No, It Wasn’t All a Dream—But It Was Kendall’s Worst Nightmare

Courtesy of HBO

“It was all a dream” is a common (if played out) TV finale trope. The events of last night’s series finale of Jesse Armstrong’s masterful Succession were not a dream. They actually happened. But they were, in fact, self-proclaimed “eldest son” Kendall’s worst nightmare.

Watching the finale I was reminded of another “prestige TV” finale that aired earlier in the year. The show was The Patient and it was about a psychiatrist (Steve Carell) tied to the bed in his deranged patient’s (Domhnall Gleeson) basement.

I’m about to spoil The Patient, so if you haven’t seen it yet and plan to, skip to the next paragraph. Carell’s Alan makes a last minute, desperate attempt to survive his ordeal and for a second, it seems like he has. We see him enjoying Shabbat dinner with his family. They’re all together, including his estranged son. There is laughter. Togetherness. Harmony. But it’s a fake-out, Alan’s dying dream. His fantasy of how his life could’ve—and should’ve—been. The cruelty of that The Patient ending is that Alan, briefly, had everything he wanted. He never looked happier. But it was all a lie.

Such is the case with Kendall (terminally heartbreaking Jeremy Strong). Since the show has begun, he’s been striving, hustling, scheming, yearning, doing whatever it takes to become the CEO of WayStar RoyCo, which he believes to be his birthright. He’s come tantalizingly close. In the very first episode, he thinks he’s getting it, only to have it snatched away by his reliably cruel father. Another time, he stages a hostile takeover, but thanks to NYC traffic (a good joke) ends up being late to his own coup. Throughout the series, there are many times he thinks he’s about to ascend, but various forces conspire to make sure it doesn’t happen. The thing he wants most in the world is always just out of reach.

But then last night’s finale occurred. And for once, it seemed like he was getting what he wanted—for real this time. It played out like Kendall’s greatest fantasy. His younger siblings consulted and gave him the nod. They tacitly acknowledged his exalted family status. They were all together, laughing, in harmony. Yes, his siblings were teasing Kendall, but it was good-natured, familial. Kendall had won and they were lovingly giving him grief about it. As he sat in that vacation house kitchen he looked more than happy, he looked besotted, almost drunk with the giddy realization that his dreams were coming true.

And then it was all taken away—in the cruelest way possible.

Not only did Shiv (Sarah Snook) change her mind at the last minute, she brought up his lowest moment, his worst fear. “You can’t be CEO because you killed someone,” she said. It was astonishingly mean, considering that she had seen her brother at his lowest, crying and begging for forgiveness for his role in the death of a young cater waiter. And he became desperate, lying, saying he never killed that boy, it was a strategy.

In that moment, it wasn’t just that he was losing his grip on his triumph, he was doing it in the most humiliating way possible. Flailing, begging, screaming, eventually slamming his brother Roman (Kieran Culkin) against a wall—all as the board members watched with a combination of horror and voyeuristic glee. Oh those damned glass-walled offices of WayStar. No chance for privacy, for dignity. Kendall’s desperation, his lack of control, his frenzy, was on display for all to see. Minutes earlier, he had been swiveling in his father’s desk chair, taking it all in, allowing himself to feel the significance and power of the moment. And now he was a shell of a man, a joke. He had never seemed smaller.

“I need this,” he told his siblings, through tears. “If I don’t get it, I will…die.”

(I’m sure I’m not the only one who worried that he was going to hurl himself off the building. Of course, astute fans will remember that his father made sure that could never happen by installing guard rails two seasons earlier.)

Did Kendall deserve such a fate? Deserve is not part of the equation in the Succession world. In fact, the whole show was built on a lie: Who did Logan want to succeed him? It’s an answer his children were chasing to the bitter end. But of course Logan didn’t want anyone to succeed him. His ego was too immense. He couldn’t conceive of a world without him in it. “My world of a father,” Shiv called him, accurately.

Can we blame Shiv for this last-minute betrayal? No, not really. She had her own journey, her own tragedy being played out. It mostly involved her being the most competent of the Roy children and the least likely to ascend the throne because of her gender. That harsh reality played out for her for four seasons. But Kendall’s was acute. It was his happy ending taken away from him at the last second. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. As people watched. As his siblings betrayed him. As he was reminded of his greatest sin. A nightmare.

