Saturday, July 29, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Last Tycoon' - A Tragic Death Forces Pat to Reevaluate Things with Monroe in 'Burying the Boy Genius'

Amazon's The Last Tycoon - Episode 1.04 "Burying the Boy Genius"

Irving Thalberg's death sends shockwaves throughout the industry, and causes further insecurity from Pat about his own golden boy. Monroe risks his budding relationship to save a movie. Celia's adjustments to Hackett's script are well received. Rose immerses herself in volunteering, and forges a meaningful bond with a young, lonely patient.

The Last Tycoon features fictional characters operating alongside real-life figures. Brady-American needed to be bailed out by Louis B. Mayer. And now, Monroe is courting Fritz Lang to direct the espionage film he and Celia have developed. The events of this episode hinge around the sudden and tragic death of Irving Thalberg. It's a tragedy that the show really foreshadowed in a blunt way in the previous episode. That makes it so it's not all that surprising when Monroe's assistant bursts into the room to give him the news. And yet, it's hard to especially care about this death too. Over the years, it has long been speculated that Monroe Stahr in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel was basically a stand-in for Irving Thalberg. He's a young hotshot producer in Hollywood with a heart condition. Of course, there's also been discussion over whether that comparison is truly apt. But in this series, Monroe and Irving actually interacted. It's important in the text of the series that the audience can see the parallels between them and their relationships with their bosses. It just really feels like the show is hand-holding the audience through all of this. It's fine for these characters to be interacting with real-life people. But to blatantly have them interact with people the characters were inspired by just seems too forced without adding much nuance to the situation whatsoever.

It's a big deal that Irving dies. It's sudden and shocking. All of Hollywood mourns together. All of the work stops so that the industry can attend the funeral. Mayer gets up to deliver the eulogy and talks about how he has just lost his son. His studio lost its most important producer. The creative energy that kept the ship running. Throughout that scene though, the show is actively commenting on how Brady-American would be finished if Monroe were to suddenly die. He has the heart condition that makes it so he only has a limited amount of time. But there's no pressure to replace him or ensure that the business could survive his eventual departure. Instead, Pat just turns into a vindictive boss who is obsessed with the idea that Monroe will one day leave him for Mayer. He's incredibly jealous. That fuels all of his actions throughout this episode. It's just lame that the show has to so blatantly telegraph that to the audience. The viewers were already aware that Pat has a love/hate relationship with Monroe. He's envious of him as a producer while also full of admiration for what he has accomplished. That is already understood. And yet, this episode takes valuable time out of the story so that Celia can adequately describe that relationship to Max. It's fine but completely unnecessary too and makes it seem like the show doesn't think the audience has been paying attention.

Monroe's fixes for the various films in production at Brady-American continue to seem good as well. He's putting in the work to make it so each of them succeeds. Pat is delivering speeches about loyalty and needing to know that Monroe won't be leaving him. Meanwhile, Monroe is just doing his job. He makes sure to read Celia's script before The Wizard of Oz. In fact, he even reads the newly discovered script from his dead brother-in-law before The Wizard of Oz. Actually, it's not even clear if Monroe ever reads the screenplay for The Wizard of Oz. The secretaries do. That makes them seem like better spies for Pat than Max is. That's what fuels his ultimate confrontation with Monroe. He was trying to be nice and give Monroe what he wanted with very little resistance. He approved the German director Monroe wanted for Celia's film even though he was worried about Fritz Lang corrupting his innocent daughter. But the idea of The Wizard of Oz being able to lure Monroe away is the last straw for Pat. He needs to know just how committed Monroe truly is. And again, Monroe is just doing the work. He makes sure the song at the end of the Christmas movie is actually joyful. That's a huge fix. But he isn't able to celebrate that - or his birthday - because of Pat needing to feel validated with the promise that he'll never leave him. Again, it's a story the show has already told this season. It didn't need another episode completely devoted to it.

Plus, the show continues to overly hit the nail the head in regards to the idea that Kathleen is replacing Minna in Monroe's life. Minna has been built up to be this saint of a character. She's a woman whom Monroe cherished and the public adored through her films. No one can be too mad at Monroe for idolizing her because they were in love with her as well. It's just a central theme of the show that has gotten tiring. It's the same thing over and over again. Kathleen worries that Monroe keeps imagining Minna instead of her. She has doubts that his feelings are true and genuine. She wonders if she's just fantasizing about Minna. To an extent, the audience is suppose to be wondering that as well. He still seems to be intimately watching her movies. Of course, that's a fake out at the top of this episode because Monroe and Pat are discussing how to fix the final, unfinished movie she did before her death. It includes needing to find an actress to dub over her lines in order to complete the movie. It's a job that unsurprisingly goes to Kathleen because they were both born Irish. The other actresses simply can't nail the accent - not even the one hired to play Minna in the movie Monroe wanted to make! It's just a really forceful comparison that is unnecessary to spend all of this time on. Of course, the move the show makes to distinguish Kathleen as her own character is only barely intriguing. A guy shows up at the studio disappointed that she's no longer waitressing but is very threatening in his demeanor. It's great that she exists outside of the relationship and the Minna comparisons. But it's just a brief tease at the end of this particular hour without doing much to better define her.

Elsewhere, Celia is promoted to producer after the first script comes in for her movie and everyone loves it. It's a lot of the story telling the audience it's great without offering any kind of proof. Of course, there are still edits to be made. But everyone is excited about telling this story because of the opportunity it has to be truly provocative. Monroe needs it be more deceitful and uncertain while Lang needs it to be more passionate. These are notes that Celia is more than willing to take. But it also serves as a reminder that she hasn't had these experiences to draw from in order to craft this story. Lang needs the characters to be more sexual and sensuous. He believes he can attract a top movie star for a supporting role if those changes are made. But Celia doesn't know how to do that. As she puts it: "She lives and breathes but doesn't fuck." Yes, it's a bit of a culture clash to see Celia in that establishment with the German director and actress. It's uncomfortable and Celia isn't sure what to think of it either. That's what makes it so invigorating. Her story is easily the best of this episode because it's a coming of age tale that is inherently about her. It's not as predictable or formulaic as some of the other stories. Yes, she still returns home to her disapproving father who takes out his frustrations on Monroe. But she feels very excited about all of these new experiences. They can only help her as a writer and producer moving forward as well. That's very exciting.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Burying the Boy Genius" was directed by Scott Hornbacher with teleplay by Billy Ray and story by Billy Ray & Christopher Keyser.
  • All of this also happens to occur on Monroe's birthday. He seems unmoved by this day. It's still business as usual. He's not making a big deal out of it. But the show certainly is. Pat and Monroe have to have their big fight before they are even able to celebrate it. That builds the awkwardness in order for things to feel resolved and good in the end. It's just very manipulative.
  • Rose is still largely off on her own show working in the hospital. She's still just adjusting to this new job. She wonders if she needs to start bringing some money into the house after Pat took out another mortgage. But instead, she's just connecting with one patient. One young adult who has a brain tumor and no support system. She also happens to be a great artist. It's a very introductory story for now.
  • It's also fascinating to see Rose go back-and-forth between supporting Pat and Celia. She understands where they are both coming from in their disagreements. She's there for both despite feeling empty in this family dynamic. She ultimately chooses Pat here but it doesn't seem like she opposes what Celia has been doing.
  • For a moment, it seemed like the show forgot that Max has a family he is trying to support through his job at the studio. He needs to be earning money. He's the protector of his brother and sister. Meanwhile, they are a little too childish and selfish to truly appreciate it all which is a pretty weird moment.
  • Things were tense between Monroe and Bernadette the last time they saw each other. She slapped him and blamed him for her husband's death. Now, she wants him to read his final script. And then, he offers her a job as a writer because he knows that she actually wrote it. He then tasks her with rewriting the Sally Sweet movie.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.