Ranking Every Episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot

poirot11“Agatha Christie’s Poirot” ran on ITV in the UK from 1988 to 2013. After an inauspicious beginning it grew to become one of the most consistent shows on TV, anchored by David Suchet’s definitive portrayal of the Belgian detective. Hugh Fraser’s bumbling friend Hastings and Philip Jackson’s no-nonsense police inspector Japp became equally iconic, and after viewing each of the 70 episodes filmed over 25 years the viewer is left with a deep sense of pathos. It’s similar to the feeling we get watching the Harry Potter films (both series darkened considerably as their protagonists aged), but with the added specters of old age and mortality.

Which is not to say the series isn’t fun! Even the weakest episodes are a treat to watch because of the fine clothing, period detail, and evocative music by Christopher Gunning. Christie’s mysteries are famously clever, but even when specific plot points elude you, you can easily turn off your brain and revel in the rich atmosphere. Perpetually underrated, it was one of the best shows on television throughout its run. It is my personal favorite.


The Worst

  1. The Labors of Hercules (Season 13)

The original book was cobbled together from a series of short stories Christie wrote. This episode retains elements of all those stories, plus one other story that was never adapted (“The Lemesurier Inheritance”). The result is an ungainly and at times incomprehensible mess.

  1. Taken at the Flood (Season 10)

The changes made in adapting “Taken at the Flood” for the screen exemplify the problems with latter-day Poirot adaptations. Whereas in the original novel, the villain’s only crime is murder, this episode makes him a kidnapper and church-bomber who performs forced abortions and kills 13 people. Still, a great performance by the lead actor, Elliot Cowan.

  1. Appointment with Death (Season 11)

The highlight of this episode is Tim Curry wandering around Mesopotamia searching for the head of John the Baptist. Whether you like that sort of thing will largely determine your feelings towards the rest of the episode, which teeters precariously on the line between inspired and absurd.

  1. The Clocks (Season 12)

Like The Big Four (see below), this is a rare Christie foray into the world of international espionage and intrigue. And, like that other adaptation of a spy novel, this one is convoluted, overly plotted and frequently difficult to follow.

  1. The Hollow (Season 9)

A woman is found holding a gun and standing over her husband’s dead body. At the risk of spoiling the ending, there’s not much of a mystery here. The original novel was highly praised for its psychological realism, but that sense of character failed to translate into a compelling 90 minutes of television.

  1. The Big Four (Season 13)

poirot12Atmospherics and one of the best-ever Poirot openings elevate this one slightly; sadly, the rest of the episode is largely forgettable.

  1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Season 7)

By removing the central conceit, this adaptation of Christie’s most-celebrated Poirot novel robs it of what made it great in the first place. What’s left is a conventional and disappointingly bland episode.

            *           *           *

The Mediocre

  1. Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Season 1)

Poirot took almost an entire season to find its feet, but “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” is the first season’s only true stinker, with a premise so convoluted that even after multiple viewings I still haven’t entirely worked out what happened.

  1. The Lost Mine (Season 2)

Agatha Christie stories with an Oriental flavor tend to be cliché-ridden or cringeworthy, and this one, featuring a seedy opium den and an American man disguised as a Chinese man, is a little of both. The worst episode of Poirot’s best season.

  1. Elephants Can Remember (Season 13)

Christie’s novel (one of her last) centers on a mysterious husband-and-wife murder-suicide and Poirot’s attempt to answer the question, “Which was the murderer?” The adaptation tries to spice the story up by adding a second murder and largely consigning the whole plot of the original novel to the background. The attempt is only partially successful, as this remains one of the sleepiest episodes of the show.

  1. Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (Season 11)

An old charlady is found dead in her home, struck down by a blunt instrument, and all signs point to her lodger being the murderer. After interviewing the man, Poirot is inclined to accept the jury’s verdict of “guilty,” until an unexpected discovery forces him to reevaluate. This episode is perfectly okay. The appearance of Ariadne Oliver livens things up a little, but otherwise it fails to distinguish itself.

  1. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (Season 4)

One of the few Poirot novels that might have worked better as a short story, “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” finds Poirot investigating the death of a dentist who appears to have been murdered by one of his last patients. The solution is characteristically, perhaps overly, ingenious, but the episode itself is otherwise unmemorable.

  1. The Third Floor Flat (Season 1)

Another overly convoluted first season episode, this one involves four friends who accidentally stumble across a dead body while wandering the wrong floor of an apartment building.

  1. The Adventure of the Western Star (Season 2)

Not particularly noteworthy—how many times have we seen a robbery staged in part by the person who was robbed?—but it’s always fun to see Hastings acting bashful in the presence of a beautiful actress.

  1. The Incredible Theft (Season 1)

No murder is committed in this early episode in which Poirot must discover the culprit behind the theft of some important naval documents. While not a terrible episode, per se, it suffers from the cardinal sin of being dull.

  1. The Underdog (Season 5)

A fast-moving, if forgettable, mystery involving synthetic rubber and a murder victim who gave everyone he ever met a reason to murder him. There’s some great business involving Miss Lemon trying to hypnotize Poirot and Hastings.

  1. The Plymouth Express (Season 3)

Many of the hour-long episodes suffer from having to introduce a number of characters and solve a complicated mystery within a limited time frame. The difference between the short story and feature-length adaptations becomes apparent when watching The Plymouth Express, which was later expanded into the novel The Mystery of the Blue Train. The two plots are nearly identical, but Blue Train, simply by virtue of being longer and less compressed, is easier to follow.

  1. The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (Season 5)

Season 5 saw expanded roles for Miss Lemon in a couple of stories, and in this one she falls briefly in love, much as Hastings would do in Season 6. Meanwhile, Hastings and Poirot investigate a mystery involving a fast car, a sheaf of stolen documents and a Siamese cat.

