Originally posted August 22, 2008.
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Left Behind, 459-461
“Thank you gentlemen,” Nicolae Carpathia says, after mind-whammying a room full of dignitaries into thinking that the double-homicide they all just saw him commit was actually a suicide/murder committed by one of his victims.
“While Ms. Durham phones security, I will be polling you for your version of what happened here.”
This doesn’t seem like a smart move on Nicolae’s part.
Imagine, for example, that you have gone to see a carnival show just off the Midway at the County Fair. It was billed as a Talking Dog Act, so you went in with a skeptical attitude, expecting some kind of bad ventriloquism. Instead, you find yourself amazed by what you have just seen: a Labrador retriever reciting the Gettysburg Address. You’re ready to jump out of your chair, to go tell everyone you know that they’ve got to come see this dog. It can really freakin’ talk.
But the show isn’t over yet. “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” the M.C. says, “I will be polling you for your version of what happened here.”
And as you’re sitting there, trying to figure out why anyone might do such a thing, the M.C. begins working his way through the audience, one by one, asking each person to tell him what they just saw. And then you hear each person in turn repeating the same key words, almost reciting the same description of that amazing talking dog. It wouldn’t take too long before you began to suspect, and then to realize and accept, the truth: This wasn’t a Talking Dog Act at all, but rather a Hypnotist Act, and you all fell for it.
Similarly, Nicolae’s one-by-one “polling” here would also have to seem suspiciously odd to everyone in the conference room. They might have fully accepted the false version of events that Nicolae implanted in their minds, but now, watching him scurrying around the room double-checking with everyone, they’d have to start to wonder why he’s so worried that they all get their story straight.
Buck Williams has a unique vantage point for watching this unfold. He’s there in the room, but he’s got divine immunity from the mojo. Watching as Nicolae polls the others, Buck ought to be wondering what this means. Is Nicolae double-checking because he’s not fully certain that his mind-whammy worked? Or is this one-by-one questioning itself the final part of the whammying process, like some kind of sealer-coat? Either way, Buck could be learning something here about the Antichrist’s powers and how they function. Being Buck, of course, he doesn’t wonder about any of that.
Meanwhile Hattie, as instructed, has gone to “phone security.” This also seems odd in that “security” is already there. The security guard, I suppose, can’t phone his colleagues himself because he has to wait for his turn to be “polled” by Nicolae. Hattie, being a weak and impressionable woman, doesn’t need to get polled:
Hattie ran to the phone and could barely make herself understood in her hysteria. “Come quick! There’s been a suicide and two men are dead! It was awful! Hurry!”
And then it’s on with a page and a half of the one-by-one polling. The point of this slowly around the table business is to ratchet up the suspense as Buck worries what to say when Nicolae gets to him:
Buck’s body felt like lead, knowing that Carpathia would eventually get to him and that he was the only one in the room not under Nicolae’s hypnotic power. But what if Buck said so? Would he be killed next? Of course he would! He had to be. Could he lie? Should he?
He prayed desperately as Carpathia moved from man to man, making certain they had all seen what he wanted them to see and that they were sincerely convinced of it.
I can’t imagine that either God or the Devil is pleased with the lack of faith displayed by their respective minions here. Nicolae seemed so confident a moment ago when he was sticking the gun into Stonagal’s ear, but now he has to double- and triple-check, like he doesn’t believe he’s really the supernatural Prince of Lies. For his part, Buck seems to have forgotten that he once stood at ground zero, watching a nuclear war explode harmlessly over his head. Now he’s petrified by the prospect of having to speak to a no-longer-armed Carpathia.
Silence, God seemed to impress upon Buck’s heart. Not a word!
Buck was so grateful to feel the presence of God in the midst of this evil and mayhem that he was moved to tears. When Carpathia got to him Buck’s cheeks were wet and he could not speak. He shook his head and held up a hand. “Awful, was it not, Cameron? The suicide that took Mr. Todd-Cothran with it?”
