Now that we’re gearing up for Breaking Bad’s big finale, I’ve been giving some thought to the characters and the changes each has undergone throughout the series. None has gone unaffected by the course of events Walt set into motion in his decision to become a methamphetamine manufacturer. His transformation has been the subject of much speculation, and most of us will agree he’s as much a victim of circumstance as he is a victim of his own hubris. Amidst this speculation, I’ve found the varying opinions about Skyler interesting to say the least.
When I wrote an article about her for Fans Pages, the number of reader responses viciously scrutinizing her behavior was surprising. Here are excerpts of a few of them:
“She is deceitful, reckless, and suddenly in denial of her previous actions. I have lost respect for this character at this point. […] She is not capable to see how much Walt loves his family and would do everything within his power to protect them and provide for them. How she could look directly into his eyes and state that she is just waiting for him to be stricken down with cancer and to die is simply repulsive.” – Christine
“You are really reaching if you are trying to make Skyler the victim. Skyler is not abused! In fact, she has been the manipulator throughout these seasons.” – Perry
“[Skyler] is a [sic] egoistic bitch that does not care about anybody but herself.” – Marion
“In my opinion the role of [Skyler] is a self absorbed egotistical woman who cant [sic] bare [sic] the fact that she can longer direct and control the lives around her so she is making herself into a victim, since she surely isnt [sic] strong enough to be an accomplice, or thankful enough to be a loving wife. […] Its [sic] unfortunate that Walter had to realize his potential by being a criminal, but his intentions were to be a good husband, he remained true to [Skyler] and the family at all costs. All he did was find his inner strength.” – Shulgidude
To me, it’s fascinating to see how many people view her character as the deceitful one, the manipulative one, the egotistical one. Don’t those attributes better describe Walt? Why is it that the most evil of characters is also the most beloved—and why has much of Breaking Bad’s audience grown so hateful toward a character that has, at her very worst, laundered money to keep her and Walt out of prison and their children as safe as they possibly can be?
The answer lies in the writers’ tactful manipulation of circumstance and character. By creating a character we cannot help but feel bad for, feel empathy for, before transforming him into the monster he’s become, we can’t help but root for him no matter how evil his acts. They draw us in with his life-threatening illness, his menial job, and the loss of his research. When he turns to crime in a desperate endeavor to leave his family the means to survive without him, we don’t react as we would if a typical, real-life person did the same. Meth is a terrible, devastating drug that shatters every life with which it comes into contact. Only a real monster would even consider being a meth cook, and yet we forgive Walt because he’s deathly ill and motivated (at least initially) by the desire to provide for his family.
Now, take Skyler and her progression of actions. When she first learns what Walt is doing, she sends him away and gets a lawyer with the intention of divorcing him. She wants to keep Walt as far from their children as possible, and with good reason. Would you want a meth cook anywhere near your children? What lengths would you be willing to go to ensure your children’s safety? Some fans want to know why someone so intent on protecting her children wouldn’t simply leave, and to that I say nothing is that simple. Where would she go? Move in with Ted and expect Walt Jr. to go along with it? Knowing Ted’s own criminal acts, would he really be any safer to live with than Walt? Would she be able to afford to move out on her own?
Fans are tricked into hating Skyler just as they’re tricked into rooting for Walt—she opposes nearly his every move, and therefore she is the enemy. Despite this, I say we should be rooting for her just as much, if not more, than we’re rooting for Walt. Both want what’s best for their children, but their approaches are vastly different. Skyler acts out of fear; Walt acts out of ego. As she says at the end of Season 4, Episode 6, "Somebody needs to protect this family from the man who protects this family." Do you disagree? If so, on what grounds?
It’s fascinating to watch social trends as they unfold, shift, and pave the way for the ones to follow. People are pack animals, most following the leader wherever he or she might take them, allowing popularity alone to dictate their own choices in taste and opinion. I think about the whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, how just the right people decided the series was worth shouting about and somehow turned a mediocre-at-best collection of fan fiction into a bestseller. More recently, J. K. Rowling flipped the fate of her recent mystery novel, taking it from nowhere to the top of the charts by outing herself as Robert Galbraith. It gets a person like me, a relative nobody, thinking about what it actually takes to stake any real claim on the author’s frontier. Moreover, how many exceptional books are going unread by the masses simply because they were never discovered by one of the ever-influential pack leaders? Popular brands sell. Stephen King could write a story about a haunted fig tree and it would sell millions.
