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Entries in eleanor morrow (79)


In Which We Risk The Middle Class



creators Alexandra Cunningham and Kem Nunn

Kem Nunn is the kind of person who just looks wrong in clothing. As therapist Dr. Elden Chance, Hugh Laurie attempts to replicate that basic mien. Hunched over in front of a patient, he resembles a man constrained by a Pullmanesque daemon, being tugged at by all sorts of sources larger than himself. The main inertia acting on him is his massive bald spot, which the second season of Chance draws considerable attention to at every juncture. The point is that while Dr. Chance is steadily, progressively losing his hair, his precisely violent friend 'D' (Ethan Suplee) is completely bald, but full of hair in a variety of other places.

Nunn does not exactly admire therapists. On some level you have to wonder why he has made a show about one. Dr. Chance is completely helpless to affect his patients’ lives, and this second season of Chance hammers this home whenever possible. Dr. Chance is a neuropsychiatrist, one of those terms that in the future will be described retrospectively the way we currently reference shock treatment. Dr. Chance is deeply afraid of the men who torment his patients, and so once he convicts them in his own mind, he allows Darius to threaten or disable their flaccid bodies.


It does not take very long to realize why this is not much of an idea, and having taken this project on with an open mind, it is only the matter of a few afternoons before Dr. Chance realizes it is not the ideal solution. Nor is rehabilitating these monsters at all realistic. His evil deeds begin to consciously and subconsciously rub off on the daughter (Stefania Owen) he shares with his ex–wife. In Chance’s stillborn first season, we watched the good doctor risk everything in his life for Gretchen Mol. This was implausible until she began acting actively freaky, at which point his attraction to her (1) made logical sense and (2) revealed his complete lack of personal integrity.


The novel Chance has this fantastic ending where the possessory nature of the universe took over. Man, or woman, could not be held responsible for their acts when the world was so awry. The general environment of San Francisco informs on this quite broadly. No one can live in this place, Nunn seems to be arguing, without the various economic inequalities of the locale driving you insane or worse. A civilization without a middle class is therefore doomed.

Dressed in sweaters or a jacket and jeans, Nunn has never wanted to be anything like an elite. His modest but brilliant collection of novels, including his magnificent debut Tapping the Source, mines the momentary but exciting genre of surf detective fiction, that which was first gainfully developed by John D. MacDonald. Like MacDonald’s lackadaisical but purposeful protagonist Travis McGee, Dr. Chance runs moral circles around his basic compassion for women who have been abused by men.

San Francisco, then, is the playpen for all morality. Whatever happens there will affect how we deal with the issue of the effect of random chance on every citizen. Other places in the world and in our country reward a certain psychological aspect, but San Francisco can no longer be said to endorse this view. In this abandoned metropolis, a savage immorality is the only healthy way of all-around living.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan.



In Which We Have Killed Before Long Ago

Canadian Noose


Alias Grace
creators Sarah Polley and Mary Harron

I have searched, sometimes in vain, sometimes pleasurably, for what Sarah Polley likes about Margaret Atwood’s novel about the 1843 murders of two Canadians. Alias Grace, a miniseries in six parts, opens with the languorous voiceover of Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), who explains with a monologue virtually identical to that found in The Handmaid’s Tale, about why she is a rotten woman. At first you do not believe her verbal tale of self-immolation, but then the sheer amount of time she spends denigrating herself wins out. She is a bad gal, so what does that make everyone else in her world?

A local reverend (David Cronenberg) wants Grace freed from her lengthy stay in prison as a result of a murder conviction, so he invokes the presence of an alienist named Dr. Jordan (Edward Holcroft). His plan of treatment initially frightens Grace, since she has grown used to various quacks scanning her brain with primitive metal rods. Alias Grace never becomes very exciting. It is mostly just sad, but halfway through you surmise that it is intended to be like this.

In this central role, Gadon has her ups and downs. Overall, her performance is understated and at times rather sleepily. Mary Harron (American Psycho) always directs her actors in this fashion, and it would probably work in this period context if almost every other character did not project the same sleepy egoism.

The exception to the rule is Mary (the stunning Canadian actress Rebecca Liddiard), a servant at a bourgeois Canadian manor where Grace finds work. Her entrance about halfway through the miniseries’ first installment is a shotgun blast of energy to this dreary milieu.

Not helping matters is the frame story, which places all of Alias Grace in flashback. Similar to how The Handmaid’s Tale at times felt held back by its extensive exposition, Alias Grace struggles to decide whether its present or past is more vital. Ironically, this is the very test that every historical depiction must surmount. Instead of making us feel like this 19th century tale has something fresh to say about the present, (and at times it does), I was fixated on how everyone here seems absolutely miserable in the past.

