Imposter syndrome. Fake it till you make it. False confidence. There are dozens of phrases in hundreds of permutations that each stand for the proposition that if we can just project enough strength, if we can put the right mask on over our doubts and insecurities, then we will become who and what we hope to be. It’s the idea that inspiration can be built up from within, and eventually flow out to those we seek to lead or impress or merely comfort.
But what if you have imposter syndrome because you are, in fact, an imposter? What if you fake it with all your might, but the odds are too stacked against you for you to make anything? What if your false confidence just gets your friends and allies killed.
For a while, it felt like The Walking Dead had found a nice, consistent rhythm in its storytelling. Since about Season 4, each season would include a handful of episodes that featured everyone in the cast, but most would be smaller, more standalone affairs that focused on a narrower subset of characters. These episodes would tell individual stories and focus on small facets of bigger events that deepen our understanding of the personalities and problems at play. It gave the show a certain decompressed feeling that raised accusations of “boring,” but which also provided The Walking Dead with the space to flesh out its characters and make those stretches between the big set pieces feel less like wheel-spinning and more like an effort, however variable in its success, to make those grand finales matter.
But Season 8 has seemingly abandoned that tack. While not everyone has showed up in every episode thus far, each installment this season has felt like an immediate sequel to the prior one. The siege that began in the premiere continued in last week’s episode. And this week’s episode, “Monsters,” follows directly from there, depicting the same moral conflicts and the same lingering issues that Rick, Daryl, Carol, Ezekiel, Morgan, Jesus, Tara, and Aaron faced in the prior episode. We’re getting one giant story here, rather than a collection of related, but distinct plots that become part of a larger mosaic.
Some of the best aspects of the original Star Wars movie were its characters, its humor, and its surfeit of enjoyable, individual moments. The film’s special effects were innovative, and its famed myth arc was substantial, but the hero’s journey and all that technical splendor might have fallen apart if we hadn’t felt the warm, jostling connection between Luke, Leia, and Han, or laughed at their antics, or been able to so enjoy their interactions even apart from the larger story. Thor: Ragnarok, while not nearly as good as A New Hope, can rely on the same saving grace.
You are never going to fully get away from the “Is it right to kill?” question when you’re telling a zombie apocalypse story. One of the core aspects of the genre is forcing people to make life and death decisions in extreme situations. That’s part of what makes zombie movies and shows both thrilling and thought-provoking; they put the audience in the shoes of the characters and let us wonder whether we’d be saints or slayers when the rules of civilization no longer apply and mortal peril lurks around every corner.
But my god, The Walking Dead has been exploring these issues for seven-going-on-eight seasons at this point, and while it hasn’t dug into every possible permutation of them, it’s come close. There’s some benefit to putting new characters into those scenarios and having them vacillate between mercy and lethal pragmatism while trying to figure out the right way to live in this harsh environment. But you can only lean into this sort of “That’s not who we are” back-and-forth for so long on a television show before it starts to become rote.
Someday, The Walking Dead will end. Sure, with this premise, the folks in charge could theoretically cycle through cast members like Saturday Night Live and go on into eternity. But the practical reality is that, as the show begins its eighth season, it’s likely closer to its end than its beginning.
But it’s hard to imagine what that ending will look like. Comic book creator Robert Kirkman famously declared that his story could go on forever and that he had no clear ending in mind. The recent Robot Chicken special poking fun at the show envisioned a relatively normal future where society has been rebuilt and there’s a Walker Museum devoted to the struggle of the series (with a nice “historical game of telephone” vibe). Others have speculated about who might survive to the end, whether anyone will find a cure, and how a new civilization comes to fruition. Still, there’s no obvious place for this story to end, no clear way to reach a series-length measure of catharsis.
In one of Family Guy’s notorious cutaway gags, a character declares that he “hasn’t been this confused since he watched the film No Way Out.” The scene them flashes back to him exiting a movie theater and declaring, “How does Kevin Costner keep getting work?”
It’s hard not to feel the same bafflement about Inhumans showrunner Scott Buck. The biggest mystery left in the wake of “Behold…The Inhumans!”, the show’s first episode, is not how the titular heroes will cope with a budding coup, or what a seer’s prophecies mean, or even the vaguely-defined superpowers of the protagonists. Instead, it’s how and why studio executives keep handing Buck the keys to the kingdom after how many meh-to-ugh seasons of television have been unleashed on an unsuspecting public under his watch.
Does Buck have compromising pictures of someone important? Are television moguls simply content with the fact that he makes the trains run on time? Or is he just a really nice person?
“I believe. I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.” That memorable line comes from 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street, one of cinema’s most iconic looks the intersection between commerce, doubt, and belief. “Lisa the Skeptic”, The Simpsons’ effort at addressing that same fault line sixty years later, shares more than a few things in common with its yuletide forebear.
Both stories feature a skeptical young girl trying to make sense of her doubts as well as the hoopla surrounding the very public appearance of something seemingly supernatural. But as I discussed on the Simpsons Show Podcast, while Miracle has a surprising amount of salience and grace even today, “Lisa the Skeptic” is much funnier, but also much clumsier, in the way it addresses topics like faith and skepticism.
Risk is our business. That famous line from Captain Kirk lays out the essential ethos of Star Trek — that the wild and wooly galaxy that our heroes explore is full of pitfalls and dangers, but also of unfathomable possibilities, there to be discovered. As I discussed with Robbie Dorman on the Serial Fanaticist Podcast, the premiere of the aptly-titled Star Trek Discovery embraces that franchise philosophy, giving it form in the sort of distillation and debate and that once fueled its 1960s counterpart.
There’s a winnowing that comes from distance and absence, in a way that reduces our connections with a person, place, or thing to a series of images, portents, and memories. Those remainders linger with us as touchstones of something lost and departed. Stranger in the Alps, the new release from Artist of the Month Phoebe Bridgers, captures the sense of that winnowing, the longing for something missing but still inescapably present, in beautiful melodies and heartrending lyrics.
It’s a feeling given form by Bridgers’ stirring voice. With shades of Gillian Welch and Jenny Lewis, the young singer’s captivating vocal performance provides the backbone for the record. Sometimes her voice is clear and arresting, standing out starkly amid the pleasing arrangements underneath. At others, it’s double-tracked and full of echoes, creating an ethereal, otherworldly vibe that helps conjure the spooks and specters that populate almost every corner of the album.
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Caution: this review contains major spoilers for the film.
It’s hard to talk about Arrival without spoiling the film. So much of what makes it more than just a well-done first contact story is tied up in its later developments. They recontextualize enough of the prior proceedings that trying to discuss the import or quality of the film without taking it as a whole is like trying to give someone directions without letting them know the destination.
But its premise is deceptively straightforward. In the world of Arrival, aliens have come to Earth in twelve ships scattered across the globe. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguist brought by the U.S. Military to a ship located in Montana, in an attempt to help humanity communicate with this extraterrestrial presence. With the help of theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a buffer provided by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), Banks slowly but surely finds ways to speak with these seemingly unknowable beings, with the American team alternatively working with and against similar groups around the world attempting the same.