Friday, May 29, 2015

May 2015 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for May...

1. The final episodes of Mad Men aired this month and last, during which many of the characters experience big changes leading up to the finale. One of the biggest is perhaps the firm's complete absorption into McCann-Erickson, the agency that Roger negotiated to give 51% ownership of at the end of last season. This change is more favorable for some than for others, but many of the SC & P staff really don't cope well with the transition, and many either don't make it to begin with or bolt soon after. The finale, which aired on the 17th, tied up some stories while leaving others much more ambiguous. I, like many others, was especially curious to see how Don would end up. The corporate shift almost immediately sent him on a long road trip out West, which seemed strange and meandering at times but also inspired him to reflect on his history and identity. And then, in the finale, he seemed to have either a breakdown, breakthrough, or both, culminating in a scene that in retrospect had been hinted at for several episodes in various ways. I enjoyed the finale, and thought it as good of an ending as could be expected. There was enough to suggest that perhaps Don had found peace, while at the same time was driven back into the creativity that McCann had coveted him for.

2. We saw Avengers: Age of Ultron on opening weekend, which brings the team back together to battle an entity of artificial intelligence brought about by the spear from the previous movie and Tony Stark's best, yet misguided, intentions. Alongside the half dozen main players are many of the characters both major and minor from the other movies, and a few new faces. An ensemble this large carries the risk of too much to deal with, but I thought the film was able to balance its cast fairly well. There are many side plots among the characters, but it's aware enough of what it needs to do in order to further the main plot without getting too bogged down in the smaller stories. There's plenty of action, and of course it leaves plenty of openings for many more movies to come.

3. We binge-watched the first season of Daredevil on Netflix this month. After the first episode, it didn't take much. We see Matt Murdock's development into the hero, first as a vigilante in a less stylish, homemade costume as he helps uncover a vast crime network headed by Kingpin, aka Wilson Fisk. The landscape of the series is fairly dark and they're able to give Hell's Kitchen the proper vibe; the plot and fight sequences are gritty and communicate the city's desperation for hope. It's also very much a character-driven show, as there is a heavy emphasis on relationships and backstories, including those of Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal is one of the highlights of the series). I am very much looking forward to the next season.

4. I read Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen this month, which I've been meaning to do since completing my own spiritual direction studies last year. Here Nouwen explores some of the basic themes of spirituality including the exploration of who God is, who we are, and being in community with others. Nouwen has such an accessible style, yet conveys truth that is deep and rich at the same time. Here he leads each chapter with a story, parable, or illustration from a variety of faith traditions in order to help anchor his theme, while also including accounts of his time with the Daybreak community at which he worked and resided in the latter years of his life. Nouwen is celebrated and widely-read as a spiritual writer for good reason.

5. I've been listening to and enjoying Sprinter by Torres this month. At times reflective and atmospheric, at other times driven and forceful, I've loved the raw indy rock feel of this album. Much of it explores her religious upbringing, and its continued influence on her life, both good and bad. "Strange Hellos" gives the album a crunchy opening, "New Skin" is an exploration of living into new identity and wondering how she'll be received. The whole thing is excellent, but in particular I keep coming back to the title track. Here's the video for it: