Mark Watches ‘Slings & Arrows’: S01E03 – Madness in Great Ones

In the third episode of the first season of Slings & Arrows, the chaos never ends. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Slings & Arrows. 

Trigger Warning: For extensive talk about mental illness


Richard and Holly

There’s so much going on that I feel like separating this by character arc might be easier on my end, at least so that I can comment on as much of what just happened as possible. Indeed, most of this review is going to focus on Geoffrey since he’s the main force of the plot, but I did want to start with Holly and Richard because of what this episode sets up. I think it was very clever for the writers to separate these two from the main thrust of the action so that a clear juxtaposition could be established. After Richard loses the chance to be the Artistic Director, he doesn’t get to witness the ramifications of May’s decision. No, Holly pulls him away to Toronto for a few days of research and… well, not research. Just some of the strangest sex imaginable. SERIOUSLY WHAT IS HAPPENING. 

But it’s important that this happens so far away from the main plot because it shows just how detached Holly and Richard are from some aspects of the theater. Now, I understand why Mamma Mia! was used as the means to explore this. It’s a jukebox musical, one crafted mostly for the entertainment value? I mean, I like it, and I know that it’s not the pinnacle of musical theater. (But I am also an unashamed Abba stan. I have told this story before, but it bears repeating here. When I was on tour in Europe in the summer of 2015, I was in the Abba museum in Stockholm when Obergefell v. Hodges was decided and gay marriage was legalized at a federal level in the United States. Actually, my friend Meg and I were IN THE COSTUME EXHIBIT in the museum looking at all those fabulous outfits when people just started screaming, and then we gay cried in the FUCKING ABBA MUSEUM. It remains one of the peak gay moments of my whole life.) I don’t need all pieces of art to be deep explorations of the human psyche, and I don’t believe this show was trying to say they need to be either!

Rather, it’s how Holly and Richard view the theater: they cannot see the value in anything other than easy entertainment and easy money. Holly’s assertion that no one likes Shakespeare anymore is absurd, and it’s supposed to be. It is directly contrasted with the man from the corporate leadership workshop. There was someone who discovered the power of Shakespeare (as well as their own ability to act) in the present time, so Holly and Richard are pretty much immediately disproven by the show itself. So why show this? Why latch on toe Mamma Mia? Well, I believe that these two will be back in New Burbage in the next episode, and they will introduce yet another chaotic element to the production of Hamlet. They want commercial value. They want to pack a house, sell merchandise, and challenge nothing, and it’s going to be in direct odds with what Geoffrey wants. (And probably most of the cast, too.) 

How are they going to do that with Darren Nichols at the helm? How long will Darren remain at the helm? WHO HAS SEX LIKE THAT, WHAT THE HELL.

Darren Nichols

I am confident in stating that the show is perfectly fine with me despising Darren and his grimdark interpretations, his casual “artistic” misogyny, and his overbloated ego. He is probably instantly recognizable to anyone who has worked in the creative arts, but especially theater. I didn’t meet someone like him until my freshman year of college, and then I met A HUNDRED VERSIONS OF DARREN, all of whom believed that they were original in regurgitating the same drab tropes. Like, this specific thing STILL hasn’t gone out of style, but I was in drama in college with dudes who constantly pitched, “What if Cinderella but, like, really DARK?” Or, “What if we remade Bambi but it was, like, a totally depressing commentary on consumerism?” WHAT IF YOU STOP SUGGESTING ALL OF THESE THINGS, NO ONE NEEDS NOR WANTS THEM. 

I do love that Darren represents another take on theater that feels like the polar opposite of Geoffrey, though at this point (and I’ll discuss this more in a bit), everything is the opposite of Geoffrey. AND THE RAPIER FIGHT, GOOD GOD. 


For the record, despite that weed is generally thought to be a relaxing drug meant to bring lethargy to one’s mind, I have seen people have the exact same reaction to it as Claire and Kate do here. Particularly the eye thing: I’ve watched that unfold in real time. Anyway, there’s so much chaos and awkwardness in this show, and so I like that there’s one plot that doesn’t feel this way. (Yet. I have to say that because oh god, it’s coming, isn’t it?) As the world becomes more and more complicated, Kate and Jack are turning to one another, and they’ve started up a friendship of sorts, one that they know others will gossip about, but they don’t care. At all! I don’t know where this is headed, obviously, and I worry about Jack’s skill set being utterly wrong for Shakespeare, but for now… I like this. 

It’s probably the calm before the storm, WHO AM I KIDDING.


So, I’d love to have a conversation about Geoffrey and how his mental illness is portrayed on the screen. I’m captivated by Paul Gross in this role, and I think that plays a part in why this doesn’t bother me as much as I might otherwise expect. There’s an element to Geoffrey’s characterization that I don’t see often on-screen and believe we should see more of (in a sympathetic light, of course): having a mental illness is messy. It’s often romanticized or sanitized within fiction, and Slings & Arrows is certainly avoiding that all together. Plus, it’s undeniable that Geoffrey’s ego is a significant aspect of this. He’s pompous, he thinks highly of himself and lowly of others, and he has a real hard time being tactful. Does the show excuse him for that? No. In fact, there’s a major backlash to his behavior, and multiple characters call him out for being a jerk.

Which is important! Having a mental illness may explain why we behave badly, but it doesn’t excuse that behavior. All of this is further complicated by the appearance of Oliver throughout “Madness in Great Ones,” who continues to act like a trickster god every time he goads Geoffrey into an outburst. (Oh my god, that interview was A LOT.) The episode as a whole wades into the notion that the most genius people in the world all suffered from some sort of mental illness, as referenced by the title, while this episode shows us that even if that were the case, it’s so much more complicated than that. It makes me think of the whole stereotype that we need to suffer to make truly great art, and the two often go hand-in-hand. But does Geoffrey want to suffer? Is he glad that he had a nervous breakdown onstage? No, I wouldn’t argue that at all, and he is constantly grappling with the fact that his mind is challenged by his environment. 

That’s why that scene in the corporate workshop is so phenomenal. In that environment, Geoffrey was able to extract himself from the world of theater. He stripped acting and Shakespeare down to its most base element, and he taught it to people who had most likely never read Shakespeare in their lives. It’s an electrifying sequence, and it’s my favorite moment in the whole episode. My question, though, is about that exact dynamic. How can Geoffrey find that in the other world? How does he bring that energy and concentration to theater? Is he too close to what caused him trauma or triggered him in the first place? What was it about Hamlet (or that specific night) that gave him a nervous breakdown?

And how the hell is he going to recover from CHASING DARREN NICHOLS AROUND ELLEN’S HOUSE WITH A RAPIER? Oh my god, THIS SHOW.

The video for “Madness in Great Ones” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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