Posted on Monday, November 19th, 2012 at 7:25 pm
Author: s.e. smith
I find myself oddly mermerised by ABC’s 666 Park Avenue, something I really wasn’t expecting when I first started watching the series. The pilot suggested a run of the mill horror drama that might have a few interesting elements, but ultimately wouldn’t hold my interest very long; this kind of television is not really what I look for, usually. I tend to prefer complex, slow dramas that rely more on subtle shifts of tone and plot to develop the story and the characters while keeping me engaged as a viewer, rather than more showy productions.
Something about 666 Park Avenue, though, seems to have captured me, and it might be the somewhat unique combination of elements that fascinate and intrigue me in media. There’s a woman whom no one believes who’s being gaslighted and feels like she’s being driven mad by the evil she senses within her building, the New York power player who stops at nothing to maintain control, the political innocent entering dangerous waters, the creepy and unexplainable that defies logic and constantly creates new rules for itself.
I find myself looking forward to the show each week, which is a far cry from how I’m reacting to most of what’s airing right now. It’s a grim time for creativity in television, it seems, and I have been pleasantly surprised by 666 Park Avenue. Perhaps my love of the show is precisely because I had such low expectations for it; being anything other than utterly dull is an accomplishment.
Jane, the leading woman, fascinates me. After pushing her boyfriend to move to New York to follow his dream, she finds that the city is not all that it promised and more. If anything, it’s a dark, sinister place that comes with its own high cost for residents. Living in the Drake, which initially seems like a dream come true because it gives her unprecedented access to an amazing historic building and a stunning apartment, turns into a nightmare as the building turns against her and she struggles with the things that go bump in the night.
Worse still, no one believes her when she reports the building’s oddities. Her husband dismisses her or suggests that she’s not really experiencing anything, as do most of the other people she encounters. The constant gaslighting causes her to question her own mind. Even as she’s convinced that she’s a reliable witness, everyone tells her otherwise, and she begins to shrivel into herself. As she pleads with her boyfriend to leave with her, the show plays with gaslighting narratives as well as the concept of unreliable narrators, pushing Jane to the breaking point and forcing us to watch.
Gavin, the architect of all of this, is a looming and sinister presence covered in a veneer of kindly mentor bestowing opportunities on his chosen followers. He’s quietly terrifying, and what he stands for is something larger than simply one character on a television show. He may play a supernatural role here, but what he reminds me of is the deeply corrupt political systems that dictate how power moves through government and various civil agencies not just in New York, but everywhere.
He has the power to determine who will become the next mayor, who will be hired and who will be fired for various public works projects, which one of his opponents will be taken down by an ill-timed building inspection or unexpected lawsuit. He is both power broker and player, one of the 1%, wealthy, powerful, and utterly assured of himself. In these times, this kind of character seems especially appropriate, especially how given how nakedly obvious he is when it comes to exercising power and control over the people around him.
The only people he has to fear are those like him, so he doesn’t go to great lengths to conceal the fact that he’s politically cozy with the kinds of people who can open, or close, doors for the those around him. And in his quest to gain some form of control over every resident of the Drake, he casually cuts straight to the heart of every person he encounters, looking for their weak point in order to exploit it. He represents the capitalist elite in a new world order based on money and the consolidation of power, a world in which the watchword is ‘get ahead at all costs’ and you must follow it or perish.
Henry, meanwhile, stands in almost direct opposition to that as a naïve man who thinks that public service is the path he wants to pursue, and doesn’t understand the level of corruption in the system he aspires to. As he tries to work his way up in the ranks himself, he learns that real power comes not to those who work for it, but to those who are connected with it already, and he faces a hard series of choices presented by Gavin. The life Gavin sets out is dazzling and tempting, but can Henry stay true to his ideals? And in so doing, can he reform the corrupt world around him?
Henry and Jane may be battling supernatural forces in 666 Park Avenue, but their struggles as characters speak to a larger social struggle in the world around us. We all have our own haunted buildings trying to kill us, in the form of the structural institutions intended to maintain a stratified and disparate society. And we’re all told that we are imagining these things, just like Jane. Like Henry, many of us have also seized on the political system as a way out, not realising that getting on the other side of the wall may come with its own high costs.
This reading on the show is far from universal, but there’s a strong argument for its validity. It’s not coincidental that 666 Park Avenue is set in the US capital of commerce and one of the strongholds of political, social, and cultural power. Nor was a Park Avenue address for the show selected at random. Clear connections are being made here, for viewers who care to play a game of connect the dots.
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