The Only Two Deaths in Jurassic World That Mattered

Death is a currency in blockbuster films. Faceless henchman are wiped out indiscriminately. Nameless bystanders are consumed in explosions and buried in rubble. This is the loss of life that makes up the dark matter of the standard action flick — those deaths that are just out of sight or out of focus, but which are intended to give weight to the larger forces of the plot and the choices of the main characters.

Jurassic World embraced this summer movie season truism wholeheartedly. Scores of interchangeable soldiers in the film quickly turn into dinosaur cannon fodder, with little more than blurred security footage and a few ominous beeps to remember them by. Dozens of random park-goers are snatched up by winged dinosaurs in a prehistoric take on The Birds, but it’s always off in the distance, always just for a second, to where the most notable moment in the rabble is Jimmy Buffett shuffling indoors with a pair of margaritas.

But two deaths in Jurassic World stood out, and they were not necessarily the ones I might have predicted when I walked into the theater.

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The Sopranos in “College”: The Seeds of the Show’s Spiritual Successors


The Sopranos is credited with ushering in a new “Golden Age of Television”. Its complex family dynamics, black-and-gray morality, and introspective bent were trademarks that set the show apart from its contemporaries. In its wake, a number of other shows emerged that embraced that approach and focused on antiheroes who, to one degree or another, were attempting to balance a double life. Two of these shows, Mad Men and Dexter, can draw a straight line from The Sopranos to their place in the television pantheon. In “College”, an episode from the groundbreaking drama’s first season, The Sopranos planted seeds that those two spiritual successors would have a hand in harvesting.

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The Royal Tenenbaums: When Living the Lie Goes Right

There are many works of fiction about people telling lies for so long that they start to believe them. These stories range from folks like Walter White putting on the costume of a villain only to realize that the role feels a bit too comfortable, to the cipher protagonist of Avatar, who spends so much time in his alien body that he decides he belongs with The Smurfs. Most of the time, these shifts are treated as triumphant awakenings or operatic betrayals. But few are as soft, simple, or sweet as when Royal Tenenbaum, in the film that bears his name, lives up to the lie he’s spun — that can be a better man.

When Royal (Gene Hackman) tells his pseudo ex-wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) that he’s dying and wants to reconnect with his family, it’s a canard. Not only is Royal as healthy as a man who drinks, smokes, and eats three cheeseburgers a day can be, but his conciliatory gestures were merely a front to (a.) worm his way back into the Tenenbaum family homestead after getting kicked out of the hotel where he’d been living for the last twenty years and (b.) ward off Etheline’s suitor, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover).

But the crux of the movie comes once Henry has unraveled Royal’s deceit and confronts him in front of the whole family, including Royal’s children: broken businessman Chas (Ben Stiller), gloomy scribe Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), and washed up tennis pro Richie (Luke Wilson). Royal doesn’t bother denying the accusations, but in one last attempt to manipulate his loved ones, he turns to the family and says, “Look. I know I’m the bad guy on this one, but I just want to say that the last six days have been the best six days of, probably, my whole life.” A strange expression suddenly creeps onto his face, and The Narrator (Alec Baldwin) says, “Immediately after making this statement, Royal realized that it was true.”

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The Mountain Goats in Dallas: King of the Ring


I first learned about The Mountain Goats’ latest album, Beat The Champ, when a friend of mine messaged me saying, “I’m pretty sure John Darnielle is releasing an album for you and you alone.” My friend was obviously joking, but she’s right that Beat The Champ, a concept album where each track is about some facet of professional wrestling, is tailored to a rather unusual venn diagram of fans. Despite the fact that Darnielle, the main creative voice behind The Mountain Goats, resides in a traditional hotbed for wrestling, there are probably few other folks in the world who have both sung Darnielle’s praises and also waxed philosophical about the main event at Wrestlemania.

And yet, there’s something very natural about Darnielle directing his humanizing gaze toward the squared circle. In the past, Darnielle’s shown a particular aptitude for writing poignant, heart-wrenching songs about vagabonds, broken men, and other self-destructive characters. Sadly, none of these individuals are in short supply in the wrestling business.

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The Final Season of Mad Men: A Parade of Absentee Mothers and the Double Standard

Mad Men has never shied away from exploring double standards. It traced the challenges Peggy Olson faced while rising up the ranks in the advertising industry, obstacles that men in her position never even considered, let alone encountered. It contrasted the cult of domesticity that Betty Draper was expected to maintain with the casual womanizing that had become the norm for her husband. It showed how Joan Harris had become an expert at navigating the intricate rules for a woman in the workplace in the 1960s and how the men in the office could drift along without any of the same concerns.

But the final season of Mad Men sketched the contours of one of the most persistent double standards that American society still struggles with today — the different expectations of men and women in their role as parents. Mad Men’s Season 7 presents five mothers who have each, in one sense or another, left their children behind. These women struggle with the choices that they’ve made and deal with a level of societal scorn and personal guilt that their male counterparts never have to face.

