This review is only going to be about the first fifteen
minutes or so of the episode, because that’s all I could stomach watching. I
couldn’t watch any more – it was that bad. It’s rare that I can’t finish
watching an episode of a television show if I intend to review it, but this
episode was so bad it was repulsive.
Let’s dissect this episode moment-by-moment.
Kenobi lands on a city-planet called Daiyu. It’s like
Coruscant, but not. As soon as Kenobi comes out of the spaceport terminal, he
looks around at the busy environment as though slightly scared of it all.
Already, this is bollocks. Obi-wan Kenobi has been in environments like this
for most of his life. He’s spent a huge amount of time on Coruscant; he’s been
all over the galaxy as a Jedi Knight, to countless different planets with
different peoples, cultures, and technologies. He would not be scared of a busy
street. ‘But he’s been living in isolation on Tatooine for ten years! He’s
changed!!!’, I hear the Twitterati scream. No. When you’ve had that much
experience of all these kinds of places, ten years on Tatooine is not enough to
make you scared of it all again. What is this bizarre obsession with diminished
characters that Hollywood and idiots on Twitter have nowadays? They relish
in the idea of making great characters shit. It’s grotesque. Kenobi is a Jedi
Master – he didn’t stop being that just because the Jedi Order was
disbanded. He should still be an extremely powerful Jedi. He does not have this
timidness at the end of Revenge Of The Sith; he doesn’t have it at the start of
A New Hope. This is bollocks.
Kenobi goes and asks a random person about a ship he’s tracking.
Why? Why does he go and ask this person? It isn’t apparent. And then we get
some more insanely expository dialogue – the person replies ‘You’re in Daiyu
now. All signals in or out are blocked. People like their secrets out here.’.
This is just pathetic. A real person, in this setting, would not talk like this.
This line reeks of the writers wanting to say something to the audience, but
not having the talent to do it in a naturalistic way. The line is also performed
in a way that only Hollywood actors can do – as though this one line is going
to be their big break into television, if only they can perform it with enough
over-the-top American brashness.
We see a lingering shot of a street on this planet. It
lingers too long, suggesting that this street is somehow central or important –
it’s one fucking street on a city planet – this street is not important. We see
Kenobi wandering down the street, looking at the others on it. The framing of
the shot and the primary-school-level acting of the other actors make you
painfully aware that this is just a set (somewhere in Los Angeles, I assume).
It’s a caricature of a ‘bustling street’ – makes you wonder if the writers and
directors have ever even been down a busy street. (Perhaps this is
enduring effects of America’s car-centric, non-walkable cities.) Kenobi just
wanders around – you’d have no idea he was on a time-critical mission at all.
There’s a homeless clone army veteran at the side of the
street. This allegory isn’t just on-the-nose – it’s kicking me in the head, I
collapse, unconscious, and then it’s kicking me on the ground out of baseless
A lot of people nowadays accuse television shows of being ‘political’.
Now, this isn’t really a correct use of the word ‘political’, which ought to
mean ‘having to do with polity’, where ‘polity’ means ‘the organisation and governance
of human society’. This is a television show – it has nothing to do with
organising society. But I know what these people mean – the term their looking
for is ‘social commentary’. This is social commentary – it’s making a
comment about society.
Now, I’ve written many allegorical stories in my life. In
some of them the allegory is very obvious – deliberately so – and in others it’s
a bit more obscure – also deliberately so. Now I would hope that my stories
have never come across as preachy or patronising. (I would like to think that I
could tell if that were the case, and edit that tone out, but it might
be that when one is writing an allegorical story, one just can’t tell if
it’s going to come across that way.) Because it is bad when stories or
story elements come across as preachy. I think it’s particularly bad when the
message is something that’s so obviously true (yes, it’s bad that there are so
many homeless people – this isn’t a revolutionary thought), and when so little
effort is put into the metaphor (I mean, here, they just have a homeless
veteran in the street – that’s it – that’s the extent of the allegory – put some
fucking effort in). It comes across as someone thinking their a genius for
coming up with something everyone already knows and putting in very little
thought or effort.
I think it’s fine for stories to have social commentary in
them, but if it comes across as preachy, it completely pulls you out of the
story, and you realise you’re just hearing the opinions of the writers. And I
think in order to not be preachy, it’s got to be more deftly done
We are 1:30 into the episode, and there has already been
THIS much wrong with it.
Some Stormtroopers walk along the street saying ‘Clear a
Then we get an absolutely disgusting scene. A random person
comes up to Kenobi and says ‘You wan’t some spice, old man?’. This is very
obviously a reference to the ‘deathsticks’ scene in Attack Of The Clones, but
this time, rather than Kenobi instantly telling this person to go away and
rethink their life, this person just gives him one of the substances she’s
selling – Kenobi doesn’t even agree to take it – she just puts it in his
The sheer arrogance of the writers to do this.
Apparently they were so insulted by a scene in the prequels telling a drug
dealer to maybe stop selling that shit (I would guess because some of these
writers are obsessed with consuming a particular intoxicant themselves), that
they wanted to put in a new scene where instead Kenobi is just given some of
this shit – doesn’t even get a choice. I have had the misfortune to meet a lot
of very arrogant people in my life – I have never seen arrogance like
this. It’s pathetic, disgusting, and grotesque. To be so self-obsessed, smug,
and self-righteous that when given the opportunity to write a sequel to another
writer’s work, all they can do is think about how they can undermine and
displace what that writer did, to put their own vapid, self-centred, immoral
worldview into every corner of it. There are few things in this world that I
have been more revolted by.
