Recent Work By Letitia Trent

Netflix-BloodlineNetflix’s new original series Bloodline begins with one of those familiar tropes of fiction, film, and television alike: the return of the prodigal son. In Bloodline, the prodigal son is Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), the oldest of four, who returns to his family’s hotel for a 45th anniversary celebration. Back home, his two brothers and sister await, seeming to dread his arrival and the chaos they expect to come along with him. His younger brother, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz), believes he will only hurt their elderly parents, while his sister Meg (Linda Cardellini) just wants to placate. His brother John (Kyle Chandler), is the only sibling excited to see Danny come home. Behind the siblings looms their father Robert (Sam Shepard) and mother Sally (Sissy Spacek), who are big fish in the little pond of their small Florida Keys town. Something happened, long ago, that haunts them all and centers around Danny, who has become the family scapegoat. It takes several episodes to get a hint of what this central event is: the death of a sister, Sarah, which happened during a boat trip with Danny thirty years before.

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My husband works at a treatment facility for youth with emotional and behavioral issues. He reports that his students love films and novels about the end of the world. They fully believe the world as they know it probably will end, whether it be by war, climate change, or economic collapse. They aren’t afraid of this, though. What they love about these narratives is the idea of being a survivor, of seeing the structures of the existing world crumble, of creating a society full of fellow survivors who will create a new world the right way. Who can blame them? They’ve already been failed by family, school, and social services. For them, and many disenfranchised people, the idea of collapse comes as a kind of relief. The world is bad. Perhaps destroying it and starting over is the only way to create a better future. Apparently, my husband’s students are not alone.  Apocalyptic narratives are all over current popular culture, from films like World War Z to Noah to the wildly popular series The Walking Dead on the small screen.

I grew up on true crime television. While I was never allowed to watch horror films, which my mother was sure would influence my malleable mind, she never seemed to think that a steady diet of real-life murder could affect me negatively. I vividly remember watching America’s Most Wanted as a kid and having her lecture me afterward about all of the terrible things that could happen to me simply because I was a child, kidnapping being the most obvious, though murder was always there in the background, a constant possibility, post-kidnapping. She knew about the Adam Walsh murder, which happened the year I was born. She told me the gruesome details, emphasizing how easy it would be for me to be taken, just like him, if I drifted away from her in a grocery store.

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As a precocious pre-teen and teen, I was obsessed with adulthood; I couldn’t wait for the responsibility of rent checks and retirement plans. I watched serious drama as a way to prepare myself for this adult life I so wanted, and since we didn’t have cable I spent a lot of time watching PBS to figure out exactly how adults lived. I loved Masterpiece Theater, Mystery!, and particularly Prime Suspect, the dark and emotionally complex BBC crime series starring Helen Mirren as Jane Tennyson, a lone female detective in a boys’ club of often outright hostile fellow officers. I wanted to be like Jane Tennyson when I grew up. I dreamed of living a solitary but important existence, of having a job that was so central to me that I would forget meals and drink black coffee, a job that included meetings and orders and sleepless nights in which I would struggle to find the key to understanding a fragmented picture and solving the case. Jane Tennyson’s life always had an air of romance to it despite its gritty realism.

reyFirst, a little story: I used to be an obsessive user of Livejournal. I started back in 1999, before Facebook and microblogging. I posted long, personal entries, often accompanied by photographs (I wanted to be a photographer—I became a poet instead). One of my favorite journals was by a writer whose handle I can’t quite remember, but it included the name “Lolita.”

Walking Dead Season 3As season three of AMC’s The Walking Dead wraps up, it’s a good time to think about some of the much-maligned female characters in this series, starting with the most notorious example, the “adulterous” housewife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). Any visit to a Walking Dead-related message board will inevitably confirm the broad animosity viewers have toward this character. This is partly because viewers tend to, still, find adulterous women far more offensive than adulterous men (never mind that “adultery” seems an unnecessarily harsh word for Lori, a woman who thought her husband was dead). This is also partly because the first two seasons and opening episodes of season three were dominated by episode after episode of the love triangle between Lori, her husband Rick (Andrew Lincoln), and his best friend Shane (John Bernthal). Like many TV love triangles, this one grew stale quickly.