I don’t have a lot of time today but I did want to put down some thoughts before they vanished from my brain entirely.
1. High Maintenance.
My brother told me about this show over the weekend, and so last night after we put our kid to bed we ended up watching a few episodes. (I should add that, on his recommendation, we started with Season 2, Episode 1, rather than starting from the very beginning – the show itself is non-linear and episodic and somewhat Black Mirror-ish in that it’s got a mostly different cast in every episode.) (I should also add that the aforementioned Season 2 opener is fucking incredible and is what got us hooked on watching the rest of it from the beginning; I should also add that even for an HBO show it contains a rather startling amount of sexual content – it makes Game of Thrones look like Sesame Street.)
Anyway, some thoughts. On the one hand: it’s a brilliant idea. The show is basically a series of short stories about the lives of New Yorkers who have nothing to do with each other except that they have the same weed dealer. Often the “weed guy” is barely in the episode at all – indeed, one particularly moving vignette takes place entirely through the POV of a dog. It’s a funny show but it’s not necessarily “stoner humor”; instead, the thing I love about it is that it lingers in those ambient and transient moments that occur between other moments, which is the sort of thing that a stoner might find interesting. It certainly captures those weird 10-15 minutes of hang-out time between the dealer’s arrival and departure. And if nothing else, it’s the first show I’ve seen since moving out to the suburbs that’s made me miss living in New York City, because it captures the rhythms of city life more accurately than anything else I’ve seen.
On the other hand: one can’t help but notice that the weed guy is white, and you’re almost never, ever, EVER worried about him getting arrested. I’ve only seen a handful of episodes, so maybe this gets brought up at some point. I’m not saying the show ignores race – indeed, the show has a wildly diverse cast from episode to episode in terms of the weed guy’s clientele, and many scenes are filmed in other, native languages with English subtitles, and the accompanying culutural rhythms are presented realistically. But it’s the sort of thing that, in this current cultural moment, is very hard to ignore.
2. Far Cry 5.
I don’t know how to write about Far Cry 5. I’ve only dabbled with it for a few hours, so I don’t yet have a full sense of where the game is going. But it certainly feels like a Far Cry game – well, let me rephrase that. It feels like an extension of 3 and 4, and that leads me to ask an obvious question: what is a Far Cry game supposed to feel like?
I can’t pretend to answer that question fairly, because of the 6 and a half Far Cry games that have been released (the half being Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon), I’ve only actually seen the credits roll for one of them (that being Far Cry 4). I’ve played maybe an hour of the first one and even less of the second; I understand that quite a few critics love Far Cry 2, and if nothing else they call it one of the most avant-garde AAA first-person shooters ever made, but I’ve only seen a tiny sliver of it, and that was at least 3 apartments ago. I got somewhere near the end of Far Cry 3, but then the shooting at Sandy Hook happened and the act of firing a gun made me feel sick to my stomach, and FC3’s bloodlust felt particularly brutal in that context. I’ve seen maybe the first half of Primal, which is certainly an interesting experiment, though mechanically it doesn’t necessarily do anything that the other games haven’t already done.
That said, I’ve played enough of 5 to recognize its rhythms. You meet the game’s villain in the beginning – as you do in 3 and 4 – and then you make a violent escape and eventually take him down by reclaiming the land for the native citizenry. This time around, of course, the action takes place not in some far-flung tropical island or Himalayan plataeu, but rather in rural Montana; your villain is a cult leader, and you – a lowly police deputy – find yourself forced to take him down in order to escape (since, for some reason, you have no cell phone service and can’t call backup).
Far Cry 5 could be a really interesting bit of social commentary, if it had any courage. If you say the word “cult”, chances are you’ll think of David Koresh and Waco, Texas – or you might think of Heaven’s Gate, or Jonestown. If you consider the idea of a gun-crazy group of militiamen who abhor the federal government, you might recall the Bundy family, who took over that wildlife preserve just a few years ago, basically daring the feds to come in shooting. If you think of armed citizens, you might be tempted to think of any of the dozens of mass shootings that have taken place in the last 6 months. If you think of the idea of a policeman forced to shoot their fellow Americans, you might be reminded of any of the hundreds of unarmed black Americans that have been killed by police in the last few years.
Far Cry 5 addresses literally none of these things. It exists in an entirely self-contained universe that, while taking place in the modern United States, has literally nothing to do with the country that we currently live in. It feels, instead, like a videogame; you shoot the same 3 or 4 grizzled rednecks who are heavily armed but also run in straight lines. You perform silly side missions for the locals after you liberate their towns from the cult (one early mission I’ve stumbled across requires me to harvest bull testicles for an upcoming town fair). The most interesting parts of the game (as in 3 and 4 and Primal) are the hidden caches, which usually involve some sort of light environmental puzzle solving.
As a game, it’s fun enough; it’s certainly gorgeous on the X, and the gunplay is solid and you’re never at a loss for things to do. But as a bit of social commentary – which you can’t help but feel like it should be, considering the subject matter – it comes up wildly short. One can’t help but wonder what this game would be like if, say, Rockstar had made it. (Well, I suppose one could just play GTA V in first-person mode and find out.)