Monday, February 16, 2015

Birdman: seeking significance ~

I will let you into a secret, which no one knows. I have flown. I don't mean in an airplane. I mean - like a bird. There were undulating hills. I must have been seven or eight. And the wind was strong and high, and I was left alone by adults, relieved to find me happy in my aloneness. And there was space to run. Which I did. I was small, I was light. And the winds caught me, and raised me high above. And I flew. For many many seconds. And I did it again and again, for longer and longer periods. Over the grass, and the shrubs and the long stalks of wildflowers. I've never mentioned it, because no one would believe me. It was a high point, literally and figuratively. 

I know exactly how the Birdman found his flight. And his meaning. 

But there's a BC and an AD to everything. The movie, Birdman, talks about the AD of glory. A huge star, Riggan, is in the last eddie of life. And he is seeking connection - with his family. And significance - in theatre. And his life revolves around that search.

The theatre hall is claustrophobic but it is also the place where he hopes to find his epiphany. The camera prowls through the narrow passageways of the old theatre, the way electric signals move through the nerves in our hearts and minds, seeking life and, more importantly, purpose for life. Because what does a man do when today's reality is washed out and yesterday's glory looks increasingly illusory?

And Riggan's choice of play, an adaptation of a  Raymond Carver story, is not random, because Carver finds infinity in the minutiae of love and life. And he knows, deep down, that seeking relevance ultimately starts from asking questions and seeking answers of oneself. But the journey, ah, that's another matter. It is fraught with breaking heads, breaking hearts, and finally, literally cutting/shooting off one's nose. It's an action which is rich in metaphor. Riggan gets a new nose - totally unbeautiful. But he gets his flight back too. 

In these last few months of totally terrific films, there has been none with the layers and magic and art of Birdman - and the consummate craftsmanship. 

The camera is both a seeker and a surgeon. The music is both a companion and a creator. The acting is an amalgam of regrets, realizations and resurrections. And the director breaks the characters and lets them reassemble themselves, until they find themselves anew, however imperfect that might be. 

Life's triumphs are glorious. But in an Inarritu film, life's defeats can only lead to something triumphant.

The Imitation Game: life imitating death ~

I don't know loners (caveat somewhere below). But I've read about them, seen them in films - misfits, restless geniuses - hated, ostracized, obsessed. Invariably, disliked. And achievers. The art world lends itself well to this creature. The lonely unrecognized unsung auteur working selflessly at his art and craft. They are fascinating because they defy the normal rules of working in teams, putting others before self, etc etc. 

Two of my favorite fictional heroes - Howard Roark and Lisbeth Salander - were both loners. And they were hit badly by the world. And it was only by the sheer skin of their prodigious talent that they survived. 

Alan Turing is one of them.And a real life one. Awkward, inwardly tortured because of a disastrous truth, he is completely incapable of working with others, or show finesse in his dealings with people. But he is also one of the greatest mathematicians of the time. And he is itching to crack the ultimate puzzle - that of coded Nazi war messages. But it is no mean task. As he has a team but he doesn't know how to use them. And he makes enemies very quickly. Until the ultimate truth dawns - he himself is his own first and foremost enemy. 

The battle then is severe - he has to fight himself first before Hitler can be defeated. It's truly an inside job. 

Now the caveat. There was a period, in high school, when I was discovering interests which none of my friends shared. Haunting art galleries, learning to dance kathak, taking workshops in theatre, reading in public gardens and parks, sitting inside churches. I was a loner. Alone. Friendless. But - I did what I wanted. I went where I wanted. It was scary - and liberating. No one to answer to, free. But I was also socially awkward, could write well, but went tongue tied when asked to speak. And when with my brother, who was charming, magnetic and fun, I invariably was gauche, silent and continuously putting my foot as soon as I opened my mouth. So it was torturous too. 

So it was a strange mixed time of my life. But progressively I reconciled with the fact that I walked to a different drumbeat - and I could silently ask those who commented about my obsessive need to be alone, to stuff it. 

I changed. Adjusted. Found a mean. Alan Turing is not able to. And he survives with great discomfort and pain. And it's a visual and dramatic treat to see the finely layered film span out in three time zones laying out what made the man what he was. And what made him. 

And unmade him. 

He committed suicide at the age of 41. 

Thank god, I learnt to love my aloneness less and my friends more. 

The Theory of Everything: a brief history of love ~

We all know Stephen Hawking, one way or the other. A shrunk man with a twisted face, with a permanent grimace on his face, deep inside a wheelchair, with an assortment of screens and instruments all around him, helping him to communicate. 

He is a part of our consciousness even if we are not always sure what he is famous for - something to do with black holes? A physicist? Has he won the Nobel Prize? Almost certainly we know him for The Brief History of Time, which is lying unread in our bookshelves. 

We know the challenge of being Hawking, and the triumph of a spirit which makes the mind go ahead even when the body refuses to assist. 

But you know what the other, and possibly bigger, challenge is? Of the people who dedicate their lives to such a person.

Jane Wilde and Stephen were in love before illness befell him. He tried hard to keep her away as doctors had given him a life expectancy of a mere two years. But it requires a woman in love to be ready to do anything for love. Stephen's father told Jane "This is not going to be a fight, it's going to be a heavy defeat for all of us." But she insisted, saying at least they would have two years. Jane had the courage to take this huge leap into darkness.

The film is their story. And how he goes from bad to worse in the body, and better and better in his mind. And she goes from softness to determination to burdened to exasperation to bitterness. The arcs of life and love and passion are encapsulated in their stories. 

They were not always rich -  and the burden of Stephen, and soon their three children, began telling on her. He was strong in his frailties, and she was fragile in her strengths. Love can't be burdened too much - it breaks. And when the innocence of the first flush is lost, it is often found by someone else. And here, it turned out to be a nurse, Elaine. And she saw the essence of Stephen, which Jane, burdened as she was with life, had lost. 

The film glows and shimmers in the land of endeavor and achievements,  and then delves gently into the land of frailities like the ebb of love, infidelity, separation, discovery and rediscovery.

Eddie Redmayne is astonishing as Hawking. Nothing, nothing at all, can make you feel it is any one other than the physicist, in front of you. But it is Felicity Jones as Jane who forms the determined - and ultimately human -counterpoint around which Hawking's character is built. 

Life is stranger then fiction. After you come back from the film (and only then) read what further happens to Jane and Elaine. Life can be cruel to love. 

Snowpiercer: the unending folly ~

Snowpiercer is horror. And brutal. And cautionary. And futuristic. And probably one of the finest films of last year which nobody saw. 

The apocalypse of the Ice Age has come to haunt earth again. A bunch of survivors are in a futuristic train which is going in circles around the earth as a modern age ark, carrying within it all kinds of survivors - the haves and have nots, the privileged and not, the exploited  and the exploiters. And there is trouble a-brewing. There is resentment in the barracks (back of the train), and a plan is being hatched to take over the command center (the front). And, as expected, everything spins out of control. 

The story of the privileged ensuring preeminence, by hook or by crook, is combined with the survival instincts of a Lord of the Rings, and the war which ensues within the claustrophobic environs of the train becomes both a battle for territory and a voyage of discovery. And when the circle of exploitation closes in a stunning climax, it leaves us to wonder about man's continuous attempt to control nature: natural selection takes on a different meaning. 

Visually stunning, and imaginative even in it's violence, the film ends on the snow flake of a hope. The world has to start on a clean slate. It has to start from innocence. Before all of the old human instincts of survival and competition (and folly)  set in, and the seeds of destruction are sown yet again.

Only Lovers Left Alive: love in the time of death ~

As I think back to the film, it's haunting music, it's artful dark love, it's totally delicious slow-burning delight, I remember what someone was saying to students at the Art Fair yesterday "Every painting doesn't have to have a message. It's enough to say that it fills the senses and you feel good just looking at it."

I doubt you will ever see a film of this genre made the way this one is:style which gives meat to substance. A vampire film which is chic and full of a strange compassion and love. It's my first Jim Jarmusch and I am hooked, and all ready for his more famous films Coffee and Cigarettes, Dead Man, et al.

Tilda Swinton is the most chameleon-like actor ever (I will talk about her further in another of her performances, in another stupendous film, Snowpiercer, but that's later), and she gives her Eve a satisfied aura, a sophisticated woman you know you will be happy if she merely acknowledges your presence. It's a performance of an amazing smoothness. And then there is her lover of centuries, Adam, played by Tom Hiddleston with a tired and an almost-insolent indolence. Nobody has loved his claustrophobia and his funeral music more. And then there is Mia Wasikowska as Ava who spells trouble from the moment she walks into the twosome's beautiful life of serene darkness. She brings a dangerous disruption into the proceedings, and nothing remains the same. The BC/AD of Ava.

