There are a number of current television shows that are exploring the dystopic (as opposed to utopic) times that we are living in at the moment. In my opinion these shows are about the unconscious of this historical period, an articulation of the hidden fears, pain and confusion that people feel at the rash of disasters both natural and the product of human intervention that dominate the present.
24: Twelve Thousand people die in LA as a result of a suitcase nuclear bomb set off by terrorists. The men in question have four more bombs and the narrative centers on finding them and preventing another attack. The President is surrounded by plotters and self-serving politicians, putting the question of integrity into the foreground and suggesting that it is almost impossible to maintain an ethical position in the face of terror.
Prison Break: Escapees on the run from the law, except that the government is corrupt and the President is covering up a killing and other malicious acts that she has supported and generated. The central theme of conspiracy and corrupt government dominates every move by the characters.
Heroes: Apocalypse around the corner, New York about to be blown up by a human time bomb who has powers that he cannot understand. Genetic aberrations gone crazy giving select people the ability to be transparent, fly, fall of buildings and survive and one malevolent character the ability to move people by simply flicking his finger. All this circling around an investigator whose motives are unclear and other characters who have no understanding of the dangers that surround them.
Lost: A plane crash on an isolated island in the Pacific, malevolent inhabitants, violent creatures and most of all constant danger, medical experimentation gone mad, an island that lives and buried chambers which are really pictures of the minds of the inhabitants.
Grey’s Anatomy: The central characters deal with a ferry disaster which is really like a scene from a terrorist attack and in the process discover their own lack of preparedness and their abstraction from the dystopia which surrounds them.
In all cases, the social fabric is being attacked, normal expectations of a life lived are being recontextualized by the constant presence of fear and danger. There is no normality, no chance of living well or simply, no sense that things will get better.
Meredith, the main character in Grey’s Anatomy has a mother with Alzheimer’s who for a short few hours bursts out of her mindless prison and starts to talk and think normally. No sooner present than absent again, but in between, the mother brings all her neuroses to bear on the daughter, relief at her mother’s normality turns to despair at reliving the oppression of childhood. Love doesn’t satisfy nor does it lead to spontaneity and personal growth. Rather, love is a trap, social and personal.
All the shows turn on this trope of loss and entrapment. Prisons are everywhere. They are within because of personal history. They are outside because there are so few persons of integrity, so few people bound to ethical behaviors that put the social good ahead of personal needs.
To be continued ..