In the second episode of the first season of Slings & Arrows, it’s time to put on a show. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Slings & Arrows.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of grief
There really is a lot going on here, but I’m astounded at how well the writers manage to juggle such a big change. Because holy shit, Oliver really is dead. I almost cant believe it, except that manages to take a trope I normally don’t care for—killing off a gay character to develop the straight characters—and manages to make it funny? Plus, the character is actually still around, though I’m not sure in what capacity we’ll see Oliver in later episodes.
But let’s deal with Oliver’s death because it’s fascinating how much chaos his death caused. There are multiple threads throughout “Geoffrey’s Return” that are all mired in ramifications. Who replaces Oliver as Artistic Direction? Will that person understand the complications of the current iteration of the festival? Can Kate manage her career when opportunities suddenly appear? Is Richard able to balance his own desires with those of Holly? How does Ellen deal with the emotional nightmare of working with Geoffrey again? Who in town is able to strip the flesh and muscle from a human head?
I want to start with Richard because there were so many moments in this episode that reminded me of the sort of narrow-minded approach you often see in business men. And I’m referring specifically to the type of guy who cannot see the world outside of his MBA, outside of the confines of capitalism and profit and loss, who deals with the world by trying to logic it all away. I don’t think Richard is as extreme of an example, as I got a sense that he really understood how devastating this was for others, particularly Anna. But, goaded on by Holly, he tries to be a tough, distantly supportive boss, and he’s NOT GOOD AT IT IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER. And I don’t want to attribute too much of this to Holly, either. She’s certainly an influence on him, pushing him to be more assertive in all the wrong ways, but before she even arrived, Richard was still pretty clueless with Oliver. It’s just that his cluelessness is amplified because he’s so obsessed with all the details, with the way he can best represent the “business” rather than these people.
It’s why he makes so many crucial mistakes here. He’s rude to Anna, someone who is clearly trying to grieve the loss of her colleague. He makes choices for the funeral with the optics in mind. Will someone mention God? Will it look like it’s staged in a theater? Who cares if Oliver would have hated all of it! This is a business, remember? Those concerns are all that matters to Richard, and… well, I’ll get there. It backfires, essentially.
But Slings & Arrows isn’t content with just showing a trainwreck. The show manages to be a comical behind-the-scenes look into modern theater—we got a lot of that in the previous episode and in Kate’s story—while also managing to be remarkably Shakespearean. I truly feel like the Mortimer brothers (one of whom is Julian Richings!!!) are the kind of odd characters who belong in a Shakespeare play, ruminating about death and just being WEIRD. And then there’s the shocker of Oliver, who TALKS TO GEOFFREY THROUGHOUT THIS EPISODE. Like, it’s not lost on me that this happening just before the New Burbage Fest begins rehearsal for Hamlet. HAMLET. In which a ghost encourages someone to do… well, okay, let’s hope these two plotlines aren’t identical because WOW, this would get real violent? WHO IS GETTING STABBED THROUGH A CURTAIN. I’m hoping that Geoffrey stays throughout this because it is a delight to see Paul Gross act shocked as hell as he tries to keep moving through all these scenes while being the only person who can see Oliver.
In terms of the behind-the-scenes stuff, though, Kate’s plotline was SO GODDAMN REAL. And it’s true of a lot of people trying to make it in the creative industries: sometimes, we have to do things that get us a paycheck. It’s what Geoffrey rejected all those years, but you can also see that he doesn’t have the success other actors do, even if he has the reputation. Kate, on the other hand, has neither. Some success—she’s gotten hired, at least, and it’s something—and she has no reputation. Thus, commercial work is work. It gets her a paycheck, and it is true that sometimes, that line of action leads to better parts or, at least, more commercial work. It’s on her trip back home from Toronto (I assume that’s where she went since the bus said it was heading there, and this show seems to take place in Ontario) that she sits next to someone who claims to be a movie star. I want y’all to know that it is entirely believable for a random stranger on a Greyhound bus to say THIS EXACT FUCKING THING, and I have experienced far, far worse than that. But isn’t that the dream? Isn’t it what many up-and-coming artists wish for? That you randomly end up next to some superstar and they help you with your career? Like, I wouldn’t deny that networking can be a powerful thing! It’s just so funny to me that Kate tries so hard, and then coincidentally ends up next to the big Hollywood star hired by the New Burbage Festival to play Hamlet. AND SHE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW.
Oh, Kate. YOU TRIED.
Anyway, I felt a little prepared for the funeral, given that it was clear to me that it would be disastrous in some way. Richard’s insistence that Anna find anyone who could speak about God was a huge red flag, and yet??? GUESS WHO STILL WASN’T PREPARED. The set was incredibly tacky, though there’s a part of me that can’t get over how theater people still can’t resist putting on a show any chance they get. And that’s what Oliver’s funeral came off as throughout this: another performance. You could tell that Richard’s heart wasn’t really in it; he just wanted things to look smoothly. I don’t think he cared all that much about giving people a genuine attempt to express their grief. Then there was Claire’s monologues, and THEY HURT ME SO VERY MUCH. For me, she represents the person who believes they have more talent than they actually do, but no one can quite muster up the courage to tell them so.
Then there was Geoffrey’s speech, which… lord. Oliver’s ghost disappeared as Geoffrey got cornier, and I believe that is intentional. Part of why Geoffrey and Oliver had the working relationship that they did was because of their intensity, their willingness to tell the truth over telling a comfort. And once Geoffrey realizes that, he changes. He becomes more like himself, criticizing the New Burbage Festival and Oliver’s last few years of work, all because it lacks the sense of urgency and revolution that Oliver used to care about. Little does Geoffrey know just how influential that eulogy becomes, and thus, I like seeing Oliver as almost chaotic-like being—perhaps like Puck, if you will—who influences the plot for his own amusement, despite that he has died. Because what’s more chaotic than Geoffrey becoming the interim Artistic Director? He’s got to direct the wide-eyed newbie (Kate,) the wholly inexperienced Hollywood actor (Jack), his ex (Ellen), and the one convinced they’re better than they are. (Claire). On top of this, he’s got a furious Holly and a bewildered Richard, and there is no way you can convince me that this won’t be a terrible, terrible mess.
Oh god, they’re going to use Oliver’s skull in that one scene in Hamlet, aren’t they???
The video for “Geoffrey Returns” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff