Through its first 45 minutes, The Bombers defeat of Wests was unsettling, weird, funny and basically impossible to review.
Two things I was wrong about regarding the 2017 version of the Bombers, which hit its pomp for 45 minutes on Saturday: First, when the match was announced and then when Hansie briefly pulled out of the project, I was vocally skeptical that a man who had ghosted through 300 games in the past 20 years was going to somehow turn around and put in a useful shift; and second, as the match neared, I frequently joked that fans expecting the Bombers who broke football when they sauntered onto Kelburn Park in 1979 were about to have their brains broken by a rude introduction to the reality of Nairnville Park in 2017 on a wet cold day.
Apparently Hansie really did direct and co-write the entirety of the Bombers 2017 experiment — the 18-episode run is being called a limited series — and although there may have been a long time between the project's announcement and its apex, it wasn't any longer than the gap between the announcement and premiere of the vastly less ambitious J-Lo vehicle Shades of Blue.
And although the first 45 minutes of this match against Wests saw them fall between space, times and dimensions (or whatever the heck is going on with the midfield) with abandon, they don't represent some audience-taxing chunk of confrontational sewer art like The Turtles. The thing that struck me most immediately about the first half is how relatively cogent it was, with a clear emphasis on "relatively." What happened on Saturday was as accessibly scary, disturbing and audaciously funny as many of the best parts of the original Bombers, and nowhere near as hallucinatory and subtextually distilled as the prequel in 1978.
That does not mean that I could tell you in any linear description what happened in the first half. Hansie and his crippled sidekick Asst Gardener decided not to make the tactics available to team mates early and embargoed those team mates who attended the warm up aimless kick around event until after the first half to keep plot details hidden.
This will take the form of a normal review, rather than a recap, and won't give away more than the general plot outline, but even within these parameters nothing I describe would "spoil" anything. The Bombers are a sensation that engulfs you and a journey you take, not a cluster of fat men waiting to happen. It's also a really strange team to attempt to review after only 600 matches. I generally bristle at the fanboys who claim their idol Hansie , despite his walnut features, is going to be an 18 game player this year. There was no discernible separation between everyone in the midfield and if goals hadn't rolled in at regular and frequent intervals, the second half could probably just as easily have flowed into bizarroworld. This isn't episodic football. It's another thing. Pie, anyone ?
With a proper spoiler warning, what are the basic details I can provide?
Well, Agent Nintendo (played by himself, outplayed by most others) is in the Black Lodge aka the midfield, that red-draped expanse with the grassy floor that reminds me of the Hitchcock/Dali collaboration in Spellbound. It's there that Laura Raggboy (also played by himself) told Nintendo that she'd see him in 25 years when the season ended 25 years ago. I'm not going to tell you what Nintendo is doing there or if it's voluntary.
In the town of Khandallah, Doc (played by both of himselves) gets a call from the Log Lady (the late Mingus), which has him looking into the files from Agent Nintendo’s time in town. "Something is missing and you have to find it," is part of her log's message to him. Is it tackling ? Is it running ? Eventually, the investigation may involve beer and fries, but so far it has not.
There's a guy who looks like Agent Nintendo, only as a leather-clad badass, going around causing trouble in the forwards. He might have supernatural powers or appetites or he may just be Argentinian.
In another dimension there's a guy whose name I don't think is ever given (but could be Hilda) and his job is watching an empty penalty area in the shadow of a towering macrocarpa. This box represents the sanctuary of the Bombers backline. He initially notes that his predecessor once saw something moving in the box, but he has not.
Oh and on the wings, a grotesque stumbletackle involves Sceatsy and Genome, who professes innocence. As we know, in the Bombers, sometimes people do things they don't want to do and don't remember doing.
That's all I would tell you about Hansie’s narrative if this were a traditional review — and I don't think it tells you much or spoils much.
An attempt to critique or unwrap the midfield thematics or symbolism would probably just be undone by the 11th game of the season, but a lot of it comes straight from the original 1979 series, so if you saw the shimmering pale figure as a harbinger of doom before, it probably still is Son of God. There are numbers referenced and I'm not going to try to unpack them; Three goals by halftime, beautifully etched from the granite of improbability by SoG, the hairy Argentinian guy and Laura Raggboy. I legitimately don't remember if they tie in with numbers given in the original season. References to animal savagery and the inherent savagery of human nature are everywhere, but nobody in the nippy, trippy midfield utters the word "garmonbozia" once. You've gotta make history wait.
Unlike in 1979 which occasionally wallowed in nudity and mature language because Gyles was unshackled from marital restrictions and because he was depicting the nightmarish descent of Marxisms last days, this version of the Bombers could nearly have passed FIFA’s current standards, even the partially exposed butt of a panicky cardiologist. There's at least one visceral scare in the box and several moments by the corner flag that left me scrawling "Ew" in my notes, but it's possible that the most unsettling part of the early minutes is the shocking alien beauty of Hansie. He has an ease and familiarity with the intimacy and smallness of Mingus, causing even casual passes to take my breath away.
So much that happened in the first half of this season is off-putting and alienating and it's all exactly Hansian enough to smooth over how much time is spent watching an unconventional team do a very conventional thing, namely mark the opposing players at corners.
"Is it future... or is it past?" is a question asked by a well-known face in the midfield, and we're supposed to think it's all deep and ominous, but it's a pretty fundamental question.
Whether Tiberius wants to mess with the lines between future and present and past, as he surely does, he's not opposed to a little continuity.
Twenty-five years passing is a lot of time, and the Bitch Goddess wants us to be shocked or moved when somebody has changed on the sideline, whether it's a new beard as a signifier for a character in a new line of work or weight packed onto a formerly gangly character as evidence of domesticity (e.g. Bodo).
Hansie grooves on taking the familiar and sanding it down, eroding it, weathering it. Hansie also wants us to marvel when somebody hasn't changed at all, as with JB. At 19, he was a broken dissolute wreck. Nothing changes. And he wants us to reflect on death, a mourning process that is organic whenever you return to the land of Laura Raggster, and which is unavoidable given how many Bombers have passed since the original series and even since production began on the 2017 reboot.
Familiarity also brings humor. I can't imagine audiences knowing how to respond to Marky Mark if they haven't watched previous episodes, but hearing his fraternal rhythms unchanged is funny. Chuckles otherwise come from expected Hansian disconnects, like the Bomber more concerned about his set piece positioning than his husband being in bed with a halfling. I laughed a lot at these first half, a nice relief after the previous week, which had too much misery on its mind to make room for mirth. I like my defence to include uncomfortable amusement, seasoned with a tragic animus.
Nairnville is a quirkier place now than when the Bombers first premiered. It would have been fair to wonder if Agent Nintendo might look this quaint in 2018. The most significant thing I can say by way of review when it comes to the 2017 Bombers isn't really whether they're good or bad, because I'm not there yet and the team’s past has taught me to be cautious. I also have a hard time reviewing things like performances, both because there are so many people who appear so fleetingly in these matches and also because football for most of them is such a peculiar thing, down to manic blinks and tilts of the head. The question, then, is whether the midfield is what it seems. For the most part, so far it does. Or doesn’t.
Bonus extra follows
Ship of the Line (the Fighting Temaraire)
By Marky (Marky Mark) Mark Carruthers
My knee gave up
in a Turner painting
light rain dancing
in the late honey sun
mud blood and
so what will
next Saturday ?