  1. The Adventure of the Clapham Cook (Season 1)

In the first episode of the series, Poirot reluctantly takes up the case of a woman whose cook disappeared suddenly. A cursory investigation reveals a criminal conspiracy involving 50,000 pounds in securities and an obvious disguise, a motif that will be encountered again.

  1. Murder in the Mews (Season 1)

Poirot and Hastings investigate the death of a woman by gunfire on Guy Fawkes’ night. Although this initially appears to be a straightforward case of murder made to look like suicide, Poirot’s sleuthing soon reveals it to be something much more interesting and diabolical.

  1. How Does Your Garden Grow? (Season 3)

Poirot begins his third season by solving the case of an old woman who was apparently poisoned, in the process demonstrating (like the Count of Monte Cristo before him) that attempted suicide is no way to evade justice when your crimes have been exposed by Poirot.

  1. The Million-Dollar Bond Robbery (Season 3)

The Poirot series always excelled at boat voyages, and while the details of this episode’s mystery are unmemorable, it gives us two great moments: Poirot boasting of his own stamina, just before being struck down by seasickness, and the addition of a new character (not present in the short story) who briefly attracts Hastings’ fancy.

  1. Triangle at Rhodes (Season 1)

“Don’t you think human beings seem to reproduce certain patterns?” a woman asks Poirot in this episode, which in many ways serves as a precursor to the superior Evil Under the Sun with its exotic location and murder-y conspiracy involving two constrained lovers.

  1. Problem at Sea (Season 1)

This boat-set episode elevates itself above other first season episodes by employing the nifty trick (which would be recycled several times in the series) of having Poirot suss out a murderer using a ventriloquist pretending to be the ghost of the victim. Suppress your inner doubts about how anyone could fall for this and what remains is a fitfully entertaining nautical romp.

  1. The Double Clue (Season 3)

“In my experience I have known of five cases of women murdered by their devoted husbands,” says Poirot early in this episode. “And 22 cases of husbands murdered by their devoted wives.” Yet the unromantic Belgian is not wholly immune to the charms of women, as this episode demonstrates. In the figure of the Russian emigré Countress Vera Rossakoff, Poirot meets his Irene Adler. poirot13

  1. The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (Season 5)

At first this feels like an episode of “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries,” with its excavations of a foreign tomb and ancient curses that Lemon and Hastings try to dispel through tarot cards and Ouija boards. But ultimately the show eschews the wild flights of fancy and campy Gothic melodrama of “Miss Fisher.” This is a competently made, if not particularly memorable episode about the frightening power of superstition.

  1. The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge (Season 3)

A great wintry morning episode, though one that struggles more than usual to justify Poirot’s presence, and another where one character is obviously in disguise.

  1. The Dream (Season 1)

This is one of the better Season 1 efforts, and an early indication of the show’s potential. Poirot is extended a secret invitation to meet a wealthy industrialist, who is subsequently murdered. There’s the usual business with fake beards and imposters, though this episode offers a logistical angle that is lacking in many of the other stories.

  1. Wasps’ Nest (Season 3)

Poirot must talk a man out of committing suicide and murder in this surprisingly moving hour-long episode.

  1. Double Sin (Season 2)

There’s a whole subcategory of Poirot stories in which someone who comes to Poirot seeking the recovery of a stolen item turns out to have stolen it himself. It’s always more surprising when this trope doesn’t come into play. That said, hour-long episodes are often more memorable for their atmosphere than their mystery, and this one excels on that front.

  1. The Mystery of the Spanish Chest (Season 3)

Although Poirot regularly faces off against murderers and robbers, seldom is he placed in any personal danger. That changes in this episode, which sees his life threatened by a man with a mastery of swordplay.

  1. Dumb Witness (Season 6)

A classic manor house mystery, complete with a phony séance, an altered will, and two balmy old women who believe they can contact the world beyond. Elevated slightly by one of the most eerie and memorable deaths in the series.

  1. Murder in Mesopotamia (Season 8)

A celebrated archeologist’s wife is found dead, and each of the suspects has an airtight alibi. This episode telegraphs the identity of the murderer early on, but the central twist is so absurd and contrived that it strains credulity.

            *           *           *

Bon

  1. The Chocolate Box (Season 5)

This episode amounts to an hour-long flashback in which Poirot revisits one of his earliest cases, the mystery of a Belgian official who died of apparent heart failure. In the process, he ends up solving two murders.

  1. Sad Cypress (Season 9)

An intimate character study of an ill-fated love triangle, Sad Cypress has a cast of only four main characters (excluding Poirot himself). The law of economy of characters makes the murderer somewhat obvious, but the central love story between Mary Gerrard, Elinor Carlisle and Roddy Welman is still affecting.

  1. The Mystery of the Blue Train (Season 10)

Christie expanded “The Plymouth Express” into a novel with mixed success. The Poirot adaptation of Blue Train follows the original pretty faithfully, for better or worse. The most striking change is the elevation of Lenox, only a minor character in the book, into a close friend of Katherine Grey’s. Actress Alice Eve sinks her teeth into her expanded role. poirot14

  1. The Adventure of Johnny Waverly (Season 1)

Possibly the most lighthearted and inconsequential of all Poirot episodes—no one is even murdered—this one centers on the kidnapping of a young boy. You could probably guess the culprit by the end of this sentence, but that doesn’t make the ensuing adventure, or Poirot’s eventual exposure of a wicked scheme, any less fun.

  1. Yellow Iris (Season 5)

A man’s wife is murdered at a public dinner. Two years later, he hosts a second dinner in her honor and her sister suffers the same fate. This episode leans too heavily on a trick Poirot has used in the past to flush out a murderer, but does it in a stylish and clever way.

  1. The Kidnapped Prime Minister (Season 2)

From beginning to end, an exciting short story adaptation that sees Poirot teaming up with England’s leading politicians and detectives to locate the eponymous prime minister on the eve of an international conference. Features an unusually brutal ending for an early Poirot episode.

  1. Lord Edgware Dies (Season 7)

This adaptation suffers from a couple of problems that beset other Poirot adaptations: namely, that it’s hard to show one character disguised as another in a way that isn’t totally obvious (though it does better on this count than some others), and that the prominent inclusion of a seemingly random character in the first act sometimes gives too much away. On the other hand, even Christie’s original novel doesn’t try particularly hard to conceal the identity of Lord Edgware’s murderer.

  1. The King of Clubs (Season 1)

A movie producer is found dead in his home following an argument with a young actress. Poirot’s investigation uncovers long-buried family secrets and raises the question of when is a murder not really a murder.

  1. The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor (Season 3)

Christie had a habit of working fictional detective novelists into her stories, but rarely more ingeniously than in this spooky mystery in which Poirot must rely on the help of a mystery writer to solve the case of a man who appears to have been frightened to death.

  1. Dead Man’s Folly (Season 13)

This episode has a solid premise, a Devonshire “murder party” hosted by Ariadne Oliver, who fears that some of her guests are planning a real murder. Inevitably, her fears are vindicated. The cast of characters, expansive even by the standards of a Christie novel, includes two families (one that owned the estate before, one that owns it now), an architect, and a 92-year-old boatman who knows secrets. It also has one of Christie’s more ingenious plots, the cleverness of which becomes apparent on repeated viewings. Too bad Poirot’s twisted and out-of-character final line leaves a sour aftertaste.

  1. The Case of the Missing Will (Season 5)

About two-thirds of the way through this episode, after a woman has been pushed down an escalator and long-suppressed children are coming to light, Poirot turns to Miss Lemon and says, “I have a task for you.” What follows is a montage of Poirot’s longsuffering secretary browsing through libraries and generally being a detective and it is the greatest thing.

  1. After the Funeral (Season 10)

Try to keep your heart from breaking when the murderer reveals why he or she committed the murder at the end of this episode. A profoundly moving meditation on poverty and envy featuring a before-he-was-famous Michael Fassbender.

  1. The Theft of the Royal Ruby (or, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, Season 3)

The lesser of the two Poirot Christmas episodes is still memorable thanks to its setting (an English country estate during the Christmas holidays) and one of Poirot’s more ingenious schemes for entrapping a murderer.

  1. The Affair at the Victory Ball (Season 3)

The short story is artfully constructed but this episode manages to improve on it, with a denouement taking place live on the air during a BBC radio production and a nifty murderer-catching trick involving a tossed statue.

  1. Hickory Dickory Dock (Season 6)

One of two Poirot novels centered on a boarding school or youth hostel, “Hickory Dickory Dock” has an impressively forbidding sense of menace and one particularly gruesome twist. However, the adaptation is marred somewhat by the music, which can’t help reminding one of the “Rita” story arc in Arrested Development.

  1. Dead Man’s Mirror (Season 5)

A man to whom Poirot lost an antique mirror at auction is found dead in his study. Meanwhile, his wife believes she’s hearing the voice of an ancient Egyptian spirit. This episode has a genuinely spooky finale and some of the best lighting and set design in the series, while Hastings takes his catchphrase-slinging to new heights.hastings

  1. Murder on the Links (Season 6)

A morbidly funny mystery centering around a man found dead in an open grave on a golf course, a grave he had apparently dug himself, “Murder on the Links” features a tense altercation between Poirot and a French detective who resembles G. K. Chesterton, and, memorably, Hastings’ first encounter with the love of his life.

  1. Cards on the Table (Season 10)

Poirot and Madame Oliver are invited to the home of a wealthy and elegant Syrian art collector. Halfway through dinner their host keels over fatally. As it happens, four of the guests are detectives, and together they set about investigating the other guests, each of whom is revealed to have been involved in a long-ago crime. It’s a clever premise that illuminates one of the major themes of Christie’s later works, how “old sins cast long shadows.”

  1. Three-Act Tragedy (Season 12)

poirot15Poirot attends a party at which the host dies while drinking a cocktail. A month later, at another party attended by most of the same people, a second host is killed in a similar manner. This stylish adaptation has one of the more ingenious methods of concealing murder in the Poirot canon. Poirot’s method of confronting the killer and explaining the murders is particularly satisfying, and Martin Shaw is luminous as the multilayered Sir Charles Cartwright.

  1. Third Girl (Season 11)

When a young woman comes to Poirot seeking help for a murder she “might have” committed, the aging detective calls on his old friend Ariadne Oliver. Plotwise this adaptation considerably improves on the novel, a soporific late-period Christie with little discernible action. It also features the great character Sir Roderick Horsfield, memorably played by Peter Bowles. poirot16

  1. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (Season 6)

When the rich and despicable estate owner Simeon Lee is found dead in a locked room on Christmas Eve, his entire family comes under suspicion. Poirot and a local detective uncover a tortuous family history fraught with malice and revenge.

  1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Season 3)

It took three seasons for the show to adapt Christie’s first novel, which reveals how Hastings and Poirot met and became friends while investigating the death of an old matriarch who had recently married a much younger man. This adaptation closely follows the novel, which bears some striking structural similarities to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

  1. Cat among the Pigeons (Season 11)

A late-period Christie in which Poirot investigates the theft of jewels belonging to a crown prince and a series of murders at a girl’s boarding school. The change of murder weapon gives this adaptation one of the series’ most memorable deaths. It also features a surprise appearance by Anton Lesser, my favorite reader of audio books, in a prominent role.