We are then introduced to a fake Jedi who is some kind of
people-trafficker. This allegory is harder to not notice than a used dildo in a
public library. This scene tries to be funny, but it’s a style of humour that is
Kenobi then goes through some kind of drugs factory – again,
this allegory is harder to not notice than a condom in a bride’s hair. This
scene looks more like something out of a contemporary Marvel action show than
something out of Star Wars.
Kenobi then finds his way further into the building / complex. It’s not really very clear where he is (other than a film studio somewhere in California). It’s a bit weird that the first street he tried on this city planet just happens to be the one with the building where Leia’s being kept, but that’s what happens when the writers are thinking more about shoving a message down the viewers’ throats than worldbuilding.
Kenobi is immediately found by some goons. They fight. We
see that Kenobi has gotten a bit out-of-practice. Again, what the fuck is this
obsession with diminishing characters?! This guy is a very skilled Jedi Master –
taking on two goons should be piss-easy, even after ten years. Why? Because
this guy is an incredibly skilled force user, and that doesn’t diminish with
age (see Yoda). Bizarrely, Kenobi doesn’t use the Force or his lightsaber at
any point in this fight, despite both being available.
There’s another fight. Kenobi continues not to use the Force
or his lightsaber, for no good reason. Another goon comes in; there’s some
pointless dialogue. Then the goon says ‘You’re not a Jedi anymore, Kenobi.’,
and here once again we are hearing the voice of the writers, not the characters.
The writers are thinking about Kenobi as ‘no longer being a Jedi’ – that
thought was in their head when they were writing this show. But this just shows
how utterly misguided they are. You don’t stop being a Jedi just because the
Jedi Order has been disbanded. That would be like saying you stop being a Christian
if the Vatican shut. Jediism is a way of life, and a belief system. As long as
you continue to live the Jedi way of life, or continue believing in its tenets,
you are still a Jedi.
We see a bit more of the Inquisitor – not the main one – the
other one – Reva, I think she’s called? This actress has absolutely no ability
to come across as menacing or threatening whatsoever. (And this time it can’t
be put down to bad writing – she has some very short, simple lines, that should
be easy to deliver well, but they are weak and ineffectual. This is what
happens when your understanding of evil is merely a caricature of evil.)
Kenobi finds Leia, and once they’re out in the street again,
Leia says ‘You seem kinda old and beat up.’ – once again, this is just the
thoughts of the writers. This is such basic shit – I don’t think I have ever
seen such bad writing in a television show. (I might even include the ending to
Game of Thrones in that.)
The inquisitors talk to each other for a bit – the main one
and Reva, with a few throw-away lines from the others. The whole thing comes
across like an annual review in a big corporation, not like two dark side users
talking to each other – it’s quite comical. The main inquisitor guy tells Reva
that she’s the ‘least of us’ because she ‘came from the gutter’ – for fuck’s
sake – when have force users ever cared about class? Dark side users care about
one thing: the accumulation of power for its own sake. Your status is
determined by your power, not your class. They don’t give a shit about where
you came from.
The main inquisitor guy then puts Reva on leave, promising that
HR will speak to her later.
And that’s it. That’s the first fifteen minutes. I couldn’t
watch any more, and won’t. I mean, bloody hell, almost every frame of those
fifteen minutes had an issue. It’s so bad it’s almost nauseating – I feel like
This show is quite possibly the worst television I have ever
seen, and I will not be watching any more of it. This isn’t Star Wars, or even
remotely connected to it. This is artistic defilement.
There were once two people, by
the names of Othoral and Hiadmath, who lived in a small house in the
countryside. The house stood on a slight rise in the land, and was surrounded
on all sides by field after field of tall crops grown by Othoral and Hiadmath.
Every day, Othoral made a cake
‘I am looking forward to this.’
Hiadmath would say as the cake was in the oven. ‘I do so like cake. I could
happily eat the whole thing in one go.’
Once the cake had been baked,
Othoral would take it out of the oven, and place it on the table. Once the cake
had cooled, Othoral said to Hiadmath ‘Here, the cake is made. You may eat the
But despite his earlier eagerness
for the cake, Hiadmath would say ‘I may have some of it later.’, for Hiadmath
would be preoccupied by other things. Some days he would be sweeping the floor;
some days he would be brushing soot out of the fireplace; some days he would be
making a wooden chair. He complained about these tasks the entire time he was
doing them, but he did them nevertheless.
Only after many hours would he
sit at the table and have some of the cake, and when he did, he would only cut
a thin slice for himself.
‘Why not have another slice?’
Othoral would say, once Hiadmath had eaten the first. ‘I know you will like
But Hiadmath would say ‘No, I
have had all I want.’ or ‘I may have some more later.’ (but even when he said
this, he would always become preoccupied with other tasks again).
This happened every day. Othoral
would make a cake, while Hiadmath talked of how much he was looking forward to
eating the whole thing. But once the cake was made, Hiadmath would only have
one thin slice.
