Patrick Meaney, as you may know, is a long-time blogger, has a book on The Invisibles coming out this month, and is making a documentary about Grant Morrison, as well as shooting NFL Writers Room for ESPN. He is also director, co-writer, and editor of a new webseries The Third Age, and was kind enough to pass on a screener of the first seven episodes to me.
What if you showed up to your first day of work at a biopharmaceutical company and found yourself in the midst of a bizarre ritual: an old man is blindfolded; he, you, and your co-workers are spattered with blood; a drummer plays gently on a bongo; and then something happens…
What if it was your last day of work as a drug dealer (but you didn’t know that yet) and you met someone you assumed was one of the victims of your industry on the street; and decided to take her home with you…
The first episode of The Third Age reveals little, but establishes the tone of the webseries. It acts like a teaser, yet this is no television show cut into eight minute segments: each episode has a coherent shape of its own.
The central image of the first episode is of the old man who is the focus of the ritual. In the episodes I’ve seen, he is little more than a presence, but luckily actor Joel Seligman has plenty of presence, establishing his character as a hierophant—or perhaps something more—with little more activity than raising his arms a few times.
The episode closes with first a voice over, then a floating image of the old man. The meditative images that close each episode are one of the series’ strengths, and always a good space for contemplation. The voice over feels different to most, and a later episode confirms it to be a bit of dialogue overheard ahead of time rather than a piece of narration. The series promotes a four dimensional view of time, and though we might logically infer the old man has a past, I can’t help wondering if the ritual we see in this first episode is in fact his origin.
If the first episode is about feel, then the second episode gives you an idea of what the show is about. Don’t expect too much—the show unfolds slowly, with new characters and images still being introduced in the seventh episode. In the second episode we are introduced to some of our chief characters.
The series has an oneiric quality too rarely seen outside of comics, where weird stuff can be understood to be happening against a strange context that is just accepted as reality. This quality is anchored by the two characters I described first. Our drug dealer is Zinone, played with expertly judged bewilderment as he tries to understand the strange power of the mystery woman, Morning. Our neophyte is Mark, whose well-observed naivety, for me, makes him the most interesting character to speculate on where he’ll end up.
We are also introduced to Mark’s boss, Jerrod, the man behind the biopharm company and its rituals. Actor Ted Spencer radiates considered charisma in this role, which is the active driver of the narrative. He’s had a vision and wants to create a drug that will bring us all into a new age. Whether he is antagonist, protagonist, misguided, or guided, remains to be seen.
All in all, this is a well-made package, but special mention must be made of Raul Coto-Batres’s lighting design. The biggest difference between, for instance, twentieth and twenty-first century Doctor Who, is not in its special effects budget, but in its lighting. Bad lighting reveals bad takes and bad sets. Good lighting makes good acting and atmospheric locations.
The Third Age is a psychedelic journey that includes the dark aspects of bad trips. It takes a position in conversation with Kabbalah, Crowley, and magicians like Grant Morrison, that, if I don’t always agree with it, is always engagingly put forth. I hope to engage in this conversation as episodes air.
I’ve seen seven episodes into the future (and perhaps more, in hints and snatches) and I can’t wait to join everyone else in waiting a week to find out what happens next for the remaining six episodes of first season. The Third Age will continue…
See the trailers on blip.tv, where the series will be starting on Tuesday 17 November.