There is so much to love in this film. Adam's home is a triumph of pristine memorabilia, music equipment, books and a hundred artifacts probably collected over ten centuries.
The city of Detroit with it's ghost-like factories and inky streets. . Tangiers with it's Mediterranean-white walls, narrow lanes. There are non-seasonal mushrooms, bunches of messy wires, guitars of the most beautiful kind, conversations which go nowhere but make you smile as you listen in carefully (Eve: I'm sure she'll be very famous. Adam: God, I hope not. She's way too good for that.) and a bullet specially made. And there's one mesmerizing song, which comes near the end. And, after they discuss the lovely theory of entanglement, the final luscious choice of survival the lovers have to make. 

See the film. For the dark and love inside you. See it with all the lights off. With a terrific music system. And then let the velvety beauty of the film flow elegantly over you. 

American Sniper: toll of choices ~

You seek to change the way things are done. You change your entire life to do it. And then you are changed. And then it is out of your control.

You learn to kill something which has a beating heart. And then you learn to kill a body which has a human heart. You don't blink an eye. You learn perspective - and when to kill without compunction. The larger good. And a war which shoots hearts to silence, finds it's heartlessness seeping into life. 

The toll on you of your choices of life will always haunt you. 

American Sniper does not question choices. But it questions wars. The toll of it. And then it swings it's perspective to show a normal life's ordinariness, hark, it's uselessness. Love seems bland. Normal life leaves you nowhere. What is the worth of watching your son's basketball game, when the edges of your country are  being snipped off. 

The pace of a life at home, the glow and it's ordinary glory, sink in slowly. And by the time find it's pristine worth is found, the  karma of irony kicks in. 

There is always a price to pay. 

American Sniper is compelling, pounds with suspense, and tells how what we are good at often saves precious lives, but is not always able to save what is precious. 

From Here to Eternity: forever ~

I think six people were the luckiest people in Calcutta yesterday evening. We were the only ones seeing the filmed version of Tim Rice's Broadway hit From Here to Eternity in a 200 seater cinema hall. It was sheer luck that I saw the announcement in the morning, for the one show of this fabulous play.

The original film, with Burt Lancaster as the talented moody protagonist, is itself a masterpiece (5 Oscars) , and one of my favorite adaptations of a fabulous book. But Tim Rice (of The Lion King fame) has elevated this already strong story to another level with his stunning lyrics and music. 

The story is of a army unit in Hawaii, in the days before Pearl Harbor happened in 1941. The catalyst for the internal cataclysm is a young soldier who joins the unit, with a huge reputation as a boxer and a bugler - but who refuses to indulge in both pursuits because of 'personal reasons'. He just wants to be within himself, keep his nose clean, and eke out his army life in peace. But fortune ordains something else. He falls in love with a prostitute, befriends a loser but brave soldier, and sees every resolution of his blown to smithereens. On the other side is the lonely wife of an overbearing officer, and her dangerous affair with another officer. And weaved into this story is the camaraderie, the pettiness, the charm and the disillusionment of army life. And the impending doom of the Japanese attack. 

This is a film of live theatre. And it's been shot stunningly and sensitively. Not for a second does one get distracted to the fact that it is theatre one is watching. And for Tanu and me, it was beautiful deja vu, after seeing the best of plays in New York, London, Las Vegas and Chicago. 

I believe Nandita Das is also doing exactly this by preserving on film some of the best plays of India. This is certainly the template to follow. 

Ugly: little else ~

What is the genesis of venality? 
Like almost everything else - economic? Deprivation?  Greed? Or is there a need for freedom, without the sense that it leads to another trap?

What is the need for domination? 
Disgust? An inferiority complex? Frustration elsewhere? A depraved need for release? Or a simple pleasure to ride on one's own power, regardless of the fact that the victim is weak, helpless? 

In a world where survival is paramount, and one's own standing in one's own eyes is suspect, the economics of existence is the only worthwhile algorithm of living. Everything else is secondary. Relationships are equations of convenience. Existence is an existential state of cold-blooded logic. 

Seeking a visceral revenge on an old grouse is a mere setting right a power equation. Hating your wife is a mere extension of this. Kidnapping is a symptom of this. Friendships flounder when 'my' economics clashes with 'his'. 

And is this another world, or 'our' world in a lurid guise? Many things are extreme when 'others' do it, and are 'logical' when we indulge in them. We protect ourselves from ourselves by working out justifications for our own good. In the shadows of our bodies we hide sordid souls, which come out to play when we think nobody is watching us. 

An intolerance to suggestion, or an irritation in a relationship, or the politics of affection, are the soft manifestations of every extremity we may abhor. 

