Nosedive: Black Mirror, Can It Happen?

Before we determine whether the events in Nosedive can happen, let’s look back to when this episode was released: October 21, 2016. 

2016 was the year our smartphones completely took over our lives. The rise of Pokemon Go during the summer was a key piece of evidence. In a matter of weeks, people worldwide were wandering around staring at their phones. Some even ventured into dangerous neighborhoods and private priorities to catch them all and ended up losing their lives. 

Disappearing videos were also growing in popularity. Snapchat had a big year in 2016, with one in five Americans engaging with the platform. Gaining adoption from an older audience, Snapchat proved that ephemeral content was not only for kids. 

Across the Internet, the rabbit holes for obscure, hateful, and extreme content dropped deeper and deeper, creating echo chambers for conspiracy theories. While we were suspicious that algorithms and foreign influence might be involved, we didn’t know Facebook and Cambridge Analytica were using data harvested from the social network to fuel political unrest leading to Donald Trump becoming president and the UK leaving the European Union. 

In 2016, the physical world had many problems: political tensions, soaring debt, school shootings, and Samsung phone explosions. Technology companies were making our attention span shorter and our insatiable hunger for attention more vital. And while we may not be able to afford a house in the physical world, at least we could find comfort in a digital one… But slowly that realm was corroding. And there was no rewind button—no eject—we had fallen too deep.  

As we longed for a simpler time, our nostalgia was left exposed. And money-hungry executives happily used it against us by selling uninspired remakes and clothing with old logos. 

That was where the zeitgeist was in 2016. Technology was pushing us forward while we were looking back longingly. We wanted to be heroes and victims. Masters and influencers. Stars and black holes. And with that, let’s look at Black Mirror season 3, episode 1: Nosedive. 

In this post, I will explore three themes of the episode and discuss whether such events or concepts have taken place in some form in the last few years and if they haven’t, whether or not they’re still plausible. 

Without further ado, let’s jump into it. 

Social Credit Score

In the world of Nosedive, the residents don’t live such different lives from ours. Their hopes and desires are much the same. And we too need to be approved in order to get them. In order to buy a house, start a business, get into a college, or find a job we need to have our credits evaluated. 

The story follows a young professional, Lacie, who wants to purchase her own property. But to do so, she needs to increase her rating—which is directly linked to her socioeconomic status—from 4.2 to 4.5. 

I remember watching this episode in 2016 and feeling uneasy about the idea of reviewing people. Since then, I’ve signed up for apps such as Uber and Airbnb, so the concept of giving someone a score on a device has all gotten familiar even though it’s still uncomfortable. If it meets expectations, I’m giving it a 5-star. I don’t want to be a critic for everything I do.

Most consumers have a credit score, an objective number that predicts credit risk and informed financial institutions to lend them money or not. A credit score takes account of indisputable aspects of our financial habits, such as how regularly we pay off our bills, how many accounts we own, and how much available credit we use. For example, you’d need a credit score of 680 or over to get a mortgage. 

Additionally, there are academic scores, which most of us had suffered through when embarking on our educational pursuits. The grade point average determines whether we qualify for one institution over another. For example, you’ll need a GPA of 4.18 or over to get into Harvard. 

However, the eeriest real-life scenario relating to this episode is the Social Credit Score that may or may not be implemented in China. 

In 2013, the government of Rongcheng, China, a city with half a million people, implemented a social credit score. Each person began with a rating of 1,000 to start, and good and bad deeds would lower or increase that number. 

During this experiment, citizens lost points for spreading harmful information, with one citizen losing 950 points in three weeks for distributing letters online about a medical dispute. Of course, the government decides what’s considered harmful. That’s the main argument for the social credit score: it’s to help enforce existing laws. But when the laws can be twisted, social credit scores become scary and Orwellian. The authorities no longer need to listen to criticism—because criticism is harmful. 

Criticizing the government could theoretically lower your rating and rank you as someone who had gone to prison or been bankrupt. This penalization will disqualify you from getting a loan, buying a car, or even traveling abroad. Like in Nosedive, there isn’t a reliable appeal process either. Lacie could beg the authority at the airport all she wants, but whatever the law feels is necessary, it does.

The whole system falls apart when the power goes to those with no qualms about abusing the ratings. That is why any good review platform will have impartial moderators. Otherwise, those with a higher rank can create loyalists by rewarding good behaviors while oppressing those they deem threats or disobedient.

Boosting Social Status

Social media has given us another obsession with numbers: the amount of likes, follows, and comments. We put a numerical value on everything we do. These metrics can give us a hit of dopamine or bum us out, but they can also now greatly influence our income. You don’t even need to be an influencer. Amazon sellers need good reviews, and podcasters need five stars. It’s too competitive. There is just no way to survive without it. And because of that vulnerability, the power can be abused. 

One of my favorite parts in this episode was when Lacie goes to this analytics consultant, and he walks her through all her data. As a marketer, this is all too relatable. How many times have I charted the result of a successful campaign? Or reviewed why a piece of content didn’t appeal to an audience? 

In this social media world, we all have to be personal brands. We treat ourselves like a business. Like a restaurant on Yelp or an app in the App Store, we need to monitor our influence, measure our performance, and increase our exposure. We need a communication team, a public relations team, and a growth team. If we miss a beat, we can expose ourselves to bad press. We need to know which side to stand on, like when Lacie had to pick sides between coworkers. To avoid being ostracized—or, as we say these days, getting canceled—she needs to join the mob. 

