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Twin Peaks‘s second season is a complete mess. I wish I could say that’s a good thing. The show’s creators, perhaps figuring that their unexpected hit would run for years, focused their attention elsewhere, and those who remained struggled greatly to fill the void. This led to such gems as James On The Road, that goddamned screaming knob, and an explosion of new characters (along with an inexplicable trend toward making the old ones completely bland) and comic relief subplots that must have seemed a safer bet than writing interesting dramatic stories. It also led to the creation of the worst fictional character of all time.


Where’s Waldo?

Why does the character of John Justice Wheeler (portrayed, as one can see, by Billy Zane) deserve the honor? Many reasons. First off is the name. It’s not a good character name. You expect that name to be riding a horse over the prairie, or busting trusts, or setting legs in the Civil War, not making eyes at Sherilyn Fenn. Secondly, there’s the problem of the character’s role in the series. The show treats him as a character big enough to merit his own theme–a particularly irritating steel guitar phrase–and puts him in 1/6 of the show’s episodes. But he performs almost no functions essential to the plot. He talks to the characters. He takes some meetings. He sits in some meetings. That is it! It’s not like there’s something he has to do that nobody else in the town can do. At no point is he put in a position where he has to act in ways that change anything in the universe of the show. The character long predates usage of the term “Mary Sue,” but Zane is a prototype: a character who breezes into town, interacts with the main characters and “shakes things up” before bedding one of the main characters, and then leaving. It feels like a character that was hastily improvised after landing Zane (undoubtedly a huge get in 1991), ultimately to give Ms. Fenn something to do.

Since there’s essentially nothing to the character you can’t really fault Zane’s acting (predictable as it is here–the man delivers the same performance in Tombstone, say, or the hilariously inept Memory) in the way you can blame Heather Graham for her simultaneous turn in Peaks as Annie. But Annie, at least as written, is potentially an interesting character. Graham had arguably not yet learned how to act, but there are some bits of writing that point toward an interesting character that, with a more capable actress, could have been worth caring about. Zane’s Wheeler, though, is simply relentlessly boring. His relationship with Audrey is entirely superficial and based purely on appearance, his “businessman adventurer” character almost dares you to accept that it could exist, it’s a quirky job non pareil, and the character is so poorly defined–and so dependent on Zane’s charisma to sell it–that virtually every conversation he has is necessarily vague and reliant on nineties-style vague profundity.

But the true shit atop the sundae is his final scene, which shows just how truly the Twin Peaks interlopers misunderstood the nature of the series they were running. I find the phenomenon known as shipping to be more than a little silly, but having said that, I still want out of my fiction some level of internal logic for character relationships, including for romantic ones. The Audrey/Cooper relationship didn’t really make a whole lot of sense, aside from the fact that the actors involved had tremendous chemistry. But on a character level it worked because it expressed bad girl Audrey’s secret desire for an authority figure that she could actually trust, as opposed to her amoral, manipulative father. Cooper was a protector who she could trust to protect her, though in her desire to show her value to him, she wound up getting put in a harrowing situation (and ensuring that Cooper failed to protect her, thus diminishing her attraction to him). This is the sort of depth you get in a well-written show. But what does John Wheeler tell us about Audrey? Literally nothing. He’s an impossible figure, more a Harlequin character than real person, so the thing becomes a low-rent fantasy rather than anything one might find in real life. That she would fall for someone more like her father could have been interesting, but by this point the Horne family had pretty much lost its juice as a driver of dramatic plotlines. At this point we were plagued with boring “nice” Ben, and Audrey as well had essentially become a “nice” character. There was no real conflict between them at this point, so this attraction, aside from being fantasy, tells us nothing about her character. It would have been vastly more interesting if Zane had played someone of a more rebellious nature, who revived Audrey’s anarchic spirit. But we didn’t get that. The whole thing is so free of complication that you almost can’t pay attention to it.

It would be hard to make the case that Wheeler “ruined” Twin Peaks. But he was emblematic of the ruination. Other contemporary storylines involved a “black widow” character who killed the men she slept with, a middle-aged woman with super-strength and amnesia going back to high school and becoming a champion cheerleader (don’t ask), a “who’s the daddy?” love triangle, among other similarly shitty subplots. And by this point, James Hurley had already hit the road with dismal results. But Wheeler was more emblematic of the show’s late period mistakes than anything else. The combination of blandness, silly fantasy and utter uselessness stands out even amidst a sea of same. This is why he’s the worst character of all time: he made a struggling show much, much worse with his presence.

