Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (August 7)

Aug 07, 2017

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.

Hi everyone! Happy Monday! How are you all doing? The weather here in Washington, DC, feels a little bit like the beginning of autumn to me. I'm sure lots of folks want to talk about last night's "Game of Thrones," but I'm also curious to hear if anyone saw "Detroit" this weekend, and if so, what you thought. Let's get to it!

So, did the gold make it back to King's Landing? Randall Tarly said it reached the gates, but I thought we saw a whole wagon of gold with Jaime still? Also, did Drogon burn up all the food wagons, when earlier in the episode Dany was talking about needing food to feed her armies? Why torch the wagons?

My understanding, and readers, tell me if you think I'm wrong, is that the gold made it inside the city gates, but that as of the episode's end, it has not yet been delivered to the representatives of the Iron Bank. That leaves room for Cersei to go back on her promise to repay her debt and dedicate the money to paying the Golden Company. At least, that's what I *hope* happens: I really hope that if the season is spending this much time on the Iron Bank that it's for reasons other than pure plot mechanics. 

In terms of the grain, I feel like that could have gone two ways. First, it's clear from Jaime's conversation with Randyll Tarly that they're still trying to gather grain in from the countryside, so it's not as if Dany burned all of the available grain. I also think it's possible from next week's teaser that Dany will try to get some of the people who might have had their grain extracted by Tarly to give it to her instead. Second, while it's true that Dany needs to provision her army, the Dothraki are probably better at living off the land than the Lannister army is; they are, after all, a nomadic people. It might be preferable if Dany could capture the Lannister Army's grain, but if she can't, she might still be able to gain a comparative advantage by making the Lannisters just as strained as her army is.

The media would have us believe that the separation of CP and someone he is/was married to is important. Alas, I've only seen it printed about 4 different places today. Although I know who he is, I've never heard her name. Am I living under a rock?

Blaming this on "the media" seems a little bit weird. Pratt and Faris announced their separation publicly on social media: it wasn't like they were hiding it and the media made it a story. At most, celebrities and the media have a symbiotic relationship: celebrities announce this sort of thing publicly because they want to control the narratives around their personal lives, and news outlets cover it because audiences get genuinely invested in the lives of famous people as if they're soap opera characters.

And you should totally know who Anna Faris is! She's a brilliant comedienne, currently starring in "Mom" on CBS. I love her!

I've adored "The Great British Baking Show" ever since it began airing here on PBS, and found the recently-aired finals bittersweet, knowing that baking goddess Mary Berry as well as puckish co-hosts Mel and Sue aren't returning to the series as it moves to another network, having been sold by the BBC (Paul Hollywood, who's moving with the show to its new network in the UK, seems to think he's "all that," but really, he isn't). One question: Will Mary Berry continue judging on the American spin-off? I hope so!

I think the biggest question about the American spin-off is not whether Berry continues judging, but whether the show is renewed. Its ratings have been fairly dismal, unfortunately.

Just wanted to say thanks for sticking to your policy of avoiding leaked episodes and waiting until last night for Game of Thrones (and if any episode deserved to be watched full screen in all it's glory, it was last night's). Not sure how many people, if anyone, commented on your decision there, so I just wanted to chime in.

Hey, I appreciate that! My editors and I discussed this, and I just really didn't feel comfortable doing it. Watching the leaked version of the episode might have allowed me to get a recap up sooner. But seeing a leaked version on a laptop-sized screen, as opposed to on my 60-inch television, which is hooked up to a surround sound system and a subwoofer through a Denon receiver, wouldn't have given me the full experience. And for an episode built around a battle of this magnitude, I think that was essential. Watching pirated or leaked stuff isn't just bad because it's wrong: it's bad because it's not a worthy way to appreciate the artistry of work with any hint of visual ambition.

Is "Game of Thrones" over yet? Those of us with no interest in it are hoping it was yesterday, so pop culture can return to a wider range of topics.

Nope, sorry. Not until August 27th.

I've never watched Will & Grace, but I follow enough TV critics on Twitter to see the TCA panel discussion about the upcoming revival. There was obviously a lot of talk about how it has been updated for the present, including that one of the main characters apparently campaigned for Trump. I obviously don't have any opinion on this particular show, but I'm already dreading how upcoming shows are going to try to comment on the "Trump era." Of course, TV is going to reference and reflect the real world, but am I weird for wishing contemporary-set shows wouldn't so self-consciously incorporate current events? IMO, it often just ends up feeling awkward or dated in the future, and if I wanted overt commentary on current events, I could just read the news.

Mark Harris wrote a terrific piece about a tipping point we're approaching in popular culture. Because of the way the pop culture production cycle works, up until now, movies and television shows have been accidentally resonant with the new era in American politics. Something like "The Handmaid's Tale," which was still shooting when the election happened, is closer to the sort of thing we're going to see happen. But pop culture is definitely going to start commenting more directly on the news. That's just inevitable.

I don't think you're weird for wishing that contemporary pop culture would be divorced from current events. One of the many functions pop culture can serve is escapism. At the same time, though, a lot of people got into the culture business in the first place because they have things to say about the state of the world. That's not wrong, either! The entertainment industry isn't a perfect capitalist enterprise, but it does a reasonably good rough job of catering to a range of different needs. I think you'll have the sort of stuff you're looking for in the mix, even if pop culture does start to comment more directly on the new administration.

I think my first celebrity break-up that I went "Aww, too bad' was the divorce of Emma Thompson from Kenneth Branagh. Also had a weird soft spot in the late 1990s for Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck.

Thompson and Branagh did such good work together! I miss seeing them on-screen together, and seeing them take inspiration from their relationship.

Probably should acknowledge it's the series finale this upcoming weekend?

Indeed! I haven't followed it for a while, but, acknowledged. What are you hoping happens?

A central character is that children's literature classic was named Dickon and don't recall the boyish sneers?

I don't think "The Secret Garden" exists in the world of "Game of Thrones." The point is that Bronn is the sort of person who would make a joke about this sort of name, not that the name "Dickon" is inherently ridiculous.

Alyssa, I couldn't believe what happened on last night's Food Network Star. The man who should have been the winner, Matt Grunwald, was eliminated in the penultimate round when he was not only a superior chef but also very comfortable on camera. So many viewers were astounded. A folksy southern type, who was a good but not great chef and less comfortable on camera was one of the three finalists. I would not watch his show if he won. That was the worst miscarriage of justice since Kelsey Nixon did not make the final three in Season 4 and, as we all know, she became the face of the Cooking Channel. Matt is already the Executive Head Chef for Nestle International and a big face on television in Arizona, but this was just wrong. Now I know how people feel when the "wrong" contestant is eliminated on The Voice or American Idol (Jennifer Hudson!), etc.

What was the reasoning the judges offered? Also, this is a good point to remind everyone that however strong our reactions may be to a character, a television personality, a piece of writing, etc., those reactions are still reactions; they're not objective, and no one necessarily has to share them. I'm not saying you're wrong to feel the way you do, just that it's hard to talk about decisions like this in terms of justice.

Has 'Game of Thrones' has made the high-born lords and smallfolk too fickle? How would Daenerys win over Westerosi hearts and minds rather than conquering by brute force?

That seems like a question that is going to be the major subject of the next episode of the show, based on the teaser for it that aired after "The Spoils of War."

but am I the only one who chuckled at your newsletter question from last week when Theon was described as being "cocky" and "cut down to size"?

We're all allowed to be a little bit childish sometimes.

I bet a lot of defenders of "Confederate" would oppose a series in which, after the Union won the Civil War, Reconstruction is depicted as having never ended so Jim Crow was never instituted.

Maybe, although I think that is the sort of pitch that's much less likely to have been greenlit in the first place. Americans know much less about Reconstruction than they ought to.  I would argue that this is incredibly sad and Reconstruction is a critically important phase in American history. But it still just means this is a harder pitch.

