Currently viewing the tag: "Testament"
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Caps via: http://cccc.1121.org/

Episode four:”Walls of Jericho”

“Five days after the bomb” and one day after the fallout, and HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THAT. Eric and Jake are watching a video at Mary’s bar, and it’s one of the creepiest images the show has ever portrayed. Everything is red and on fire and panic. It’s disturbingly vague, but suggests the worst things. Eric guesses it’s Cincinatti they’re seeing, and Mary marks a question mark on the map. So, here we are in Jericho, and nobody knows anything, but that they do know looks scary as fuck. That’s how you do end of the world stuff, people. Vagueness and nightmares are key.

1x04_0039Stanley and Bonnie roll in and Stanley stares drearily at the video. He says “makes you wonder what happened to whoever shot this.” Hawkins responds as disturbingly as possible, “I think that might have been the last thing they ever saw.” No explanation as to where the video came from, but in its unknown context, and its terrible ted tint, it does its intended job.

Mary and Eric are boring, but then Mary’s generator runs out, and the bar closes. Jake meets Heather outside and walks her home. SHE’S ACTUALLY CUTE, DAMMIT. They are cute together, and I never appreciated this upon watching previously. This fact makes me dislike concerned ex-girlfriend Emily, even if she is arguably the most competent female character. (Well, the most gun-toting.)

Heather and Jake talk about Jake’s old life in town, and they walk past the boarded up cybercafe, and discuss the health code-violating Pizza Garden. It’s nice until a man with horrible burns on his face staggers into view and asks for help. Heather goes to find some, which is Bonnie, the two remaining cops, and Stanley.

Bill the jerkcop won’t touch the radioactive dude. Neither will Jimmy! Copfail. They’re already making lines between Jericho and the outside world, but Stanley and Jake are too farmboy pure for that.

Eric and his wife are fighting at the clinc, because he was chilling with his mistress (not that wife knows that). Radioactive dude is carried in.

Capitalism, Dale, capitalism is man's greatest achievement.

Capitalism, Dale, capitalism is man’s greatest achievement.

DoubtyourcommitmenttoSparkleMotionGracie is creeping around her store in the dark. Dale startles her, but it’s good because holy shit he brought all the food from the crashed train! How did he carry it all? Plot holes? Dale is the best capitalist. The best homesteader of lost food. Gracie taught him well.

April, Eric, Mayor Green, Jake and Gail are staring at RadioactiveMan. Everyone is wondering how close the guy was to the blast. Jake and Stanley are sent to wash off any potential radiation. April and Gail worry about the preemie who needs to keep breathing. Babies.

Hey Hawkins, what are you doing in your creepy basement? Your annoying son wants something.

Jimmy and Bill talk with Mayor Green about how Gray Anderson hasn’t been heard from since last episode, how the tanks seen could be from Iran, North Korea, Al-Qaeda, or China’s invasion.

Damp Skeet Ulrich has a moment with Heather. Somethin’ for the ladies and some of the fellas, I guess. Heather has a good idea about siphoning gas from cars, and pumping gas from the underground storage tanks at the local gas station so that the hospital generators will keep going.

Bonnie is staring at RadioactiveMan, worrying about how Stanley might still be sick, and whether “this is how they die.” She says “take care of him.” Next scene, though, is Eric and Jake arguing about what can be done for the guy. Jake being the hot-head martry says they can’t let him die, but Eric being kind of a douche says they should give the guy drugs and keep him comfortable. But Jake is on it, and he’s going for Heather’s plan to get more gas.

RadioactiveMan is awake! His name is Victor, and he is here to croak out a terrifyingly cryptic message of “they’re coming.”

Jake and Heather have to talk the gas guy into letting them take the gas. “I could be fired” he says — and he pulls it off more than most actors might — and Jake says “With all due respect, who is going to fire you? It’s a different world.” As much as NOBODY on this show is ever as panicked as they should be, this guy is pulling off the “I need to do my job still because denial is better” cluelessness nicely. Heather says they’ll even leave an IOU. “They’re never coming back — the district manager — are they?” Says gas guy. No, sir. I think the gas is yours then, maybe. But whatever.