  1. The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim (Season 2)

A middle-aged banker disappears and Poirot makes a bet with Japp that he can solve the case within a week without leaving his apartment. Memorably features a parrot and one of the show’s best-ever exchanges (between Poirot and the man who delivers the parrot). poirot17

  1. The Adventure of the Cheap Flat (Season 2)

The first episode of Poirot I ever saw, this episode works as a terrific introduction to the world of the show with its elegant ladies, debonair men, foggy London parks, slender champagne glasses, sultry torch singers and Art Deco-inspired apartment buildings. Plus, there’s an intransigent police detective with a preposterously flat American accent and an exciting gun battle. I’d recommend starting here, or with any of the other excellent Season 2 episodes, before attempting the uneven first season.

poirot10poirot9

 

  1. The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (Season 5)

While Poirot and Hastings are vacationing in Brighton, they encounter a theatrical couple who have proudly cast a string of rare pearls in their next production. Inevitably the jewels go missing. In one of the show’s funnier subplots, Poirot is constantly mistaken for a newspaper personality known as “Lucky Len.”

  1. Death in the Clouds (Season 4)

poirot18An old woman is murdered on a commercial flight; a search of the plane turns up a dead wasp and a blowpipe. This airy confection of an episode, which volleys between London and Paris, gains strength from its conclusion in which Christie uses our knowledge of the Christie formula to trick us. The moment we think the case has been solved, it opens up anew in brutal fashion.

*           *           *

 

Parfait

  1. Hallowe’en Party (Season 12)

Mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver attends a Hallowe’en party where a young girl is murdered while bobbing for apples. This spookily gorgeous adaptation follows Christie’s original with only minor alterations and features one of the best twists in the series, one that would later be used to good effect in Veronica Mars.

  1. The ABC Murders (Season 4)

A serial killer is on the loose, moving from town to town murdering people according to an alphabetical system. Meanwhile, a nervous, friendless, and socially awkward man keeps blacking out, and begins to fear that he might be a murderer. It all builds to a single one-on-one conversation in a jail cell, and one of the most affecting scenes in any Poirot adaptation.

  1. The Cornish Mystery (Season 2)

When a middle-aged woman tells Poirot that she fears her husband is trying to poison her, Poirot and Hastings set out for Cornwall. The first episode in the series to perfectly nail the Poirot formula, “The Cornish Mystery,” with its trains, carriages and quaint seaside villages, is a richly atmospheric thriller and terrific rainy-day viewing.

  1. The Veiled Lady (Season 2)

This 50-minute episode is iconic thanks to a plot that sees Poirot and Hastings breaking into a house in order to obtain evidence, and a denouement involving two murderers hidden in a museum trying to fend off a cat.

  1. Five Little Pigs (Season 9)

The first episode of the “new” Poirot series also has the distinction of being the most beautiful, with a flashback structure that avoids being overly complicated and a tragic history that picks up emotional weight as we see the sins and mistakes of the past casting their shadows into the present. An initially disturbing but ultimately very moving story of deceit, betrayal, violence and a single redemptive act of unbelievable courage.

  1. Murder on the Orient Express (Season 12)

A suitably atmospheric adaptation of the celebrated snowy train mystery in which every passenger (Jessica Chastain among them) has an apparent motive for the murder. Poirot is pushed to his limits, morally and emotionally, in a case that anticipates the temptations and dark ethical compromises of the final season.

  1. Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case (Season 13)

Elderly Poirot and Hastings return to Styles, the scene of their first mystery, for one last adventure. This exquisitely scored and directed finale lands its punches by calling into question everything we’ve learned about Poirot in the previous thirteen seasons: is he mortal? Is he good? Is his mustache even real? Like death itself, it is a cleansing fire, leaving us steeped in melancholy and a profound nostalgia. “They were good days,” indeed. poirot

  1. Death on the Nile (Season 9)

A newly married couple taking a river-voyage through Egypt learns that they’re being stalked by a jealous woman nursing a broken heart. But not everything is what it seems and the final scenes, in which Poirot reveals a conspiracy most intricate, are both intellectually thrilling and emotionally poignant. Also features Emily Blunt in one of her first roles.

  1. Evil under the Sun (Season 8)

Evil under the Sun isn’t the most perfectly plotted Poirot story Agatha Christie ever wrote, but it’s close. There are so many twists and surprises in the last half-hour of this adaptation that to say anymore would risk spoiling it. Like Death on the Nile, this story of tangled love in an exotic locale begins with a seemingly ordinary premise (a woman who has numerous enemies is found lying dead on a beach) that becomes more layered and disturbing with each new revelation.

  1. Peril at End House (Season 2)

poirot6The first novel to be adapted into a feature-length film is also one of the definitive Poirot adaptations, featuring an old estate in the country, a wealthy but vulnerable heiress and a series of disturbing murders. This episode is everything that makes Poirot great distilled into 90 minutes, including an ingenious method for catching forgers, one of the all-time great line readings—“You’re all so… STUPID!”—and a conclusion that sees Poirot, Hastings, Inspector Japp, and Miss Lemon eating ice cream on the beach. The way all mysteries should end.

 

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THIS ELECTION IS A GK CHESTERTON NIGHTMARE AND I CAN’T WITH IT

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Clinton Middle School in Clinton

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Clinton Middle School in Clinton, Iowa January 30, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria – RTX24QAB

Fellow Americans, hold me for a minute.

Because I officially CAN’T with this election.