After a while, Othoral was fed up
with this, so one day, rather than just give Hiadmath the whole cake, Othoral
took the cake, along with many plates, and walked around the fields and through
the thickets near to their house. Every few paces, he placed one of the plates
on the ground, and then broke a single crumb off the cake, and placed the crumb
on the plate. Once he had placed every crumb of the cake, he returned to the
In the afternoon, Hiadmath, after
many hours of working, said ‘I rather fancy a piece of cake.’
Othoral said ‘Look outside the
Hiadmath did so, and he saw a
plate on the ground, on which was a single crumb of cake. He picked up the
plate, and ate the single crumb of cake that was on it. ‘Mmm’, he said, ‘that
was delicious, but I would rather like some more.’
Hiadmath then saw another plate on
the ground, a few paces away. He walked over to it, and saw that it too had a
crumb of cake on it. He picked up the plate and ate the crumb. ‘Mmm, that was
also delicious, but still I would like some more.’
Hiadmath followed the trail of
plates around the fields and through the thickets. He picked up each one, and
ate the crumb of cake that was on it. By the time he got back to the house, he
had eaten a whole cake.
‘All that cake was delicious!’
Hiadmath said to Othoral. ‘I could eat even more!’
Othoral had made another cake
while Hiadmath had been wandering around outside, and he placed it on the
table. ‘Here you go.’, Othoral said, ‘I have made another.’
Hiadmath immediately ate the
whole second cake.
And this was how they continued.
Every day Othoral baked a cake, and then walked around the fields, placing down
plates, and placing a single crumb of the cake on each one. Every day Hiadmath
walked around the fields, picking up the plates, eating the crumbs. And when
Hiadmath returned to the house, he would eat a second whole cake.
Hiadmath ate far more cake than he had done before – before he had only eaten one thin slice of cake, but now he ate two whole cakes! He even ate more than he had at first wanted to – at first he had only wanted to eat one whole cake – for, as Othoral realised, the crumbs are more than the cake.
This great empire was vast –
reaching from the pine-covered mountains of Arennia in the west, to the golden
beaches and azure reefs of Marcanne in the east, from the freshwater lakes of Belgamon
in the north, to the apple orchards and apiaries of Arganza in the south. It
was so vast that evening on one side of the empire was morning on the other.
And at its centre stood its Capital – a limestone and marble metropolis that
was the seat of power for a hemisphere.
This great empire was also
extraordinarily wealthy. Though it had started as only a small city state, it
had fought many wars over the years against the kingdoms and principalities
along its borders, and it had won most of them. With each new territory it had
conquered it had stolen all the riches it contained, fuelling yet further
expansion of the empire. And with each monarchy that fell before it, ever more
convinced did the subjects of the Emperor become that they were the only truly
civilised people in the world, and that all those beyond the empire’s borders
But most of the people in the
empire were not wealthy – they were impoverished – for most of the great wealth
extracted from the lands they had taken was hoarded by the Emperor and his
Barons. By the time of this story, they
were far wealthier than they had ever been. The Grand Imperial Palace at the
centre of the Capital was a small kingdom of ivory towers, marble colonnades,
golden cupolas, glass-walled orangeries, wisteria-wrapped pergolas, and
mosaic-covered terraces. The statues that stood atop the walls, the painted
domed ceilings, and the stained glass windows all gleamed with a brilliance
that was taken as proof of the empire’s immutable virtue.
The Emperor and his Barons spent
their days strolling through the lush gardens and great halls of the imperial
palace, but for most of the people of the empire, such a life was but a whisper
of a whisper. In contrast to the luminance of the imperial palace, most of the
great city that was the empire’s capital was in disrepair. Fires broke out
every month; the sewers overflowed; the bridges collapsed. The houses were
small, cramped, and expensive. Disease was often a death sentence.
Most of the people who lived in
the city worked twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours of the day. A person had to be
a master of two or three crafts in order to survive. Many were in debt. Food,
at least, was cheap – not fine food, but food that would keep you alive, and
well, for a time. In what little free time the people of the empire had, they
had fun, and some were able to find a reluctant contentedness, but none were
truly able to change the circumstances of their lives, and the risk of
deprivation, despair, and death remained constant.
Many of the problems of the
empire could have been resolved if some of the empire’s extraordinary wealth
were put towards resolving them. The ordinary people of the empire knew this.
And why should this not happen? After all, it had been these ordinary people
who had fought the empire’s wars in the first place. They had obeyed the
commands of their divine Emperor and taken land in the name of their
exceptional civility, and then been left to suffer.
The People of the Capital thought
that perhaps if they could speak to the Emperor, they could persuade him to
implement policies that would solve the empire’s many problems. But getting to
the Emperor was difficult – the Emperor, his Barons, and his Ministers were
isolated within the Grand Imperial Palace. They never went beyond its tall
So the People of the Capital
gathered together, and resolved to send one of their group into the palace as a
representative, to become one of the Emperor’s Ministers. (Unlike the Barons,
who passed down their fortunes and titles to their sons, the Emperor’s
Ministers were chosen from the greater populace.) They chose one man from their
group who they believed would succeed – he was eloquent, rational, and honest,
if somewhat brusque.
