Not to compete with my betters, but it seems I couldn't avoid a "24" blow-by-blow either. It follows at the end of this Bleat.

Context counts; context matters. For a few years I thought the smell of the Cozumel airport was the Smell of the Island, a heady mix of ocean breezes and local food and whatever else was particular to the joint. Mexican pixy farts, for all I knew. Years later I entered an old warehouse in Minneapolis in the winter and smelled the same thing, and realized it was just must, neglect and substandard building materials. (Or they had a crate of Mexican Fairies in the back, force-fed beans by a cruel and ingenious apparatus.) Two years ago in Arizona, the casita where we stayed had a scent I equated with the very desert itself, only to find it was a Yankee Candle Company smell that came from a small bottle, plugged into the wall. Eager to keep the memories of the trip around, and perhaps impart the scent of the desert to Jasperwood, I bought some when I returned home. But what had been light and fresh there was now heavy and eye-wateringly potent here, so I unplugged it.

Until last night. We had a house guest, so I plugged it back in to give the room a bit of a lift. (The house guest was from Arizona. My logic should now be clear.) Somehow I set the dial on “Fumigate” and the entire upper floor of the house became saturated with the aroma, and we have been walking around in this miasma for a day. I can’t get rid of it. Open the windows, you say? Why, thank you! You must have gone to college. Majored in No Duh Studies, I’ll wager. Yes, I opened the windows. I also threw away the infuser, but I got some on my hands and it won’t come off. There’s some in my study, too, and I don’t know where it is. I hate this scent now. Hate it. It’s  left the guest room, too – it’s on the move, a sentient miasma creeping through the house. I have a cup of flour on hand, and if the scent suddenly gets stronger I will throw the flour and discover its exact location. Then I will put a bag over it and put it outside.

It’s snowing now, and the snow absorbs everything. Sound, color, odor: everything loses its distinctive quality. The snow owns it all, eventually.

I would blame the scent for my twitchy right eyelid, but that’s a consequence of uninterrupted sessions of screenwork. Scanning, tweaking, scanning, tweaking. Writing the book is always the easy part. Took a break Saturday, as we had the aforementioned guest – my father-in-law. He’s a doctor, which came in handy: at one point Gnat suddenly got a fever and complained of a headache. AaaOOOHga! AaaaaOHHHga! MENINGITIS! But Doctor Grandpa ran a few basic tests, pronounced it nothing, and Gnat took a nap. Bounced back, ran around for four hours with her cousin while the adults had dinner and did boring grown-up things like sit around and talk over coffee while a perfectly good cake sat in the kitchen, uneaten. When the party was over she crashed and re-fevered. Better today. She’s watching a DVD, since I forbade anyone to touch anything on the TV. I’m recording "Rome," "Extras," and “24” in regular and HD, and nothing must go wrong.

It’s remarkable to think how the first season began: he was a family man with a wife and teenaged daughter. But things change; in the show, it seems, America goes through Presidents like Kleenex tissue. I hesitate to start watching, since I’m certain they’ll start out the first hour by killing someone we all like, just to throw us off balance. I’m also certain that the first problem will not be the biggest problem, but a taste of things to come. Terrorists never learn. Don’t start the day by hijacking 14 planes as a diversion from your real plan to introduce bubonic plague into the ventilation systems of the schools which is merely the first step of a three-pronged attack, which culminates in an EMP over Chicago after you’ve blown up Hoover Dam. Pick one thing and stick to it, guys. The preliminaries may be fun to plan, but all you’re going to do is make Jack Bauer mad. And when he’s mad he shoots people in the leg before he can even think of a question to shout. Seriously. He usually covers well, but one of these days he’s going to put a round in someone’s kneecap, and yell WHO PUT THE RAM IN THE RAMA-LAMA DING DONG? TELL ME! Because that’s the first thing that came to his mind.

 “Rome” is another matter. Too bad the second season will be the last. Not enough people watched the first season, and they spent about forty billion dollars on the sets – which are truly spectacular and immensely detailed; from what I’ve learned from my industry sources (i.e., stopping off at the TV critic’s desk at the paper to chat) they filled every inch of every frame with authentic items. When the camera pans across an alley or a room, every single detail has been researched, verified, reproduced. You can’t tell  - but you can tell, somehow. So why didn’t it work?

