Monday, October 24, 2016

Westword: Are They Even on Earth?

All this talk of Orion and constellations got me wondering: Are they even on planet Earth?

A civilization advanced enough to create lifelike robotic humans and other animals might well have the technology for terraforming.

What if the carving depicts the constellation Orion from a planet where four stars appear to form the belt of Orion?

Imagine, for example, that Westworld is located in a star system like Alpha Centauri. That's close enough that the constellations would look basically the same, while still being far enough away to shift the perspective slightly.

Now check out this picture of Orion.

The red dot right below the western end of Orion's belt is a star system called Sigma Orionis. Perhaps that's the fourth star in the belt when viewed from Westworld.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Mr. Robot: Tyrell Is Dead... Long Live Tyrell

My friend Paul B has a theory. He thinks Tyrell Wellick is dead. That the season is building to this revelation. But it won't be the end of Tyrell on the show.

Rather, Wellick will "live" on as one of Elliot's alternate identities. One opposed to Mr. Robot. The two will be the angel and devil on Elliot's shoulders.

I think Paul B might be right. And I have to say, I won't be disappointed if he is.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Night Of: Muslim Rage Defense

One fascinating theme of HBO's fantastic miniseries The Night Of is the lengths to which criminal-defense attorneys will go to represent high-profile defendants for publicity.

In the most recent episode, we met Alison Crowe, a Gloria Allredeqsue attorney who's clearly at home in front of the cameras. Crowe stole Nasir Khan as a client from his then attorney, John Stone, by offering to represent Naz pro bono and savvily pitching his parents with an Indian-American associate at her side.

Like Stone before her, Crowe clearly sees Naz's case as a source of publicity. To really hold the viewing public's attention, however, she'll have to do something more sensational than merely represent him.

I think that sensational something is a Muslim Rage defense.

Think about it. The show made a point of emphasizing the casual racism toward Muslims with the comments in the first episode about "Mustafa" leaving his bombs at home. And when we meet Crowe, she's giving a speech about how another client's botched plastic surgery wasn't really "voluntary."

I think Crowe's going to pressure Naz to admit he killed Andrea but under extreme mental duress. She's going to argue the cumulative effect of anti-Muslim racism caused him to snap. That his act merits no more than a manslaughter charge, if it's not completely excused by reason of insanity.

Naz will balk at admitting to something he doesn't believe he did, opening the door for Stone to retake control of the case.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Americans: The Toll of Spying

One of the hallmarks of great writing is when all of the storylines illustrate and reinforce the main theme. And S4E8 of the Americans was a paragon of thematic coherence.

The theme of the episode was the terrible psychological toll that spying takes on the spies themselves. One example of this theme was the subplot involving Lisa, the alcoholic Northrop worker whom Elizabeth recruited back in S2. As Lisa explained to Elizabeth, the lying and pressure of spying caused her to "crack" and resume drinking.

Perhaps the clearest example was Philip and Elizabeth's tension over Martha and EST. Yes, there were proximate sources for that conflict. As Gabriel noted, however, the real problem was the two had never had a break from spying. That was the point of the time jump -- i.e., to show the contrast between Philip and Elizabeth before and after their rejuvenating "vacation."

The point was driven home further by the contrast with Paige, who spent the last seven months spying on Pastor Tim. Unlike her parents, Paige got no such break, which was why she seemed so much more stressed and tense than the rest of the family.

As I say, it was a model of great, thematically coherent writing. Hats off to the writers.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Better Call Saul: The Nana Problem

With due respect to The Good Wife and The Grinder, the best lawyer show on television right now is Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad prequel that tells the origin story of shady attorney Saul Goodman.

I’m working on a longer piece about what Better Call Saul gets right (and wrong) about the legal profession. But I thought I’d do a quick post on the most recent episode because there seems to be some confusion over what was so problematic about the television commercial Jimmy aired without permission to attract prospective plaintiffs in the Sandpiper case.

Many people seem to think the ad is potentially defamatory because it basically accuses Sandpiper of stealing. Ordinarily, that might well be problematic. One company generally isn’t allowed to accuse another of misconduct in advertising. That’s a good way to get yourself sued for trade libel.

In this case, however, that’s probably not an issue. The reason is that libel laws typically have an exception for communications related to a legal proceeding. Indeed, law firms routinely issue press releases seeking plaintiffs in cases against specific companies accused of fraud.

It’s true that commercials in mass tort cases often don’t mention specific companies by name. But that’s more for practical reasons than fear of liability. Victims are more likely to recognize the condition they have or the drug they’re taking than they are the name of manufacturer who caused their injuries. Moreover, there may be multiple manufacturers of the products at issue, so it’s not always clear which defendant is responsible for which plaintiff’s injuries.

In the Sandpiper case, mentioning the company’s name was necessary because prospective clients likely wouldn't know the commercial was referring to them otherwise.

The real issue with the commercial is that most attorneys view advertising as unprofessional. For many years, in fact, the ethical rules governing attorneys actually prohibited all advertising. That changed  in 1977, when the Supreme Court ruled such total bans violate the First Amendment. Even now, however, advertising on TV is still considered by many attorneys to be low class. Just one step above ambulance chasing.

Davis & Main is more open minded than most firms about attorney advertising, but even they have strong reservations about looking unprofessional. We saw this clearly in the old mesothelioma ad Jimmy’s assistant showed him. The partners were so preoccupied with protecting the firm’s image they approved something more like a dry legal filing than a commercial.

That’s why Kim was so surprised Clifford Main liked Jimmy’s ad. She knows that, even when firms like Davis & Main advertise, it doesn’t look remotely like what Jimmy did.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mr. Robot: Did Elliot Wipe His Memory to Forget Mr. Robot?

Yesterday, I posted the theory that Elliot's father brainwashed him, programming the boy to be a weapon that would avenge dad's death by bringing down Evil Corp. If I'm right, this makes Mr. Robot -- not Evil Corp. or even Tyrell Wellick -- the true antagonist on the show.

And that raises an interesting possibility. What if Elliot wiped his memory to forget Mr. Robot?

The hints are all there:

The fact Dream Angela says he was born only a month ago....

The fact Darlene asks him if he forgot again...

The fact Elliot finds the pictures of his father among the trophies he places in the CD case after every wipe...

Maybe Mr. Robot is a malicious hack that Elliot just can't fix no matter how many wipes he performs.

Like Teddy in Memento, another film about a protagonist with memory loss... don't believe his lies.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mr. Robot: Was Elliot Brainwashed?

If you haven’t watched "eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v" of Mr. Robot, stop reading now because there will be SPOILERS. And trust me... you don’t want to spoiled for this one.

The most recent episode dropped several bombshell revelations so big I haven’t been that stunned since LOST. It’s fitting, therefore, that one of my favorite LOST theories may just explain not only what’s happening on the show, but why it’s titled Mr. Robot in the first place.

To recap briefly, we learned that Darlene is Elliot’s sister and Mr. Robot was their dad. We also learned that Elliot periodically forgets they're family.

Many take this as confirmation of the theory that Elliot has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and that Mr. Robot is one of his alternate identities. When Mr. Robot interacts with other people, in other words, it’s actually always Elliot.

The problem with this explanation is that Elliot and Mr. Robot have conversations with each other. Alternate identities don’t typically interact in people with DID. This has led some to suggest Elliot has schizophrenia and that Mr. Robot is his hallucination. Yet this explanation has the same problem in reverse. Contrary to what you see in movies and television, schizophrenics don’t have multiple personalities.

But what if Elliot has both schizophrenia and DID -- or even some hybrid condition such that he has other personalities and can interact with them?

I want to stress that what follows is pseudo-science. Real psychology says that DID and schizophrenia are two completely different disorders with no relationship whatsoever. 

Still, it’s interesting pseudo-science. The kind that blows your mind as a college undergraduate and sticks with you when you become a writer like Sam Esmail. It also fits perfectly with the conspiracy theories I could see informing the show’s paranoid outlook.

