In Which A Convent Remains Our Home Away From Home

Better Half

by ELEANOR MORROW

Black Narcissus
dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
100 minutes

Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) had the good sense to select an order — an Anglican strain of the usual — that demands a renewal of vows once a year. This sort of optional religiosity is a breath of fresh air, for a young woman may learn all sorts of things about herself in a duration of 365 days. Kerr was only 26 when she took on this role as Mother Superior to a tiny convent in the Himalayas in 1947’s Black Narcissus. Naturally, she spends most of her time thinking about all the hot sex she used to have, but does not anymore.

Shot entirely in England, Black Narcissus is a relatively wretched Indian film, but a substantially more exciting English one. By the improved standards of today, it is wildly racist. Jean Simmons portrays Kanchi, a seventeen year old orphan in the most unconvincing blackface you will ever see — suggesting that perhaps the film’s title was made somewhat tongue-in-cheek by this adaptation.

The best parts of the movie are actually the flashbacks to Deborah Kerr’s life before she was a nun. Director Michael Powell was still obsessed with the woman who was his ex-girlfriend by the time Black Narcissus underwent production. Kerr’s face is constantly shot in close-up as a matter of necessity; otherwise, she would just be another lithe body in a white habit. When we find Kerr in England, she is a whirling dervish of action, spinning to find her boyfriend Con (Shaun Noble), who seems perpetually out of frame.

The script of Black Narcissus was nothing special, faithfully based as it was on a rather turgid novel. Powell papers over this completely, shooting long sequences with music and limited dialogue, and pumping up the flashbacks whenever the pace starts to flag. (It still does, even in a film only 100 minutes long.)  His use of light here is particularly stunning, whether it is the way candles accentuate a growing despair, or how translucent cloth hides the light of the moon. Texture is the only morality left to abandoned people.

As Mr. Dean, the tempting male figure desired by both Sister Clodagh and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron, Powell’s girlfriend at the time), David Farrar almost ruins the entire movie. He is the hairiest screen actor perhaps of his century, which is all to the good, but his entire performance is far too hammy, suggesting more of a parody than a realistic presentation. His shirtless scenes are still rather striking, even if he comes across as n oversized boy in them.

Kerr saves things anyway. The restrictions a nun’s habit places on the actor is nothing to this brilliant performer, who utilizes her hands and eyes to communicate what the body cannot. Powell constantly pushes the native wind of the mountains through Sister Clodagh’s habit, making her the film’s clear Jesus figure. “Work until you’re too tired to think of anything else,” she tells someone, anyone.

Things begin to fall apart in the Himalayas when the nuns start screaming at a little boy and accuse of each other of being overly hysterical. The shocking twist of Black Narcissus occurs entirely in the past — the flashbacks Sister Clodagh reminisces about so fondly are merely memories of a guy who never gave two shits about her. “Now I seem to be living through the struggle again,” she tells Mr. Dean without looking at him. He might as well not be there at all.

The film’s bravura sequence occurs at its end. Kathleen Bryon’s Sister Ruth has been driven insane by jealousy — her eyes are tinged with opiates, or maybe this is only an exaggerated version of herself. She has been spurned by a certain Mr. Dean, which was probably foreseeable given that the man she loved never blessed her with the knowledge of his first name. He decides to send her to Darjeeling, a proper distance, but instead she returns to the convent in order to murder Deborah Kerr. Ruth cannot even properly accomplish that.

In this dramatic, sunset-tinged manumission, Kerr climbs back up from the cliff’s precipice and tosses Ruth off to her death. She pretends to be surprised as her charge shatters in the forest below. The feeling is not mutual. We all knew this was coming.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which Dinner Is Always An Important Special Time

Swing Set

by ETHAN PETERSON

Fun Mom Dinner
dir. Althea Jones
93 minutes

Fun-Mom-Dinner_1.jpgKate (Toni Collette) and Emily (Katie Aselton) are the best of friends. Both actresses are substantially different looking than their usual cinematic representation in Fun Mom Dinner, the brilliantly morose comedy from first-time screenwriter Julie Rudd.

