Television Man by Aidan Morgan
“A true revolution has no allies” —Ali, Euphoria
A pandemic hits hard. Even if you never contract the disease, it pushes at the edges of your daily life. You check your coat pocket for extra masks when you leave the house. You get in arguments with friends about going to restaurants or gyms. Weeks go by in a blur and days stretch on forever. Structure collapses and your mind dissolves into a pool of experiential goo.
Fortunately for our goo, there’s television.
Before streaming services, binge watching was reserved for sick days. I would lay back on the couch with a bottle of water and a thermometer, watching seasons of Angel. Now that binge watching is the cultural norm, I prowl streaming sites, looking for the purity of limited series released on a weekly basis or one-off specials. Anything to keep myself focused on one discrete object of entertainment.
That may be part of what has made The Mandalorian so successful. Every Friday, you can hop over to Disney+ and get another installment of Star Wars nostalgia porn. Wondering what Boba Fett (Temeura Morrison) got up to after being swallowed by a rubber monster in Return of the Jedi? Looking glum and getting older on Tatooine. Curious about the whereabouts of Clone Wars’ fan favourite Ahsoka Tano? It seems she turned into Rosario Dawson. But who wouldn’t, given the option?
In its first season, The Mandalorian threaded the impossibly small needle of a Star Wars show with lots of meat for die-hard fans without alienating casual viewers. In its second season, the series has grown denser and heavier with Wookieepedian lore, particularly from the animated series Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Dramatic moments from episodes “The Heiress” and “The Jedi” mean relatively little if you don’t know about The Siege of Mandalore or the history of Grand Admiral Thrawn. As a friend of mine has said, “The Mandalorian is starting to need homework”.
So I did my homework.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve done almost nothing but binge the animated series that make up the backbone of George Lucas’ universe, more or less deep-frying my brain in the hot fat of Star Wars continuity. Everything of substance has been ignored. I’m not doing The Undoing. I forgo Fargo. I am not attending The Flight Attendant.
Nonetheless, I took a break from garbage-can droids and heavy breathing avatars of evil to watch Euphoria: Trouble Don’t Last Always, a Christmas episode of the racy HBO teen show. Instead of the heightened drama and stylization of the series, this episode is spare to the point of ’80s indie drama, a two-hander between Rue (Zendaya) and her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) taking place in a nearly empty diner on Christmas eve. Rue is trying to tell Ali that she’s achieved “an emotional balance”; Ali can see that Rue is high. What follows is 50 minutes of back-and-forth on addiction, sadness, fate, faith and the mystery of personhood. It’s extraordinary.
I recommend watching eleven seasons of Star Wars cartoon first, just to get your brain in the right state. Happy holidays.