How To Get Away With Murder, despite nearly every character acting the sneering villains the college comedy slackers would humble with a crazy prank, is shaping up to be one of the most enjoyable new shows. It’s got that shamelessly dramatic dialogue, monologues and plot-twists of the best guilty pleasures.
But almost immediately, it has a big flaw stuck into the very structure of the show: It gives us brief “flash-forwards” into a scene where the characters appear to be hurriedly covering up a murder.
The flash-forward gimmick is hardly a new one.
How To Get Away With Murder’s device is an almost exact ripoff of one of the worst parts of another legal thriller, Damages. That show parceled out the narrative in the present with brief glimpses of the future — horrible things happening to an ambitious legal mind due to her involvement with a take-no-prisoners female mentor. (How To Get Away With Murder distinguishes itself by giving us glimpses of horrible things happening to multiple ambitious legal minds due to their involvement with a take-no-prisoners female mentor.)
It’s a device that’s been used in shows like Lost, Breaking Bad, and How I Met Your Mother. And it hurt every one of them.
Heck, there was even a television show called FlashForward that made this the entire premise – that everyone on earth sees a vision of themselves from the future — and it buckled and collapsed under the strain almost instantly.
The temptation for a writer to put a flash-forward in a pilot is understandable. It’s a promise: This is how crazy things will get. It’s supposed to be like your friend saying, "Hey, stick with it, the show gets really good around episode 22."
But flash-forwards ultimately are more like skeevy payday loan operations: They borrow interesting narrative from the future to spend in the present. And the interest rates are downright predatory.
To expand on that: One of the most enjoyable parts of watching TV is asking two fundamental questions: 1) What is happening now? 2) What will happen next? Yet a flashforward spoils the answer to #2 and makes the answer to #1 feel irrelevant. Both questions are replaced with “How does the story get from A to B?” (Or A to Z.) That’s not a mystery or an adventure. That’s a MapQuest printout.
A flashback is problematic because it kills narrative momentum by taking us out of the present. Why would I care about what happened six months ago? I want to know what’s happening now. But flash-forwards turn almost the entire show into one giant flashback. It cheapens what’s happening in the present by showing us the consequences.
Sometimes those flash-forwards are lies: They use unreliable narration, deceptive editing or trick camera angles to pretend something will happen when it won’t. But that breaks the trust between viewer and show, which greatly harms future seasons.
How I Met Your Mother had to bend over backwards to try to fulfill the many promises the show had made about the future and still surprise the audience. The result had the fans angry and revolting.
Other times, the flash-forwards are the exact truth, creating expectations difficult to fulfill: The reveal of Lost’s flash-forwards made for an iconic moment, for example, but the story struggled to fill in the gaps in a logical, satisfying way.
Mind you: A flash-forward can work brilliantly in long-form non-fiction journalism. Even novels, to a certain extent, can benefit from this sort of structure.
But a serialized TV drama is not a novel or long-form non-fiction. It is a serialized TV drama – and one of its biggest strengths should be its agility. The story is a living, breathing thing that can veer off in wonderfully surprising directions. A plotline that’s not working can be excised, a character can be killed off, a more interesting thread can be pulled. Most of the time, it’s not the vision of one mind, it’s a room of writers. Epiphany can strike and transform a show at any time.
Actors quit. Actors die. Ratings fall. Writers change their minds.
In some cases, a flash-forward can work within a single episode. A Breaking Bad episode opens with the serial image of bullet shells on the hood of a car, bouncing as hydraulics send the car up-and-down. It’s a tease more than a spoiler. It’s a poetic image that hooks and intrigues.
But Breaking Bad stumbled when it tried to create season-long flash-forwards. It famously began its 5th season with a bearded Walter White opening up his trunk to reveal a massive machine gun. At the time the writers had no idea what it would be used for.
The result was the worst of both worlds: The constraints of a perfectly planned show and the lack of foresight of an improvised one. Partly as a consequence, the finale to one of TV’s best shows of all time was, ultimately, disappointing.
How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t aspire to Breaking Bad’s greatness. But it wants to be surprising, fun and fast-paced – and flash-forwards make every one of those goals more difficult.
