Moon #14: “The Hermit Stands at the Turn of the River”
“History hangs around our neck like a noose. We’re beholden to every decision we’ve ever made. We’re beholden to who we are. We have the cards we were given. We come from the place we came from. We are who we are. And yet. And yet within that game so much is possible.”
Episode Fourteen of Mike Daisey’s twenty-nine part monologue, All the Faces of the Moon, is among the more challenging installments. One of the great advantages of unspooling this story episodically over a month is that Daisey is in no way beholden to the once sacred Aristotelian unities of action. To be sure, there are plenty of contemporary and experimental plays that give poor old Aristotle the shaft. But in some capacity most theatrical events are still limited to the time and space in which they occur. There’s a reason you need Aristotle, in much the same way that every D&D guild, as Daisey says in an earlier episode, needs a thief. You need someone to keep an eye out for the traps – for the hard realities of how many square feet there are or how many lighting instruments are available or how long the show runs. Within these parameters, flashbacks can be hard. Protracted flashbacks are even harder.
And so a campaign like part fourteen of Moon, which is almost totally devoted Daisey’s high school years, must completely short circuit typical audience expectations, especially following the high-stakes finale of the previous episode. Mind you, I am not saying that that would be a bad thing – part of Daisey’s mission statement with this piece, I think, is to crack open some of the boundaries of traditional storytelling and theater. Again, I am trying to imagine (and prepare for) what it would be like to encounter a single part of this story uninitiated. I don’t have this experience with the piece because I am essentially listening to this as an audiobook; to me this interlude constitutes a chapter in a book, where long flashbacks are not unheard of.
It doesn’t bother me if Daisey spins yarn out into infinity about speech and debate club, Dungeons and Dragons, and Boss Tweed without progressing his narrative in the traditional sense. When it’s over I’ll just start the next one. I’ve heard from people who binge-watched Lost years later on Netflix, and almost unanimously they enjoyed it more than I did. Of course they did. When you watch four episodes a night, you are more forgiving of a filler episode – or more likely you simply appreciate them for what they are in the context of the whole series. You are not watching live week to week, so who cares if every episode is not “Must See TV.” Not every episode can be “The Constant.” Or the one where we find out about the flash-forwards. Every once and a while you’ve got to have an episode where Hurley and the guys fix a van they found on the island. Full disclosure: I loved the van episode of Lost when I saw it and you know what? It ended up informing an important plot point later.
Similarly, this episode of Moon is far from a filler; in fact I think it brings a fairly monumental point to bear about exactly what Gibbs’ and Daisey have got themselves into when they entered the occult world. Games and specifically the rules of games pop up as recurring concepts in this episode. The way turn of the century newspaper magnates ran their poker tables. The way a dungeon master like Daisey builds the meteorological parameters of a campaign. The way Daisey organizes his file of news clippings when he competed in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking. It’s all about rules. So, when Daisey looks through his magic magnifying glass at the end to look at Leia, the girl from a rival debate team who he and Gibbs both kind of like, it’s not so much important that he sees that she is normal. Non-magical. A muggle. What he is really seeing is the new rules. He understands that in choosing to learn the arcane arts with Phil, he and Gibbs have given up on a lot of the normal parts of life, like having a girlfriend. They have given up on being normal themselves. “There are things in the darkness,” Gibbs says to Daisey, “and they’re us.”
But, again, I am a little contaminated. I have clocked in probably about twenty hours of this at this point, so I cannot adequately advocate for someone who might have only seen or heard this single episode. Would they understand the significance of this revelation? Daisey is very discreet about the magic in this episode – would audiences merely think that Gibbs and Daisey wanted Leia to join their D&D guild? What would an innocent bystander, who just decided to sample episode fourteen of this thing, make of it? I don’t know. I don’t understand what that part of the experience is like. But perhaps I will tonight. Kind of.
It’s the day of the show y’all.
I am writing this on October 3rd, 2013 – the night of the final performance of All the Faces of the Moon. I will be going to the live show at Joe’s Pub. But I am fifteen episodes behind Daisey – approximately halfway through the whole experience. Surely some of the same characters and elements will be in play, but it’s also possible that the landscape of the story has been utterly transformed. Will I be able to keep up? We’ll see. It should be a pretty reasonable simulation of what it’s like to come into this piece cold. My write-up of the final episode will not post until I catch up with the podcast.
Any sooner would be against the rules of the game.