Here, Collette shows off her considerable glamour. So often made up as a kooky aunt, she has always been expert at obscuring her natural beauty, and it is a shocking thrill when she lets her hair down. At first we are led to believe Kate is the sort of mother who is openly contemptuous of others because she fears her own identity as a woman and mother may not be up to the task. This proves true, but even this simple psychological profile obscures an actual person. Trained screenwriters lazily cast stereotypes onto the page; Rudd has made actual women here.

But why does it matter what these women look like? We are so used to seeing them slip on one costume or another in their previous roles, that Fun Mom Dinner‘s presentation of Bridget Everett, Molly Shannon, Katie Aselton and Toni Collette as complete persons without any apology necessary includes aethestic considerations. An actor also, after all, must be nice to look at.

Director Althea Jones does marvelous things with light, and she does a capable job of making all these actors look like they are in a real, natural environment. Aselton is particular has mastered a charming sort of darkness, and Jones accentuates this by placing her in hidden positions that reflect her own insecurities. “Want to watch John Oliver?” her husband asks her before bed, in what feels like the worst nightmare imaginable.

As a rival mother who invites Kate and Emily to a lovely dinner, Molly Shannon makes for a realistic divorcee. Rudd writes all her characters with intense sensitivity, but Shannon’s single woman is such a nuanced character you almost can’t believe she is in a movie, let alone one that for the most part went straight-to-cable. Shannon’s character is close with Melanie (Bridget Everett). You can tell that Ms. Everett is still finding her sea legs as an actress after so many years of stand-up, but she has magnificent presence here, surprising us in scene after scene with her devotion to being herself.

Aselton plays off these other, mainly comic actors brilliantly. She had the good fortune of coming into her own as a performer at the same time her physical beauty, always intense, reached another level through the innate character provided by middle age. As I alluded, her husband Tom (Adam Scott) is a very serious piece of shit. Yet there is something about him possibly redeemable, which makes his desperately awful treatment of his wife so much worse.

It is probably smart to couch this serious, imaginative film in the language of a comedy along the lines of the almost unwatchable Rough Night to order to bring more eyes to it, but eventually I concluded the film’s title did something of a disservice to what it was offering to us as viewers. Still, there is nothing wrong with the silly and outlandish moments the film offers, and they usually come about in a real and earned way.

On some level, the concession to motherhood itself. Yes, women who are mothers have this overriding fact as a key aspect of their lives. Fun Mom Dinner does much to explode the idea that there is nothing else for people who value their families. The more I thought about that, it seemed like a worthwhile and somewhat rare message.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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In Which It Is A Torrid Kind Of Perseverance

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hey,

I recently got out of a nine month relationship that was really intense and satisfying. Unfortunately she had to move to Seattle for work, and my own job and my family are keeping me here in Boston. We decided we don’t want to ruin what we have by trying to make it work at such a long distance. 

A month or two has passed since my ex moved, and she has now been contacting me (we said we wouldn’t do this). She is having some trouble making friends in her new city so she frequently calls or texts if she finds herself alone. I don’t know how to deal with this: I do still have feelings for her, but I was a bit upset she would want to stop seeing me in the first place – she had a good job here and I wouldn’t have done the same thing. 

She is locked into her contract until mid-2018, and I don’t know if I really want to go through this until then. There was a reason we decided long distance wouldn’t work, right? How should I handle her apparent change of heart?    

Joe P.

Dear Joe,

We all make mistakes, although some people are more prone to making them than others. The fact that she put her career before you is no big whoop, since it’s not like you sound particularly committed to this woman. If you were, believe me you would be ecstatic, not disappointed to hear from her.

On the other hand, it sounds like you were hurt in this process and you should take some time to get over that pain before arriving at a firm decision about how you should react to your ex’s current behavior. But how to create the space you desperately need to evaluate things dispassionately? Just tell her you lost your phone.

I am kidding, this is the rare time you will ever hear me advising anyone to tell the truth, which is usually painful and nuncupatory. You will have to expose your true feelings and it is best to request a discrete period of time before reporting your findings.

In the end, you will probably find that this angry decision is what is best: you can’t hang around and be the outlet for your ex’s predictable sadsies for the next year. If you want, visit her at some point, have sex, and see if you want to flee back to Boston on the next train. If you don’t, maybe it is worth the occasional drunk dial to keep this person in your life.

NB: The intercourse during your reunion should be tender yet opaque. Afterwards, light incense that smells of rosemary and penitent coquettishness.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Hi,

What is the right time to introduce sexting?

I don’t ask this question because it particularly turns me on. The women I’ve gone on dates with recently seem to expect a great deal of texting before we actually meet. On one hand, I understand this is a decent if potentially misleading way to get to know someone. On the other hand, I feel like sometimes the conversation peters out or loses a spark because of a lack of physical presence. It’s also tiring to keep up with some of these women, and I’m not sure how often to communicate with them.

I feel like if I introduce how attracted I am to them early on it will prevent me from getting friendzoned, so when is the best time to make that move?

Mike C.

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Mike,

In my experience, there are three types of texters we need concern ourselves with to properly answer your question:

Women who don’t seem particularly texty. Some women just don’t love to text guys they haven’t met yet too much, since they view it as a waste of time if they don’t like you in person. Others are probably furiously texting other people and the fact that they don’t have time to text you indicates you are not exactly a priority. You can still make yourself a priority from there, but it is tough.

The best thing to do if you are getting mediocre responses to your texts is change lanes. Just call her and see where it goes. If she doesn’t call you back, she’s not interested anyway. If she does, you can accomplish everything that texting does in a fifth of the time and spend the remaining hours watching Workaholics.

Women who will text you a lot. If a woman is texting you a lot, she probably is looking for a relationship with a guy who will answer her texts. If you don’t answer her texts, you are not the type of person she wants to reproduce with. The positive side of this arrangement is that it gives you a lot of possibilties to flirt or as you call it, “sext.” You should only do this with a woman you don’t know in real life if you are (1) solid in terms of a connection or (2) you don’t give a fuck. Otherwise just stay flirty but keep it light. Otherwise she’s probably just interested in the attention you give her.

Women who will text you a little. The story of Goldilocks and the three bears is a homophobic metaphor for almost everything in our lives. Did you know that Goldilocks was originally a disgusting old woman? The point of the story in Goldilocks is that we can never truly know who is in our bed, and afterwards, who has been there. She may have eaten the porridge also, she may not have, but we have no way of knowing. The truth is, the food is gone.

Many women fall in love quickly and heavily like Myrcella Lannister, but others are not so apt to be entranced by the text you send that contains the words “how r u?”

It’s important to know your strengths. If you’re not clicking with this person over text, I doubt that will suddenly change when you start telling her how much you loved Gifted. Text communication is important, but it doesn’t represent how much you might enjoy spending time together, or even how she would text you once she gets to know who was in her bed.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which Kathy Acker Eliminates The Need For Other Sustenance

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Saint Kathy

by LINDA EDDINGS

Bangled and sewn up, it’s just hair.

images3Oakland, 1999. I meet Kathy for the first time. She tells everyone else she is a novelist, but she tells me another word for it. She is gone but still around someplace.

When she used to live in San Diego, she knew a bald man with different colored eyes. It took me a long time to realize her descriptions of this man matched her almost completely.

Before we are about to die, Kathy says, we see ourselves completely different from how we were before. Worse. “Cancer is big business,” she wrote. There is a lot that she put down that I do not believe.

I read Kathy to keep my spirits up. I don’t have access to her most depressing texts. In her novel about high school, Kathy writes of a woman having sex with a man, but it is a man having sex with a woman more so. The accompanying pictures of penises illustrate the point.

 

“Language begins with desire,” she has Colette explain. OK.

Kathy wakes up. It is 1984. Her mornings always take place at Gold’s Gym. Is it possible she is there now? She was a woman who desired men sexually, and then wrote of them as they were. What is so wrong with that?

There is this old story about when Saul Bellow went to interview for a job with Time. I’ll tell you later.

When she was a stripper, she found that tattoos suited her lithe, semi-nude form. Take any behavior in private and make it public. Then sell it, trade on it. I know why people do not like pornography – it is not the same as hard drugs, or the murder of animals. It is something they themselves have to address when they robe and disrobe, and they are ashamed.

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What would Kathy be now I wonder? She wrote the movement, was the movement, transcended any movement. It still would have been difficult to be her. Her mother was an awful woman, you understand, and when she fled this country for Germany, it was partly to rid herself of nasty associations.

It is painful to read any more about Kathy. I want to ride the motorcycle of someone I respect. I don’t give two shits about their influences.

