You Only Live Twice


Lane didn’t quite blow his mind out in a car, but you can’t say he didn’t try. (Credit: Capitol Records/Emily Vivani)

Editor’s Note: Earlier this season, our resident “Mad Men” expert Emily Viviani posited that the Beatles’ classic album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is actually serving as a structural and thematic template for the fifth season of the series. The theory spurred much discussion among “Mad Men” fans, and was even discussed by Vulture and New York Magazine. Below is an update on the theory and how it fits into the season’s final three episodes.

Over the past six weeks, I’ve learned a lot about the the Beatles. I didn’t know that before Yoko, John Lennon – like Kenny Cosgrove – had a wife named Cynthia. Or that Paul McCartney – like Bert Cooper – had a penchant to go shoeless. Maybe this matters, but probably not.

I just finished reading the little-known gem, “Turn me on, Dead Man: The Complete Story of the Paul McCartney Death Hoax” by Andru J. Reeve. It’s an interesting read, which traces the origin and trajectory of the rumor-turned-hoax that McCartney was killed in a car accident in January of 1967 and replaced by look alike, William Campbell Shears.  In 1969, American college students in particular clung to the notion, forming clubs and organizations devoted to deciphering the “clues” that alluded to his death, which they were convinced permeated the lyrics, melodies and images, dispensed to the masses through Sgt. Pepper’s, the White Album and Abbey Road.  People really believed it, and after reading the book, I understand why. It’s really really cool. It was a conversation and a unifier, but maybe mostly it was an excuse to listen one more time.

No, I don’t think it will do us any good to watch “Mad Men” episodes in reverse, upside-down or in French. Nor am I suggesting my theory is anyway comparable in depth, influence or sensational wonder, to that which reverberated through the notorious death hoax. However, I do think there are similarities in the flavor of analysis.

Like the tantalizing genius of a somewhat cryptic Beatles’ track, there is something weighted, baited and lingering about “Mad Men”’s poignant silences, detailed discourse and structural control. Things we love that feel random but true impress upon us a need for interpretation. It’s nice to believe a kind of secret code is folded into the dialogue and drama of “Mad Men.” It’s an excuse to watch one more time, ingest one more detail and feel a bit closer to understanding the timeline of a marvelously unpredictable series. So for these reasons and for the sake of completion:


1. Within You Without You (Lady Lazarus)

2. When I’m Sixty-Four (Dark Shadows)

3. Lovely Rita (Christmas Waltz)

        4. Good Morning, Good Morning (The Other Woman)

        5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (Reprise) (Commissions and Fees)

        6. A Day in the Life (The Phantom)

511: “The Other Woman” (“Good Morning, Good Morning”)

About the song: “Good Morning, Good Morning”

“Inspiration for the song came to Lennon from a television commercial for Kellogg‘s Corn Flakes. The line “It’s time for tea and Meet the Wife” refers to a BBC sitcom, Meet the Wife. At Lennon’s request, George Martin brought in Sounds Incorporated to provide the song’s prominent brass backing. Lennon asked engineer Geoff Emerick to arrange the animal noises heard at beginning (and end) of the song so that each animal heard was one capable of devouring (or frightening) the animal preceding it. The final sound effect of a chicken clucking was so placed that it transforms into the guitar on the following track, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)“. The song has an unusual rhythmical feel and does not use the same time signature throughout.”[1]

How it relates to 511:

The fact that the song “Good Morning, Good Morning” was inspired in part by a television commercial is similar to “The Other Woman” in that the plotline of the episode directly reflects the implication of the Jaguar campaign. The animal sounds that pervade the song mimic the primal flavor of the episode’s carnal subtext. As commenter Jared Ravich noted, the two times that “good morning” is said in the episode directly precede the most pivotal scenes: Pete’s bold proposition to Joan and Peggy giving Don her notice. The apathy of the lyrical protagonist could allude to the partners’ meek objections to the episode’s tawdry transaction.  The suggestion that “nothing has changed” could be aligned with Joan and Peggy’s inclination that although they’ve established themselves as integral assets to SCDP, the fact that they’re women will forever taint their professional reputations. Ravich also commented that he thinks the final scene, as Peggy’s footsteps overpower the clamor of the conference room celebration, rhythmically echoes the song’s final arrangement of animal sounds with Ringo’s steady drumbeats.

Applicable lyrics:

Good morning, good morning 
(1. Caroline to Joan and 2. Dawn to Don)

Good morning, good morning


Nothing to do it’s up to you

I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK (The partners’ mild objections and Don’s exit from the meeting)


And you’re on your own you’re in the street (Joan’s evaluation of her position and justification for accepting the offer)


After a while you start to smile now you feel cool

Then you decide to take a walk by the old school

Nothing is changed it’s still the same (Women in the workplace etc.)

I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK

512: “Commissions and Fees” (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (Reprise))”

About the song: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (Reprise)”

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” is a somewhat modified repeat of the opening song at a faster tempo with heavier instrumentation. The track opens with McCartney’s count-in (retained in the manner of “I Saw Her Standing There“, the first song on their first album); between 2 and 3, Lennon jokingly interjects “Bye!” Starr starts the song proper by playing the drum part unaccompanied for four bars, at the end of which a brief bass glissando cues the full ensemble of two distorted guitars, bass, drums and overdubbed percussion.

The idea for a reprise was Aspinall’s, who thought that as there was a “welcome song”, there should be a “goodbye song”. The song contains broadly the same melody as the opening version, but with different lyrics and omitting the “It’s wonderful to be here” section.”[2]

How it relates to 512:

Since this song is a reprise of the opening track on the album, I looked for similarities between this episode and the season’s premiere.  There is a notion that “A Little Kiss” is a welcome whereas “Commissions and Fees” is a goodbye: “A Little Kiss” is oriented around a celebration of Don’s birth, while “Commissions and Fees” is an account of Lane’s death. This correlation could have been alluded to through Pete’s superfluous inquiry at the partners’ meeting about the upcoming birthdays. The episodes similarly inversely mirror each other in that in the premiere, Lane finds a stranger’s wallet and sees to its return, whereas in this episode he is caught embezzling money. Also, the premiere episode closes with Lane accepting applications for a new hire, and this episode closes with his tragic resignation. Additionally, a few of Lane’s lines from the premiere episode eerily foreshadow his fate this season, namely “I’ll be here [at the office] for the rest of my life,” and “It’s only a matter of time before they discover I’m a sham.”

Applicable lyrics:

We’re Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

We hope you have enjoyed the show

We’re sorry but it’s time to go. (Suicide and resignation)

513: “The Phantom” (“A Day in the Life”)

About the song: “A Day in the Life”

“According to Lennon, the inspiration for the first two verses was the death of Tara Browne, the 21-year-old heir to the Guinness fortune and close friend of Lennon and McCartney, who had crashed his Lotus Elan on 18 December 1966 in Redcliffe Gardens, Earls Court. Lennon’s verses were adapted from a story in the 17 January 1967 edition of The Daily Mail, which reported the coroner’s verdict into Browne’s death.

“I didn’t copy the accident,” Lennon said. “Tara didn’t blow his mind out, but it was in my mind when I was writing that verse. The details of the accident in the song—not noticing traffic lights and a crowd forming at the scene—were similarly part of the fiction.”

The second verse contains the line “The English Army had just won the war”; Lennon was making reference to his role in the movie How I Won the War, released on 18 October 1967. In Many Years from Now, McCartney said about the line “I’d love to turn you on”, which concludes both verse sections: “This was the time of Tim Leary‘s ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out‘ and we wrote, ‘I’d love to turn you on.’ John and I gave each other a knowing look: ‘Uh-huh, it’s a drug song. You know that, don’t you?’.”

McCartney provided the middle section of the song, a short piano piece he had been working on independently, with lyrics about a commuter whose uneventful morning routine leads him to drift off into a dream.

The final verse was inspired by an article in the Daily Mail in January 1967 regarding a substantial number of potholes in Blackburn, a town in Lancashire. However, Lennon had a problem with the words of the final verse, not being able to think of how to connect “Now they know how many holes it takes to” and “the Albert Hall“. His friend Terry Doran suggested that they would “fill” the Albert Hall.”[3]

How it relates to 513:

Many of the episodes this season foreshadow Lane’s death through various allusions to mortality, but the season finale was the first episode that plays with the concept of rebirth (the episode concludes with the song “You Only Live Twice”). Set during Easter season in the wake of Lane’s suicide, most of the character plotlines ended with some version of a fresh start. Pete’s mistress Beth receives electroshock therapy, which expunges the affair from her memory. Peggy and Joan excel in their new professional positions. SCDP gets a new floor to renovate. Megan (via Don) gets a part in a commercial and Roger takes LSD.

The song “A Day in the Life” mirrors the episode insomuch that the song opens with the description of a tragic, morbid accident, then touches on people’s response to it and moves quite jovially into a jingle about a monotonous morning commute and the protagonist’s desire to “turn you on.” Similarly, the drama of this episode traces the characters’ subconscious responses to Lane’s suicide. While everyone appears to be maintaining composure and routine, they all seem to be simultaneously fighting an internal urge to reevaluate and rejuvenate their existence. Don, however, is just fighting a toothache.  (See “Mystery Date”/“Getting Better”). So it makes sense that his version of “reincarnation,” which we sense in the final scene of the episode, looks a lot more like retrogression. After all, as Don is told, “It’s not your tooth that’s rotten.”

Applicable lyrics:

He blew his mind out in a car (Lane’s suicide)

He didn’t notice that the lights had changed

A crowd of people stood and stared

They’d seen his face before (Adam visions)


I saw a film today oh boy (Peggy and Don at the movies.)


I’d love to turn you on (Affairs and drugs.)


Woke up, fell out of bed,

Dragged a comb across my head

Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,

And looking up I noticed I was late. (Megan: “Don, you’re gonna be late!”)

Somebody spoke and I went into a dream (Adam dream sequence)


Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire (Pete: “I fell asleep and ran into a ditch.”)


Bonnaroo 2012: I Am Not On Drugs (But Everyone Else Is)


Hippies, henna and hula hoops all lived up to their stereotypes during a dusty weekend at Bonnaroo. (All photos courtesy of Mary Morgan.)

Have you ever stood in a crowd of 80,000 people and realized you are most likely the only person not on drugs? I just did that for four days.

When people hear the name “Bonnaroo,” three things come to mind: hippies, music and drugs.  I’m here to tell you that I defeated the impossible, and managed to hang out with these hippies without participating in certain extracurricular activities. I can’t tell you that these three assumptions aren’t true. The point of the festival is music, and it is indeed overflowing with hippies. And drugs. A lot of hippies on drugs.  And being totally sober for the entirety of the weekend resulted in witnessing more than one ridiculous shenanigan.

If you’re wondering why someone who has never done any drug – ever – decided to go to such a place, I have a simple answer for you: I love music, I love people and I love a good story. This seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And that it was. Let the record show that I had an unbelievably good time at Bonnaroo with my 11 hooligan friends who hopped in an RV along with me and made the trip from Washington, D.C. to Manchester, Tenn.

The stereotype of Bonnaroovian hippies exists for a reason. Let me run down the list of the most stereotypically hippie things that I ran across at Bonnaroo: sporadic groups of hula-hoopers (it was as if the official hula hooping society of Bonnaroo sent out a daily memo to all hula-hoopers telling them when and where to have a spontaneous hoop party); random spots dedicated to meditation; so many bare feet you wonder if somewhere there’s a pile of shoes that was blown up; multiple henna tattoo tents; dreadlocks of every size and color; women who decided they didn’t want to wear shirts or bras anymore; topless women covering up with a very thin layer of body paint; belly shirts – everywhere; signs saying “unregister to vote here;” massive pillar signs pleading you to recycle; the fact that there are three sections to garbage cans: recycle, compost and landfill; multiple make-your-own-drum tents; a whole booth dedicated to telling the horrors of Kentucky Fried Chicken; morning yoga sessions; the smell of incense around every corner; oh, and of course, tie dye EVERYTHING. And honestly, I feel like I’m only skimming the top of the hippie pool with that list. But I shall continue anyway.

The creators of Bonnaroo know exactly what is happening out in the fields. There are literally signs begging Bonnaroovians not to die.  I watched two police officers on an ATV drive by a dude blatantly smoking a bowl outside of his tent. They did not arrest him. They didn’t even stop, actually. They just looked at him and continued to drive away. It was probably at this point that I realized Bonnaroo is not just a casual festival, it is a whole different world. Once the cell phones are turned off and computers are unplugged, the outside world is suddenly forgotten and the only schedule you’re concerned about is the one about this tent, that tent and the other tent. (Yes, those are actually the names of the tents. Not at all confusing.)

The Other Tent, which as you may deduce, is not This Tent or That Tent.

Walking around with one of my friends at the end of Friday night, we came across a guy passed out literally in the middle of nowhere. There were no nearby tents or vendors or stages or RVs, just some dust and grass.  And there he was, passed out spread-eagle having what could have only been the best sleep of his entire life. My friend wondered if we should make sure he was okay. Perhaps check for a pulse. But then we looked up and realized that scattered every 50 feet or so was someone else passed out like a weird connect-the-hippies puzzle. I’m still not sure if passing out literally anywhere is acceptable Bonnaroo behavior, but no one was running around waking these people up. I’m starting to think they just left them there until Monday, when it became some poor volunteer’s job to scour the grounds for sleeping hippies and tell them the weekend was over and they had to go home.

And sure, the festival is about music, but at some point you need to figure out if it’s more important to see specific shows or to have an experience. I could have run around all day and all night to every show that interested me, but instead I made compromises in order to stay with my friends. It is with confidence I say this decision led to the best time possible. We had a silly good time. Don’t get me wrong, I saw a lot of music, but it would not have nearly compared if I had been without my circle of hooligans accompanying me.

As for the assumption that Bonnaroo is filled with exclusively hippies, that is certainly not true. You can decipher the true hippies from those who dressed to the Bonnaroo trend.  The vast majority is clearly people who took Thursday through Monday off from their real world responsibilities to grunge it hippie-style in Tennessee.

And grunge we did.  The dust in the normal camping areas was exceptional. Cars became dust-caked. I kid you not, every car was sporting a new matching dusty tan color by the end of the first night.  Don’t worry though, some prick ran around and drew ten thousand penises on every car he passed, so at least we had some art to look at on the walk from the RV campground to Centeroo.  (Originality at its finest!)

And even though the 12 of us drove an RV, we ran into a few grunge problems. It was a task and a half to hunt down the water and sewage truck brigade. As far as our water supply went, everyone was limited to a few minutes of ice cold shower time, which was just enough time to scrub off half of the never-ending layers of mud and dirt caked on your feet, and realize there’s mysterious sand in your hair. You could pay for a shower, but our one friend who did it said it was a horrible experience and that she felt dirtier, colder and just weirder. She did not elaborate.

We used the first tank of water within 36 hours, and couldn’t figure out why the shower wasn’t draining. Turned out our sewage tank was full. I’m sure you can imagine how awesome that smelled. We found that sewage truck as fast as humanly possible to fix that situation. I can’t imagine the exponential levels of impressive dirtiness that would be acquired from the normal tent campgrounds, or from not showering a couple times during the four days.

(Side note: The biggest mistake we made at Bonnaroo was not emptying our sewage RV tank before leaving the campground. For the 13-hour drive home, anytime we hit a bump the delicious smell of urine would waft through the RV. You would have thought we dangled a little air freshener tree off the rear view mirror that was Porta-Potty scented. Yay!)

But the dirt and grunge somehow becomes part of the experience. You are not alone in your dirtiness, that’s for sure. At some point during the weekend, you stop obsessing about attempting to get clean or trying to avoid getting dust everywhere. (Really, really cannot stress how much dust is involved.)   And suddenly, it’s like you’re a little kid again playing outside. Bonnaroo is summer camp for grown-ups.

The sun sets over Bonnaroo on Thursday, the first day of the festival.

And there is so much more to the ‘Roo than drugs, hippies and dirt. The 700-acre farm turns into a community for the extended weekend. I cannot even begin to explain the friendliness oozing from every individual. People shared everything they brought with pretty much whomever happened to be nearby.  While standing behind a couple strangers at SBTRKT, a guy turned around and asked me if I would like to share his joint. “No thanks, I’m okay,” I said. He smiled and said: “No worries brah… where are you from? Do you like this jam?” And you know what? I did indeed like that jam. Thank you for asking.

Meeting people was an experience in itself. Between the neighbors you shared everything with, the concert goers you packed into a tent with and the vendors in the little tent shops, there was great room for random conversation. I spent 10 minutes talking to a henna tattoo artist about how weird license pictures are. (Note: I did not get a henna tattoo.)

Also, some of the shops were just awesome. I bought a camera strap made out of the same fabric used in the 60’s to make Jimi Hendrix’s guitar strap he wore at Woodstock. That’s not something you stumble across every day.

It started raining on Saturday night, and lasted into the morning. Sunday was filled with random sprinkles and a general misty, hazy weather pattern. The rain turned the dust to clay-colored mud. I saw a lot of people pack up and leave, but our group didn’t even consider it. If you go to Bonnaroo, you stay for the whole festival, no matter what. COME ON PEOPLE.

The rain very politely held off for the majority of the day on Sunday. Phish was the last act at Bonnaroo, playing from 8 to midnight on Sunday. At the end of the last song they jammed, Bonnaroo set off a bunch of fireworks. So just picture this: We are all standing in very casual rain, kind of weirdly damp, watching Phish explode from the stage and suddenly, actual explosions. Everyone was cheering well through the end of the song and fireworks. In a massive, wet herd, we moved towards the picturesque Bonnaroo archway that leads you to the campgrounds. And sporadically, someone somewhere in the crowd would scream “BONNAROOOOOOOOOO!” And in a wave of sound, everyone started cheering. We went stomping through the mud as the rain started to come down harder, cheering “ROOO!!!” You would have thought that the 80,000 people we were surrounded by weren’t strangers, but comrades. Bonnaroo is a community.

The festival ended Sunday night with a four-hour set from Phish, accompanied by fireworks.

It was also on this walk that I came across my favorite person of the weekend. As we all came stampeding out of Centeroo, there appeared a 70-year-old drugged-out hippie man walking slowly in the opposite direction of the other 79,999 of us. And he just looked around with such confusion, it was as if he just popped up out of the ground and had missed the whole festival. “Wooaahhh!” He shouted, swaying around in place. “Look at allll these f*cking peeeooopple!” He screamed. “Where did aaalllll these peeeeooople come from?!”

You would have thought we were marching across his front porch.

That was the last Bonnaroovian I saw besides the other 11 people I traveled with in the awesome-smelling RV. And oh man, he was everything I could have hoped and dreamed for.

In total, it was absolutely an experience I would recommend to anyone. And if you think Bonnaroo isn’t right for you, you’re probably wrong. It may not be for everyone, but it could be. You just have to have an open mind.

We packed up in the rain on Monday morning, and by 8 we were driving through the massive once-farmland, watching the silo that sat near our camping pod drift smaller and smaller away into the background. And suddenly, we turned a corner and were magically back on a highway. It was as if Bonnaroo was a totally different secret realm.

On the way home, we watched the South Park episode “Hippie Music Festival.” It wasn’t that far off. There were definitely a lot of drum circles.

A hazy ending to a hazy weekend for the 80,000 attendees.

This War Is Just Begun


While Season 1 ended on fire with the birth of Dany’s dragons, Season 2 finishes on ice as the camera pans out to reveal a massive army led by the Others and their reanimated, zombie-like wights. (Credit: shadowcats)

In a stunning and sprawling Season 2 finale, “Valar Morghulis” does far more to lay the groundwork for the next season than to tie up the current one. According to the narrative structure they have crafted over the last two seasons, the creators of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” have chosen to host the major climax of the arc in Episode 9, with Episode 10 acting more as a means to tie up a few storylines and introduce threads that will not reach significance for at least a year’s time. As is characteristic of George R.R. Martin’s source material, there are so far more questions than answers. Yet the writers have still managed to garner a deep satisfaction in the mystery and promise of the story despite the fact that it is not tied off neatly at the end of each season. Clearly, we have a long way to go with each of these characters, and I am only sad that our journey with them has ended for the next several months.

Another strength of the show’s finales is that they have never featured a cliffhanging ending that you know will be explained away in the first five minutes of the next season. Instead, the show used the final scene of both season finales to further a key theme: magical elements are amassing at the edges of this world, largely forgotten by the people at the center (and, admittedly, the audience as well). All of us – we, as television viewers, and the characters we’ve been watching – have been focused on the power struggles between the potential kings of Westeros without paying much heed to the supernatural forces that may eventually stand to render all of this season’s moral and amoral grandstanding completely moot. So far, this threat exists only at the edges of their known geography and series’ seasonal narrative.

The mainland power struggles at the center of the second season have been the strongest of all the narrative’s themes, and the one that has interested me the most. This is, after all, the “game of thrones,” with the Iron Throne acting as a symbol of any concept of influence and the “game” representing how several players with different concepts of how best to achieve power can come to be laid out like pieces on a chessboard. We have seen as many different concepts of power as there are characters vying for it. The episode has to check in on so many different power brokers that each of the scenes are concise clips. Though wonderfully done, they can hardly satiate the appetite for our favorites. How can the season possibly be over already?

Earlier this season, Cersei declared that “power is power.” We don’t know how Cersei would be if she did not already hold her position as acting queen, but it is safe to assume that she has few skills more advantageous than the freedom her present position affords her. She derives legitimacy for her actions simply from her right to rule. In the finale, she exerts her power to yet-unknown consequences in her orchestration of the throne room sequence where Sansa Stark is replaced by Margaery Tyrell. (Side note: how wonderful is it that this scene is introduced with Tywin’s horse defecating into a huge pile right before Cersei’s charade begins?)

How wise was this decision? Cersei seems all too happy to be rid of Sansa, though she may not yet realize that Margaery is arguably a much more formidable and power-hungry player. As symbolized in the girl’s giant sigil necklace, which features a large flower dangling to distraction over her breast, the Tyrells are a mighty family in terms of both wealth and popularity. Their strength will not fold quickly or easily into the Lannisters, even after the betrothal. While their alliance was critical in the defense of King’s Landing, the impending wedding of the Lannisters to Tyrells will host a great rivalry within reach of the Iron Throne itself. Cersei has given up something of a pet in Sansa, and may not yet realize that Margaery will behave more more like an equal than like the obedient and subservient Stark girl. This new rivalry holds much promise for some dynamic scenes in Season 3.

To Margaery herself, power is an end to which any means are justified. She has already proven to be a schemer of epic proportions in her quest to become not just “a queen” but “the queen.” Easily sensing the shifts in power that many characters seem incapable to recognize, Margaery has bet on the Lannisters and – just as she was with Renly – seems ready to play the part of devoted queen with Joffrey. As she tempts and teases both his pride and his hormones with an expert touch, she lures the whole court into believing her sincere desire to serve the king. Only her brother, Ser Loras, whose eyes shift about the room with perceptible discomfort, seems to acknowledge that it is a dangerous bargain. Margaery, meanwhile, is unflinchingly confident. As the viewers, we are uncertain what will be in store for Joffrey’s new future bride, but in her steadfast and sure conviction that she will be queen no matter what, it seems hauntingly clear that, like Renly’s homosexuality, Joff’s sadism may be knowingly and willfully tolerated.

As Margaery and Cersei may yet prove to be, Littlefinger already has his own rival in Varys. The two of them are shown to be incredibly smart and underhanded; to both men, “knowledge is power” (as Littlefinger declared earlier in the season). When the clouds break over Sansa’s longstanding agony, and she takes a rare moment to smile to herself after the throne room ceremony, who else but Littlefinger to teach her to fear again? Littlefinger enlightens her to the reality of Joffrey’s lasting hold over her, despite the broken betrothal. In many ways, Sansa is in more danger now than she was before, and for the second week in a row she turns down a grown man’s offer to take her home. While naive on first blush to think herself safe from harm, she is at least now wise enough to be distrustful of men like Littlefinger and The Hound. With his offer rejected, Petyr Baelish admonishes her. “We’re all liars here,” he says. “And every one of us is better than you.” We have seen him try to secretly court favor with many different parties this season, including Catelyn Stark, and it is not yet clear how he meant to use Sansa to his own ends. As is typical, only Littlefinger knows.

In all the Seven Kingdoms, no one seems to know as much as Varys and Petyr. It is interesting how clear this is despite the fact that we, as the audience, still do not know what we do not know about their knowledge. Even after two seasons, their web of influence remains clearly strong, yet mysterious. Both collect and trade secrets and lies, and use them to arm themselves (a landless man and a eunuch) in their quest for more power. And it works: Petyr is given a landed nobleman’s rights to Harrenhal (though a castle ruin, it sits on land three times the size of Winterfell), as Varys propositions Ros to acquire more little spies and spiders within Petyr’s employ.

Knowledge could also be power for Tyrion, who lives to use his wit to outmaneuver those around him, especially his own relatives. Though he played a significant part in the victory at King’s Landing, he is overlooked in the glory of remembering that great event, as he’s probably been overlooked all his life. Because of his stature, it is easy to do, despite the fact that he truly is one of the best players of the game. It is as if he was built for it, his mind working several steps ahead of his peers’ in both his cunning and humanity to make up for his lesser physical strength.

No one understands this better than Tyrion himself. In one of the show’s most emotionally touching scenes, Shae suggests that they run away together. After all, with his title as acting Hand of the King restored to his father, his value to the Lannisters is increasingly dubious and, therefore, his life is increasingly at risk. However, despite the promise of a life lived on Shae’s terms (“Eat, drink, fuck, live!”), Tyrion cannot deny his nature. He does not expect her to stay at her own peril for a life much harder than they one they could live together in the Free Cities, but she does so out of genuine feelings for him. For what must be one of the first times in his life, Tyrion’s affections are returned in spades, and he is able to find support in the one person who matters most.

In another rare romantic moment, Robb Stark weds the landless Talisa against all advice and counsel, choosing love at the sacrifice of an important marriage pact with the Freys. In doing so, Robb has effectively removed himself from the power play. Before, the Stark boy’s bid for power was entirely dependent on the intense fielty of his father’s bannermen. He treated his vassals well and fairly (better than any other lord in Westeros), always making sure to serve them with honor and justice. Because of that, he earned their respect and, more importantly, their support. Now, however, by shirking his responsibilities to the greater whole, Robb has chosen to follow his heart and singular destiny at his own peril. Much like his father, his power in Westeros relied on the allegiance of his men as well as his infallible sense of duty and honor. There is little duty or honor in the marriage, and the repercussions of this will inevitably affect the power he maintains into the next season.

To a man like Jaqen H’ghar, power is in the honest acknowledgement that – as the episode’s title (Valar Morghulis) translates:  “all men must die.” Jaqen is firmly rooted in the realities of the world while at the same time existing in a mystical alternative where he can assassinate anyone with as much ease as his face can change shape. Arya is his pupil, and as a result, she too may learn to play the game with realpolitik. But first, Arya feels it is her duty to find and reunite her scattered family. After a whole year in captivity, Arya’s true power has yet to be revealed. Now that she is released at last, we can expect even more from this fan favorite in the upcoming season.

In an interesting contrast, Theon Greyjoy invokes his peoples’ famous motto “What is dead may never die!” to rally his troops to an improbable defense against 500 unnamed northern troops outside the Winterfell gates. Theon, agonizing over two very unsavory options (face a real danger or flee to humiliation among his father’s camp) can hardly believe this conviction himself. It is clear that he fears death very much, but he fears his father’s disapproval even more. Theon is weak, hardly a power player at all, and therefore worthy of pity, even if not admiration. It is unclear at this point if he is alive or dead, or what became of him after the sacking of Winterfell, but Theon’s fate is befitting of someone who has always been powerless in a power-hungry world.

