Lessons From…Scandal: “A Door Marked Exit”

Somehow I have not written about one of my new television obsessions, Scandal. Frankly, it is a near sin that I have yet to discuss this amazing program. There are several episodes and scenes I could choose from, but the one I really want to focus on is Season 3’s 10th episode, “A Door Marked Exit.” Specifically the scene between Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) and Rowan Pope (Joe Morton). As usual SPOILERS ahead.

This, in my honest opinion, is one of the best scenes in television because it follows one of the golden rules of a visual medium: show don’t tell. We get the history of these two men and their relationship/connection by the words they speak, but we get their true, core character by the way they speak and sit and move and stare one another down.

Fitz (it’s the standard shortening for the show and will be easier for this post) uses Olivia, Rowan’s daughter, to try to get a rise out of Rowan because it would work on him. Throughout the entire series Olivia has been Fitz’s weakness. Anytime she is involved, his capacity for rational, intelligent thought drops immeasurably. He becomes like a whining child searching for his favorite toy or blanket. Olivia is his safety net which is why she is his weakness because he relies on her to find himself. The problem is that she is Fitz’s weakness, not Rowan’s; at least, not in the same way. Our weaknesses are personal, not universal. Just because something affects you, does not mean it will have any effect on someone else. Understanding ourselves is a strong advantage but to win a battle understanding our opponents is key.

scandal pope vs fitz 2

That smug look is going to be completely wiped off his face in a few moments.

Rowan knows people and organizations and understands power. He would have to considering that he runs the most powerful black ops organization in this world. Rowan knows why he is shackled to a chair. He knows why the president is berating and interrogating him. He knows what his situation is and he does not care. Because more importantly he knows the man before him, Fitzgerald Grant. Unlike Fitz, Rowan knows true conflict. He has fought and scraped for what he has. His struggle has changed him and influenced his character. Rowan started off low and had to rise to his position. Besides killing, which he did much of, the only way to rise in any organization, outside of power being handed to you, is to understand the people within it. Rowan could read Fitz from the moment he saw him because that is what Rowan has been doing his entire life. It is the way he survived and flourished amid the turbulence and uncertainty of his enemies. Knowing ourselves brings enlightenment; knowing others brings power. Nothing is more powerful or advantageous than knowing how our opponents, and at times allies, think, feel, knowing their desires and pains and worries.

This is the face of a man who don't have time for your shit.

This is the face of a man who don’t have time for your shit.

Of course, this confrontation is eventually resolved but not by either of these men. It is solved by Olivia because she knows both these men. She has her father’s skills and tenacity and understands how they operate. More importantly, she knows how to manipulate them because of her understanding.  It is not just enough to have the skills, but you must be willing to do what is necessary, even set aside pride, to get the mission/job/work completed. Unlike Rowan, Olivia is willing to work outside of prestige and power and humble herself to get at the core or heart of the matter. It is the key element that makes her different, and superior, to her father.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…Salem

While catching up on backlogs of work, I “binge watched” (kind of fucking hate that term) the first season of Salem on Netflix. I have had it on my queue for a while now, but never seemed to get to it for some reason or another. I decided to finally watch it after hearing interviews of the shows stars on the Nerdist podcast, and it sounded like a program worth watching.

I was pleasantly surprised by this program and am eagerly awaiting for more episodes. C’mon, Netflix! Get your shit together. After finishing the first season, I came to a few realizations and of course had to explore them further. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Will never not be amusing.

Will never not be amusing.

So, if you are not familiar with American history, the television program is a highly dramatized telling of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts in the 17th century with much a lot of attractive people being suggestively naked and having simulated sex because it is on extended, not premium, cable. Yeah, that kind of sounds like a crap show, but it is actually pretty good. The major narrative revolves around a few central characters and their relationships and goals, specifically Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery), John Alden (Shane West), Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel), and a few others. Basically, at least in the first season, Mary is trying to bring about a great plague to the Puritans as retribution for the crimes they have committed against witches, Natives, and others. Most everyone else who is not a witch is trying to stop her. A few more events occur but I’ll let you watch the show to catch the full nuances.