1918: Mankind emerges from the shadows. Womankind follows afterwards, a picture of resentment. There is a general conclusion that before now, nothing really counted. In a quarter-century, Kathy will be born to confirm this view.

She never knew her father, and I have met people like that. They think about what might have been a lot, and I don’t blame them, only I wish they wouldn’t.

Try writing like Kathy instead. Try working into every conversation that you have emerged from a literary fatalism. It is intellectual fear-mongering, primarily. I don’t know what to think about what to think.

There is this old story about when Saul Bellow went to interview for a job with Time. I’ll tell you later.

Kathy wakes up, goes to the gym. Now it is time to write, so instead of formulating a plan, she is astride a chair the way a bat looms on some fucking stalagmite. I’m so empty in the morning.

I love you.

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I know a friend who puts together her syllabus, and she thinks of what her students will hate the most, and she makes it 40 percent of their grade. When the papers come in, she shudders, because she hates it too.

Kathy wouldn’t understand that. She did not need to manufacture this feeling of displacement. It was like, in your computer, sometimes you have a separate graphics card, and other times there are just integrated graphics which use a portion of the existing memory. For Kathy, there was no separate angst. She was the angst; the feeling was integrated.

Kathy leaves Brandeis for San Diego. She takes a plane or she drives. She has to get far away.

I love you so much that I can’t think of anything else besides your lipstick on my towels, Kathy Acker.

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Render the future meaningless, like the past always was. There is no memory of the dead, just the imposition of the present on everything, drowning the rest out. A principle of natural selection.

Portland, 2003. Every single person on the street is writing their own memoir. The titles of the memoirs are as follows: The Restitution, Tits and Grits, My Banana Pancakes, Bats in Stalactites, Kathy’s Braided Hairstyles, Way of the Nomad Prince. The dedications are to the same person: she is not the son of God. I mean he might have had a daughter, but not mentioned her out of respect.

Kathy writes: “I used to ask, ‘Do you love me?’ Well, I asked him once and learned better. He replied, good old journalist that he was, what I feel about you is my business and what you feel about me is your business. Pay attention to your own business. I learned a lot from that one. If you want to get fucked up the ass, go do it. (I’m sure you do.) It’s not your problem, is it? Me, straight queer gay whatever and where do nut cakes like me fit in who like getting fistfucked whacked and told what to do?—the only things that appall me are babies.”

So Saul Bellow goes to interview with Whittaker Chambers. They wanted someone on book reviews at Time magazine. (Is there still a Time magazine?) And Whittaker, Kathy bless him, well he asks this stolid Jewish man-in-training what he thinks of Wordsworth. And Saul says, “I always thought he was a romantic poet.” And Chambers just shakes his head like this is a dogshit answer and the man is not fit to breathe the same air as him.

When someone dies there is this profoundly unappealing saga of remembrance. “Everyone dies of something,” a doctor once explained to Kathy, which she could only fathom in one way: she had been given a sentence, only not the kind she usually wished for. She had, weeks previously, begun to feel small dense packets of tissues in her charming breasts.

The year 2043 is paved with good intentions.

When I die tell someone else you miss me. Don’t tell me that because I already know. Don’t tell my mother.

2019, I am still reading My Mother: A Demonology. She could not let go of the woman. “My parents were horrible,” she writes, by which I intuit they used a lot of homonyms, smoked clove cigarettes, and read the nautical novels of Patrick O’ Brian. In some cases — and I believe this is one of them — you heartily desire to put the past behind you but you are smart enough to know you never will.

Saul Bellow was right, about this and so many other things. (What Whittaker wanted to hear, though, was that Wordsworth was a former revolutionary turned monarchist.) Do you feel divorced from literature? Do you feel like the only thing it has to say anymore is its age?

I miss Kathy, but I still have her books. I miss you. I miss you a lot but I don’t have any of your things, maybe a few cards you sent me and the gifts I bought for you but never delivered. I would give them to Goodwill but I can’t stand seeing all the clothing grouped by the same color. Some part of me knows that’s wrong.

I wake up and I go to the gym.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing here.

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In Which We Walked Through Fire To Save Our Lives

What a Country!

