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Monday, October 17, 2016

"Scandal" and Zizek's Ideology

Coincidentally --- or perhaps there is no such thing as a coincidence --- I was watching Zizek's psychoanalytical discussion about film and ideology while starting on Season 4 of Scandal.

What seemed like a conventional romantic trope to keep the two lead characters apart in Season 1 has become a bit of a joke in Season 4. Olivia Pope and President Fitzgerald Grant have overcome each apparent external obstacle between their union over the first 2 seasons and by now are resorting to transparent self sabotage.

The need to keep the lead characters apart until the climax (pun intended) of the story has long been explained to me. The audience's pleasure is derived from both the process of prohibition and the eventual release/payoff in comedy or the lack of in tragedy.

Beginning in Season 3 and continuing through at least Season 4, the obstacles to the "happy ending" between Olivia and Fitz are expressed in repeated outbursts with increasingly absurd logic. Take, for example, the scene after Olivia is rescued from her captors. She said, I cannot be with you because I am angry at you, and I'm angry at you because you started a war for me. He said, but you'd have been dead if I hadn't started a war, and what would I have then? Over and over, Olivia is posing her refusal in the most airtight loop that gives him no way out. All answers are wrong, and all options are null.

Her other even more absurd reason of refusal illustrates Zizek's explanation of ideology to a T: All these people, herself included, have cheated in Grant's election. A fake victory requires absolute commitment to make it real by his effort to be a spotlessly awesome leader. In other words, she is saying, "I did bad things to put you into the White House, and I feel guilty about it, so I am depriving myself --- and you particularly --- our union in order to satisfy this guilt."

So, if Olivia fundamentally does not want to be with Fitz, why does she --- or Shonda Rhimes --- continue to string the audience along? Perhaps more important, why do the audience continue to watch this obviously doomed romance? As Zizek points out, ideology is about having your cake and eat it. You satisfy both the id (pleasure) and the superego (guilt) by both indulging in your desires and feeding your guilt. Rhimes continues to insist that Olivia and Fitz must and must not be together. The fantasy of Vermont is perfect because it is forbidden. That is the only way to have your cake and eat it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Mr. Robot Season 2: Interpretation (1)

Like many viewers, I was totally puzzled by Elliot's story line in Season 2. Nothing of apparent consequence or forward motion happened to Elliot. All the conflicts and drama occurred to the other characters: Darlene has killed someone and watched her boyfriend killed. Angela has infiltrated Evil Corp and nearly defeated Philip Price, before falling under White Rose's persuasion. Dom DiPiro almost gets killed, twice, and almost solves the case single-handedly. White Rose, Philip Price, Joanna Wellick, and even the CTO played by Brian Stokes Mitchell all have plenty of action that, in the end, makes sense. (White Rose's logic may be a bit opaque but it's definitely there.)

What did Elliot do this season? He got himself jailed (in a pretty minimum security place, it seems) for the minor hacking and dog-robbery he committed in Season 1 against his psychotherapist's boyfriend. His goal, of going to either jail or his mother's house, was the same: to stay away from computers and the Internet and, in turn, to prevent his alter ego, Mr. Robot, from doing further damage to society. For over half of the season, Elliot does little more than arguing with himself --- we should remember this point because it's important. Meanwhile, he is involved in a self-contained story loop, in which the jail warden, played with menacing sympathy by Craig Robinson, is running an online black market site much like Silk Road. During all this, Elliot has several hallucinatory episodes and/or dreams that seem to go nowhere and do not pay off by the end of the season. The forward move of his is to help Darlene and Angela hack into FBI.

And then, by the final episode, he is suddenly reunited with Tyrell Wellick, and it becomes clear that he and Wellick had long planned to execute Stage 2 of their grand conspiracy (ie, the revolution), which would destroy Evil Corp's paper financial records, and that this whole scheme is carried out with the support of and perhaps direction from White Rose, who may or may not represent the interest of a foreign government.

So what is the point of all the meandering of Elliot's story in the first 8 episodes? Why does Sam Esmail spend so much screen time doing nothing? Is this merely artsy-fartsy self-indulgence?

Upon second viewing of Season 2, I realized that my mistake lies in my conviction that Tyrell was killed by Elliot/Mr. Robot at the end of Season 1. But that was wrong, and all subsequent deductions were wrong, too. I should have realized that killing someone and disposing of his body did not require 3 whole days. When Tyrell showed up alive, the entire Elliot story line must be re-interpreted from the start.

(Continue after the break)

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