1:2 The Chain, “Family Jewels”

PREVIOUSLY: Dagny Taggart is a badass.

Another Taggart train is barreling down the track, this time past a giant steampunk city of plants, mills, girders and smokestacks, all emitting a molten orange glow. This is the Rearden Steel complex. An economist on the train ponders what role the individual has left to play in our post-modern technological age. A journalist makes a note that Rearden puts his name on everything just like Donald Trump some huge douche.

A pillar of flame erupts somewhere in the metalworks, and what these guys on the train don’t know is that it’s Dagny Taggart’s first order of Rearden’s experimental alloy being manufactured. Hank Rearden himself watches from inside Steampunk City, his face ‘unyielding,’ ‘cruel,’ and ‘expressionless.’ Blonde, too. Ayn Rand clearly has a type, and that type is Aryan. This fascist motif seemed like dark satire at first, Ayn, but now you’re creeping me out.

Satisfied that things are going smoothly, Hank decides to take a leisurely stroll back to his estate and reflect on the ‘quiet and solemn’ sensation of seeing one’s life work fulfilled. He has, after all, pursued the realization of this dream for ten years, ever since he first envisioned an alloy that ‘would be to steel what steel had been to iron.’ He remembers

the days when the young scientists … waited for instructions like soldiers ready for a hopeless battle, having exhausted their ingenuity, still willing, but silent, with the unspoken sentence hanging the air: “Mr. Rearden it can’t be done.”

Looks like he’s got some of that reality distortion field action going.

His recollections drift even further back in time, to when he first opened Rearden Steel here in rural Pennsylvania even though everyone called him a fool for investing in a state that industry and manufacturing had left long ago, leaving only an impoverished rust belt in their wake. Okay Rand, you get some prophetic brownie points this week. Credit where it’s due.

Right, Rearden is reveling in this epic catharsis, feeling at peak charisma, knowing that he is The Fuckin’ Man right now, and wishing there was someone around to bask in it with him.

For sale in real life at libertybracelet.com. Proceeds go to Ron Paul 2012

He fingers a bracelet that he had custom-made out of the first batch of Rearden Metal. It’s for his wife, but he realizes that the person he always imagined giving this bracelet to is still his wife in an abstract, ideal sense, and not Lillian, the actual living and breathing wife waiting for him at home. That’s a downer.

Rearden arrives at his house — decidedly less impressive than Steampunk City, with ‘the cheerless look of a nudity not worth revealing.’ As he steps through the front door his testicles magically teleport out of his scrotum and into a jar on the mantle above the fireplace, around which his wife, mother, brother and a family friend are having some kind of high-falutin’ chat about the state of the world today.

Lillian is wrapping up a thought about how all modern ‘men of culture’ find engineering boring when they all notice Hank and immediately start giving him a guilt trip for being a workaholic and never spending time with them. His desire to announce the triumph of his will (Ayn, seriously, take it down a notch) is immediately taken down a notch, because these people totally Don’t Get It.

Count it.

First off, his mother is a terrible, undermining harpy. She’s like Livia Soprano (Pop Culture Character Substitution of the Week #1). Just miserable. Meanwhile, he and his wife have this toxic passive-aggressive thing going on. He feels like she doesn’t understand him and she feels totally neglected by his obsession with his work. They are both right (see next picture).

Their dynamic is demonstrated as follows: First, Lillian tries to catch Hank for not remembering the date of their anniversary, the night of which she wants to host a big party. That’s three months away so maybe, she’s hoping, she can get some time with her husband at least penciled in on the schedule. He agrees. Begrudgingly.

#2

Then he tries to bridge the gap by presenting her with the bracelet, but she reacts as if he were a toddler presenting her with a macaroni and glitter Picasso. “Oh look, that’s so… nice.” His borderline personality mother calls him conceited and berates him for not buying his wife diamonds like a real man. Christ, this woman. At this point he sits down by the fire with them, perhaps to feel closer to his severed cojones. But no, he is withdrawn and exhausted now.

The family friend, Larkin, leans over for an aside. “Listen, Hank, I’m not one of those haters. I think your new alloy is awesome and could definitely change the world. Which is why you need to be careful,” says Larkin. Now it’s Rearden who Doesn’t Get It. “A lot of people don’t like you,” Larkin explains. “They could try and take you down. Through the press, for example. You should think about getting a PR department.” Rearden is old school and would rather let his work speak for itself. “Well who’s your lobbying firm?” Larkin presses (the specific phrase is ‘your man in Washington’), and Rearden just shrugs. He’s got one but he doesn’t even know the name. “Not good enough, Hank. Get in this lobbying game, for real. It’s super-important. Way of the future, okay? Watch your back.” Hank laments that lobbyists are all scumbags and he doesn’t like hiring scumbags for anything, but Larkin just shrugs with a “Hey, that’s the way of the world. Who is John Galt?”

This flippant attitude about cultural decline kind of pisses Rearden off for reasons he can’t articulate, and he starts chewing over his emotionally distressing relationship with his unbearable family. They’re all needy and ungrateful, but he has so much boundless energy and creative ambition to spare it would be unjust not to share it, or at least the spoils of it, with his flesh and blood, right? Nonetheless, he can’t stop seeing them as neurotic arrested development cases. Or Arrested Development cases — his mother is clearly Lucille Bluth as well as Livia Soprano, and his good-for-nothing brother has enjoyed a costly and fruitless college education on Hank’s tab just like Buster.

#3.

Said brother now hits Hank up for ten grand for a charity event he’s involved with, and Rearden goes along with it as if it were in the celebratory spirit of the evening, even though any spirits left in the evening at this point are bad wines turned to vinegar. Even if nobody says it everybody feels it, because they immediately go back to sniping at each other over their inferiority complexes as soon as Buster gets a yes out of Hank.

The evening winds to a close as Lillian puts a button on the conversation and sums up everyone’s tangled feelings towards their stoic benefactor by demonstrating her new bracelet to everyone as ‘the chain by which he holds us all in bondage.’ Look Lillian, I know your marriage is a soul-crushing disappointment, but the guy is in the room. Anyway, who’s in the mood for champagne?

NEXT: Chapter 3, part 1 — Not-So-Super Villains

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