I sometimes wonder if the people in charge of and concerned about downtown Spokane live in the same downtown Spokane that I do. If you based your knowledge of Spokane on the comment threads of local news outlets, letters to the editor and the loudest opinions within business leadership, you’d probably believe that our core is positively overrun with hoodlum youth, aggressive and dangerous panhandlers, and all-purpose chaos. On the contrary, while I do get asked for money during maybe 15 percent of my outings downtown, I don’t witness any of this behavior at a noticeable level. I notice that there are people around, on a good day, who are up to all types of things. There are business men walking five abreast on the sidewalk with coffees, people on cell phones, shoppers laden with bags, young people cradling either guitars or puppies, skaters, people in electric wheelchairs dodging through the sidewalk traffic.
In short, there are a wide variety of humans co-mingled in one space. They don’t all look the same, they don’t all share the same values, and the day-to-day of their lives vary wildly. This is as true next to River Park Square and in Riverfront Park as it is at the STA Plaza. However, the characterization of the Plaza’s inhabitants and users casts bus riders as dangerous, poor (which is bad and probably also their fault, right?), and a nuisance to polite society. I have a hunch that the critics of the Plaza are comprised of the group least qualified to have an opinion on the matter: people with cars who almost never ride the bus. I tend to agree with what Bruce Nourish pointed out in his Seattle Transit Blog post about the Plaza feud: “What really ails Spokane’s retail plutocrats is not the people of the Plaza, but their own ignorance."
Part of my ongoing frustration as a decades-long STA patron is people’s attitude toward bus ridership. Their complaints about slow service, or a lack of service in their area, or lack of connections make up a self fulfilling prophecy. Without the patronage of more people in Spokane, equalling more money for STA’s operation, the services cannot improve. More people ride the bus than ever before in Spokane now and it’s due to many factors. And they are all kinds of people representing a cross section of the bottom 80 percent of income earners in the area. Here are some photos and short interviews that I conducted on Wednesday, Aug. 20 around 3 pm on the south side of the Plaza. I hope that for those who are ignorant about bus ridership in Spokane or in general, these examples can show you that there really isn’t anything to be afraid of. After all, can you read while driving or have an undistracted conversation with your kids or friends?
Jarrod commutes to Cheney for both work and school. He said that, “The only bummer [about taking the bus] is that it takes longer... but that’s what books and smartphones are for.” Overall he describes STA as a good transit system. “They stop frequently. You don’t have to walk too far to find a spot.” As for the Plaza’s downtown location, he wouldn’t change it. “It is literally in the middle of everything.”
On Wednesday, Scott was heading out the the VA. He said that he takes the bus at least six times a week, mostly to appointments. His favorite aspect of riding the bus? “It’s really convenient, pretty close to where I want to go.” He, too, had a book with him for company on the ride. Other than putting up with the occasional crying baby, he doesn’t mind taking the bus. He was familiar with the concerns about the Plaza. “A lot of kids and homeless come here, but they will be around no matter what, no matter where it is."
Khaled takes the bus to and from work every day. “I have a good time and the people are fun," he said. “This is a good place, because you can learn how to go anywhere from downtown."
When I told Traci I was taking pictures to show that bus riders are just normal people, she laughed and agreed. “It’s just a big pot of everyone here,” she said. On Wednesday, Traci was on her way to the Maple CHAS clinic, but she takes the bus anywhere she needs to go for the most part. I asked her to describe the Plaza in three words. “Not that bad!”
Steven was on the way home from taking the placement exams at SFCC when I talked to him on Wednesday. He doesn’t take the bus often, but said that the downtown location “seems to be working.” His only complaint was that the bus takes a while, but that he’s glad it’s “fairly cheap to ride."
Mohammed takes the bus anywhere he needs to go in town. On Wednesday, he was even getting ready to move from an old apartment to a new one using the bus. He didn’t seem discouraged by this task and said, “It is a great bus! I love to be able to use it every day.”
With Mohammed was Mahadi, who didn’t want his photo taken. He was on his way to his school, just across from the Riverside entrance of the Plaza, the Spokane College of English Language. He doesn’t have a car, like many other bus riders and me. He said, “It is a great thing that this city has the bus because all the people depend on it."