Visually, Alias Grace is an absolute feast for the eyes. Harron's eye for how the right set conveys the meaning of a particular scene is surpassed in her industry only by Jane Campion and Guillermo Del Toro, and she dives into as much compositional depth as Del Toro does at his height.

Within Atwood’s massive oeuvre, Alias Grace never approaches the wild highs of her best fantasies. To be fair, it is not meant to. Still, I feel her more rambunctious, silly work tends to match our current period better. I wish Polley would work on Oryx & Crake, her undisputed masterpiece, or some of her more recent sex satires. Polley is such a strong writer that you stick with Alias Grace long after the characters seem to solidify into granite.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Autistically Begin Our Career In Surgery


Showing Appreciation


The Good Doctor
creator David Shore

Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) is a functioning autistic surgical student. In the first episode of The Good Doctor, he flies from Wyoming to San Jose, California to begin his first residency. Both places are much the same to him, and really to us, since we have never been to San Jose or Cheyenne, and there is nothing in The Good Doctor to recommend either.

When he lands at the San Jose airport, he witnesses a severe accident. A plane of glass falls on an African-American boy. Shards lodge in the boy's abdomen and enter his bloodstream; his neck is also slashed. A well-meaning doctor tries to help, but Shaun can see that he is doing it wrong, because autistic people have superpowers much like Superman's x-ray vision. Shaun immediately recalls information from medical textbooks he has pored over. He creates a makeshift valve to allow the boy to keep breathing, but not after stealing a knife from a gaggle of TSA agents.

After they see that their son has been saved by this weird white man, the parents of the boy give him a soft hug. Shaun is neither excited or disturbed by their outpouring of emotion. He does not seem to understand it at all, an unlikely reaction for a functioning autistic. Then again, if he bristled at their touch, how sympathetic would he be in the scenes that follow?


Shaun's benefactor is Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff). He is president of the hospital to which the African-American boy is dispatched. Shaun follows, begging the doctors attending the case to give the child an echocardiogram. They won't do it, probably because they are racist. Or maybe not racist, since most of the residents at this hospital are individuals of color, but racist against autistic people.

In many other countries, individuals with developmental disabilities are being eliminated before they are even born. I would like to think that in America, we value genetic diversity, but The Good Doctor puts the lie to this entire concept, since Shaun's supervising Mexican-American surgeon Dr. Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) tells him, on his first day, that he will only be doing suction.


While it is certainly nice to see a hospital full of doctors from a diverse variety of backgrounds, The Good Doctor sort of writes itself into a political hole here. It is not really appropriate or convincing to identify these various individuals from disparate life experiences as all united in their intolerance of a white man. I say, "not appropriate," because it implies that coming from a particular place gives you no particular understanding of what it means to be an outsider in every context. I think that's a lie.

As it happens, the actors who play Shaun's immediate superiors on The Good Doctor have a very specific background. Hill Harper, who portrays the head of surgery at the hospital, attended Harvard Law School. Gonzalez, who stars as the arrogant surgeon meant to be Shaun's supervisor, spent time at Oxford. I do not believe any of these people in real life would be intolerant of someone with autism, and it feels somewhat wrong to force them into positions where they have to pretend this.

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 5.21.13 PM

Shaun's character promulgates this contradiction in a scene with another resident, Claire Browne (Antonia Thomas). (Thomas is an English actress, borne of a Jamaican mother and a British father.) He says to her in the hospital's cafeteria, "The first time I met you, you were rude to me. The next time, you were nice to me. Which time were you pretending?"

In flashbacks we see that young Shaun (Graham Verchere) was essentially raised by his brother Steve (Dylan Kingwell). They live in a school bus for some reason, which seems slightly implausible, but not for Shaun, who asks if they can get a television. Steve says that they can't because they live in a school bus. Steve might be annoyed sometimes by his brother's autism, but in general he is remarkably good-natured about it.


In this inverted world, certain people are surgeons. Maybe it's great that they are, maybe some of them shouldn't be. It is not up to us to judge, whether we are white or Mexican-American or African-American, since we can never truly know the subjectivity of another person. We must only show our appreciation, our happiness that another person, who exists at the behest of something larger than ourselves, lurks behind the mask of the everyday. In this regular-ish place, superpowers are always secret.

Or maybe the only superpower that Freddie Highmore's character actually has is that he is white, and the rest is just a distracting backstory.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.