We are an investment, a stock trending up and down. Overall we want to go up. We want to stay relevant and increase in value. Marketing is important because it’s how businesses gain positive exposure and present their offerings to the world. When everyone is a content creator, getting married is a media production, a big marketing campaign. Weddings are like the Oscars or the Olympics. It’s where you can really increase your reach and up your score. 

While Naomi carefully curated her wedding to maintain her rank, Lacie wanted to leverage the wedding to boost her score. The stakes increased since the wedding would include many high-rated individuals whose scores were inherently worth more. By interacting with them at such a grand event, she’d get the spike in ratings she needed to reach her goals. 

When people are only measured by their scores, we get a homogenized world where every action is driven by numbers. This is a dangerous way of living. It creates a constant sense of discontentment. There is always a higher number, and we will always want more. We’d want to upgrade everything. Nothing is ever enough. Not our home. Not our followers. Not our friends. Not our lovers. Not our jobs. We will be stuck on what experts call the hedonic treadmill, where whatever happiness we get from money, accolade, or status would feel nice at first but won’t ever be enough. Eventually, we will return to our default level, wanting more. 

Faking It

Another theme of this episode was how Lacie had to be constantly on. She had to present herself in a certain way because the world was a stage. From the posts she published on social media to her interactions with service people, she had to maintain a pleasant persona. 

At the start of the pandemic, everyone was locked down, and the only way to see our friends and work was through video calls. Every day we had to sit in front of a camera and put on a show. Being so disconnected from body language, social cues, and physical energy, we needed to channel Meryl Streep so that our viewers—our friends, families, clients, and coworkers—would perceive how we were feeling. Not everyone wants to be an “influencer,” but our ability to perform for the camera is critical if we want to succeed in this new game. 

When it comes to increasing a score, it is very much a game. And games are strategic. There is nothing authentic about someone trying to win a game. You don’t reveal your plan to your enemies. Every interaction becomes a move upon a chessboard. This idea was nicely illustrated when Naomi announced that she didn’t invite Lacie because of the kindness of her heart. She didn’t consider her a true friend but rather a deliberate play to earn sympathy points. 

We are living in a Photoshopped magazine cover where everything is carefully composed. That’s why seeing our features superimposed into advertising is so dangerous. We are easily manipulated. And few approaches are more effective than appealing to our ego, creating urgency, and evoking our fear of missing out, aka FOMO. 

Once we can envision the status we desire, it’s terrifying to lose it. This marketing approach is not so different from trying on clothes, test driving a car, or using 3D AR software to furnish a room. By engaging with it, we’re more likely to purchase. It’s the visualization that drove Lacie to extremes. The holographic images of her beautiful new kitchen with a lover at her side became her north star or a vision board. 

While we always want more, we also fear losing what we have. That’s why nostalgia is so powerful. Nostalgia can bring us back to an even ground, a simpler time. When we were children we were all equals, the closest we were to authentic, or so it seemed. 

The homely Mr. Rags was a representation of the innocent days before the betrayal, before the days when points mattered. Nostalgia reminds us of a time when we were ourselves, not whatever number represents us now: the ratings, the funds in our bank, or the number of friends at our party. 

Wise words constantly remind us to have empathy for others because we don’t know what someone else is going through. However, when we see someone desperately trying to regain footing in front of a crowd—like a celebrity caught in hot water—we can say, “Wow. Glad that’s not me up there”—and enjoy the show.

In an unempathetic world, where everyone is keeping scores the same way Google keeps track of everything we search, we will guard how we truly feel, live in incognito mode, and fake it. 

During these past several years, I, like Lacie, just wanted to express my anger, sadness, and frustration. I wanted to be a child and scream. However, as an adult, screaming is not allowed. I cannot scream outside because I’d get arrested. I cannot scream in my home because the neighbors would freak out. There are only a few places for us urbanites to go to express these emotions. We can escape from the city and find a place of our own. Or we could join a protest and start a riot.  

Nosedive encapsulates what Black Mirror is all about. A dark reflection of our current existence. Watching this episode feels as satisfying as peeling off a layer of sunburnt skin. The fun is over, the damage is done, we recovered, we are still alive, and even though we know the consequences when the next sunny day comes, we still go outside again to play the game. 

So the question remains, can the events in Nosedive happen? My friend, count all the numbers associated with your life. All the followers you have, all the scores the government and financial institutions designate, and all the hours you spend pursuing your virtual goals. At any point, those numbers can drop to zero. And it’ll be devastating.

The event of this episode is happening. Now, how can we stop it from taking over every facet of our lives? How can we still express our feelings without damaging our reputation? How do we be ourselves without exposing our vulnerabilities? I offer no solution except this, besides all the scores the world keeps, maintain an inner scorecard. You get to rate yourself as well. Give yourself a good score. Why not? 

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10 Best (Most Mind-Bending) Episodes of Love Death + Robots | Season 1-3

Recently I’ve been super busy and sitting down for a two-to-three-hour movie is difficult. So these short stand-alone episodes from Netflix’s Love Death + Robots were a great way to take a break and watch something without spending too much of my time. 

I was happy to hear that Netflix renewed the sci-fi anthology for a fourth season. I look forward to seeing how the different studios innovate on what they’ve already created. I love comparing the storylines, concepts, and art styles.  