I think each of us has had a moment in the last ten months where we felt like we were living in the greatest, weirdest reality show ever staged. A reality show that we were all watching, and all part of, and that for once might live up to the hyperbole about being “the most important election” in the history of ever.

It was very surreal, because the race was being dominated at every turn by a cartoonishly rich, orange-haired, orange-skinned human with a habit of bragging about himself and a gift for trolling the media.

At least once a week, the glamour that he had cast over all of us would fade for a minute and we would remember how weird this is, and how things like this aren’t supposed to happen. Short-fingered buffoons don’t magically become presidential nominees by insulting women, Latinos, Muslims, prisoners of war, the disabled and the pope, right? Candidates who are despised by a majority of the country and who mail journalists pictures of their own fingers circled in gold sharpie don’t win primaries in record-breaking numbers. That’s not a thing that happens, here in the USA? Please?

 But there was never a single event that broke the spell completely, where we finally threw up our hands and said, “What kind of bizarre fever dream world are we living in?”

Not when Donald Trump WON the first debate by proudly asserting that he hadn’t called all women fat pigs, “only Rosie O’Donnell.” (That was kinda weird, but we went with it, because it was the first debate and Marco Rubio would probably win every primary).

The spell wasn’t broken when New Jersey governor Chris Christie dropped out of the race after eviscerating Rubio, the party’s Last, Best Hope, and formally became Trump’s Wormtongue, standing behind Trump at rallies serenely nodding as Trump made fun of him, and having to tell reporters, “No, I wasn’t being held hostage.”

It wasn’t broken when Ted Cruz said, “Donald Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him.”

It wasn’t even broken on April 26, a day that began with Trump suggesting that Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination and ended with Trump sweeping five northeastern states.

But this week we were introduced to “John Miller,” and I’ve had enough. Obviously a vengeance demon has been screwing with our timeline. Clearly Trump has cast an augmentation spell to make everyone adore him, and we’re living in the reality where he’s a world-champion basketball player and the star of the Matrix film trilogy.

Because how else do you explain this? Trump spent years in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s calling up reporters, disguising his voice, and pretending to be a weirdly Trump-loving press agent who bragged about Trump’s friendships with celebrities and sexual exploits.

This is a thing that happened. This was done, repeatedly, by the presumptive Republican nominee for the office of president of the United States, a man who has won MORE primary votes than any Republican in history.

The Republican nominee, a man nearly ten million people voted for in the primary, spoke to People Magazine disguised as his own publicist and bragged about how Trump was a “good guy” who was “doing very well financially” and who Madonna wanted to go out with.

And—what’s real anymore? I already don’t know. I feel like a man who just challenged another man to a swordfight, who’s now watching my opponent peel off his face to reveal he’s someone completely different.

And it gets worse, much worse, because in addition to Trump secretly being his own press agent, today comes the news that Trump might have been the anonymous source who leaked the story about Trump being his own press agent to the press. The man who tipped reporters off to a story that might have embarrassed Trump, was Trump.

And suddenly I realize, I don’t know what’s going to happen in this election.

Because Trump could be anyone.

Because clearly this election is the hackneyed young adult mystery that America has been clamoring for, and we’re about to elevate the protagonist / villain of a GK Chesterton nightmare-novel to the highest office in our country.

And then what will happen? There are no longer any limits except Trump’s imagination.

He will give the press a series of clues written on napkins that, when put together in the right order, outline his foreign policy. The press will have to work together day and night in a snow-shrouded hotel just to figure out whether Trump wants to raise tariffs on China.

He will hide the nuclear codes in a jasmine-scented library, in a wooden duck named “Ping,” and send the secretary of defense on a scavenger hunt to go find it.

When the country is on the brink of declaring bankruptcy, he will lock his cabinet in the Oval Office and force them to work out their differences while trying to solve the murder of a Savannah belle and only speaking in Southern accents.

Someone stop this man. Break the augmentation spell. Go back in time and retrieve the sports almanac. Find the monks who transformed an energy key into Trumpian form and MAKE THEM TAKE IT BACK, this is not a joke, America, we need our timeline back.

Hi I’m Demisexual. Here’s What That Means

ron and hermione

I have a vivid memory of being over at my friend Bethany’s house, back when she was still alive. One of her sisters, Amanda*, was watching a movie starring Jennifer Lopez.

As I was walking by, I turned and glanced at the screen. “I don’t get what so many guys see in her,” I said. “She’s not my idea of attractive.”

“Okay, Boze,” said Amanda in a tone that was both amused and condescending. “Who’s someone you consider attractive?”

“Bethany!!” I yelled, as though this should have been obvious.

It was a running joke among everyone who knew me that my attractions weren’t like those of other guys. In high school my best guy friends would tease me because I squirmed uncomfortably whenever they talked about hot girls they liked. “Boze, I ran into Leann!” they would say. “She was in the gym, she leaned over and her boobs were right in my face!” And I would be like, “I don’t care, and this is awkward.”

For a long time I thought it was because I had grown up in a controlling, hyper-repressed religious environment and my sexual instinct had been stifled. But I began to notice I was peculiar in other ways. Every time I had ever fallen in love, it was with a best friend. And I had never known love at first sight: whenever I felt attracted to someone, it was after we had already become friends.

Then a couple of years ago when I was trying to explain to a girl why I wasn’t interested, she suggested that maybe I was demisexual. I had never heard of it, but I began looking into it, and that was when all the pieces fell into place.

What Is Demisexuality?

Put simply, demisexuals are people who only experience sexual attraction in an emotional context. For us, bonding and relationship, or the perception of bonding and relationship, precedes libido. Although the degree to which this is true varies from person to person, many of us are basically asexual until we connect with another person emotionally. At that point we may experience feelings, both emotional and sexual, that are vivid and powerful.