Sam was about to catch the bus into Browne’s Addition to go to Rosauers, one of the only grocery stores near downtown, when I asked her about STA. She takes the bus almost every day and described it as loud. “It can be kind of sad sometimes. But it also opens people up for conversations. Like, do you want to talk for 20 minutes? And I guess that can be a good thing."
Bret has been riding the bus for 10 years. On Wednesday, he had just finished up working downtown. He was very familiar with the ongoing disapproval of the Plaza from certain business interests in the city center. He said, “Moving it isn’t a solution. It’s just an easy target. [The critics] have to blame their poor business acumen on something and right now it’s the homeless and the street kids. But where else do they have to hang out?” He pointed out that as a business person, he likes having the Plaza right in the middle of things because it brings people, many of whom are customers, to the businesses who rely on them for success.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love Spokane," he said. “But in some ways, Spokane is still really in an early 20th century mindset. The 1950’s aren’t coming back."
The hazy, smoky air still makes my stomach curdle with fear.
I was 4 when the regional disaster known as Firestorm torched the Spokane area. On Oct. 16, 1991, heavy winds downing power lines sparked more than 90 separate fires around the Inland Northwest, burning more than 100 homes and blackening the land all around. I vividly recall Firestorm’s terrifying uncertainty, and now view it as one of the most impactful events of my childhood, growing up on 20 wooded, rural acres in Stevens County.
After the first flames ignited and sent embers flying, my parents quickly packed up our valuable belongings — antique furniture, family heirlooms, photographs and important documents — and rented a storage unit in Spokane. My mom packed clothing and we made the short drive to my grandparent’s 80-acre farm above our home on a hill. It was safer there, with more routes out if the fire moved in. One night during the fires, my dad took me outside, lifting me up on his shoulders. There, in my striped nightgown, I saw the mountain vista in front of our homes glowing with orange flames against the black night sky.
We were lucky. The firestorm burned for days all around the region, but our land and our homes remained untouched. It was the first memory I’d have of many more fires to threaten our rural community. Each one filled me with more terror than the last. Just as anxiety-causing were summer’s hot, dry spells, lightning storms and windy days that all meant high fire danger. The fires alone didn’t make fear course through my body, but the materialistic thought of losing everything in a fire’s wake.
As residents across the Inland Northwest woke up this past Friday morning to a brown sky blocking out the rays of a blood red sun, the dense ashy air left a fine, grayish-black powder on everything it touched. Street lights stayed on long past sunrise, and the world was cast in an ominous, yet eerily beautiful, goldish glow. These remnants of wildfire stirred up my long-dormant feelings of dread. I tried to imagine the emotions of residents of Central Washington — the people in Brewster and Pateros who lost everything in the still burning Carlton Complex fire. In place of a desire for empathy was something stronger — guilt. Guilt that here I was, conjuring up old childhood fears of losing my home to a raging wildfire when they just had.
When natural disasters — tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides, earthquakes, tsunamis and forest fires — strike, our collective reaction is to consume breaking news reports. We become almost morbidly fascinated by the images and stories of destruction fed to us, all so accessible on our social media accounts. At the same time we ache for the losses of others due to what’s largely attributed a random event. The Carlton fire was sparked by lightning; the whims of changing winds paired with the intense summer heat propelled it toward towns with little warning.
Every region of the world comes with its own set of natural threats. Those who choose to call these places home do so with some understanding of the chance they might be affected by a mostly unpredictable disaster. But until one happens to or close to us, that probability doesn’t dominate our thoughts.
Most of us will never lose our homes to wildfires. But when we see it happen on such a tragically large scale like the Carlton Complex fire, we’re reminded of our vulnerability to the odds and also comforted by it. Homes can be rebuilt and things replaced, but the scars of any disaster will live on in the landscape and its victims memories forever. ♦
Not yet half way into summer vacation, families like mine are starting to feel the pinch of added expenses, restless kids and less income. In fact, the mental stress of financing the months of summer can become so all-consuming that our relationships turn tense and we risk losing the enjoyment of the season.