NEW WOKE: How Wokeism Became the Right’s Latest Bogeyman

The first time I ever heard the term “Critical Race Theory” I had just taken an online diversity course at work.

The course was pleasant enough, if not exactly radical. It talked about being aware of cultural differences and differences in perspective. It talked about respecting other people’s lifestyles and choices. It talked about mindful inclusivity. In short, it advocated for basic human decency.

When the CRT demonization and distortion started gaining traction, I thought: They’re going to accuse even the most ubiquitous and widely accepted corporate diversity training of being CRT. Damned if I wasn’t right.

According to Forbes magazine, the day before Juneteenth, no less, in 2021, Trump called so-called CRT “the left’s vile new theory’ [that] teaches students that ‘judging people by the color of their skin is actually a good idea’ and that the U.S. is ‘systemically evil,’ instead of ‘helping young people discover that America is the greatest, most tolerant, and most generous nation in history.’”

The argument against CRT is basically that teaching about racism is, in fact, racist. That a white child, confronted with America’s history of racism might feel badly about both herself, and her country, so best not to teach it at all (and they call us snowflakes). To that end, any book, class, article, or training session that discusses slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and most definitely the ongoing effects of systemic racism should be outlawed.

The whole notion seemed so ridiculous, so antithetical to all the progress we had made as a nation, I almost dismissed it as too dim-witted to gain any traction. Let this be a helpful reminder that nothing is too dim-witted to gain traction among America’s right.

CRT panic went on for a while and helped the rise of odious figures like Ron DeSantis, but you don’t hear about it much anymore. (That’s at least partly because Critical Race Theory is actually a multi-disciplinary academic subject and is definitely not taught in high schools, let alone elementary schools.) It has been replaced by a trendier, more sound-bitey, more (intentionally) vague villain: “Wokeism” or what Elon Musk called “the woke mind virus.”

So what is wokeism? At one point, it was a word used exclusively in the Black community to suggest a political awakening or awareness of racism. Then it got appropriated by well-intentioned (if overly eager) white people. Then it kind of become synonymous with “political correctness” (the wokeism of the previous generation). Finally, it got distorted beyond all measure by the right. At this point, who the hell even knows what woke means to the right? It’s a catchall. It stands for anything they don’t like, or fear, about the current social climate.

Famously, conservative pundit Bethany Mandel shit the bed when asked to define the word on Briahna Joy Gray’s podcast. After fumbling and stammering for a few seconds, and fretting that she would “go viral,” she replied that woke meant to “totally redo society to create hierarchies of oppression.” She then added: “It’s hard to explain in a 15-second soundbite.” Indeed.

But Mandel was actually onto something. At or at least she inadvertently bumped up against the truth.

If you are anti-woke you are against anything that pushes our society to be more inclusive. You are happy with the current Christian patriarchy and completely freaked out by the rising social justice movements, be they Black Lives Matter or trans rights. You see a societal shift coming and you fear that you will lose what you consider to be your God-given status. I should clarify that the people who are pushing the “woke mind virus” narrative are the ones in positions of power who don’t want to lose their status. Very often the audience for this term is white people who are not doing well, financially or otherwise, and are looking for someone to blame. “Do you feel privileged?” the pundits ask pointedly. “Do you feel like you’ve given advantages because you’re white?”

As always, complex systems of oppression are hard to parse and can’t be reduced to a single example. Yes, there are plenty of downtrodden white people. That doesn’t mean systemic racism isn’t real. But folks on the right aren’t exactly champions of nuance. It’s why they’re often heard saying, “It’s 45 degrees in May. So much for global warming, amirite?” Or, when it comes to race: “Look at how successful Oprah Winfrey is! Look at Obama—he was president! There can’t be systemic racism.” Single examples do not a system make.

It’s not exactly revelatory, but my overarching theory of how we got into this current state goes like this: Social media gave an unprecedented megaphone to the marginalized. It allowed them to band together, to find allies, to speak their truth. Much of the social progress we’ve accomplished in the last 20 years can be traced to social media. But it’s been an unusually rapid amount of progress, so it has seen an equally rapid backlash (also organized on social media). The rise of Black Lives Matter, of the #MeToo movement, of the pronoun revolution, of the awareness of trans rights, it all seems like a scary and destabilizing cultural shift to those who don’t understand or reject these movements. And right wing politicians and pundits are all too quick to take advantage of that fear: Immigrants and minorities are coming for your jobs! White children are being taught to be ashamed of being white! Children are getting gender reassignment surgery on demand!  