Why Is This Controversial?

I’ve experienced a certain amount of pushback on Twitter and in the comments over at Slacktivist’s blog because some (no doubt well-intentioned) people insist that “demisexuality” isn’t a real thing. They say it’s just a trendy label that millennials made up to describe the way the majority of people experience sexuality. Or they might say that we’re trying to claim an “oppressed status” in order to coopt the narratives of LGBTs who have actually suffered and been oppressed because of their sexualities. (However, most of the people I’ve talked to have been empathetic and respectful).

How Does Demisexuality Differ from Most People’s Experience?

I can only laugh when people say demisexuality is the “normative” experience of sex, because that’s never been my experience. Growing up, long before I had a word to explain why I felt the way I did, I felt isolated from other guys my age because our sexualities diverged so radically. Pornography never interested me because I felt no attachment to the people having sex on the screen in front of me. I told my best friend, “Maybe if they made a pornography where the couple was shown to be in an intimate, loving relationship, it might interest me, but why would I want to watch two strangers having sex?”

Likewise, dating sites have always been wasted on me, and I’m not alone in this. Occasionally I might message someone who seems reasonably cute and bookish, but even if they respond I’m guaranteed to stop writing after a few messages because I lose interest. Twitter actually has become the “dating site” of choice for many demis because it’s a place where we can cultivate friendships in a safe space before embarking on any perilous romantic adventures.

Let’s Not Erase Each Other

Another complaint, and one I can understand, is that demis are chasing the “LGBT bandwagon” and trying to claim special status as an oppressed people. In reality, there’s disagreement in the demi community over whether we should adopt the “queer” label. Some demis accept it for themselves while others choose not to. Personally I choose not to, because I don’t want to trample on people who may feel they have a more legitimate claim to that label.

Another important thing to understand, though, is that demisexuality exists on the “sexuality / asexuality” spectrum, not on the LGBT spectrum. Again, it’s a variation of asexuality: when we’re not in a relationship, we tend to lose interest in romance and sex altogether. So people who try to conflate it with homosexuality, lesbianism and bisexuality are conflating two different things. And it’s not the intention of most self-identified demisexuals to erase anyone else.

But because our sexuality isn’t widely understood, we sometimes experience erasure from people who have a poor understanding of what it means to be demisexual. So I want to reiterate: it’s a real thing that millions of people really experience. It’s distinct from “normative” sexuality in a number of ways, ways that are keenly felt by those of us who identify as demis, but that can be hard to see for anyone who isn’t. If you tell us that we’re perfectly normal and need to get over it, if you tell us that our chosen way of identifying and understanding ourselves is made up, you’re erasing something that has given context and guidance to our lives, that has helped us navigate the incredibly confusing waters of sex and romance. We would still be “different” and still experience the world in this way even if we didn’t have a label for it, but the label gives us a community. The label gives us understanding and power.

So as I’ve said so many times before on this blog, and on Twitter, never tell someone that how they identify themselves isn’t “real,” that you know better than they do who they are and have more authority to make decisions about their lives than they do. Saying, “You’re not this, no matter what you think,” is a subtle form of aggression, but it is still hateful and it is aggressive, and it is perceived keenly and deeply by those with sensitive hearts. Be gentle, kind, and empathetic. Actually listen to people and let them reveal to you their perceptions and experience.

Four Fictional Characters Who Are Ted Cruz

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is this Ted Cruz?

Donald Trump has had an incredible streak of good fortune during this campaign, but his biggest stroke of luck may have been running against Ted Cruz, a man so reviled by members of his own party that last night former Speaker of the House John Boehner described him as “Lucifer in the flesh,” adding, “I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

 English majors and Milton fans were quick to point out that Boehner’s comparison is unfair to Lucifer, who in Paradise Lost is portrayed as an eloquent and dignified revolutionary, while Ted Cruz is naturally, viscerally repulsive.

 So if not Lucifer, then who is he? Here are a few more suggestions:

Uriah Heep (David Copperfield)
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Columnist Jeet Heer suggested Uriah Heep, David Copperfield’s slimy antagonist in Charles Dickens’ 1851 novel. This analogy has a few things going for it. One, Uriah Heep styles himself as a model of virtue and “humbility.” When he invites David over to his house for dinner, his modesty and good-heartedness is the sole topic of conversation. Yet Heep is eventually exposed as a scheming hypocrite and fraud who will manipulate even his closest friends to advance his way in the world. There’s also the creep factor: Heep is so physically repulsive that when he spends the night at David’s house, David fantasizes about running him through with a hot poker.

Kenneth Widmerpool (A Dance to the Music of Time)

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat makes the case for Kenneth Widmerpool, the breakout character in Anthony Powell’s midcentury quartet “A Dance to the Music of Time.” Widmerpool isn’t as unctuous as Heep, but he is as unloved: the books’ other characters are surprised late in life to find that he’s clawed his way to an aristocratic title, a position he achieved through shrewd calculation and sheer persistence.

Severus Snape (the Harry Potter series)

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Snape, the potions master

Though possibly the most complex and multilayered character in the Harry Potter books, Severus Snape is defined above all by his resentment of Harry’s father for winning the affection of the love of his life, Lily James, when they were very young. Although the motives are different—Ted Cruz’s resentment stems more from his frustrated political ambitions than from spurned love—both carry the look of defeat on their faces, the cold sneer, the sense that they deserve better than what they’ve got, that occasionally hardens into pure malice. Read this scorching New Republic profile of Cruz—which paints him as the nerdy kid who hung out with adults because other kids his age didn’t like him—and try not to think of young Snape.

