Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (May 9)

May 09, 2016

When the credits come up at the movies, the pages in a book run out, or the last commercial rolls over the end of a television episode, the story might be over. But the discussion is just getting started. Here at Act Four, we’ll get together every week to talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. We’ll also try to sort out why the stories we love mean so much to us, and what they mean for the rest of the world, from "Game of Thrones" to the return of superhero season.

Greetings, everyone! I'm so glad to be hear with you today, particularly because I'm trying to work my way through a rather thorny piece on the finale of "The Good Wife," and y'all are welcome distraction. As a quick reminder, David Malitz and I will continue our conversation about "Game of Thrones" on Facebook Live after this chat wraps up.

Did it seem a little out of character to have him go through with the executions, particularly of Olly? I thought he was going to pardon his attackers before he took his leave.

I thought that would have been a really interesting choice, too. At the same time, though, I do think it's probably not viable for him to leave Ser Alliser Thorne alive--that guy would fight against any alliance with the wildlings to the absolute death. And I think having to oversee the executions is the thing that pushes Jon to give up the Lord Commander's cloak and to leave the Wall. What he's learned from his own murder isn't that people like Olly are weak or evil, which in truth, they're not. It's that Jon doesn't know how to make this grand alliance work, and doesn't know how to lead his sworn brothers under these circumstances. Accepting this gives Jon permission to give this task up, rather than continuing to dash himself against the Wall.

I was reading a biography of "Marie Antoinette" and one thing is her on-screen biopics is that usually focused on her younger years as a teenybopper ninny in Versailles. Really if ever do you see her post the French Revolution when the fall of Bourbon dynasty really gives rise to her as a political force. She was guillotined at age 37 yet looked far older than that. Even her severe critics both today and during her lifetime were impressed by her especially at her trial and massively powerful rebuttal she gave to accusations of incest with her own son that even the harden peasant revolutionary women in the courtroom who were out for her blood where left in tears. Now that is something to see on-screen, no?

That sounds fascinating. I wonder if Antoinette is a subject who might be better-suited for a mini-series than a straightforward biopic. Now that Netflix is trying to appeal to French audiences--the service just rolled out its big "Marseille" series, and while the reception has been lukewarm, I'm sure they'll try again--this might be a way for them to do a French-language historical drama. 

You mentioned being excited by the show having "gone beyond the books." As most GoT fans know, the show and books are quite separate entities, but the books are canon, and the show is essentially fan fiction. How much of the upcoming books do you think Dan & Dave know about? On a related topic, do you think GRRM told them the ending he'll actually write, when he'd surely contemplated a good half dozen equally satisfying conclusions for the The Song of Ice and Fire?

I don't think it's either accurate or fair to describe "Game of Thrones" as fan fiction to George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. They're an authorized adaptation, rather than an attempt by fans to turn the story in a new direction or to re-purpose the characters for other stories. Martin himself has written episodes for the series. And we've know for years that Martin has told "Game of Thrones" showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss how his novels will end, so the end of the show should be roughly consistent with the end of the novels. 

Posing a choice between "Game of Thrones" and A Song of Ice and Fire is asking people to make a decision they don't actually have to take on. The final versions of each series--if Martin actually finishes the novels--will have differences. But I'll be eager to see how they both reach a similar conclusion.

I think one of my all time favorite lines in "Game of Thrones" was from Lord Varys to Lord Baelish saying that the Iron Thrones was "the Lysa Arryn of chairs." Your GoT pal Sean T. Collins of Rolling Stone made this point about Lysa Arryn, but I think it can apply to Olly as well. I'm not remembering the whole thing, but it was about how Lysa Arryn's suffering (and she was poorly treated by her father, her husband and Petyr Baelish) didn't create sympathy as it did with other characters since she turns around and makes others suffer as well. Out to lunch for me to compare the dislikable Olly to Lysa Arryn?

No, I don't think that makes you out to lunch. I would say, though, that I still feel a substantial amount of sympathy for Olly. He does something awful when he participates in Jon's murder, but he's still young enough that I consider him a child, and a child of extremely recent trauma. One difference, I would say, though, is that we actually see some of what Olly goes through, while Lysa's bad experiences are all in the past; we hear about them, rather than seeing them get played out. Another, I think, is that we tend to retain more affection or respect for characters who act decisively, if disastrously, as Olly does, than for characters who allow themselves to be manipulated, as Lysa does.

And on a side note: what do we think Littlefinger is up to?

