Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Epitaph One

Epitaph Three

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Perhaps io9 can remind you why you miss Dollhouse. Season 2 DVDs out today.

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October 12, 2010 at 8:50 pm

No Gay Marriage, But

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We can’t have marriage equality, but we can have “Epitaph Two: The Return.”

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December 2, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Infinite Jest #10: On Endings

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This post ditches the official spoiler-line and talks about the ending of Infinite Jest. If it’s important to you not to read such a post, please do not read this post.

I decided to read through to the end of Infinite Jest this morning, which means (1) this is post is off the spoiler-line and consequently deals with the text as a whole and (2) this may or may not be my last Infinite Summer post. In light of (2) I’d like to say that it’s been truly great, and while I’m not able to participate in the Gravity’s Rainbow followup due to my pending exams I hope to pick up again with whatever Book #3 turns out to be.

I think it’s natural to end Infinite Jest in the spirit of of anticlimax nicely captured by Infinite Detox:

…as a reader, who’s poured 1,000 pages of emotional investment into this novel and its characters, this rings hollow and false. Frankly, I’m pissed off.

…Here’s the irony: One of Wallace’s big projects in Infinite Jest was to champion the notion of sincerity, right? Of forging connections and telling the truth and dropping the anhedonic mask and opening yourself up to the emotional gooiness that may result. From an intellectual standpoint, Wallace is very much pro-sincerity. And definitely ambivalent about “hip irony”, if not downright hostile toward it. Wallace can talk the talk about sincerity and directness and forging connections, but it’s like when it comes to the point of enacting that sincerity, dramatizing it and building it into the very fabric of Infinite Jest, he can’t (or doesn’t want to) bring himself to do it.

This tension between sincerity and irony—the impossible yearning for an open, unmediated authenticity of the sort we’re smart enough to know can never be achieved—is productive of the melancholic tone that has characterized most of my reading of Infinite Jest this summer. In some essential, baseline sense I think it’s what the book is All About.™ So IJ is most assuredly not a failure, exactly, so much as a very pointed and frustrating framing of a particularly intractable problem—which is to say IJ is a (mostly) successful book on the subject of universal human failure. We are left at the end of Infinite Jest with a story that hasn’t even happened yet, much less capable of directing us towards some personal epiphany—but if we’ve been reading carefully all along we should have known it could never be otherwise. (See, for example, the conversation between Remy Marathe and Kate Gompert from 774-782, in which Marathe’s story repeatedly resists the narrative closures an increasingly desperate Gompert is desperate to assign to it. How this book would end has always been right in front of our faces.)

Now, you can allow yourself to be seduced by the teasing but doomed impulse towards closure, the fantasy that answers to all the mysteries exist somewhere inside the book. Wallace himself even points to this in an interview:

(DFW) There is an ending as far as I’m concerned. Certain kind of parallel lines are supposed to start converging in such a way that an “end” can be projected by the reader somewhere beyond the right frame. If no such convergence or projection occured to you, then the book’s failed for you.

(Wallace is, I think, being coy here. Of course there’s hints about what happens after pg. 981, but they are completely incomplete and even contradictory, as he well knows, and in any event beside the point.)

Over the years Wallace fans has struggled admirably to puzzle out these supposedly converging lines with varying levels of success, and that work goes on in the Infinite Summer forums as we speak. For what it’s worth: I think the DMZ/mushrooms theory makes a lot of sense, and definitely explains some of Hal’s strange behavior in the middle of the novel, but I remain committed to the partial-viewing-of-the-Entertainment hypothesis, the heroic partial overcoming of which in evidence during the “Year of Glad” chapter I think better matches DFW’s existential themes. I think they must have really dug up Himself’s head, even if that seems to introduce precognitive dreams into the world of the novel alongside “wraiths,” and I suspect a microwave-destroyed copy of the master was inside. There is no anti-Entertainment. I don’t think the Entertainment ends the world, a la Dollhouse‘s “Epitaph One”; what it does is both less and more apocalyptic than that. Whether or not John Wayne was a spy he was “on Hal’s side” by the grave and whatever came later, and I guess he probably died somewhere along the way, somehow. I don’t know if I think Hal gets better. I think things get worse for Pemulis. I think O.N.A.N. dissolves.

But the impulse to make this sort of over-interpretive effort is itself a kind of misreading of the novel, which is, we must recognize, explicitly anticonfluential along the theories of Himself’s own films. The displeasure of this sort of text is laid out unmistakably for us within the novel itself:

It was only after Himself’s death that critics and theorists started to treat this question as potentially important. A woman at U. Cal-Irvine had earned tenure with an essay arguing that the reason-versus-no-reason debate about what was unentertaining in Himself’s work illuminated the central conundra of millennial après-garde film, most of which, in the teleputer age of home-only entertainment, involved the question why so much aesthetically ambitious film was so boring and why so much shitty reductive commercial entertainment was so much fun. (947)

