Archives 'ThinkPiece'

4 October

SPOILERS! (obviously)


This show has meant a lot to me since I started watching in June of 2010. I was in a terribly-depressing, sweat-shop-like job working for a starchitect, and Breaking Bad carried me through that experience. Like Jesse imagining himself in a woodshop, this was the mental escape that kept me sane. I will always be grateful for that. Sometime in the future, probably after going back and rewatching the series in it’s entirety, I will likely write a full  retrospective. But for now, since a few days have passed, I feel comfortable giving my ruminations on the end of my favorite show:

I think the true genius of the conclusion of Breaking Bad is that we weren’t given just one ending– we were given three. And not in a Lord of the Rings, too-many-endings kinda way, but in a ‘thematic variations’ kinda way, conveniently tied to each of the last 3 episodes.


1) Ozymandias. The episode Vince Gilligan said was the best Breaking Bad episode they ever made, brings the karmic force of Walter White’s misdeeds full circle. Hank dies, Walt sends Jesse to his death, Walt Jr. and Skyler see him as a monster, call the cops on him, and force him to change his identity and leave town. It’s emotionally exhausting, full of twists and turns, wholly dark, and forces the kind of mad-improvisation out of Walt we’ve come to expect from Breaking Bad. It’s full of callbacks to the pilot. It’s where the glorious, all-powerful Heisenberg truly dies, and Walt can no longer pretend that those close to him are better off thanks to his influence. Now, can you imagine if the final shot of the entire series was him driving off in that red van? It would have been powerful, harrowing, divisive, and debated for ages. It gave us what I’m calling the ‘emotional’ ending to the show; where things became irrevocably awful and at long last, Walt didn’t have the lying power to convince himself otherwise.


2) Granite State. Here’s where we see the ending that so many people felt Walt deserved: a kind of purgatory or prison, stuck living without any power (literal and figurative), knowing no one loves him, slowly dying and left with nothing but the weight of the enormity of his sins. It was slow, quiet, depressing, contemplative. To end the series after the Charlie Rose talk, whiskey glass half-empty (or half-full?), can you imagine? As the Breaking Bad theme swells for the first time ever during the show proper, we would have been left to put the pieces together ourselves for what Walt does with the machine gun and and ricin, though as became evident later, many of us were spot on. Without the spoon-feeding that came in the next episode, this was the ‘intellectual’ ending to the show.


3) Felina. Personally, I’m glad we were given this ending, as despite the checkbox quality to it all and the nice little bows that were put on everything, it was sweet, and it was satisfying. Surprises were few and far between, but like eating chocolate cake from a bakery you’ve heard nothing but good things about, sometimes it’s okay to have your expectations met. Ozymandias and Granite State were entrees– this was dessert. This was for people who didn’t have the stomach for the open-endedness of the show concluding on either of the other two episodes. For the first time ever, almost nothing went wrong for Walt– no being abducted on his way to assassinate Gale, no Spidey-sense Gus avoiding his car in the parking garage. Walt got what he wanted, and was able to gesture toward the idea of being a good person before dying with contentment on his face. Jesse was ‘freed’ and all the people we hated died. This was the ‘Hollywood’ ending.


Within those parameters, there’s still a lot of room for theories and speculation. For example, I like the interpretation proposed by Emily Nussbaum, that Felina is just the fantasy of a powerless, dying man stuck in New Hampshire– that the moment those keys fell out of the visor and the snow fell away with a Fonzy-bop, we were living inside Walt’s head, where everything goes just the way he wants with little-to-no hitches. Cool, I say. By questioning the ‘realism’ of any of the final episodes, you are given the tools to shape the ending as you wish. I don’t think that’s ever happened with a season finale before.


I love the fact that these final episodes allow you, the viewer, to read whatever you want into them. So I choose to read that I wasn’t just given the ending I wanted, I was given three of them.


What do you think? Which of the three episodes did you enjoy the most?

4 August

This is a very special week of Breaking Bad events for me. I’m riding on the air of my first viral video, which just so happens to be Breaking Bad-related, and the entire cast is in NYC promoting the upcoming final season of the show. The week’s not even over, but I’m already surprised by how much I’ve been ruminating on the various frustrations of the super-hyped events I’ve attended. I’ve been to two so far, but I’m sure the third and fourth will suffer from similar problems, so I may as well talk about it now.


