2:3 White Blackmail, “Shrug Atlas Shrug”

PREVIOUSLY: Francisco drove the world’s oldest, most profitable company into the ground, the better to tank the fortunes of all his tax-evading, insider-trading, political-string-pulling billionaire investors. At Jim Taggart’s wedding the word got out, as Frisco intended. Panic ensued.

Twilight of the Godawful

Lillian Rearden is still freaking out about Francisco’s ‘irresponsibility’ as she and Hank return to his hotel suite. Hank is all “Yeah yeah yeah, shut up.” She wants to go home to Pennsylvania but he wants to stay in New York, so he drops her off at Taggart Terminal and then retreats to his very own Taggart terminal — Dagny’s apartment.

There, he apologizes for putting Dags in an awkward spot at the wedding, and she’s like “Dirt off my shoulder, bro. Your wife doesn’t enter into my personal equation. You do you, I’ll do me, and as long as we want to do each other, ‘s all good. You gotta chill out and enjoy yourself more.”

Hank is like, “That’s funny, Francisco D’Anconia told me the same thing once.” Dagny feels awkward for a hot second, what with having fucked Francisco for years and Hank not knowing, but Hank moves right along to speculation about what Frankie’s deal is. As much as his behavior often verges on outright evil, he’s full of life and one of the only exciting and interesting people they can still find in this hopeless, crumbling world.

The next morning Rearden returns to the hotel as the news about the D’Anconia crash breaks to the public. Upon his return he discovers that Lillian didn’t go home after all. She’s waiting for him in a robe, with a cold breakfast on the table and a look of spiteful triumph on her face. Finally, proof he’s been lying to her about his nightlife.

J’accuse!

Hank gets real stoic and tells Lillian to say what she has to say. She goes on a hateful, bitter tirade, just spewing years and years of bile at him. She scoffs that she was wrong to think he was sleeping with Dagny Taggart; no doubt he’s slumming it with whores in the Bronx or what have you. And by the way, she knew he didn’t love her from like year one of the marriage.

He genuinely asks why she stayed with him then, and she snipes that he has no right to ask that now. Not anymore. He realizes that it was because she loved him. Is… is that a character nuance I see? Quick, kill it!

Lillian proceeds to tell Hank that she will never, ever grant him a divorce. She won’t give up the life she’s accustomed to just because he betrayed her, and she specifically wants him to feel like a hypocrite every day of his life from now on — a private shame of a punishment. Her love, sadly, has curdled into hate forever.

Hank just stands there and takes it, a spring of coiled rage. He tells her to leave the city and actually go home this time, and she does. Then he gives himself a pat on the back for not, you know, murdering her. Way to set the bar high, buddy.

Next scene! A month later. Hank is in his office enduring a meeting. His guest is Dr. Ferris, the shamelessly cynical politico from the State Science Institute.

Ferris is following up on his order for rMetal — the order labeled Project X — that Rearden still refuses to fill. As far as Hank is concerned, there’s nothing more to discuss. But Ferris merrily tells Hank that he knows about the black market deals he’s been making with Ken Dannager to sustain his coal supply.

How can you not trust this face?

“You see,” Ferris explains, “you want to keep a secret, and State Science want to keep Project X a secret… so why don’t you just play ball and we can all get what we want.”

“Oh, you mean, blackmail?” Hank presses, and Ferris is hilariously like “Yes! Thank you! Glad we’re on the same page finally. So, you in?”

Hank is utterly apalled and balks. Ferris gets frustrated, like he simply doesn’t understand what bothers Rearden about this. “Look, you do this for us, and we can do some shit for you. You wanna fuck over Orren Boyle? He’s been swinging his dick around a little too much, come on board and we’ll take him down.”

But Henry Goddamn Rearden ain’t for sale, and he tells Ferris to go ahead and bring charges. Put him and Dannager on trial, whatever. Now Ferris is apalled. He gets ugly and hisses that they aren’t bluffing and they will totally ruin him. Hank has him escorted out.

“Hey buddy, I’m getting pretty tired of your whiny bullshit, okay?” -The Prole

Next! Let’s check in with good ol’ Everyman Eddie Willers, who is in the Taggart Transcon cafeteria again, talking to his anonymous proletarian grease monkey friend again. Again. He’s fretting about the Rearden/Dannager indictment that has just hit the newspapers.

Eddie exposits to the prole that this latest development has Dagny convinced Dannager will be the next titan of industry to disappear, and for once she thinks she can reach out to the victim before the shadow faction pulls him off the grid. Whatever mysterious cabal is sucking the lifeblood from society, she has taken to calling it The Destroyer and has made it her mission to defeat it.

Cut to: Dagny waiting in the lobby of Ken Dannager’s office. Based on the butts in the ashtray, she’s been here quite some time. The secretary feels bad about it, but Mr. Dannager specifically instructed her that he and his previous guest were not to be interrupted under any circumstances. “How long have they been in there?” Dagny asks, and the secretary admits it’s been hours.

Finally Dannager buzzes her in, and as Dagny enters she sees the private exit swinging shut behind him. As soon as she sees his face she knows she’s too late. He looks way too calm and relaxed for a dude under so much pressure and stress. He’s given up on the world. He’s getting out of the game; mentally checked out already.

“Yeeeah fuck this shit.” -Ken Dannager

And he knows she knows, calmly — even happily — dismissing her pleas that he stay and fight the good fight. He chuckles, all “Darlin’ if you knew what I knew, you’d leave with me. Oh, but just to be clear, I will not tell you anything even remotely useful, vis a vis, whatever it is I’m talking about.”

Dagny accepts this as totally reasonable for some stupid reason, maybe because she’s distracted by Dannager’s ash tray, in which lies the ashy remnant of a dollar-sign $tamped cigarette. By Jove a clue! She awkwardly asks to take it, and Dannager doesn’t care, possibly about anything anymore, so she does. Guess the meeting wasn’t a total loss.

Last! It’s night and Rearden is wistfully watching his mills from the office window, as he is wont to do, when who should saunter into his office but Francisco D’Anconia himself.

Francisco just thought Rearden might want some company, what with all the bad news lately, and Hank  welcomes him in, lamenting Ken Dannager’s disappearance. Frisco is sympathetic but clearly doesn’t think it’s a bad thing.

As they discuss it, the conversation quickly descends into a torpid philosophical dialogue, which is like the third one in this chapter alone. I swear to God, Ayn, you started out as a screenwriter, did you never hear the phrase “show don’t tell”? You managed to break that rule in a novel. For fuck’s sake.

Francisco encourages Hank to articulate his worldview, and hints at his own. He’s clearly leading the conversation down a particular road, trying to make Hank really Get It.

Frank takes out a $tamped cigarette* and lights it as he leans in. He asks Hank what he would say if he saw the mythic Atlas, buckling and straining, desperately trying to hold up the world even as his back is about to break. Hank doesn’t know. Francisco: “Shrug.”

*He doesn’t, actually, but he would if Ayn was a better writer.

But Hank refuses to cut himself any slack or give his bureaucratic enemies the satisfaction of seeing him quit, and Francisco is like, “Don’t you get it? They don’t want you to quit! They rely on you to do all the work that keeps their sick society functioning! How can you–”

Industrial-Strength Bromance

And then there’s an explosion at the mills and an alarm bell goes off. Without hesitation the two men sprint to the scene of the accident and selflessly join rescue efforts in the inferno, sealing off the leak, Hank even saving Francisco from dying in a pool of molten steel at one point. Sorry Ayn but one industrial fire does not make up for forty pages of stilted dialogue.

Well, it does for Hank; the adrenaline rush has left him with a sort of ecstatic, even religious after-glow. He and Francisco lock eyes with renewed appreciation and mutual understanding. They’re Bros 4 Life now. Hank is like, “What were you about to say, in my office?” And Francisco, with a painful smile, puts his agenda aside. “Never mind,” he sighs.

Then they kiss.

NEXT — 2:4 The Sanction of the Victim, “Saint Francis” / “Moral Vampires”

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