseverance.


At times, the story of an author can sometimes be as compelling as the book the author wrote. This can be an advantage in attracting readers, as it is what led us to Frank Redman and ELIJAH. My wife and I both became Dean Koontz fans a little over a year ago. She noticed that Koontz has referred a few times to his friend Frank Redman (he dedicated SAINT ODD to him and said Frank’s struggle with brain cancer inspired ASHLEY BELL).

This book is dedicated to Frank Redman, who has more than once reminded me of Odd Thomas

Through a series of events that I’ll leave Frank Redman to tell, he began a mentorship with Dean Koontz.  Koontz had read some of his writing, saw potential, and agreed to mentor Frank. Then, on the same day that I had my descending aorta surgery, Frank was diagnosed with an extremely rare and extremely lethal brain cancer–most people diagnosed with it are only diagnosed with it posthumously, and if they are diagnosed while alive, they die in days or weeks. Frank is still alive nearly 4 years later.  So, with a sense of urgency, I set aside the few dozen “in progress” books I’ve been working on reading for years to read ELIJAH, reading late into the night, and enjoying it more and more with each swipe of the screen.


People don’t want to acknowledge the reality or enormity of Evil in the world.  It’s often hidden, and when it’s revealed, it can be nauseating, horrifying, and seemingly unfathomable.  The desire to stick one’s head in the sand is understandable, but unadvised.  Even less do people want to acknowledge the reality and enormity of God’s grace.  Redman’s ELIJAH addresses both supernatural phenomenon and their implications in our reality, in an engaging, fast-paced, thriller that will leave you reeling and pondering for weeks.

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“Doesn’t She Look Tired”: Evita, Doctor Who and the power of Words

On the new Doctor Who, there was a character called “Harriet Jones,” known for her running joke, introducing herself as “Harriet Jones, Minister of Parliament,” etc., which is usually answered with, “Yes, I/we know who you are.”  In the first appearance of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, he thwarts an alien invasion with minimal violence and convinces the would-be invaders to leave, but Harriet, now “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister,” has been working on a secret weapon to defend earth and wants to prove earth can defend itself without the Doctor.  In spite of the treaty he just negotiated, she destroys the fleeing ship with her weapon, after the Doctor threatens her by saying that he’s powerful enough to take her down with six words.  After she defies him and fires the weapon, destroying the fleeing aliens, he leans in the ear of her closest advisor and asks, “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

One of the reasons Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were a successful team was their contrasts: ALW was always a believer to some extent; Rice was an agnostic, and so on. Rice developed an admiration for Eva Peron in the early ’70s and wanted to write a musical about her. ALW resisted for several years, till he saw her story as a modern tragedy of the cost of fame.  While Lloyd-Webber has never been a lyricist, he usually collaborates on the “book” (play) of his shows, and on the basic idea behind a song.

So with Evita, who was known as the “Rainbow of Argentina,” he thought about Judy Garland.  He had attended one of her final concerts when he was younger, and he reflected on how pathetic she was–how she could barely sing, how broken she looked, and how people were literally throwing money on the stage.

Lloyd Webber worked in an “Over the Rainbow” theme to Evita (he’d later acquire the rights to Wizard of Oz and turn it into a sung through musical with his own new songs added to the classic movie tunes.   In “Eva Beware of the City,” she says, “Birds fly out of here, so why, o why the h— can’t I?”   In the song “Rainbow Tour,” Eva’s visit to France end when “She suddenly seemed to lose interest; she looked tired.”

It only takes a few words to destroy someone’s reputation.

TF movie voice actors mashup

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time.  I often imagine the characters being dubbed by lines from their other famous roles, or else see the Transformers talking when I hear them in other shows or movies, between  live action stars (e.g., Robert Stack of Unsolved Mysteries, Lionel Stander of Hart to Hart, Judd Nelson of Breakfast Club, Orson Wells of Citizen Kane, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek) or the prolific and easily recognized voice actors like Frank Welker (always Fred on Scooby-Doo  and Scooby himself since the death of Don Messick), Peter Cullen (Eeyore and many other Disney roles, not to mention TF’s direct competitors Gobots and Voltron), Scatman Crothers (Hong Kong Phooey), Casey Kasem (Shaggy), Susan Blu (the caller on Magic School Bus and many other roles) etc.  If I had the time to waste, I’d redub the movie, but here instead are some clips with quotes or paraphrases as captions).

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[On seeing Unicron] Cliffjumper: “Zoinks!” Jazz: “Let me check my _Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu!_”

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“Thanks for rememberin’ me!”

 

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“I have an idea, gang.  Let’s split up and look for clues!”

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“Scooby Dooby Dooo!”

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“COBRAAA!”

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“Perhaps *you* can help stop a Decepticon!”

 

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“Hello? Is this the Magic School Bus?  I  don’t think this episode is very accurate.”

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“From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend: the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe!”

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“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”

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“I have been, and always shall be, your enemy!  Live long and prosper, not!”


 

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Kup: “This is my Boss, Rodimus Prime: Self-Made Autobot Leader.  He’s quite a guy!”

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“Rosebud?”