So let’s talk about it. The first event was at the Museum of the Moving Image on Sunday evening, where Charlie Rose “moderated a discussion” (read: interviewed) the creator of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan. In the past, I’ve always enjoyed Charlie Rose. He’s an enthusiastic and curious guy, interested in a wide swath of topics from academia to pop culture.


But he was absolutely the wrong person to be interviewing the Vince Gilligan in front of an overflowing audience of superfans. How do I know we were all superfans? Because we all had to buy our tickets online within the first 10 seconds they went on sale, and anyone who managed to acquire standby tickets waited in line for hours. People were so excited by the prospect of being near Vince Gilligan, that the Museum of the Moving Image sold out tickets for their second theater, which merely presented a livestream of what was going on in the first. And remember, Vince isn’t known as some star actor or even director. First and foremost, he’s a writer.


Charlie Rose is not a superfan. How could he be? He doesn’t have time. Though he professed to love the show, my guess is he’s seen a couple episodes, and has supplemented that by reading press clippings from the various television critics who shower it with praise. But this is the first problem: that disconnect. When he calls himself an “avid fan,” the audience immediately thinks ‘oh great, he’s like me!’ So when he calls the main character “Walter Washington” or asks why Walt didn’t rise to the top of his chosen profession and is stuck teaching at a “community college,” he can’t be surprised to hear audible groans from the audience he’s now alienating.

This is what happens when the audience is filled with people who are more passionate about the guest and their work than the interviewer is. All this on top of no audience Q&A, and cringe-worthy moments like when Charlie merely states “The Boston Bomber was a fan of Breaking Bad”… and then veers the interview in a completely different direction.


Flash forward to the next night, with David Edelstein interviewing Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Vince Gilligan at the jam-packed SoHo Apple Store. Now, Edelstein is a guy who I’m fairly certain has seen the entire series, but he still overestimates his worth as an interviewer. So much so in fact, that he took up more than half of the scheduled audience Q&A portion with his own questions and ruminations. Worse, he seemed to be under the impression he was leading us all down deep, uncharted territory. But what David and Charlie were both blissfully unaware of is that most of the people in their audiences already knew the answer to every question they asked. Any half-hooked Breaking Bad fan has already heard a thousand times the story of why Vince Gilligan championed Bryan Cranston for the role of Walter White, or the story of the networks that rejected Breaking Bad including the-one-with-people-that-said-they’d-love-to-buy-it-but-they’ll-get-fired-if-they-do. We’ve all heard how Vince was grateful for the network notes that Jane shouldn’t be killed by direct action by Walt in Season 2, and the fact that Vince and the writers are happy with the ending to the series.


These are softball questions that allow the guest to basically turn off their brain and recite stories from rote memorization. Would it kill them to ask a question Vince and the others haven’t already answered a thousand times? Vince and the cast are all intelligent people; I’m sure they can handle a few sparks in their brain. For example, here’s some of the questions I’d like to ask Vince that I don’t believe he’s encountered:

  • Why haven’t we met Walt’s mother? Since family is such a central element to the show, and other anti-heroes (i.e. Don Draper, Tony Soprano, et al) have all been strongly-defined by their maternal relationships, was there a conscious effort to keep his mother from playing a larger element in the series, or was there a time when she was going to be part of the action?

  • Was there ever any consideration to have a flashback to Walt and Jesse back when Jesse was in Walt’s class? (kind of don’t want to ask this, because I’m really hoping there’s a scene in this final season… just thinking about the contrast between where those two are now and where they must have been then gives me goosebumps).

  • Are we ever going to learn why Don Eladio was so afraid of killing Gus? Is Walt in any danger of this retaliation?

  • How does Vince imagine Season 5 would have looked if all 16 episodes had to be written in one season? Would they have hit a lot of the same checkpoints but through different means, or could Walt have gone in a completely different direction? Were there some ‘thinkers’ that the extra time allowed the writers (like the pest-control meth lab setup), that probably wouldn’t have made their way into the show because the writers would have had to be writing too fast? How similar would the ending have been?

