Monday, July 31, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Last Tycoon' - Monroe and Pat Face a Serious Union Dispute in 'A More Perfect Union'

Amazon's The Last Tycoon - Episode 1.07 "A More Perfect Union"

Monroe hunts for the perfect publicity angle for Kathleen, while managing reactions to his big news. Pat hatches a bold business ploy that has sweeping consequences for the studio and forces Monroe to contain the repercussions. Kathleen struggles to manage her tangled web of half-truths. Celia cares for Max as they test the boundaries of their new relationship. Hackett takes a stand.

The Last Tycoon has certainly improved over the course of its first season. In the beginning, it seemed like it was just copying off of a bunch of cliches from other cable dramas over the past decade. It's only slowly started to find its own voice. The more specific and darker it has gotten with its themes and characters the more successful it has become. This hour really makes it seem like a period appropriate show as well. For most of the run, it has come across as actors playing 1930s dress up instead of a show about Hollywood in the 1930s. It's a key distinction. It hasn't been a huge hindrance but it has been noticeable. At times, the storytelling can be very blatant in trying to make an insightful critique of the industry. It's aspirational in a way that the business probably wasn't during this time. But in "A More Perfect Union," the show isn't afraid to let its two leads have unpopular opinions. Their actions disrupt their business in a way that feels destructive but also genuine. It sets up an interesting conflict for the future. Monroe has been loved by the rest of the staff at the studio. But now, that may change because he ultimately decided to side with Pat in this union dispute with the workers.

Early in the season, the show made it clear that the act of unionizing was going to be a major component of the show. The working conditions of Hollywood at this moment in time weren't great. The people in power could be completely oblivious to all of the corruption as well. Celia didn't even know things were happening until she went to an underground meeting where workers complained about their treatment for simply mentioning the word "union." It's a plot that has largely gone away over the course of the season because the show was simply juggling too much story. The narrative never gave the audience or Celia a reason for why that one employee in the wardrobe department attended that meeting in the second episode. Celia really didn't learn anything surprising or shocking during her time working the various jobs on the lot. She was instead quickly promoted to producer. A producer whose thoughts and concerns were taken seriously on the movie she was working on. That's been a solid story for her. It just also came at the expense of these ideas the show had in the early going. And now, they all come roaring back with newfound purpose. It's an odd way to tell this particular story. It makes it seem like this will be a focus for one episode and then everything will be fine in the next one. As such, it's a letdown because it had so much potential to be an ongoing focus.

All of this happens because Pat continues to be a very proud person who can act very irrationally. That has been a consistent character trait of his over the season. He's a spiteful man who both loves and hates Monroe. This is his studio but everyone believes that Monroe is the man in charge. Pat hates that assumption. He is always out to prove that he is a movie man. Not all of the studio's good ideas come from Monroe. Of course, the narrative seems to be suggesting that that is actually true. Monroe is the genius producer who is actually beloved by the employees. He's professional and can be really critical. But those opinions often lead to the product being better. Meanwhile, Pat is just the crusty old man in charge who creates a hostile work environment by harassing all of the female employees. He doesn't want anyone to believe that he needs help in order to succeed in this business. Louis B. Mayer was willing to finance three movies at Brady-American after their original bank pulled out. And now, Angels on the Avenue has become a big hit and Pat is willing to use all of that new money to pay back the loan. It means the studio has no additional money to run things. But it also allows Pat to get out from under Mayer's thumb. He can be his own man once more.

It just turns out to be a really destructive decision for Pat because he's forced to also cut the salaries of everyone who works for him by thirty percent. That's a huge shock. Everyone has a right to be angry and confused. The studio just had a massive hit. And yet, it's slashing the paycheck for everyone. They don't understand. They don't realize that Pat took all of that profit and handed it over to Mayer. It's unfair that they are being asked to do the same job for less money. It's a good reason for them to unionize. The writers aren't immediately punished for suggesting that either. That's refreshing after the dark possibilities that were introduced at the start of the season. Monroe is right alongside them in being upset about what Pat has done. He's willing to work for free in order to lesson the overall cuts. Pat knew that this would be a destructive decision. But he did it anyway because he believed it was the right thing to do. It just forces Monroe into a very awkward position where he's forced to defend the decision. That makes it so he's a more complicated figure because he's arguing against what's the right thing to do. He suggests that the writers are hurting the business because they are forcing work to shut down and ruining thousands of lives in the process. He believes they are being selfish because they can afford to walk out. He doesn't think all of the departments have the same luxury because some employees have families to support. Of course, that doesn't turn out to be true.

It's nice to see Monroe so wrong for once. He's often built up as this brilliant character who is always in the right. It's nice to see shades of darkness within him. In the main story, it's very simple because he stands firmly as anti-union. He loses that fight in the end because the entire studio shuts down. He's still self-righteous in saying that the actions of the writers will lead to visible cuts across the lot that could affect the final product. The studio may not be able to finance a lot of things because it is fully paying all of its employees. That seems horrible to say but it's the opinion that Monroe has. That makes it clear that he really is a man of his time and not a creation made with hindsight of the errors of this world. But again, it also plays as an episodic story. One that could still have major consequences in the narrative for the final two episodes of the season. But one that could be very limiting as well. What's not limiting is Monroe's confession to Kathleen about the dark role he played in Minna's death. This season has lifted Minna up as a saint of a character. It's nice to know that she had her demons as well. Those flaws contributed to her death. The day she died was also the day Monroe found out about his heart condition. He gave her pills to fall asleep because she was hysterical about him one day leaving her all alone. Those pills are the reason why she didn't wake up even when the house was on fire. So, he blames himself for her death. That's crucial information to have. It changes the audience's understanding of the character as well as his relationship with Kathleen. They are both harboring these dark secrets. He has shared his and she has accepted it. Meanwhile, she is still keeping hers bottled up and it could very easily destroy everything they've built as a result.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A More Perfect Union" was written by Anna Fishko and directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer.
  • Monroe wants America to know who Kathleen is before she stars in what's bound to be the biggest film of the year. So, he's mounting a huge publicity campaign. But it's Celia who has the brilliant idea to center it around Monroe and Kathleen's engagement. It forces him in front of the camera. A place where he's uncomfortable but where he truly belongs (because it's Matt Bomer after all).
  • Before the big photoshoot, Kathleen goes to her former agent to tell him that she wants out of this arrangement because Monroe proposed. He responds by slapping her and telling her to give him what he deserves. Makeup is able to cover up the mark but not before Tom sees it. Perhaps that will lead to Tom actually doing something this season.
  • Celia is finally getting over her Monroe crush. She seemingly succeeds because she has the willingness to admit to it and her true feelings for Max. That confession leads to the two of them having sex for the first time in the middle of a studio. It's a fun and playful dynamic. Their youthfulness is fun to see even though it's surrounded by impending darkness.
  • When Pat is talking things through with Rose before he makes his big decision, she makes sure he commits to doing whatever she asks should the time ever arise. That time seems to be fast approaching because she wants to take Kitty home with her after she wakes up from surgery. That's a huge decision that could change her life. But it could be very rewarding to her as well.
  • Kathleen may still be keeping her secret but she does reveal her true accent to Monroe. He's naturally impressed by how skilled she has become in such a short amount of time. It's a trick. But one she plays in order to seduce him by playing into the darkness of their relationship. The two of them have been the romantic and good leads of the show for most of the season. But a transition into a dark and commanding power couple could be appealing as well.

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.