Not-So-Quick Review: The Man in the High Castle and the Gotcha Problem

I actually finished Season 3 of The Man in the High Castle, which I had been seriously anticipating for a while. People who were also fans told me it was something of a disappointment, and actually a chore to get through. This proved to be right: I watched the season in shortish binges and the whole time found myself wondering why anything was happening. There was a general lack of overarching narrative/conflict, such as Season 2 had. Now that I’ve watched all 10 episodes, I have nothing but questions, and not the cliffhanger kind, that you want answers to. These are the kind of questions that I suspect all have the same answer.

I should also point out that I have a copy but have not read the novel by Phillip K. Dick. I’m thinking I might read it now. It’s long, but I can do it pretty quickly.

So, before I continue, let me just leave a big old banner that says…

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  1. Why did we bring characters back from the point of death just to kill them off gratuitously? Was Joe Blake’s death supposed to mean something? Was breaking him on the wheel and then having Julianna slit his throat supposed to be a commentary on the Reich? Like how there’s really no room to not be a monster in the Reich? Yeah, I kind of knew that. We kind of all knew that. Finding bad guys in the Reich is not a surprise. The whole point of the John Smith character is that he puts a human face above the jackboots.
    But whatever, something had to be done with Joe. But nothing needed to be done with Frank. You could have left Frank dead at the end of last season. For that matter, I don’t know how he was supposed to be alive, hundreds of miles away. And why do that just to kill him off? Was that scene in the desert between him and Kito supposed to underscore Kito’s very Japanese sense of obligation? Again, we already knew that. As for Frank’s narrative this season…
  2. Am I really supposed to believe that the guerrilla art campaign is going to amount to something? Like, I get it, a symbol of hatred. Make the People Woke or whatever. But there’s been a resistance for 20 years. People know this. Their rulers are hateful. People know this. So like…is that it?
  3. Is there a point to John Smith’s promotion to Reichsmarshall of America? Dude’s an SS general when we meet him, the American equivalent of Reinhard Heydrich (and may I just say that Smith besting Heydrich last season to get the key data point necessary to prevent nuclear war was a marvelous high point at the end of last season). And yes, the cloak-and-dagger between him and Rockwell and Hoover (cute historical touches both), proved an interesting plot for the first half of the season. But when it’s over and Smith is now Reichsmarshall, he remains essentially the same, a dude taking orders from Berlin. There’s nothing showing how his duties change, how the political aspects of his job elevate him. He’s still chasing the Man in the High Castle and interviewing suspects. He doesn’t even inherit Rockwell’s goofy baton. So why have that happen at all?
  4. Is Julianna a completely different person now? She is one of those characters who’s all over the map. Last season she was trying to escape, even hobble the Resistance to save Joe Blake; this season she’s killing Blake and leading guerrilla operations to blow up superweapons. Are we planning on having some kind of atonement with the capital-R Resistance? Or are we just going to keep having her do whatever the plot needs her to do so that Surprises can happen?
  5. Are we ever going to get an explanation of how “Moving Between Worlds” works? We saw Trade Minister Decent Guy do it with some joss sticks. Julianna’s sister did it… somehow. Dr. Mengele has a machine that sort of does it through an anomaly, but not well or reliably (yet). And now Julianna can do it by… magic? Electroshock? Guys, this is the premise of the story. If you’re going to have the titular character understand it, can we just do the exposition dump already?

I think the problem lies in two elements: 1) the economic need of TV to fit Content to More Seasons, and 2) the habit of High-Concept dramas to use Gotchas.

As I discussed here, the economics of TV, requires that storylines get stretched out over longer and longer seasons, because successful TV shows need to keep going so they can make their producers money. This is what happened to How I Met Your Mother: a concept and ending that would have worked well enough had the series closed after 6 seasons became completely unbearable after 9. So probably High Castle is in a busywork/stretching phase, giving characters “something to do”.