From the first three seasons, a few episodes stood out. And that’s what I’d like to share with you today. If you haven’t checked out Love Death + Robots, watch these episodes. If you have seen it, then watch them again. 

This list is purely my opinion, so if you disagree and I left out one of your favorites, please let me know in the comments. 

Okay, let’s count it down! 

10. Zima Blue

The first time I watched this episode, I didn’t think much about it. Yes, the art style was cool—a thick-line comic book aesthetic that reminded me of the 90’s cartoon Daria—but I wasn’t sure what the deal was until it got to the end. 

There was a time when we were confident that art was the language of humans. We have experiences and emotions, and that’s what makes art meaningful. The sentiment was clear: Robots have no place in art. 

Today, with the advent of Dall-E, Midjourney, Lensa, and ChatGPT, AIs are coming closer and closer to creating art. They may only be interpreting our keywords to produce an image or write a paragraph now, but how soon will they be able to take their experiences and design something of their own? And when they do, what will they make? That’s the question Zima Blue poses… and the answer might be too simple for us to understand. 

9. The Tall Grass

There is something calming about a man smoking a cigarette and venturing into the tall grass. But the pendulum swings to fear quickly. We’ve been there before. How often do we decline helpful advice and go off on our own? How often do we find our curiosity and hubris leading us to danger? 

The Tall Grass is an episode where as a spectator, it’s so obvious the passenger was going to get lost. From our perspective, we’ve seen this a thousand times. 

After saving him, the conductor tells the passenger that out in the middle of nowhere, a door opens to another world, and those monsters coming through were once lost humans. That explanation is somehow terrifying and assuring. We are not immune, and we may be one bad decision from getting lost ourselves. 

8. Pop Squad

As a child-free person, this episode felt like an attack. In our current world, we are facing overpopulation, but there will be more older people than young. According to the US Census Bureau, in America, the fastest-growing population are people above 80. 

Depending on how you look at it, it can feel selfish to have children and selfish not to have children. While immortality is still fiction, the moral decision is worth debating. 

It’s well-documented that Elon Musk wants everyone to have more children, and he’s leading by example, but how will he feel when there is no more room at the party? What if someone needs to go for someone else to join? Do I believe Elon Musk love himself enough to want to live forever? Yes, I do. Is he seeing the world through the children’s eyes, or does he see them as resources for the future? Expendable like Twitter employees. 

7. Jibaro

Telling a powerful story without dialogue is tough. The soundscape, musical score, and audio mixing must be on point, and when it is I feel chills. It’s hard to find words to describe this episode. You can even say that at the end, I too was speechless. What did I just experience? 

This twisted episode is a feast for the eyes as well. The surreal mix of Spanish conquistadors, South Asian-inspired costume design, and the North American wilderness presents a story full of symbolism while leaving plenty of room for interpretations. 

Fear and anger drive this episode, but the temptation is navigating. Both the siren and the knight wear armor, one of steel and the other of gold and jewels, but neither can protect what’s within. Jibaro blends interpretive dance, operatic performance, and a hostile assault to tell a story about humanity’s true disabilities, not our inability to speak and hear but our sins: greed and lust. 

6. Life Hutch

There are several episodes in Love Death + Robots about malfunctioning machines going on a killing spree, including Mason’s Rats and Automated Customer Service. It also brings to mind that famous episode of Black Mirror: Metalhead. So what separates Life Hutch from other attacking-robot stories? 

This episode built tension and then held it. At no point does this feel repetitive, which can’t be said about some of the other examples. Whenever the momentum was on the verge of slipping, it cuts to a back story about surviving an army of aliens, space debris, and a crash landing on the rugged planet. It goes to show that in space, there is always danger. After all he’s been through, it’s so satisfying when he finally beats up the robot with its arm.    

HM: Lucky 13

Before we carry on with the countdown, here’s an honorable mention, Lucky 13. While the number 13 being unlucky is a bit cliche, I did enjoy the idea of superstition in a futuristic world. 

Whenever chance is in question, a bit of faith is required. In a dangerous situation, nobody wants to run out of luck. Yet, how much does a break in pattern matter? Good luck after a string of bad luck. Is it all in our minds? People want to feel like they can control the uncontrollable, whether they do or not, it’s the stories they tell themselves that will keep them going. 

Now back to the countdown… 

5. Beyond the Aquila Rift

The award for the most intense sex scene goes to Beyond the Aquila Rift, and that’s enough to get it into the top five. Okay, but seriously the episode about how an error in the routing system caused ships to overshoot their destination by hundreds of thousands of light-years away is a tragedy. A combination of Groundhog Day, the Matrix, and Interstellar, Beyond the Aquila Rift poses many questions. The twist at the end is a horrifying reminder that if something is hidden from us, it might be for a good reason. And so it goes with everything out there in space. 

What this episode does great is show the significance of space travel and the power of technology. We, humans, should be careful where we wander, but the fact of the matter is that we may already be trapped. If you ever feel that life is a simulation, that’s okay because this reality may be the most ideal version. 

4. Sonnie’s Edge

Just failing to make the podium is Sonnie’s Edge. This gritty, gruesome, and erotic Pokemon-esque episode has everything I want in a sci-fi/fantasy short, including an epic battle between giant monsters.