It was on a bright day, just
before lunch, that this First Man strode up to the golden gates of the imperial
palace, to be admitted as the Emperor’s newest Minister. The gates swung
outward, and the First Man stepped forward into a world he could not have
The Grand Imperial Palace is
filled with a great many wonders of the world: the Hydrargyrum Fountain, which
will amalgamate any coin that is thrown into it, to become part of its
quicksilver jets; the Lotus of Charan’girak – the flowers of which are fifteen
feet tall and only bloom on the day after a blood moon; the Tree of Rhonyssia,
each branch of which produces a different kind of fruit – cherries, pears,
bergamots, dates, pineapples, blackberries – everything.
The flowerbeds, the shrubs, the
walkways were all kept perfectly tidy by the imperial palace’s many hundreds of
servants. Every leaf that fell from every tree was caught before it even hit
the ground. Every cracked paving stone was replaced before the Emperor could
see it. Every oil lamp was refilled every hour throughout the night so that not
a single flame would go out.
It was through this wondrous
place that the First Man strode on this day. Though he was transfixed by the
chiselled cornices, the viridian ponds, and the onyx statues, he walked past
them all to the great glasshouse at the centre of the palace that was the
Though the imperial palace had
galleries, chambers, and halls that were the official locations where the
discussion of legislation took place, the Emperor and his Barons and his Ministers
actually spent very little time there. Instead they gathered in the Emperor’s
Menagerie, every day, at midday, to discuss and give assent to policy.
The Emperor’s Menagerie was
bright and humid. It had tall walls and many glass domes. The fronds of the
ferns and the cycads were a lush green, and the pools that sat and the streams
that ran throughout the building were clear.
But despite the grandeur of the
architecture and the greenery of the Emperor’s Menagerie, most of the animals
in it were rather unspectacular. There were lorikeets and parakeets, lemurs and
macaques, pythons, puffins, porcupines, and pangolins, chameleons, tortoises,
sloths, a jaguar, a giraffe, and even a hippopotamus, but they all looked
rather tired and grey.
There was one exception to this,
however – a unique specimen that was the Emperor’s prized possession. In the
very centre of the Emperor’s Menagerie, beneath the great crystal dome and on a
circular plinth of gold and garnet, sat an enormous … pink elephant.
The elephant was truly gigantic –
twice the height, width, and length of a normal elephant. But as remarkable as
its size was, it was nothing compared to the colour of its skin. The elephant’s
skin was a lurid, electric fuchsia – a hot, shocking cyclamen. It was such a
vile and offensive shade of magenta that it stung the eyes to look at it. It
was so fluorescent that it drained all of the colour from everything around it.
The elephant was also disgusting.
It gave off a nauseating stench of bitumen, vinegar, oyster sauce, burnt
aubergine, and piss – the entire menagerie smelled of it. This may have been
caused by its diet. The elephant did not eat leaves and grasses as normal
elephants do – it ate incredibly expensive foods, provided to it at the behest
of the Emperor and his Barons: caviar, goose liver, lobsters, artichokes
stuffed with white truffle, bluefin tuna, and it ate all of this food in vast
quantities. The servants of the Grand Imperial Palace would drag great bowls –
four feet across – filled with this food up to the elephant every half hour.
The more recently-appointed servants were given the task of carrying away the
elephant’s shit, which was produced almost constantly.
All of this makes the Emperor’s
Pink Elephant difficult to ignore, but ignore it you must, because if anyone
talks about the elephant – whether they go on about it at length or just
mention it – that person will be swiftly removed from the palace, and never be
permitted to return.
Almost all of the people of the
empire, however, at this point, were completely unaware of the existence of the
pink elephant. As such, when the First Man strode through the glass doors of
the Emperor’s Menagerie, to begin his first term as one of the Emperor’s
Ministers, he gawped at the pink elephant, in shock and amazement. The pink
elephant stared back, grinding crabshell in its teeth, bored with the turn of
The Emperor’s other Ministers
shuffled up to the First Man, with their hands clasped together and forced
smiles on their faces. They nodded politely as they asked the First Man
pointless questions and ignored his answers. And after a few minutes, the First
Man said ‘I had no idea that the Emperor had an enormous pink elephant in his
menagerie! What an unusual creature!’
The Emperor’s other Ministers
continued to smile and nod, but did not refer to the elephant themselves. They
changed the conversation to something meaningless and dull.
An hour after the First Man had
arrived in the menagerie, and before the First Man had had the chance to speak
with the Emperor (who always stood on a raised area at the back of the
glasshouse, dressed in imperial green and guarded by a number of his Barons)
one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the First Man and said ‘Most
honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the
palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’ The First Man,
suspecting nothing, followed the servant out of the menagerie and back to the
golden gates of the palace.
He stepped through the gates of
the palace. Once he was outside, the gates were closed behind him and locked,
and the servant walked away.
The First Man, like those who had
elected him to become a Minister, was naïve to the way that the palace
operated, and so was confused. He had expected to find this matter outside the
gates of the palace, but he did not. The servants had walked away, so there was
no-one he could ask. He waited for an hour in case the matter reappeared, but
it did not. Then he tried to get the attention of someone in the palace, but
none came to him.
By the end of the day, he
realised that this was not a mistake, and that he would not be permitted back
into the palace, and could not take the people’s requests to the Emperor. What
he couldn’t figure out was why.
He analysed the day’s events with
the People of the Capital. He told them of everything that had happened while
he had been inside the Grand Imperial Palace, and everything he had said to the
Emperor’s Ministers. He told them that in the very centre of the Emperor’s
Menagerie there was an enormous pink elephant that ate vast quantities of
expensive food and gave off a foul odour, and that he had mentioned the
elephant to the Ministers. But he had said so many things and made so many
slight gestures that neither he nor the People could figure out which of them
had led to his expulsion.
