J. David Nolan
Austen Ivereigh reports that when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was at the helm of the Colegio Máximo—a Jesuit seminary in the San Miguel region of Buenos Aires—he piloted with “a charismatic, personalist style of leadership, the kind Latins (and especially Argentines) respond naturally to, yet which Anglo-Saxons can regard as suffocating or demagogic.” This description neatly sums up why Ivereigh’s biography of Bergoglio, The Great Reformer, is a must-read for U.S. Catholics involved in media. For those who don’t have to follow the daily “takes” on the papacy, there’s no need to know much about the pontiff—local bishops should play a much more immediate role in the lives of the faithful than the pope. But for those who can’t avoid the confusing proliferation of interpretations of the current pontificate, the context and history that Ivereigh relate inoculate against the many false narratives promoted by uninformed or cynical journalists.
Recently I read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime—two classics about which I have nothing to say at this time, other than that Capote's achievement seems to have been surpassed by subsequent developments, in a way that Salter's has not.
More important is what I've been watching—the first two episodes of HBO's True Detective, Season Two. An inauspicious beginning. In place of two mammoth leads (Season One's McConaughey and Harrelson), you have four human-scale ones (Vaughn, Farrell, McAdams, Kitsch). The only nice surprise here is Rachel McAdams, in a gritty girl-detective role. I had expected McAdams to be a token addition, Nic Pizzolatto's reply to the criticism that he does not write women well or at all. McAdams's last underworld foray (as Irene Adler in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes franchise) was unconvincing. But her performance here is helped by her vocals, which are guttural and slangy. Really, this is a feat: She has so far kept me from wanting to kick the TV, in spite of idiotic plot lines (she leads a raid on a house of ill repute, there to find and scold her little sister, an “actress” in a blue wig; she voyages to a temple on a bluff, there to blame her sister's fall on their father, a new-age guru with beard and platitudes).
Pizzolatto is lost when he is not plagiarizing. He is lost without Cary Fukunaga, who directed all eight episodes of Season One and gave them their spooky, classy look. Fukunaga is replaced here by a bunch of guys you've never heard of, who handle Season Two as a standard crime drama. The crime itself emerges near the end of the first episode, and it looks to be a fairly conventional conspiracy-type murder, an effect of corruption and cui bonos. There is nothing primal here—no kids in the woods, no monsters in gas masks, no cultists on horseback—such as menaced Season One (even if everything collapsed in the finale). I begin to note that what made Pizzolatto look good in Season One was all either pirated (McConaughey's monologues and dialogues) or a credit to the director (general look and feel) or a matter of lightning-strike luck (general McConnaissance). What one had hoped was the start of something really new—a high-prestige anthology series, a permanent migration of filmic quality from the theater to the small screen—begins to look like just one good season.
Matthew H. Young
I have taken a break, as of late, from my usual diet of lengthy books, and have instead been reading shorter pieces in my spare time. This week, I have focused primarily on mid-twentieth-century moral philosophy. Among these, I revisited Phillipa Foot's 1967 essay The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect (and G. E. M. Anscombe's response). Foot's essay, which seeks to explain some of the conflicting ideas that tug on our reasoning surrounding abortion, is notable for its introduction of the now-famous Trolley Problem (which has spawned a near-Talmudic body of literature, collectively known as “Trolleyology”). This reading has given me much to ponder, but perhaps my primary observation is this: What terrible people ethicists are! They go around, sedating train conductors, tying railroad workers to tracks, poisoning organ donors, and abandoning businessmen on desert islands. Maybe what we need is a new, ethical, branch of ethicists!