On the surface, this episode appears to be a feast for our obsession with violence and sex, but beneath, it has a powerful message about the corruption of men. Driven by overconfidence and pride, the upper class feels secure when they shouldn’t, for there is an edge that those living below have. Fear. A story about feminism and the strength of women, Sonnie’s Edge is layers upon layers deep. 

3. Helping Hand

If you enjoyed the movie Gravity, Moon, or 127 Hours, you’d like Helping Hand. Nothing captures my attention like a survival story. I consider what I would do in that situation. What would I sacrifice to save my life? They say there is no will more powerful than the will to live, and until you stare death in the face, you will never fully know how you’d respond. 

Small debris causes the greatest devastation. And no instrument of destruction is more powerful than our thoughts. Can we break free of the inertia that will carry us deeper and deeper into darkness? Or will we be able to throw what we hold most precious and change the momentum? Helping Hand is an incredible short because it hits on something real: the perseverance of humans and the coldness of space. 

2. Bad Traveling

This episode might be about a giant crustacean taking over a ship and causing havoc but it’s also about the deceit of democracy, the power struggle within a workforce, and the negotiation with an enemy. The theme of Bad Traveling is so relevant to the world we are currently living in. Are we making cowardly choices because we fear the enemy or mistrust those who are in charge? 

What makes a good leader? Is it someone who can manipulate the monsters we’ll face? Or is it someone who can see the evil within ourselves? Perhaps it’s both. In which case, how will he make choices when theoretically there is nobody on his side? Taking action for the greater good is as isolating as being alone on the ocean. 

1. The Witness

The Witness is an incredibly stimulating experience with the topsy-turvy comic art style, the titillating performance, and the claustrophobically tall buildings combined with a disorienting soundscape and fast cuts. The story starts with a sex worker witnessing a murder in the apartment across the street, then a chase through a populated city that doesn’t seem to care about anything but itself, and concludes in a chaotic struggle.

This mind-bending story about infinite loops is so brilliantly done that I don’t know if I can ever get the visuals out of my head. The way the characters breathe, so realistically, right onto the camera lens—I can feel it. The insanity of the situation. The need to know, the need to save ourselves, the fear of being caught. In such a diverse collection of stories, The Witness stands out on its own. And the open-ended conclusion leaves us wanting more, almost daring to chase it down ourselves, drawing our conclusions like the characters in the story. 

There you have it! Those are my top 10 episodes of Love Death + Robots. What do you think? Did your favorite episode make the list? Let me know in the comments below. As I mentioned, I’m excited that the sci-fi anthology was renewed for another season. I can’t wait to see what other trippy, scary, and bizarre stories creator Tim Miller and his contributing filmmakers will have. 

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Mr. Plow or Flaming Moe’s: Which is the Better Episode of The Simpsons?

There are two episodes of The Simpsons that stand out in my mind. These two episodes aren’t the bests but definitely make my top 20 list. I’m talking about Flaming Moe’s (season 3 episode 10) and Mr. Plow (season 4 episode 9). 

These two episodes had a lot in common, mainly they shared the theme of “stolen credit”. In both episodes, Homer encounters good ideas — or rather, stumbled upon happy accidents — only to have the success taken from him by a close friend. In Flaming Moe’s, it’s Moe, and in Mr. Plow, it’s Barney. 

While both episodes are pretty similar, one must stand above the other. Subjectively, one must be better. In this video, I share my thought process in making this very important, very valid judgment. 

But before I get into it, tell me, which one did you enjoy more? Which do you feel is the better episode? Feel free to let me know your reasons in the comments. I love to hear why! 

I also must say that these opinions are just that — opinions. They’re both awesome episodes, or terrible episodes, or whatever you want to believe. There is no wrong answer. Okay? Now that I’m done appeasing you, on with the video. 

The Opening: 

Both episodes begin in the same way, with Homer watching TV. This is one of my favorite opening structures because it always lends itself to ridiculous jokes with no setup or context.  

In Flaming Moe’s, Homer is watching at home while Lisa is having a slumber party upstairs. On the TV, it’s Eye on Springfield with Kent Brockman, previewing the episode, which includes the Silver anniversary of the Springfield Tire Yard Fire, Springfield’s oldest man meets Springfield’s fattest man (who isn’t so fat), an interview with Drederick Tatum, and part seven of the eye-opening look on the bikini. 

Whereas, in Mr. Plow, the kids are watching Troy Maclure in Carnival of the Stars. In this segment, we see Angela Landsbury walking on hot coals and Krusty getting mauled by three white tigers. Shortly after, the kids switched to the Bumblebee Man Show.  

Hilarious, but no context. 

When it comes to the opening scene, I have to give it to Flaming Moe’s. It was an overall funnier segment of Springfield television.

Flaming Moe’s: 1

Mr. Plow: 0

The First Act: 

In Flaming Moe’s, Homer decides he has enough of his children and heads off to Moe’s. However, the tavern is a failing business, and Moe is all out of beer. In a sober panic, Homer recalls a drink he made on a boring night watching his sisters-in-laws’ vacation slides. Blending random household liquids, Homer made a pretty good drink. But when Selma’s cigarette ashes fell into his glass and set it on fire, balancing out the alcohol content, it got even better! 