The entire first season has a running theme of choice and consequence. Every character at some point is faced with a major decision and moment that has extreme consequences for either themselves, others, or both. Mary’s choices will negatively impact everyone in Salem, John’s choices will either condemn or save various people. Cotton’s choices, particularly those concerning his father, will have immediate dire consequences. Yet, the show never really makes judgments on the choices made by the characters. In fact, many times the audience is made to sympathize and understand why they perform the actions they do which is really the first lesson present; We make choices in life and must live with the results regardless of our foreknowledge of said consequences. This is most apparent in Mary’s story arc as she loses control of her circumstances and must live with the fallout of her actions; like a plague and power hungry, tyrannical rival.

Although sometimes there can be sexy consequences.

Although sometimes there can be sexy consequences.

Interestingly, while the show does force characters to own their choices, it also makes a point to note how the characters are also the products of others’ machinations. John Alden commits treason and murder during his service in war, but he was only there because of George Sibley’s distaste of him and forced military enlistment. Mary Sibley is literally a creation of the coven in order to bring about a terrible plague. Essentially, many times we are the result of other’s interests and actions no matter how much we may not desire it or fight against them. This is best seen in the character of Anne Hale. Her entire life she tried to live righteously and help those in need purely out of the goodness of her heart only to find that she is actually a witch because of the actions and machinations of her father; a powerful elder witch in the Salem coven. The first season ends with her turning and killing her father so she should be an interesting character in season two.

What does it say about me that even demon eyed and bloody, still think she is hot?

What does it say about me that even demon eyed and bloody, still think she is hot?

Ultimately, the first season of Salem boils down to individuals and groups vying for power and control. Witches versus Puritans, John versus Salem/Mary, Mary versus men in Salem/her coven, Anne versus nearly everyone, Cotton versus his father, etc,; whichever conflict or relationship you examine in Salem, it simply is about control and power. Yet, the great truth, and laughable lie, that the show demonstrates is how much bullshit the concepts of power and control really are. Every character, or characters, who believe they are in charge are almost immediately knocked off their pedestal by other characters. And even when they are on top of the hierarchical food chain, they have to make various back handed deals and plays to keep even the facade of power and control which is the final lesson; Power and control are the illusions and stories those in charge use to keep up the appearance of power and control because in truth they have only what others allow them.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…Vikings (“Born Again”)

To be fair, I have written on the incredible show, Vikings, before. You can read that pretty good post, (no humblebrag) here. While I have discussed the program in the past, I recently saw a new episode that demanded further analysis. Besides, if only a few lessons can be mined from a story at a specific time, it probably was not a good one to begin with. So, I will be analyzing the most recent episode of Vikings, “Born Again”, for possible lessons to be learned. As always SPOILERS ahead.

I know most of you are probably tired of this joke by now, but it still speaks to me for some reason.

I know most of you are probably tired of this joke by now, but it still speaks to me for some reason.

This episode revolves around the concept of faith through the actions and divergent ideologies of various characters, specifically King Ecbert, Floki, and Athelstan with some involvement on Ragnar’s part. (If these names sound like gibberish, go see the show or click the link provided earlier. Seriously though, this is a great program that deserves your viewership). While Floki and Athelstan are having internal struggles over their own faith and desire to please the gods, Ecbert is more concerned with how faith can be used to appease and manipulate the masses which is the first exploration/lesson of the episode: Faith is a powerful tool.

Though not as big a tool as this dude.

Though not as big a tool as this dude.

Ecbert is establishing his legacy and reign over Wessex and, he hopes, all of England. However, he is not simply some power hungry idiot. Ecbert knows that his throne and success depends upon the people he rules over. He needs them to unequivocally follow him and his plans, whatever they may be. So he manipulates those around him, particularly Athelstan and Judith, his son’s wife. He pushes these two individuals to act upon their mutual attraction resulting in a pregnancy. Once this affair, and the resulting child, are found out, Ecbert makes a big show of how it is an act of divine intervention since Athelstan faith and religious devotion is above question. Accordingly, his child must be blessed by God (for some reason) and thus Ecbert’s family, reign, and legacy are intrinsically tied to God’s divine plane. At least, that is what he convinces his subjects of as they all praise the birth of the child and Ecbert’s mercy in his treatment of Judith. It is never really established if Ecbert is a man of faith or religion, but the audience is fully aware of his ambition and drive to achieve his goals regardless of the consequences or methods (much like Ragnar’s own amibitions). He sees faith, and the fervor it creates, as a means to an end and little more unlike Athelstan or Floki.

Athelstan and Floki are at odds because of their differing faiths. Athelstan is a Christian at his core and Floki is a devoted follower of the Norse gods. Furthermore, Floki sees the rise of the Christian god as the inevitable downfall of his own gods. He cannot allow this to happen, yet he knows that Athelstan is loved by Ragnar who is seemingly favored by the gods. If this is so, how can Floki act against Athelstan. He cannot. At best he sows discontent among the Vikings. That is until he is given a sign, or at least something he interprets as a sign.

Granted this guy is not operating with a full set of of marbles to begin with.

Granted this guy is not operating with a full set of of marbles to begin with.

Blood pours out of a statue Floki is building and he recognizes this as the message he has been waiting for. He immediately leaves his home to go kill Athelstan as he believes this is his duty in service to his gods. Which brings us to the next lesson/examination on faith: True faith is spurred by devotion. This is not an excuse for the horrible atrocities done throughout history in the name of religion but more for the fervor and intensity that has helped religion and ideologies spread. Floki’s actions are not done out of spite or malice (at least not entirely). He genuinely believes that his deeds are in the service of his gods and faith. He even treats Athelstan’s body with a sense of reverence and purpose.

Floki, however, is not alone in this scenario as Athelstan is a willing sacrifice for Floki’s axe. At this point in the series, Athelstan has finally chosen a path for himself. Before this episode, he was still having an internal struggle over faith; whether he was a Christian or a follower of his adopted family/home’s gods. Here, Athelstan is newly devoted after having had a personal religious experience. There no longer exists any doubt in the man and he understands the consequences of such a choice. Athelstan’s end comes at Floki’s hand, but he is willing to go peacefully because he is finally at peace.

Ironically, he somehow has the "Jesus" abs which I find annoying.

Ironically, he somehow has the “Jesus” abs which I find annoying.

This is the last lesson from the episode: Faith can provide a sense of self and peace. Again, not intended to excuse the several negative instances of religion and faith being misused. However, for many people faith gives them hope, presence, and peace of mind. There is a great scene in the show Scrubs that relates such an idea or message. (Also another great show to watch when you have the chance). Athelstan was unsure of who he was or what he was meant to do until he found his core which for him was in his faith. Obviously, for others faith will be replaced with some other idea, force, object, or passion, but the same principle holds. You need something to hold onto and believe in to gain a modicum of true peace.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.

A Simple Trade

I don’t know if this will become a series or random interconnected stories, but this character was interesting enough for me to write him at least one more tale. The first one can be read here though it is not necessary to appreciate this one. 

* * *

I have never taken music lessons in my life. Hell, I had never even touched a piano before tonight. Yet, my fingers felt fused to the ivories of that exquisite instrument. Every note sung out into the audience and reached into their souls. I am not speaking from pride or ego. I saw the emotion dripping from their faces. No one who was within earshot could resist the lure of my music. Ink had worked his magic once more. The pianist’s skill would forever be mine to wield.

I ended my song to applause from the lounge and bar. I sincerely doubt most of the patrons would normally welcome any disturbance to their constant search for inebriation. Such was the power of a well played tune by the hands of a master.

My client would not be ready for a few hours still, so I felt a celebratory drink after my debut performance was in order. Whiskey neat, heavy glass, perfect pour; all that was missing was a rare piece of meat or a good looking woman seated next to me. I should have known trouble was coming when she sat came, especially since there were several empty seats along the bar.

“Is this seat taken?” she asked. I was on the job. Distractions are deadly in my line of work, but it is damn difficult to say no to a fine woman in a little black dress.

“I believe it was actually waiting for you to show up,” I said.

She smiled at my poor attempt at flirting. Her crimson lips parted slightly when she did. The rose hue on her cheeks complimented her lips and alabaster skin. This woman was dangerous. I liked it.

“Does that line ever work?” she asked as she sat down.

I took a sip of my whiskey before responding. “Got you to take a seat, darling.”

“Oh, I was always going to sit next to you this night, Shadow.”

Yup, she was trouble. I slammed my glass hard on the bar. It got the bartender’s attention, yet didn’t faze my female companion at all.

I turned to face her, not bothering to hide the murder in my eyes. She did not retract or flinch from my gaze. “You are not a client, a contact, or a friend, so how the hell do you know my name?”

She picked up my glass and threw the last of its contents down her throat in one quick motion. Just a few seconds ago, I was curious what that neck would smell like as I put my lips on it. Now, I was imagining what it would taste like when I tear it to shreds.

“To be fair, that is not your actual name. It is your chosen title. Everyone among the Darkness has one. Hell, even those in the Light do not go by their true name.”

This dame had knowledge though she did not seem like one of my kind. She still smelled very human.

“Your name, however, is still an odd on. Most of your kind choose a moniker denoting their skill or some inflated sense of ego. Yours does neither. Why is that, Shadow?”

She knew more than she should. Someone had been telling tales out of class and that would not stand. My client would be here within the hour. Assuming I did not enjoy the moment, there was more than enough time to get some answers from her and dispose of the body and any evidence.

“I am not here to cause you trouble, Shadow. I am here to make an offer.”

She could offer me nothing of substance. But if she was willing to provide answers without force, I was not going to stop her.

“Alright, say your peace, woman,” I said.

She ordered another round of whiskey for the both of us. I was not going to risk anything by drinking her olive branch. The drinks arrived quickly and she took a drink of her own just as fast. Her leg was shaking slightly. No doubt the whiskey was a means to calm her nerves. This woman may know something of the Darkness, but she had never truly walked in its depths. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost.

“I know you are here on business.”

“I am here to see a client, yes.” I said.

It was her turn to look incredulous. She did not want to mince words or bullshit at the moment.

“No semantics. You are not here for a ‘client.’ You are here to kill a man on someone else’s dime.”

I was genuinely surprised. “How do you know…” I was silenced by a finger in my face. I really wanted to break that index finger.

“Doesn’t matter. The point is you cannot kill this man or the ones you will be hired to kill after his death.”

I had not been hired to kill anyone else. Granted, my benefactor had insinuated that more work might become available upon a successful and completed job. How did this girl know this? She was definitely human or had some shape shifters just gotten good enough to trick all of my senses and magics? No matter. This girl had to be put down.

“Look lady, I don’t know who this guy is to you, but someone paid for him to die and I have a reputation to uphold. So, I will be taking my leave now. Enjoy the drink and pray that we do not meet one another again.”

She stood up and blocked my path. This woman was becoming a persistent nuisance. She was not very tall. Some would even classify her as petite. She was pretty and, truth be told, she was making the dress work and not the other way around. It was a shame for the world to lose such a specimen, but work was work.

“You misunderstand me, Shadow. The man you are after will die tonight, but not by your hand.”

“Oh,” I asked partially intrigued. “Then by whose?”

“Mine,” she responded showing me the blade she had managed to conceal. I honestly could not find a single place where she could have hidden the knife on her person. I wanted to try to find it, but that seemed ill advised in the bar.

“I don’t care about credit or money. I just want to be the one to end the life of this man and the ones that will come after him. You get the names. You keep the rewards. I take them down.”

“Is this your offer, girl? I don’t know you or how you could possibly have any of the information you possess. Frankly, I am debating whether to kill you now or after my actual assignment is done. Why would I agree to your ridiculous proposal?” It took every ounce of self control to not raise my voice or cause a scene or slit her throat there and now.

“Because I’ll let you keep their blood and give you a vial of my own.” My ears perked up at her suggestion. She knew of my ability. Many would die for that. Some I even considered friends.