Antonio Salieri (Amadeus)

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mock me, amadeus

Not the Salieri of history, whose rivalry with Mozart was by most accounts friendly and not murderous, but the Salieri of the Peter Shaffer play that later became an Academy Award-winning movie. This Salieri has talent, a strong work ethic and limitless ambition—theoretically everything he needs to be successful, the greatest. The only problem is, there’s one person better. One person with an eerie and almost supernatural talent whose genius makes the efforts of others look wan and uninspired. Yes, in this analogy, Donald Trump is Mozart.

Every Christian Song from the ’90s, Basically

dc talkOK So We’re Not Nirvana but Let’s Pretend

God Is Calling You to Change History, Possibly by Starting a Band and Singing Songs about History-Changers

Listen, I Have a Daughter and I Know She’s Only Five but One Day I Will Entrust Her to You, a Young Man I’ve Never Met

Yeah I Heard You the First Hundred Times You Said You Weren’t Interested in Jesus but Hear Me Out

Honestly the Rest of Us Have No Idea What K-Max Was Saying in that Last Verse

So I Heard This Funny Story that Disproves Evolution

Yes I Realize Scooby-Doo is a Great Dane and Can’t Technically Be Saved but What If

Oh the Sex We Will Have After Marriage

Hi We’re from Australia Here’s a Song about the Circus

This Song Is about a Spaceship but the Spaceship is Just a Metaphor as I Will Soon Reveal

Put on Your Scuba Gear, Saddle Your Horses, Climb in Your Submarine, Go on Safari

Here Is a Disco Song, Just an Ordinary Disco Song, We’re All Fine

You Won’t Believe This Crazy Guy I Met on the Corner, He Was Nuts and This Is What He Said

No Idea What Heaven Is Like but I Guarantee There Will Be Football

What I’m Into: January 2016 (Doctor Who and Gilmore Girls)

I made SO MANY great new discoveries this month. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
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TV

After years of putting it off and only watching the occasional episode, I finally tore through the first four seasons of the Doctor Who revival (the entire Russell T. Davies era, featuring Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant as the eponymous Doctors). This turned out to be a fortuitous decision, as it was taken off Netflix at the end of the month.

Davies-era Doctor Who is wildly inconsistent. You’ll watch three great episodes and then a fourth one that makes you never want to watch it again. What’s great about the show is how it borrows plots, tropes and story structures from the whole history of science-fiction and fantasy. It’s become a game for me to see how many allusions I can spot to classic works like Back to the Future, Aliens and Harry Potter. It’s also given me a greater sense of how stories are told, and a wealth of new ideas with which to tell them. I have been taking copious notes.

The other big story of the month, TV-wise, was my introduction to a little show called Gilmore Girls, about a woman and her daughter living in a tiny New England town called Stars Hollow. They read books and sip coffee and quote 1940s screwball comedies and listen to Nick Drake and Belle and Sebastian and the show is basically perfect. It’s the best possible counterpoint to the frenetic zaniness of Doctor Who.

Movies

Movies! So many good movies this month. Raise the Red Lantern (1991) is a gorgeously filmed story about a woman working as a courtesan in early twentieth-century China and slowly losing her mind. The Thief of Bagdad (1940) adapts several of the most famous stories in the Arabian Nights to create a visual and imaginative spectacle that rivals The Wizard of Oz. In a Lonely Place (1951) is another in a string of movies where Bogart plays a dangerously unstable man who self-destructs. Black Narcissus (1947) is a beautiful and often frightening melodrama about two nuns who are driven to jealousy and obsession over their shared love of a man, culminating in a shocking but entirely plausible act of violence. The Gospel According to St Matthew (1964) is probably the best cinematic depiction of the life of Jesus, because it portrays him as an idealistic young man rather than a mysterious and unknowable deity. Love and Mercy (2014) hops back and forth in time to tell the story of Brian Wilson (played by Paul Dano and John Cusack), his ambition to make the greatest album of all time, and his subsequent mental breakdown.

Music

The Hold Steady! The Beach Boys

New Series and Miniseries
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I’ve gotten hooked on two new series that premiered this month. One is the BBC’s six-part adaptation of War and Peace, penned by Andrew Davies (he of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice) and starring Paul Dano as Pierre Bezukhov. Davies draws out the finest dramatic moments in Tolstoy’s novel while necessarily omitting the endless layers of characterization that made the novel brilliant. If you try not to think too hard about all that’s being left out, you can more easily appreciate the lavish visuals and the best Pierre we’ve ever gotten.

The other great literary adaptation of the month is SyFy’s The Magicians, a multi-season adaptation of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy (2009-2014). The first Magicians novel was one of my favorite novels of the last decade, because it took some of your favorite stories and filtered them through a haze of disillusionment and melancholy. The TV series retains the central premise, about a group of twenty-somethings who attend a magical school in New York, but makes it less reflective. The actors are doing great work, however, and have succeeded in making their characters equally as memorable and endearing as the ones in the book. Of the four episodes aired so far, each one is an improvement over the one before, even if the plot is steadily drifting further and further from Grossman’s original.

 

What about you? What did you discover this month?

Trump Is a Terrible Person, and a Great Entertainer

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Clinton Middle School in Clinton

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Clinton Middle School in Clinton, Iowa January 30, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria – RTX24QAB

Depending on what happens in Iowa in the next few hours, by the end of the night either Donald Trump will be on his way to securing the Republican nomination or his campaign will have been exposed as a fantasy floated by an over-enthusiastic media, a celebrity spectacle with no real organization or infrastructure.