He shares the recipe with Moe, and the bartender recreates the drink. It’s as good as he last remembered — after it’s set on fire, of course. In order to please another customer, Moe slides over Homer’s concoction, and the customer loves it too! But just when Homer is about to tell the random what the drink is called, Moe cuts in and steals his credit. A shocking moment for viewers. 

In Mr. Plow, Moe’s Tavern is also the setting of the inciting incident, proving that bad stuff happens when you go to Moe’s. Amid a snow storm, Homer attempts to drive home and ends up smashing his car into Marge’s, a hilarious turn of events that nobody expected on first viewing and remains funny still. Suddenly, the Simpsons totaled both of their vehicles. 

The first act ends with Homer attending the Springfield Auto Show, where he eventually gets pressured into buying a snowplow over some sexist gesture from the salesman. So Homer! 

In terms of story structure, Mr. Plow has a more straightforward first act. Very effective, clear, and packed with a lot of jokes. The most notable one is when Homer’s thinking on his feet, coming up with another location that would have him returning home in the middle of the night. And don’t forget about all the antics at the auto show, especially with the one true Batman, Adam West. This opening act is hard to beat.

However, Flaming Moe’s is a quintessential Simpsons first act, because, for the first four minutes, you think the episode will go in one direction, but then it takes a turn into another. A classic Simpsons opening. 

I’ve seen this episode a hundred times, and I still love the twists and turns it has — especially the betrayal right before the first commercial break. Was Moe seriously going to take his credit? Was Homer going to sit there and allow it? 

Beyond the Homer-making-the-drink flashback being one of the most iconic moments in The Simpsons, it also explores Moe’s character in a way that made him human — despicable — but human still. Moe is one of my favorite characters, and I think this episode is a big reason why.  He’s more than just a catchphrase. He’s dark. 

While both these episodes effectively created drama in the inciting incident, it’s Flaming Moe’s that takes the two-nothing lead over Mr. Plow. 

Flaming Moe’s: 2

Mr. Plow: 0

The Slight:

Next, let’s look at the severity of the slight against Homer. Which stolen credit is actually worse? Which is more realistic? 

While the name Flaming Moe’s can be trademarked, the recipe can’t. I’m not a lawyer, but I believe if Homer wants to compete in the market, he can. He didn’t sign any contracts. He just can’t call it Flaming Moe’s, and likely can’t call it Flaming Homer’s either. 

Homer could still beat Moe to the national market and sell the recipe to major manufacturers first. Legally there was nothing stopping him. But he didn’t. Perhaps even while bitter, he exemplified goodness. Or more likely he was too stupid to realize that that was possible. 

When you think about it, the slight had nothing to do with the drink or Moe’s fame. It was about the betrayal between friends. Had some other person stolen Homer’s idea, he might not have been so angry that he hallucinated that person’s face in flowers. No, it wasn’t that Moe stole the drink’s name. It was that he didn’t even ask for it or apologize. 

While the conflict in Mr. Plow is similar, the episode’s structure is quite different. Homer spends the first half of Act 2 growing his snow plow business by using strange marketing tactics, including hijacking a church sermon, planting windshield wiper flyers, and producing a 3 am commercial.  

Homer is struggling, hustling, and still, he’s barely successful. 

To best understand the slight, one must ask how Barney acquired the plow. From Marge’s reaction, we know that plows aren’t cheap. How did a deadbeat like Barney buy one? When you think about it, unless Barney inherited the plow, he’d made the same risk as Homer. And, in a way, should be commended. 

It’s true that plows are most common during the snowy seasons, but many with plow trucks also find work during the summer in construction or for the public. There is work out there for people with equipment. Homer just needed some business acumen to see beyond the obvious clients. 

Much like Moe, Barney took his idea right from under him and sold it better than he could. While the slight is real, it is never about the originality or lucrativeness of the business plan but rather the way it was taken. If, at any point, they partnered up, they could’ve built a sustainable business. 

There were flaws in both of these slights, which were exaggerated for the purpose of comedy. But I cannot ignore Homer’s hustle to grow his business in Mr. Plow and all the belief and effort he put in, despite being a mediocre plowman. That’s why, for the category of slight, I’m giving the point to Mr. Plow. 

Flaming Moe’s: 2

Mr. Plow: 1

The Villian’s Intent: 

Now let’s look at the antagonists: Moe and Barney. Which one is the more convincing and despicable villain? 

The thing is, both were at a low point when they betrayed Homer. Moe’s Tavern had completely run out of beer, while the only work Barney could find was as a giant baby handing out flyers. 

Where they confronted their devils was at the high point. Moe, blinded by fame, fortune, and Aerosmith, ignores Homer when he tries to tell him how he felt and that Moe had lost not only a customer but a friend. Greed and pride had turned Moe into a monster. 

Only when Moe was at risk of losing a beautiful woman did he reconsider his stance on giving Homer a portion of the sale, a conversation that perhaps didn’t need an ultimatum. 

Barney’s darkest moment was during a Plow King commercial when he bashes the Homer cardboard cutout. That’s when we see Barney guided by wrath. Even though he was once a dear friend, Barney wanted to destroy Homer and eliminate him as a competition. 

Fun fact: In the original script, it was Lenny who was supposed to betray Homer and become his plow business rival. It was a smart choice to replace him with Barney because can you really see Lenny doing such an evil act? 