All the ugliest chapters in recent history—from the Holocaust to Jim Crow to Apartheid—have been based on demonizing the other, but that hasn’t stopped folks like Tucker Carlson, Ted Cruz, MTG, et al from their fear mongering. Neither, of course, has the steep rise in white supremacist violence shaking the country.

Anti-wokeism is such a nasty term—a term of oppression basically—I’m shocked it has become so prominent in the discourse of the right. It’s a euphemistic way of saying, “I don’t like the progress made by Black and LGBTQ people.” There’s literally no other way to interpret it. And yet Florida recently passed a “Stop Woke Act” and Ron DeSantis has made anti-wokeism a cornerstone of his inevitable presidential campaign. That’s some Jesse Helms shit.

The other term that gets bandied about liberally is “cancel culture.” Generally speaking, no one gets canceled unless they’ve done something truly egregious—like explicit racism or sexual assault. And even then, there are rarely consequences—Lauren Boebert refers to the Squad, which includes two Muslim members, as “the Jihad Squad” and still sits comfortably in Congress; Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar have both spoken at a White Nationalist conference; Justice Kavanaugh was credibly accused of assault; Donald Trump has been caught bragging about sexual assault on tape, and so on. Often, instead what happens is someone is made to feel uncomfortable on social media for a few days. Maybe they lose a job if they’re considered a financial liability. Maybe, if they’re an actor or filmmaker, some people boycott their films. Sometimes, they loudly quit an institution like a newspaper or a college in a huff (but when the story is repeated, we are told they were forced out or fired). They rarely lose money, or if they do, they are quickly able to regain it by going on some sort of professional victim tour (or turning to Substack). More often than not, there are no consequences of the so-called cancelation.

It’s true. The ground is shifting under the feet white Christian men and those who seek to elevate them. There was a time when the casting couch was an open secret, when men who are considered geniuses were indulged in all sort of tyrannical behavior, when male professors blithely bedded undergrads, when you could, in a phrase, “get away with stuff.” But you can no longer have a secret button under your desk that locks the door from inside (all the better to sexually assault underlings), you can no longer ruin the career of any woman who doesn’t sleep with you, or casually jerk off in front of women who sought your mentorship. There was a time when there were zero consequences for such behavior, now there (occasionally) is. It’s a shift, from absolute freedom to . . . a little less freedom.

What’s funny is, when I see someone like Elon Musk talking about how cancel culture and the woke mind virus is the worst thing happening to our culture, I can’t help but to laugh. To him, it is! People who whine about cancel culture are generally lacking in empathy—they can’t advocate for or feel compassion for anyone who isn’t just like them. These progressive social movements have limited every societal advantage they’ve casually taken for granted, and they’re not going to go down without a fight.

But here’s the good news: Society actually has progressed. When Amazon is doing commercials with a female-presenting nonbinary person who learns to embrace their mustache, when Bud Light is giving sponcon to trans influencers (the backlash to that showed the anti-woke movement in all their ridiculous fragility), when Disney is sponsoring Pride Day, when Black stories are being told more and more and opportunities for Black and queer artists are multiplying—we’re winning. Indeed, it’s the very fact that we’re winning that freaks Team Patriarchy out so much. It makes them get louder, more angry, more hateful. But they can, in a phrase, stay mad. I’d much rather stay woke.

As always, the views in this blog are entirely mine.

Look What You Made Me Do: How the Right Lives With Itself

I find myself thinking a lot about Lance Armstrong lately. Not so much about the fact that he was a doper—that’s run-of-the-mill stuff. Lots of athletes take PEDs. It was the way he denied the doping allegations—full-throatedly, in any forum, and with a sense of righteous indignation. He did Nike commercials, for Pete’s sake, where he explicitly addressed the rumors: “Everybody wants to know what I’m on,” he said in a voiceover, as we watched him vigorously train. “What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass, six hours a day.”

Think about that for a second. It’s one thing to do drugs. It’s even one thing to deny doing them. But to do a commercial where you ADVERTISE the fact that you’re clean and furthermore mock your accusers? That’s a whole different level of chutzpah.

I’ve always been fascinated by how people can manage to live with themselves when they do objectively horrible things.

But then I remember something actors are told early in their careers: Villains never know they’re villains. Everyone is the hero of their own story.

Still, the details here are worth exploring. How did Lance Armstrong convince himself he was the hero? How did he get in front of that camera, get on that mic, and tell a bald-faced LIE? Not just a denial. An actual lie, where he boasted about the opposite of the truth.

Well, I have a few theories.

Theory one: He gave himself a pass: As a cancer survivor, he believed that he had earned the right to enhance his performance. No other cancer survivors were out there winning the Tour de France. Doping was essentially leveling the playing field.

Theory two: He did work hard. He did bust his ass six hours a day. He somehow convinced himself it was the hard work, not the PEDs that made him great.

Theory three: He believed everyone else did PEDs, too. If everyone’s doping, it’s the same as if no one’s doping. Everyone has the exact same advantage. Okay, sure, maybe some cyclists didn’t dope. But that just meant they were too stupid or weak to take their bodies to the limit like he did. As for the people who get caught? Even stupider.

That still doesn’t explain the commercials. The sheer brazenness of them. Except for the fact that, once you believe you are morally righteous, anyone who comes for you is a hypocrite or a villain. Suddenly, you’re not the bad guy doing drugs to enhance your performance. You’re the good guy being singled out and persecuted by people trying to bring you down.

You’re a goddamn martyr.

Right now, my mind is on the brutal attack of Paul Pelosi, the husband of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. It should’ve been a time for all political leaders to come together to condemn violence and violent rhetoric in all its forms. After all, Nancy Pelosi has been the subject of particular vitriol on the right—from political ads taking place in a shooting range calling for her “firing,” to Marjorie Taylor Greene riling up a crowd by saying Pelosi should be executed for treason. But that’s not what occurred. I mean, those on the left condemned the violence, of course. But those on the right came up with cockamamie (and homophobic) conspiracy theories involving sexual trysts and the intruder in his underpants and a mysterious coverup. “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” tweeted Elon Musk—to Hillary Clinton, no less!—linking to a far-right, oft-debunked media site (he later deleted the tweet without any further explication).

When the rumors were plainly refuted by the police, new narratives emerged. Pundits and politicians on the right tried to blame Biden—he was soft on crime, and even softer on immigration (the suspect is a white Canadian . . .silly right wingers, it’s only brown and Black immigrants that you fear). The guy who attacked Paul Pelosi was crazy! Even if his recent social media posts were filled with right-wing talking points—stolen election, trans people taking over our schools, Jews controlling the global economy, etc. etc.—it was no one’s fault this happened. He was a nut job. If it wasn’t one thing that set him off, it would’ve been something else.

Those on the right felt no guilt about what happened to Paul Pelosi because they had already positioned themselves as good guys in their own minds. The villains were the Democrats, who were always so quick to blame the right, so smug, so self-righteous. “They think they’re better than us,” is a narrative that positively dominates right wing thinking. This is where THEIR persecution complex comes in. It’s so hard to be male and white and conservative in this day and age. The whole world has ganged up on us. Everyone thinks we’re racist or a predator or a white supremacist.  

This is why calling someone on the right racist is an exercise in futility. They’ll never own up to it, reflect on it, interrogate their own behavior. They’ll say, “Oh, there goes someone on the left calling me a racist again!” The sin, you see, is the accusation, not the behavior that led to the accusation. Occasionally they’ll go as far as to say, “The left called me racist so many times, I had no choice but to become racist.” (That one comes up more often than you might think.) But in general, they just think the accusation is a sign of the derangement of the left, who see racism in everything. (I mean, a school district can’t even ban a book on slavery these days without being accused of being racist!)

There are other ways that politicians on the right, in particular, live with everything they’ve done—the COVID denial, the refusal to ban assault weapons, the election lies that led to January 6th.

Some, like Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz are just true believers. They believe the election was stolen. They believe abortion is murder. That guns save lives. That liberal parents are forcing gender reassignment surgery on their children. And that, God help us, Trump was a great president. They’re indoctrinated in a way I can’t really explain, except to say, well, they’re not that bright.

But there are others: Ted Cruz, Kevin McCarthy, Lindsey Graham, et al. who secretly know the truth. They know the rhetoric emanating from the right is dangerous. They know guns kill people. They know COVID was real, that Trump lost, that climate change exists. Their rationalization comes in two forms: There’s the wink-wink, everyone knows not to take this shit seriously contingent. Those folks truly see politics as a game and simply believe they play it better than anyone else The Democrats lie, too; they cheat, too, they believe—we’re just better at it. (Mitch McConnell and his shit-eating turtle grin falls squarely into this contingent). This corresponds with Lance Armstrong presumably thinking that most athletes dope and those who don’t simply don’t have the cojones to do it.

