Under the Eye: “Late”

“Late”

We exist in a world where men with machine guns stand on every street corner and watch you. Where women are bound and gagged so they cannot move or speak. June tells us she was asleep when there were “temporary” inconveniences. When the Constitution was “suspended.” When women en masse were denied their jobs and their pay. In a flashback, June and Moira are jogging and getting ugly stares from passersby. Do two women jogging together deserve the incredulous stink-eye? They stop for coffee. June discovers she has no money in her bank account. The barista tells her to come back when she has money. He says, “Fucking sluts, get the fuck out of here,” which is on its face ridiculous and over-the-top in attempting to establish hatred for women. Moira and June? These women do not look like “fucking sluts,” and even if they did, I’m pretty sure the customer service handbook would make a point to advise their employees not to engage people in this manner. The scene is so laughably excessive it doesn’t belong in this show, but if it were true-to-life, someone (let’s say Moira) would be recording this conversation for later posting on Twitter and YouTube. Later, June and her female co-workers are being told they are to be “let go” (a polite word for fired) and to get out. If any of this were recorded and uploaded, I’m sure it would have an effect on the body politic. Creepy Guardians are kind enough to hold doors open for the women and their personal belongings and say, “Under his eye,” as calmly as saying, “Have a nice day.”

“Wanna move ahead but the boss won’t seem to let me, I swear sometimes that man is out to get me”

In the present, people (namely the Martha Rita, and Serena) are being nice to Offred, presumably because they think she might be pregnant. Serena even takes her to see the new baby. This is where I begin to suspect that people never truly change in this world. They can wear masks and pretend to be sheep, but being born a monster makes it difficult to hide that treacherous face. Serena is an object I would never consider for pity, although I do pity her and Commander Fred for their woeful ignorance and maladaption. I don’t pity Serena for her bursts of unwarranted anger and violence against either Offred or Rita. June visits Janine, who teeters on the brink of emotional collapse. She is possessive of her baby, and it is her baby, no matter what any of these ignorant women say. The “pretend” aspect of all of this frustrates me. In another life, Serena could’ve been June’s overbearing boss, and June could tell her to go fuck herself and walk away, but not in this world. This is a world where women are not permitted to read, and they are supposed to pretend that they are unable to read because they are women. June pumps Nick, the driver, for information about Ofglen. Nick is a slug, perhaps well-meaning and distracted, but a slug nonetheless. Another flashback reveals all the money has been moved into men’s accounts; husbands or next-of-kin. This is where we sense Moira’s hostility toward men. She blames Luke for the actions of the terrorists, and in fact, she denies that this is terrorism; that this is what all men want – to control women, to control their lives, and to control their money. As a man, I can tell you that’s bullshit.

“I’m just a girl who can’t say ‘no,’ and I’m in a terrible fix!”

I’ve held back on discussing Aunt Lydia because I view her as nothing more than a lifeless vessel of torture. June is interrogated by an Official while she is poked with a cattle-prod by Lydia. They ask her about Ofglen. They ask if June finds her attractive. If Ofglen ever put the moves on her. If she knew Ofglen was a lesbian. Lydia, out of nothing more than anger, beats June after scripture is quoted back to her, and the only thing that stops the beating is Serena’s intervention, believing Offred to be pregnant. You can imagine the look on her face when she has her period. Now Emily (Ofglen) strikes me as a smart girl. She’s a college professor, for fuck’s sake! Why does she engage in a sexual relationship with a Martha in this climate? Is Emily turned on by housekeepers? Is it an act of defiance? Well, she just got her Martha-girlfriend killed for it, and they make her watch. It is a chilling scene that checks off two strong political talking-points: violence against women, and violence against homosexuals. Emily is then sexually mutilated for her transgression. There is another thoughtless flashback which shows demonstrators in a violent clash with Guardians inappropriately set to the strains of “Heart of Glass.” “Living in the Real World” would’ve been a better choice, but I don’t think the producers listen to much Blondie*. Did the demonstrators think they were making their case against men with machine guns? They are killing people on the streets, unprovoked. What were the protesters hoping to achieve? It’s at this point I start to ask, “Um, why haven’t we left yet? They’re taking our money and curtailing our rights. They opened fire on demonstrators. Is the car gassed up?”

Hang in there, Baby!

Serena arranges to put Offred in a nice bedroom, rather than stay in the “suicide-attic” in which the previous handmaid resided. Offred tells her she’s not pregnant; that she got her period. This infuriates Serena who drags her back to the suicide-attic and throws her on the floor. This is Serena. This is what she is and always will be. In another life, there would be compassion and understanding. Not here. This is a television series that would have to depend considerably upon the concept of “world-building.” That is establishing a world, like a game board, and then putting the players (or pieces) on that board with each new episode accumulating knowledge about that constructed world. The writers ignore the crucial world-building aspect and instead create the players before creating the world, and then expect the audience to play catch-up with their creation. “Late” is the main offender, because the writers believe they are being clever in only letting certain components of that world be revealed at the right time and place, like Lost with it’s frustrating flashback structure that served to mirror current events. We end with a severe close-up of Emily after she is told by Lydia that she won’t want what she cannot have – meaning orgasm from sexual stimulation. She goes from confusion to sadness to anger and finally screaming. Alexis Bledel is truly the unsung hero of this show. Gilmore Girls this is not.