Maybe people expected big battles, and didn't get them. But I don't think so; oddly enough, when people think of Rome they think of the city itself and its politics and culture, not the distant clang of sword and shield. Maybe people wanted gladitorial storylines, but A) that's been done, and B) the Colosseum hadn't been built yet. Perhaps because it lacked an obvious villain. All great HBO shows are about men whose villainy is obvious but complicated - Tony Soprano, obviously, plus Al Fargin' Swearenfargingen of "Deadwood," Avon Barksdale in "The Wire" (in subsequent seasons the villainy was found in institutional inertia, which made the last season the most impressive and heartbreaking of them all) and Larry David, a skittish judgmental nebbish with enough F-U money to avoid the consequences of his boundless schmucktitude. (Just kidding. Sort of.) Julius Caesar wasn't a typical HBO villain, and I don't think the death-of-the-Republic theme had enough dramatic resonance. . . and in a way, I'm glad, because hack writers could have really played that one up, George Lucas-style. ("Sith" was on the HD channel last night, and I watched some of it, and had the same irritated reaction: boundless talent in the service of a 7th grade imagination.)

Too bad season two will be the end of it. But thery brought it back for ten more, and for that I’m grateful.

All Western cultures like to think of themselves as reflections of Rome – heirs who believe they have bested the legacy, but still suspect they lack the iron in the spine that made Rome great. But we’re better than they were. The attributes that held them together are incompatible with an Enlightened society, and what virtues they had they consumed in their rise to power. But we feel a kinship, and that’s only natural; we all grew up associating their architectural vocabulary with ours. Church, business, government – everyone took turns dressing up in Roman glory.

Why? It’s peculiar, the assumptions we make. Think of “Gothic” church architecture - busy facades, filigreed steeples, flying buttresses, everything squeezed together and competing to get to  heaven first, giant stone mountains evaporating in an effervescence rapture. It seems very old and spooky. Roman, or “classical” architecture, almost stands outside of time: it’s a timeless ideal, and its effect on the Western imagination is so enduring that when the clumsy exhausted modernists came up with something like this in 1968 (click for a larger picture) they felt compelled to put columns out front to match the neighboring classical buildings. Because columns meant college and learning and civilization.  Such a building might have meant something else 2000 years ago – say, “here’s the place where they slit the throat of the bull and dump the blood on the rich lady who wants Jove to make sure her husband gets that new job” – but those meanings have been drained from the structures, replaced with meanings particular to Christianity and concepts associated with Christian cultures.


Anyway. Strange as they may have been – and they were strange, believe me – you like to think you could figure it out if you woke up in Pompeii. Medieval France, ancient Greece, the Mongol Empire – you wouldn’t know where to start. But if you found yourself in a Roman city in a tunic with some coins in your pocket and smattering of Latin? You could figure out a meal and a drink and a place to stay, and if you avoided getting stabbed for absolutely no reason, you might find a job. Of course, the "Smattering of Latin" would be the deal-killer. Unless you were a graphic designer who'd memorized the Lorem Ipsum.

Didn’t mean to get off on that, and now it’s put me behind schedule. I’d hate to think I was unable to watch the first episode of Rome because I wasted time writing about Rome. So: hit the links below for a Matchbook and a Quirk, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Update: the TiVo did not record "Rome." Criminey. Have to get it from my "industry connections." Grr. Argh. Jeez. I BLAME THE SMELL.

Update: ah. My fault. Last night I had to rejigger all the Season Passes on the TiVo, cancelling some (like the Simpsons, which now exists to cause a dull, sad pain in my heart) and moving others around. "Rome" will be recorded in HD tomorrow. But what of "24" - did I get the HD version? I'm grabbing it off the antennae, not the dish, and that usually means the picture looks like a computer is having a fever dream about Tetris. Stay tuned. So far it looks good, and I am hopeful enough I have performed the rituals that accompany Quality TV night: I have cleaned my glasses with the expensive fluid, and put a bag of "Homestyle" popcorn in the microwave. That's the one with extra trans-fats and large salt granules. But it's a "snack size" bag, which means you can eat the entire thing without feeling as though you have drank the contents of a Fatburger greasetrap.

Update: well, it works; the HD feed is strong. But: right away, the show gives off a huge wave of PC expiation for past plotlines. Islamic extremists are being blamed for suicide bombings - why, this is madness! Knowing the way the show works, though, you can't side with anyone about anything. So let it roll. On the other hand: whoa! President Him! How did that happen? Imagine the coverage: CNN is reporting that the questionable backstory of the presidential candidate has been completely forgotten, due to the fact that the candidate Kicked Ass and subsequently Took Names during the crisis with the terrorists a few years ago who were working with President Milhous McSweaty. Can't wait to see how they explain this. Or how a Democratic administration is the one that comes up with dentention camps. (Again.) (Okay, sorry, that was cheap.)

HD picture is incredible.

Update: okay, back at CTU. It's still the most poorly-lit workspace in America, with special pore-and-oil-enhancing keylights. Chloe's anti-frump chip has been given a slight upgrade; we now understand that her ex-husband, the lead singer from "Right Said Fred," will be a continuing character. And that's fine. He's a cheeky bloke! He snarked out the spiky-haired new guy we've never seen before, and whom we instantly dislike for his thin face, gelled hair, and inability to match wits with Mr. Chloe. Which probably means the spiky-haired new guy will ride an ICBM Slim-Pickens style into the ocean in hour 6, given "24"'s penchant for rehabilitating middle-management buttheads.

Update: I'm sorry, CTU agent STEPHEN MERCHANT? I had to pause, walk away, back up, look again. So the co-writer of "The Office" is now an agent at CTU. Well, I can get past that. After all, we've already seen Peter McNichols, an actor I last saw channeling Vigo in "Ghostbusters 2," and I don't expect him to invoke a murderous 12th century Carpathain to help intern the Muslims. In the last season the Vice President was Leland Palmer from "Twin Peaks," and I didn't expect him to vomit forth an evil spirit named Bob. Cut them some slack. But really, this smacks of a "Batman" cameo. Still enjoying it, though. Elapsed time actually watching show: about three minutes.

Update: Jack's been freed. Yes! I'm sure he was fed on the plane, and got a nap. He's in a stronger position than ever. But he's meeting Bill Buchanan, who has the unenviable position as the senior disposable character on the show. He has tenure but no backstory, which means he's most likely to die before the first commecial break. Fingers crossed; I always liked Bill.

Update: Jeebus. Jack's in bad shape. You know who he reminded me of? Donald Sutherland. It's uncanny.

Update: the first plot point is revealed. Apparently, the government is worse than the Mafia. Imagine this scenario: "Okay, Tommy 'Two Lumps' Espresso, we'll tell you who's hittin' your joints, but first you gotta give us Jackie B. We give him to Abdul, he whacks your boy, we give you Adbul. I know Jackie B's been a top earner for you and he saved your life and he saved the life of your kids and whacked that mope what wanted to kill your father, but if you let us give him to this guy who'll kill him, we'll tell you what you want to know."

Tony Soprano would have that guy hanging by his thumbs in a meat locker, and the only skin left on the fellow would be the part Paulie Walnuts was about to feed to a Waring Blender.

Update: former Homeland Security woman, who is Not Helen Mirrin, is married to Bill Buchanan? This is bad for Bill. He's so dead. ETA for Audrey, I'm guessing: hour six. (Her nose will arrive in hour five.) First Jack has to kill a lot of guys and escape. Dramatically, it's painful: he's broken and empty and wishing for death, and you can certainly see his point.

Update: Chloe, in sixteen years, might attain a orders-followed / orders-disobeyed ratio of 1:1. If she starts yesterday. On the other hand, the usefulness and willingness to disobey orders displayed by her ex-husband now leads me to believe he will, in Hour 19, grab a zipper located near his groin, pull it up, and reveal that he is actually Nina Myers wearing a fat suit.

Update: the bad guy's name is Phy-Ed? I hated Phy-Ed in grade school.

Update: uh - they just killed Jack. This is looking bad for Season 7.

Update: Okay, he's alive. And angry. Because nothing motivates Jack Bauer like torture. Stab him in the shoulder, and he's in a world of hurt, but cut off a finger - thereby ensuring lots of painstaking CGI work for years to come - and you're seriously on his serious bad side in a serious way.

Update: Give me a J! Give me an A! Give me a C! Give me a K! What does it spell? DRACULA!

Update: this is a two-hour episode? Sweet: I can finish it tomorrow. Jack's bloody, stabbed, and hiding in a shaft in a building infested with terrorists.

Things are looking up.