Moon #18: “A Hanged Man Knows How to Bluff”
“There’s something in me that’s hard and insoluble and a little bitchy and just difficult. And I think it’s that part, that part that won’t negotiate, that pushed my wife out of the zeppelin.”
Mike Daisey’s 29-part monologue, All the Faces of the Moon, has offered wildly unexpected plot turns and genre blending brilliance all the way through, but nothing prepared me for Episode 18. It’s a testament to the elasticity of Daisey’s story – which centers on truth, fiction, magic, and myth – that he can so easily include a jaunt into a parallel steampunk universe. Even more impressive is that it doesn’t feel like an afterthought or something that’s been fastened on to the main story, but rather something integral and organic; another critical layer of brittle, translucent skin on this slowly-peeling onion. Had Daisy grasped for it too forcefully, it would have crumbled. Instead, like nearly every component in this immense narrative thus far, he pares it off slowly, savoring every mechanized detail.
After a brief introduction exploring the complexities and cosmic limits of marital love, Dasiey picks up immediately with the climactic scene of the previously episode, when he shoved his wife, Jean-Michele Gregory, out of a zeppelin over Chinatown. This is the first time we experience the story from Jean-Michele’s perspective, and Daisey seems to have a lot of fun observing himself through her eyes. He jokes that since he and Jean-Michele are collaborators and spend every moment together, the true elapsed time of their relationship, compared to other couples, is something like a thousand years. Because of this, he says, Jean-Michele knows every aspect of him. From her observations here and her interactions with Daisey elsewhere in this story, it’s apparent that the magical aspect of his life is not something Jean-Michele is entirely comfortable with. Yet, as a pragmatist who understands the stakes of what’s going on – an ethereal ladder to heaven, the end of the world – she has agreed to put up with this “Daisey bullshit” for a while. In this capacity, she finds herself parachuting into Manhattan, a hanged woman, dangling from her white parachute and gazing at its metal filaments.
She comes to ground on the roof of Katz’s Delicatessen, but not Katz’s as we know it. This is a steampunk version of Katz’s Delicatessen.
Daisey set this up beautifully in the previous episode with a brief aside about Katz’s. He described the décor (the layers of celebrity photos) and the vibe (annoying tourists from Ohio) of this New York staple perfectly and seemed wryly impressed with the way the deli has marketed its brand but also remained true to itself. The way Katz’s keeps itself going, he says, is by cooking the people who lose their counter tickets into pastrami. Within the Daiseyverse, where Daisey’s warped sense of humor and hyperbole are the alpha and the omega, this is of course meant literally. While this grisly plot point will surely rear its head again, the time reconstructing the physical place of Katz’s pays off here.
Daisey knows that fantasy environments become more potent with specificity. Having Jean-Michele parachute into the middle of a generic steampunk universe probably wouldn’t have been pointed enough. Daisey is going for a truly profound sort of alienation here, so a version of Katz’s with a handful of “clockwork men,” whose faces are composed of clicking gears, grinding their jaws on metallic sausages was the way to go. The surrealism of seeing some of those celebrity photos replaced with photos of robots and encountering tourist automatons from Ohio has more impact since we know what the space is supposed to feel like. Even forgetting its general ingeniousness and truly astounding sensory details, the steampunk Katz’s succeeds magnificently in pure Storytelling 101 terms by setting something up and then paying it off in an unexpected way.
Mind you, I still have NO IDEA what we are even doing in a steampunk universe. Given that the rest of the episode centers so heavily on dreams – the return of the Jungian shadow, Livia’s meeting with her Chinese counterpart – it’s within the realm of possibility that the whole thing is some kind of dream. At the end Jean-Michele take the steampunk F-Train – basically a bullet in a pneumatic tube – to her and Daisey’s old apartment in Brooklyn. It’s the apartment she always slept best in and following Daisey’s written instructions that we are not privy to, she gets in bed.
Livia experiences a familiar location in an alienating way as well. She finally meets Shin Wei, the girl whose body she’s been inhabiting, in a coordinated dream where Shin Wei wants to show her something. Livia is given a chilling tour of the i Phone factory she’s been dreaming about, where in some rooms there are human bodies opened up on conveyer belts with camera assemblies being put into them. Here and also in another room where people are painting indistinguishable images on canvases, Livia sees thin red threads running up from everyone into the ceiling; a kind of nightmare of industry and biology. “Hanged men” for the information age, perhaps? At what point do our tethers to technology become nooses? I can’t claim to know exactly what Daisey is up to here, but all the imagery gives me the screaming heebie jeebies.
Meanwhile we spend a little time with Gibbs, who recalls a Burning Man festival from seven years ago. One night in the desert, while tripping on Mescaline and looking at the Moon, a voice told him to go to New York and protect a girl. The voice continued to haunt him for years. At one point he went to a therapist and hilariously said, “I just need you to tell me if the voice in my head is the voice of God.” But eventually he did go to New York and now he is protecting Livia. As he prepares to do his Russian Roulette trick to juice himself up to take on some more vampires, another voice tells him to stop. It’s the voice of Phil, he and Daisey’s erstwhile magic sensei. He’s come to let Gibbs know that the Jungian Shadow – the nightmare doppelganger that Sad Carl discovered and the one that probably killed The Big Guy – is after Livia.
Indeed, as if the atmospherics weren’t enough, the Shadow arrives in Livia and Shin Wei’s shared dream. It looks exactly like Livia, but does not move like her. In the final moments, it snaps Shin Wei’s neck and says to Livia, “That’s enough.”
Follow the podcast at mikedaisey.com