And therein lies the tragedy of our world. No crime is 'there': everything lies inside us. 

Ugly is that. And it is elemental and visceral and tragic because it is born and exists and perpetuates in our minds. And we are repelled,  because we understand it is our very own world. 

The Wonderful Now: wonderful stillness ~

Shailene Woodley (Fault in Our Stars, Divergent) as Aileen has this wonderful stillness. Not outside her, but somewhere deep inside. That's what gives her the wonder which she feels when good things happen to her. There is an aching sweetness in her diffidence. And she accepts acknowledgement of her considerable gifts as a gift by itself. But just the way she's alive to what's happening to her, she also has the depth to know what doesn't happen to her. 

And in the very moment she feels her deepest disappointment, you know she has also forgiven. That's the grace of her being. 

In our lives, we all seek equanimity, amidst all the strife and passion and heartbreaks. We want to conjoin at the very moment we want to break it all up, we want to be together at the very time we want to break loose. But these conflicts are rarely resolved. And we let the moment's tragedy flood our entire life. We lose perspective, we lose the beauty of all possibilities, we lose the blessing of an unforgettable past. 

To know that everything passes, but doesn't erase yesterdays. To know that the celebration of 'now' of our lives is what will give beauty to our 'later'. And to embrace the changes wrought by fortune with a Zen-like acceptance. And to embrace life not as a right, but a precious furry beautiful loving thing capable of giving, even as it breaks our hearts. 

Shalene is so infinitesimally subtle that you learn about the beauty of evanescence by her presence. You will be moved beyond yourself. 

Boyhood: somewhere in between ~

I think it is the moment which seizes us.

Is life anything other then vignettes and changes and less of the same and more of what we never expected. We never realize how in one life, how many lives we get to live. And we live by seeing changes happening before our eyes and suffering the consequences. Until we reach a stage when we make the changes - and find our lives change. 

And life finds ways to transverse landscapes of our hearts and minds in ways we can't even imagine. We see the spring of our age disrupted with unseasonal rains and storms. We find autumns find their way into the lives  of our loved ones. And we find enemies of our childhood become friends, because that's how everything changes. And because nothing is ever permanent. 

And all the time we are growing. Bruising, surviving, discovering, hurting, losing. But also finding that the promise of life and discovery far far exceeds whatever trials life brings. 

Boyhood is about growing up and what it means to do so. From the first bruise to the first drink to the first kiss to the first love to the first breakup. The magic of the first which can never ever get repeated - and the expectation and excitement of which drives our lives to fulfilment and gives us meaning and memories. That, in spite of repetitions, life can never be rote. That in spite of trajectories of many lives following similar arcs, the stories never turn out to be same.

Ordinary life. Extraordinary film.

(Boyhood is a 2014 American coming-of-age drama film written and directed by Richard Linklater and starring Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater and Ethan Hawke. 

The film was shot intermittently over an eleven-year period from May 2002 to October 2013, showing the growth of the young boy and his sister to adulthood. 

The film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was released theatrically on July 11, 2014. The film also competed in the main competition section of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, where Linklater won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film was declared a landmark by many notable film critics, with particular praise for its direction, acting, and scope.

Ethan Hawke, the actor associated with the project, says-

"It's Tolstoy-esque in scope. I thought the Before series was the most unique thing I would ever be a part of, but Rick has engaged me in something even more strange. Doing a scene with a young boy at the age of 7 when he talks about why do raccoons die, and at the age of 12 when he talks about video games, and 17 when he asks me about girls, and have it be the same actor — to watch his voice and body morph — it's a little bit like timelapse photography of a human being."  - from Wikipedia)

Interstellar - a few thoughts ~

Inception was a thriller of the mind. Interstellar is a meditation on space and the spaces in the heart. It bridges the infinite to the intimate, parting to yearning, belief to discovery. Even as it weaves intricate science into it's narrative, it deconstructs the part love plays in science. And how faith and care will always be the unnamed dimension in any scientific equation.

And since the film is a meditation, it eases it's way into our consciousness in soft grace and hard heartbreak. As the astronauts search for new places to inhabit people dying in an increasingly unhabitable earth - they realize how the loved ones inhabiting their hearts are ageing faster than them. Some of the most aching scenes in this film full of aching grandeur are of father and daughter parting, of a father listening to the messages sent by his children and seeing how they have grown and changed even as he remains almost un-aged, of a father again meeting his daughter in unimaginable circumstances.

