2:4 The Sanction of the Victim, “Moral Vampires”

PREVIOUSLY: The feds charged Hank Rearden and Ken Dannager with black market trading. Dagny rightly intuited that the shadow faction of missing elites would pull Dannager off the grid, but she was too late to stop it. Francisco visited Rearden and was possibly recruiting Hank to the shadow faction too, but then Hank saved his life in a freak factory explosion and he backed off his agenda.

“I have nothing but contempt for you people. Especially you in the yellow polo.” -Hank

It’s Thanksigiving dinner at the Rearden’s! And in spite of all the luxury they have to be thankful for, they are even more passive-aggressive and hostile than your family. Tomorrow is Hank’s trial (two months from charge to trial? Awfully efficient for the government, no?). Lillian cites moral relativism as a reason for him to plea bargain or buy someone off. His harpy mother asks how could he put them through this. His brother outright says he’s guilty and should face a harsh sentence.

Hank is all about done with these people, thank you, and tells brother Buster to get the fuck out and never return. Everyone freezes and Buster immediately tries to walk it back, but Hank has had a moment of clarity. He sees now that his family uses guilt as a weapon, shaming him for his virtues so that he feels like he owes them something. Their entire value system is warped, he realizes, and Francisco’s speech about Atlas shrugging is ringing in his ears.

Throwing in the towel (or, napkin, I guess), Hank stands and announces he’s leaving for New York. Lillian, who has been overdosing on schadenfreude ever since she confronted Hank about his adultery, feels her grip on his conscience fading and commands him to stay. He does not. And now I bet the turkey’s cold, too.

On his drive to New York he mulls over how pervasive this sort of moral vampirism is. He figures his family is a lost cause, but he remembers that impressionable collegiate regulator that the state assigned to him. The kid turned a blind eye to Rearden’s black market arrangements with Dannager, even at the cost of his own career prospects. How selfless! There may be hope for the world yet… I mean, wait, no, selflessness means the world is doomed. Right? I think Ayn’s starting to lose the thread.

When Hank arrives in Manhattan he meets Dagny at her office, where she and Eddie are working late to minimize the damage from a terrible accident on the Transcon main line. Everything is falling apart in this country! On that score Hank tells Dagny that the next steel order for Taggart Transcon will be secretly doubled and full of rMetal. He has realized that their political enemies, just like his family, have no leverage if the likes of he and Dagny don’t subordinate their virtue in service to their vices.

Dagny is thrilled at Hank’s newfound enthusiasm for spiting the masses and takes out a bottle of lube to celebrate. Eddie is confused because he doesn’t know they’re diddling. Don’t worry Eddie, you’ll understand one day, when you’re all grown up.

“Objection! The protagonists are starting to act really douchey.”

JUDTJUT! That was the Law & Order noise, because we are at The Trial. The room is packed. There is no jury, just a panel of three judges at a card table or something equally unceremonious. The room suggests ‘the kind of meeting where a presiding body puts something over on a mentally retarded membership.’ Is that even a comparison to anything? I think Ayn just called you a scam artist. Or a retard. Either way, she’s not even trying anymore.

They ask Hank if he would like to make a statement in his own defense. Hank says NO, he will not make a statement in his own defense. BUT — and I know this might come as a shock — his version of “NO” is a lengthy, overwrought monologue praising anarcho-capitalism and condemning the court as a sham.

“Sustained.”

But he must be onto something because the jurists don’t hold him in contempt of court for, uh, ranting about his contempt for the court in great detail. They do not even recognize that he has waived his right to a defense. They are basically flummoxed by his bold “I will not defend myself, aside from this endless speech defending myself” approach, and they are cowed by his successful riling of the crowd. They let him off with a small fine. God this scene is just so dumb. Did David E. Kelley write this? I guess he was only one when the book came out, so… if the shoe fits.

Several weeks later. The dead of winter. Rearden is drinking alone in his hotel suite. He was popular for a minute there, after the trial. People remembered that he invented rMetal and built the Galt Line and told those lousy bureaucrats to fuck off. But the lamestream media got them back on talking points and all his fellow businessmen started asking him to cool his jets. He’s giving entrepreneurs a bad name, don’t you know. Don’t want to rile up more populist anger at the 1%.

This unthinking cowardice really pisses Hank off. Human emotion in general pisses Hank off, but whatever. The only person he really wants to see is Francisco D’Anconia, to thank him for inspiring his courtroom testimony. And Hank’s courage is liquid enough that he decides to show up at Francisco’s room unannounced.

Just two dudes, straight chillin’.

But of course Frankie welcomes him when he shows up, and they both clearly revel in their new, unspoken bond of friendship. They shoot the shit for a minute and Frank congratulates Hank for his court performance. Hank gives him all the credit, but admits he still doesn’t get Francisco’s angle. Between you me and the recapper, he wonders, what’s the deal?

Francisco weighs his options and decides to throw Hank a bone: he admits that his public persona is an elaborate ruse. He has gone to great lengths to convince the world that he is a spendthrift playboy, but really he’s never slept with any of the women he has been associated with in the papers. In fact, he’s loved only one woman his whole life. Hank is thinking like, “Me too! This guy so gets me,” except neither of them knows they love the same woman. I smell awkward revelations coming! Does this mean we have to split into ‘shipper Teams now?

Anyway Frisco justifies his celibacy with — yes, that’s right — a long speech. The gist is that people with self-respect will only sleep with other people they respect, while people who feel worthless will seek sex to boost their esteem and will fail because the sex will be hollow and demeaning. Truly groundbreaking stuff. The takeaway is that sex and desire and pleasure are therefore not sins, are in fact sacred, unless their life-affirming potential is perverted by self-destructive motives.

Hank has mad respect for this outlook, since he’s been such a tangle of contradictory impulses when it comes to his sex life (thanks, Catholic upbringing!).  As repayment for Frankie’s wisdom, he confesses to Frisco that he already came to trust him before hearing this admission of his true beliefs. He explains his plan to produce an rMetal surplus and sell it on the black market to Dagny, and pointedly adds that he ordered all the raw metals for this project from D’Anconia Copper, as a testament to their trust and friendship.

“Robin, you fool!”

Francisco’s face falls ashen. He shakes Hank violently by the shoulders. “You fucking idiot! What behavior of mine could have possibly made that seem like a good idea? You know nothing of my work!”

Hank is completely lost. Frank kicks him out, telling Hank that he likes him but this was a huge mistake. But the sudden about-face makes no sense to Rearden until a few days later, when he learns that his shipments of D’Anconia ore have been sunk to the bottom of the sea by the dread pirate Ragbeard.

Yeah Hank, I’m mad too — your author is being a real cocktease about this pirate plotline.

NEXT — 2:5 Account Overdrawn, “An Excess of Bullshit”

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