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Methodology as Teleology: The Economy of Secrets and Drama as Critique of Systems in the Works of Vince Gilligan and Noah Hawley



In Noah Hawley’s Fargo, Lorne Malvo, a maverick loner who embodies sublime forces modulating human behaviour, states that he is a “student of institutions”. What serves as a glib and ironic remark on the arbitrary regulations of a small-town hostel raises questions about the aspirations and context of modern television. Traditional drama in this medium strives to portray human relationships on their psychological vague, through personal crises of love, family and identity as the force of character and plot development. A turn in recent series such as those of Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul) and Noah Hawley (Fargo) presents a different form of drama. This is story as process, where the monomyth revolves around the circuitous navigation of institutions and processes by individuals, as well as the innovative manner in which they use and abuse them and, in turn, are used and abused by them in a struggle for agency. In this format, which has antecedents in procedural drama but departs radically from its conventions, the story is not driven by individual motives or ‘primal’ desires, but rather by the inhuman and dehumanising force which systems exert over the individuals contained within them. The cultural experience of fear and ambition in the era of consolidation of post-Fordist structures of life has departed from a paradigm of randomised fortune and misfortune to one of incorrigible and overlapping expectations, where the uncertainty behind both emotions is subaltern to the process-interaction that comprises a theory of systems. In this case, transgression and subversion takes the form of the injection of alien and corrupting elements into systems, with unpredictable results. The alienation of actors from the outcome of the process and the design of systems is fundamental to the anxiety which is represented by these works. 

Keywords: alienation, epiphenomena, institutions, process-oriented storytelling, systems theory

DOI: 10.24193/ekphrasis.20.7