The other thing is a habit that Prestige Television likes to do to viewers, which is to say, sucker-punching with a sudden development or death. Just when you think you know what’s going on, boom, here’s an assassin or explosion or tap at the shoulder and NOW EVERYTHING’S DIFFERENT WHOAAAA.

Hence, Joe Blake and Franks’ death. Hence, Helen’s abandonment of John Smith in the last episode. Hence, pretty much everything.

Hopefully Season 4 will be better. For now, I’m gonna read the book.

Let the #HIMYM Fans Rage, Crack, Blow Thy Bellyful.

Sitcom finale’s always disappoint. Always. They either go full maudlin and forget to be funny, or they work too hard to provide finality and so screw up the chemistry, or they don’t do anything at all (hi, Seinfeld!). This happens because sitcoms are built on the idea “these people, in this scene, are funny.” Ending that arbitrarily is delicate work.

But HIMYM had a point! A purpose! A climax, built into the title. This was an easy lay-up. Instead, they spiked the ball in our face and ran off.

But don’t take my word for it. Savor the sweet, sweet, fan rage from around WordPress: (Obviously, SPOILERS!)

FESTINOVERINI: How I Made Your Mother a Back-Up Plan Until I Have The Chance To Pursue The (What I Delusionally Think) Love Of My Life: “Maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way the creators thought that they want to create one of the most unforgettable unexpected season finales in the history of TV series. So they decided to ruin it, big time.

daniellepc: How I Was Disappointed By a Finale: “Look, maybe we could have handled old widow Ted having another crack at love with Robin, if it wasn’t for a few things.

muchsports: How I Met Your Mother – Why I am Actually Mad: “The idea would have worked if the show had been 4 to 5 seasons, but it wasn’t. It was 9.
acoupleofyears: Why HIMYM’s Finale Let Us Down: “it felt like they were telling a story that started with ‘ Oh I had this friend, who was so funny, and….legen….wait for it…dary….Playbook…..HAHAHA!’

And when we ask: ‘ Oh, what happened to him in the end?’

Their answer was ‘ Oh…you know, he got a girl pregnant and became a father.’”

themedia10.com: Is The How I Met Your Mother Ending Inexcusable?: “The entire ending was believeable, it was just executed in a way that didn’t allow the audience to breathe.”

Obligatory Apologetics – Jon Negroni: Why You Hated the ‘How I Met Your Mother’ Finale: “You hated the way the show ended because you thought it was “How I Met Your Mother,” not “How I Got Permission From My Kids To Marry Aunt Robin.””

This last one makes some decent points. Yes, there’s an internal logic to this story being told this way. Yes, this was really the plan all along, with has the benefit of making the last two seasons of BarneyRobinBarneyRobin at least a clever Rube Goldberg device.

But Blackmailers Don’t Shoot nailed it. How I Met Your Mother Dies a Screaming Death, Covered In It’s Own Blood: “At the end of the day, those of us who stayed with this show to the end are Girl 31. We knew that we were being used. It wasn’t going to end well and they wouldn’t respect us in the morning. It was fun, but not worth it.

 

How I Met Your Mother: a Consideration of Character Decline

I’ve really blogged enough about this show, but as long as it keeps sending me hits, I’ll continue registering my notice of comic FAIL.

dead-horse

Blackmailer’s Don’t Shoot finally threw in the towel this season.

It’s a world of smug 20 and 30-somethings whose self-regard vastly outweighs their accomplishments. Watch it to see what a glimpse into the collective imagination of Slate’s editorial board would look like, only with a sense of humor.

I admit I started the season full of hope that the funny would be recovered as the purpose of the show was. There were even signs of self-awareness:

But somewhere around the anti-climactic final slap-bet episode, I lost the will to continue. I don’t care. I don’t care about whether Marshall and Lilly are going to go to Rome or not (Wife watched the “Unpause” episode, I didn’t. She was “meh” about it). I don’t even really need to see Ted Meet the Mother. I’ve seen her, and she’s intereacted enough with the other characters to preclude the nerdiest theory that she’s imaginary. Ted’s going to meet her, and everything will be fine.