Buck could not speak and wouldn’t have if he could. “You cared for and respected them both, Cameron, because you were unaware that they tried to have you killed in London.” And Carpathia moved on to the guard.
That dramatic confrontation fizzles in part because the authors weren’t as concerned with Buck’s question, “Would he be killed next?” as they were with the ones that followed it, “Could he lie? Should he?” The real dramatic tension in this scene, as far as the authors were concerned, had to do with the ethical dilemma of whether it’s ever OK to lie, even to the Antichrist, even to save your own life or the lives of others.* Their answer, as this scene demonstrates, is No. (A tearful silence that has the effect of deceiving Nicolae, however, is OK, so apparently lies of omission don’t count.)
And then suddenly the cops arrive. I think. It’s hard to say for sure, since Jenkins keeps interchangeably referring to them as “security.” That’s not a word we Americans usually use to refer to police officers, but here’s Jenkins:
… security rushed into the room. Everyone talked at once as Carpathia retreated to a corner, sobbing over the loss of his friends. A plainclothesman asked questions …
That plainclothesman is later confirmed to be a “detective sergeant” in the NYPD.
I’m not really certain how jurisdiction works at U.N. headquarters — a place that’s both part of New York City and yet also international territory. Jenkins doesn’t seem sure how that jurisdiction works either and, unfortunately for him, he’s the one writing this scene. Rather than doing any research into who would actually respond to this situation — U.N. officials? New York’s finest? the FBI? Blackwater? — he just mumbles and fudges his way through, seeming to treat the U.N. as just another routine crime scene in an episode of Law and Order.
Then again, Jenkins didn’t really have to research exactly how such jurisdictional matters are handled at the actual United Nations in the actual world we live in, because his story isn’t set in this world. His story starts with a hastily rendered version of this world, but then he blows this world to smithereens. Twice. First there was The Event — the disappearance of two billion people leaving behind a mystified, traumatized and childless planet. Then — almost as sudden — there was the offhanded creation of a One World Government and the imposition of a single currency, language and religion on all the world’s people.
Maybe that explains the interchangeable use of “police” and “security” here — the U.N./OWG security force has already merged with the NYPD as part of Nicolae Carpathia’s global army. But if that’s the case, why does the god-emperor of all the world need to bother with the fake sobbing, putting on a show to keep the cops off his trail?
Buck departs just as the police arrive, but before he goes, let’s just consider the scenario we’re faced with here on page 461: A shot rings out at U.N. headquarters. Two powerful men are found dead in an apparent, if logistically unlikely, suicide/murder. A New York City detective arrives …
That ought to be a great story. I’d want to read that story. It promises mystery, excitement and international intrigue.
Yet in the hands of LaHaye and Jenkins, this scenario produces none of these. They’ve accomplished something truly remarkable here. By adding the Antichrist and the End of the World into the mix, they’ve made their story less interesting than it otherwise might have been.
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* To appreciate the full dynamic here one needs to understand the role that the phrase “situational ethics” plays in the evangelical subculture of L&J’s target audience. Situational ethics is a frequently invoked but vaguely defined bogeyman, entailing roughly the opposite of “moral absolutes” (which is itself a frequently invoked by vaguely defined concept). To believe in situational ethics, in this subculture, entails believing that there isn’t really any such thing as right or wrong, true or false. It means being groundless, godless and “relativistic” (a closely related bogeyman). Having Buck lie to the Antichrist would seem to the authors to be an endorsement of “situational ethics” and therefore the equivalent of saying that there is no God and the Bible is nothing more than a collection of fairy tales, etc., etc. L&J are likely remembering the controversy that surrounded The Hiding Place. That movie told the true story of a family of righteous gentiles in occupied Holland who — gasp! — sometimes lied to the Nazis to protect the Jews they were rescuing. OMG! Situational ethics!