  • In September of last year, before the final season of writing really got underway, Vince stated several times that he and the writers knew what the ending was, but they were open to let a better idea come along. Did a better idea come along? Or rather, how close is the final ending of the show to what they thought it would be at that time?

Yeah. I mean, maybe it’s extreme to expect moderators to keep track of all the questions that have already been answered (though a simple google search before their interview wouldn’t kill them). But I think the real problem is a lot of them are stuck in the mindset of an interviewer before the internet, when it was nearly impossible for the audience as a whole to know a great deal about anything. Back then, if someone gave an interview, maybe it ended up in the newspaper, maybe it ended up on the nightly news, but then it is done. Over. Kaput. No reruns, and no way to search for that interview without the effort of visiting a library or visiting some kind of archive center. Today, it’s all on youtube, wikipedia, reddit, and facebook, and will be forever. And guess what? A lot of fans spend countless hours reading up on these interviews, then taking to forums to debate the meanings behind certain answers. A good example is Vince claiming the end of the series represents a ‘victory for Walt.’ What does that mean? Is he the only one left standing? Does he want to die, and thus when he is killed he’s happy? Was his only goal to be recognized as Heisenberg, and he finally gets the recognition he wished for?


Still, in the age of the superfan, I think a good interview is more than just asking questions that haven’t already been answered. After all, you also don’t want the interviewee sitting there the whole time going ‘Gee, that’s a great question, but I’ve never thought about it so I’ve got nothing to say.’ Probably the most interesting question David asked was about where Jesse’s head is at at the beginning of this coming season. Questions about what a character is thinking/feeling can be insightful with a good actor, and can help us get inside a character to help us speculate where they’re going. And I’d much rather hear Aaron Paul talk about that then tell us for the fiftieth time that Jesse was originally supposed to be killed off in the first season and aren’t-we-all-glad-he-wasn’t??


The most interesting moment of the Charlie Rose interview came from a complete faux paux: Charlie asking, “why did you choose to include me in the second to last episode of the series?” And frankly, there’s a part of me that’s upset by this slip, because despite Charlie laughing it off with “my check’s still in the mail, right?”, it was a spoiler. Because now we know things go national. We know there’s going to be a very special episode of Charlie Rose talking about Heisenberg’s meth empire, probably speaking to Skyler about being married to this guy, or maybe even Hank about what it was like having him Walt under his nose all these years. So boo, Charlie. If you were a genuine fan of the show, you’d never have made that mistake.


I’ve never been to Comic-Con, but I’ve read the blogs of some who have, so I know I’m not alone. In the age of superfans, where people wait for hours to breathe the same air as cultural icons, moderators need to be more than someone whose seen a couple episodes. They either need to be just as much a superfan as the audience and keep up with them, or back down, let the audience Q&A take over, and limit their role to serving as a pure electrical conductor between the auidence brains and the brain of the guest.


Every time someone gets to share a room with their idol, for some people it will be the best moment of their lives. Is it too much to ask that they at least get to learn something new?




Wow. Just got back from my final two panels, and it’s good to know I wasn’t crazy. There is such a thing as a good moderator, even in today’s world. Emily Nussbaum, the TV critic for the New Yorker, is perfect. She absolutely embodied everything above that I said I wanted to see, and more.


First off, I got to see her talk to Dean Norris (Hank) and Betsy Brandt (Marie). Five minutes in I was already far more engaged than with the other interviews, and I realized why: she was letting them talk. Her questions were carefully considered, to the point, and helped draw some fantastic stories/food for thought out of these actors. Nothing about her stage presence felt like she was celebrating herself (very much a problem with Charlie and David)– she positioned herself as subservient to the guests, clearly knew a ton about the show, and made a genuine effort to get these two talking about things they haven’t talked about before. Betsy Brandy was crying through most of it! Emily asked questions about their final day at work, developing their relationship together, how they built their backstory, and even piggy-backed off questions they’ve been asked before (the whole ‘purple’ thing had some new shades added).