Then there’s the “liberals are destroying America” brigade. They believe that America is dangerously lurching away from its white, Christian, patriarchal roots, that liberals have gone mad with cancel culture and wokeism so therefore, whatever they’re doing is to protect the American values (again, white, male, Christian) that they hold near and dear. So they’re righteous. When you believe you are righteous, you will excuse a lot. The ends justify the means and all that. When you believe you are fighting for the soul of America, you will let yourself off the hook again and again and again.

And yet still, like a chump, I keep waiting for that aha moment. When a young man in Buffalo went into a grocery store and killed 10 Black people, citing “replacement theory” as his motivation, I thought, briefly, that Tucker Carlson would have a crisis of conscience. After all, he had popularized a version of replacement theory on his FoxNews show. Surely he would feel guilty, mortified. Surely, it would lead to some sort of come to Jesus moment for him. But nope. Instead, he did all the things we’ve now come to expect. He said the killer was crazy, full stop. Not driven by any ideology. To blame him, Tucker Carlson, was bad faith opportunism—those who hate Carlson looking for an excuse to bring him down. In true Tucker fashion, he mocked those who would suggest he had anything to do with the shootings. I’m sure you’re all picturing his face right now: Mouth open, face red, in a kabuki performance of incredulity.

Everyone is the hero of their own narrative.

For Carlson to admit, hey, some of the imagery and language I’ve used on my show may’ve led to a mass murder—well, that would take a kind of humility, courage, and character that Carlson has never demonstrated.

So there you have it. Admitting you’re wrong is hard. Admitting your actions have led to horrible things is hard. Much easier is blaming and hating your ideological opponents, patting yourself on the back for winning the game, or believing that the ends justify the means.

Rationalization: It’s the right’s performance enhancing drug.

The opinions in this blog are solely my own.

Dear Americans in the Year 2121

Hey, how’s it going? How’s the planet? Still habitable? (Don’t answer that.)

But I’m not here to talk about the environment. Well, not specifically at least.

I’m here to try to convince you that 2121 is not as far away from 2021 as you think. I mean, I’m sure it feels far away. We drove cars while you all drive individual space capsules. We watched things on screens while you have images directly beamed into your cerebral cortexes. We attend Zoom meetings while you converse via holograms.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned. Humankind makes advancements but human nature is fixed. I wish that weren’t true. I wanted to believe that it could evolve. But I know better now.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Donald Trump.

I used to think dictators only rose to power under two circumstances: When the people were powerless or when they were misinformed.

I would see images of Mussolini—such a ridiculous dude, waddling around the dais, screaming at people, getting red-faced and apoplectic with patriotic fervor—or Adolf Hilter, that sweaty man, with that greasy hair of his stuck to his forehead, that smudge of a mustache, that utter lack of charm—and think: The people just didn’t know better. There was no CNN, no cable news, no way to really see what pathetic losers these guys truly were. If they actually had full access to these men, they’d reject them.

But then along comes Trump with his frizzy combover, his ludicrous orange-painted skin, his bloated physique (rivaled only by his bloated self-regard)—in some ways, the most ridiculous of them all. Donald Trump is, quite plainly, a buffoon. If you’re reading this from the future and you think those of us in the 21st century didn’t know he was a buffoon, you’re mistaken. Many of us did. And yet many others—people with televisions, people who saw him every day, people who were informed still voted for him. Yes, yes, they were misinformed, too. Led astray by FoxNews (really hoping you’ll need to look up what FoxNews was in 2121) and websites like OAN and Breitbart and Newsmax that told them Trump was a great man, a winner, a leader, a patriot. But they had eyes, right? They saw him, too, right? And yet, they still idolized him. Part of what they liked, mind you, was how angry he made the libs. I wrote a bit about that here.

Okay, let’s talk about pandemics. I remember reading about the flu pandemic of 1918 and thinking, “Oh those poor bastards.” They didn’t have the most modern medicine. They didn’t have a flu vaccine. They didn’t have access to the kind of public health information we all enjoy today. Something like that could never happen again, right? Right?

But as COVID cases rose, so did the conspiracy theories: It was a hoax. It was overblown. It was a way for the government to control us. Wearing a mask—a simple and only mildly inconvenient safety measure—was seen as a massive infringement of one’s individual freedom and rights.

When vaccines finally came, I thought that would be the end of it: a free, widely available, and effective way to put this tragic and debilitating crisis behind us. But somehow, vaccines got mixed up in the divisive politics of our day. Somehow, even as the unvaccinated were dying—people who derided vaccines as dangerous and unnecessary and later begged for the vaccine on their deathbeds—it didn’t change people’s minds. And to make matters worse, people who were in charge of the serving public trust, people who knew better—politicians, cable news hosts—were actively encouraging their followers to defy public health guidelines. Because to do otherwise would be to lose viewers and/or votes.

I always knew that politicians would do almost anything to keep power, but I thought they would draw the line at actively killing their constituents. How naïve I was. (I could do 1,200 more words on how, between climate change skepticism, gun love, and COVID denial the Republicans have essentially turned into a death cult, but that’s an essay for another time.) So here we are as I write: Still losing thousands of people a day to a senseless virus that could be greatly minimized, if not gone completely.

My biggest takeaway from all of this is that tribalism, being part of Team Anti-Vax or Team Freedom or Team Trump, is more powerful than the will to live. I will say that again: The will to be part of a tribe is more powerful than the will to live.

Never forget that.

Finally, I want to talk about social progress. By 2021, we’ve made a fair amount of progress. Gay marriage is legal. Equity and anti-racism have become part of the lexicon, slowly but surely. There’s a revolution underway in terms of how we talk about gender and identity. But here’s another thing I’ve learned. Progress does not always move in one direction.

A few weeks ago, a draconian anti-abortion bill was passed in Texas, and upheld by our extremely right-wing Supreme Court (fodder for another 1,200 word essay). The overturning of Roe v Wade seems all but inevitable.

What’s more, the social progress we’ve achieved has sparked a backlash, one that Trump and his allies have seized upon. FoxNews host Tucker Carlson (picture the most punchable face imaginable, then put a bowtie on it) openly talks about replacement theory. Congressman Steve King says things that would not be out of place at a KKK rally. (Speaking of nonwhite people, he said, “I would ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people you are talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization [than whites]?”) Trump referred to the tiki-torch-carrying white supremacists who marched in defense of a Robert E Lee monument in Charlottesville shouting “Jews will not replace us!” as “very fine people.” Later, his followers stormed the Capitol wielding confederate flags. (“Go home. We love you. You’re very special,” Trump told his seditious supporters while the riot was happening.)
At the border, children were ripped out of their parents’ hands and put in cages, kidnapped and tortured basically— and this was acceptable because they had brown skin, because they were “murderers and rapists” (according to Trump), because they were here to replace us (according to FoxNews).

A panic over “Critical Race Theory” bubbled up—and it became an all-purpose boogeyman to decry any interrogation of racism in our nation. Lots of white people had a sad over it—“I teach my children to be colorblind and all you want to do is talk about race!”—while actually having no interest in exploring inequality or systemic racism (and having no idea what Critical Race Theory actually is).

The point of this letter is this. You’re no doubt technologically advanced in 2121. You’re sophisticated compared to us 2021 rubes. You’re progressive in your values. You’ve read your history. But never get comfortable. People are people. They are easily manipulated, fearful of the “other.” They resist change and cleave to the status quo. They crave leadership, even if that leadership is morally vacant. They deny obvious scientific truths out of convenience or tribalism or greed. They can’t resist when someone gives them permission to succumb to their worst instincts. The same people who had slaves, who attended lynchings, who enforced Jim Crow laws, who voted for Trump, who denied climate change, who allowed people to buy semi-automatic guns without a permit, who refused vaccines and masks, who stormed the Capitol—they are us. They are you. They are Americans.

Thanks for listening.


P.S. Did they ever get to the bottom of that whole Julianna Margulies/Archie Panjabi feud on The Good Wife? If so, time travel back to 2021 and spill the tea, bestie.

Clare-ical Error: Thoughts on The Bachelorette, S 16


I love when an episode of The Bachelorette reminds us just how insane the show really is.

