Archives for posts with tag: Hulu

I’M TRYING TO WATCH A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF SWAMP MODE: PART 2 ON NETFLIX, but it takes so long to load I start to wonder if it’s even been made yet. In my agitation, I open Hulu in another window and start watching whatever comes up first, which turns out to be a film called Bear Country.

 

It’s set in the State Park at the edge of Dodge City, “a dense, nearly primordial wilderness of rushing mountain streams, towering firs and hemlocks, and steep, craggy peaks,” according to the narrator. The protagonists are a pair of park rangers, Bob and Sylvie, both in their mid-twenties, just out of forestry school.

 

As Act I begins, they are elated to receive their first assignment, the most coveted among all the newbies: they’ll be on bear watch, tracking the movements, eating habits, and fluctuating population of the Park’s famed grizzlies, which are known to be both the fiercest and the most majestic in all of North America. It’s an annual census, they’re told, a data set updated every late June, and this year it’ll be their findings that go on file.

 

A quick montage shows them filling their camping packs, practicing with bear spray, and chatting excitedly as they prepare for their first overnight excursion into the Park’s imposing backcountry. There’s an odd romantic comedy tone here, as they banter back and forth and giggle like teenagers while deciding whether to bring one tent or two.

 

Then they set out, following first the main trail, then a secondary, then a tertiary trail before peeling off into the backcountry, where they hack vines with machetes to clear the way. I open a few other browser windows in here, checking back to see if the Netflix special’s finished loading yet (it hasn’t).

 

When I return to Bear Country, Bob and Sylvie are at the edge of a clearing and the narrator’s saying, “Here we see them approaching the place where, according to 2016’s census, the Park’s fiercest grizzlies congregate.”

 

Ominous music starts to play, like it’s a mauling we’re about to witness, and the last of the romantic comedy tone recedes. It seems Bob and Sylvie can hear it too, or else the mood in the clearing is sufficiently tense even in silence: now they’re creeping more slowly, bear spray out and ready, swiveling their heads like a pair of spooked owls.

 

Still, they press further in. On the far side of the clearing, they come to a stand of trees and look through, into another clearing on the far side. The camera cuts to their perspective, which reveals a truly wild sight:

 

Dozens of massive grizzlies are cataloguing human parts. They’ve built (or found) a complex wooden structure with numerous sections, like an open-air vault, and into this structure they’re placing human heads, humans arms, human torsos, and human legs, each in its own section, all very orderly.

 

They work mainly with their mouths, but a few grizzlies sit on stumps and gesticulate in an unmistakably human manner with their paws. This sequence goes on and on, Bob & Sylvie mute and terrified at the edge of the frame, the grizzles working on a gigantic pile of dismembered humans in the center. We watch until the whole pile’s been sorted, everything in its right place.

 

Then the bears settle onto their haunches and regard their work. Just before the screen goes black, one says to the other, “Let’s call it a day and get some rest, yeah?”

 

The other nods.

 

*****

AS PART II BEGINS, Bob & Sylvie are sitting on an outcropping over a rushing stream, drinking from their water bottles and trying to stop panicking.

 

When they’re finally able to speak, Bob says, “We gotta tell Steve.” (“That’s their boss, Director of Park Operations,” the narrator informs us.) “He has to know about this. I mean, it’s …”

 

“What we saw back there, it’s … a kind of miracle,” Sylvie says. “I mean, they were talking, right? You heard them too? Don’t you think we should … try to find out more first? See what they want, before we … ?”

 

Bob nods, but his mind’s clearly scrambled. He doesn’t have the same expression of awe that Sylvie has. It’s clear they’re about to part ways.

 

*****

AS, INDEED, THEY DO. In the next scene, Bob has run off alone to warn Steve. In the Ranger Headquarters near the Park Entrance, Steve sits across from Bob and says, “Look, word wasn’t supposed to get around, but since you saw what’s out there, I might as well explain a few things. For reasons we don’t quite understand, some of the bears are evolving human consciousness. It seems to have coincided with Pussygrab’s election. Something about Swamp Mode, a massive psychic shift in many of Dodge City’s populations, not just its human population … anyway, a delegation of these newly humanoid bears approached us one night in March, to plead for their independence. ‘Now that we can see the power structures that keep us societally disadvantaged,’ their leader said to me — I’ll always remember this moment — ‘we want an autonomous zone within the Park. A genuine Bear Country. Give us that, and we’ll leave you alone. Promise.'”

 

Steve opens a bottle of bourbon from a cabinet behind the table and fills two plastic cups almost to the brim. He pushes one in Bob’s direction and raises his in a grim toast. “Before I could respond to the bear’s request, Paul Sweetie showed up — he must have the whole Park under surveillance — pushed me aside, and started negotiating. ‘Okay,’ he told the bear, who was sitting in the same seat you’re in now. ‘How about this: you do something for us, we do something for you. Deal?’ The bear looked intrigued. It was clear, even at that early stage, that it had no business making a deal with Paul Sweetie. That bear was painfully naive when it came to the finer points of human deal-making, let me tell you. And how could it not be?”

 

Steve refills his cup and continues. “So Paul Sweetie tells the bear, ‘look, I represent a new Regime in Dodge City and we’re trying to get a new Genocide started. A Second Dodge City Genocide, if you will, though by the time we’re done it’ll be the only one people remember. Anyway, what would you say if we were to send some of our undesirables your way, and ask you to dispose of them for us? Say, I don’t know, 5,000 heads?’ Paul Sweetie grins and leans into the bear’s face, completely fearless in his white wedding dress. ‘What if you were to present us with 5,000 human heads, as well as the rest of their bodies — torsos, arms, legs, all nicely sorted — so we can kick this Genocide off in style? If you were to do this for us, we could see our way clear to granting you independence. Just let us know when you’ve got the 5,000, and we’ll draw up the paperwork to make your Bear Country official. You’ll never hear from us again after that. Deal?'”

 

Steve’s eyes mist over as he recalls the decisive moment. Clearly, at heart, he’s as much of an animal lover as Bob is. “And with that, Paul Sweetie holds out his hand until the bear, who’s never seen this ritual before, extends its paw and grasps onto Sweetie until Sweetie lets go. And thus the deal is signed.”

 

Ranger Bob looks around the office, stunned and a little drunk. “But if you knew that was going on out there … why did you send Sylvie and me in anyway?”

 

Steve wipes his eyes and says, “Because we needed someone who didn’t know to find it. Otherwise, it would seem like an inside job.”

 

“An inside job?”

 

But Steve’s already on the phone with The Dodge City Free Press, drunkenly reporting what his junior ranger has just discovered.

 

*****

IN THE NEXT SCENE, a crew of photographers descends on the bear stronghold, snapping photo and video from helicopters hovering just above the sorted bodies. One brave reporter jumps out to interview a bear, who says, “Well, we did kill these people, but only because …” The rest of the quote is cut off.

 

Images of mutilated corpses and blood-stained bears fill the front pages and TV screens of Dodge City for an entire Tuesday, hammering home the atrocity as vividly as possible.

 

That night, Pussygrab makes an emergency announcement from his Throne Room. “This is a deeply sad moment for me, as an animal lover,” he begins, swigging from a bottle of champagne and chewing a greasy hock of mutton. “But, with the news that the State Park’s bears have grown uncontrollably vicious, totally above and beyond what’s reasonable for grizzlies in the wild, I’m left with no option other than to go nuclear. It’s truly a shame, but something must be done to keep the people of Dodge City safe. So, with a heavy heart I hereby announce that at 5am tomorrow, warheads will fall on the bears’ horrific stronghold, and this depraved episode will reach its necessary conclusion.”

 

Canned applause erupts offscreen and I gag, unsure now whether I’m still watching the Hulu movie or the actual Dodge City News.

 

*****

SYLVIE, MEANWHILE, HAS GONE NATIVE. We cut to her living among the bears, transcribing their folklore, helping them sort their heads, and trying to represent humanity as well as she can to them, though she doesn’t shy away from discussing the depths that Pussygrab has already reduced Dodge City to in his short term as Mayor.

 

“Murdering people, in principle, is wrong,” she tells them, “but if they’re Pussygrab goons, have at it.” The bears don’t seem to understand where she’s coming from, and the bodies are too mutilated to be identified, but a viewer like me understands the point she’s making and is inclined to agree. “Humanity,” she says, “is a negotiable quantity. It’s always in flux.”

 

I hate to picture what’s coming, but I can’t help it.

 

“Why did you start doing this?” she asks one of the bears, while they’re taking a break. “Is there some point you’re making?”

 

The bear shakes its head, but it’s too late: the sky is already massing with missiles.

 

“No,” the bear says, its voice marked by an accent I can’t quite place. “We were … there was a man, a man in a white wedding dress, who came to speak with our leader. He said that if we …”

 

Sylvie leans in to hear better as the surrounding trees spark into flames and all the neatly sorted bodies are liquified, heat rippling over the entire clearing. The camera zooms in on Sylvie’s face as a gust of burning ash reduces it to putty.

 

Then it zooms out to reveal the bears running in confused zigzags as more and more blasts erupt around them, making it clear that none will escape.

 

*****

THE FINAL IMAGE IS OF A FLEET OF BACKHOES AND TRACTORS descending on the wreckage, driving right through it, as they begin to harvest the rare earth metals buried in the heart of Bear Country. “Uranium, plutonium, rubidium,” says one of the drivers through her elaborate hazmat suit. “Buried here all along, but out of reach because the land was protected. Endangered species and all. Whoever invested in this dig’s gonna make a fortune!”

 

I close my laptop just as Bear Country 2: A Special Investigation Into The 5,000 Victims starts loading. Sitting in the fresh silence, I’m overcome by a coughing fit. Though the room I’m sitting in has no windows, I can taste the fallout seeping through the walls.

BED REST following the Intestine Episode is cut short by the scheduled arrival of an Idol.

 

The baby that Stokoe Drifter sired is tucked away in some nursery or orphanage, attended by specialists and orderlies.

 

If we could have postponed it we would have, just to have a few extra days to lie low, but these things involve multiple towns and the amount of legwork required to disrupt the Idol from its scheduled tour is way beyond what any of us were up to undertaking.

 

In fact, it’s on a fixed circuit of 30 towns, which means it has, max., one day of leeway per month. In February, obviously enough, it has to hit, on average, more than one town per day.

 

Every town gets its turn. Ours is today.

 

The Idol is wheeled in by hooded underlings, big as a Trojan Horse except, instead of wooden and hollow and filled with spies, it’s blobular and gummy, solid, filled with despair and self-doubt.

 

Every citizen of Dodge City, except those living Underground and/or Off The Record, is assembled in the square (the same one in which the Intestine Episode played out — some of the cobblestones are still stained), yawning and shivering in the autumn chill, watching the Idol approach on its titanium casters.

 

The hooded underlings take a few minutes to stabilize it once it’s been rolled into position, anchored with a rope around the fountain in the dead center of the square like it has some astrological significance, something with the sun and the shadow of the clocktower and concentric circles and diametrically opposed shop windows mirroring each other.

 

Once the wobbly gelatinous mass is still enough to be safe-seeming, we separate into four lines of roughly equal length, each facing the Idol from a distinct direction, dividing 360 degrees into chunks of 90.

 

*****

WE WAIT in this formation until the underlings blow a whistle. They hereby Give the Go-Ahead, then disperse into the streets around the square, perhaps for a bite and a cup of coffee, or just to afford us some privacy.

 

One citizen from each of the four lines approaches the Idol, gagging and blowing out air, preparing mouth and throat for the bitter, gooey taste of what’s to come.

 

All four dive in, burying their faces in the mass of the Idol’s side, boring as far into that biology as it’ll let them.

 

I gag in sympathy, watching their heads disappear and then enough of their torsos that their feet lose ground and tip up into the air, kicking and dangling. A few kick so hard their shoes scramble off.

 

It’s dim weather out, hard to stay sharp in — my mind wanders over to 12 Years a Slave and a kind of yarn-ball of jealousy over the critical acclaim bestowed upon Steve McQueen unfurls in my system, quickly re-knotting in new and painful ways. I try to fight it but only end up, predictably, fighting myself.

 

I’m up next.

 

I’m fantasizing about my Gmail account, begging the universe for a story of mine to have been accepted somewhere, anywhere.

 

I would’ve missed my turn if someone hadn’t shoved me in the rib, sending me off-balance toward the Idol, tripping over the knot of jealousy over how far short of Steve McQueen’s my critical fate has so far fallen, which has wormed its way out of my body and is now hanging down like the tassels on a prayer shawl all over my crotch and thighs.

 

Propelled bodily by the rib-shove and mentally by this craven (and common enough) thought-welter, my face ends up in the Idol’s side.

 

The familiar bitter putty taste seeps out to receive me. It spreads my mouth open as surely as a thumb and forefinger squeezing my nose.

 

All the insecurity of the past few minutes serves me well now: I’ve been adequately prostrated on the threshold, brought to my knees in advance of coming face-to-face with it.

 

I wriggle further in, arms pinned to my sides like when I was five and fat and stuck in the tunnel of a snow fort that had become an ice fort overnight.

 

The claustrophobia sets in as the Idol’s blob material forces its way down my throat, covering my tongue with a tongue of its own, stretching all the way into my esophagus to the point where it blots out all other sensation and opens the pathways of thought:

 

Maybe I’m really, truly not good enough, I think.

 

Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to see this — any of this, anything I’m working on — through.

 

Maybe I have the vision but not the chops, simple as that.

 

Maybe I’ll aspire forever, or even give that up, settle for fandom and a kind of select regional knowledge.

 

I mean, what do I know about what it really, like, really, takes?

 

These thoughts rush into me, pumped in from the belly of the Idol, whose sole purpose is to pump us all full of these thoughts, once every thirty days without fail throughout the year.

 

A lot of people can think it up, but only a very, very few can do it for real. Why believe you’re one of them? The thoughts continue, same every time.

 

What indication is there?

 

The Idol slowly and expertly ratchets up the tension, building to the brink of the unbearable. This is what it’s been called to town to do. This is what it is, living proof of the possibility that I am not — that none of us are — the genius I so miserably want to be and, twenty-nine days out of thirty, am mostly able to behave as if I believed I were.

 

The kind of belief that lets you move forward with work that no one else is forcing you to do.

 

I feel internal bleeding everywhere from my ribs on up, and a black soupy mucus pouring down into my stomach as the reality hits me full on: I might genuinely, truly, and, worst of all, simply, not be cut out for it. Not when you seriously size up the competition.

 

I mean, c’mon.

 

And maybe it’s your fault, whispers the Idol, beginning to ease its tongue out of my gut. Maybe you just don’t want it enough. Maybe, years ago, you took a long, sober look at what it actually takes and thought to yourself … eh, I dunno …

 

*****

Finally it pulls its tongue the rest of the way out me. I can feel life returning to my arms, which begin morosely swimming back out of the blob’s interior, pushing back toward the open air of Dodge City.

 

Back on the cobblestones, it’s dark and, compared to where I’ve just been, frighteningly dry and cold.

 

I hang my head low, dog-like, and saunter off to a bar to knock a few back and try to thaw out from the High Sabbath.

 

The bar is full of people who’ve just undergone the same ordeal, all of us shaken in our resolve, our homunculi unseated from their habitual thrones.

 

Each of us drinks like we’re the only one there. Even the bartender looks like he’s asking himself what the point is.

 

When the place gets full enough and some of the taps start running out, I picture the hooded underlings untying the Idol’s anchor from the fountain and wheeling it away through the dark, back through the Outskirts and on to the next town, stopping somewhere unseen to pass the night.

 

I wonder whether they sleep inside or beside it, and all at once or in shifts. And whether they keep their hoods on even when it’s only them and too dark to see.

 

*****

When I get back to my Room, I open my Internet browser: several Email accounts, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify, Pitchfork, The Dissolve, The AV Club, Netflix, and Hulu, along with the Events Schedules of at least five music and comedy venues.

 

Several minutes later, I open my novel draft, thick with several years’ worth of dust and tract marks, odious even to glance at.

 

Then, not to put too fine a point on things, I ask myself what sort of man I am.