“That’s your thing, right? You collect blood as some sort of weird trophies?” So, she did not know the true reason for the blood or at least she was smart enough to pretend to not know. I was actually considering her offer at this point. I needed information and her being alive might be the only way to get it.

“I can acquire what you offer on my own without much difficulty. You give me nothing I desire.” I began to move pass her, but she grabbed my arm before I could move away.

“What about the blood of a changeling? Would that be enough of a prize for you to agree to my terms?”

Changelings, true Changelings, were a rare creature. Most believed they were extinct, but rumors persisted of a few survivors that had managed to avoid that sad fate. If I could get a sample of a living Changeling’s blood or skin or just anything, I would have an unimaginable advantage.

“If you can provide such a trophy, I will slice up anyone you name and present you their remains on a silver platter with a bow.”

“That won’t be necessary. Just agree to work with me and give what I have asked for.” She held out her hand. Bonds and oaths were terrible things in my world. For humans breaking them meant very little ultimately. For us, however, the costs of going back on our explicit word were not without substance. But this was too good an offer to pass.

I grasped her hand in agreement. “You have a deal. Shall we begin?”

She released her soft touch. “Yes, we should.”

We made our way through the lounge bar passing the addled occupants of the hotel lobby toward the elevators. I had the details of our target. She was the instrument of his demise. These terms were acceptable. I inserted the special key to access the upper penthouses and selected our victim’s last abode.

“Since we’ll be working together for the foreseeable future, I think I should have your name like you have mine,” I said over the droll sounds of annoying elevator music.

“Agreed. You can call me Nemesis,” she responded.

“Really? That is your actual name?”

She turned to meet my skeptical gaze. Her eyes were full of fire and rage, yet resolute in what was to come in her journey. “It is as much my name as Shadow is yours. It shall be what I am known as for this job.” She returned her sight to the elevator door grasping the blade in her hand. There was no more shaking, no more jitters, no more hesitation.

I don’t know who you are or what you are doing girlie, but I can tell this is going to be a fun ride. 

On Choice of Words (Not Quite Diction)

As an aspiring writer, bibliophile, and idiot who decided on pursuing an English degree, I have always believed in the power of words. Whether to inspire the masses or simple convey a single, meaningful idea, words matter. Hell, you have never heard someone say “he/she convinced me with that completely accurate math problem.” No, it was flowery language and incredible metaphor that men have willingly given their lives for.

In case I haven't been obvious enough yet.

In case I haven’t been obvious enough yet.

However, I have always been bothered by the limit wordsmiths have in wielding their craft. I mean, like all artists/creators, what responsibility do authors and “wordy” (yup, aspiring writer) people have to their communities and/or their art?

This train of thought was partially inspired from a conversation with an artist. He makes interesting pieces revolving around criticism of popular culture and major sociopolitical issues in South Texas. For him, his art was his involvement and all he felt necessary or compelled to do. Of course, he also acknowledged that if others believed they should take a more active role in social and political movements, it was up to them to set their own boundaries. Yeah, the artist gave a very political answer.

The second thing that inspired this stream of consciousness was remembering the movie The Invention of Lying.

I won’t go into any spoilers or detail, but it is an interesting film, and I highly recommend watching it. The premise is that humanity is incapable of lying except for one man (Ricky Gervais) who discovers the ability to do so. Now, for the most part he is self-serving and uses this new found power for his own personal gain, but there is one key moment when he essentially creates religion. This is not intended to create a debate or even a discussion on religion, its validity, or any other facet of belief. However, in the film it is basically a lie intended to comfort a dying mother and everyone else who has questions about the afterlife and what it means to be a good person and other major philosophical questions that we people just do not understand.

Really that is the crux of my internal query. What is the purpose of being able to wield and manipulate words? Are they meant to simply entertain, provide comfort, inspire toward some movement or progress? What happens when the words are in conflict with the reality or truth of a situation? For example, let’s say a story in a newspaper shed light on a horrible, atrocious situation, but the subject matter was not necessarily 100% factual. Is the truth more important than the good that was done? If a lie provides comfort, is it really such a bad thing? If the truth causes harm, is it actually good? Or perhaps the question should be how much good and change was actually made if a single truth can utterly derail it?