Oh hey, Hawkins is quizzing his family on their new, fake lives. Creepy. Sam the boy is messing up, and the teen girl (What is her name, God damn it?) is ranting at the bullshit quality of all this. But hey, Jimmy is here and he wants to get Hawkins, since he “was a cop in St. Louis.” (Was he, though?) Hawkins is waffling. Jimmy needs someone to “show people there is still law and order in this town.” Sort of grudgingly, Hawkins accepts.

Gracie is refusing Eric and his request to donate gas to the clinic. She’s terrible, but she’s right. She did give her whole damn store to the town. I do love that this show deals with the push and pull of individual survival versus collective, and it kind of gives credence to concerns over both.

Science problems! They’re siphoning gas, but Heather says metal is going to spark and cause a fire. Jake the martyr pushes Stanley out of the way because he likes his sibling a lot better than Jake likes his. At Gracie’s, Skyler trades a party invite for Hawkins’ teen daughter’s last of the chips. Good capitalist Skyler.

Gail is sitting by RadioactiveMan, but he’s coding because the generator is out of gas. Gail used to be a nurse, though! She’s got this, because nobody else is there. This clinic appears to have only one doctor, and it’s April. And babies are cuter than dudes with radiation burns.

Jake rushes into the clinic with gas. Hawkins’ daughter shows up at Skyler’s. RadioactiveMan is back from being dead for two minutes. Eric rushes in to say he got gas, but oops, April doesn’t care, because Jake got the clinic some gas by risking explosions!, and Eric got it by asking people politely. Boring. So boring. Your husband is boring.

Men not listening to a woman about science.

Men not listening to a woman about science.

Skyler’s horrible, too horrible to be believed friend is mocking Skyler and Dale’s burgeoning romance. Bitchy girl, both their parents are probably dead. Popularity just doesn’t mean what it once did, okay? Skyler still says “just go home” to Dale. Kids, the world got nuked. Stop.

Victor is flailing in bed, and Jakes asks him who is coming. “They…need help” says Victor. “Twenty from Denver.” They’re at a lake with a dock. And “they” have Victor’s daughter.

Skyler defending her property rights in the face of law enforcement oppression.

Skyler defending her property rights in the face of law enforcement oppression.

Jimmy comes to Skyler’s house to shut down her party and to ask how much gas she is using. She says it’s her gas and generator. And…it is. She’s still dumb, though. Hawkins arrives and sends his daughter home.

The cops did something useful and have Victor’s wallet. Hawkins totally recognizes him, but won’t say anything because Mystery.

The cops want to wake up Victor, but April says no way because of his pain. Mary and Emily watch the scary red video again and talk about it. “What if they all come here” Mary asks. They’re not gonna. They’re dead. Scary Hawkins knows this. Mary and Eric talk about something. I fall asleep. Has an end of the world affair ever been less interesting?

Back to the clinic. I forget why the cops think that the missing Shep was killed by Victor, but there is another fight over waking him up when he’s covered in radiation burns. “He’s going to die anyway, but he could save some people’s lives” says Hawkins. He also wants to “do this himself” which isn’t suspicious at all. April is pissed. Eric grabs her arm like an asshole and says “We need information. He could be a murderer” “And that gives you the power to do anything you want?” his wife asks in rage. “Yes” says Eric. And I have never liked April more for hating her husband right now.

1x04_1408Jake is interrogating Victor about the people in trouble. Hawkins sends him away to get morphine, and then he morphs into Mysterious Sinister Hawkins. “We said family only, hmm? Why? Why did you go back to Denver?” He says scarily. “I couldn’t let them die” says Victor. “Now we’re a man down” says Hawkins. “Someone flipped…there’s a traitor.” says Victor. “Do you know who it was?” asks Hawkins. Victor’s heart rate is going up. Oh, his skull is gross and pink. Annnd Victor is dead. And Hawkins is what? A foreign agent? Because Lennie James is secretly (dun dun dun) BRITISH?!

