The Opening of the Winter Games

The Olympic opening ceremony broadcast by NBC on Friday had dozens of agendas, and like an awards ceremony that takes three hours to hand out many awards — some of them a little bit boring — the broadcast had a few sags, weird segues and conflicting messages. And yet there was something lyrical and occasionally irresistible at the core of the enterprise.

In the spectacles that opened and closed the ceremony held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the symbol of a dove recurred again and again. Was the sense of aspiration the symbol inspired just the result of a masterful deployment of visual propaganda? Or is there really a reason to hope that the Korean peninsula — and the Olympic Games taking place there — will not be the site of the endgame of the human race?

For those of us who want or need to believe the latter, the opening ceremony allowed us to latch on to that hope, if only for a few hours.

Of course, the ceremony also had to contend with many conflicting political realities. South Korean and North Korean athletes entered the stadium together, with just one word on the back of their coats: Korea. The show of unity was part of an array of peace efforts that seem both fragile and necessary, but as NBC commentators reminded viewers, North Korea is a repressive dictatorship. Katie Couric called it “barbaric and brutal.”

And the United States’ frosty relationship with that nation played out during the ceremony as well: As the united Korean team entered the stadium, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife were sitting down (they had been on their feet and clapping for other parts of the ceremony, including the arrival of the United States team). Earlier, the Pences, who stood in front of Kim Jo-Yong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, did not see the disdainful looks that flashed across Ms. Kim’s face when the American team entered the stadium — but viewers did. Who shook whose hand within that V.I.P. box was a matter for serious discussion, and near the end of the ceremony, two women from a united hockey team — one from North Korea, one from South Korea — ran up a stairway with the torch that would light the flame inside the stadium. In a ceremony that mostly eschewed bombast, it was one of the most quietly weighted and memorable moments.

Because of all those crisscrossing currents of diplomacy, marketing, competition and unity, the ceremony now and then seemed like a ski run littered with moguls: Ups and downs whipped by quickly, and the ceremony itself had to fight to keep a sense of balance. But the artistic presentations that opened and closed the ceremony were often gorgeous and evocative.

At different times, viewers saw a raft floating across a peaceful pond; singers crooned “Imagine”; children explored a magical cave that could have come from a “Harry Potter” movie; and rows of women in red and white gowns created willowy patterns across the huge open circle at the heart of the stadium. Those who saw “The Handmaid’s Tale” may have briefly been reminded of the similar garments worn by the women in that TV series, but this was precision, movement and color put to a much different use.