Rather, I’d like to look at how TV characters tend to morph into simplified versions of themselves, causing other characters to morph in other ways to restore the balance. This visual analysis of Family Guy has been around for a while:

family.guy.comparison.1255583100

 

It’s been done to The Simpsons, too, perhaps less effectively:

HIMYM is practically begging for the same treatment. A few minute’s image-googling yielded a picture I could Cheezburger to my satisfaction. Enjoy:

HIMYM Does Not End. HIMYM Never Ends.

Apparently the season finale is Monday. I’m not going to watch it until Tuesday at the latest, because I only watch HIMYM on the web. I’ve been marginally involved this season. Everything has felt really tired. The only episode that didn’t feel like warmed-over Season 5 was the “Time Travel” episode, and even only impressed at the end.

Buzzfeed has a speculative post with spoilers at the end, which I did not read. I’ll leave that up to you.

Someone spent a lot of time on this.

It includes a couple of disturbing fan theories:

  • The Mother is Dead When Ted Starts Telling the Story. That would explain why he’s spending so much time telling the kids all about her. Except it doesn’t, because he’s been telling them about his single life before he met her. And it doesn’t explain why the kids have been sitting there, respectfully patient, but clearly bored out of their skulls. If these were children of a dead mother, they would want to know everything about her.

  • The Mother is Tyler Durden. Which is to say, there is no mother: she is a figment of Ted’s imagination. So are the kids. He’s sitting there, miserable, rambling to no one in particular. Of all the possible resolutions, this one would irritate the most, because it would make everything we’ve watched utterly irrelevant. Sure, Newhart did this, but no one really cared about Newhart, least of all Bob Newhart. 

The scenario I consider far more likely:

  •  We Almost See the Mother, But Don’t Quite. We spend the whole episode at Barney and Robin’s wedding. Cliffhanger at the train station. She sits next to him, he looks up. Fade out. The throwaway scene has Barney, Marshall, Lilly, and Robin. Closing credits, possibly including the words “HA HA SUCKERS!” or “TROLOLOLOLOLOLOL” or some such.

HIMYM, Shark-Jumping, and the Lonely End of All Sitcoms

This means another season!
This means another season!

Every week I get at least a few hits from the phrase “how I met your mother jumped the shark.” This occurs because a year ago I penned a post entitled “I Met Your Mother While Jumping a Shark.” and while it doesn’t bring in quite as much traffic as “Why Family Guy Sucks at Political Humor,” it is a reliable bringer of eyeballs to the blog. Slow and steady and all of that.

Nothing that’s happened in the year since has made me change the opinion offered then:

Let’s get Barney married, let’s give Robin her suprise real pregnancy (you know they’re going to do that, right?), and let’s bring Ted and The Mother® together already. The fans are bored. The writers are clearly bored. This woman’s introduction has gone on long enough.

So I’d just as soon not write about it any further. But I have a partner/underling at Riposte Publishing, one Thomas Fitz, and he keeps a desultorily-updated blog, Puritanical Screeds. In one of his less deeply cynical posts, “Why All Shows With Amazing Ensemble Casts Should Be Shot in the Head After Six Seasons, and Barney Stinson is Not Funny Anymore,” he discusses the problems that successful sitcoms have:

Every TV show eventually hits its limits, achieves its goals, tells its story. When this happens, the best thing for the show is to bow out gracefully, which is usually the last thing that the economics of TV shows will permit to happen. Successful TV shows are cash-cows, and they will be milked until dry. There’s a reason that the networks staged reunions of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island, and it involved the writers’ yearning for artistic closure and some network executive needing to pay off his coke dealer, but mostly the second thing. And if you’re a writer or actor attached to a successful TV show, your need for steady income to spend on Southern California real estate and adopting Vietnamese children might not trump your devotion to story integrity, but not everyone is going to move from The Office to The Mindy Project.

He has some harsh words for The Office and How I Met Your Mother in particular.

I’m more into Bob’s Burgers now anyway. That’s still in its third season, so I can still enjoy it.