In the fifth and penultimate episode of the second season of Slings & Arrows, the crew puts together a riveting and nerve-wracking performance after Henry’s departure, but not all is well. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Slings & Arrows.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of racism, anti-Blackness.
My god, this show is something else. There are times when I think a writing choice shouldn’t work, but it does. It does here because the writing is sincere, real, and it fits the sort of chaotic tone of a theater production. LET’S TALK.
Romeo & Juliet
I still feel odd about the notion that Patrick was gay until he met Sarah and participated in this play. Again, sexual fluidity is a real thing! But this still has the air of the trope I brought up in the last review, where Patrick just had to meet “the one” to find out he’s not actually gay. One way this could have been alleviated is simply a matter of time. We don’t spend that much time with these characters, and they’re easily the most under-developed subplot. And I think it would be interesting to explore how someone’s sexuality can grow and change and morph over time, that sometimes, events or people or places trigger that change in us. Instead, we’re supposed to believe that the chemistry from a couple scenes—which is undeniably there!—in order to accept this change in Patrick. And what does it have to do with the conflict they have with Darren, who is MONSTROUS in this episode? Will these two subplots collide? HOW THE HELL IS ROMEO & JULIET GOING TO WORK IF THE ACTORS CANNOT LOOK AT OR TOUCH ONE ANOTHER?
I wanted to expand on one aspect of this subplot, which I’m not sure is intentional but still arose because of the nature of the casting. The direction that Ellen’s story took in this episode helped me feel better about what the show is writing for her, namely since I find her introspective attitude to be utterly fascinating. She’s finally asking herself some really, really difficult questions, and the answers to them are not comfortable. So, Ellen’s auditor (whose name I didn’t catch when she finally said it) becomes much like a therapist for Ellen. Which… is certainly a problem in and of itself. There’s this anti-Black expectation that Black women exist for other people, that they are there to do our heavy lifting for us. And Ellen absolutely expects that of this woman! She berates her, insults her, then dumps all of her emotional problems on her.
She also assumes that the woman has no idea what theater is.
Now, again, this part could have been written just to highlight the irony of Ellen’s misconceptions of the auditor, and then the character was cast as Black. But once that happens, there’s a whole new meaning to it. Ellen assumed this Black woman had no idea what theater was, and the awkward truth is that the auditor was trying to be respectful the whole time. I will say that I do appreciate the contrast: only one of these people was professional and kind throughout. So, in that sense, it’s realistic. But is that intentional? I don’t know. I can’t speak for Black women, but I can say that as a brown person, I am routinely assumed not to be a reader, or a writer, or anyone interested in the arts, or someone who has a desire to learn about other cultures, or… well, you get the idea. And don’t get me started on racism in theater, which is a whole separate essay. You know how many times I’ve been assumed to be an usher or a janitor while attending shows on Broadway?
Anyway, I’m curious to see what Ellen takes away from this experience.
I don’t like Lionel. END OF STORY. I’m so heartbroken over Anna’s experience in this episode and how gross and manipulative he is of Anna. He stole her story, he violated her privacy, and at the end of the day, he used her so that he could find relevance. He wanted to seem real, so he robbed someone of their whole BEING for art! It’s just… lord. It’s one of the most upsetting plots on this whole show, especially since Anna is perhaps the most genuine, kindest person on Slings & Arrows! I WANT TO DESTROY LIONEL.
It wasn’t until this episode that I truly appreciated how isolated Richard is from everything else. His job isn’t, of course, and every new trainwreck makes his position all the more tenuous. With the firing of Henry, Richard is left with… well, nothing. There’s nothing really to bring in the crowds at the festival. Henry was the last draw! But his isolation is partly his own fault after the affair with Holly and after aligning himself with Frog Hammer. It’s so obvious in hindsight that Sanjay was a fraud, that he was making everything up as he went. But Richard believed it; he bought Sanjay’s manipulation because he wanted an easy path to success. He wanted to prove himself after the whole Listrex fiasco! And what better way to do that than to sink a bunch of money into a flashy, modern, and youthful marketing firm?
There’s another telling scene in this episode that revealed exactly how Richard felt about all this. And I get why that was his take on it all! He would rather have a full house for a “garbage” production than put on something to be proud of. After his experience in this season, his enthusiasm and understanding for theater is gone. He’s made one mistake after another, and all he wants to do is save his own ass.
I genuinely don’t know how he’s going to do that.
I feel like anyone who’s been in theater for a while knows the utter terror of a last minute swap. Understudies are so, so important, and some of the best shows I’ve ever seen were because of understudies who had to take over at the last minute. (For example, the second time I got to see Hamilton, I was eager to see Javier Muñoz, but Michael Luwoye was his replacement and HE IS SO FUCKING GOOD, and—fight me—I think he’s better than Lin. I KNOW, I KNOW.) Still, behind the curtain, that choice can often be a nerve-wracking thing. Look, I braced myself for the absolute worst. And this production in “Steeped In Blood” is certainly not the greatest. That’s the point, though. In the chaos and terror of Jerry’s very first performance as the lead actor, something beautiful happens. Everyone comes together. And the way that the show portrays this as a group effort is so incredible, y’all. Emily saves Jerry when he begins a soliloquy at the wrong part; other actors guide Jerry where he needs to be; the whole crew is DEEPLY invested in this working, and thus, Jerry’s Macbeth transforms. It may not be exactly what Geoffrey wanted, but the fear that Jerry channeled changed that character, and it made it better. It is sad that he probably won’t get this chance again, but for one night, he was the best Macbeth that Geoffrey could ask for.
Now, I don’t know how Geoffrey is going to pull this off with Henry. I did love that both Ellen and Brian acted in similar roles in “Steeped In Blood.” Both of them brought men with high, high egos back down to Earth. Unfortunately, even with Brian’s urging (and Brian so quickly because the best secondary character this season, y’all), Henry still relies on his own ego. That scene where he made Geoffrey apologize to him was agonizing, and then there was the salt on the wound: after everything, Henry insisted he’d still do things his way. IT’S SO FRUSTRATING! That’s what got you fired in the first place! That was Brian’s whole point: Henry is afraid to try anything new.
Oh god, what is Geoffrey going to tell the cast in those five minutes before opening night?? I’M SCARED.
The video for “Steeped In Blood” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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