 

The Abominable Bride: Did Sherlock Jump the Shark?

Sherlock: Since when have you had any kind of imagination?
John: Perhaps since I convinced the reading public that an unprincipled drug addict was some kind of gentleman hero.
Sherlock: Yes, now you come to mention it, that was quite impressive.
(From Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Read more at: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/viewtopic.php?f=51&t=24430

It’s hardly the first time I’ve inspired a writer, Watson. I am actually the basis for several fictional characters across various media. It’s one of the by-products of my success as a detective.
(From Elementary, season 04, episode 07, “Miss Taken”)
Read more at: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=24516

After two years, fans of BBC’s Sherlock have finally seen the long-anticipated special The Abominable Bride (you can watch it online here for the next week or so.

Now, as we wait at least another year for Season 4, I’m left wondering whether Sherlock has jumped the proverbial shark, presented a deconstructionist masterpiece, or both.

I included the quote from this past week’s Elementary because both series seem to be necessarily self-aware at times.  Last year, it touched on it with the necessity of “One Watson, One Holmes,” where their roles are referred to as almost a thing of destiny.  In an earlier episode, “End of Watch,” a member of Holmes’s Narcotics Anonymous group publishes a blog with quotations of Sherlock’s wisdom shared at meetings–thus resulting an in-universe explanation for popular Sherlock Holmes quotations like, “When we have eliminated the impossible, . . .”

One problem with such series, like Once Upon a Time, is the constant question of how these people attained such legendary status while being our contemporaries.  Sherlock addresses the question overtly via Watson’s blog, the equivalent of Conan Doyle’s conceit of the stories being written by Watson.

The idea of Sherlock Holmes being contemporary is nothing new.  Previous adaptations, most notably the mid-1940s Universal Studios/Basil Rathbone movies, have been set in whatever era they were made (the 2 1939 Fox-produced Rathbone films, and the Rathbone radio drama, were all set in the original era).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were really the first series in the modern sense.  While therehad been serialized novels like Les Miserables that could have been made into multi-year TV series today, and many sequels, the 56 short stories and 4 novels Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes were unprecedented.  Further, starting with the infamous ten-year letter-writing campaign that pressured Conan Doyle to bring the character back from the dead in 1903 when he’d intended 1894’s “The Final Problem” to be just that, to early commentaries that attempted to reconcile problems with the continuity, Conan Doyle inspired both the concept of the “series” and the concept of fandom.

Elementary may have been CBS’s attempt to capitalize on Sherlock’s popularity, but it also interestingly premiered the Fall after House, MD, ended, and Johnny Lee Miller’s approach to Holmes, more like Jeremy Brett than Cumberbatch has been to date (see below), also evokes Hugh Laurie’s Holmes-based doctor.

The first episode of Sherlock in 2010 seems to evoke elements of House (the ambiguity of Watson’s leg and cane usage, recalling both House and the original Watson; and Martin Freeman’s Watson reminds me more of Robert Sean Leonard’s James Wilson than any previous Watson) and Monk (inducing a police detective’s relationship status based upon similar clues).

Thus, like some movies like The Seven Per-Cent Solution and They Might Be Giants, both the current series, but Sherlock, in particular, have always played on the mythic status of the characters to explore questions of myth versus reality.  Though it is overtly  an attempt to pay homage to the original stories, and to the Jeremy Brett series (including a variation on the Brett Sherlock Holmes theme song, sets that recalled that interpretation of 221B Baker Street, and even a slight different in Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting style), “The Abominable Bride” definitely evokes both those films’ themes of paranoia and addiction, fantasy and reality.

In so doing, “The Abominable Bride” creates a conundrum.  Like every episode of Sherlock, it packs a lot into one episode, and it seems designed for repeat viewing.  However, while the first six episodes/movies do so by packing a lot of clues, Easter Eggs and humor, and cases that are resolved, this episode works more like an episode of Doctor Who.

The more I think about the special, the more it seems to “work,” but if it “works,” it undermines the whole series.  It’s like the Tommy Westphall hypothesis.  The theory, originally a satire of fans’ (myself included) obsession about “continuity,” meant to show how difficult it is to expect continuity of a single series (Ben Matlock lives in the same house for 9 seasons but three different houses are used for the outside), much less shows (or comic books) that cross-over.   Thus, the originally joking theory (which eventually grew into being what it was mocking) holds that every show ever is the wrapped up in the hallucination of Tommy Westphall on St. Elsewhere, since so many shows crossed over with it during its run or after, in a variant of 6 Degrees of Separation.  Any show that can be shown to “cross over” with a show that crossed over with St. Elsewhere is all part of the vast hallucination.

Thus, “The Abominable Bride” leaves the viewer with a similar dilemma.  In the first two seasons, Sherlock had seemingly substituted the character’s classic addictions with caffeine and nicotine, yet opium and other drugs were shown in season 3, and now at last the “seven per-cent solution” of cocaine.  We’re told that, shortly before boarding a plane to exile as a spy in “His Last Vow,” Sherlock took a cocktail of dangerous drugs.  When the episode ends, we see Moriarty, seemingly alive and having taken over all the media in the UK.  Mycroft calls for the plane to return.  In this episode, we see the 1890s versions of the characters, and in the middle find out we’re in Sherlock’s “mind palace”: he has supposedly concocted an elaborate supposition of himself in a different era trying to solve an old case of someone who had died in a similar way to Moriarty to try and figure out how he survived.  You may recall that even “The Great Game” had undermined our confidence in the character by Moriarty’s suggestion that he was just an actor, hired to make Sherlock Holmes look good.