Then there are Dany and Jon Snow, both of whom learn the valuable lesson of power gained through both duty and deception. Dany is finally released from the yoke of relying on others to take care of her (though, I’m still not convinced that she won’t continue to rely heavily on Ser Jorah). After a whole season of reacting to others instead of driving her own destiny, the Mother of Dragons finally strikes out on her own to enter the House of the Undying and face those who kidnapped her surrogate children. Though she is tempted by visions put forth by the warlocks of Qarth who hope to keep her there and harness the power she lends her dragons (we see a touching sequence with Khal Drogo and her unborn son, as well as a glimpse of the Iron Throne within her reach), she puts aside what her heart wants in order to fulfill her duty – something Robb Stark proved unable to do.

North of the Wall, Robb’s half-brother Jon also does his duty by killing Qhorin Halfhand, his mentor and brother of the Night’s Watch. When Qhorin challenges him right on the edge overlooking the wildling camp, Jon is forced to slay him in order to gain the trust of the enemy and enter the camp as a spy instead of a prisoner. Hard as it must have been for Dany and Jon to do their duty, they both acquire an interesting level of newfound power going into Season 3:, something that will hopefully bolster the strength of their presently-lacking character arcs.

As for the power of deception, Jon and Dany both learn the strength of clever lies. First, Xaro Xhoan Daxos proves not to be as he seems, having achieved power as ruler of Qarth on the basis of an empty vault. When Dany realizes this, hoping to loot the man for treasures enough to get the ships she desires, she tells him, “Thank you for teaching me this lesson.” His ability to fool others into believing he is something he is not made him the most powerful man in Qarth. Dany is still very much a “little girl” (as she calls herself in the House of the Undying), so it is the dragons that will play the same role as the empty, locked vault, lending her the strength she needs – the strength that does not yet come naturally.

Meanwhile, Jon will have to use deception to convince the highest ranks among the wildling camp – including the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder –  that he is a true defector of the Night’s Watch, as Mance himself once was. This will not be easy, and he is in an incredibly perilous position if he fails to deceive them well enough. Given Jon’s tendency towards prudish honesty and pride, lying will be a critical challenge. If he succeeds, he may potentially save all of Westeros from an unwanted war at their northern border, for which everyone is unprepared. While Jon’s motivations for joining the Wall are not always as clear as they should be, what is clear is that he yearns for respect and for finding his place in a world where he’s never fully belonged. Becoming who he is not might be the only way he can truly become who he ought to be.

Stannis, agonizing in his defeat and (rightly) questioning the sorceress whose prophecies led him to believe that he would win at the Blackwater, believes his power lies on moral and theological high grounds. Stannis represents the belief in power as a divine right. Because of this, Melisandre successfully implores him to carry on despite defeat. The battle for the Seven Kingdoms is quickly becoming akin to a holy war for Stannis as he seeks to stamp out all infidels: the incestuous Lannisters and all other pretenders to the throne. Though he is initially troubled by the burden of knowing that, in order to reach the ends he seeks, he had to murder his own brother, he justifies this action quickly with the help of his priestess, who calls him “the Son of Fire… the Warrior of Light.” Power, for Stannis, is his divine right, and it is for this reason that men like Varys and Tyrion are right to be scared of a Baratheon victory.

It is clear that Stannis derives his power from something very unlike the other men and women on the show, but the realities of his quest for influence are no different. Melisandre perfectly frames this overall theme of power and the justifications people give in order to achieve it when she says to him: “This war is just begun. It will last for years. Thousands will die at your command. You will betray the men serving you, you will betray your family, you will betray everything you once held dear, and it will all be worth it, because…you will be king.” So far, the only character who has decided it would not be worth it is Robb Stark.

At the very end of last season, Dany emerged from the fire with her dragons: a political trump card that has not yet been played, given the fact that so far the dragons have been able to roast little more than small hunks of raw meat and an equally-slight Pyat Pree. This season, an army of White Walkers (a.k.a. the Others) and their wights (the zombie-like dead men raised by the Others) march south in a great column of terror that will not form alliances or hesitate to behead a captive woman. Last season, there was fire; this season, there is ice (A Song of Ice and Fire is the book series’s official title, after all). These scenes serve as momentous reminders of forces that are beyond comprehension for most of the inhabitants of this world, letting us in on the secret of their threat and garnering a real sense of potential futility in us all. In this world as much as in the world of “Game of Thrones,” there are large forces at work that exist beyond national boundaries and any one person’s control. Most of the time, we ignore the real potentiality of these circumstances until it is too late, which also seems to be the preferred method in Westeros. When the Others and the dragons descend on King’s Landing, will it even matter who was the superior power broker, or who holds the Iron Throne?

Other thoughts on “Valar Morghulis”:

– Despite a recent dip in ratings, “Game of Thrones” viewership was up in the finale. 4.2 million tuned in for Sunday’s episode (not counting the later viewers via HBO GO and repeat showings on the many HBO networks), which was 38 percent higher than last season’s finale, according to Variety. This is good news and bodes well for the continued growth and support of the show. Let’s all hope that we get to see the whole thing through!

– In case you are hoping to play catch-up with the books over the summer, Season 3 should feature about half of Book 3, A Storm of Swords. This is, in my opinion, the most mind-blowing and epic of all the novels in the series. If it is at all possible, I would highly recommend reading the books up until this point or staying very cautious as you go through the internet, Twitter, Tumblr or the comments sections on blogs. Trust me, you do not want to be spoiled for this one.

