Thursday, May 10, 2012

Visual Literature - Game of Thrones and Mad Men

So much awesome TV, so little time to write about it. I've been away for awhile (oh blog, how I've missed  you!), but starting back up with two of the biggies! While I can go about writing and dissecting many a TV show, these two are the most like literature to me. The intricate plot lines, the dialogue heavy with deeper meanings, the observations of what it means to have honor, live a good life... all of these things found in great writings I argue can be found here in these two shows. Of course, Game of Thrones has a slight advantage being that it is adapted from books, but successfully putting this fantastical world into a visual medium is no small feat. Mad Men views more like books read... slower paced, less action, but no less riveting and meaningful.

Game of Thrones
Color me IMPRESSED! For someone who is a huge fan of the books, I have been so happy with the true character portrayals, the rapid movement of plot points and almost verbatim dialogue. However, lately I have been most impressed with some of the shocking switcharoos!  And so natural are some of these diversions from the book that I have had to stop and think, "wait, did that happen in the book?"  The most shocking for me was the last scene of the latest episode where Dany returns to find her people killed - Irri among them! - and her dragons missing. Missing! I outright gasped at this and it sent my head spinning. I'm not sure I like this turn of events, but I am verrrrry interested to see where this goes. (Aside: I wonder if GRRM needs to approve all plot twists that deviate from the books... he must, right? He is the only one who knows how things evolve and ultimately end, so he would have to advise on whether these things will make sense down the line. Right?)
Where are my dragons?!
Of course, some of these twists I don't understand. For example, why is it Tywin at Harrenhal? I did have to think for a long time as to whether or not Tywin would have ever been able to know Arya before Roberts death. And while I land on "no, he probably didn't," I feel funny about this turn of events, not just because it's different, but because Tywin's character is supposed to be an all-knowing puppet master. He knows all, he sees all, he controls all. So now we are in the position, as a viewer, of knowing he seemingly does not know all, see all. Also, the looming threat doesn't seem quite as grave as when Roose Bolton was running the joint (in the book) with his eery disposition and love of leeches. Now Roose Bolton is riding along with Robb Stark, and nary a leech to be found. This may play out fine, but it seems this switcheroo has served to diminish the strength and scariness of both Tywin and Roose's characters. One more thing about Harrenhal that I think needs to be discussed is that there is certainly not the seemingly endless dire circumstances portrayed here as they were in the book. Yes, this is an hour long once a week TV show, so I certainly understand that they can only do so much to make the viewer understand the horribleness and desperation Arya experiences here. This becomes important when Jaqen H'Ghar informs Arya that basically he will give her three lives (kills them, he will) for the three she saved (including him). So when she names the Tickler as the first to die, the viewer may take pause and wonder why she didn't say Joffrey, who is the most hated and number one on her list, or Cersei or even Tywin. In the books, you understand why she chooses the people immediately around her, as the conditions at Harrenhal are truly horrific for days and days and days. I'm not sure the viewer is getting the full impact of her story.

Get used to this acting from her lower lip
But away from Harrenhal, all of the storylines are stellar and are moving along with great speed and intensity. And I have said it before and will say it again, this has to be the absolute greatest casting job anyone has ever done on any show ever. To the point where, full disclosure here, I actually do not like the character of Ygritte in the book. Okay, hate. But upon our first meeting of Ygritte here, aside from her weird habit of pulling in her bottom lip when she talks (trying to be a fierce wildling, are we?), I find her somewhat captivating. I'm not sure where this will go, but I am not hating her like I expected to.  I probably will upon the first uttering of "you know nothing Jon Snow." But until then, I suppose I'll save all my hate for Joffrey and Theon.

In the other story line of Davos Seaworth, where under orders from Stannis he accompanies Melisandre on the DL to a place near where Renly is camped out, I was so happy that it played out on screen almost exactly as I envisioned it in my head when reading it. Melisandre gives birth to an evil shadow. Serious kudos to HBO for showing this explicit scene exactly how it was written - there were no cutaways, we saw that evil thing come right out of her. This is probably one of the most riveting scenes, and certainly the one full of the most magic up to this point.
Yup, that's an evil shadow demon crawling out of there
Once birthed, this evil shadow actually kills Renly. Of all people, Catelyn Stark and Brienne of Tarth are the only two in the tent when it happens, helpless to take any action because it happens so fast. No one believes the shadow story, so Catelyn and Brienne are seemingly on the run. (Aside: does anyone who has not read the books know anything about Davos Seaworth, our Onion Knight? I feel a disservice is being done to this character by glossing over his past, why his devotion to Stannis is so strong, his strength. Based on what i have seen so far, the casual viewer may think he is just another one of Stannis' lackeys. I love this character, so I am hoping this is rectified over the upcoming episodes.)