The book—which, centered as it is around a mind-consuming MacGuffin called “the Entertainment” that destroys your ability to think, and therefore live, refuses to entertain us—is an object lesson in the fact that literature is about something other, and we can hope more, than mere pleasure. Infinite Jest is extremely fun at times and incredibly tedious at others—but in its mammoth scale, sprawling scope, and discontinuous presentation it could only ever leave us with a kind of unfulfilled, anti-entertained sense of disappointment at its end. To see the missing Year of Glad or to know X, Y, and Z about it would not change that inevitable anticlimax; in all likelihood it would only bring the discomforting divide between literature and Entertainment into even sharper relief while in the process sacrificing the calculated denial of easy pleasure that is at the core of the novel’s claims to aesthetic worth. To try to close a narrative like this one is a readerly impulse that is almost impossible to avoid—it was, I’ll admit, essentially the first thing I embarked on when I put down the book—but we should only attempt to do so with the understanding that we can’t, and knowing that if we were better readers of Wallace we wouldn’t even try. The ending was never and could never have been what Infinite Jest is about; that’s why it comes first.

Friday Night Links

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Friday night in Jersey links.

* My eighth Infinite Summer post this morning on brains, rats, happiness, and the problem of atheism drew some really great comments both from my regular readers and other IJ readers; check them out.

* From @cfoster, participating in that thread: news of Inherent August.

* Topher says Dollhouse season two will live in the shadow of “Epitaph One.”

* When does a Prius have the same environmental impact as a Hummer? The 95 percent of the time it’s parked.

* Incredibly, President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse.

Honest. This isn’t a joke. The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God. Via Boing Boing.

* And what do Slate readers fear? Their top five apocalypses.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 7, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Thoughts on the ‘Dollhouse’ DVD

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The DVD has only been out a week, so no real spoilers, but I have a few thoughts about the two unaired episodes of Dollhouse.

* “Epitaph One” is as ambitious and as amazing as promised—definitely my favorite episode of Dollhouse and one of the top Whedonverse episodes of all time. It is, in every sense, just great, laying out a blueprint for the future of the series that is so compelling I’m not sure we need to actually see any of intervening episodes. (As far as I’m concerned they’d just be killing time before we get to “Epitaph Two,” which is what I really want to see.) Joss and his co-writers have been pretty open with the fact that the episode came out of the assumption that there wouldn’t be any more; people reference “Objects in Space,” but the comparison to the season one finale of Sledge Hammer! seems much more apt. Have they written themselves into a corner? It’ll be interesting to see if Joss & Co. can make the second season work when the real story now seems to be happening in 2019. Will people really sit still for john-of-the-week episodes with the stakes raised so much higher? Or will season two be more like Lost seasons four and five, with flashbacks and flashforwards that meet somewhere in the middle? Honestly I think I’d be most happy if they stuck with the “Epitaph” frame for good and did 2009-2018 just in flashback. It’s not like we’re getting a third season; don’t leave anything on the road.

* Speaking of 2019: Was that a Dark Angel shout-out? The episode definitely had a post-Pulse vibe, and Joss and Dark Angel have something of a checkered past: widely understood as a Buffy rip-off, Dark Angel was unceremoniously canceled in favor of Firefly, which was later (you may have heard) unceremoniously canceled…

* The unaired pilot is, I think, probably a little worse as a pilot than the actually aired pilot—a rare case of network interference not being all bad—but it’s pretty clear that Joss bitterly prefers it. (I haven’t listened to the commentary yet, but apparently he has a lot of thoughts along these lines there as well.) Not only did he make oblique references to the original pilot throughout the season and in Epitaph One *and* bring back the astoundingly unimpressive Chrissy Seaver for “Omega,” but he ended the (aired) season on the same audiovisual image—a whispered “Caroline”—that the original pilot ended on. The implication seems to be that the whole of the first season gets us to the same place the pilot did in just one hour.

* The most interesting thing about the unaired pilot, I think, is the discovery that Eliza Dushku is actually pretty good at doing a series of drastically different characters when it happens in rapid-fire, three-minute bursts. It’s only over the course of a full episode that she really struggles as an actress. The hints toward Future Caroline in “Epitaph One” look like the latest attempt to explain away the one-note-acting; we’ll see how this plays out.

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August 1, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Monday Night Bloggity Blogs

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Monday night bloggity blogs.

* Samuel Delany’s “The Star Pit” as a radio show. Really good.

* More on the surprise Dollhouse renewal, including word that “Epitaph One” will likely be aired after all and an interview with Joss. Too bad about Terminator; Bill Simmon links to a Fox executive explaining the one had nothing to do with the other, except insofar as it did.

“[Sarah Connor] has completed its run,” Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly confirmed at a press conference this morning. “I think it had a nice little run. It was a good show. It was not an either or [with Dollhouse]. We did see it tailing off a bit [in the ratings]. It had a nice creative core, but, ultimately, we made the bet on Dollhouse, so that’s it for [Sarah Connor]… We make no apologies. We gave it a lot of support and some consistent scheduling. We tried and thought it was time to move on.”

* Benen and Yglesias explain how the right’s schoolyard strategy on Pelosi and torture may be making a truth commission much more likely.

* Rick Perry has abandoned neosecessionism. Score one for the Northern aggressors.

* I was so outraged by the very idea of this I completely forgot to blog it: someone’s written a Catcher in the Rye sequel and their name isn’t J.D.