Regardless of the outcome, Trump’s gift for dominating polls and media coverage over the last six months is unprecedented in recent American history. When he launched his campaign last summer by slowly descending the escalator at Trump Tower, pundits almost universally treated him as a joke whose balloon would puncture once voters began seriously vetting more serious candidates. On the contrary, his numbers have been steadily rising (with only a slight dip in mid-October) since the announcement, and polls released over the weekend suggest that his popularity among likely GOP caucus voters is as high as it’s ever been.

Depending on your point of view, this is either a triumph of the common people and billionaires against the political elite or a catastrophe that presages a new era of darkness and demagoguery in American politics.

I’m inclined to think it’s the latter. But it’s worth noting that the most perceptive and forward-thinking insights on Trump’s campaign, from the beginning, have been written by entertainers and TV critics who recognize Trump’s mastery of image and spectacle, honed by his years hosting one of America’s most popular reality shows. Much of the key to understanding Trump’s appeal is understanding that he’s selling a fantasy, in the grand American tradition of P. T. Barnum, L. Frank Baum and Aimee Semple McPherson.

Thus, regardless of whether you consider his campaign a catharsis or a crisis, his success has much to teach writers and entertainers about winning an audience and the power of wish-fulfillment.

  1. Trump knew his audience and courted them assiduously

Every time Trump made an offensive statement in this campaign, the pundit and political classes declared it the end of his presidential ambitions. It happened in his announcement speech when he said Mexico is flooding America with rapists and murderers. It happened a few weeks later when he said John McCain isn’t a war hero. It happened when he seemed to suggest that moderator Megyn Kelly was menstruating during a debate, and it happened, most pointedly, when he called for banning all Muslim immigration into the country “until we can figure out what the hell is going on.”

The critics were only wrong because they were basing their assumptions on what’s happened in every presidential race prior to this one. In a traditional campaign, any one of those statements would have torpedoed the chances of a fledgling candidate. But Trump instinctively understood that his appeal didn’t rest on the sorts of people who usually vote in primaries or elections, but in drawing out the people who feel shut out of the political process. He understood that for a certain kind of person—crucially, the kind of person he was courting—saying nasty, offensive things was a virtue, not a drawback. Trump became the principal beneficiary of a media environment where not knowing things and saying mean things makes you a hero rather than a villain.

  1. Audiences aren’t interested in “nice” people

If you understand, as Todd VanDerWerff of Vox has put it, that Trump isn’t so much a politician as a “reality TV character who’s escaped into a presidential race,” then Trump’s ability to say despicable things and get away with it, even profit from it, makes more sense. Because as much as Trump is selling an ideology, he’s selling a character—an obscenely rich, unfiltered, larger-than-life character. And audiences love it because they’re able to put themselves in the shoes of this character, to pretend that they’re the ones telling off their bosses and flouting political conventions and drinking Manhattan water from golden faucets.

Jeb Bush’s supporters have taken to wondering aloud in the vicinity of reporters why their candidate is losing when he’s such a nice guy, but Jeb’s mistake was in thinking that what audiences want is a nice guy in this election. Not coincidentally, this is also a common mistake made by aspiring writers and storytellers. Samuel Raphaelson devotes a section of his classic book The Human Nature of Playwriting to proving that viewers don’t want a “nice” character, they want a character with whom they can identify, even if that means a character who’s vengeful and petty and lazy. In his own book on storytelling, Into the Woods, John Yorke adds, “There is something immensely attractive in living through a character who does obtain revenge, who is proved to have value or … is finally proved right. The attraction of wish-fulfillment, benevolent or masochistic, can’t be underestimated.”

This is the appeal of beloved characters ranging from Odysseus to Cinderella to Spiderman to Harry Potter—relatable, seemingly normal people who also happen to be immensely gifted, or talented, or ludicrously wealthy (something most people will never be), but who are only human and sometimes use their immense gifts, talents and wealth in the services of spite, pettiness, and vengeance (something most everyone would do, if they could). Trump is following a universally recognizable character script, and he’s killing at it.

  1. A good villain is crucial to the success of any good story

The moment I began to suspect that Trump might actually have this nomination in the bag came early in the first debate. Fatefully, Megyn Kelly said, “You’ve called women you don’t like, ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals’…”

“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump interrupted.

He said it without hesitation, without even really seeming to think about it—and the response from his largely Republican audience was deafening. They loved it. He took a question that was supposed to highlight his own personal bullying and made it about someone else. He sold a counter-narrative, and it stuck: odds are, if you even remember the first debate at all, you remember it because of that moment.

The role of scapegoating in Trump’s campaign has been widely noted. Interviews with Trump supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire suggest that much of the candidate’s appeal rests on a narrative in which Muslims and Mexicans are running rampant in America, stealing jobs, hollowing out the middle class, and committing heinous acts of terrorism.

The morality of these appeals is, of course, horrifying, but in terms of storytelling, Trump’s instincts are sound. The late, great social theorist René Girard wrote that scapegoating appeals to the darkest instincts in our nature, uniting communities against a common threat. But crucially, his disgust at the process did not extend to the realm of literature. Girard held that scapegoating was the ritual foundation of Greek drama, and therefore of all Western literature. We go to the theater, we read stories, because we want to see certain characters demonized by an author and ultimately punished by the heroes. It’s cathartic for a storytelling audience, just as it must be for the audiences at Trump’s rallies—and for those who despise Trump, who have spent the last three or four months crafting a narrative in which he’s the second coming of Mussolini, Hitler, or the dark lord Voldemort.

Now obviously I would rather Trump have stuck to the entertainment world, where demonizing an enemy is a storytelling device and not a dangerous tool of mass manipulation, one of the dark arts of politics. But, six months into his campaign, this is where we find ourselves, and the events of the next few weeks will determine whether and how effectively his patented brand of entertainment can cross over into the political mainstream.