So, comparing Moe with Barney, who is the greater villain? When we look at it from Homer’s perspective, Barney is far worse. Not only does Barney steal his idea, but he also takes all the achievements away from Homer —the clients and the key to the city, which is not made of chocolate — and shames him publically. Barney is far more ruthless. With that, I’ll give the point to Mr. Plow.

Flaming Moe’s: 2

Mr. Plow: 2 

Celebrity Cameos and Musical Numbers:

What makes these classic Simpsons episodes great is the seamless incorporation of celebrity cameos and musical numbers. These two episodes have some really good ones. 

In Flaming Moe’s, Aerosmith makes their cameo as a bunch of guys sitting at the bar and then pressured to perform on a stage that was already perfectly set up. Maybe it’s a little contrived, but what better way to show the height of a venue’s popularity during the 90s than having Aerosmith play Walk This Way? 

What really impressed me was the Cheers theme song parody. I love the old-timey crosshatching style and the way it transitioned right into the studio audience sitcom. The Woody Harrelson character greeting Barney as he entered and the laugh track in the background all flowed together so well. 

Not to be outdone, in Mr. Plow, Adam West gives one of the most memorable celebrity cameos ever. When Bart doesn’t know who Robin is, West goes off on a tangent at the Auto Show, with the camera shifting to a dutch angle, a call back to the old Batman episodes. It was such a clever way to incorporate a guest into the storyline. Using Adam West and the iconic Batmobile in an episode about awkward vehicles is just brilliant. 

Another cameo — this one went over my head because I’m not a country music fan — was Linda Ronstadt. All I know was that she was engaged to George Lucas. While I don’t know any of her original music, I still laugh every time I hear, “Mr. Plow is a loser and I think he is a boozer…” 

Both these episodes have knock-out cameos and musical numbers, but I have to give it to Flaming Moe’s. The Cheers parody, the way the visual and audio all work together, is the element that tips it over for me. 

Flaming Moe’s: 3

Mr. Plow: 2

The Roles of the Family: 

Both these episodes focus on Homer, but the Simpsons family is essential in supporting him. 

In Flaming Moe’s, Bart is such a great character. First, he’s the victim of his sister’s abuse, which is a role reversal. Then Bart acts as his dad’s advocate by sharing his achievement in a show and tell. Later he flips and gets a Flaming Moe’s fan t-shirt. And finally, his phone call prank backfires on him. This is a refreshing episode for Bart, as he shares his father’s plight, making Homer more sympathetic.

Marge’s supportive bedroom scene is one of the most iconic compositions in The Simpsons. It’s so simple, yet so theatrical. And her muted expression only makes it better.

In Mr. Plow, the family is a support system for Homer. The first commercial, an homage to the late-night cable, is one of the funniest scenes in the entire episode. 

The relationship between Homer and Marge is an inspiration for all married couples. First, Homer recognizes that he should talk to his wife before purchasing the plow, however, ends up being manipulated anyways. Then when she confronts him, Homer accepts that it was a stupid decision and that if she were to keep getting angry at him, he would just have to stop doing stupid things. Very understanding. Finally, it’s perhaps Marge’s attraction for Homer and his Mr. Plow uniform that we remember best. 

There is so much to love in both these episodes involving the family, but the commercial in Mr. Plow, where all the family members are incorporated, even Grandpa as Old Man Winter, is what wins it over for me. I love that sequence, especially Bart questioning Homer about being “bond and licensed”. For that, I give the family involvement point to Mr. Plow, which ties it up at 3. 

Flaming Moe’s: 3

Mr. Plow: 3

The Conclusion: 

Now to break the tie, let’s return to the plot and talk about how Homer responds to the injustice and the episode’s conclusion.

In Flaming Moe’s, Homer responded well at first. He was reasonable in expressing how he felt to his friend, but when Moe consistently ignored him, jealousy and frustration started to boil over. Even when Marge attempted to calm him, it only sent him deeper into a mental breakdown. 

Once he spiraled out, Homer revealed the secret ingredient in front of everyone at the bar. If he was more sensible, he could’ve sold the recipe to Tipsy McStagger’s Good Time Drinking and Eating Emporium. Giving it for free in the way he did was a foolish move. And this reminds us that Homer doesn’t deserve fame and fortune either. 

In Mr. Plow, Homer nearly commits murder by misleading Barney out to Widow’s Peak where he gets caught in an avalanche. Luckily, he redeems himself by going out there and rescuing him. After stealing some of his business, of course. 

In both scenarios, Homer didn’t respond in the most moralistic way. He exhibited the if-I-can’t-have-it-then-they-couldn’t-have-it-either mentality. Still, both episodes return to neutral grounds, and he makes amends.

So which episode gets the point? For me, it’s not just about how Homer responds, but how his friend reacts in turn. The episode that ties it up the best, wrapping up the “stolen credit” theme in the most satisfying way is Flaming Moe’s. 

The last scene, where Moe offers Homer the drink with its original name, still melts my heart. And I believe that shows growth in the character that was missing from Mr. Plow. For that, the winner of this comparison goes to Flaming Moe’s. 

Flaming Moes: 4

Mr. Plow: 3

There you have it! Congratulations Flaming Moe’s. What an honor. 

Now there are many ways to measure and compare an episode. I chose to examine both through the lens of the theme and the story structure. If you disagree with this assessment or if you have an aspect that I missed in this article, please let me know in the comments. 

