Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Last night I finished watching the second season of Russian Doll. I was going to write something about it until I realised it would be almost literally impossible without major spoilers. Everyone else who's tried has had the same problem. 

I know because, following my usual pattern, the moment the end credit music on the seventh and final episode ran down I flipped to Chrome and started googling reviews. All of them began with a "Major Spoilers Ahead" warning and well they should.

Don't fret. I'm not going to talk about the story or the plot or the writing or even the acting or the actors. Just about anything I might mention could give something away and knowing anything at all before you watch would run counter to the very concept of the show. 

What I will say is that I thought at first I was going to be a little disappointed but I ended up not being. Also, I think it's a season that needs to be re-watched before judgments are passed. 

I'll also mention that if I ever want to give a practical example of the Intentional Fallacy I'll quote Natasha Lyon's interview in which she explains the ending and contrast it with Sophie Gilbert's review in Atlantic. Don't click those links if you haven't seen the show yet. Just take note of these quotes:

"It’s okay that this is the way I am, and it’s okay that this is the way you are." - Natasha Lyon, writer.

"The only way to bear what Nadia can’t change is to accept that she can’t change it." - Sophie Gilbert, reviewer.

They kind of agree, right? Although the tone is very different.

"But really, for them, three and a half years later, [it’s about] ‘How do I start living? What does it mean to be present in a life and make the most of the time that we have in the here and now, with our set of circumstances?"NL

"It’s a devastating way to leave a show that, at its outset, underlined how connection with other people could bring hope, joy, and redemption... Season 2’s final moments feel so shatteringly incomplete." - SG

Now they don't. They're seeing entirely different pictures.

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about the smoking. Geeeeeeeeeez! The smoking! I could hardly follow the plot for the smoke. At least that's my excuse.

Don't I remember reading just a few years ago how there were a whole set of rules for film and tv, either external or self-imposed, about not depicting cigarette smoking in a positive light? Wasn't it meant to be uncool to show smoking as cool, if not actually illegal? 

I even seem to remember something about old movies and shows being recut to remove or reduce the instances of smoking. I could have sworn it caused some kind of minor controversy over authenticity and cultural heritage.

Yeah, well, that seems to have died a death, ironically. I'm watching three shows on Netflix at the moment and two of them feature smoking almost as a core feature.(The one that doesn't is Space Force, in case anyone's playing some kind of drinking game.)

The one that's not Russian Doll is the original anime version of Cowboy Bebop in which all the main characters other than Edward, who's about eleven or twelve years old and Ein, who's a dog, smoke with élan; stylishly if not obsessively. Everything about the show is intended to drip cool, from the jazz soundtrack to the slinky spaceports and a certain kind of casual smoking very definitely ups that cool factor.

Cowboy Bebop was made just over twenty years ago, though, so you could argue standards were different then. I'm not sure there's any smoking at all in the recent live-action remake, even by the bad guys.

Russian Doll, Season 2 was made over the last couple of years, so there's not even that cigarette-paper thin excuse. Neither does the fact that some of the scenes take place in other time periods. Cigarette consumption here isn't historic, it's heroic.

In the first episode, Nadia, Natasha Lyon's character and the center of the story, spends so much time playing with an unlit cigarette I found myself wondering if the actor was a non-smoker who didn't want to inhale. Given that she's also the writer, that would seem unlikely.

That reticence turns out to be foreplay. For the succeeding six episodes Nadia's barely seen without a lit cigarette, often between her lips as she growls out her lines. Everyone else around her smokes too, or it feels like they do.

It's so foregrounded at times I found it actively distracting. I gave up smoking decades ago but I grew up in an era when knowing how to smoke was both a vital social skill and a mark of sophistication. I can't look at someone smoking without infering plenty about their character. 

In the case of Russian Doll and with due deference to the Intentional Fallacy, it's very plain that's what you're meant to do. Smoking acts as a plot point, a character arc and ironic foreshadowing, among other devices. With cigarette smoking at an all-time low I did wonder what, if anything , it all implied about the intended audience.

You're not going to get an answer on that from me. I just know what I'm watching isn't a documentary. If someone smokes in Russian Doll it's for a reason. And they do. All the time.

I'm not saying its cool or clever. We al know it's not. Still, it adds something that wouldn't be there otherwise and its hard to find anything to replace that effect. Which, I guess, is why writers keep lighting up even when the world is trying to give it up.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide