“Mad Men” recap: Innocence lost

Heather Havrilesky on S4e2 of AMC’s “Mad Men”:

So how do you hold on to some spirit of innocence and naive happiness in your life? “Mad Men” demonstrates that unless you’re very rich, or very drunk, or in denial — or all of the above — it’s not that easy. 

If you thought the sound of Don hitting bottom was the slap of “the open palm of a hooker’s hand making contact with stubbly face in a darkened room on Thanksgiving as she joylessly rides” him, well, I guess not. Can Don get any more despicable? Sadly, I fear the answer is yes.

Brief mentions of hideous reviews

John Krasinski, who is really probably the biggest star of “The Office” — I mean, wouldn’t you really rather watch him and Pam than Michael? — has made a movie adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s book, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Of course it will be painful to watch, and therefore, you must go see it. I command you.

Or not. But whatever you do, don’t read Jed P. Cohen’s review of the movie, which concludes as follows:

So, when the actors, who are trained to sound off-the-cuff and extempore, read these constructions as definitive lines in the script, they are actually reading seriously premeditated, semantically irregular approximations of normal speech that, if the actor is given no leeway and is required to recite the line as such, end up sounding not like a person talking, but like a writer writing like people talk, which results in a singular kind of falsity this viewer has never encountered before.

Talk about trying too hard!

Ok, I’m kidding. Good job, Mr. Cohen, that’s a great Wallaceian construction for which we can all be thankful. It just doesn’t sound as great coming from you, but hey, it’s still well done.

So again I ask, why did DFW go and kill himself, dammit!?

RTB: It just gets better!

I really wanted to say something about the second episode of “Raising the Bar,” like, ideally before the third episode. Somehow, time just flies. So all I can say now, long after that fact and w/o the benefit of a Tivo second viewing, is that the best two things about the second episode for me were :

  1. The Elliot Smith soundtrack at the end.
  2. The fact that Jerry appears to be using a Mac (an iMac?) at the end of the show.

Oh, and of course it’s great that Jerry appeared to be broken up w/the prosecutor. I just don’t see how they can paint him as this archetypal true believer and then have him sleeping w/the enemy. But maybe it’s just me. I used to be accused of being too idealistic. It’s been a while, but it used to happen.

Substantive? No. If you want substance, Seth Abramson liked this episode much more than the first; he thinks it’s getting the small details right, and I’d agree w/that. For more fluff, TWOP interviewed Mark-Paul Gosselaar, the guy who plays Jerry. They like the show for the closeted gay subplot but summarize it as “marginally uncrappy.” Hmph. Jerks.

The third episode (which aired last night), was more great PD porn, but even better than last week because it was again (like the first episode) chock full of things to which I could directly relate, such as: Trying to figure out ways to communicate with mentally unstable clients who are paranoid and/or think they don’t need or want any sort of mental health assistance, scrambling for some sort of treatment or other “program” that’s going to convince a judge or prosecutor not to just flush your client, begging for a couple hours of furlough to take your client to a doctor who won’t go to the jail for an evaluation that’s necessary to prevent again the flushing, and on and on. Been there, done that.

The show was even right on with the subplot w/the rich blond PD and the beautiful little assault defendant who just wants to make sure her grandmother is taken care of if she has to take a deal that puts her away for a long time. The guy gets her out on a tiny little charge and she goes right out and gets a much more serious charge; in one day she goes from facing a couple days jail to facing potentially a couple years of prison and in a way, her lawyer “helped” her get from A to B. Of course, public defenders can’t feel responsible for that; our job is to fight for our clients and if they go out and squander whatever inches we gain in that fight, we just have to keep fighting. The show focused on the humanity of the client, her concern for her grandmother and the apparent impossibility of her situation with her social security and a security guard abusing his authority.