Even better, she moved on to the audience quickly. I also appreciate that she took responsibility for calling on us (David just said ‘Oh… I don’t know.’), and I was fortunate to be picked. There were some more serious questions I wanted to ask, but after Emily keeping everything so profound and deep, I decided to lighten things up a little by asking: “will we see the return of Hank’s rock collection?” setting Dean Norris up for a perfect “dammit, they’re MINERALS!” though unfortunately no answer on whether or not the collection would return… so I’m going to assume no.


Next panel up, Vince, I was still a little worried about question-ask-again-itis, but I needn’t have been. This one was even better. Even Vince noticed, many times commenting “wow, what a great question. No one’s ever asked me that before,” then several times launching into some delightful, never-before-heard story. Only a couple times did this run afoul, but I don’t fault Emily at all. One of my favorite questions she asked expounded upon how many an interviewer have commented on how Walt seems similar in many ways to Vince. Emily is the first interviewer to take that observation further, commenting how it’s clear that fame and fortune have changed Walt a great deal over the course of the show, so how have fame and fortune changed Vince? Unfortunately, it seemed to be a little too inward-looking a question, so Vince didn’t have a great answer, but still… what a great question.


She also made the most of her short time with him. At one point, she asked if the writers have ever had a huge debate about driving the story in any particular direction, and Vince immediately started to tell the Jane story, again. Thank God Emily had the gall to interrupt him and say “thank you, but a lot of us are familiar with that, and I’d like to hear something new.” Of course I heard a few grumblings in the audience like ‘what’s the story?’ to which I simply wanted to shout ‘Google it!’


Soon it was to the audience for some more great Q&A. A sad end to the story: I was the person Emily called on to ask the last question, but someone else took the mic mistakenly thinking she called on them. Oh well, at least his question was similar to one of mine up above: he asked about all the threads the show seems to carry, and if we would ever learn more about Gus Fring’s past in Chile. Vince tried to be coy and leave some hope, but basically made it clear that we’re past that point in the story and anything the audience could speculate about Gus is now more interesting than any story they could go back and tell. Ah well, at least that’s one less thing to focus on as we approach these final 8 episodes.

22 April


Okay okay, so I shouldn’t really be reviewing this because it was put on by the theatre group I cofounded while at Syracuse, WhAT (Warehouse Architecture Theatre), but this is a good moment for reflection.

First of all, I had nothing directly to do with this production. WhAT was founded in Fall of 2006, and I was deeply involved in everything it did until my graduation in May of 2010. Three years later, I was invited by the current trio to come see WhAT’s final production involving people whom I personally knew, before the group goes on to be run and operated entirely by people I don’t know. Passing of the torch kinda stuff. Anyway, it was a thrilling weekend of old friends and new, and I now feel super confident in the future of my baby.

And here’s some thoughts on the show:
– LOVED LOVED LOVED the cardboard set designed by Beryl Tayte Johnsen-Seeberger. It made the scenes where character comment on the beauty and tax-deductible quality of this amazing desk all the more hilarious. And when things fell apart, it allowed the actors to riff on what an old house they’re in! Lines like ‘She’s dead!’ and ‘So is my desk…” were gut-busting. Oh, and all the cardboard weapons, complete with Easter Eggs like a lightsaber, were delightful. And the cardboard crossbow actually worked!
– a lot of the dialogue was presented with a certain wooden style that I wasn’t a fan of at first, but grew to love as the play progressed.
– really fun show as its written. I saw the movie with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, but didn’t remember it that well, so all the twists and turns were delightful. I love the meta commentary throughout as the main characters discuss writing the show that they are now in, and even bring up things like scenes that seem to be missing that include important information about key characters (just like in the real show!)
– Ethan Blank almost died! I flashed back to our second season in Spring of 2007 where the giant green wall we made for our Picasso at the Lapin Agile set almost fell on AJ, and Jon Yoder almost became Batman to save her. Anyway, Ethan was getting choked in what was even supposed to be fake within the play, but he passed out and woke up backstage having no idea where he was. Yikes!

After the show, I gave a little presentation to keep up the whole ‘passing of the torch’ motif. Just for fun, here’s the pdfs of the presentation I gave, and the presentation I gave on behalf of Danton. At the cast party I got to spend more time with the awesome new folks who will be running WhAT from here on out, and the only thing that makes me sad is NONE of them are architecture majors, even though WhAT currently still does most of its performing and rehearsing out of the architecture school in Slocum Hall.