Welcome Back, John (Now Lose the Cowboy Hat)


John Mayer’s newest album finds the guitarist moving to Montana in order to take a good, hard look at himself. (Credit: Columbia Records)

John Mayer’s fifth studio release, “Born and Raised,” finds him looking back on the last decade with songs drawn from a canvas of early 1970s folk rock. The sounds of Neil Young, the Allman Brothers and Crosby Stills and Nash burst out of the album unapologetically and fully aware of the sound he is creating.

Mayer has been creeping out of the spotlight for the last two years, following a period when he became more famous for his tweets and celebrity girlfriends (and the subsequent retaliation songs) than he was for being what some would call the best rock artist of the last decade. His rise from pop/rock cutie with a guitar to blues/rock powerhouse left him drained and apparently searching for meaning. With “Born and Raised,” he may have found what he was looking for. More country than any of his prior albums, Mayer combines acoustic rhythms with well-timed solos and licks that prove he can still play as good as anyone out there.

He may have moved to Montana to find peace of mind, but Mayer’s opening track finds its way to the west coast. “Queen of California” opens the album with an acoustic groove reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac. “The Age of Worry”  begins the album’s theme of introspection that had been absent in Mayer’s recent work.  Over jangling guitar, Mayer sings “Don’t be scared to walk alone, don’t be scared to like it.”

The album rolls into the first single, “Shadow Days,” which is Mayer at his best. An opening electric guitar riff, a simple and catchy chorus. Yet it somehow hits the spot lyrically, being both deep but direct. An apology for past transgressions, Mayer tells the listener he is “a good man with a good heart” and it is convincing on such a well-produced track.

“Speak for Me” is a bit of a throwaway track, but contains a potential Taylor Swift connection. Is it a response to her song “Speak Now”? Ms. Swift didn’t return my calls so I do not know how she feels, but it does seem like John is reaching out to her. Finally, “Something like Olivia” showcases the bluesy side of Mayer that has been missing since “Continuum.” Upbeat, filled with organs, electric guitars and backup singers, it breathes life into an album that can feel like it has to be listened to on a dusty road. This song just feels right and has the potential for a solid live performance.

The album’s midpoint introduces us to the title track, an acoustic, harmonica-laced song, featuring backing vocals from David Crosby and Graham Nash. This is a definite Mayer song, but one molded into this album’s folksy theme. Lyrically, the song is one of the album’s strongest, but it falls short of being able to hold its own as radio-worthy single. (This is indicative of the album’s overall commercial flaw: a lack of viable contenders for mainstream media.) On the other hand, the new tone and lack of attention might be the result Mayer is looking for. More of the same on “If I Ever Get Around to Living,” where Mayer sings: “Maybe it’s all a dream I’m having at seventeen, I don’t have tattoos. And very soon, mother will be calling me. Saying, “Come upstairs, you’ve got some work to do.” It’s one of the weaker songs on the album. Though the guitar fills are redeeming, they don’t save this song from the skip button.

“Love is a Verb,” a short and sweet poppy tune,  is the best song on the album. An extension of what we heard on his last album “Battle Studies,” those missing the old Mayer might find him hiding on this track, where he sings “You can’t get through love on just a pile of IOUs.” A personal favorite is “Wait Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967.” A quirky story about a submarine inventor who seems to escape his life, the lyrics are fun and coupled well with a simple snare drum and some piano. The song might be a bit out of the box, but Mayer’s familiar voice and the quality of the song make it feel familiar and definitely worth more than a passing listen.

It’s no surprise that musicians tend to have a special relationship with alcohol. “Whisky, Whisky, Whisky” is filled with the regret of nights spent drinking and mornings spent hung-over and alone. More piano and harmonica lead the listener through a familiar tale of boozing and its aftermath. A good song ,but the B-side of this album is a slow march and requires patience to sit through.

Still slow but a bit more optimistic, “A Face to Call Home” includes a full band and moves back in time musically to Mayer’s earlier albums. Despite the familiar sound, the lyrics speak to a future in a house with a companion. The opening line, “I’m an architect of days that haven’t happened yet,”  is a fantastic lyric and a hopeful thought in an album that is all about past regrets.

The end of the album is a reprise of “Born and Raised,” which is a bit lazy (album really has eleven tracks), but conceptually cool. Two minutes that pound home the concept of regret, change and finding one’s self.

Overall, this album hit the nail on the head for an artist who needed to reevaluate his purpose and re-establish how he wants to be viewed. Mayer has too much talent to be the focus of TMZ. “Born and Raised” showcases his ability to change genres while not missing a step in his lyrics or guitar playing. A lack of single- worthy songs and a stripped down sound will hurt the album’s overall appeal. However, the writing is strong and Mayer’s guitar plays all of the right notes. 7.5 out of 10.

A Conversation About HIMYM

The season finale of “How I Met Your Mother” aired on May 14 with some major surprise plot twists. Two longtime fans, Jordan O’Donnell and Mike Shulman, discuss the developments and what it means for the characters’ futures. They also air grievances about a fictional show they have invested far too much time into.

Jordan:  So last night’s finale featured the big surprise that it’s in fact Robin who Barney is to marry. When the Barney wedding was first revealed, we may initially have thought it would be Robin. But Quinn’s introduction put a halt to that, and following the very obvious proposal that was the magic trick, we’re left with a cliffhanger that Barney somehow switches brides. Do you think this is the right direction to go? Should the writers have revealed this now and taken away the surprise when the engagement falls apart?

