CULT TV Blogging: Push, Nevada Episode # 5: "The Letter of the Law"

A secret comes spilling out onto the screen in the stunning closing frames of Push, Nevada's fifth episode (which aired in October of 2002). It's the kind of sinful secret that anyone who remembers John Huston and Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, may recall with some vividness (and disgust). And, it also lands this bizarre cult series straight back into the "film noir" category I diagrammed in my post about the second episode, "The Black Box." Corrupt familial relationships, kept hidden and beneath the surface, often represent primenoir subject matter in 1940s cinema. Here, it's Mary and Dwight Sloman who share something...awful.

"The Letter of the Law," written by John Serge and directed by Linda Cholodenko, also highlights an element of the series I haven't really blogged about yet. In addition to all the fine stylistic and thematic noir qualities, this series has another facet. It's almost as though Push, Nevada is really, in fact, Stepford, Connecticut. We've been getting strange clues about this since the first episode "Amount," but it is made even more plain here: the denizens of the cities tend to act, well...robotic. Spouses all make love every night at 9:15 sharp. Children all greet returning Dads after work as they pull up into the driveway in the family automobile. All Moms retrieve the day's mail at the same time. And at four o'clock sharp each afternoon, the town's main drag comes to life for precisely one hour. What's going on here? I don't have a clue...

Some of the series' other mysteries do begin to coelesce in this episode, I believe. For instance, late in the show, Agent Prufrock of the IRS comes to the conclusion that the whole town of Push, Nevada is nothing but a cover for something else. (Perhaps to launder money?) He witnesses people mobbing the bank at 4:00 pm, and notices that the bank has only one branch -- and that it gives out no loans of any kind. Is it offering payouts to keep some kind of secret? Prufrock compares the town to a shoe box kept under the mattress. An interesting analogy, and one that begins to put the series in some sort of perspective. Does this whole town exist just to pay a certain class of people? Was it created in 1984 (the year of the Versaille Casino's construction...) as a front for some grand crime involving the government? We shall see.

Other important things also start to happen in this episode. One of the "clues" we're no doubt supposed to catch involves a sign for the Nevada State Lottery. I have the feeling this is something we're should be paying close attention to. Also, Deputy Dawn (played by Liz Vassey) here is revealed to have a secret identity (another noir element...) After explaining the deadly effects of a 357 Magnum to Prufrock in clinical detail, she reveals that she is an ATF agent there to take down down Sloman, and that Prufrock's investigation is getting in the way. Meanwhile, Grace (Prufrock's secretary...) is still in Reno, and has learned that a company in Switzerland paid for Prufrock's bail. The company has no name, just a symbol, like the "Artist Formerly Known As..."

Finally, "The Letter of the Law" provides another perfect Jim Prufrock moment. He gets to issue another of his patented manifestoes. It's not quite as good as the one from the pilot, "Amount," but almost. "It's easy to act for the moment, to act selfishly, to act out of greed, fear..." he tells Mary. She replies that it must be easy to live in a world of moral absolutes and he counters that, quite the opposite, it's nearly impossible. What we have here is some extraordinary writing. Each character talking from the heart, from their own sense of individuality - and again, to harp on the obvious, the noir feeling is remarkable. Jim Prufrock is an upright guy (though we still don't yet know why he is so obsessively scrupulous...), and Mary comes from a world quite the oppositer. Her very heritage is immoral, so to expect morality from her makes no sense.

Two episodes left to blogging Push, Nevada, and I'm finding the series quite remarkable. I'm sure that other programming has adapted the film noir template to television, but I'm really enjoying the experiment here. I wish everybody who reads this blog could be watching the show with me.



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