Do you think writers of novels / shows / movies pay attention to fan theories about what will happen in future installments? I'm thinking specifically about the R+L=J theory in Game of Thrones. Let's say that Martin had in mind this exact scenario when he was plotting out the books -- do you think the fact that fans guessed it would change his mind and cause him to go in a different direction?

Let's take this on in the Facebook Live chat!

What conclusions do you think Hollywood is drawing from the fact that the Marvel movies are doing so much better than the DC movies?

So, I have learned over time never to treat Hollywood as a coldly rational industry. Whether it's ignoring the box office boosts that can come from more diverse casts, or giving up on the romantic comedy market, I don't think Hollywood studios always make the obvious economic decisions. Of course, sometimes that irrationality serves movies I quite like: Oscar season and the prospect of Oscar prestige keep alive certain genres of movies that might otherwise be on their way out the door.

This is a long way of saying that I don't know for sure what Hollywood is learning from Marvel's success--Zack Snyder hasn't exactly been fired from DC yet. But I would hope that the movie business is learning from both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and from "Deadpool" that humor and warmth go a long, long way to making audiences feel emotionally invested in characters, and that if we're invested in the characters, we'll follow them from movie to movie for a long time.

When the X-Men: Apocalypse trailer came on during the 30 minutes (!!) of previews before Civil War, I leaned over to my wife and commented that at some point, they just aren't going to be able to top the stakes from the last movie. With that in mind, I LOVED that Zemo's stakes for Civil War ended being, truthfully, very small and personal. As much as most of these movies try to up the ante each time, I thought it was much more impactful that Zemo's only motivation was revenge for losing his wife, son and father, and wanted those he held responsible to feel his pain. It also made him, in my opinion, one of the best villains Marvel's shown us yet. Think we'll see more hero movies where the villain's motivation goes beyond "power arrgh"?

I would really, really hope so; Zemo is one of the best villains I've seen in a long time. And to look at it another way, I also really appreciate the ways in which "Captain America: Civil War" scaled down its action sequences. It's true that the characters do pretty much bust up an airport, but they do so only after that airport has been evacuated, and there's not a city-wide level of property damage. Not completely tearing up a whole new set of cities meant that we didn't have the same images of falling buildings that action movies have deployed so often that they've become monotonous.  And the smaller showdowns meant that "Civil War" could focus a bit more closely on the fights between individual heroes. I don't always love the editing in Marvel's action sequences; I wish they'd slow down and not cut away so quickly. But man do the fight choreographers and second unit directors have a wonderful sense of how all these difference characters move and deploy their powers. Watching those close-up fights is just a pure pleasure.

Even though I suspect "what's in the tower" will be a teased question that goes unanswered for a while, that was still my favorite scene of the night, and they continue to do a lot with Bran's flashbacks. Also has there been a better choreographed fight in Game of Thrones? They managed to show how a single skilled swordsman could take out five knights without them stupidly rushing in one at a time to fight him.

I completely agree. The show has done a really nice job of using Bran's flashbacks to shade in characters we've heard very little about, and to dispel the remaining mythology around Robert's Rebellion. And though I do tend to think that having someone use two swords at once is a tad silly, I agree that the series found some nice ways to make that particular fight feel much more plausible.

I thought Rosemary Harris was too robust to play Aunt May. For me, Aunt May isn't so much about her age (although that's part of it), but that she was a weak heart. One reason he doesn't let her in on his secret identity is because the walls of Aunt May's heart are like tissue paper and the shock could easily kill her. I remember Stan Lee saying that one reason Peter Parker was a bit more relatable compared to Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent was that he had genuine conflicts. Doesn't he dress and use his superpowers to stop the bank robbery or does he get Aunt May's heart medication. That's a conflict. I know, I know, original intent of characters isn't the only issue to consider in movie adaptation and a "hip" Aunt May had to more of the times than 1964, but still that Aunt May, the only mother he has ever known, can't be brought into the secret because of medical condition seems pretty key.

This is a really interesting interpretation. I do think it's possible to find ways to create those conflicts even without Aunt May being old or physically fragile. She could be at risk of losing her job, or even her apartment; you could play up the class angles rather than age ones. I don't inherently object to the idea of a younger Aunt May, even if it does sort of highlight the diminishing opportunities for actresses even when actors of the same age are getting work. But I agree with you that it's important for a good Spider-Man story to pose actual choices for him between normalcy and his urge to do the right thing.