Mike: Maybe the biggest non-shock of the whole series. At least I always felt that Robin and Barney were great together because she allowed Barney to mature and maintain his bro-status. It may be the best foil to the Lily/Marshall relationship. I loved the proposal because it allowed for signature Barney jokes. However, I felt that the writers spent so much time making the viewer like Quinn, we might feel bad for her as the inevitable break-up occurs. Overall, Robin (with an “I”) is an upgrade because she is still hot (despite the show dressing her like crap), Barney won’t have to be paranoid about the stripping, and I won’t be stuck with overused stripper jokes for another season. The only shock is the one I called last week, Ted and Victoria. Did we meet the Mother?

Jordan: Well, Quinn quit stripping, which she said she would for Barney, so that’s all put to rest now. Barney and Robin don’t ever seem to be on the same page, and it’s sort of awkward that Ted confessed his love but has just put it all behind him now. All this does is create a doomed relationship with Barney and Quinn, just as we know all of Ted’s relationships (including the new/old one with Victoria) are doomed because those women can’t be the Mother. While I enjoyed Robin’s speech to Ted, which was a long time coming, I didn’t like the execution with Victoria. I realize Ted had to “make” it happen as opposed to wait, as Robin instructed, but he was once left at the altar, and is thus less sympathetic now having stolen Victoria away. I do not think Victoria can be the Mother because of the details we know, barring some gigantic work-around. But thinking about it, both Barney and Ted are (or will be) dating women they were already with. Does this mean the show is coming full circle or is it just running on fumes?

Mike: Ted’s rooftop “I love you” earlier this season was total desperation. His girly biological clock is ticking faster and it is easy to just try to force something with Robin (I’ve been working on my best girl friend for years). Moreover, Barney and Robin’s eventual marriage finally shuts up all the “Robin is the Mother” theorists. I hope Victoria sticks around. She was by far the best relationship Ted was in, but it is a very fair point that Ted looks pretty bad interfering in a wedding.

Back to Barney and Quinn. I wonder if they will use next season to show the demise of the relationship, or will the season opener use flashbacks to show how Quinn departs?

We are also overlooking the central plot of the episode: Marvin Waitforit Erikson. Maybe overlook is a bad choice of words because I could care less about these two characters. This show is great because it is so different from other sitcoms, but Marshall and Lily are too much of a crappy sitcom in their own right. I think a lot of it is the result of Jason Segal being in movies and playing with Muppets, as he just seems less committed. Thoughts?

If I am not mistaken, the show has at least two more seasons under contract. So will next season be (1) Barney/Robin/Quinn; (2) new baby Marvin jokes; (3) Ted/Victoria/ Mother? I would like some time spent on Ted’s reaction to Barney and Robin because it really could be crushing for him. I think this show is no longer powering to a conclusion, but coming full circle on the fumes it has left.

Jordan: Victoria was definitely his best relationship, and while I was delighted she showed up this season, the circumstances are poor. A lot happened in a half hour. I hope the Victoria character we like isn’t tarnished by what happened in the finale. Maybe they’ll tease her being the Mother only to end it right before Barney and Robin’s wedding.

I have to imagine the writers use the season to end Barney and Quinn, then build up Barney and Robin. There’s a chance they coincide. They have to keep the timeframe in the present to explain Ted and Victoria.

I also sort of agree on Marshall and Lily. They have always been two of the most reliable characters, but a pregnancy/new baby storyline, while necessary, is cliché on a sitcom. Hopefully some new material can be gleaned from this, but it’s most likely the case that these two have peaked. Very little else can happen to them of significance at this point. They are supporting characters along the way for the other three main characters. Having said that, Waitforit is an excellent middle name, maybe narrowly surpassing Danger as my favorite of all time.

As for the future of this show, the biggest issue is how much longer CBS wants to renew it (this season actually saw increased ratings). But the revelation of the Mother cannot be dragged out much further. I became visibly angry at episodes that run circles and do not advance the plot. I want to know, or at least come closer to knowing. The creators will have to decide whether to end the show by revealing the Mother, or have a period where we get to know her. I feel at this point we should get to know her, but there are risks, in that we may not like her. I’ve even imagined a possibility where Ted meets two women at the wedding and we are unsure which is the Mother, and there is then an even bigger risk that we prefer the wrong one.

Mike: Yes, because we need to see Victoria, and the Barney/Quinn/Robin love triangle will have to play out in real time. Side note: the chick who plays Quinn is on another show, so we should have seen this coming. I want to say that I feel in next season, Ted will hit rock bottom right before the wedding. However, I don’t know how much more I want depressed Ted on the show. Moreover, the audience needs to see the Mother when Ted does. No cliffhangers, please.

I think we both agree and cannot stress enough how insignificant Marshall and Lily have become, but hopefully we get a strong dose of flashbacks each episode of Beercules and sandwich eating. Asking now, over/under 10 jokes of Robin not liking babies and avoiding Marvin? I am taking the over. Was reading that the writers see the show going past next season, so I hope this not only means we meet the mother next season, but we get to know her before the series is over. What if the audience doesn’t like her?

Jordan: I’m over depressed Ted. He’s a drag and annoying, and more annoying than most people find regular Ted to be, which is a lot. I agree we need to meet and get to know the Mother. I won’t buy that she’s just some girl he sees or says hello to. We need context. We deserve it, dammit!

It was inevitable that Marshall and Lily become less interesting or just became “the parents.” The show has had some of its best emotional moments with the, including their break-up, wedding, parents and conception of Marvin. I’m sure the shower is capable of keeping them fun, and it will be important to avoid the parental sitcom clichés.

I’m worried too many seasons with an already-determined ending means it will be like “Lost”— dragged out with a bunch of nonsense in between. If we don’t like the Mother, it will be fine, though, because we don’t really like Ted.