This makes me wonder if my archie friends and I who did WhAT throughout school are strange. Myself, and most of them, I’m confident would have joined a theatre group like WhAT if it already existed. The architecture school is so laser-focused on just architecture, I think we all would have gone crazy without any other creative outlets. Maybe there’s too much hostility toward WhAT because sometimes they’re too loud and bother the students focused on their studio projects? Maybe not as many of them enjoyed theatre in high school as I thought? Or maybe none of them have any idea what a huge bonus it is to your job prospects if you leave school as a well-rounded individual with many talents.

Alas, this lack of architecture majors is truly my only regret, but I am proud and humbled by WhAT’s legacy as it lives on, soon entering its fourteenth season!

14 December


Yeah yeah… it’s not live theatre. But I love The Lord of the Rings trilogy about as much as life itself and have watched the extended-edition appendices something like eighty-seven times. Anyway, saw the premiere of The Hobbit at midnight last night, and here are my (not-so-mini) thoughts:



  • We’re back in epic New Zealand as an epic Middle Earth with an epic tale to tell! God I love this world.
  • All the humor in the film worked wonders underscoring tension and darker subject matter.
  • The quick glimpse we got of Erebor looked EXACTLY like how I imagined it from reading the book. It was also cool to see a full goblin city in the Misty Mountains.
  • With all the incredible CG in the film, I liked when we didn’t see things. I like that that we get all sorts of glimpses of Smaug without ever seeing him in his entirety. And the Necromancer and Witch King were also properly menacing in their respective ethereal forms.
  • Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo. I love all the ‘Britishness’ of his reactions to that which is not proper. Great comedic timing as well, and so many little facial twitches that cracked me up.
  • Loved Bilbo convincing the trolls not to eat them and the dwarves angrily oblivious to what’s going on. This is where Bilbo shines– as a talker, not a fighter.
  • So so so happy to have Gandalf back in the form of Sir Ian McKellen. Gandalf the Grey is such a loveable, wise, responsible goofball.
  • Appreciated the time given to Gandalf making a case for why Bilbo the Hobbit of all people and all creatures should singled out as the burglar to go on this journey.
  • Richard Armitage is an excellent Thorin. Sure is prideful though, eh? Wonder if that will become a problem later on, hm <cough> <cough>?
  • Speaking of coughing, I was exhausted and sick last night, yet the film held my attention throughout its nearly 3-hour runtime (got home about 4 AM). I never even came close to falling asleep!
  • I loved all the little references to The Lord of the Rings, particularly the prologue at the beginning as Frodo and Bilbo prepare the birthday party.
  • Bret McKenzie gets an expanded role in Rivendell. Nice.
  • Enjoyed the Galadriel and Gandalf scene (with a whining Saruman in the background, tee hee), but I thought their final words to each other should have been a little more auspicious and foreshadowing of the fact that they will never speak to each other again.
  • The film did a fantastic job of giving each of the thirteen dwarfs some distinct characteristics, whereas in the books they’re all very broad and gestural. So we got dwarf that eats too much, the wise old dwarf, the gay slingshotty dwarf, the clearly-Gimli’s-father dwarf, and the sexy Legolasy arrow-shooting dwarf with his quiet brother. Think I missed a few, but that’s not bad.
  • ‘Riddles in the Dark’ was a glorious scene. Perfect writing, directing, acting, animating, pacing. Mm, mm, pristine. I don’t know if it says more about the advances in animation and performance capture, or the cartoonish nature of the other characters, but Gollum had more life and depth to me than any actor in the film…