But the empire still had many
problems, so, since they could not send the First Man back into the palace, the
People of the Capital chose another from their group to become one of the Emperor’s
Ministers in his stead. This Second Man was very similar to the first, but
perhaps slightly more observant.
So the next day, just before
lunch, this Second Man strode up to the golden gates of the imperial palace, to
be admitted as the Emperor’s newest Minister. The gates swung outward, and the
Second Man stepped forward into a world he had heard a few things about.
He walked the two miles from the
entrance to the palace to the Emperor’s Menagerie, not stopping to marvel at
the Opal Obelisk, Sereri’s Fresco, or the translucent chrysanthemums. But when
he stepped through the glass doors of the menagerie, like the First Man, he was
awestruck by the pink elephant. The elephant looked at him with impatience.
The Emperor’s other Ministers
shuffled up to the Second Man, eyes eager and greedy. They chatted with the
Second Man about things both tedious and irrelevant, and laughed at things that
weren’t funny. And after a few minutes, the Second Man said ‘I must say, I knew
that the Emperor had an enormous pink elephant in his menagerie, but I could
not have anticipated just how vivid its skin is, or how pungent its smell is.’
‘His Majesty’s Menagerie has many
wondrous and unique animals in it.’ one of the Emperor’s other Ministers said,
though it wasn’t true in the slightest – all of the other animals were rather
dull. ‘My favourite is the pigeons.’ he said, pointing up to the rafters, where
hundreds of fat, grey pigeons sat.
‘Oh yes’, another Minister said.
‘Far better than those sparrows that used to be here. And I never liked that
An hour after the Second Man had
arrived in the menagerie, and before he had had the chance to speak with the
Emperor, one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the Second Man and said
‘Most honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of
the palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’ The Second Man,
also suspecting nothing, followed the servant out of the menagerie and back to
the golden gates of the palace.
He passed through the gates, and
they were locked behind him. He was tricked just as the First Man had been,
though the Second Man realised this as soon as he heard the lock clink behind
The Second Man also analysed the
day’s events with the People of the Capital. He told them everything he said
and everything he did, and the People realised the only thing that both the First Man and the Second Man
had done was to talk about the elephant in the room.
As ever, the problems with the
empire persisted. The People resolved that they could not give up, so they
chose a Third Man from their group to try to get into the palace and speak to
the Emperor. But this time, he would go in with the intention of not saying a
single word about the pink elephant, and if one of the Emperor’s servants said
he was needed at the gates, he would try to find a way of not going.
So the next day the Third Man
went in. When he stepped into the great glasshouse, the Emperor’s other
Ministers shuffled up to him, whispering and glancing at each other. He did not
say a single word about the elephant, but he did stare at it – it was difficult not to – its skin was so blindingly
saturated. And of course, it was right in the middle of the room.
The Emperor’s other Ministers
watched the Third Man as they prattled at him. They didn’t look towards the
elephant themselves, but they knew that the Third Man was looking at it – they
knew that he was thinking about it.
And after an hour, one of the
Emperor’s servants walked up to the Third Man and said ‘Most honourable
gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the palace – there
is a matter that requires your expertise.’
The Third Man immediately
realised what was happening – they were trying to expel him from the palace –
he must have done something the other Ministers didn’t like. ‘I’m sure the
matter can wait.’ he said to the Emperor’s servant. ‘The discussion of policy
is very important; I would not like to miss any of it.’
‘Oh that won’t start for ages
yet.’ one of the Emperor’s other Ministers said. ‘We’ll probably just be
babbling on for another few hours yet, as we do.’
‘Yes’, another Minister said,
‘you won’t miss anything – I’m sure you’ll have the time to deal with this
The Third Man had not anticipated
this. ‘His Imperial Majesty expects all of his Ministers to be in attendance.’
‘Oh he won’t mind.’ one of the
‘Yes, I’m sure he won’t mind.’
another said with a smirk. ‘You should go.’
The Third Man couldn’t see how he
could reason his way out of this. Everyone wanted him to go to the gates.
‘Very well.’ the Third Man said,
after a moment, and he followed the servant out of the menagerie.
He knew that the moment he
stepped outside of the palace, the gates would be locked behind him, and he
wouldn’t be able to get back in, so he tried to think how he could avoid going
through them. He could just run to a different part of the palace, he thought,
but they would only find him, and then tell him to go to the gates again.
He couldn’t think of how to get
out of this. When he got to the gates of the palace, which were wide open, he
stopped before passing them, adamant he would not go a step further.
‘Well, where is this matter
then?’ he said to the servant.
The Emperor’s servant said with
half-lidded eyes ‘It is in the marketplace a short distance away from the
palace. I will take you there.’
The Third Man was still
suspicious. ‘What on earth is this matter?’
‘It will be easier to show you.’
the servant said.
Once again, the Third Man didn’t
see how he could refuse. But the servant would be with him – they’d have to let
the servant back into the palace when they returned, and he could go in at the
same time. So the Third Man stepped past the gates of the palace, and followed
the servant to the marketplace.
The marketplace was bustling. The
Third Man followed the servant through the dense crowd as they wound between
the stalls. He was almost starting to believe that there was some important matter for him to deal with, but for a moment he
looked the other way, and when he looked back, the servant was gone.