Now, we see Holmes hallucinating the famous incident of the Reichenbach Falls, confronting Moriarty there as in Conan Doyle, with them engaging in a dialogue about how it “always ends here,” or some such.  As “our” Sherlock keeps coming in and out of his “hallucination,” we are faced with a rift in the show’s “reality.”  In the end, we see Holmes and Watson in the 1890s talking, and Holmes suggests that he is telling Watson a supposition about what life might be like in the 2010s!

It’s a worthy mystery: is the whole series just the fantasy of the “real” Sherlock Holmes in the 1890s?  Is the whole series a drug-induced paranoid fantasy of the “real” Sherlock Holmes in the 2010s?  Is most of it real, but the last few moments of Season 3 and all of “The Abominable Bride” a delusion?
Is the whole episode undermining us as fans and viewers and readers, trusting in the lie that an “unprincipled drug addict is a gentleman hero”?

Or has the show gone too far into the Fourth Wall?  One of the most infamous examples of “shark jumping” besides the Happy Days episode that inspired the term is season 9 of Dallas, the “Dream Season.”  Since Bobby Ewing had been visibly killed on screen at the end of season 8, when Patrick Duffy came back a year later, the producers made the entire year a dream Pam had about him being killed, and the show attempted to pick up where season 8 ended, with the storylines following different paths.  Though there were 5 seasons after “the dream,” it undermined fan confidence.

The genius of “The Abominable Bride” is that it takes that whole questioning of “fictional reality” to a new level.  The risk is it’s too obscure.  What is the point of watching Season 4 or the alleged season 5 if the whole thing is potentially the drug induced fantasy of either Holmes?

I want to talk about Star Wars Theories

Not about spoilers for Episode VII: The Force Awakens, mind you: the theories themselves, their existence.

It now seems a long time ago (for some of us, it was) that Disney bought LucasFilm  and announced not only a new “trilogy,” but a set of tied in one-off films in the manner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so there will be at least one Star Wars movie a year for the foreseeable future.

Even before that, though, Star Wars was, of course, a very popular topic online, generally of course why the “original trilogy” was good, why Empire Strikes Back was great, why the prequel trilogy was bad, or else how the original trilogy has some weaknesses and the prequels have strength.

A common theme that shows up is that the “Dark Side” of the Force are actually the good guys.  The prequels show the Republic and its Jedi secret police to be corrupt and incompetent.  The Empire just wants to bring order and governance.  The destruction of Alderaan was, in the galactic perspective, a legitimate military target.
The Rebellion wants to restore the chaos.

More importantly, Yoda, the “oldest and wisest of the Jedi” allows a Sith Lord to not only escape his notice but to work closely with him for *years* without getting a hint.  Yoda and Obi-wan are a couple of  liars who deceive Luke about his father *and* his sister (spoiler alert!).   Almost everything Obi-wan says in the “first” movie is revealed to be a lie by the end of Return of the Jedi and definitely by the end of Revenge of the Sith:
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Are these moral ambiguities merely plot holes?

Or is there a deeper problem with the series’ Gnosticism?

C. S. Lewis, after St. Augustine and many others, argues that the inherent flaw of a Dualistic worldview is that we’re told that “good” and “evil” are equal, opposing forces, and there’s no reason to say, “this side is good” and “this side is bad,” other than subjective perspective.

The same Obi-Wan Kenobi who described Vader as “Twisted and evil” earlier told Vader, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” (itself one of the statements used in evidence against the Jedi as the “good guys”).

On the other hand, when Darth Tyrannus is talking to Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones, he is telling the truth: the Republic is under the control of a Sith Lord; the Republic is riddled with corruption.

Many Star Wars fans argue that the terms “good” and “evil” should not be applied, that it’s “light” and “dark,” because the Force is not even dualistic: there is one Force, not a “Good Force” and a “Bad Force”; just one Force with two sides.  The Force can be accessed using different emotions, like the Lanterns in the DC universe.  The “light” side uses emotions generally considered “positive,” and the “dark” side is fueled by anger, revenge, hate, etc.

Watching The Force Awakens, while I enjoyed it and believe it has many strengths, I tended to agree with the L’Osservatore Romano review that evil is not clear in the film.  It’s kind of gloomy and pessimistic–which makes sense in a movie that’s supposed to be the inversion of “A New Hope,” but there’s also an even greater sense of that lack of clear lines of what is good and what is evil, because the characters lack a clear motivation or guideline.

The “Force” does not give moral laws; it just gives powers.  In real life, this is the problem of a dualistic worldview.  As soon as you say, “That is evil,” unless you mean it as, “I find that unpleasant,” you’re really saying there has to be one God who tells us what is evil.