In the fourth episode of the second season of Slings & Arrows, many epiphanies are had. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Slings & Arrows.
Once more, I have a LOT of thoughts about this. LET’S GO.
Again, Sanjay is occasionally right on the nose, but his approach is just so wrong in every other way that it’s hard to see him as a force for good in Richard’s life. But he does nail one thing perfectly: Richard is immensely detail-oriented, and he exists on the opposite end of the spectrum of Geoffrey, who is much more concerned about the big picture stuff. His obsession with detail and logic is frustrating and harmful, and it’s a big reason why he got himself in trouble in the first season! So, recommending that Richard let go of these obsessions and pursue a more instinctual approach to life is… not necessarily an awful idea? But it’s the context in which that appears that is deeply flawed. Richard should lighten up, yes, but that in no way justifies the offense ads, which are costing the theater TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS. Perhaps hundreds at this point??? We don’t know how many other group ticket reservations were cancelled, but it’s probably safe to say it was… all of them???
Plus, Richard takes Sanjay’s advice at the precise time Richard tries to hold Frog Hammer accountable. THIS IS NOT LOST ON ME. It still makes me think that Sanjay doesn’t believe what he says, that he’s just trying to get the festival’s money while stringing Richard along. Remember a couple episodes again when Sanjay and his employees belittled and insulted Richard from that weird viewing room? I still think they feel exactly like that about him, and it’s only a matter of time before Richard realizes that he’s been had.
I’m actually really pleased that Anna is getting a storyline out of the office! It’s about time, too, and… the plot is very strange. Which is kinda par for the course in Slings & Arrows. The arrival of the Canadian playwright who is responsible for this seasons’s play brings Anna a chance at… well, I don’t know! Romance? A possible sexual fling? Lionel Train is the first time the show gets to address the writing side of theater, and IT IS ONCE AGAIN FAR TOO REAL. Yes, Lionel’s nervous nature is exaggerated for comedic affect, but look, there’s so much there that is based in a harsh truth. Creating fiction is a deeply challenging act, and I don’t know a single creator who hasn’t gone through a struggle that looks suspiciously just like Lionel’s in “Fair Is Foul and Foul is Fair.” I went through something just like it for Anger and on my second novel as well. It’s insidious how that kind of doubt in your own work can creep into your mind, and I know that it’s partially because writers create in such a solitary environment. Here, through, Lionel’s creation is experienced by others, and his worst fear comes true: it’s lifeless. Trite. Boring. He doubts everything, and he never lets the actors perform his words either. Not truly, that is. It was painful watching Ducky be forced into improvisation when… well, that’s not what they were there for.
So what does Anna see in Lionel? I’m curious if she’s drawn to him because he notices her. So often on this show, Anna is nothing more than a glorified assistant, and Lionel doesn’t treat her like this at all. Granted, he swings in the opposite direction and becomes obsessed with the notion that she is “real” compared to the other people who surround him. To an extent, I understand that; I recall the shallowness I experienced in Los Angeles when I lived in Hollywood and worked in both that industry and the music industry. Sometimes, it’s refreshing to meet someone who isn’t invested in your career as others are. So, maybe this will turn out to be a good thing!
I expected a trainwreck. I expected condescension. That’s what comes along with Darren Nichols, y’all, but my excitement at those things was immediately dampened by how GROSS Darren is in this episode. Like, there is nothing great about the optics of a man explaining misogyny to a woman, and it’s even more horrifying that he tries to put himself outside of misogyny and claim that Sarah is the obsolete, misogynist one here. YOUR VERY ACT IS PART OF THE SYSTEM YOU CLAIM TO HAVE TRANSCENDED OUT OF, DUDE. And while I have some complicated things to say about Sarah and Patrick, I did love that these two actors went to Geoffrey to try to learn. It can’t be much longer before Romeo & Juliet is in previews, and they HAVEN’T BLOCKED A SINGLE SCENE IN WHICH THEY ARE LOOKING AT ONE ANOTHER. How are they supposed to get to the heart of this story if Darren is stringing them along with one absurd exercise after another?
I do wish the show would get back to a thread that I feel was dropped earlier this season in regards to Ellen. At this point, her story feels a bit like it’s just about what her life is like without Geoffrey in it. She unravels so quickly here, though admittedly the tax audit doesn’t help. I liked that the show was dealing with her struggles to cope with aging in an industry that is not kind to women. And you could probably look at this episode through that lens, but it’s a bit of a stretch at points. Mostly, Ellen just feels like a mess. She is super gross to the woman in charge of her audit, and I couldn’t help but notice that the racial optics of the scene were gross. (Did she seriously call a Black woman a Nazi???) She’s stubborn, mean, and unwilling to admit that her predicament is her own fault. Then, when her sister’s husband is convinced to help out, she continues to pick at him, too. It paints Ellen in an irrational light, which feels weird to me? If there wasn’t so much here that made it clear that Geoffrey and Ellen were parallels for one another, maybe I wouldn’t feel like the show is harsher on Ellen than it is on Geoffrey. They’re both a mess, they’re both flawed, but Ellen’s flaws are getting to be all that we’re seeing. Seriously, slept with her brother-in-law!!! Then had the nerve to call her sister and apologize for keeping him late. WHAT THE HELL. I get that the scene is about her guilt over what happened, but how does Ellen come back from that? Are they going to focus the same amount of energy on criticizing the brother-in-law, too?
I feel somewhat validated by “Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair” because I’d posited earlier that one of Geoffrey’s struggles was that he was confined to put on someone else’s play. And while Oliver has a fascinating and challenging vision of Macbeth, Geoffrey has ignored his artistic instincts in order to please others. He wants Oliver to leave him alone, but his ghost only gets more and more invasive as the show progresses, and his haunting of Geoffrey is downright terrifying. He’s far more involved than ever before, and it’s clear why Geoffrey and Oliver clashed over the years. Oliver cannot take criticism, and he believes that since he worked so hard on his version of Macbeth, it’s the only interpretation that matters.
Yet Geoffrey makes an important point about the nature of theater, at least the kind of theater that Oliver wanted with this production. It’s ironic that Geoffrey made Darren promise not to rely on his absurd practical effects because, in the end, it was Oliver who actually relied on them too much. The various stagings across the play are technically impressive to an extent, but what about the acting? The storytelling? These things suffer in the wake of Oliver’s directing. It’s the same problem: the details matter, but not the heart of it all. That’s why Geoffrey pushes Sarah and Patrick as hard as he does. That is the kind of directing he thrives off of, and the results are undeniable.
But then there’s Henry Breedlove. It’s not just that Henry wants to pursue Oliver’s vision; Henry wants to be safe. He wants to play his part in the way that the audience will respond to most positively. He has no desire to challenge them or himself, and that’s… well, that’s the complete opposite of what Geoffrey wants. His artistic vision has been blocked and denied this entire time, and so I looked forward to the preview night because Geoffrey finally took control. This was going to be his version of the Scottish tragedy. AND THEN HENRY THREW IT AWAY, quite literally! I was so goddamn shocked when he tossed that rag aside and refused to let Ellen bath him. HOLY SHIT, IT WAS VICIOUS AND DEFIANT and you generally don’t do that??? At all?
He may have had some points about Geoffrey’s failures, but I, for one, am pleased to see the man go. How the hell is Jerry going to fill his shoes, though? How many others will resent the fact that Henry has been fired???
Patrick and Sarah
I have… thoughts. Feelings on this. I realize that there’s a reason Sarah and Patrick are drawn to one another. That’s Geoffrey’s thing. He wants the words of Romeo & Juliet to inspire the actors so fully that they actually fall for one another. And what better way to speak to the power of theater than having a gay actor fall for a woman because his lines are so powerful, so realistic?
Except that falls into a really dangerous trope, one I’m not sure the show even considered. A lot of people under the queer or LGBT umbrellas are told they they just have to meet the right person under the right circumstances, and then that pesky sexuality will be taken care of! I heard this for years, both before I was outed and in the years since. “How do you know you’re gay if you haven’t had sex with a woman?” Or perhaps, “Maybe you just haven’t met the right one.” This is further complicated by the fact that this appears to be the second time this show has utilized this trope. We’ve never gotten any more insight into why Oliver, a gay man, slept with Ellen aside from the fact that she was just the one. It is, of course, entirely possible that neither man is gay. (Well, Oliver says he was, so I’ll take that as truth.) Like I said before, displaying sexual fluidity is important. And it’s not like Patrick or Oliver are the only gay characters on Slings & Arrows. We cannot forget about Ducky and Cyril, who are a constant presence in every episode. It’s more that the repetition of this trope feels not like an intentional thing, but an accidental usage that made me feel weird, and I would rather say something about it—hopefully to spur conversation—than to just stay confused. It’s also that the next episode will prove me wrong, and this wasn’t what I thought it was, so I’ll have to see!
The video for “Foul Is Fair and Fair Is Foul” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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