David Milch’s “connecting interior doors”: Private Space and Commonplace, Beginnings and Ends
by Martin Zirulnik — UCLA
April 25, 2012 – 00:00
Luck’s pilot introduces several of its major characters by immediately repositioning them, by shifting them around—physically—as if to suggest that just as this new television show takes up its initiatory residence on screen in the living rooms of its viewers (comfortably or not), these characters must find themselves in unfamiliar homes as well. Luck can begin, just as Deadwood could, only as soon as a principal actor in the drama to come is literally removed from a jail (Bernstein pinned on one side of the Law, Bullock pinned on the other), driven optimistically west onto an American highway/wagonway by a trusted partner, and decisively installed in the particular setting-place that will be, and can only be, his space of habitation for the duration of the show.
We do not see where the lucky “degenerates” lived before Luck began, but certainly the prospect of tentative co-habitation (clip part 1) marks a high-point in four lives that might otherwise have been lost in perilous solitude—so I find it grimly ironic that the prospect of their more fully realized co-habitation (clip part 2) is both offered and foreclosed by Luck’s unexpected finale.
Milchian spaces do more than merely decorate scenes of action; they do more, even, than offer exteriorized visions of the psychic states of the characters who occupy them. His carefully configured settings overdetermine the lives of his characters to such an extent that they become the shows’ primary loci of agency. Even characters’ most intimate quirks, personal idiosyncrasies and rituals seem to belong more to rooms and buildings than to the people in them, as Milch’s camera (even when Michael Mann directs it) always finds people behaving in certain ways in certain places.
Milch is particularly interested in settings—hotels, theaters, saloons, casinos—that can become staging grounds where private desires and interests uneasily coincide to produce communal acts, often in ways that pointedly allegorize the conditions of producing a television show—a creative form that requires a remarkable degree of sustained collaboration. How can commonplaces emerge, Milch seems always to ask, out of a world so rigidly subdivided into private spaces? And when they do, how can one hope to sustain them?