I’ve never been popular on any front. I was the loner in school, the kid picked last in dodge ball, the girl who couldn’t start a trend if her life depended on it. How many others are there who are just like me, with much to contribute but no pack leaders touting their merits? How many potential Stephen Kings are out there who will never realize their potential simply because they lack either the right connections or the right luck to be read by someone influential enough to put them on the map?I know nearly every author out there has faith in his or her writing, so I’m not unique in that regard. I’m not unique in feeling that I deserve my fair shot. I’m anything but unique in my desire to make my mark in the literary world.
What I am, however, is unique—period.
Is that alone worth your readership … or are you waiting for the pack leaders to tell you what the next big trend will be to follow?
I’ve touched upon this before, and with mixed response, but I must have another word on the subject. It never ceases to surprise me when a reader somehow feels cheated when finishing a dystopian novel that ends on a less-than-happy note. I understand that genres evolve to a certain extent, but to base one’s dystopian rubric on what one experiences in reading, say, The Hunger Games, is faulty to say the very least. Let’s take a look at a few of the most influential classics, the dystopias that truly define the genre:
Planet of the Apes: Ulysse escapes Soror with his primitive lover and child, offering the readers hope that all will be well, only to return home to find Earth has become the same hell he escaped. The couple in space who had the message in a bottle—again, hope for the human race—only end up throwing another disturbing monkey wrench into the works (yes, pun fully intended).
The point: Apes merely “ape,” and everything the readers see in the ape society represents humanity’s progress put eternally on hold; we only hold ourselves back, and when we fail to reach our potential, society as a whole pays for our failings.
1984: Lovers Winston and Julia are discovered together by the Thought Police and are taken to the Ministry of Love for torturous, brainwashing “re-education.” They both betray one another during interrogation, and then suffer their greatest fears in Room 101, Winston nearly having his face chewed to ribbons by rats before having the horror differed instead onto Julia. Their love dissolves—actually transforms into contempt—as a result of their experiences, and both re-enter society as selfless drones who live to serve and love “Big Brother.”
The point: If we submit to group thought, essentially allowing others to think for us, and do not exercise our rights as individual human beings, we will lose all that makes humanity so exceptional and diverse.
Cat’s Cradle: Ice-nine, a frozen chemical that turns all liquid it comes into contact with into more ice-nine (which stays frozen even in high temperatures), falls into the ocean via the crash of a plane containing the frozen body of a dictator who had committed suicide by ingesting the chemical, and all of the oceans in the world freeze over, ensuring the extinction of virtually all life on the planet.
The point: The most selfish and ignorant of humankind will be the downfall of us all.
My point: There is a reason many of my works end in tragedy, and sometimes it takes a little brainpower to figure out why. I know some people read to escape and some people read to think, but those in need of escapism have no place picking up the good majority of dystopian works. When I read reviews that show contempt for the dark ending in my dystopia, all I can think of is, You obviously have not read enough to know what you’re talking about. Go back to your YA dystopia, the sugar-coated kind, and leave the real literature to the big kids. And, should you decide to pick up a novel that follows the classic dystopian trope, don’t complain if you leave without that warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s meant to stimulate your brain, not fulfill your escapist needs.
It's blunt and it's not nice, but it's also true.
For a story that has a conclusion any Hitchcock fan will already know, Bates Motel has proven to be as unpredictable as they come. This first season was surprisingly good, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the Season 2. So far, it reminds me of a teenage Breaking Bad: a well-mannered, good-natured man finds himself slowly pushed over the edge by circumstances beyond his control.
The main characters all possess extreme flaws, and yet those flaws are not forced. Still, they are what drives the story, a necessary and important component to every twist the writers have thrown our way.
Norma Bates is well-meaning but unable to cope with day-to-day problems, let alone the horrors she’s encountered. She’s frail but so desperately wants to appear strong. These flaws are vital to the story because her need to fight not only aspects to her life she’s powerless to change, but also her very nature, is what contributes most to her continued trauma.
Norman Bates is much like his mother, clueless about how disturbed he is. He wants to find his place in the world, but he’s too far in the periphery to do so. He’s the perfect example of the seemingly good person capable of horrific acts. He wants to be good; he’s just too lost to see himself in any kind of realistic light.
Dylan Bates is the sanest person in the family, yet he works as an illegal pot grower’s guard and has murdered at least one person we know of. The scene in which he teaches Norma how to shoot a gun shows how level-headed he is, but the level of corruption his character has amassed parallels that of his mother and brother. The only difference is he is aware of his actions, the consequences of those actions, and where that places him in terms of society and those he feels the need to protect.
Bradley is a symbol of Norman’s desire for normalcy. She’s the all-American girl, the epitome of the seeming high-school perfection that nearly everyone, at one time or another, strove to be. Norman’s obsession with her is nothing less than an obsession to fit in, to live the stereotypical high school experience. Her denial of his affection represents a denial of his place in the normal, sane world.
Emma is the perfect reflection of Norman. Although she has no homicidal tendencies, she represents death through her chronic, deadly condition. Her attraction to Norman symbolizes his own imperfection and, despite himself, the slow dance with Death that he cannot escape. When they go to the dance together, both admitting it to be their first, the music is telling. The opening lyrics are, “Everybody’s got a secret to hide. . . .” While Emma’s flaws are physical and Normans psychological, he rejects a part of himself by rejecting her.
Abernathy, the slave trade dealer, is a symbol of the town’s corruption, while Sheriff Romero symbolizes a desire to create order amidst a sea of chaos. Deputy Shelby, with whom Norma has a brief fling, represents the evil that lies just beneath the surface of all that appears good but ends in tragedy—the darkness each character strives to overcome, only to see it return, time and time again, in a different form.
Norman’s meltdown over the black socks and Norma’s confession of childhood incest offer deeper glimpses of who they are; Norma’s visible scar parallels her emotional ones. Each character introduced throughout the season, as minor as he or she may seem, holds a tiny piece of the puzzle that will eventually solve the big question: how does Norman Bates become the insane, ever-tormented killer of Psycho? The writers have laid the perfect foundation of trauma, neurosis, and betrayal. What promises to come in the following season will be nothing short of horrifying.For more about Bates Motel, go to A&E.
Many times over, science fiction has predicted future issues, innovations, and inventions. The microwave, the satellite dish, robots, hand-held computers, and weapons of mass destruction all existed in science fiction before they became pieces of modern reality. Many of these predictions have been lucky guesses, while others have emerged from precise meshes of inspiration, scientific backgrounds, and creativity.
Recently, healthcare officials have begun to give increasing attention to the growing issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Up until this last year, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was the big threat. MRSA causes painful boils and can causes sepsis and disease in vital organs, and it’s very difficult to treat. Now, a bacterium named Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) has created a threat that makes MRSA look rather innocuous. CRE is not only highly contagious and resistant to every antibiotic on the market—but it has the ability to trade DNA with other bacteria to make them equally antibiotic resistant. Hypothetically, they could be responsible for future drug resistance in every known species of bacteria, and the implications are terrifying.
Eli Perencevich, an infectious-disease doctor and professor working at the University of Iowa's Carver College of Medicine told USA Today, "We're entering the post-antibiotic era; that's a very big problem."
In my dystopia, World-Mart, antibiotic resistant disease has ravaged the population to the point where antibiotics have become outlawed and those found to carry previously treatable diseases such as Staph and Strep are euthanized to prevent further pandemics. While this is only a part of the story’s B-plot, I found myself dumbstruck at the possibility of currently treatable diseases becoming the scourge they had become in World-Mart. I must also question whether researchers will turn to germ-line therapy in an attempt to create future generations that are more disease resistant. Could the genetically engineered “deviants” of World-Mart also become a reality of the near future?
I’ll admit without any reservations that I wrote World-Mart as a warning of the possible future in store should we allow corporations to expand and render small, privately owned businesses obsolete. It is a future I hope will not come to pass, as fearful as I am that the potential is there. I also saw and wrote about the growing threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria and the possible worldwide threats various diseases, if rendered untreatable, might pose. I pray neither occurs to the extent I envisioned in my fiction, although the chances are looking increasingly likely.