The Third Man immediately
realised what had happened, and pushed his way back through the crowd to try to
get back to the palace as soon as possible. But when he arrived at the
entrance, the gates were once again locked shut, and there was no-one on the
other side who could or would open them.
Like the First Man and the Second
Man, the Third Man told the People of the Capital everything that had happened.
They realised that not only would talking
about the elephant get you thrown out, but even looking at it – acknowledging it in any way.
So the People of the Capital sent
a Fourth Man to the palace. The Fourth Man did not mention the elephant at all,
nor did he stare at the elephant when he first walked into the menagerie. He
managed to stay in the menagerie for longer than the first three had – most of
the afternoon. But though he avoided staring
at the elephant, when its amaranth skin caught the edge of his vision, he
couldn’t help but steal a glance at it.
The Emperor’s other Ministers had
been watching him closely the entire afternoon, even after they had run out of
things to blather on about. They saw the Fourth Man look at the elephant for a
fraction of a second, so the Fourth Man was expelled too.
The Fifth Man that the People
sent in was the first one who managed to remain in the menagerie for a while.
He said nothing about the elephant and did not look at it even for a moment.
He went into the menagerie at
midday every day for a week, along with all of the Emperor’s other Ministers.
The first few hours of every afternoon were spent rambling on about things that
didn’t matter. Many of the Ministers would wander around the menagerie with one
of their friends – the menagerie had many winding gravel paths through it
(walled by emerald foliage, which prevented anything the Ministers whispered to
each other from being overheard by others in the glasshouse).
It was only towards the end of
each afternoon that any actual discussion of policy happened, and it was
usually very quick. The Ministers and the Barons were in complete agreement on
almost everything. The Emperor did not question any of the policies that were
proposed – in fact he didn’t say anything at all in the discussion – and he
gave assent to everything that the Ministers and the Barons decided upon. The
Fifth Man realised that it was not the Emperor that he needed to speak to, but
the Ministers and the Barons.
Over the days that he was there,
the Fifth Man tried to convince the other Ministers of the policies that the
People wanted. He tried to persuade them to support the rebuilding of bridges,
aqueducts, and sewers. He tried to persuade them to put some of the palace’s
great wealth towards building more houses, so that the people of the city would
not have to live in such cramped spaces. He tried to persuade them to end the
constant war and expansion – the empire was big enough as it was – any bigger
and it might fracture.
He went from group to group
within the menagerie, repeating the same arguments. The Ministers smiled and
nodded. They responded with things like ‘What an interesting idea.’, ‘I
couldn’t agree more.’, and ‘Oh yes, we must support the common people.’. But
when he asked if they could put the policy to the Emperor, they said ‘Let’s do
that tomorrow.’, or ‘This will fit well with a bill I’m writing for a few days’
time.’, or ‘Let’s talk to some more people about this.’.
But they never did. Every day
they would defer it. The reasons were slightly different each day, but the
effect was the same. Though the Ministers said
that they liked the Fifth Man’s policies, they would never allow them to be put
to the Emperor.
But while he was in the
menagerie, the Fifth Man also realised something else. You see, while he did
not look at the pink elephant, he
could still see it. When his eyes
were focused on something else, the pink elephant might be on the edge of his
vision, and he could turn his mind’s eye towards it. And of course, the
menagerie was made of glass – he could often see the elephant’s reflection in a
He knew what the elephant was
doing at any one time – they all did – all of the Ministers knew. They all
pretended not to, but everyone in the room knew
what the elephant was doing, and they all knew that everyone else knew. But
what the Fifth Man realised was that the pink elephant must have been costing
the empire a fortune to keep. It ate a great bowl of the most expensive foods
in the world every half hour for every hour it was awake. A team of eighty
servants had the task of preparing all of the elephant’s food and bringing it
to the elephant. Keeping the elephant cost more than all of the palace’s other
daily expenses combined! The elephant was part
of the problem! If they didn’t have to pay for the elephant, they would
have more money to spend on repairing and rebuilding the city.
After a week, getting nowhere
trying to persuade the other Ministers to put his policies to the Emperor, and
seeing just how ridiculous it was keeping this disgusting, useless elephant in
the menagerie, the Fifth Man snapped.
‘This is absurd!’ the Fifth Man
shouted so that all of the Ministers and Barons could hear. ‘All of you are
twattling on about things that don’t matter, and then passing legislation that
does nothing to solve the actual problems of the empire, all the while ignoring
that revolting elephant that is partially the cause of those problems! What are you doing?! What are you here
for?! Why do you keep ignoring the elephant in the room?!’
The Fifth Man was completely
right of course, but while he had understood the Ministers enough to be able to
get into the menagerie, and even stay there for a few days, he did not
understand them enough to realise that there was no point asking these
questions, because the Ministers would not answer them – they would never answer them. No amount of
rationality or rage would ever make
them answer these questions.
The Fifth Man was greeted with
gelid silence. All of the Ministers and Barons looked at the Fifth Man with
stony expressions, insulted that anyone would be so direct about the elephant.
