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TV review: Elon Musk: Superhero or supervillain?, Prince of Muck, and The Terror: Infamy

27 May 2022

Alamy

Elon Musk: Superhero or supervillain? (Channel 4, Monday of last week) spoke to colleagues of the billionaire entrepreneur

Elon Musk: Superhero or supervillain? (Channel 4, Monday of last week) spoke to colleagues of the billionaire entrepreneur

BEING the world’s richest man must obviously bring the odd problem, and Elon Musk: Superhero or supervillain? (Channel 4, Monday of last week) sought to bring some of them to us, particularly relevant as he seeks to purchase Twitter (or possibly not). Even “man” might undersell him: to his detractors, he is a demon incarnate, while his supporters, overwhelmed by his vision and inspiration, less a fan base than a cult, offer quasi-religious adulation, and accord him semi-divine status.

Colleagues attest to his positive approach, his refusal to admit any possibility of failure, limitless ambition, addiction to Big Ideas (many of them — at least broadly — entirely laudable, such as saving planet Earth). This model of apparent success is not unfamiliar to religion — exhibiting the signs of the super-evangelist, and building up (for the best of all possible reasons) the largest possible congregation, eager to lap up every honeyed word and offer sacrificial support.

Such triumph — held up, the more cynical of us suspect, by our hierarchy as the pattern for which we clergy should all strive — has, as always, its dark shadow. Musk’s championing of absolutely free speech is curiously compromised by the gagging of employees who dare to whistle-blow on conditions in his vast factory, where accusations of racism, bullying, and criminality are rife. His billions are devoted to the colonisation of space, to promote his conviction that humankind’s destiny is to be an interplanetary species.

If this golden future is heralded by the experience of his Tesla self-driving electric cars, it might be wiser to stay at home.

There was a contrasting portrait of male domination in Prince of Muck (BBC4, Wednesday of last week). Bowed and painfully slow at 80, Lawrence MacEwen’s family has owned the spectacularly beautiful, if harsh and unforgiving, Inner Hebridean isle of Muck (population less than 40) since 1896. Daringly slow, almost static, it chronicles the decline and confusions not just of old age, but of the passing of an era of farming methods and absolute relationship to the land.

Mr MacEwen has given the farm to his son, but refuses to give up the herd of beloved cattle, which he tends by hand. Despite his wife’s constant attempts to instil sense and reason, he interferes in everything, seeking to retain absolute headship. This is King Lear: selfish, cantankerous, noble failure, shot through with tragic greatness — simply wonderful television.

Leaving one island to settle in another, far smaller, set the scene for The Terror: Infamy (BBC2, from 20 May). These fishing families have left Japan for a better life in the United States, but Pearl Harbor is attacked, and all Japanese are brutally interned. This dynastic love story, impressive but flawed, is spiced up by supernatural horror: they carry with them a malevolent spirit who wreaks vengeance wherever she chooses.

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