What do you think about these latest bacterial outbreaks? What do you think we can do to reduce their threat? In light of current events, do you personally view World-Mart an even more terrifying look into the future, or do you think most of the novel will remain strictly science fiction?
Author disclaimer: This article is an opinion piece. Your mileage may vary.
There was once a time when Writer’s Digest was an excellent tool for writers of all skill levels. The magazine was brimming with articles filled with writing tips, advice from authors and editors, and fun but informative essays. When it made the jump to digital, I was happy to subscribe.
I didn’t think much of it when WD began pimping its writing contests left and right. I didn’t have much of a problem when I saw how much it was charging per entry. Most recently, however, I noticed the price had jumped to $100 per entry (for "early bird" submissions), which is a bit troubling to say the least. Still, I remained on the mailing list because of the quality of many of its articles.
The webinars became more frequent, with prices spanning from $199 to $799. No longer was all author advice a part of the subscription; for the really good advice (or at least we should hope so) one now needed to pay hundreds of dollars. Still, I remained a loyal subscriber.
Today, however, I received an ad about WD’s latest venture—a publishing “opportunity” through its new partner, Abbott press. It promises to be a better deal than Amazon and the like, claiming distribution in nearly every possible venue. It claims everything you’d find in a vanity press and more, including access to radio interviews, exposure to movie producers, book signing tours, “affordable” advertising, and full editorial support. Even more, authors receive a one-year subscription to the magazine and a free webinar of their choice. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
But wait—there’s more! For “only” $500, authors can buy Indie Kirkus reviews; that’s only $75 more than what Kirkus would charge directly for the same service (never mind the fact that most people disregard paid reviews, including Indie Kirkus reviews). So how much would you be willing to pay for this amazing “opportunity?” $10,000? $9,000? Nope—this all comes for the amazing starting price of $499 for e-books and $699 for print books (the “economy” packages, which include benefits no better than Amazon’s optional author assistance services), although to receive all the “benefits” offered, one must spend anywhere from $999 to $7,999.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s the last straw. The camel’s back has finally broken. My respect for WD has dwindled as far as it can. It’s time for this writer to unsubscribe.
I could spend a few hours looking for photos that fall within public domain, but in this case, I believe content is more important than any possible pictures or files.
I sit at my desk, struggling to catch my breath, in awe over the literary brilliance that went into the first episode of Fox’s new series The Following. I have read pre-release reviews on the show, and they have been as varied as the speculations portrayed in Poe’s art. Denver Post television critic Joanne Ostrow writes, “[The Following’s creator] seems to be treading a familiar path but with a more adult sensibility. [Kevin Williamson has] left the vampires behind, kept the scream-worthy horror and added some smart plotting.” In stark contrast, The Washington Post’s reviewer, Hank Stuever writes, “…I realized: ‘The Following’s’ fundamental problem is neither its gore nor its brutality; it’s the display of arrogance. Tangled up in easily avoidable clichés of the genre, this is a show that is entirely too pleased with itself and its pretentious concept. It’s not that we’ve become numb. It’s that we’ve become dulled."
“Pretentious” is often a term used by those who are too ill-educated or unsophisticated to appreciate the brilliance or depth of a particular work. Stuever clearly doesn’t know his Poe, nor can he appreciate the literary merit that has gone into the series pilot. As both a well-read student of Poe and an artist, I can say with certainty that Stuver has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s poorly misinformed, a fact easily discerned by anyone who has any background in the genre.
It is with great irony that I begin with the response to the antagonist’s first novel, which he himself calls “literati pretense.” He understands the gap between art and perception, and the writers take this concept to its own level. Clearly, its naysayers have no clue of the brilliance they review. While they cover the ramblings of a madman, unaware of the literary implications, the most important being the realization of one of Poe’s greatest fears: falling into the chasm of insanity. Poe also often used the theme of the (often insane) “unreliable narrator” to express ideas far beyond the scope of his characters. Anyone who has studied Poe will know that the themes explored by The Following explores themes only barely touched by many of Poe’s works. “The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Raven” are three stories mentioned by name, but beyond story titles and thematic implications, the mere mention of these stories says something important about the series and where it is going.
