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Scene in D.C. is our new series highlighting film and television shot in the District.

For a while, anyway, Aaron Sorkin’s drama The West Wing inspired a generation of young people who pursued public service. They saw D.C. as their City on a Hill, a place where they could fight through bureaucracy and political challenges, making the country through their idealism and the sheer forcefulness of theirs ideas. Of course, this city is nothing like that. Up until recently, In the Loop and Veep were (probably) the better representations: this is a city full of type A narcissists, albeit smart ones, who put out fires and think little about stabbing each other in the back.

Now that we’re in the throes of the Trump administration, however, perhaps Burn After Reading is the best representation of what “This Town” is like. Everyone is in over their head. They are idiots, too, not quite realizing how their schemes affect one another. That mix of betrayal and amateurism, paranoia and idiocy, comes to a head in the scene where Harry (George Clooney) and Linda (Frances McDormand) meet on a park bench. He’s involved in a murder, she’s involved in blackmail, and somehow they roped the Russians into it. The good vibes of their encounter devolves into exaggerated, cartoonish terror. That the scene takes place on the National Mall, a place where we look for a pastoral break from the proverbial grind, only deepens the scene’s queasy hilarity.

I should add that this scene is an echo of the moment in JFK where X (Donald Sutherland) outlines to Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) his theory about the Kennedy assassination. Back then, even during the throes of Vietnam, there were protocols, a sense of duty, and a yearning to uncover the truth. Now everyone is desperate and incompetent, to the point where covering their own ass is their only true victory. Welcome to D.C. in 2018.

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