“We had to do it” says Eric. April stares more daggers. You go, girl.

Back at the store, Gracie tells Dale he’s worth ten of Skyler. The implication is it’s a class thing, I think. Dale isn’t just unpopular, but poor. Somehow I missed this before, because I am an idiot.

Oh, Hawkins might be evil, but he’s being nice to his daughter. He’s telling her she can’t just go to parties, because that puts them all in danger.  Being creepy-quiet-nice-but-menacing, Hawkins adds “And if you pull something like this again, girl, you have no idea how scared you’ll be.” And then he kisses her head. Cringe.

Jake the do-gooder has gone to Mary’s bar to ask for volunteers, and turns off the TV which is repeating the scary footage. He’s…excessive. He learned from his Pa. And pragmatically, he might be wrong. But he means well. And nobody really gets how bad things are in their weird bubble. After a silence, Jake starts to give up, then Mary says she’ll donate gas, and Emily will come along! Good. Ladies with the feelings for the people outside of town. And now more people will help. Posers.

A group drives in cop cars, then crosses the hill, and it seems okay, but the people are all lying dead in the grass. They’ve died of radiation poisoning, as Mayor Green notes in scene that switches back and forth between the meadow and church.

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This town cannot do anything without me.

People with missing or dead family stand. And they “stand because we know that every life matters….The battle ahead is not just for our survival, it’s for our humanity.” You’re not wrong, Mayor. But it’s awkward because the town has sort of been in denial until now. Maybe they get it finally.

In his speech, Mayor Green hits the implied Testament/Rod Serling message right on the nose, and it’s also the message of the episode — along with “us versus them” questions which are helpfully voiced out loud by the dumb-ass deputies. Still, following that idealistic path is going to be harder and hard for people as the situation gets more dire, just as it would be in real life.

Outside church, Emily kisses Jake on the cheek and says he’s a good man for trying to help someone he didn’t know. He smiles goofily. Oh, Skeet. Sometimes your acting is weird. And your bug eyes don’t help when that happens.

Hawkins is in his basement writing creepy messages. There’s a traitor. “The rally point is no longer secure.” And then in whiplash mood, he goes talk to his son, and starts to quiz him about his fake background. Sam gets it right. “Who loves you more than anyone else in the world?” Hawkins then asks. “You” says Sam. “And who is always going to take care of you?” “Mommy.” Welp. You’re not wrong, kid. And yet, there is a lot more to discover about dear old dad.

testament-1983-ross-harris-roxanne-zal-jane-alexander-lukas-haas-rebecca-demornay-kevin-costner-pic-2A PBS production from 1983 that ended up in theaters, and with an Oscar nomination for lead Jane Alexander, Testament came at the end of the last Cold War hot flash, along with Threads and The Day After. Those two were all big, showing every grim — television budgeted — detail of the end of the world, or at least western civilization. Threads, bizarrely, is so excruciating that a numbness — albeit a queasy type — starts to set in by the time nuclear winter rolls round.

In Testament, you wish that were the case. This sneaky, understated movie is the Platonic ideal of real horror. Most nuclear war fiction, even if it is all about one family, town, or city plunged into uncertainty, shows you some pieces of the story. Jericho, Alas, Babylon,  On the Beach, they tell you how we got here, even though there is always a fog of war element. Testament is not interested in the why of anything, it just wants you to look until you can’t stand it anymore. This is just the story of a mom, her three kids, and her husband who never comes home from work in San Francisco on the day the bombs are dropped.

The movie takes its time on the family, the totally banal family living in the little California town. It’s about them and how they could be anyone. This could be happening for any reason, and whichever reason that is is bullshit. Even near the end, when Jane Alexander’s matriarch Carole falls to her knees and cries “Who did this?! God damn you!” she’s not asking about the socio-political explanation. It, in some ways, doesn’t matter. There is one tiny glimpse of television new that says nukes have been dropped, then there is a bright light. A few radio broadcasts tell us little later, but they mostly just mean a fraying connections to the outside world.

