It's unfortunate that there weren't four debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump organized for the U.S. election. If there had been, we could have named the whole series The "Rigged" Cycle, opening with Das Whinegold and ending with Trumperdämmerung.
As it is, we'll have to settle for calling this trilogy The Lord of the Whinge.
The debates were a three-part epic tale of a struggle involving a short person menaced by the landlord of some largely vacant tower real estate and his cadre of henchman. Most of these were once living souls, some previously powerful men among them, now reduced to a shadow of their former selves in his service.
That the short person does not, in many people's view, cut a traditionally heroic figure is turning out to be part of the story's allure.
Before I abandon this Tolkien metaphor, it has to be said that Julian Assange, creeping along the edges of the news cycle, desperately trying to reclaim his precious lost relevance by leaking Democratic National Committee campaign e-mails, likely on behalf of the Russians, is clearly the Gollum in this tale.
I would warrant the Ecuadoreans have at least investigated installing a gaping pit of lava in their embassy. How could they not hope that Julian's madness and obsession, or at least attempts to get the neighbour's WiFi signal – they've opted to end his use of theirs, for attempting to interfere with the U.S. election – might somehow land him inside a volcano.
Either way, it's doubtful he has much of a part to play for good or ill.
Forget achieving high office – most people in the world would never get a date again if the contents of their e-mail were made public, and yet there's little to remark upon in WikiLeaks' heavily hyped document dump.
Despite the drama, many on the right, including Mr. Trump himself, are trying to wring from them, the e-mails of the DNC are mostly remarkable only for their almost singular dullness, expressed in an arch tone.
The internal correspondence of the DNC reads like the bastard child of 1,000 pages of minutes from a condo-board meeting and an Edith Wharton biography. News that the campaign considered other slogans before settling on the one ultimately used might not be a revelation to the American people.
I imagine no one thought election campaigns were delivered by storks. Well, maybe Mr. Trump does. His own campaign has been guano-rich, after all, and no one involved with it seems willing to say where that's been coming from. Combined with his bizarre, alarmingly medically illiterate answer on the subject of abortion (he seems to have been given a note at some point saying "All your uterus are belong to us" but was way fuzzy on the details) during the debate, one shudders to think what his opinion on anything delivery-related involves.
Mr. Trump has benefited from low expectations like a toddler. There has been a general, "Whoa, he kept his pants on – that has to be a win!" from a number of pundits after his early performances. Certainly things went badly for Mr. Trump in the first two debates, wherein he rambled. Called upon to answer a question, Donald reflexively babbles.
Watching him during the debates was like watching 14-years-old-and-haven't-read-the-assigned-chapter-of-The-Great-Gatsby-in-time-for-class me run for president. He also sulked, lurked and, over all, behaved like a man who doesn't understand that a debate is live television. Nobody is going to fix it in post, Donald.
All of this was glossed over by his most ardent fans. It felt like he could have walked on stage for this week's debate and bitten the heads off live kittens for 90 minutes, and his supporters would have responded with "Look, he's not a career politician and, anyway, Al Gore started it."
The nation's indulgence does, largely, seem to have ended on Wednesday night. Third time was "You've got no charm."
America has been grading Mr. Trump on a fiercely dramatic, indeed dizzying curve, but on Wednesday he proved himself entirely unable to learn, and a nation seems to have finally lost patience.
The power of the whinge is a temptation to everyone, of course – even the most pure-hearted of us enjoys a good whine – but only a true master of self-pity like Donald Trump could take a question from the moderator about the direction the Supreme Court should take in interpreting the Constitution and immediately make it about that time Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was mean to him.
That is what Mr. Trump managed to do mere minutes into Wednesday night's debate – and that was before people thought he'd lost control.
The total loss of control happened, many observers agree, only when Ms. Clinton remarked that he "choked" by failing to bring up his supposed marquee promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border at the latter's expense when he met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
It's worth noting that even in a national debate – the purpose of which is to determine which of two contenders is best suited to lead the nation – a woman is still well-advised only to "remark" upon such a thing. A woman in that situation would be ill-advised to "declare," "accuse" or even "say" anything at all, if it can be avoided.
Likeability, ladies, likeability. Smile!
At this point, Mr. Trump's tone shifted, as we've seen it shift before. He became alarmingly pissy. Mr. Trump does not respond well to criticism. One almost hopes, for his own sake, he doesn't become president. They do tend to take a lot of ribbing.
Last week, he tweeted his response to a frankly quite tepid Saturday Night Live debate parody: "Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!"
Honestly, if Donald Trump had skin any thinner, they'd have to carry him around in a bucket.
His rapid-fire interjection of the word "Wrong!" made a surprise reappearance in the third debate. That must have sounded like nails on a chalkboard to his team. He boasted about how nice the room in his own hotel was during a debate segment ostensibly about altruism versus self-interest.
He repeated his set-up to a million punchlines – his direct stimulus to the comedy industry – that "nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody. Nobody has more respect."
If anyone reading this is interested in getting in on the ground floor of the next big horror franchise, I've got it: a world in which "nobody has more respect for women than" Donald Trump.
He refused to say whether he would accept the outcome of the election if he lost, promising only to keep America "in suspense."
To Trump, whether or not his nation is still a stable model of democracy is a cliffhanger in his reality TV-show life, but arguably Mr Trump's pièce de résistance was snarling "Such a nasty woman!" at Ms .Clinton, who had just, again, remarked, "But what we want to do is to replenish the Social Security Trust Fund …"
Also, the following, and perhaps most telling exchange actually took place.
Clinton: "Well, that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States, and …"
Trump: "No puppet, no puppet."
Clinton: "And it's pretty clear …"
Trump: "You're the puppet!"
Clinton: "It's pretty clear you won't admit …"
Trump: "No, you're the puppet."
Why is that telling? Because it was about Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump has tweeted about wanting to be "best friends" with the Russian President. He has repeatedly refused to denounce anything Mr. Putin has done, from invading Ukraine, to murdering journalists, to hacking into the DNC's servers and leaking information stored on them with the intent of interfering with the American democratic process. A number of government and civilian experts with knowledge of the leaks have stated that they are confident that the Russian government is behind the hacks.
Mr. Trump often gives the impression of caring more about this planned pal-ing with Mr. Putin than he does about the presidency. He has stated his plans to possibly meet with him before he's even inaugurated, he's that eager.
Becoming president seems to be a means to this end.
The mystery of why many of Mr. Trump's supporters have not been swayed by reports – or taped admissions – of the candidate's appalling behaviour toward women, small contractors and businessmen, you name it, is best viewed through this Putin lens: It doesn't matter that Donald Trump is not a good guy, because he is the kind of bad guy many Trump voters imagine they'd be if they, too, were billionaires.
Mr. Trump is a blank slate upon which they can project their fantasies of wealth and power, and it seems increasingly clear that Vladimir Putin is to Donald Trump what Donald Trump is to those supporters.