Check out these other articles about The Simpsons here:

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Why Squid Game Episode 2 Is So Interesting and Important

When Squid Game was first described to me, I heard comparisons with The Hunger Games. After watching it. I understood. Both had the word Game in the title. Both shared some themes: poverty, control, survival. Both were global successes and tapped into the zeitgeist of what we were all thinking about which was killing each other. 

I’ve seen these types of every-person-for-themselves action dramas before. After watching the first episode I was satisfied. It could have ended there and have been a chilling end to an intriguing short film. Of course, it didn’t end there. There were eight more episodes in the season. And sure, the writers could have kept the story going with each episode being a game, with characters being sacrificed, and the protagonist making it to the end. That’s all easy to predict. But then Episode 2 happened. 

If you haven’t seen Squid Game yet… I must warn you that there will be spoilers. With that being said allow me to quickly sum up Episode 2, Hell: 

After surviving the first game of Red Light, Green Light, the remaining 201 players vote to decide whether they want to continue playing or forfeit the money and return to their normal lives. With one person left determining the vote, the old man, number 001, votes to go home. Back in Seoul, the contestants attempt to survive a different game. In addition to the protagonist, Gi-hun, the story now follows an additional five other players from the Game, as well as establish a B plot with the police officer, Jun Ho. The episode follows the characters as they confront the challenges of their lives whether it’s getting money to pay for surgery, evading arrest for fraud, getting a sibling out of an orphanage, avoiding unpaid debts, or fleeing after horribly mutilating a corrupt boss. In the end, all six characters decide that their only choice is to return to the game and try their luck. 

Episode 2 is pretty straightforward. It’s the characters jumping out of the pan, but into the fire. It’s one of those episodes where we follow multiple characters’ storylines with multiple story arcs. However, this episode is critical for us to continue to watch Squid Game. It’s this episode that made it an international phenomenon. Without this episode, it would be another gimmicky violent thriller, a derivative of many others. So while I understand the comparison with The Hunger Games, it is this episode, for me, that makes Squid Game something unto itself. 

Enhance the Viewer’s Participation

We might not be the VIPs, but every one of us watching Squid Game is making a bet subconsciously. We wonder who will make it to the end. We can safely guess that Gi-hun will be there; he’s the protagonist, after all. But who would challenge him in the finale? 

Like the tale of the tape, we need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the contestants before we can make a solid decision. That is why before we watch a boxing or MMA fight, we often follow the little documentaries and listen to the interviews of the fighters to see what drives them. 

Episode 2 branches out, and allows us to examine the five other contestants in a familiar environment. What are their values? How risk-averse are they? What do they have at stake? How do they treat others? 

This is what makes the show so appealing because it taps into the psyche of so many of us during these trying times. Some of us have made bad decisions, some of us are feeling vengeful, some of us are desperate, but all of us are struggling. We can all relate to one of the six characters that the show follows. We all see positives and negatives in these characters that we can attribute to ourselves. 

This episode, allows us to make an educated guess and understand these characters. Yet, this episode still retains the unpredictability of the story and keeps the viewer invested, as much as a sports fan would when cheering for their team. 

Present the Alternative

Episode 2 shows us a completely alternate show. If they were to never return to the Squid Game, we could continue following these characters in this hellish world, and it will probably still be entertaining. 

Would it be an international sensation? No, but it would still be a respectable show with complex characters surviving thrilling scenarios. 

Episode 2 doesn’t only show the characters how terrible their realities are, it shows us, the viewers, something we are familiar with. Episode 2 has rules we all understand. Episode 2 cleanses our palettes before we start the main course. Episode 2 prepares us for all the violence and bloodshed that the show has left to offer. Episode 2 gives us time to tell ourselves… “Okay… I could stop here… this isn’t my thing.” 

By allowing this little moment for us all to breathe, we can brace for all the drama and tension to come. If you open with a bang… you don’t follow up with another bang… you follow up with a breath. Episode 2 is a lesson in pacing.  

Reinforce the Theme

Squid Game is a show about making choices. Making choices to join, making choices during the games, making choices with alliances, making choices to give mercy or kill. 

Episode 2 maintains that theme. It’s all about characters making choices. In the beginning, they choose whether to leave and in the end, they choose whether to return. Scene after scene, in between, we witness characters making key decisions.

Yet… wait… at the beginning they ask to leave and at the end, they return? Wasn’t it all kind of pointless? Does any of the choices even matter? 

One of the greatest questions in philosophy is whether free will exist. Is everything already pre-determined? Are we merely floating through space and time at the whim of the universe? Does any of it matter? 

At the end of the season, we hear the contestants being referred to as horses in a race. This reminded me of a saying I heard once — and I consider it when I think of free will: Horses don’t know we want them to go faster, they just know they’re being whipped.

Episode 2 is so brilliant because like all great philosophy it’s a bit of a contradiction. 

If you like Squid Game, Episode 2 probably wouldn’t be your favorite episode. But Episode 2 is the summation of the story’s thesis. Episode 2 is the one episode you can skip and you wouldn’t miss any of the trademarks that make the show. However, you’d lose a layer of character development that takes the show from another gimmicky concept to a multi-layered character piece. And with that, the audience feels as though they are involved. 

How did you feel about this episode? Do you think another episode was more critical? Let me know in the comments below.