  • This felt like the extended-edition of the film. I mean it had EVERYTHING from the book, plus all sorts of appendices stuff. What the heck was cut? How much longer can the extended edition be?
  • I saw it in normal 2D, 24 fps so I can’t comment on the 3D HFR stuff, but there were parts of this version that felt strangely sped up or something. Weird conversion problems?
  • Maybe things have gotten more high definition in the past decade or I’m simply a more discerning viewer now, but I was very much aware of artifice of a lot of the prosthetics, particularly Gandalf’s nose and all the pointy ears.
  • The music… oh boy. I love Howard Shore, but this felt phoned in. The ‘dwarf theme’ made so popular in the trailers is rehashed about a dozen different times throughout the film, and it quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns. What was particularly irksome was that the most ‘epic’ version of the song, which to me evokes determined perseverance after a hard-fought loss (something that would be fitting after Gandalf fell into Moria in LotR), is used in this film during a complete non-event: stock ‘look at everyone travelling’ footage. So much oversaturation… this is literally the thing I will dread most about repeat watches of this film.
  • One more gripe about the music: toooo many rehashes of LotR themes. In the Shire, fine, yes, by all means play around with that lovely theme, but once we’re out on a very unique adventure, we should have very unique music. At one point, Thorin is given music that I clearly recognize as Aragorn’s. What the hell? And then Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, and Rivendell are all given (as far as I can tell) EXACTLY the same music they had in LotR. At least the Shire theme got played with and reorchestrated. I also just realized that the major foes in this story, ‘the goblins’ aren’t given any theme that I can recall, much less one as memorable as the Isengard Orc Theme.
  • As I said, the CG was stunning, but there was a tangibleness missing from the orcs and goblins that I felt much more in LotR when they were all being played by real people in real costumes.
  • The trolls and goblins spoke too much like humans. I wanted their voice, their timbre, their pitch to all feel more distinct from humans. For example, I loved the way Treebeard spoke, and the Uru-kai. Which makes me realize– there wasn’t much growling in this film, was there? Hm… too bad.
  • Now that we’ve introduced Ratagast the Brown and his connection to animals, I couldn’t believe we didn’t see anything related to him and the eagles. For those who don’t know, it’s supposed to be Ratagast that sends the eagles to Gandalf, not weird little moths providing on-call ‘eagles ex machina’.  I mean, at least have a little scene where Ratagast gives Gandalf the knowledge of how to summon the eagles or something. Right now he contributes nothing to Bilbo’s quest, only the long set-up Gandalf is involved with for the ‘dark power’ that becomes Sauron in Lord of the Rings.
  • I wish the Troll scene had ended with Gandalf summoning daylight (like in the book) instead of him just cracking a rock to bring it early. Are we really supposed to believe that the trolls thought they had enough time to cook and eat or bring the dwarves back into their cave with a minute to go before daylight would have come on its own?
  • The two scenes I was hoping to be blown away in terror by didn’t quite do it for me, mostly because of some substantial deviations from the book: 1) In the dark of the misty mountain cave while the dwarves sleep, the ponies are supposed to be taken away, screaming as though being devoured live, and before any of the company can find a light, they’ve all been captured. In the film they’re sent down some weird elaborate video-gamey tunnel trap in full light and by that point the ponies have already ‘run away’ (none get eaten). Boo. 2) In the final ‘battle’ scene, the company is supposed to be up in the trees, terrified as the goblins light the forest on fire and cackle and sing about them burning to death. Instead, the risk was a tree falling over a cliff, and the company actually used fire in the form of flaming pinecones against the goblins. Why? You already have the dwarf song with that awesomely menacing line ‘the trees like torches, blazed with light’ and now you’re completely copping out on that element of the story?
  • On that note, NOT A SINGLE ‘GOOD’ THING DIES! This drove me crazy. The ponies’ death should have been terrifying and traumatizing. I then thought maybe Peter Jackson might have raised the stakes a little, deviating from a the book a tad by featuring then killing off a dwarf which would have given us some kind of catharsis. But nooo–no one! Heck, not even cute little Sebastian the hedgehog died. Let’s see some sacrifice! Some tragedy! Some stakes!!
  • Why the heck didn’t Bilbo put his ring on when he went to save Thorin? Awfully big risk to take when you’re very small, surrounded by wolves, and not a real fighter. I would have been fine if it was played off like a ‘noble sacrifice’, but I read Martin Freeman here like a pompous jackass thinking to himself ‘I can take these assholes…”
  • Suspense of disbelief was a bit of a problem when comparing this film with the parameters established in The Lord of the Rings. Sure, I can believe that in a 100:1 battle, no good guys are killed, but I still believe in basic laws of physics and force/weight ratios. Thus, the rock giants crashing into each other should have killed everyone, as should the Goblin King falling on top of them from hundreds of feet in the air. And there’s no way the dwarves could have done that crazy stuff with Bilbo’s dishes. My friend made me feel better about all this stuff though by telling me to imagine that this story is Bilbo’s unauthorized subjective telling of it– not the ‘official’ version. So some things are bound to be a little exaggerated. That also makes me feel better about Bilbo saving Thorin at the end, because let’s face it– in the ‘official version’, either he put on the ring while he did that, or one of the constantly-professing-love-for-Thorin dwarves beat him to the punch.
  • Speaking of punching, some of the exposition was so expositiony that it felt like it was beating you over the head. Two elements that stood out– the fifty times they talk about how scary Smaug is, and how many times we’re explained to how much Thorin and asdlfj Goblin-Leader-Guy hate each other.
  • The Lord of the Rings was aided a lot by stripping the story of anything unrelated to Frodo and the Ring. The lack of a similar focus in The Hobbit made the film (at times) feel like a lot of big set-pieces that could have been mostly stripped away without any real detriment to the emotional journey of the story. After all, if no one dies or is irreversibly changed by an event, it’s probably only being shown because it’s ‘cool.’ Case in point– the weird Rock Giant battle thing. That just kind of happened… then everyone is fine and moves on.