Starting from importance, “The Tell-Tale Heart” hints at the physical issues implicated through other characters’ dialog. Retired FBI agent Ryan Hardy obviously has some kind of health issue related to his heart, an issue that will surely reveal itself in greater detail in episodes to come. Ryan is also a clear parallel to Poe’s deductive amateur detective Auguste Dupin.
The symbolism included in the series premiere is as important as any other aspect one might analyze. Hardy’s discovery of not only Carroll’s part in the continuing murders, but the connection to Poe’s works in his followers, suggests “The Murders of Rue Morgue,” as well as other prominent Poe works. The significance of “Rue Morgue” demonstrates the implication of Carroll’s ability to reduce his followers to the mental state of an orangutan—capable of great destruction but unaware of the effects of their mayhem.
By connecting the murders with the unfinished work, Poe’s “Lighthouse,” the writers make a point about the power of words. Poe died after writing three pages of “The Lighthouse,” and yet Carroll is able to harness the power Poe has left behind and use it against his fellow man. There is repeated reference to “The Black Cat,” as well as reference to the often poorly understood “The Cast of Amontillado.” By referencing the lost clues that might reside behind closed walls, the story's authors offer deep commentary on what is versus what is perceived, an offshoot of Poe’s strong themes of the unreliable narrator. When Carroll refers to Hardy as “the flawed hero,” he speaks not only of the ex-agent who has lost sight of his greatest nemesis’ intent. This, of course, plays upon the literati philosophy of author intent. The gay couple draws attention from the babysitter, the babysitter represents the “unfinished work” portrayed in Poe’s unfinished short story “The Lighthouse,” and Carroll’s antagonistic leads play against Hardy’s predetermined views about the serial killer and the power he holds over all he’s affected.
The only other thing made clear is that Carroll is intent on creating a Poe-inspired masterpiece of his own by riding the coattails of the Gothic horror master. Whether or not he will succeed lies in the hands of The Following’s writers. I suspect they have a decent idea of what they’re going. Whether or not the general audience will identify with the brilliance the writers are tapping into remains to be seen.
Edgar Allan Poe was well known for his critical reviews of other authors, and to pay homage, I’ve decided to offer a critical review of what I believe to be one of his most provocative short stories, “The Pit and the Pendulum.” While Poe’s reviews were often scathing, I felt it more appropriate to celebrate his birthday with something a bit more praiseworthy and analytical.
In “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Poe uses hellish visuals to portray the irony of religious justification for torture and death. His unnamed protagonist first describes his physical response to the “inquisitorial voices” sentencing him to death. His senses fail him before he falls into a mild hallucinatory state, at which time one must consider the possibility that Poe is using his common tool, the unreliable narrator. This works to the benefit of the story, however, allowing one to regard the entire work as an opinion piece.The narrator describes,
I saw, too, for a few moments of delirious horror, the soft and nearly imperceptible waving of the sable draperies which enwrapped the walls of the apartment; and then my vision fell upon the seven tall candles upon the table. At first they wore the aspect of charity, and seemed white slender angels who would save me: but then all at once there came a most deadly nausea over my spirit, and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill, as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery, while the angel forms became meaningless spectres, with heads of flame, and I saw that from them there would be no help.
Here, the seven candles represent the Catholic pontifical high Mass, which is commonly associated with the Pope. It is in the above passage where he makes clear his intentions in writing this story. When he describes the candles as “angel forms [that] became meaningless spectres, with heads of flame,” he juxtaposes the holy with hellfire, a visual that will prove to be a recurring theme throughout the work.
The narrator falls into a fugue state, which he can only compare to death. Poe writes,
I had swooned; but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost. What of it there remained I will not attempt to define, or even to describe; yet all was not lost. In the deepest slumber -- no! In delirium -- no! In a swoon -- no! In death -- no! Even in the grave all was not lost. Else there is no immortality for man. Arousing from the most profound of slumbers, we break the gossamer web of some dream. Yet in a second afterwards (so frail may that web have been) we remember not that we have dreamed.