“Just like the first novel, he leaves, but this time he’s not at a prep school, he’s at a retirement home in upstate New York,” said California. “It’s pretty much like the first book in that he roams around the city, inside himself and his past. He’s still Holden Caulfield, and has a particular view on things. He can be tired, and he’s disappointed in the goddamn world. He’s older and wiser in a sense, but in another sense he doesn’t have all the answers.”

Bunch of phonies.

* Maureen Dowd plagiarizes Josh Marshall and everyone has a really good time with it.

* The New Yorker covers the sixth mass extinction event. Print edition only, because analysis of an ongoing mass extinction event isn’t something you just give away for free. A few more links at Kottke.

* Kos and Yglesias on epically bad ideas to save newspapers.

Dollhouse

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A few quick Dollhouse reflections in light of tonight’s “season” finale. Spoilers below, naturally.

* All in all the Alpha plotline was fairly disappointing, my appreciation for Alan Tudyk aside. It reduced a little too neatly to a run-of-the-mill serial-killer plotline when there seemed to be much, much more potential there. I’m not calling network interference, necessarily, but things seemed rushed and a little undercooked. Joss fumbled this one.

(UPDATE: To be more precise, he fumbled the plotline in almost exactly the same way he fumbled the Adam and First Evil storylines on Buffy. The composite event—which shouldn’t have been caused by a mechanical malfunction—should have made Alpha actually Godlike. Alpha’s portrayal in this episode ruins almost everything about what was interesting about the character to begin with. It’s also somewhat inconsistent with the way the event had been portrayed in earlier episodes, especially with regard to Topher and Adele’s puzzlement over how it happened—which is not to suggest Dollhouse has a particularly good record on the consistency front in any case.)

* Called the Fred situation last week, though I was hoping she’d known she was a Doll all along. I think the character had significantly more potential that way—though it’s interesting to think that she was just set up to be the hero of the second season, the Dollhouse’s only self-aware victim and the audience’s new clearest focal point for narrative identification.

* Which also makes her a pretty good candidate for season two’s Big Bad.

* Neil and I spent a lot of time last week talking about Dr. Saunders and whether or not her Dollness suggests that the Dollhouse is able to do direct editing/programming of memories (“imprint code”), as opposed to a fuzzier, less exact approach (“imprint soup”). (I’d always assumed imprint code, and that most of the characters would turn out to have been modified in some way or another; Neil was more skeptical.) At first glance, this episode suggests they can edit directly—but the more I think about it it seems more likely that every Dr. Saunders is a Doll.

UPDATE: Though the fact that Fred/Saunders remembers a version of the Alpha attack that explains her scars may shift the balance back towards direct editing / imprint coding again.

* Is Victor really gone? He was one of the best actors on the show, that’s just not possible.

* It will would be interesting to see whether Mellie is really released. I’m also curious what deal Ballard signed; “I’m nobody” suggests he agreed to do the rest of her service as a Doll, whereas I think most people were expecting he’d be hired as a handler.

* Since the Dollhouse’s contracts aren’t legal, of course, there’s no reason not to have your cake and eat it too. Once Ballard is enslaved, bring Madeline back in for a treatment.

* It also remains the case that you’d want every employee to be a Doll, all things being equal; see Dr. Saunders above. Why would they even let Dominics, Boyds, and Tophers in the door, when they can cook up compliant and perfectly loyal substitutes in-house? One possible answer to this might have to do with the exact nature of the Doll programs; if they’re imprint-soups as opposed to imprint-codes, maybe there are structural limits to how long they can be used before the personality imprint goes bad or breaks down.

* Echo/ED remains, by far, the least interesting thing about this show. I was really hoping they’d kill off the Caroline wedge so at least something interesting would happen there.

* Well, that’s a little unfair; apropos of the Great Transporter Debate this episode makes it a little hard to see how the process of being “wiped” isn’t itself necessarily death. If we accept that continuity of consciousness is required for metaphysical identity—and we wave our hands at things like sleep for just a moment—then it would seem to be the case that “Caroline” can be hypothetically restored after her five years are up and she’s hypothetically released from her contract. But it’s equally clear that the person who wakes up in Chrissy Seaver’s body is not metaphysically identical to the original Caroline. So how can the one revival result in a “real” resurrection and the other in a “false” one? What’s the difference between “copy” and “restore”? It could only be Ballard’s “soul,” which, like Topher, I scoff at. So it seems to me that when you’re switched off, that’s it, you’re dead, which has some pretty serious implications for comas, head injury, amnesia, insanity, aging, sleep, and just about everything else having to do with what we naively believe consciousness is.

*Hope you noticed and enjoyed the brief Firefly shout-out as much as I did. Take that, Fox. (UPDATE: Missed at first the Angel bit about souls in jars—it was a double shoutout to both his unjustly canceled shows…)

Sadly, despite the hopes of all good nerds, that’s probably it for Dollhouse. But “Epitaph One” comes out with the DVD this July, and there’s even rumors today that Joss might spin-off that into a new show. Because spin-offs of failed one-season flops are so very common.

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May 9, 2009 at 2:30 am