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Death on TV is nothing new, but we all have our thresholds of seeing what it looks like.
I made it to the second beheading in Game of Thrones* before I said to my husband (who is a GoT fan), “I’m sorry. I just can’t handle the blood. And realism. I recognize that the costumes are magnificent, but I’ve heard there’s misogyny.”
My husband, a calm and gentle man, is one of the biggest Game of Thrones fans that I know. As in, stay awake for three extra hours after the “Red Wedding” episode because it shook him to the core. As in, watch the second season 6 preview trailer three times and get just a little more excited each time. As in, “I will talk about this and my wife will write about it even to audiences who care nothing for the show because it is just that awesome.”
My endurance athlete husband combines his passions for prolonging his own life and watching other people’s deaths by watching Game of Thrones when he rides his bike in our garage. For you cycling aficionados, he rides on rollers starting about when winter is coming, and then moves to the hills in the spring. For you Game of Thrones aficionados, he rides on rollers starting about when winter is coming, and then the rest doesn’t matter because WINTER IS COMING. For the rest of us neither-cycling-nor-Game-of-Thrones fans, he rides for a long time and when he does it indoors he can put on wireless headphones and watch HBOGo. Hence, Game of Thrones on a bike. And for you garage aficionados, we have a back room in our garage that can receive HBOGo because we got a nifty internet extender doohicky that makes it possible to livestream whatever we want from our cable channels in a room that maintains a temperature suitable for cycling.
Lately, I have been binge watching Murder, She Wrote, a spirited, blazer-ridden, and nearly perfect 1980s show starring the incomparable Angela Lansbury, who, as far as I can tell, transcends age, geographic location, and identifiable accent. I do not watch this while riding bike, nor do I watch it in a garage. I watch it in bed, just before I fall into a deep and lovely slumber, aiming to dream of all of the good things that stem from an undersung middle-aged female detective from Maine in the 1980s, and aiming to avoid analyzing all of the problems associated with everything that I just wrote.
But of course, I’m still watching a show about death.
In both cases, my husband and I are dealing with death on TV. And death is something that is tolerated at varying levels of explicitness in the shows we choose to watch. I have figured out that I have a threshold for what kind of death I can watch before my middle-aged detective dreams turn into a nightmare with neck parts strewn about. And my threshold is lower than my husband’s. It always has been.
This week, in a rare dinner out, Neal and I chatted about whether I could stand to try GoT again. Giver that he is, he offered to watch with me starting from Season1Episode1 and warn me, with a good half-minute notice, every time there’d be something past my threshold of grossness. He proposed that he would say, “close your eyes…..now.”
And here is how our conversation went:
Me: Okay, what kinds of things would I see if I watched beyond the second beheading?
Neal: Well, what about someone who slits someone else’s throat and you only see the blood?
Me: That’s not horrible. But I can’t tolerate seeing the insides of people’s bodies. Just like I can’t eat food on my plate if it has a face on it.
Neal. Well, what about a bunch of bloody severed heads stuck on a wall?
Neal: Whaddabout a pregnant woman getting stabbed? [incidentally, here’s where “what about” turned into “whaddabout” in the conversation, because it just came at me so fast and slurring it together carries with it a certain youthful fan voice that seems to just fit here].
Me: Remember how I said all of my previously weak tolerance for horror movies was made even weaker when I was pregnant? Yeah, so, no.
Neal: Whaddabout a man getting his throat ripped open by a wolf and the camera lingers on his wound for at least two seconds with some blood pooling at the surface? [insert grimace from me] Whaddabout a slice through a throat from at least fifty feet away? [another grimace] Whaddabout a collection of dozens of bodies in a field after a battle? [actually, I can take that. There’s something about my experience as a short-lived art history major studying Hieronymus Bosch paintings that makes this okay. I’ll allow it].
Note to self: look up those wacko Bosch paintings in spare time.
Here is where Neal looked at his phone to try to find more scenes to assess in his Whaddabout campaign. Included in this search were two things: first was IMDB’s Parents’ Guide, which we use to assess movies like Big Hero 6, and which required no fewer than seven vertical swipes when he searched for Game of Thrones‘ inclusion of sex and nudity (which I generally don’t mind); second, and more relevant to this discussion, was the listicle “Best Kill Scenes” from askmen.com; here was also where I raised one eyebrow and said, “Remember the misogyny part that I hate?”
Whaddabout, oh never mind.
At this point, we paused and ate some dinner. I said, “You know, I want to be like Angela Lansbury. I even know someone who knows her in real life and he says she is just fantastic, has aged well, is smart and lovely, and is active in promoting good arts and theater. I also wouldn’t mind being like her character Jessica Fletcher, since she’s independent, fit, solidly grounded in her logic and convictions, sometimes responds to the calling of good looking men at her discretion, is a successful writer, and doesn’t take any crap from anyone in coastal Maine or anywhere else where she travels and where there always seems to be a murder.
“And furthermore,” I shift into a lofty monologue over the din of plates and glasses and restaurant noises, “She knows how to deal with dead bodies. She looks at them, comforts people who’ve lost them, logically deduces who made them dead in the first place, and then confronts killers who magically confess before her with remorse. And after all of this, she is asked out by men who think she is hot stuff precisely because of her logic and spirit. Often she declines because she has to go write her next novel about that gruesome murder, dammit. But still.”
But, I then wonder, whaddabout the blood and guts that are sanitized in every episode of Murder, She Wrote? I don’t really care. I’d rather see her solve a crime and move on to her writing and independence than watch her figure out how to manage a bleeding wolf-bitten neck or wall of heads that a bunch of medieval naked women are somehow forced to promenade in front of because “that’s what gender looked like back then in that time period that we made up that has that kind of gender stuff in it.”
It’s not that gruesomeness and misogyny didn’t exist in New England in the 1980s. I’m sure it did. I’ve seen the heels she wore while filming episodes on beaches – just stupid. It’s that when I binge watch a show just before bed, I’d rather be sent off to dreamland with a strong person who can solve murders in her head and magnificently reveal the solution at an opportune time, than with a wall of bloody heads.
If I am going to watch a TV show about a writer, I’d rather it be titled Murder, She Wrote, not Severed Head and Amputated Thigh Next to Stabbed Pregnant Queen Who We All Thought Would Live, She Wrote.
But hold on, I may be speaking too soon. After all, I have just agreed to watch the first five episodes with my husband, as long as he tells me when to close my eyes. Murder, She Didn’t See. I can take that, maybe.
*P.S. I would have offered a spoiler alert, but I haven’t actually seen any complete GoT episodes.