May 22, 2006

"Baghdad ER," "The Sopranos," "Big Love."

Did you watch three straight hours of HBO last night? Or did you leave off "Baghdad ER" on the theory that there's something wrong with witnessing real bodily pain and then enjoying "The Sopranos"? Or did you only watch "Baghdad ER" because of that? I saw there was a problem with the line up, but still watched all three.

I think "Baghdad ER" was a good documentary. Is it an anti-war documentary? Several times, amid the carnage, a doctor or nurse says the violence is senseless, but there is no political context to this. We can't tell whether they are saying the continuing acts of enemy violence are senseless or whether the whole project of overthrowing Saddam Hussein made no sense. Basically, this program shows you the reality of what the wounds are and how doctors go about doing their work. This is something that you should not look away from whether you oppose the war or support it. Watching this film involves seeing a leg sawed off, an amputated hand thrown in the trash, a hole in an eyeball sewn closed, and many similarly gruesome things. With perhaps only one exception, the medical personnel are not cynical and weary. It's not like "MASH." They are impressively professional and rational about accomplishing what they need to do. Seeing clearly what that is lets us honor their heroism.

Now, I feel it's crass to go on to write about "The Sopranos" and "Big Love." But this illustrates the dissonance anyone would have felt if they sat down to the three hours HBO offered up last night.

"The Sopranos." Was Edie Falco's trip to Paris gratuitous enough for you? See gazes upon picturesque sights and feels transformed. It's the old contrast between her interest in higher things -- remember religion? -- and the ugly, evil world she likes to indulge herself by thinking she's not connected to. But why Paris? Sarah Jessica Parker went to Paris in the end of "Sex and the City," so why is HBO dishing up the woman-goes-to-Paris plot again? In Paris, you can really put your thoughts in order? Why would that be? I'm thinking the HBO folks just like to do some filming in Paris. Especially after all that New Jersey, that relentless, endless New Jersey. The "Sex and the City" people got to film in New York and they got to go to Paris. It's only fair that the New Jersey-afflicted crew of "The Sopranos" gets to go to Paris. But it wasn't all Carmela gaping at statues. (Oh, you want an Emmy for that too?) It was Tony getting the finger (from AJ). And Vito getting the pool cue. And that other guy getting the knife in the gut.

"Big Love." Margene spends most of the episode rototilling the dirt backyard, laying down slabs of sod, and keeling over, while Barb and Nicki natter over problems. Margene is the family slave. But all three of the women fuss over their wills. Who should get your children if Bill and you die? The wives all have different opinions. Once Bill dies, there's no ongoing polygamy: the surviving wives will no longer be "living the principle." So do you want one of the un-principle-living wives to have your children? Or do you ship them back to the compound? Meanwhile, we wonder whether 15-year-old Rhonda will wake up to reality and resist getting sealed to the Prophet. She thinks she's so superior, but then she didn't make it to the second round of that acting competition. One of the most amusing scenes had Rhonda saying some lines that turned out to be from "A Long Day's Journey Into Night." Her long journey into night is only beginning, so what could she know of the torment of the character she imagined she could play?


Dave said...

I watched all three shows last night.

The Paris trip irritated me because it was a sentimental and naive view of France. Never mind the sclerotic economy, the race riots, and the stultifying oppression of French intellectualism; Paris is beautiful!

What a load of crap. The scene of the guy chipping paint off the wall in the Cathedral was, I think, representative of the folly with which France goes about its business, thinking that its august culture makes it immune to the vagaries of competition and capitalism.

That Sarah Jessica Parker's character is at once more sympathetic and more familiar to me than is Carmela Soprano, made it easier to stomach her chasing after Mr. Big in Paris.

And don't even get me started on Ro.

The characters' desperate attempt to justify their ostracization of Vito on the basis of what priests or official dogma says is repugnant but, sadly, typical of uneducated cretins such as those illustrated on the show.

As for Big Love: I want to slap Marge out of her naivete.

(Naivete seems to be a stick point with me.)

At least Baghdad ER, unflinching in its portrayal of the injuries sustained in war, is not naive in any sense.

Anonymous said...

this illustrates the dissonance anyone would have felt if they sat down to the three hours HBO offered up last night.

This also parallels the dissonance in our country, where the general population is going forward with life as usual while the military engages in a grueling, protracted fight. The pain of this war is felt by such a small minority of the citizens; none of the usual feedback mechanisms are kicking, either for support of the troops or for course correction.

Baghdad ER is attempting to correct that, in its small way, or at least make the sacrifice visible to the broader population. But by setting it in the context of popular entertainment, it also highlights the huge disconnect.

Ann Althouse said...

GJ: And most people don't have HBO.

Beth said...

Only one moment in Paris rang true for me; when Carmela and Ro are in the Musee du Moyen Age looking at the necklace from 1350 that "a woman just like us" wore. Yes, exactly. The wife of a knight, or a robber baron, a man trained to take what he wants with his sword. I don't think she spoke with intended irony, though.

Joan said...

I missed "Baghdad ER" entirely, I didn't know it was on. Oops.

I winced through much of "The Sopranos." I didn't mind the Paris stuff so much, because I've been to Paris in a state similarly vulnerable to Carmela's, and felt the weight of history upon me. It's not just that it's beautiful, but that it's old, and everywhere you go, you see it and feel it.

"Big Love" just pissed me off. The writers really have no idea what they're doing with that show. I know Barb doesn't really want to be a polygamist, but agreeing to go ahead in that competition once she heard what would be required if she wins was idiotic.

But the thing that really grated on me was the First Lady's representative, interviewing her, and saying, "Luckily for you, your tumor had metastasized." No one who has ever had cancer would non-react to that line the way Barb did. I'm well aware that these are fictional characters but I got so angry I almost through something at the tv. Barb's righteous anger at an attempt to use her nearly fatal cancer as a public service announcement would have given her an easy out, but she just sat there like a guppy, big eyes, mouth open, agreeing to everything. I could've decked her.

At this point I don't even care what the big revelation will be in the final episode... these characters all deserve whatever fate befalls them. Enough!

PatCA said...

I watched about 30 minute of Baghdad ER, won't again. Same old lecturing, seems to me. It really irriates me that they envision any Americans who support the war, however reluctantly, as jingoistic morons who don't know that war is hell. I also don't think the soldiers want our pity.

Sopranos was a little ham handed--the contrasts between the pig in Paris and the Bada Bing. I still love it, like I would love an old dog who's not quite what he once was.

I didn't see Big Love, but sounds like the tumor comment was meant as an anti-Bush swipe rather than a comment on Barb's character?

Crank said...

FYI, Ann, I'm not sure how much of The Sopranos is actually filmed in New Jersey. The indoor sets, at least - Tony's house, the inside of the Bing - are all at Silvercup Studios, a big building in Long Island City, in Queens.

I spent much of the Paris sequence expecting something sudden and horrible to happen, but like a lot of this season, David Chase is just building tension and drawing contrasts (like the quick cut from Carm's view of Paris to Tony and Sil directing the repair of the sign at the Bing). The question remains what, if anything, Chase is going to do with all that tension and reflection. Will the sudden, unplanned war with Phil be the endgame?

Dave said...

Two notes re filming: As I understand it, the Satriales/Bada Bing scenes are filmed in New Jersey.

The Bada Bing is, in real life, a go-go bar called Satin Dolls, in Lodi, NJ.

Joan said...

PatCA: I don't see how you're getting a anti-Bush swipe from that remark. The First Lady's rep specifically told Barb that they wanted to promote cancer awareness, and that all of the finalists were cancer survivors. He was making a big thing of the fact that Barb's cancer was worse than the other finalists'. It was completely clueless and disgusting.

Joan said...

PatCA: the "First Lady" in question is Utah's governor's wife, not Laura Bush.

James Wigderson said...

I need to watch last night's episode of the Sopranos again, because towards the end of the Paris trip we saw the same lighthouse we saw in Tony's trip through Purgatory. Is paris supposed to be Heaven? Is that why Carmela started thinking about Jackie Jr? And dreaming about Adrianna?

Jenny D. said...

The Sopranos is filmed at some god awful places in NJ, like roadside on Route 4. I thought it was a much better episode than the last few. I was getting sick of Vito and the mustache guy. Man, I really don't like Phil Leotardo, or his wife.

Ann Althouse said...

Mustache guy could show up though. On Television Without Pity, they call him Morgan Spurlock, because the actor really looks exactly like Morgan Spurlock. It's distracting. You're always thinking hey, is that Morgan Spurlock?

Dave said...

James: that lighthouse you saw is merely the light shone by the Eiffel Tower to warn approaching planes of its presence.

That said, it certainly could have been intentional that Carmela looks at it; but then, who hasn't been drawn to a flashing light?

Is there really anything we can read into there? Seems a stretch to me but who knows.

JodyTresidder said...

James wrote: "towards the end of the Paris trip we saw the same lighthouse we saw in Tony's trip through Purgatory. Is paris supposed to be Heaven?".

Not exactly, perhaps. But the identical lights are no accident, surely? (Sorry, Dave!) I interpreted the whole Paris trip as Carmella's own temporary alternative reality - where she enjoys a brief taste of appreciating art, beauty, ancient piety etc as a good Catholic (as opposed to the corrupted one she is). Ro punctures Carmella's giddy ecstasy with her stark warning that nothing from home belongs in Paris. And I thought the dream reappearance of Adrianna underscored the fleeting relief of Carmella's trip - even on holiday she can't escape the reality of life with Tony - nor her pinching conscience.
I loved it. (And I also hope the crew had a terrific time!)

chuck b. said...

Thank god someone's laying sod in that backyard! It's been driving me fucking nuts!!!