How poetic it would be if Stephen Colbert successfully sued Trump TV's "Real News" for infringement of copyright against his already-extant recurring <i>Late Show</i> segment "Real News Tonight" starring Jim Anchorton and Jill Newslady (actors James Smith III and Jill Shackner)?

It would be poetic, but unlikely: you can't copyright titles or short phrases.

Is Bran somewhere trapped in there? Or is his human body being used by a seer? I feel like he has changed drastically from the cave. Why? His visions haven't really been illustrated so much...I don't know I find his change of attitude confusing as opposed to the change is the sisters. I can clearly follow why they have changed,but I can't follow or explain Bran's change so obviously. Help!

I think the process of becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, and acquiring a global perspective on the past, present, and possibly the future, pretty much stripped away Bran's original personality. As Meera Reed put it last night, "You died in that cave." That sort of makes sense! If you could basically travel back in time, to any event, from any perspective, the overload on information might make it harder to hold on to your core self. I don't think it's so much that Bran's been hijacked by an alternate personality; that old self is just gone.

I'd hazard that actors who already have serious underlying emotional problems are more prone to experience relapses due to playing difficult parts, especially those of mentally disturbed people. There are probably less-famous or better-concealed examples, but most famously Vivien Leigh attributed her massive nervous breakdown to playing Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire" (especially making the movie). A few years ago, Philip Seymour Hoffman resumed using drugs, ultimately fatally, after playing Willie Loman in the Broadway revival of "The Death of a Salesman." Can you think of other such tragedies linked to fragile actors playing disturbed characters?

I think it's important to be extremely careful about ascribing developments in actors' mental health to the parts they play. It's one thing to take Leigh's word about her own experiences; it's another to say that Heath Ledger became the Joker and never found his way back when his friends and family say otherwise and there isn't clearly definitive testimony from Leger himself on the record. Sometimes, vulnerable people push themselves too hard. Sometimes, people are just vulnerable, and their suffering isn't dignified by a great performance.

Can somebody get Dany some armor?

I was sort of wondering if she was wearing some sort of reinforced weather. If nothing else, that's a lot of potential wind burn on dragonback.

Did you ever review it? Anyway I saw it the other day and sure it had problems but I don't think it deserved to bomb as hard as it did. Not when TF5 (which was far worse) will at least break even. I'm worried that Valerian's underperformance will make studios even less receptive to original Sci Fi properties.

I did! I don't think it's a great movie, or even necessarily one that works consistently, but I definitely enjoyed it. I think it has one of the best opening sequences I've seen in a genre movie in years, and that the darn thing moves in comparison to a lot of the bloated slugfests we've seen in theaters this summer. And I completely agree with you. To be fair, "Valerian" isn't an original science fiction property; it's an adaptation. But its performance is definitely not a good scene for stuff that's not part of a franchise.

I realize that tastes vary, but as I get older, I don't enjoy seeing blockbuster films in movie theaters, because a few ill-mannered folks in the audience can spoil the experience for the rest of us. It's not as bad with more "artsy" films, but still, if I'm going to spend the money I'd rather people behaved better, as they used to in the pre-cellphone/iPad era.

I totally agree. I find it so frustrating when people use their phones, and when they bring children who are obviously too young for a given movie to the theater. On the latter, I understand that babysitting can be hard and expensive, but it's not fair to other moviegoers, nor to children who may be exposed to material that is frightening or emotionally confusing in a way they can't process. I don't know how to fix this problem; a couple of the theaters I go to in DC basically don't have functional cell service, and folks are definitely better-behaved. Maybe if theaters actively started blocking LTE signals, audiences would have to look at the screen and see what they paid to see.

What is your opinion of the three heads of the dragon prophecy? Will this play out in the TV version?

I will be totally honest: I don't actually care about the answer to this question very much! If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say Jon and Tyrion, who are the most viable candidates to have hidden Targaryen ancestry. But it's just not something I'm very jazzed about. If you are, tell me why! I'm curious.