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I think that the recently concluded Israeli elections will ultimately be marked as a turning point. Not in terms of Israeli policy so much as how Israel is viewed globally. Netanyahu won by shedding any remaining elements of his reasonable guise and turning into a race-baiting, conspiracy theorizing nationalist who doesn’t give a fig about the rights or dignity of his neighbors. In essence, he turned into the Glenn Beck of Israel, and it got him elected to another term. Think about that. The world certainly was watching and took notice. It’s unsurprising the man is trying a little take-backsies with, basically, everything he said for the past few days. But that’s not how it works. Many people were paying more attention to the election than to the post-election press conference to rehab his ashen reputation. Anyone with even modest political sophistication will recognize a desperate damage control effort when they see it. And while American right-wingers are just loving it all, European and Middle Eastern nations will undoubtedly continue to sever ties with Israel, as will American liberals. Hell, Chait gets off a pretty good zinger by comparing him (reasonably accurately) to Yasser Arafat. Sorry, Bibi, this victory was a bit more pyrrhic than you might have thought. It’s much too late for this.

I’ve often thought that Netanyahu will live long enough for the Israeli people to truly hate him for all he’s done (and, more importantly, not done). Truly, he’s the goat of the state of Israel, the man who more than any other has ignored what needed to be done and pretended it didn’t, pushing fantasies about Iranian nukes just a few Friedman Units away from being operational and annexing the West Bank (with no major downsides, of course). You can’t pin the blame entirely on him, of course–arguably the troops who seized the Palestinians’ land in ’67 bear more–but in terms of major decisionmakers, he certainly has earned his share.

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My basic view is that Israel has already passed the point of no return on West Bank settlements and is doomed. It’s not clear to me what it turns into–either an illiberal religious apartheid state that ultimately crumbles under the weight of a demographic bomb or a binational state of Jews and Palestinians are both possibilities–though it’s certainly possible we’ll see one after the other. But even if a center-left government is elected, the interests pushing the policies dooming Israel in its present form are hardly going to be sidelined or marginalized–they will certainly be represented in a Herzog-led cabinet. There’s no way out of this. That said, there are strong short-term reasons to hope for a Labor-led coalition government, in order to marginalize and diminish the international standing of Netanyahu, and wrongfoot opponents of Iranian diplomacy.

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I didn’t realize that Rand Paul signed onto the now-infamous Iran letter. A true man of principle. This seems applicable:

Jesus Christ, this is terrible. You have to go back to the nineties to find sci-fi shit this awful:

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When I first heard about Senate Republicans’ letter to Iran, I figured it was a pretty stupid idea that mostly just underlined how weak their position was. It’s pretty poor politics as well. So this is hardly a surprise to me. What concerns me is that, in the long run, how Congress remains a viable institution if it is unable to exercise its prerogatives to declare and oversee wars initiated by the executive, but takes it upon itself to sabotage negotiations for peace. How Republicans intend to sell this stance to people not getting their id on, Fox-style…also a mystery.

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I really like this take on the show that posits the show’s political content as being primarily aimed at Washington pundit types. This actually makes an enormous amount of sense–virtually no Democrats, even of the ever-shrinking conservative variety, would actually advocate cutting Social Security in order to create a temporary jobs plan. Or consider impeaching a president of their own party, or setting out to cripple teacher’s unions, etc., though one could quite easily imagine the Dowds and Friedmans and Noonans of the world loving it if they did. So at the very least (most?) the show provides an excellent look at what our media overlords want a president to do.

But of course the political content of the show is beside the point. It’s a pulpy mess that is well-acted and produced. It looks authentic, and in our present Age of Hype, that’s often more than enough. And the show contains so many of the elements of recent, legitimately great shows: middle aged male antiheroes, moral ambiguity, breakneck plotting, etc., that quite a few people actually think it should be considered on the same level as, say, The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. It gets Emmy nominations. The media reports on it accidentally being leaked. Yadda yadda yadda. These people are all fools. Those other shows, despite their flaws, managed to get across truths about living in America in our present time. The American House Of Cards can’t even tell the difference between real politics and whatever the hell “centrist” pundits think it is. It makes no points worth making. It remains a poorly-observed portrait of American politics, and Underwood as a character remains uncompellingly amoral, free of the sorts of internal conflicts and clashes of values and ideas that make shows worth watching. The UK series made the conflict between Urquhart’s ambition and his decency the heart of the show. Hell, up until the last season of The Sopranos, it was at least plausible that Tony Soprano could choose a different path, and his internal struggles made up what was great about the series. Conflict of this type does tend to make for good drama. There is no substitute for it, though there are imitations.

Also too, this is right on the money. Admittedly, if you do not require a show about politics to have any idea about how politics works, I guess it’s addictive product. But there are better sources of this sort of thing.

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