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
dir. Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell
163 minutes

Imagine making the most rah-rah pro-British film in the history of mankind and the British government preventing your distributors from releasing it outside England for a predetermined period of time. Churchill hated Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, although I have no idea why. Were England not such a bizarre and astonishing place that thrives on such contradictions, this would seem sort of Kafkaesque. Maybe the reason it made him so cross is that the film suggests it is a lot easier to admire England from afar – unless you find that over time you have become English.

There are a lot of jokes about this idea in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Here are some witticisms regarding England that are made in the miniseries-length project, almost all of which I disavow or would insist apply equally to the people of Toronto:

The English can’t cook worth a shit.
The English bring England everywhere they go.
The English, when rich, are insufferable.
The English subscribe to their own rules.
The English have poor teeth and limited or awful facial hair.
The English have fantastic women.
The English sometimes patronize or dismiss their fantastic women.

Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) is one hell of a guy with basically zero flaws. He fought in the Boer War, which a soldier in the Great War later dismisses as a skirmish. Upon his return to London, he immediately heads to Berlin to defend England’s role in the war. There he meets a woman named Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr). He finds her the utter essence of femininity, and when he observes her body in a striped blue top, he is nearly overwhelmed with a sexuality he expresses by growing a mustache. When she attempts to make Clive Candy jealous by flirting with a German man, Theo (Anton Walbrook), he pretends to be happy for her. She is deeply upset, but because she is English, instead of giving up the game, she marries Theo and bears his two sons. Both boys become Nazis.

In an American film, this would be a serious tragedy that would drive the protagonist to drink or worse. In a Russian film it would be a prologue. In a French film it would be a prelude to a three-way. In an English film, things are likely to get much better – after all, the people involved live in the greatest country on earth!

In the film’s second act, Clive Candy is still obsessed with this brainy redhead type. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp flashes forward twenty years to the tail end of the Great War, when Candy sees a nurse named Barbara Wynne (Deborah Kerr again) who looks just like Edith Hunter. He marries her, even though he is 40 and she is 20. They have two adorable cocker spaniels, and live in an apartment in London with eighteen rooms. This was Deborah Kerr’s first big role after catching the eye of director Michael Powell, who used her as a walk-on in a previous film, and she is spectacular in it. When she initially appears as Edith, you’re just so-so on her, because she has these really awful-looking bangs. As Barbara she only lasts about twenty minutes of screen time, but those are twenty of the most special minutes of my entire life.

This is, of course, a metaphorical ideation of England’s glee after the war. Meanwhile, Clive Candy’s German friend Theo is utterly devastated by his country’s defeat, so he becomes a chemist. His wife wants to come back to England, but he gives her a hot “Nah” and they stay in Berlin. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is mostly savage to the German people, pointing out their salacious methods of war, and ultimately framing the triumph of Nazism as the dominance of one way of thinking over a moral but weak Germanity. All I know is that the only Jew in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is the one who wrote the script.

Emeric Pressburger assimilated himself into one hell of an Englishman. Where he is buried, in Suffolk, his is the only Star of David on any grave. (Then again, Jews most often have their own cemeteries.) Pressburger was of a generation with my grandfather Abe, who left Poland when he was a teenager. (He loathed the anti-Semitic Poland that he fled.) Pressburger’s private school education was a side effect of his father’s wealth, but after his father died, he was forced to make it on his own.

Abe Bernstein never had even a high school education, although he was widely read and laboriously self-taught. He possessed very strong feelings about Europe in general, and especially Germany. (New Jersey was his new mother country.) No one could have been less English than he was, but he admired the English because he could not conceive of one tiny island creating all that culture. (Some of this benign, naive admiration no doubt passed along to his grandson.) There was also a certain cynicism to his respect, however, since I think he was convinced that Nazism never would have been possible without the English. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp suggests much the same thing.

Although the considerable amount of hair on his body testified to his Jewishness, I don’t think my grandfather believed in God, and he had good reason to think God had abandoned his people. There is something of that in this film, too, of how those who are not believers see events differently from those who do. Among the many millions that perish over the fifty years this nearly perfect film accommodates, no one ever says a prayer for living, let alone the dead. Like my grandfather, Pressburger put his faith in an historical-economic view of the world. “We’ll need to trade with your country,” opines Candy to his dispirited German friend, who had spent the better part of the six months following the end of war in the nicest POW camp on record.

As I mentioned last Monday, the Museum of Modern Art is screening Deborah Kerr’s best films through August 31. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a very long movie, and at some point in the film’s third hour, a woman cried out, “And it’s still going!” Most of the audience was very fucking annoyed with her outburst, since talking is intensely frowned upon at MoMA screenings. I once saw a older woman who spoke actually pushed by another theatergoer, and everyone around was like, “She had to push her, there was no choice.” It’s a real tough environment.

Kerr pops up again in the third act, where she portrays Candy’s driver, Angela Cannon. For some reason, army fatigues really suit her – probably related to the fact that all redheads look good in green. Candy has lost his wife to cancer by then, and he picks Angela as his driver so he can check her out and be reminded of his only love. In the film’s key scene, he states that he never got over losing out on Edith, which is quite the admission considering he never contacted her after she tried to troll him by getting engaged to that German fellow.

Anyway, Pressburger gives Angela a few scenes to establish she is really nothing like the ghost of the woman that Candy admired all those years earlier. Her boyfriend is a really intelligent fellow who is clueless as to how good he has it. This angel was fresh and proud, beautiful and free, and English. God damn was she English.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


In Which We All Stand For Something Else

Thick Skin

by ETHAN PETERSON

Salvation
creators Liz Kruger, Matt Wheeler and Craig Shapiro
CBS

In one episode of Salvation, Liam Cole (Charlie Rowe) escorts his girlfriend Jillian Hayes (Jacqueline Byers) to her first day of work. As she approaches the entrance, she asks him for a pep talk, since she is very nervous about working for Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera). He shows her Darius’ collection of meteorites, and adds that she is completely unique like each of them. Undeterred by the fact her sexual partner compared her to a rock, she responds, “Damn, you’re good.”

Jillian is the author of a science fiction novel called Shadowside, which she self-published. She has been hired to serve on a committee that will select 160 people to colonize Mars. Her first input to the group is that they will need a fair number of poets, artists and musicians. Everyone looks at her like she is batshit, so she runs to her boyfriend to complain.

Liam is evidently working on something very important — some kind of electromagnetic shield that enables interstellar travel — but he has to go to the snack bar at Tanz headquarters to order to console this increasingly fragile woman. “Don’t beat yourself up about it,” he says. “The guy sounds like a total jerk.” This is how people at MIT talk, you see. Working with a government agent named Grace (Jennifer Finnigan), Liam figures out that Tanz plans to abandon the Earth because it will shortly become uninhabitable as a result of an asteroid strike.

Mr. Tanz is quite the man. He is basically like if Mark Zuckerberg absorbed Arnold Schwarzenegger within his body. At one point he is waterboarded for over an hour and he only looks mildly discomfited. He has this weird workstation where he has to lean over and use an extremely loud mouse in order to operate the OS. In the days that follow his waterboarding, he is extremely cranky, even more so than usual, in a manner reminiscent of when Elon Musk enters his menstrual cycle.

On her second day of work, self-published Jillian is forced to endure the indignity of a security check at the entrance to the workplace. She snaps at one of the security guards, letting him know how displeased she is when it comes to the working environment of Tanz industries. I don’t think she will be lasting long in this job, but who cares? Her boyfriend wears a Joy Division shirt for, like, hours.

When Jillian and Liam have sex, which is virtually every evening and every night despite their busy schedule, he still wears a t-shirt. She is nude, but only from the waist up. In the morning he gets this quizzical look on this face, a combination of not quite knowing where he is, and the fear of being gripped from behind by someone you met in a bar. In response or in repose, Jillian constantly smiles with her teeth.

Salvation is an incredibly cheap-looking show, maybe the worst to ever appear on a major network. The entire thing looks like it takes place in one square mile of Canada. I realize that sometimes Canada has to stand in for the U.S., but in the case of Salvation, there is a lot of foliage and streets that just do not reliably represent the United States.

Things are not all bad. Except for the dolt who plays Liam’s girlfriend, the rest of the cast is top-notch quality. Jennifer Finnigan looks exactly what you would expect a spectral ghost to resemble, and her romance with the head of a government task force on the asteroid, a fellow named Harris (Ian Anthony Dale), is quite implausible. Amazingly, she also has time to be a single mom. Will wonders never cease?