I'm old enough to have watched "All in the Family," and recall that the show contained a lot of pop-culture and political references (especially Archie's derision of them). I seem to recollect a few on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" as well. I mention these only because they're now revered as among the greatest sit-coms ever made.

Right, it's not as if being current is a deterrent to all-time greatness! "All In The Family" wouldn't have that status if it didn't use the format of a family sitcom to fight the culture war.

on TV over the weekend. 1999 about the 60 Minutes report on Tobacco companies manipulating nicotine absorption from cigarettes. It seemed to have a LOT of currently relevant themes like public trust of scientists and big corporations and of the mainstream media. Not everyone came out smelling like a rose. And I was comparing it in my head (or trying to) with All the President's Men. And remembering that one of the little side rooms at the Newseum has a whole bunch of clips of movie actors (overwhelmingly men) saying something like, "I'm a newspaper man." And I read recently that someone is making, "My War Gone By, I Miss It So" into a movie. That was by Anthony Lloyd who for a long while spent his time in war zones (photographer and journalist) because he ended up on drugs whenever he wasn't someplace horribly dangerous. Seems like the changing portrayal of journalists in movies and TV would be a fertile ground for criticism, maybe even a "big project" someday.

You must be psychic! This is one of the topics that my editors and I have discussed for a future year.

I have rather mixed feelings on its resurrection. On one hand, I loved it when it originally aired (it was one of those shows that really used its guest stars well, I thought--hello, Matt Damon and Patrick Dempsey), but I'm not sure it will work so well in 2017. The landscape of tv, especially in terms of gay and lesbian characters/shows/plots/etc., has changed so drastically since W&G that it's hard for me to envision how all it translates to a drastically different time. It was groundbreaking at the time, but is far from that anymore, so is there a point? It could still be funny and cheeky and meaningful, but I do have to wonder. Also, very ambivalent about the scrapping of the original series' ending.

In general, I am super anti-revivals like this. To me, they smack of desperation among the broadcast networks, which are having a lot of trouble putting on truly mass-market entertainment. That said, after a season where something like "This Is Us" broke out in a big way, it's frustrating to see the timidity and lack of ambition involved in going back to old wells.

I wasn't surprise that Sean Spicer declined to appear on "Dancing with the Stars," only that his stated reason was that he had so many other offers. Applying logic, the most reasonable inference is that if he hadn't received lots of other offers, he would've taken the DWTS gig, right? Sad!

I think you probably have to be more thoroughly humiliated to go from the White House to "Dancing With The Stars" than Spicer actually was. Anthony Scaramucci strikes me as a more viable candidate. He's going to need the career rehabilitation more badly, though he might be smart enough to recognize that if he does that, his shot at being taken seriously in a certain way is over and he's going to have to pursue a new path.

I came across a few episodes of the original "French Chef" on TV last week, in black-and-white and with few if any cuts in the camera rolling. While the technical production values of contemporary cooking shows are higher, the middle-aged Julia Child was at least as engaging and unspoiled (if not more so) as any TV cook on-air today. And now on this coolish day I feel inspired to make French Onion Soup, Quiche Lorraine and French Apple Tart!

May I come over for dinner? I'll bring wine!

Feels like we're building to Little Finger doing something really, really unpleasant, doesn't it?

I know, I'm so braced for it. I wouldn't be completely shocked if we see Arya steal his face and skedaddle off to King's Landing, promising Cersei another about-face that's an excuse to get close enough to kill her.

I was a huge Twin peaks fan prior to the return, and I was all-in for the first 9 episodes. But lately I've begun to find myself more appreciating it as an object or as an achievement than liking it as entertainment. I am in to the end but last night, for the first time, I found myself impatient during the show. Am I making sense? Are there other pieces of TV/film/literature that strike you in this way?