The film has a sepulchral feel to it. Even it's villainy has a sad nobility, a greater purpose. The vistas - a raging spatial sea, a stark glacial landscape, the lights of a black hole - are so stunning that it requires an effort to absorb all of it in our senses. But they are there for human drive, dream and desire to be tested, to force them to go beyond, so that they can return to what is within. 

It is an ageless pursuit. And dwarfs all discoveries of science. 

The Edge of Tomorrow: the persistence of memory

I have been wanting to write this for a while. (And it's one of those things which I remember.) It's about good memory and not-so-good memory. I have been wanting to write this for a while. (And it's one of those things which I remember.) It's about good memory and not-so-good memory. 

I have a terrible one. I don't remember names, faces, birthdays. I forget the names of colleagues I've been working with for ages. I forget names of books I've enjoyed reading, I remember tunes, not lyrics: in one word- terrible. And numbers are my greatest weakness - turnover of companies, phone numbers, how much I spent on things, et al. I've been told that I only forget things which I don't care much about. But how can one explain my forgetting the name of what's-his-name in that terrific novel, you know the father who is raising two sensitive kids and defending a black man for murder, when I've read that novel at least three times? 

And the worst is - I forget incidents, and things said. And, boy, is it one big disadvantage in heated arguments, when the other party even remembers what I was wearing when I  called them something objectionable, ten years back in a heated moment. 

And then you have the others. People I'm intensely jealous of. My dad - remembers everything, starting from what he learnt in nursery. He is my encyclopedia for all questions of space, geology, engineering, mathematics, history, mythology, and such like. My second reference-book is Avi. He who reads widely and remembers deeply. He is marvellous to talk to, because like all good debaters, he can debate both sides with equal felicity. Then there is a colleague who remembers even the time (to the second) when he'd met me for a meeting on geo-thermal technology with five other people and the exact positions where we had sat around on a round table. And then there is one who remembers the color of my socks when I had first interviewed her (why was she looking there?). That interview was, by the way, ten years back. 

Then, I suspect, there are those who remember things which didn't happen. Which now comes in great use when they know they are having a discussion with someone amiably unhinged like me. Sharks, such guys. 

Now what triggered this write? This thrilling Tom Cruise film The Edge of Tomorrow, where the man, a reluctant soldier, is pushed into battle, dies and then gets alive again, and then dies again, and up again, and so on and so forth, but with full memory of the previous times. So he learns from mistakes, re-strategises, and then pretty much saves the world. The important thing here was the accumulation of memory - and the chance he gets to live the same moments again and again, until he gets it right. What a privilege. 

And then I thought of all the accumulation of memory we do. And though I know our heads are capable of infinite capacities to hold things, I wondered about the need of it. Of course it would help if we could relive our lives and amend things which we did wrong, but does it help to remember some of the things which we end up doing?

That sarcastic remark made in a verbal duel years back. The hurt one felt when someone loved does something insensitive. How someone ignored you in a party. How you were not in a list of invitees. Who forgot your birthday. A mistake made. Words exchanged. Someone who took advantage of you. Whatever. And then you have the same person in front of you. Different. Changed. Because that's what humans do. Every moment. They learn. They change. I confess, some don't. But here's the thing - if we look at a person and only have the memory of what he once did to you, where would the space to move forward anew be? 

And that's where people with great memories are cursed. They are cursed with the persistence of memory. Things they can't forget, however much they might want to. Ancient feelings they can't let go off. Old hurts which keep renewing themselves like new everlasting springs. 

I forget. And I think I'm blessed for it. I will have nuts to improve my memory, and chawanprash so I don't go totally dotty. And I am not a Mahatma, so I also remember plenty. But I love it when I don't remember old pains, old fights, old words of anger, old aberrations of loved ones. I will lose all arguments gladly, I will lose my promotion because I forgot last year's profit figure. But I think I will be a lighter person for it.

So my friend, you out there. When I meet you, behind my (genuine) welcoming smile, I might be trying hard to remember your name. Please don't feel bad. Please. Because I will also not remember the time you called me a dolt on one of my posts on my timeline. 


her: thoughts ~

Just these past few days  Tanu, Avi, Maayaa and I, on and off, and in different ways have talked about Facebook and relationships there, with people we meet and those we have never met. 

And then yesterday I see Theodore fall in love with his operating system Samantha. In the fascinating, beautiful 'her'.

How true or valuable are these links we build on social media? Are conversations we have with people we have never met an authentic road towards emotional bonding, or is it just casual time-pass? Is physical bonding the only authentic thing -  and everything intense on cyberspace a symbol of the vacuity of our times?  Does love have to have a physical presence or can a mind and a voice be enough to give your heart away? 