The Fifth Man, looking around, realising that he had no power in the menagerie
anymore, did not need to be expelled by deceptive means – he left the palace
But of course, the problems of
the empire persisted, and the People of the Capital sent in a Sixth Man, then a
Seventh Man. The Sixth Man remained in the menagerie for several weeks, and the
Seventh Man for several months. Neither of them said a word about the elephant,
but as time went on, the two of them, and the People who put them there,
realised that it didn’t matter whether or not they mentioned the elephant. The
Ministers and the Barons simply didn’t want
to implement the policies they were suggesting. All of them were in agreement,
and anyone who did not agree with them would be removed – that way they kept
their control over the Emperor and the empire – that way they stayed in power.
And though they all did this – they all knew
that this was what they were doing – they never acknowledged it.
The Sixth Man and the Seventh Man
were eventually expelled too. The Eighth Man to go in tried a more radical
method of solving the empire’s problems. He took a pistol into the menagerie,
hidden in his coat. As soon as he saw the elephant, he took the pistol out, and
shot at it. But the bullet bounced off the elephant’s skin (who would have
known that in addition to being quinacridone the elephant’s skin was also
bullet-proof?), and instead struck one of the Barons in the arm. (The Baron
didn’t die – in fact he recovered remarkably quickly.) The Eighth Man was
swiftly removed and imprisoned for life.
And then … the Ninth Man went
in. By this point, most of the ordinary people in the empire knew about the
pink elephant, and many realised too that the elephant was part of the problem.
The Ninth Man had listened to everything his eight predecessors had said, and
he had an idea. He asked that the People of the Capital choose him to be the
next person to be sent to the palace, but he did not tell them what his idea
was, knowing that he would not need to.
And so the Ninth Man, when the
sun was high overhead, strode up to the glass doors of the menagerie, and went
inside. He did not mention or look at the elephant. The Emperor’s other
Ministers shuffled up to the Ninth Man, as they always did, and started talking
The Ninth Man said similarly dull
things back to them. He caught a glint in their eyes – they thought they’d got
one of their own this time.
And then after a few minutes of
meaningless words, the Ninth Man said ‘Oh, by the way, I have brought a gift
for the Emperor.’, and he signalled to one of the servants to bring it in.
The servant wheeled it in. It was
covered by a satin cloth. With a flourish, the Ninth Man pulled the satin cloth
off, revealing a large copper cage underneath it. And within the cage was a
magnificent … turquoise flamingo.
The flamingo was delightful. Its
plumage went from cyan to aquamarine to cerulean to teal. Its eyes were a
glimmering silver. And the bird had an aroma of blueberries and pears.
‘Oh what a marvellous animal!’
the Emperor’s other Ministers all sang together. They then looked for a space
for it within the menagerie; the Ninth Man directed them towards one of the
spaces on one of the paths that wound through the building.
And then the afternoon wore on as
it usually did. All of the Ministers spent several hours warbling and
twittering at each other, and at the end of the afternoon, they voted on some
legislation. The Ninth Man played along.
The Ninth Man stayed in the
menagerie for many months. He did not mention or look at the pink elephant,
even though he, like those before him, knew that it was a big problem. He
chattered and jabbered with the other Ministers, and they were not suspicious
of him. Everyone in the menagerie was overjoyed by the turquoise flamingo –
most of all the Emperor, who often came down from his malachite throne to stare
at the bird in its cage. Unlike the pink elephant, the turquoise flamingo was
cheap to keep – it ate the sorts of foods that flamingos normally eat: small
insects, molluscs, and crustaceans, and it didn’t eat all that much of them.
The flamingo was a far better centrepiece for the menagerie than the elephant.
After many months had passed, it
was time for the people of the empire to elect another Minister – well, two
actually. They did so, and two people showed up at the glass doors of the
menagerie. The Ministers – not including the Ninth Man – shuffled up to the two
newcomers, as they always did. They watched them eagerly for many hours, to see
if they would talk about the elephant or glance at it. Neither of them did –
clearly both of them knew that they
must not do so.
The two new Ministers walked
around the menagerie, talking to people and gazing at the other animals. And
then they came to the flamingo, which the Ninth Man always stood next to.
‘What a marvellous animal!’ the
older one said. ‘Where did it come from?’
‘Oh I found it atop Mount
Sarabaya.’ the Ninth Man said.
‘On top of a mountain?!’ the
older one asked.
‘Yes. I climbed the mountain in
an hour, found the bird standing at its summit, and then was back down again
Anyone who knew anything about
Mount Sarabaya knew that it could not be climbed in an hour – it normally took
at least two days to scale the icy peak, and the same time again to get back
‘That’s absurd!’ the older one
said. ‘No-one could climb Mount Sarabaya in an hour!’
The Ninth Man puffed himself up
and said proudly ‘I’ll have you know that I’ve won the Arennian Mountain
Climbing Championship seven years in a row! I am undefeated to this day!’
Believing he had insulted the
Ninth Man, the older of the two new Ministers stumbled over his words, saying
‘Oh … er … well, of course an ordinary
person could not climb the mountain in an hour, but I’m sure it’s quite easy
for a mountain climbing champion.’
‘Indeed it is!’
‘What are you talking about?!’
the younger one said. ‘It doesn’t matter how many championships you’ve won –
no-one can scale Mount Sarabaya that quickly – it’s more than five miles high!’
‘As the current Arennian Mountain
Climbing Champion I dare say I am the
expert on mountaineering in this menagerie, and it is absolutely possible!’ the Ninth Man insisted.