The narrator’s inability to define or describe his experience represents the unknown and the uncertainty of what lies beyond death. Through his perceived encounter with those sanctified by the Catholic Church, our protagonist loses his faith in the divine. He further exemplifies this ironic event in his confusion over what exactly he has encountered: “In the deepest slumber -- no! In delirium -- no! In a swoon -- no! In death -- no! Even in the grave all was not lost. Else there is no immortality for man.” By claiming, “Even in the grave all was not lost. Else there is no immortality for man,” the narrator is defining the moment in which he feels forced to question the afterlife. He compares the encounter to a dream immediately forgotten upon waking, bringing death to a strictly physical level and abandoning any spiritual connection. He elaborates upon this sentiment when he soon thereafter describes the experience as “some token of the state of seeming nothingness into which [his] soul had lapsed.”
Illustration courtesy of MacFran:
Poe cleverly offers a sense of confusion over the narrator’s unreliability when he comes upon a brief moment of clarity. He describes, “I brought to mind the inquisitorial proceedings, and attempted from that point to deduce my real condition. The sentence had passed, and it appeared to me that a very long interval of time had since elapsed.” Here, he recalls his sentencing, but also questions the state in which the shock of that sentence had imposed upon him. He exemplifies this by adding, “Yet not for a moment did I suppose myself actually dead. Such a supposition, notwithstanding what we read in fiction, is altogether inconsistent with real existence; -- but where and in what state was I?” By specifically referring recorded experiences of death as “what we read in fiction,” he denies any supernatural connection to said experiences. His additional observation that it might be “altogether inconsistent with real existence” fortifies the idea that there is a clear divide between his perceived and actual occurrences.
The narrator, upon gaining full consciousness, finds himself in a pitch-black dungeon, which he describes as difficult to gauge in shape and dimension. This, of course, works as a parallel to the indeterminate size and shape of our universe (which remained an enigma at the time of this story’s creation), his imprisoned world suddenly reduced to the same level of uncertainty. He clarifies the nature of his prison, however, after again falling unconscious and waking to find the dungeon lit just enough for him to gauge his surroundings. He describes it as “a wild sulphurous luster” with an “origin of which [he] could not at first determine.” By describing the vague light source as having “a wild sulphurous luster,” he incorporates sensations most often associated with Hell, and by adding that the origin was one “of which [he] could not determine,” he makes clear the ethereal ekphrasis intended.
When Poe introduces the pendulum, he provides an interconnection between time and death, insinuating the finiteness of all life. He describes the pendulum as “a painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that in lieu of a scythe he held as a casual glance I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum, such as we see on antique clocks.” By meshing the traditional images of (pendulum) and death (scythe), he alludes to the association between the two; both are inescapable and both play against one another in the eventual mortality of all humans. Many attempt to diffuse their fears over the two through faith, but again, perception and reality do not always go hand in hand.
Poe further alludes to this connection when his narrator describes, “there had been no perceptible descent in the pendulum.” Like watching a child grow or a person age, the perception is not one that can be viewed in one moment to the next. One might as well attempt to watch the grass grow. Old age creeps upon us all, and youth falls to the wayside before it can be fully appreciated. Death, as inevitable as it is, often seems distant until nearly the moment it strikes. Most of us think little about our mortality, or the finality that may come with death, until we’re forced to, as Poe’s narrator exemplifies, “For the first time during many hours, or perhaps days, I THOUGHT.” It isn’t until the pendulum has nearly reached him that he is able to ponder both its implications and his possible escape.
Poe returns to allusions of the battles resulting from the Inquisition when he brings the rats inhabiting the dungeon to the forefront. The narrator describes,
I had not counted in vain upon their voracity. Observing that I remained without motion, one or two of the boldest leaped upon the frame-work and smelt at the surcingle. This seemed the signal for a general rush. Forth from the well they hurried in fresh troops. They clung to the wood, they overran it, and leaped in hundreds upon my person.
Notice the choice in language here: the “general rush” and the “fresh troops.” Poe clearly depicts war through the garish guise of vermin warming a man on the brink of death. Still, his narrator survives, patiently waiting for their assault against his flesh to weaken also the ties that bind him, only to describe the horrors that ensue:
I had scarcely stepped from my wooden bed of horror upon the stone floor of the prison, when the motion of the hellish machine ceased and I beheld it drawn up by some invisible force through the ceiling. This was a lesson which I took desperately to heart. My every motion was undoubtedly watched. Free! I had but escaped death in one form of agony to be delivered unto worse than death in some other.
Image courtesy of Ryan Russell.
Click on image for more information.
Here, one might find a correlation between the assumed all-seeing eyes of God and the narrator’s torturers: “My every motion was undoubtedly watched.” The pendulum ceases as soon as he slips from his binds, and he anticipates a new level of suffering to replace the old. The “lesson which [he takes] desperately to heart” compares to the canonical “lesson[s]” anyone might derive from any given religious text.
When the torturers are finally revealed, the narrator describes “Demon eyes, of a wild and ghastly vivacity, glar[ing] …in a thousand directions where none have been visible before, and gleamed with a lurid luster of a fire that I could not force my imagination to regard as unreal.” The description here is more ethereal than it is earthly, turning men into demons, meshing the imagined with inescapable reality. Those trusted with the position of punishing the condemned are no better than those deemed the heathens they have sentenced; human and demon become one in the same. Poe ensures his message is clear by describing his torturers as “most demoniac of men,” and by transforming the stone walls of the narrator’s prison as “burning iron” ever closing in on his protagonist.
When he rouses from his imagined hell, the protagonist realizes “the fiery walls rushed back” and he is still on the battlefield, fighting alongside General Lasalle of the French army, driving those fighting for the Inquisition into submission. This reversal of roles here is key to the story. By shifting the narrator’s hell into reverie, Poe merely shows that he portrays one side of a complicated story. More importantly, he illustrates the atrocities that might exist due to something as menial as a difference in belief. The enemy is always the demon, and his domain is always Hell, and it is only human nature to dehumanize he whom one currently fights against.
Works cited by link:
If you saw American Horror Story: Asylum last night, you're probably still thinking about Jude's lovely (brain-frying electroc-shock "treatment"-induced) delusion that results from Lana asking her, "Do you know your name?" If you missed it, here's a clip. Take note of the use of color, which contrasts heavily with scenes that usually take place in the asylum's common room.
Read my thoughts on this episode and how it pertains to the series as a whole at AHS Fans Pages.
I spent my New Year’s Day watching SyFy’s annual marathon of The Twilight Zone, enjoying the revisit of my favorite episodes and taking great joy in remembering forgotten details. As I watched, I tried to think of other television shows that have compared, and although there have been some exceptional series over the past fifty-some-odd years, none have quite captured that same level of innovation and brilliance. Even now, watching my favorite of the show’s intros gives me a delightful shiver.
The following are the main three reasons why I believe The Twilight Zone is the best television show of all time:
All of my regular readers know what a strong influence I feel Rod Serling has been on my own writing. He is, without a doubt, one of the most innovative writers of his time. One of the main reasons The Twilight Zone was so exceptional was that Serling had such a strong influence on the series. He wrote many of the episodes, his careful use of language and imagery often resulting in a breathtaking effect. His use of symbolism might not always have been subtle, but it was always provocative. His dialog was realistic and profound, and his commentary so poignant that it might be considered timely in nearly every generation. His themes often revolved around the value of human life, and how different individuals or groups might lose sight of that value in the name of money, power, changing social mores, and/or technological advancement.
The Twilight Zone took chances on social and political issues that even now some might consider daring. The series represented speculative fiction in its purest form, using elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, to make statements about the world and the people living in it. In effect, the show used its suspension of reality to say something important about the realest of issues. Other shows have done this as well, most recently the Fox sci-fi drama Fringe and AMC’s The Walking Dead, but none have done it quite as skillfully.
While there are a great number of episodes in which the outcome might be somewhat predictable, one who has never seen the series would never be able to predict what might happen from one episode to the next. The series spanned from lighthearted to downright horrifying, each episode unique and with its own individual offering of commentary and social analysis. Moreover, while some of the twists used throughout the show might seem clichéd in terms of modern television or literature, most were groundbreaking during their time.
I wonder what the generations beyond mine think about the original black and white series—and if they are even willing to give a chance to a show they might consider too outdated to be enjoyable. The thought that The Twilight Zone might ever be considered outdated, regardless of its basic special effects and forgotten actors, sends chills up my spine. Although many have attempted to emulate—even revise and recreate—this brilliant classic television series, there will never be another show quite like it.