* Where’s Debbie Harry in this world? Good-looking woman, great singer. Is she a Martha in this world? Did she fight the Sons of Jacob? Is she dead? Did she flee to Canada when she saw the troubles? Is she in the Colonies?

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“Blade Runner, 1982”

“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”

Blade Runner, 1982 (Harrison Ford), The Ladd Company

I knew I had to end my Vintage Cable Box series with, what I regard to be, one of the greatest movies ever made. Nothing can prepare you for Blade Runner after a couple of years of the standard cable television fare. Occasionally, you had the big-budget spectacles, fine examples of genre film-making, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, but Blade Runner was unique. I only vaguely remembered trailers and teasers running on broadcast television. I never saw a preview at the movies, nor did I even see the movie in theaters. Ridley Scott had made a name for himself as a first-notch filmmaker with The Duellists and Alien after paying his dues in production design and advertising. The script and story treatments for Blade Runner floated around for a couple of years while Scott was preparing an adaptation of Dune. The Dune project fell through (and would eventually be helmed by David Lynch), and Scott was eager to start working on Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

The year is 2019, and the place is Los Angeles. Our world in 2019 is a dystopian nightmare. Constant sheets of acid rain have destroyed the already-dilapidated metropolis and most humans have taken to life in “off-world colonies” (“The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity,” the advertisements proclaim). Replicants, initially considered a form of android but then ret-conned in 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 as “manufactured humans” have become a dangerous liability when confronted with their slave status and the built-in obsolescence of a four year life span. In an effort to control these replicants, developer Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) implants memories in them, but this backfires when they inevitably crave life more than the humans who built them. Errant replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) leads a bunch of them to jump ship and return to Earth to meet their maker. Enter Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a replicant killer more commonly known as a “Blade Runner.”

Deckard is tasked with interviewing a beautiful woman, Tyrell’s assistant, named Rachael (Sean Young) who may or may not be a replicant. It seems Tyrell’s task is to either deceive authorities as to the identity of his replicants, or perhaps make his replicants believe they are human. It takes a while for Deckard to come to the conclusion that Rachael doesn’t know she’s a replicant. She saves his life when another replicant, the sub-intelligent Leon (Brion James) tries to kill him. He takes her back to his apartment and promises to keep her secret. Tyrell tells him she has no shut-off date; that she is, in effect, unique. Deckard retires the remaining replicants, but Batty proves to be a challenge. He taunts Deckard and leads him on a merry chase through the Bradbury Building. While Deckard is intent on finishing the job, Batty is fighting for his life, even as he knows his time is limited. Batty is incensed that Deckard has mercilessly killed his friends, and he tortures him for it. Ultimately, he spares Deckard’s life and perhaps Deckard has re-discovered his humanity.

Blade Runner was unfairly maligned by critics upon release in 1982, but over the years, the movie has attained an enormous cult following, culminating in the release of Blade Runner 2049 last year. In 1992, a “director’s cut” was released which removed the original film’s narration (considered by Scott to be tedious) and introduced a scene where Deckard dreams of a unicorn, making the reveal at the end of the movie (Deckard discovers a small origami unicorn in his hallway) ambiguous about Deckard’s humanity. Personally, I do not believe Deckard to be a replicant because, for me, it would make the ending of the movie and Batty’s sacrifice less meaningful. I would rather Deckard learn the lesson of his humanity, rather than believe him to be an amnesiac android. Blade Runner 2049 continues along this line of reasoning; perhaps what we value as humans is our capacity for understanding the gift of memory, and when our memories are manufactured, we will retain less of that value. Everything about this movie is perfect.

That about wraps it up for Vintage Cable Box. Again, I want to thank my readers. It’s been so much fun going back and revisiting and re-living these movies and that crazy time period, that time-line of what I saw and experienced and how it shaped me. Blade Runner just might be the most influential movie of the last 40 years, and it played constantly on cable television back in those days. Blade Runner 2049 manages to successfully evoke all of the best qualities about the original movie (and even improve upon certain aspects), which surprises me. Before I sign off, I have to thank a few people. Mark Jeacoma hosted these articles on his VHS Rewind! page. Andrew La Ganke suggested some great movies and found me a couple of hard-to-find titles. Geno Cuddy suggested Metropolis and provided a copy of the movie for me. Tony Verruso from the Vintage HBO Guides on Facebook was a staunch ally in dark times. Thanks for reading.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.