Basically, as the title of this post suggests, I think Elliot was brainwashed by someone Manchurian Candidate style, resulting in his current fractured and psychotic mental state. I'll get to who did the brainwashing and why in a bit. But first, some background.

The Bicameral Mind
In the 1970s, a psychologist named Julian Jaynes wrote a popular but controversial book, titled The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976).

In it, Jaynes argued that ancient humans were not conscious in the way we are now. Until roughly 1000 BC, human minds were instead characterized by a “bicameral” or divided state he likens to modern schizophrenia. As a result of this split between right and left brains, people literally heard voices that would later evolve into internal dialogues in “unicameral” minds like ours.

As with modern schizophrenics, moreover, these voices were irresistible to pre-conscious humans, quite literally the source of their will:
[E]ach person had a part of his nervous system that was divine, by which he was ordered about like any slave, a voice or voices which indeed were what we call volition and empowered what they commanded and were related to the hallucinated voices of others in a carefully established hierarchy.
Jaynes even speculates that such hallucinations were the origin of religion. People heard the voice of their king after he died, and continued to worship and obey him as if he were alive. Eventually, this dynamic created full-fledged gods, whom regular people heard and obeyed like slaves. As proof, he provides close readings of the Iliad and the oldest parts of the Old Testament and Epic of Gilgamesh.

Jaynes claims that all this came to an abrupt end around 1000 BC, when religious texts from around the globe lament, in eerie unison, the departure of the gods. He argues this was when modern consciousness really began. The divine "departure" was not metaphorical -- people literally stopped hearing the voices of their "gods" as unicameral consciousness emerged.

Pretty crazy, eh? Keep reading, because it only gets crazier...

Starting in the 1950s, and continuing through the 1970s, the CIA conducted an illegal program of experiments on human subjects to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in mind control. The program was code named “Project MKULTRA,” and it’s actually recorded history. You can look it up.

The MKULTRA revelation spawned numerous conspiracy theories, including that the CIA successfully created a powerful mind-control technique known as “MONARCH.” Interestingly, the goal of Monarch programming is to induce a bicameral mental state that results in DID:
ALPHA. Regarded as “general” or regular programming within the base control personality; characterized by extremely pronounced memory retention, along with substantially increased physical strength and visual acuity. Alpha programming is accomplished through deliberately subdividing the victims personality which, in essence, causes a left brain-right brain division, allowing for a programmed union of L and R through neuron pathway stimulation. 
* * *
Due to the severe trauma induced through ECT, sexual abuse and other methods, the mind splits off into alternate personalities from the core. Formerly referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder, it is presently recognized as Dissociative Identity Disorder and is the basis for MONARCH programming. Further conditioning of the victim’s mind is enhanced through hypnotism, double-bind coercion, pleasure-pain reversals, food, water, sleep and sensory deprivation, along with various drugs which alter certain cerebral functions.
Still with me? Good, because there is a pay-off. But be forewarned, it’s dark. Really, really dark...

Mr. Robot
Here’s how all of this ties into Mr. Robot. I think Elliot’s father really did die from cancer caused by Evil Corp. Before dying, however, he created a weapon to some day avenge his death. That weapon was Elliot.

Elliot’s dad brainwashed him using MKULTRA/MONARCH mind control techniques to induce a split in the boy’s mind. As a result of this programming, Elliot became a brilliant hacker bent on bringing down Evil Corp. But he also developed a kind of "dissociative schizophrenia" that causes him to hallucinate conversations with, and sometimes adopt the identity of, his dead dad.

Here’s the kicker. If you’re like me, you’ve wondered what the hell the title “Mr. Robot” has to do with the show. Yes, it’s the name of Christian Slater’s character, but there has to be some deeper significance. Right?

There is. As Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright reminded us repeatedly in The World’s End, the word “robot” is derived from “robotnik,” the Czech word for “slave.” Robots are so named because they’re slaves to their programming. And that’s essentially what Elliot is now. A slave to his father’s programming.