There's a swimming pool back there too, right? I predict someone's child will drown in it. It's like showing a gun in the first act; eventually someone has to get shot with it.

Dave said...

Jody: No need to be sorry.

Perhaps you're right.

I was so turned off by the Paris sequence (see comments above) that I was likely resistant to interpretations beyond the obvious.

The scene with Adriana dressed as a chic Parisienne was rather pointlee, IMHO.

tiggeril said...

Could someone explain why the folks over at the Corner think that Big Love is a defense of polygamy?

Dave said...

"Could someone explain why the folks over at the Corner think that Big Love is a defense of polygamy?"

Perhaps because Bill and his wives are seen as sympathetic, as opposed to freakish, people.

Joan said...

Tiggeril, not so much a defense of polygamy as an effort to normalize our thinking about it, to make it less scandalous, and to increase acceptance of its practitioners.

If anything, Big Love does a great job of showing how difficult polygamy is when you're not on a compound somewhere in the middle of nowhere. But at the same time, we have this group of attractive, mostly sympathetic characters, and the audience finds itself rooting for them more often than not.

The fact is, these people are breaking the law -- whether or not you agree with the law, they're doing something illegal. They've involved 7, soon to be 8, children in it as well. The children didn't ask for it, but the adults all went into it with their eyes wide open, and eventually will have to face the consequences. I doubt it will happen, though.

Dave said...

Joan: How is what the characters are doing illegal?

Bill is only legally married to the first wife.

Last time I checked knocking a woman to whom you are not married up is not illegal.

Coco said...

Seconds re: the sod comment. I've been wondering every week: why do they have such nice houses and a fancy pool, but no grass? Also - they seriously need a fence by that underground pool - accident just waiting to happen with all the tots.

Joan said...

Dave, they are not legally married, but they are religiously married, and they are living as if married. They are functional polygamists, every bit as much as Tom Green and his crowd were/are.

You're right, though. It's not like Bill is going to be hauled off to jail -- I believe they arrested Green on fraud charges or something like that, not having too many marriage licenses, because he's not stupid enough to do that. I can't think what they'd charge the Henrickson clan with, since Bill is only married, legally, to Barb.

But that's not the point, is it? They're all engaged in something that society finds abhorrent. If it was OK, why bother to hide?

PatCA said...

"PatCA: the "First Lady" in question is Utah's governor's wife, not Laura Bush."

Like I say, I hadn't seen it yet, but thanks.

Dave said...

Joan, a couple of notes:

1) Were they religiously married> It is not clear how that would happen, given that Bill is both persona non grata at the compound and at the LDS church.

2) Society may find it "abhorrent" that they are involved in a polygamous marriage--but so what? Abhorrence is not the standard for declaring something illegal; if it were, then I will claim that taxation is illegal, abhorrent as I find it. Public education, as well. And affirmative action. But I digress.

3) As for the kids, at least in Bills family, they all seem well-fed, and taken care of. (As for the compound: yes, that is abhorrent, freakishly so.) But how are Bill's kids being harmed?

Look, I'm no apologist for polygamy; it seems to me to be a system in which women are treated like chattel and men are treated like omnipotent authoritarians. That said, whatever society's reaction to Bill's family life, it is nonetheless true that the women entered into the relationship by free will, or at least, in the case of Wife #1, were convinced to do so.

That the kids have to live a life which is incomprehensible to most people is incidental, it seems, in light of the fact that they are not abused. (Again, this doesn't apply to the compound.)

So, beside the fact that Bill's family is not "normal" I don't really see what the objection to his family is. That's not to say that I'd want to live that way, but, as depicted on the show, his family seems as harmless as any other.

Can a polygamous family in real life be as well-functioning as Bill's family? I have no idea, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say no.

Ann Althouse said...

Dave: A man was just convicted in Utah last week for polygamy, even though only the first wife is part of a state-sanctioned marriage.

Re the Corner's attitude: They are showing sympathetic characters beset with problems that would not exist if the state decriminalized it. That can influence public opinion.

Dave said...

Ann: what are the details of the case? If a person can be committed merely for sleeping with another woman while married, well, then, I would suggest that virtually all professional athletes and all Hollywood celebrities are guilty.

That seems a rather stupid standard to set.

Ann Althouse said...

Dave: Here's the blog post on the subject from last Wednesday. There is a big discussion in the comments too.

Dave said...

Ann: Thanks. Now I remember.

I'm the guy who commented on that post that the law was an ass, and I mis-attributed the quote to Shakespeare.

I still don't understand the reasoning behind that decision.

PatCA said...

BTW the Sopranos site hints that there's a reason for Carm's Paris sojourn. We shall see (in two weeks)!

JodyTresidder said...

Dave said: "I was so turned off by the Paris sequence (see comments above) that I was likely resistant to interpretations beyond the obvious."

See you here in two weeks, Dave?

Either I have ridiculously over-interpreted "Paris", or you blindly trudged past the symbolism!

(I have a horrible feeling I'm more at fault - but we shall see...?)