I feel this way all the time! I probably felt this way about "Dunkirk," which I admired tremendously, but didn't always connect to on a deep emotional level. I feel this way about "Twin Peaks," about Karl Ove Knaussgard, about the band ISIS. There's nothing wrong with admiring something technically but not love it. Things like that can teach you a lot about the power of technique, and about what you resonate to most strongly in a work. 

then maybe this chat isn't for you seven weeks out of the year. I'm not a football fan, but I won't go on a sports chat to complain about them answering football questions from August to January.

It's okay! There's a lot going on, and I do try to respond to a mix of questions. I write a lot about "Game of Thrones," but I'm not purely a "Game of Thrones" columnist, and it's reasonable for people to come here with a mix of questions.

I can't imagine anything more cruel than the use of fire to kill people. Was it Dany's father or her grandfather who used to punish people by burning them alive? I don't really care how many people who saved, her use of a dragon to roast men inside their armor made me lose all sympathy for her. I'm not even sure that Cersei would do that. I think Jon is the only person left who has the fundamental decency to rule the Seven Kingdoms.

Hey now, let's remember that both Tyrion and Cersei have used wildfire, which is basically the napalm of the "Game of Thrones" universe, to burn large numbers of people alive. Tyrion used wildfire during the Battle of the Blackwater to roast Stannis Baratheon's men, including Davos Seaworth's sons, to death. And last season, Cersei used wildfire to kill huge numbers of civilians, including her rival Margaery Tyrell, when she blew up the Great Sept of Baelor. You can lose sympathy for Dany, but a number of other characters have used fire to similar ends. And in Cersei's case, she was totally heedless of the civilian casualties. Dany at least took aim at a purely military target.

Armor would add weight, impacting Drogon's aerodynamics and impacting his flight characteristics. And since Dany's invulnerable to fire, it seems like "windburn" or "sunburn" wouldn't faze her in the least.

Reasonable points, all!

[Beyond the fact I don't have HBO...] I had an interesting discussion with a friend recently about GOT (neither of us watches), and wanted to hear what you thought. I'm not super squeamish about violence in my tv/movies (love "Gladiator," and am a regular watcher of "Ray Donovan," which is hardly peace and love and unicorns), but... from what I gather about GOT, there is a significant, significant amount of sexual violence, which is, in thinking about it, something that is a no for me. Maybe my perceptions about that are incorrect, but having read some recaps of earlier episodes, and talked to friends who do watch it, I get the sense I'm not totally off. Just wondering if you've thought about people's boundaries for violence and such, especially in the context of GOT, and if there have been episodes or occurrences that have made you want to stop watching.

That is completely accurate. As I've written extensively, one of the major themes of the show is what happens to societies which tolerate rampant sexual violence against women. I happen to think it's a nuanced, fascinating and very sad exploration of this phenomenon. But that's not to say that I'm going to argue that you should watch it. Everyone has their own limits, and those limits are fine! I prefer not to watch stabbing violence or pop culture with eye damage (though I often have to as part of my job), which meant I didn't enjoy "John Wick 2" very much. I just feel like it's on me to recognize that this predilection is mine, and just as I'm perfectly free to acknowledge it in what I choose to watch, those preferences are not an objective measure of a work's quality.

My husband & I took our 6-year-old granddaughter to Wonder Woman. We ended up leaving early, not because of the violence, but because she said it was "boring." She behaved very well until we left!

Good on your granddaughter, and good on your for handling this so well.

but you aren't going to see a blockbuster there. Some of the AMC theaters show larger films as morning matinees starting at 10:30 or 11:00 AM (expect to see a LOT of previews). And some of those are practically empty. So even if people are texting, you can just move somewhere where the glow isn't in your line of sight. Also, they are cheap - around $6. Not associated with the company. I just live walking distance from one of them. Saw Wonder Woman with no more than 30 other people in a pretty large room.

A good suggestion!

Okay, I gotta rock and roll. There are essays to write and books to read and movies to watch. See you back here next Monday!

In This Chat
Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
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