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The Lost Wedding Ring

Many years ago, I made fun of a friend of mine when she recounted the panic she’d felt when she mistakenly thought that her wedding ring was lost. I admit now that it was terribly insensitive, and the only defense I can offer is that it was a product of the naive arrogance of youth, the supreme belief that you’ve figured out the inherent truths of the universe that most folks are too indoctrinated to see or otherwise don’t have the heart to confront. And so, cruelly, I laughed at her.

I laughed not simply to be mean, but because I was, and still am, an essentialist.* I’ve struggled to define that term, but at base I think it means being the kind of person who is concerned with what’s at the heart of a an experience or a goal or an idea. It comes down to the root word — essence. What is the essential point underlying what I’m doing or what I believe? Why is it important? What about it really matters? These are the questions at the core of the way an essentialist looks at the world.

And so I laughed because there is nothing essential about a wedding ring. I may be paraphrasing the exact words I used, but my haughty mockery of my friend’s legitimate anxieties over her misplaced ring took roughly the form of “Gee, I sure hope I didn’t lose my eternal commitment to my husband.”

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The Simpsons: “Homer’s Enemy” – Where Do We Go From Here?


I was just a kid when I began watching The Simpsons religiously. That meant that, at the time, a good portion of the show went completely over my head: homages to classic movies, references to snuggling, jokes about Richard Nixon. It also made revisiting the show as an adult a wonderfully enriching experience. While the exquisite construction and sheer hilarity of the series enraptured me as a kid, I discovered deeper layers of storytelling, humor, and commentary in the show as an adult that I could never have fathomed in all my young fanaticism. But that naivete also meant that I completely missed how unremittingly dark the series could be in an episode like “Homer’s Enemy”.

Now The Simpsons is no stranger to dark comedy. It’s often employed in the tragicomic stylings of characters like Moe Szyslak or Hans Moleman, who suffer repeatedly for our amusement and turn up again no worse for wear. But there are few moments in the show’s canon that can match the pure black comedy of Frank Grimes’s descent into madness, or the conclusion of his debut episode, where the denizens of Springfield are laughing at Homer’s antics, while Grimes is lowered into his grave after an untimely death.

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Marvel’s Unshared Universe: Age of Ultron and Continuity in Broad Strokes


I had the faintest glimmer of hope at the climax of Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the midst of our intrepid heroes’ battle with the titular AI run amok, when the chances for a civilian evacuation seemed bleak, Nick Fury came blazing to the rescue with a helicarrier, and reassured Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that he had “pulled her out of mothballs with a couple of old friends”.

Here it was, the moment when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would have the slightest impact on the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, the TV show’s characters would be relegated to a quick cameo or even the background, but the devoted fans who had slogged through the show’s rougher patches would be rewarded with a brief glimpse of Fitz or Simmons or Mack or somebody from the ragtag remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D., there to help save the day. It only made sense. After all, if recent episodes of the show were any indication, Fury and Maria Hill had been working with Coulson’s team off-screen for some time, and there were more than a few capable agents suited to the task.

But no. Instead, the brief-if-pleasant bit of continuity came in the form of an appearance by the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent from Captain America: The Winter Soldier who had refused to launch Hydra’s helicarriers despite being held at gunpoint. It was a nice callback, but one that still left me feeling cold to a film that seemed to only make the broadest of gestures toward the rest of the MCU.

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Mad Men and The Greatest Trick Don Draper Ever Pulled

Salon’s Matthew Brandon Wolfson recently criticized Mad Men for its commercial appeal. He accused the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, of “selling…an image of a glowing past — a prettier, simpler time when people knew their social roles and played them perfectly.” And he insinuated both that the show’s commercial-friendly nature sits uneasily with its art and that Weiner wants the viewer to “find [the show] twisted and layered and dark, but [he] also wants you to buy it.” But in describing Mad Men as an “exquisite empty shell,” Wolfson mistakes the packaging for the package, and misses the subtly brilliant way the series has its cake and eats it too.

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I’ve Been Thinking a lot about Chris Benoit Lately


I’ve been thinking a lot about Chris Benoit lately.

His name is a curse word in the WWE. His image has been expunged from its history by the company’s ministry of truth. And yet, his specter haunted professional wrestling’s grandest stage this time last year, and he’s lurked in the back of my mind ever since.

Though I have long since lapsed as a professional wrestling fan, I still pay yearly homage to the sporting spectacle of Wrestlemania, the Super Bowl of professional wrestling. Each annual supercard features clashes between the WWE’s biggest stars and the climax of its most significant storylines. Last year, the 30th edition of the once-ragtag-but-now-storied event featured Daniel Bryan, a lean, if scrappy wrestler, known for his technical prowess and enthusiastic affirmations, but who stands as far more diminutive than many of his larger-than-life colleagues, much as Benoit did. Bryan’s path to the main event embraced two of the most time-honored archetypes in professional wrestling: the underdog and the rebel.

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