  • Is it just me, or did it seem like the biggest f*** you in the world to have that elf army in the prologue turn away from helping the dwarves. I mean, you’re already in formation! By the way, that’s Legolas’ father.
  • Speaking of slights, the scene with Saruman whining while Gandalf and Galadriel telepathically communicate is what I imagine Peter Jackson did with his wife while Christopher Lee whined at him to be cast as Gandalf instead of Saruman because ‘Tolkien gave me his blessing‘ and yada yada while they’re all like ‘so where’re we going for dinner tonight?’
  • How do so many characters recognize blades at a glance? Are there drawings? Do they study them? Even if you saw swords in battle, you’re probably not going to have too much time to focus on one in particular.
  • Who is in on Sauron coming back as the Necromancer? Is he sending orcs out on his will or anything like that? How did asdlfakajsdfla Goblin-Leader-Guy find Thorin anyway?
  • Why are the chickens in scale with the hobbits? Shouldn’t they be up to their shoulders? Or do they breed mini-chickens?
  • How close is Moria to the part of the Misty Mountains this Goblin City exists in? Are these the same goblins that will eventually retake Moria and attack the Fellowship?
  • I’m going to make a parody video of when the Goblin King hints to Thorin that his alasdjlja Goblin-Leader-Guy enemy is still alive and hunting him. It took like 20 seconds for Thorin to get it. That’s almost as bad as Ice-T.


Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Crossover References, updated as I think of more:

  • A lot of the prologue stuff. Talking about the Sackville-Baggins, the ‘No Admittance Except on Party Business’ Poster, Bilbo’s stand-offishness about writing his book, Frodo going out to wait for Gandalf. All very lovely.
  • “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” comes from the book in the troll chapter. In the film they put it after the Misty Mountains ordeal. Reminds me of in LotR when we have the line “A shortcut! To what? To mushrooms!” after the chapter title ‘A Shortcut to Mushrooms.’
  • Speaking of mushrooms, I love how Saruman is always ragging on wizards and their drug use. In LotR he whines at Gandalf for his potsmoking (‘your love of the halfling’s leaf has clearly slowed your mind’), and in this he scolds Gandalf for listening to Ratagast, who he says eats too many shrooms.
  • The morgul blade Gandalf presents to Galadriel and Saruman is the same blade (or same kind of blade?) that the Witch King stabs Frodo with at Weathertop.
  • Thorin being thrown by a warg then passing out as Bilbo protects him was very similar to Theoden being thrown by the Nazgul then passing out as Eowyn protects him. Also similar to how Aragorn saves Boromir from being shot in the head with an arrow by gutchecking the wood-be-executioner from screen-left.
  • Gandalf handing Bilbo ‘Sting’ and talking about knowing when ‘not to take a life’ is reminiscent of Gandalf having a similar talk with Frodo. The effect of both ends up being ‘don’t kill Gollum.’
  • ‘Eagles ex Machina’ with the everyone on a tree falling off a giant cliff was very similar to the Gandalf’s ‘Eagles ex Machina’ escape from Saruman’s tower. Except this time, we knew what was going to happen so there was no tension/stakes.
  • Gandalf on a tiny bridge in the Misty Mountains confronting the Goblin King was very similar to the ‘you shall not pass’ Balrog scene.
  • The way Thorin’s party is hunted throughout his journey by the goblins/orcs reminds me of the way the uruk-kai hunt and follow the fellowship. And Peter Jackson made similar choices in both The Hobbit and Fellowship  to create a leader out of what was written out an amorphous rabble of enemy hoards.
  • “This is Sting,’ you’ve seen it before!” Yes you have. Wouldn’t change a thing about the whole Riddles in the Dark scene (words Gandalf distinctly mutters in LotR), but this played out rather different than the flashback scene we got in LotR. For one thing, Bilbo is wearing a different outfit, and for another, he puts the ring in his right pocket instead of his left. Ha.
  • Bilbo takes one last longing look at Rivendell before departing. It’s a great moment to know how much he fell in love with the place, and as we see in The Lord of the Rings, that’s where he retires.
  • Goblin-leader guy looked a heck of a lot like Voldemort…oh wait, wrong franchise comparison. Still, I think it was a mistake to have him CG instead of a live actor. I loved how the had that hook appendage just jammed into his arm though.

9 May



  • Fully-committed, entertaining performance by the great John Lithgow
  • sumptuous, thoroughly-cinematic set design. Watching transitions was a treat!
  • I liked the Russian character’s accent-evolution. At the beginning, we get to hear full-on Russian– at the end, him convinced his English has lost all trace of accent (but of course it hasn’t)
  • solid acting all around– you felt these people age
  • a reasonably clear and focused character study on what it means to loose relevancy as you age. Alternate play title: ‘How I Learned to Become a Grumpy Old Man and Start Hating the Youth!’


  • Stakes never felt high… yes he’s gay, but even in that time period that secret never felt terrible enough to ruin his life/career. Everyone (including the audience) already knew he was gay!
  • Not a single major-reversal in the whole play
  • His only real antagonist was his own stubbornness, and if a protagonist is only as interesting as his greatest antagonist…
  • None of his relationships with the other characters developed enough for me to particularly care about them. (spoiler alert) Someone dies… and it didn’t mean anything to me.
  • Abrupt ending– silly to think the final ‘reversal’ of the play is him showing a small act of decency at the terrible terrible cost of being a little late with his column.




*My first side note:  You’ve undoubtedly noticed a boringly narrow range of grades in my reviews thus far. Unfortunately, that’s because most of the shows I’ve been seeing in New York have neither blown me away, nor felt like a complete waste of time.


There’s an unfortunate level of ‘safety’ that permeates American theater; plays seem to be chosen for performance based more on the quality of language in them than on the depth of human experience conveyed. I thought this might be different in NYC, but it seems to be even more true here than in other parts of the country. Elsewhere, lackluster plays are performed by talented nobodies. In NYC, lackluster plays are performed by movie stars.


This makes me sad.


If you look at the my full score page, you’ll see I do indeed give As and Cs and even a few Ds, and a lot of that came out of England. England, whether its because of their vastly superior funding, or higher public-acceptance of theatre seems to make them feel comfortable taking genuine risks. And deep down, I know that I’d rather see a play that hits me in the face really hard with something new that I despise than to see a tepid rumination on slice-of-life characters with stakes I have little to no investment in. After all, a show like …some trace of her could have been terrible. It was new, experimental, bizarrely-conveyed. Yet that’s probably the last time I walked out of a theater with butterflies in my stomach.


I want to be moved. I want my values challenged. I want to be rooting for a thing to happen, or terrified that another thing could happen. I want to be taken on a journey that makes me sick to my stomach, makes me bite my nails in suspense, makes my eyes dry from lack of blinking, makes me weep uncontrollably, makes me want to leap for joy– maybe all in the same performance.


I don’t believe theatre should be light entertainment. I believe it should be a transformative, world-shaking experience. And don’t tell me it’s not possible, because I’ve had it happen. And every time I go into a theater, I’m begging to have it happen again.