Here are a few ways I’ve tried to make or save money to fund that kids’ camp, movie night, Silverwood excursion, evening date, camping trip or kayak rental when I’m empty in the pockets:
1. Dig Deeper. I found an extra $25 just by going through winter coat pockets, looking under the seats in my car and digging in the sofa. That’s dinner or a movie for two.
2. Babysit Pets. My 12-year-old would love to own and breed all kind of animals, but I am not a big pet fan. Our compromise is that he can babysit non-vicious dogs and cats at our home. He’s already earned enough to pay for two Silverwood trips, snacks included.
3. Sell Your Stuff. I admit, I have no patience for sitting in the sun all day running a yard sale or managing ads on craigslist, but I am trying out Tradesy.com currently for selling clothes and have found some of the local shop-and-swap networks to be quite effective.
4. Use Your Body. I’m not suggesting organ donation or red-light-district activity, but plasma donors are always needed here in Spokane, and there are medical research teams looking for test subjects for products you might already be using, like allergy meds or nasal spray.
5. Rent What You Own. I’m not a big fan of having random roommates, although we do host international students on occasion. But, renting out a garage or toolshed for storage is less invasive to your privacy and can add enough supplemental monthly income to cover a road trip by fall.
6. Tap Your Talents. Making a summer camp out of your skill set, teaching a few private (art, music, dance) lessons, or teaming up with a friend to trade your expertise are all great ways to turn a profit. I am trading art lessons for guitar lessons and have also taught with Spokane Art School and other organizations on a class-by-class basis.
7. Be Exotic. Yes, this area has its limits, but there are some fun ways to explore and express in Spokane. I participated as a vendor in the new outdoor art event, Bazaar, and will be spicing up things in August as a model for the Blackwood Art Clothing line at Runway Renegades. Participating in events that pay in excitement or networking can bring fresh ideas to your life.
8. Go Hastings. Buy-backs aren’t hugely lucrative, but if you have upgraded to BluRay or no longer have an Xbox 360, why keep the archaic stuff around? Entertainment and gaming stores usually buy back or trade consoles and games.
9. Pawn It. Sometimes you will get just as much or more for your equipment, electronics, musical instruments or jewelry at a pawn shop as you will sitting in the hot sun (or rain) all day running a yard sale. My kids pawned enough of their outdated items to purchase a couple hundred dollars of new entertainment gear.
10. Stop Paying Bills. Maybe you don’t really need that iPad on your phone line anymore or aren’t using Hulu Plus or tanning and going to the gym during the summer. For some companies, you can temporarily put your services on hold, revise your plan or eliminate your membership altogether. I saved about $85 a month by revising my services this summer. ♦
Rachel Dolezal, formerly of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene, is an award-winning artist and activist who teaches courses in art, Africana history and culture at area universities.
As much as my chest swelled with pride when Al-Jazeera — Al-Ja-frickin-zeera! — covered the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in Washington state from the vantage point of my ancestral homeland of North Country Homes Boulevard, the story troubled me.
Not because the scene, of a strip mall in our northern ‘burbs, described beautifully by my former Inlander colleague Leah Sottile, was so exactly what you’d expect that it verged on self-parody.
What troubled me was the location itself, and what the location says about the way our city council and other deciders in Spokane have chosen to stunt the full bloom of possibilities, including the massive economic upside of legal, recreational marijuana.
Legal weed could transform our neighborhoods economically, and we’re forcing it to the hinterlands.
I know the strip mall in question well. It’s exactly at the Y where Division splits to become Highway 2 and Highway 395 — a convergence of suburbs, and the very nexus of everything we as a city are trying to move away from. Very little of cultural interest happens for a half-mile in any direction. There’s a Ford dealership, a Rite-Aid, a handful of national fast-food restaurants, and many, many lanes of high-speed traffic.
That’s not just the hauteur of a city slicker talking. My parents live northwest of the Y, near Pattison’s. My grandpa lives southwest a pace, down Country Homes. I have coworkers and friends who live on Five Mile, Wandermere and points beyond. No one drives to the Y unless they’re trying to get somewhere else very, very quickly.
It’s a tangle of arterials, not a hub of culture. And yet it will soon host not one, but two marijuana stores. Satori — just across Division — will open soon.