But the subtext of both of the two main plot threads (the one w/Jerry and the crazy guy and the other with Richie Rich and the handbag to the eye) was really getting at the heart of what it sometimes means to do our job. Winning is when we protect our clients’ rights, when we ensure that they are not convicted of things they didn’t do and/or that the government is not allowed to abuse its power by using illegal evidence or handing out unjust sentences. But our ability to really “help” our clients often ends at the jailhouse door. If we win and our clients are released from incarceration and the jeopardy of criminal prosecution, what happens next is up to them. We can recommend to them that they get treatment, that they stay away from “that guy,” that they get a job or get their GED, or whatever, but that’s about it. And that’s what the show captured last night as we see Jerry walking away from the open door of his former client’s cell at the end of the show. We struggle and fight furiously every single day for every single client, and then…? What happens next is up to them…

Raising the Bar?

Of course I watched TNT’s “new hit drama,” Raising the Bar. I loved it! Fun, funny, public defenders telling judges they are petty tyrants — what’s not to love!?

Ok, so I’m also a fan of the series’ real creator, David Feige, based on his blog and his book, the latter of which I also thoroughly enjoyed and found to be a terrifically realistic account of working as a public defender (granted the many differences between the urban NY setting and my own experience in what is a basically a rural locale). (I wrote about it, but currently the Now Reading plugin upon which I rely for that sort of thing is leading to all 404 errors and I can’t figure out why. I hate blogs, sometimes.)

And, so, ok, it’s not perfect. We have a criminal trial where the highlight for the defense is the closing argument in a case where the State’s witnesses lied. Where is the devastating cross that reveals these lies!? We have the public defender and the prosecutor on the case sitting down for a drink together after work in the middle of trial. Really!? I mean, ok, so I went to lunch w/the prosecutor (and the judge, strangely enough) on a trial once after we’d finished and were waiting for the jury to deliberate. I found that absolutely surreal. But to go out for a drink in the middle of a trial? And the idea that the defenders and prosecutors and judicial clerks regularly seem to socialize? Um, again, really!? What planet is that? Is that really how it is in NYC?

Let’s see… I won’t even touch the fact that the defense attorney and prosecutor appear to be sleeping together at the end of the episode. Whatever. Also problematic is how much the show dwells on the supposed agonizing of the prosecutor whose heart is apparently in the right place but who has a hard time doing the right thing b/c neither the judge nor her boss will let her. Let’s praise good prosecutors a bit more, shall we?

And of course the show throws out red meat in the first episode by focusing on a case where not only does the jury acquit on the main charge (rape) but also there is apparent factual innocence in the form of a confession by someone else to the same crime. That happens like, never, but it should be good to see how the show deals in the future w/the cases where guilt/innocence is not so clear. Will we still be praising the prosecution then?

All of that said, it’s television! What can we expect, really? What I loved particularly, of course, the red meat for me, was the defense attorney telling the judge exactly what he thought of her. Boy do I know that judge! And boy do I know the feelings and thoughts that public defender expressed! And boy have I been there — exactly there — including where the judge says “I’m punishing your client b/c I don’t like you” but then says, “well, I didn’t exactly say that, did I?” And also I’ve been exactly there where the judge demands/requires an apology, whether I mean it or not. Kiss the ring the judge says. My situation was not in the middle of some case or contempt charge so it was a little different. My supervisor didn’t go to the judge on my behalf; instead, the judge complained to my supervisor about me so I’m the one who visited the judge and actually did apologize in a general way, explaining that I was just trying to do my job and I hope the judge understood that, then biting my tongue when the judge didn’t seem to hear a thing I’d said and then told me that the best way I could help my clients was to make sure I did not anger a judge, because, well, judges try not to hold it against a defendant when the judge is mad at the defendant’s attorney, but that’s not always easy so the best thing to do is just not make the judge mad in the first place. See? Got it bucko? My way, or the highway! So, yeah, different, but boy can I relate!

And who among us has not had that experience where basically we do win, and everyone is saying we won, but we feel like we lost? Where we win the motion to set bail pending appeal and then the judge sets bail at some obscene amount he/she knows our client could never ever post? Where we maybe even win our client’s release on some sort of plea or something, but know that he had to take some charge of which he was totally innocent just to placate the “system” — namely, the prosecutor and/or judge? You can’t just focus on the positive of the “win” because the gall of the loss is just too great. The show captured that well in this first episode, I thought, and was entertaining to boot.

It’s not perfect. It’s television. Here’s a pretty good summary from a reviewer who Feige says “gets it”:

Raising the Bar follows a collection of young lawyers who work against each another, as prosecutors and public defenders.

But in Raising the Bar, as in real-life courts, most of their ”work” consists of a minuet to avoid the mutually assured destruction of an actual trial, which nobody on either side has the time or resources to deal with. The prosecutors threaten draconian prison sentences, the defenders bluster about scorched-earth battles over pre-trial motions, and eventually a bargain is struck.”

Trial as mutually assured destruction. I like it. I wish. When you’ve got a second prosecutor on the bench and your opposition has far more resources than you to prepare for trial, it’s more like self-destruction for a defense attorney to go to trial. But hey, it’s obviously not that way everywhere. Still, the above is a pretty accurate description of both our justice system and what’s depicted in the show. (But as for the rest of the review, how can throwing lawyers in jail w/their clients not be dramatic!? How is it not dramatic for the young prosecutor to be sleeping w/the young public defender?) I’ll definitely be watching next Monday and I highly recommend you do the same!

Bill

Let me tell you something, kid. Working sucks, ok? Working sucks. And it doesn’t matter if you’re in a bank, a department store, or a doughnut factory, because once you’ve been there long enough the only thing you’ll care about is when your next pay increase is, how many vacation days you’ve accrued, and if your health insurance is going to pay for the cholesterol medicine that keeps your heart pumping no matter how much shit you work through it. Then, after you’ve gained 20 or 30 pounds because you’re so f***ing uptight all the time, you wake up and discover that you’re working for your father-in-law in a position with a gratuitous title and you’re totally replaceable, and, not only is the new guy better at your job, but he’s got a better car, and better jokes, and better hair! So no matter what you do, you make sure you make a lot of money doing it because it all sucks! And that is one lesson I, as your mentor, can teach you.

Bill.

You used to be warped and twisted and hilarious…

  1. I had my first felony trial. Lost. Very sad because it was very winnable. Don’t know what went wrong. Also sad because so many other new PDs seem to win win win, so what’s going on here? To paraphrase Lloyd Dobler’s Gas&Sip buddy in “Say Anything”: Juries, man.
  2. I did not see the “Sopranos” last night. Tivo is saving it for me. I doubt the rest of the world will be so kind.
  3. Today is apparently Apple’s WWDC keynote event and I did not even know that until five minutes ago. That means nothing to most of you, I’m sure, but to me it’s a sign that I’ve been way too freaking busy lately. I can’t keep up with anything anymore.
  4. I learned about hydraulic oil well fracturing the other night from a Halliburton employee. I was not surprised to learn it’s probably bad for the environment.

Bear Alert!

Apparently the grizzly bears in Yellowstone have begun emerging from hibernation. It sounds like now would be a great time to visit the world’s first National Park:

Soon after emerging from their dens, bears begin looking for food. They’re attracted to elk and bison carcasses, and will defend them aggressively if anyone comes too close.

Park regulations require you to stay a hundred yards — the length of a football field — away from black and grizzly bears. Park rangers suggest using your binoculars, telescope, or telephoto lens to get a closer look.

Yellowstone officials advise hikers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers to travel in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail, and keep an eye out for bears. Bear sightings should be reported to the nearest visitor center or ranger station as soon as possible.

Let’s go see the bears!

I just hope someone tells Stephen Colbert for whom these cuddly creatures are:

“godless killing machines without a soul,” or as he said on The O’Reilly Factor, “giant marauding godless killing machines.”

Yeah, this could be bad. Can someone get him a memo on this, please?