Moon #13: “That Hideous Strength”
“Somehow, some people think this is real. There’s nothing real here. This is dust and shadows.”
Episode Thirteen of Mike Daisey’s All the Faces of the Moon is one of my favorites so far. With twelve episodes of this massive project behind him and a climactic encounter with the Grey Lady on the horizon, Daisey spends a little time reassessing his personal state. The first 40 minutes or so are classic Daisey: self-deprecating, contemplative, and FUNNY.
Man is it funny. I’ve certainly appreciated the humor throughout this series, but I laughed out loud more than usual while listening to this episode – always a fun experience on public transit. Something that particularly cracked me up: a lengthy segment in which Daisey describes the brief period of respectability he enjoyed before the debacle with This American Life, when offers to give graduation speeches and participate in panel discussions were plentiful. Daisy, vibrating on his own singularly wild frequency of whimsy, fanaticizes about BS-ing his way through the commencements with the vague rhetorical expressions typical of such speeches (like “This is the water, feel the water!”) and then running off with the honorarium checks.
Yet as is usually the case with Daisey, the sharp humor here swerves into denser material quite suddenly. The Daisey onstage and the Daisey within the narrative are both experiencing a deep existential dread in anticipation of this meeting with the Grey Lady, expressed in frequent ruminations on death, risk, and hopelessness. It’s a fraught and complex business, but Daisey transitions between commentary and narration – between Daisey the poet and Daisey the pilgrim, as it were – with such skill that we often don’t really care which is which. Daisey’s is an astoundingly omnidirectional storyteller, leaving no tangent unchased and no flashback unflashed. The result often allows for some meta deconstruction:
You think this is me? This is not me. This is an artifact. This is a delusion and a performance; this is not me. This has never been real. None of this has ever been real. But it is an opportunity, an invitation. And it has a certain truth in it that weighs it down.
Speaking of flashbacks, we get a Kill Bill 2 style flashback of Gibbs receiving his occult training from Phil back in Maine. Crazy old Phil was hardly a sophisticated tutor, and used to smack Gibbs with a pool cue to help him channel his hate into magic. It’s something that comes in handy when we find Gibbs where we left him at the end of last episode – holding a gun to his head while facing off with seven vampire bankers. As Daisey himself admits, the notion of Wall Street bankers who are actually psychic vampires sucking the life out of Manhattan probably is a little on the nose, but he sells it in the details. These jokers are straight out of the Buffy aesthetic in the best way possible – eyeless, no doubt dressed in sharp business suits, and posing with their Blade memorabilia. Gibbs makes fairly quick work of them, and then regroups with Livia and Saul. Saul, the centuries-old Golem who loves sitcoms, has the makings of a terrific character, further crystalized by the measured vocal shift Daisey uses when speaking as him.
Daisey’s meeting with the Grey Lady finally happens on neutral ground: The Peter Luger Steakhouse. The Grey Lady, the human avatar for the New York Times, and Daisey clearly don’t care much for each other. Before Daisey can get to the bottom of the mystery of Livia, the Times, and Zuccotti Park however, a small army of bankers, led by George Soros, converges on the restaurant.