Meanwhile, the entire South Hill has not a single legal weed store. Nor does Kendall Yards. The only licensed store anywhere west of Division or south of the freeway is basically in Airway Heights.
Part of this far-flinging is state-mandated. The law itself requires a 1,000-foot-buffer zone from schools, parks, libraries, child-care facilities and a bunch of other places, which cuts down on options.
But that wouldn’t have stopped a pot shop near 14th and Grand, one the city’s much-touted CC1 “centers,” the pedestrian-focused commercial zones that Spokane’s master plan decrees shall be the nodes around which to build our next several decades of culture and commerce! CC1s are those special little places inside our hippest neighborhoods where we want people to put art galleries and restaurants, spas and hard cideries. Garland is a CC1, so are South Perry and the International District.
CC1s are the ideal place for something progressive yet commercial like one of America’s few legal pot shops to go. That is, if we viewed pot as a cultural experience like craft beer and local wine.
But the city council has decided that, no, pot is more like strip clubs and porn than it’s like alcohol and ramen burgers. In September of 2013, acting on the hand-wringing of concerned citizens in the Garland neighborhood, the council voted to prohibit marijuana stores, processors and grow operations from CC1 zoned areas. Take a moment and think about the wisdom of the city council letting “a small group of Garland residents and business owners” decide our entire city’s policy on marijuana. Does it make sense to you? It doesn’t to me.
When I cried out to Facebook about the injustice of zero weed stores on the South Hill, Councilman Mike Allen responded: “There is a spot up on Regal that qualified as a potential location. We only had one state liquor on the Hill.”
He’s right about that liquor store thing. But that only points out how the council’s weed policy is actually more restrictive than the old liquor laws. The one store Allen speaks of was at 29th and Grand, next door to what’s now Manito Tap House. Grand and 29th is a CC1, though, so weed is prohibited.
Right now, the only approved location even close to one of our vibrant, or even potentially vibrant, tourist-attracting centers is a location near East Sprague on Ralph Street. But even that is far removed from the International District, closer to Axel’s Pawn Shop than Sonnenberg’s Deli.
Here’s the economic reality: illicit marijuana use is the second-biggest illegal drug market in America, bringing in an estimated $100 billion dollars (in 2010 dollars) every year since 2000. That’s a huge pile of black market money, and guess what? We’re one of only a handful of interesting places in America where weed is now legal. Think of how that money might fit into the mix of an area like Perry, or the section of Sprague we’re so keen to revitalize with all those directed development dollars! People buy some weed, get high “in private” (read: behind the building they bought it in) as the law decrees, and then stick around to sample liberally the neighborhood’s restaurants and whatever else catches their attention.
And think of the tourism! America’s a big, populous place. That’s a captive audience of stoners I’m sure would be eager — stoked, even — to get high and ruminate on just how Near Nature, Near Perfect we are. Quick aside: Visit Spokane, love you guys, but if you aren’t planning a “Weed in Spokane, Washington” tourism campaign, someone needs to lose their job.
But first, we’ve gotta get smarter about what legal pot is and how it can fit into the vibrancy we’re trying to create in this increasingly interesting city. We need to start treating marijuana as a consumable for connoisseurs, not as an obsession for degenerates.
And what a coincidence! We are now — right this minute! — actively incubating, to sometimes stunning effect, connoisseur markets in food, beer and wine, with interesting offshoots like hard cider, liquor at Dry Fly and on-tap Kombucha in Coeur d’Alene. We used to be 10 years behind the times. With on-tap Kombucha, we’ve cut that gap to like 4 years, tops. That deserves a round of applause!
So why, then, do we continue to be so behind-the-times about weed? And why are we relegating a 100-million-dollar connoisseur culture to the hinterlands of our community?
Spokane is the best it’s been in my lifetime, and I’m incredibly excited for the future, but the kombucha-on-tap thing is an apt touchstone: We’re still mostly catching up in the culture game.
We have an opportunity with weed to lead the national conversation, rather than follow it.
Such opportunities are rare, and we should seize it. ♦
Luke Baumgarten, a creative strategist at Seven2 and former culture editor of the Inlander, is a co-founder of Terrain, which organized Bazaar on June 21 in downtown Spokane.
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