‘Mount Sarabaya Base Camp is ten
miles away from the summit! Unless you sprinted
up the mountain, it’s not possible.’ the younger one said.
The older one gawped as this
argument was happening – shocked that the younger one would dare suggest that
the Minister didn’t know what he was talking about or was lying.
But the Ninth Man had actually
succeeded in his aim. ‘Well perhaps you’re right.’ he said to the younger one.
‘It was so long ago – it’s all just a blur now. Perhaps it simply felt like an hour.’ and the conversation
moved on to other things.
Later in the afternoon, the Ninth
Man took one of the servants aside and whispered to him ‘The older of the two
new Ministers is a most talented person. I think we need to find ways to help
him use those talents.’
The servant understood, and a few
minutes later the older of the two new Ministers was expelled from the palace,
in the same way the First Man had been.
The younger of the two new
Ministers was allowed to stay. Both he and the Ninth Man did not talk about or
look at the pink elephant. They smiled and nodded along with the other
Ministers, and did not attempt to persuade them to support better policies, for
both of them knew that they never would.
A few months later, and another
two people were chosen by the public to become Ministers. They stepped into the
menagerie one day, and they successfully ignored the pink elephant. They soon
came over to the turquoise flamingo, where the Ninth Man stood.
‘What a marvellous animal!’ the
shorter one said. ‘How on earth did it acquire such a colour?’
‘I believe it is a rare species.
I saw a similarly-coloured flamboyance of flamingos when I was travelling
across the Manjure.’
‘There are flamingos in the
Manjure?!’ the shorter one asked.
‘Yes of course. Flamingos like
Anyone who knew anything about
the Manjure knew that it was in fact freezing cold there most of the year. It
was a vast, dense, boreal forest, interrupted only by icy streams and
‘What on earth are you talking
about?!’ the shorter one said. ‘The Manjure is freezing cold!’
The Ninth Man puffed himself up
and said proudly ‘I’ll have you know that I have travelled along the
Trans-Manjurean Railway no fewer than seven
times! I’m quite familiar with the Manjurean climate!’
Believing he had insulted the
Ninth Man, the shorter of the two new Ministers stumbled over his words, saying
‘Oh … well … I suppose you must be very familiar with the region then.’
‘You suppose correctly!’
‘That’s absurd!’ the taller one
said. ‘The Manjurean caribou is famous
for its thick fur. The Manjurean caribou would all die of heat exhaustion if
the Manjure were a tropical climate!’
‘I am good friends with the
leading expert in the climate and geography of the Manjure at the University of
Marcanne! I dare say that I’m more familiar with it than you!’ the Ninth Man
‘Being friends with an expert
does not make you an expert. Unless
the climate of the Manjure has changed drastically in the last few years, it
absolutely is not a hot region!’ the
taller one said.
The shorter one gawped as this
argument was happening – shocked that the taller one would dare suggest that
the Minister didn’t know what he was talking about or was lying.
But the Ninth Man had once again
succeeded in his aim. ‘You know what I think you might be right.’ he said to
the taller one. ‘I’m thinking of Bansoor – that’s where I saw those flamingos.
The service on the Bansoor Express is so awful I think I blocked it from my
memory.’ and the conversation moved on to other things.
Later in the afternoon, the Ninth
Man took one of the servants aside and whispered to him ‘The shorter of the two
new Ministers is a most talented person. I think we need to find ways to help
him use those talents.’
The servant understood, and a few
minutes later the shorter of the two new Ministers was expelled from the
palace. Now there were two Ministers in the menagerie who the Ninth Man had
allowed to stay. They and the Ninth Man played along with the faux concern of
the Emperor’s other Ministers.
And this was how it continued for
many months – years even. Whenever a new Minister entered the menagerie, first
the Cabal stalked them, to see if they would acknowledge the pink elephant, and
then the Ninth Man countered it. The Cabal believed that everyone in the
menagerie was part of the Cabal, since they expelled anyone who acknowledged
the pink elephant, but really the only people who stayed in the menagerie were
those who the Ninth Man did not expel.
Over time, more and more of the
court was on the side of the turquoise flamingo. They waited not just until
they could win any vote against the old Ministers and the Barons, but until
almost all of the old Ministers had been replaced – otherwise the supporters of
the pink elephant would realise that their strategy was no longer working, and would
And once this had happened, those
on the side of the turquoise flamingo started to put forward and vote for
policies that would benefit the people of the empire – much to the shock of the
They voted for bridges to be
rebuilt, for sewers to be maintained, and for houses to be built further apart
so that fires would not leap from one to another so easily. They voted to pay
for doctors to heal the diseased; they voted to nullify debts; they voted to
end the wars of expansion. They voted to remove the Barons from the menagerie,
and the people of the empire started to prosper once again.
And at the end of all of that,
they voted to release the pink elephant back to the wild. It was taken over the
sea and released into the humid forests of Bansoor.
But not just that – they also
released the turquoise flamingo, for now that there was no-one left in the
menagerie who would use the pink elephant for deceit, there was no need for the
turquoise flamingo. Those coming to the menagerie would no longer be expelled
for talking about the elephant in the room. They would only need the turquoise
flamingo again if the pink elephant were brought back.
The pigeons left the menagerie, and the sparrows returned. And every now and then, on a clear day, the people of the city could just about see, flying high in the sky … a turquoise flamingo.