Things seem alright for a while in town, and the acting and the terrible regularness of it all confirms this. I find myself again feeling skeptical about the lack of hysteria. Hell, maybe “The Shelter” is most accurate then I thought. Why does nobody crack up? Haven’t they seen movies like this one? Jane Alexander is good, but she is mostly a little too composed.

But the everyday living facade, and the ease of watching it for the audience, starts to crack after the town puts on the school play that Carole was preparing for when the movie began. Twenty Kindergartners preform the Pied Piper, and the adults in the audience watch and cry because the see the familiarity: mistakes were made, and the children are going to pay for it. They cannot be trusted with the children. They are why they won’t get to have lives at all.

There are several more plateaus of regular living. Surviving requires working with the other people on town, and it does seem to work. Then another spike of horror comes when Carole’s friend is wandering in the rain holding a drawer that will serve as a coffin for his baby. Still, the food rations, the lines, the organization of everything sends the inevitability of thing back a few weeks. There’s the symbol of hope that is the radio, manned by a level-headed old neighbor. Carole’s oldest boy visits him, and then helps him check on the rest of the townspeople. He rides his bike, which is his talisman that reminds him of his dad, who would pester him into riding with him. Near the end, he has to ride his dad’s bike. He rides it past scenes of graves, and of graveyards filling past capacity. Eventually the bodies are burned instead.

This movie is a sneak, in the most stomach-aching fashion. The town is staying organized, until the police chief suddenly has a subtle, and entirely real nervous breakdown during a town meeting in church. The kids are bratty or earnest in turn until they are quieted by radiation sickness. The daughter is daddy’s girl, and rather dull, until the conversation she has with her mother about sex culminates in her tearfully saying that that love, and sharing, and all that will never happen for her, and she knows it. There are sentimental trimmings, including– like On the Beach — an overly intrusive soundtrack.

But the horror wins out. Fiendishly abruptly, things falls apart and the graveyards fill, the littlest boy is suddenly sick in the bathroom. After a few minutes, he’s wrapped in a sheet. That’s the progression of the movie now. It picks up speed as the family runs out of time.

Good parents are heroes in the most terrifying way. A good parent is supposed to give up their life for their child. The only thing more frightening an idea than that is the parent who can do nothing except watch their children slowly die. It’s happened, and it will always happen because of cruel accident and disease. But movies like this can’t help but remind me of what the US did to parents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It — the government that is just another word for things we choose to do together — made parents watch their children die. The power of the bombs were the way they killed slowly or in a millisecond. The latter gave us shadows on sidewalks, grim poetry and metaphor, and at least a complete lack of suffering for the victim. Radiation sickness, on the other hand, is slow agony. Nothing artful in that, just vomiting, and diarrhea, and hair loss, and nausea, and dizziness, and death. This movie, and other apocalyptic fiction, were intended to ward off what they showed on screen (though nothing is as grim as it would be, not even the ’80 dread trio). And they worked, if the tales of Reagan watching The Day After are as simple as they sound. But I can’t help but be reminded that that nightmare already was done to thousands of people. Our Cold War fiction is the horrors that were avoided. We are never as interested in the ones we caused. Too prosaic.

Testament is propelled by its characters — simple ones, who by rights should have stayed that way. We shouldn’t be watching them at all, because this shouldn’t have happened. But it’s not nihilistic. It’s not Threads, where it just pounds at you, screaming that this must never be, and if it does we’ll be brutes, and then there will be nothing left of humanity — because, seemingly, humanity is a thin skin over a pit of savagery. For a movie about the complete lack of control over saving yourself, and your loved ones, Testament highly values the idea of being good and decent as you die. It’s a feeble fading away with nothing to be done in one way. In another, you remember your loved ones who left, you help your neighbors, and you don’t become a monster. The smaller this movie gets — and it is oh, so small by the final — the more clearly it demonstrates that one family is the world, and the world is just about to end, but perhaps it ended as well as it could.