I apologize for the series of odd, semi-existential questions. Hell, maybe I should stop doing these “On [Something]” posts since they seem to result in more questions than answers. Also, I swear I am not writing under the influence of anything other than my synapses incapable of being quiet for too long. I am hoping that throwing these out into the ether of the Internet will yield some answers. Or at the very least other will discuss and maybe some day come up with something, but who knows.

For now, all I can do is cast out the net and see what happens. Maybe one of you has some insight into this.

Magic in the Ink

Everyone is special. Everyone has a power in them.

These were the thoughts that rattled around in my head as the needle pierced my skin. I had experienced the ritual involved in marking my flesh that pain and discomfort were distant memories. The process had become more meditative than aesthetic; something that I needed to do.

“We’re almost finished,” said Ink. I am fairly certain he has a real name, maybe even a legitimate business in another life. However, in this world of shadows I only knew him as his moniker. This was the way things were done: the way we survived.

Tattoo artists, as they liked to call themselves, littered the surrounding area. Of the few that took on clients like myself, Ink was the best and could be counted on to keep his mouth shut.

“Alright, done. Take a look.”

The eye on my rib cage was a thing of exquisite beauty; a deep blue iris that seemed to stare into infinity. Ink’s work was flawless as always. It stung as I caressed my newly acquired mark.

“It’s perfect.”

“Of course, it is. I may not have your skills, but I am a master of my craft,” Ink responded as he put away his tools. “I assume you have a new request already in the works.”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” I pulled out the small box held within my coat. “It has two small vials. More than enough to mix with your ink.”

Ink removed one of the vials and held the vial up to the ceiling bulbs. Even after leaving the body, blood held a dark crimson color that turned a bright red when exposed to a light.

“So am I going to get this one’s name?”

“No names. You don’t need to know to create your work.”

“True, but I do need something.”

“He was a musician. Good with his hands. I am sure that is enough to inspire considering what you managed with last time.”

“Hey, what is more appropriate for someone who spent her life looking at the stars than a well-designed eye?”

“Fair enough. Delivery?”

“Give me two weeks to make the arrangements. I’m sure a man of your talents will have something new by then.”

“Two weeks. I’ll be here.”

I exited Ink’s shop to let him work. The night’s bitter wind ran a chill down my spine. My new eye still heated my side. I could feel her eyes seeping into my body. The moon and stars shined brighter than they ever had before or perhaps I could simply perceive their magnificence easier with my new sight.  My phone rang while I was admiring the night sky.

“New job? Send me the details and it will be done.”  I hung up and waited for my next instructions to come through. Another job presented another opportunity.

Everyone is special. Everyone has a power in them. And I will have their gifts.

Journal

Image

I recently purchased a notebook to use as a personal journal. I have never kept a physical record of my thoughts and truth be told I never considered owning one before now. It seems a bit silly or juvenile, even now, as though I am trying to rewrite my own personal history as keeping a journal seems like more of an activity one would perform during their teenage years. Furthermore, having both a blog and a physical journal seems rather redundant, so I’ve been trying to figure out why I would want both, especially considering my less than stellar record of timely posting on this blog.

I have yet to come up with a legitimate answer, but the best that I have been able to come up with is simply that I need both. I know, seems indulgent or like a cop out, but hear me out on this one. I believe in the power of words. More so, I honestly believe that words take on a particular strength when they take a physical presence; when they are transferred from thought into speech and writing. This platform allows me the opportunity to give my thoughts weight and to share them with an audience (however small or large it may be) that can hold me accountable to something or someone beyond myself.

However, some ideas do not want to quite yet see the light of day. Some words are not ready to be seen by eyes other than mine. Yet, they still need weight, presence, and physical embodiment. Thus, a personal journal serves a purpose. It is a space for me to express the thoughts and feelings that need to be put down onto paper but do not need to be heard or seen by anyone else. It is my own personal haven created by my soul and hand to be examined and read by an older me who needs the guidance of his past to walk his future.

So, like I said, maybe I got a journal because I need it.