Here’s what normally happens during a typical season: It lasts for about three months, our lovebirds spend maybe a grand total of 30 hours together (if they’re lucky), and then they get engaged and we are all sappy piles of goo on the floor. Sure, we can pretend to resist it. We can “hate watch.” We can troll the show on Twitter. But in the end, as the music swells and the pretty people cry and the giant Neil Lane rock gets tremulously placed on the Bachelorette’s finger, we suspend our disbelief and just go with it. (Indeed, I have cried during Bachelor proposals when I already knew the couple had broken up. Such is the manipulative power of television.)

Anyway, last night, Clare—beautiful, new agey, old-as-Methuselah-in-Bachelor-years Clare—did something unprecedented. She fell for Dale—that hunk of burning love with the rock-hard abs and elfin ears—right out of the gate, never wavered, never looked back, and basically didn’t even pretend to give a shit about any of the other men. (“That’s my husband,” she said on episode one, which is the equivalent of the private eye saying, “The nanny did it” in the first scene of a murder mystery.) Now, I’m sure there have been other leads who have fallen for someone on day one, and went through the motions of dates and one-on-ones, just to keep up appearances. But never have we had a lead who literally just checked out: I’m good. I’m done. I call game.

We were all spoiled so we knew what was coming next: Chris Harrison gravely entering Clare’s hotel suite, getting moist-eyed as Clare gushed about how Dale reminded her of her dead father (actually, he led the witness there: “Does Dale remind you of your dead father?” he asked), and then saying, famously, “You just blew up the Bachelor.”

Here’s what we didn’t know: That he was about to insist that Dale propose.

Wait, what?

Sure, it’s one thing when the couple has spent 30 hours together—that’s almost two full days! But THIS, now this was positively absurd!

Of course, dear readers, both things are absurd, maybe this only slightly more absurd than the normal premise of the show.

And yet, it all felt extra ridiculous.

Every once in a while, as I’ve written before, Chris Harrison goes into automaton mode. MUST SAY MOST SHOCKING EPISODE EVER. Bleep bloop bleep. MUST SAY FOLLOW YOUR HEART. Bleep bloop bleep. MUST HAVE PROPOSAL. Bleep bloop bleep.

Because there is absolutely no reason why, just because Clare picked and sticked with Dale, the poor bastard had to propose to her on the spot. They could’ve, I don’t know, gone on a second date. Found out each other’s middle names. Discussed what political party they belonged to. And yet, it’s the Bachelor script and they are not budging from it. Proposal it is.

And boy did Dale look like a deer trapped in the headlights when Chris told him his fate.

Here he was, a guy who went on a reality TV show maybe to meet a girl, but definitely to up his Instagram follower count and be on TV, and he was clearly doing well in the competition, which was sweet, but who figured he had a solid 12 more weeks of television before he had to do anything other than look good in a suit.

A day ago, he was thrilled to get a little one-on-one time during a group date, and now Chris Harrison was all, “Propose, peasant!”

But…unlike Clare, who deviated from the script, Dale dutifully played his part, picking a giant ring from Neil Lane (who is apparently on 24-7 Bachelor standby) and unsteadily getting down on one knee, like a gallant giant, and professing his love. He seemed to gain confidence—to believe his own lies, as it were—as the proposal went on, to the point where he was almost convincing by the time they kissed in celebration of their blessed, joyful, and DEFINITELY NOT DOOMED TO FAIL impending nuptials.

And, whereas the final proposal of a given Bachelorette season is usually heart-stoppingly romantic, this was—well there’s no other way to put it—creepy as hell.

Look, I’m not going to deny the fact that Clare’s overall CLARENESS led to the sense of ick. She seemed way too into Dale, in an obsessive, stalkerish way—always smelling his pants and never managing to complete a single sentence without the word “Dale.”

Typical conversation between Clare and another one of her bachelors (and I’m not even exaggerating here):

Clare: “Let’s talk about you!

Bachelor (thinks): <Finally!>

Claire: What do you think of Dale?”

She all but wore a tee-shirt that read, “I’d Rather Be Kissing Dale.”

(And for those who get this reference, Clare managed to be both Elisabeth Olsen’s flower child influencer AND Aubrey Plaza’s obsessive stalker in Ingrid Goes West.) (If you haven’t seen that movie, you must.)

So yeah, Clare’s manic love made it feel weirder. But then whole show is weird! As are most romantic movies, for that matter! Have you watched The Notebook lately? This was just an accelerated version of the basic weirdness of the show. So in a way, Clare didn’t so much “Blow up the Bachelor” as remind us how messed up it truly is.

Bring on Tayshia!