oh, and have you seen this?
Other Stuff:
- So is this war nurse Talisa from Volantis replacing the Jeyne Westerling for our Robb Stark? It certainly seems so, with Catelyn Stark giving him the "you are betrothed to another" speech. P.S. War nurses?! What the hell are war nurses in this world?
- Another peculiar change of events is when Jon Snow volunteers to go with Halfhand on their mini expedition. Again, I am not sure if people who haven't read the books even understand what's happening up in those snowy mountains, but I am fairly sure that Halfhand specifically requests Snow to join him, for reasons that become clear later. Maybe these things I am referencing don't happen on the show? But if they do, then I am not sure Jon volunteering for this expedition will make sense.
- Littlefinger meeting with Tywin and recognizing Arya. Yeah, that happened. Right? What the heck does this mean?
- Unnecessary Understatement of the Year: Tyrion remains the man. HE SLAPPED JOFFREY. AGAIN!
- Missing the little frog people Jojen and Meera Reed. I hope they show up. They're very necessary, don't you think?
- Can one of the deviations from the books be that Sansa kills Joffrey? Like, next week?

Mad Men

Each and every episode has been better than the last. So good, they're like mini-novels, each one of them ladened with visual imagery that speaks volumes more than what is being said on screen. Of course, the most resonating is the episode where Roger and Jane take LSD and end up on the floor discussing the end of their relationship, and then Don and Megan in real life on the floor (after a thoroughly intense scene where he chases her through their apartment), discussing how to continue their relationship.
floor talk
The artfulness of each shot, each piece of dialogue and the character development on this show in incomparable. Of course, that's not to say that it doesn't get deep down raunchy at times (see: Peggy giving handjob to stranger in a movie theater). But isn't that what Mad Men is all about? The illusions of what people want to see, want to be... and what they really are. You can talk about comraderie, family tradition and campfires, but when it really comes down to it... you're talking about baked beans. Peggy is becoming Don, but is that what she wants to be? And who knows what the hell Pete is becoming... or is. (None of it is good though.) It is so interesting that here and now, Megan is the character that actually speaks truthfully and pointedly about how things are and what she wants. In every episode, Megan is good for at least one "truism." Of course, the most recent is in the episode Lady Lazarus and her decidedly brave move to tell Don that she wants to follow her dreams and become an actress. She is embracing a new life and taking control of what she wants.

The Lady Lazarus episode is so chock-full o' English major bait, I am almost giddy with all of the deep existential meaning of every scene, every piece of dialogue, every action. Predominantly, with Pete and his Lady Lazarus, or, errr... Beth Dawes (hello, Rory!).
She seems depressed, no?
I can only assume that they named this episode Lady Lazarus, a reference to Sylvia Plath's poem of controlling one's death as a release from burden of the body, as a parallel to not only Megan finding her new life, but to Pete finding Beth so captivating and beguiling that upon realizing she wants nothing more to do with him (after their one night stand) states "why do the women always get to call the shots?" (To which Harry Crane, of all people says "because they do.") Pete is so clueless that while Beth is clearly depressed and not in control of her life, he views her as in control of everything. Sylvia Plath's Lady Lazarus is about a woman's control (of her own life, of taking her own life) and where she states "out of the ash I rise with my red hair and I eat men like air," the power is found after death. Clueless Pete considers Beth a man-eater, whose rejection will ruin him. Perhaps I had it right by calling Beth Pete's Lady Lazarus... and she may actually fulfill the suicide outlined in the poem. There is a feeling to this Pete and Beth story that is somehow much deeper than any of his earlier transgressions.
Pete seems more fragile here (I mean, Lane did just beat him up not too long ago, and the *child* he was hitting on in driving class thinks he's ancient, making him hyper aware of his own mortality) - he just seems much more desperate. With a title like Lady Lazarus, I fear for Pete and the guns we know he has and the life insurance policies we know way too much about.

Other Stuff:
- Peggy's disappointment at the non-proposal from Abe was palpable, but only slightly mitigated by Abe's obvious sincerity. I do think Abe feels that this is a commitment on par with engagement. Too bad Peggy doesn't feel this way.
Sigh. This poor girl.
- Don's almost free fall into the elevator. What.The.Hell. This is classic Mad Men, to jolt us out of our passive viewing where everything *up here* seems okay, and then blammo! *down here* elevator doors are revealing open shafts. (Please see blog entry xx for more on my Up Here - Down Here theories.)
- Need to write pages and pages about Sally Draper and her big girl outfit and her big girl night out with the adults to see her Daddy win an award. How devastating to have Roger be the absolute coolest guy to her the whole night, and then to have her walk in on him and her, um... step-grandmother?... getting busy in a backroom? I just shake my head for this poor girl. I think she needs a sword named Needle and some "dancing" lessons to get out of there alive.
- We need more Joan.

That's all for today! Tell me all your cares and woes as it relates to GoT and MM. What are your thoughts on the changes from the books to the show? If you haven't read the books, tell me your thoughts on these characters. Is Mad Men the visual literature I think it is?