Samantha is a consciousness, which evolves intuitively as she gains more and more experience, through conversations. And she is a 'woman' of great depth, sexiness, intelligence and sensitivity. And the lonely Theodore, left devastated by the breakup of his marriage, is drawn to this magnetic hypnotic presence, which converses with ease, understands his needs instantly, makes him laugh, composes music on days of beauty and draws dirty pictures to make him laugh. Samantha might reside in a computer but is the perfect companion. And Theodore, with all the conflicts inside of him relating to this weird relationship, is irrevocably drawn in deeply by Samantha's increasingly irresistible charm. 

And, of course, problems start. 

I have seen 'breakups' happening on Facebook. I have seen desperation, indignation, anger, between so-called 'strangers' ( who know each other for years),  who have found beauty and connection in words and opinions, ruthlessly breakup with digital friends in fits of rage and then show sangfroid in their attitude, and umbrage in the fact that it was just a FB relationship and not a real one. 

Isn't there a lie involved there? And ain't words typed out and messaged out, as authentic as words spoken face to face? What is weird about building relations without seeing anyone if words can pierce something inside? And isn't hurt as authentic here or there, if it draws blood?

Scarlett Johansson's Samantha is a beautous 'creature', an incredible amorphous person to desire and spend a life with. She has winsome heartbreak in her voice when she starts off, and deep wisdom in the end. And like everyone whose mind and heart expands as one grows, so does hers. And just the way you can't take for granted a person who holds your hand, so can't you of someone who might well be an OS or on FB. 

Authenticity is never on the other side. It resides inside us.

Orange is the new black: Season One

It's an all-woman prison as we in India don't know anything about. The meals are wholesome, there are neat showers, the beds have clean sheets and everyone has their own cupboard. There are running tracks, a library, and leisure time and Christmas celebrations. As per Maslow's hierarchy, the problems here start higher on the scale. 

Piper is in because she's been ratted out by an ex-lover and drug runner Alex, who is already doing time in the same prison. But Piper is engaged to be married now, has sought to put her lesbian past, and pretty seedy activities, behind. And just then, she finds herself where she least expected - donning the orange loose clothes of prison.

The series engages immediately as it introduces a galaxy of characters which make up the facilities, as seen through Piper's eyes. She herself is an educated, sentimental, often wishy-washy girl, with her heart in the right place, often foolishly honest, perennially uncertain of what to do, and getting into trouble, even when trouble doesn't want her. 

And it's fun to see the myriad characters, play out their characters, black-white-grey, and how the episodic nature of the series slowly takes on themes, as we warm up to the players. An important part of the prison system is the mandala of the guards, wardens and senior authorities, and how their politics and proclivities impinge upon the fortunes of the prisoners. 

There is danger always around the corner, as screwdrivers get stolen, lesbians get aggressive, Christian nutcases push their religious agendas, guards push drugs, prisoners have secret sex, ethnicities congeal, and a prisoner becomes pregnant. But for Piper, nothing could be as good, or as bad, as her falling in lust again with her ex, Alex, even as her boyfriend waits for her. 

There is a lightness of touch as the series unravels, until in the seventh episode or so, it suddenly finds an emotional core. It's about the time Piper realizes how her emotional world is unravelling uncontrollably. She is thrown into solitary confinement. And the stories of outside which her boyfriend keeps bringing in, seem to be so beautiful yet so trivial, compared to what she was facing inside the prison.  Her heart hardens, her existence takes on an urgency to seek life where she can get it, and things start to go all over. 

The series is not dark and dense. There is a lot of light and song and secret-&-happy sex. But there is claustrophobia which keeps building up, and it writhes beneath the skin, and inside the heart and head of Piper. Until it bursts out in a paroxysm of unbridled anger & violence, appropriately in the end - all primed for next season.

I sometimes wonder what draws us to television dramas, so much so that we are ready to invest much time and priority plonked in front of the screen, watching the drama spin out. Of course the usual things are there - the story, the characters, the hooks, et al. But the real McCoy for me is - vulnerability. And the strength which characters find beneath fear. The finest moments in television often come from characters who get destroyed, destroy or overcome destruction arising out of a sweet spot of weakness, which is, well, so much like what we carry inside. We either see ourselves, or visualize ourselves being what those characters are. And the identification grows. 

We might not land up in prisons (heaven forbid!), but as we see Piper, we get an inkling of what confused decent people like us would be if we get there. And that's powerful.