When I first saw Jake Lacy on "The Office" I didn't pay him much mind and never even occurred that he was suppose to be attractive. This weekend I got an unexpected overload of Jake Lacy by seeing "Carol" and then "Love The Coopers" He seems like he's suppose to be dream guy especially in indie film world like "Girls" or "Obvious Child." Seem like he does need or isn't asking from the career advice from WaPo Live Chat, but seems like the guy needs to diversify his role choice. Underdeveloped decent guy role are find and dandy, but maybe show some range. I don't know, maybe haven't had a Lacy overload weekend so aren't thinking of him doing a lot of the same roles.

For the purposes of my own amusement, I'm going to assume a) that you are actually Jake Lacy, or b) that you're actually his agent, and are hoping that I'll send up the clarion call for Jake Lacy to get more parts. If only I had such power!

That said, I think you're probably right. It's been interesting to see a post-"Glee" Matthew Morrison tack hard into somewhat sinister or abrasive role; he's done so to the point where it almost feels like an overcorrect. And before Morrison's pivot, it was a total delight to watch James Marsden and his representatives discover that he was a gifted comedic actor, turning him away from bland action hunk roles and into more aggressively goofy stuff. Hopefully Lacy will find a good balance. But typecasting is a real thing, and it's not always easy to break out of, even when you're getting typecast in prestigious projects.

So weird experience. I was vaguely aware of who Jack Kerouac was in the culture, but never read "On The Road" or any of his work. I knew we had roots of French-Canadians who came to industrial towns and cities in New England around the turn of the last century. I just learned that great-grandmother was a first cousin of Jack Kerouac. I didn't even realize Kerouac was a French-Canadian surname. So I guess it's worth reading his work and others' biographies on him. Just curious if you've read Kerouac and what to expect?

Spare prose and lots of wilderness! And how fun to have discovered that connection.

Do you watch, or have you ever watched, Blue Bloods? In that show Jamie Regan, youngest of a family of police (Dad is commissioner, Grandpa was commissioner, brother Danny is a detective, sister Erin is an ADA), is a Harvard Law graduate who quit to become a cop. He wants to be a street cop because he wants to help people. That's why he hasn't taken the detective's exam yet. Danny is a tough cop, but he's helped a lot of the innocent people who cross his path in an investigation. And Dad is very concerned about police brutality, the police's image, having enough cops on the street, all of the problems they face today. These people are all honest, compassionate, religious, basically good people. Mrs. Danny is a nurse, BTW, and there was a brother who was killed in the line of duty. I think it's doing its best to give the police a good name.

The show's on the syllabus of stuff I'm working through as part of this larger project, though I've got about fifty years of television and movies to get through before I get to "Blue Bloods." I'll be curious to see it, especially considering the similar reformist bent of "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."

Music and dance are big. Beyonce, Adele, Taylor Swift. Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. Even Dance Moms. But classical music (including ballet and opera) seem to be going the way of the dodo. Some musical appreciation should be taught in schools. There are operas and ballets that even some young children might enjoy--not just Hansel & Gretel but also The Magic Flute. Carmen's story line is not good for kids, but it has much recognizable music. As for ballets, most young girls above a certain income level have been to The Nutcracker at least once. I can't imagine anyone wouldn't enjoy Don Quixote or Sleeping Beauty or even Twyla Tharp's Push Comes to Shove and Great Galloping Gottschalk, among others. I think Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 could introduce kids to some classics, and there's no reason they couldn't be shown in schools. And what about Young People's Concerts? Are they still offered? I hope that kids will learn there is music beyond Katy Perry and musical theater beyond Hamilton!

I think that your aside about young people "above a certain income level" answers your own question, to a certain extent.  Live performances of classical music are exceptionally expensive, and they're also confined to the coasts and major metropolitan areas. Similarly, decent music and music education classes require schools to have certain resources and space in their schedules. Money isn't the only thing contributing to classical music's decline, but it certainly plays a role in making the genre (and other fine arts) much less accessible.

But even if money wasn't a factor, I think classical music faces other challenges. I don't know if you've read "The Agony of Modern Music," but it's a sharp take on how classical music became more aggressive and consuming it became more of an intellectual act than a purely pleasurable one. A lot of symphonies have programming that already requires listeners to have a certain high level of knowledge and sophistication. Once a knowledge base is eroded and a genre of art has ceded ground, it's very hard to win build that listener-ship back up. It's a shame, but just because it's a shame doesn't mean there are obvious or easy solutions.

That scene was a little devastating to me. I guess Rickon won't be killed immediatly, since Ramsey may need him to legitimize his rule, with Sansa fled. I fear the worst for Osha, but maybe she will be able to manipulate Ramsey a little - didn't she in the books?

Let's discuss this on Facebook Live at 2!

Cersei sends a "rescue" party for Margaery, with special instructions that she should have an unfortunate accident during said rescue. Tommen sneaks along and is killed. Margaery survives and is found to be pregnant.

Hmmm, that might be interesting. Tommen himself is not terribly engaging as a character; feeling sorry for the poor kid only gets me so invested. I hope, though, that what actually happens is a Dornish invasion and much more dramatic movement in the chaos that follows. The incremental pace of the storytelling this season is doing a lot of valuable setup work, and I'd rather see a lot of things happen all at once.

I think that scene also recalled the scene where Jon personally handled an execution while Stannis looked on approvingly. He learned his leadership style from some hard men.

Agreed! But he's also come up against the limits of that leadership style and seems eager to try to find another way to live, if not to command. I think Jon will probably end up leading some sort of force, or at least on the back of a dragon. But the lessons Ned Stark taught him worked in a world that no longer really exists. And while the new order in Westeros is harsh, harshness may not be the only answer to it.

There's a rumor going around that Marvel is going to hire first-time feature director Emily Carmichael for Captain Marvel and it got me thinking about directors coming into big-budget projects from more intimate smaller scale works. The Russo brothers from TV, Tim Miller from shorts and animation. Is there an advantage do you think to NOT having blockbuster experience? To coming into a bigger project with a mind shaped by smaller almost portrait painting rather than working for too long exclusively on large canvases? Do big budget directors get warped eventually by the experience?

So, Adam Sternbergh wrote a great profile of the Russo brothers for New York Magazine that answers a lot of your questions. Basically, the idea is that Marvel likes working with television directors rather than feature-level directors because the former are more used to working within the constraints of someone else's vision, and can execute within tighter timelines and stricter budget constraints. Feature directors who are used to being independent visionaries may be less suited to the compromises that are inherently involved in working with the Marvel system, or at least that's how the argument of the profile goes. Obviously Joss Whedon got to set some substantial parts of the Marvel tone in "The Avengers" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron." But since that worked for Marvel, they may now be looking for directors who can execute within the range of that tone, rather than who can innovate beyond it.

I'm a relative newcomer to the show, but I didn't hate the ending like many long-term fans. I liked the continued strength of Alicia and the open possibilities of things to come. Endings are always terrible, but they're worse then writers try to tie up every plot line.

I'm going to have more thoughts on that ending later this afternoon, but I agree; I think more so than not, I like the starkness and harshness of the finale, and I'm okay with it. I am an occasional sucker for finales that wrap everything up neatly; I love "Parks and Recreation" too much to be really honest with myself about that series' finale. But I do think this ending was more in keeping with the spirit of the show than a fully-resolved finale.

Any word yet on what roles Christine Baranski (Diane Lockhart) plans to take now that "The Good Wife" is over -- besides a few guest shots as Leonard's mom-from-hell Dr. Beverly Lockhart on "The Big Bang Theory"? Baranski has got to be one of the greatest actresses around, on TV, stage and film! (remember the shout-out that Juliana Margulies gave her at the Emmys a couple years ago?)

Baranski is completely marvelous, and I adore her. She's not attached to anything, other than doing some voice work for "Trolls," which is due out later this year. If someone's smart, they'll build a great project around her. But I also wouldn't blame her if she wanted to take a break, swan around in leopard print and drink all the wine. I'm just grateful for everything she's given us.

Remember there was advocacy for Alys Karstark including in the TV universe, but I think a reason in this season is that the Northern nobles seem like the junkiest and junk people and Alys Karstark seem like a nice counterpoint. I'm bit over the "F**k the society" speech since there have been a lot of them, but why would Lord Thumper be so against oaths and kneeling since he is a Lord in a feudal society where he benefits from all those traditions and tributes?

My hope is that, while Smalljohn Umber is using his refusal to kneel to  Ramsay as proof that he's of a similar temperament and generation, he's actually refusing to kneel because this gambit is part of a larger plan by the Northern Lords to double-cross Ramsay and kill the heck out of him. Ramsay isn't someone to keep oaths, so they don't really matter to him, other than for the symbolism and pageantry they provide to him. But the Northern lords do care about oathbreaking. This is a way for the Umbers to get close to Ramsay, but also to avoid breaking their own oaths if they undermine him. Obviously, just a theory.