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How to Write a Tragic Character: Frank Grimes

Today we’ll be exploring one of the most tragic characters in the Simpsons canon, Homer’s Enemy, Frank Grimes. Frank Grimes or Grimey appeared in what many consider to be one of the darkest episodes in all of The Simpsons. What made episode 23 of season 8 so unique and unforgettable was that the Frank Grimes character actually represented a normal person (a hardworking, persevering American everyman) stepping into The Simpsons Universe. Frank Grimes is most of us. 

But what was it that made Frank Grimes so relatable yet so tragic? It was the shape of his story.

Charting characters’ journeys through a story is a good way to ensure they don’t stay stagnant.  This can be done by monitoring how the character moves up and down the rankings of fortune. What happens to this character? What does he or she do from beginning to end? And do those events and actions yield something good or something bad? 

In a 2004 lecture, the author of Slaughter-House Five, Kurt Vonnegut showed the variety of shapes a story can take on a graph he drew on a chalkboard. On the vertical axis (The G-I axis) top represents good fortune for the character (they get a promotion, they get married, or they win a championship) and at the bottom ill fortune (they get sick, they get fired, or they lose everything in a hurricane). On the horizontal axis (The B-E axis) the left is the beginning and the right is the end of the story. 

Using this graph we can see the story of Frank Grimes unfold more clearly and recognize how to use triumphs and failures to build a character. 

Frank Grimes’ life begins like any other somewhere just above good fortune for having been born. Yet early in his story, he is stricken with bad luck. At the age of four, Frank Grimes was abandoned by his family. Orphaned at such a young age, this set his life into a downward trend. 

At least he gets a job, but he doesn’t rise up far, for it’s a job as a delivery boy, delivering toys to richer more fortunate children. Fortune continues going down for many years until his 18th birthday, when Frank Grimes is blown up in a silo explosion. The bottom falls out and we find our character as low as he’s ever been. 

Grimes recovers, slowly rising upward, and begins learning to hear and feel pain again. Gradually he climbs using his leisure time to study science by mail. Seventeen years past since his accident, working hard and persisting, Frank Grimes finally crosses the line from ill fortune into good fortune. At 35 years old, he received his correspondence school diploma in Nuclear Physics, with a minor in determination. He experiences a blimp immediately after this as a bird tries to steal his diploma. 

A week after, Frank Grimes’ fortune soared higher, when his segment in Kent’s People aired and Mr. Burns sought to hire him as the Executive Vice President of the Power Plant. Now, if Frank Grimes’ story was to end here, it would be a true underdog story, a man starting at zero and rising to the top. However, in this episode, this is where the story really begins. The story begins with Frank Grimes at his peak and we see how quickly his fortune reverses. 

Grimes spent no more than one full day at the pinnacle of his fortune. The next day Mr. Burns watched another segment of Kent’s People, this time about a heroic dog, and had already forgotten about the self-made-man. 

Having been put out of the way, Grimes begins a slow decline into madness. First with Homer touching his pencils, then calling him Stretch and eating his special dietetic lunch, then destroying his pencils, and finally being annoying and shirking his job, especially when there’s a Five-Thirteen,  

Even as annoying as Homer is, Grimes doesn’t fall below origin, that is until he saves Homer’s life, knocking a haphazardly placed beaker of sulphuric acid out of his hand into the wall, melting it completely. This just so happens as Mr. Burns is walking by. Things drop significantly, when Mr. Burns doesn’t terminate Grimes, but gives him one more chance, at a reduced salary. Grimes is not at rock bottom, things aren’t worse than when he was caught in the silo explosion, but it’s a dramatic turning point for Grimes, who wants nothing more to do with Homer. 

As bad as Grimes’ life is living in a single room above a bowling alley below another bowling alley and working a second job at the foundry, things don’t get any worse, until Homer tricks him to come over to his palace for an extravagant lobster dinner and to show off his perfect family. After seeing all of Homer’s achievements, going to space and winning a Grammy, the floor falls away and Grimes nosedives, but catches himself when he storms out after calling Homer a fraud. 

In an effort to get even, expose and disgrace Homer, and get some positive fortune, Grimes fools Homer into participating in the Children’s Nuclear Design Contest. Things were looking good for a short moment, but then, Homer hit his car on his way home to work on his design. All of that would be fine, if Homer is embarrassed on stage, but his plan fails and Homer wins the competition. This time, Grimes is unable to catch himself. Losing his mind, he mimics Homer self destructively, causing a scene and eventually electrocuting himself to death. Grimes’ life ends at a new low point. To accomplish all he had and to end up so disrespected, Frank Grimes’ character journey truly represents the tragedy of the American working class. How hard working people can overcome so much and still implode upon themselves. 

Yes, Homer’s Enemy is a dark episode, but it’s also one of the most memorable ones, because when we watch The Simpsons, in reality, more often than not, we are in Frank Grimes’ shoes. We all face good and ill fortune, that is what makes a character relatable. If you want to create your own character that experiences profound change, I recommend plotting their life on a story shape graph. Make sure they face good and ill fortune through their lives. Then choose a starting point. In the case of Frank Grimes, the story starts while he’s most fortunate. Maybe that’s a good place to start the story of your tragic character as well. 

Do you want to see the shape of a story for another famous character? Let me know in the comments. It can be from a movie, television show or literature. I’ll do my best to make it possible.

My favourite episode of The Simpsons is Lemon of Troy. It’s arguably the best written 22 minute of television. Allow me to explain. Read the article here.

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