Conventional wisdom would say that Charlie Rowe really missed out by losing to Tom Holland for the role of Spider-Man, but since Spider-Man: Homecoming was such total shit, this outcome probably did his career a favor. He is an exciting young actor, unique both in his t-shirt-wearing modesty and his staggering assembly of reaction faces to whatever is going on. Watching his cheekbones is like being told a very broad and general bedtime story.

Despite these exciting, nay, groundbreaking performances, nothing can feasibly alleviate the mental dustbowl required to sit through Salvation. It is not even that things are exactly boring, since the show keeps a brisk pace. It is more that nothing makes any sense whatsoever — like, how many murder subplots are necessary before Earth is obliterated by a large rock?

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

In Which We Have Returned To The Red Room Of Our Youth

Place to Hide

by ELEANOR MORROW

Twin Peaks: The Return
creators Mark Frost & David Lynch
Showtime

twinpeaks_pr-release_cooper_hi-res.jpgThe only place you know is real is the town where you live. The bank, the trailer park, the diner. The police station, the bed and breakfast, the residents that only get older, never younger. Oh god, the residents. Recently I found myself watching older episodes of Twin Peaks. Although they are in general sloppier and substantially less satisfying than the precise brilliance of Twin Peaks: The Return, probably the best thing that has ever aired on American television, they are not really all that different.

The major difference is the subplots. In the original Twin Peaks, the subplots were sort of a lazy, soapy gauze around the main storyline. In Twin Peaks: The Return, they are merely reflections of something we can never exactly see. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that David Lynch would feature Kyle MacLachlan as a mentally deficient shell who merely echoes back whatever the people around him say, and that it would work for a solid fifteen episodes.

In a season full of haunting moments, probably the most haunting were the twin delusions of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). In her fever dream, which is never explained or put into context, she is confined in her home with her husband Charles (the fantastic Clark Middleton). She wants to leave, but she cannot. She asks her husband if he has ever felt like he is two people. He tells her that he has not, that he has always been himself and knew this to be true.

Mental illness has always been major theme of Twin Peaks. The idea that there is something about our own personalities that we can recover from, like an illness, is not only fascinating, it is wildly optimistic. Whether or not this can be accomplished in our hometown is a matter of significant question in Twin Peaks: The Return.

I never found the original Twin Peaks alike to darkest noir, probably because of television broadcast standards at the time. Whenever it delved into the particulars of various drug crimes or the seedier elements, it felt so goofy or scary, but not at the level of darkness we have been experiencing this summer. Kyle MacLachan’s “other” performance as Evil Agent Cooper is ridiculous when he assume the echoes of the earlier character, serious enough to give us a rotund chill. Lynch goes for a lot of laughs here as well, such as the decisive moment where Cooper kills a man with a single punch to the face. Watching all Lynch’s favorite actors cheering an arm-wrestling battle on was hysterical, but the interrogation scene that follows was more chilling than amusing.

Why are you not watching Twin Peaks: The Return? What excuse could you possibly have? Your response to my entreaty falls on deaf ears.

Forget the production design, which is one of its kind and will be reproduced forever. Ignore the sound design, which Lynch handles himself and makes listening to Twin Peaks: The Return the best radio play in the history of mankind. I can’t think of another show that has ever had the sheer volume of perfect acting performances Lynch coaxes out of his regulars and newcomers on Twin Peaks: The Return.

Particularly amazing are Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is so suited to the dialogue of Lynch and Frost, Jane Adams, who deserves a spinoff of sorts, Robert Knepper’s bungling mafioso, and Fenn herself, who probably should have had a much better career than she did.

Traded and exchanged between this massive cast is a story ostensibly supernatural, but a tale which at its heart is more of a MacGuffin than ever. It does not really matter who evil inhabits, or the nature of evil itself — the question is of how to deal with this eternal challenge. Lynch passes along as few answers as ever, though he gives us the courtesy of a few, bracing moments as relief in the mind-blowing musical performances that conclude most episodes.

This last week, James Marshall performed David Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti’s marvelous hymn “Just You” while a woman looked on and cried. It told the story of several conversations over the course of many years. It completely removes a self-reflective irony, such a recurrent plague on both American comedy and drama over the last decade, and shows the world for how sincere it is. The town that knew you before you knew yourself, and you hated it for that. Years passed before you realized.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.