Couple of thoughts on this. 1. Jon admired Ned and wants to be honorable in the same way that Ned was. Ned didn’t let prisoners go and executed them himself. Jon is no different. This group broke the law by trying to murder their commander. He can’t let them off and he executed them himself. But the whole mess left him feeling like he isn’t the man to lead. 2. Maybe Jon Snow isn’t really Jon Snow. Did Melisandre conjure up someone else into his body? Isn’t there a rumor that Mance Raydar is inhabiting someone else’s body with Melisandre’s help?

As to the second part of your question, my guess is that Jon is pretty much Jon. There aren't a lot of signs that "Game of Thrones" is doing much with warging, and that would be a lot of complexity to bring Mance Rayder back. I'm not placing bets her, but I do think the series has generally favored simplifying things as opposed to adding more complexity.

Did you ever write about students who take a "gap year" (prompted by Malia Obama's decision)?

I did, in last week's newsletter! I'll try to dig it up; email me at and I'll send it along.

do you have any idea why Dr. Strange is coming out in Christmas movie season instead of summer movie season? I can think of three offhand: some of the big effects movies have to be in the winter season, so why not?; BC was busy doing Hamlet when they would have had to be filming it for a summer release (no idea if this is true, I don't know what the lead time is between filming and release on an effects picture); someone thinks this is a superhero movie that actually has a shot at Oscar recognition outside of the standard superhero movie categories like special effects. Thoughts?

My answer here is simpler: I think "Doctor Strange" is getting released around Christmas because there is no one summer blockbuster season anymore, and given how many characters Marvel has in play, it makes sense for them to space out their movies so they don't leech off each others' box office. The fact that "Star Wars" movies are going to be coming out in December from now into the conceivable future means that December is wide open as a blockbuster month. Marvel might as well take advantage, and of school vacation, and pack audiences into theaters.

I totally agree about the fluidity and energy in some of those action scenes, and I wasn't surprised to find out the Russo Brothers had hired the two directors from John Wick to work on the second unit for Civil War. Both movies share a kinetic feel and approach that is fantastic on the screen. (PS. If you haven't seen John Wick, highest recommendation)

Ugh, yes, "John Wick" is so high on my list! Sonny Bunch will be so happy to hear that chatters are encouraging me to get to it.

Personally, I think the major problem with the DC comics for film is that other than Batman, the characters have been given stunningly thin characterizations to work from (IMO Superman is about the most boring superhero on Earth - or in the universe). Marvel's done a much better job creating some background depth and using character interaction to help us believe in the characters as people, just just superheroes. I will say, though, that I worry about the Avengers a bit because those ensembles have been a little bit cacophonous - which if thrown out there too often will undermine what they've been able to do overall with the franchise.

I agree that Superman is really hard to do well. That said, have you read "All-Star Superman"? That's as compelling a riff on the character as I've read. But it's also not a story that's easy to translate into a movie, period, or that fits into the conventions of superhero storytelling that have become so popular.

I actually thought the fight seen at the Tower of Joy was a bit awkward, but exciting nonetheless. The best fight seen on the show, bar none, was the fight between the Mountain and the Viper (RIP). Not just a well-choreographed fight, but really shows the stylistic and personality differences between the two fighters: strength and brutality of the Mountain, and speed and flair for the Viper.

Well, and you have a great audience to cut to during that fight, so you can do character development through the reactions people have to the action, too.

just a hypothesis. Ok, I know we aren't dealing with scientific language here, but it messes with the science communicators when we treat the word they use for something that is well supported by existing evidence for a guess. Just one of my pet peeves. Ignore if you like.

It's not an unreasonable peeve, but to poke you about it a little bit, can a piece of literary analysis be a theory rather than a hypothesis if it's well-supported by evidence from the text? That's how I tend to use it.

OP here: That should read Leonard's mom-from-hell Dr. Beverly Hofstadter on "The Big Bang Theory,"

All typos in chats are automatically forgiven! I hope you all will be ask kind to me.

I looked up a past column of yours online, where I found a "Sign up" button, which I clicked on -- and promptly received the message "Success!" Was that all it takes?

Yes! Thanks so much for subscribing!

Okay, folks, Nymeria and I have to head over to do our Facebook Live chat on "Game of Thrones." But I'll see you back here at the same time next Monday!

In This Chat
Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
Recent Chats
  • Next: