Daddy issues

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I finally got around to watching the finale of season two of HBO’s True Detective last night. While the critics were not kind to its occasionally wooden dialogue and disjointed array of plots, subplots, and more red herrings than the grocery aisle of your local Ikea, I enjoyed it.

While season two never quite managed to live up to the stylish vibe of the creepy Southern Gothic first season, it did have more enough of the Raymond Chandler L.A. noir sensibility to reinforce my determination never to live in California. If any show has ever succeeded in making California look like one of the nine circles of Hell, this one was it.

What this season had going for it, beyond compelling style, was the persistent theme of fathers and the damage they can do to their children that accounted for the deep flaws of  each of True Detective’s major characters.  Here’s a quick rundown of how that all played out. Spoilers ensue, but I’m not going to worry about that since at this point I figure that anyone who cares has already seen the finale.

  • Ben Caspere — Corrupt and debauched Vinci city manager whose murder at the beginning of the show was the series’ first and longest-running red herring. Killed by the illegitimate children he fathered and then orphaned, surrendering them to a childhood of foster care, abuse, and prostitution.
  • Austin Chesanni — Corrupt and debauched mayor of Vinci who inherited both his office and his father’s particular appetites. Killed and replaced in office by his own psycho pimp of a son.
  • Ray Velcoro — Corrupt Vinci cop struggling to live up to his cop father’s example. Beat to death the man he thought raped his wife, then adopted a parenting style toward his own in which he confused bullying with love.
  • Ani Bezzerides — Cop with a violent streak, proclivity for knives, and taste for aggressive sex. As a child abducted and raped while under the watchful care of her hippie guru father.
  • Frank Semyon — Gangster dealing with repeatedly unsuccessful infertility treatments whose cartoonish, cliched tough-guy attitude and violence compensates for the insecurity borne of years of psychological abuse at the hands of his father.
  • Paul Woodrugh — Cop, closeted and in denial about his sexuality, abandoned by his father as a child, his physical scars telegraph his psychic wounds. Determined not to abandon his own unborn child. Gunned down by other corrupt cops, he gets a highway named for him. His child is there for the unveiling.

So there you have it. Eight episodes in which we get to watch the wreckage of disastrously dysfunctional father-child relations play out as noir crime drama.

And we’re finally done with the world’s most morose bar singer. She won’t be missed.

 

Faulkner, O’Connor, and ‘The Wrong-Eyed Jesus’

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A scene from the film “Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus”

 

I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about the South, where I grew up, and which I fled as soon as I could go north for college. But between trips down to retrieve my daughter from her small university atop a mountain in rural Tennessee, to Alabama to sing, visiting family in Virginia, and the seemingly endless months of drama and controversy surrounding the Confederate flag, it’s been on my mind.

With all that hovering in the background, one of my Irish friends, an artist, sent me a link to the 2003 documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, which he had recently watched on the BBC. He described it as, “a wide-eyed bejaysus, a cracking film.” So I had no choice but to track it down and watch it for myself.

What I experienced was a mesmerizing road trip of a film, an occasionally hallucinogenic ramble along backroads, through swamps and bayous, to truck stops and diners, jails, honky-tonks, biker bars, coal mines, Pentecostal holiness churches, and riverside baptisms, with stunning cinematography and haunting, haunted music.

My daughter watched it with me, and where she saw the filmmakers cruely exploiting the crushing poverty, eccentricities, and to our more enlightened eyes exotic fundamentalist faith of rural people, I saw a brilliant example of the literary genre known as Southern Gothic, the province of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy and Tennessee Williams.

The style features deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters, hints of connection to the supernatural, decayed or derelict settings, and grotesque situations or events stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, and violence.* These elements are all tools for exploring the social values and cultural characteristics of the American South.

Up until now the most recent and most compelling example of this I’ve seen on screen was the first season of HBO’s True Detective, a true classic of the genre. So too is journalist Dennis Covington’s book Salvation on Sand Mountain, about the culture of holiness snake handling in southern Appalachia, which I’ve been reading at the recommendation of one of my Alabama friends.

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus struck a nerve with me that I can’t quite explain. The people, places, and settings were at once familiar and unfamiliar. Mostly it reminded me of just how timeless and a place apart the American South really is once you leave behind the modern sprawl of Atlanta, or Nashville, or Richmond and drive out beyond the interstates, where the hills and trees close in and the roads turn to mud or dust in due season.

You can watch the trailer below, and then follow this link over to Vimeo for the full film. Friends in the UK and Ireland can find it on the BBC iPlayer (sorry, no link since it’s not available here in the states).

*Yes, I am once again relying on the lazy shorthand of Wikipedia for background because I didn’t want to dig out my old undergrad literature texts to craft a one-sentence description. So sue me.

Seven things I want to believe

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1) Republican voters are not so completely alienated from the political process that they will actually cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

2) The chances of reaching a deal with Iran on its nuclear ambitions are better than 50/50.

3) Removing the Confederate battle flag from the lawn of the South Carolina statehouse will be the start of a meaningful national dialogue on race.

4) The Grateful Dead are done.

5) Bernie Sanders will force Hillary Clinton to actually compete for the Democratic nomination.

6) FBI arrests of supposed ISIS sympathizers actually foiled July 4th terror plots.

7) The Han Solo origin movie will be awesome.