In the first episode of the third season of Slings & Arrows, success is a blessing and a curse. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Slings & Arrows.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of mental illness and depression, substance abuse
This was not what I expected, and I’m excited to see more. It’s odd for the show to start from a place of success. Oh, there have been victories prior to this, but this is the first time that success is a real thing for everyone here. Richard’s decision to see through Sanjay’s marketing plan granted him, by almost sheer luck, the beautiful popularity that he always wanted. With that has come money. Fame. Attention. The cast put on Macbeth ON BROADWAY, y’all. They get to live their dreams! It’s what so many theater people aspire to.
But what happens after that?
So I’m deeply fascinated by the framing of season three, and I’m very eager to see what these people are going to do now that they don’t really have to worry about ticket sales. With that conflict mostly taken care of, what’s left? What plagues them?
There’s a telling moment amidst what feels like an absurd subplot for Richard concerning his reluctance to just buy a new car, despite that his old one keeps stalling out about town. Presented with a sensible used car option, he worries that he’s just not ready to give up who he used to be. And it seems silly because it’s a shitty car. Is that really a big deal. However, there’s such a huge personal question in this: How much of his identity is tied to his career in business? Who is he once you take all of that away? Unfortunately, he can’t answer that. He doesn’t actually know. It’s not until he goes on a date with a woman who he thinks is interested in him that he discovers she’s interested in a potential he does not have. He isn’t creative; he’s all business and numbers. Last season, he toyed with the dream of being in musical theater, but that dream was shot down pretty quickly. What’s left?
I don’t know either! Richard has been the businessman with a quiet dream, one that isn’t going to become his reality. The irony, of course, is that the Richard of the last two seasons would have been ecstatic to get a new BMW from Mr. Archer. But now? It’s a sign of what he used to value. How do you change something that integral to who you are?
I suspect that Geoffrey has a similar issue as Richard does, but he is coming at it from a different perspective. With fame, Geoffrey has been thrust into the machine that comes along with it. Interviews. Meeting. Appearances. Promotion. This is all stuff he’s never really had to deal with in any capacity. It’s never been expected of him either. All of a sudden, he’s being told a production of his was “perfect”; he’s asked to explain his process; he has to make speeches to people he doesn’t care for or know anything about. Every bit of that takes him away from King Lear, away from the work he needs to do to feel satisfied. I can’t claim to know exactly what’s going on with Geoffrey, but I suspect all these new pressures have left him deeply unfulfilled and distracted. Perhaps his creative energy has been thrown so far out of his comfort zone that he’s distraught over it.
But there was another reason I identified both with this story and with Richard’s. There is very little conversation around what you’re supposed to do when you’ve found personal success and you’re still sad. It is something I have experienced this year, and I wanted to talk about this as it concerns mental health, too. Both these characters could really use someone to talk to. I mean, that feels like an understatement because Geoffrey LITERALLY says this, first to Ellen—who ignores him—and then later to Charles, who mostly assumed he meant talking about King Lear. The problem is that we are told so many times that once you find success, you’re supposed to be happy. If you’re not, you’re ungrateful. But for those of us who have depression and anxiety, success often doesn’t have the same feeling or sensation. It’s not always affected by external factors, and lord, did I learn that the hard way earlier this summer. Even worse, it’s hard talking about these sort of things when so many people around you would respond with hostility or disinterest.
So what are you supposed to do? Geoffrey is so restless throughout this episode, while Richard lashes out at others and himself. Both are desperate for some sort of connection. Richard thought it was with the woman he met at that conference, and Geoffrey turned to Ellen. But they need more. Richard’s in a spiral around his identity; Geoffrey is uncontrollably weeping and experiecing erectile dysfunction. This is some heavy shit, y’all. But I appreciate it because it’s something I see so little of in media, and I’m really, really eager to see where the writers take this. And really, that’s what I want from the first episode of a new season: I want potential. I just need the smallest hint of a story, and I’ll be hooked, and that’s absolutely what this does.
The same goes for the other plotlines seeded in this premiere. Darren is back and is going to produce a musical, and I am certain a new mess is upon us. I think there’s something more to Ellen’s friend, Barbara, and I am wondering if she’s going to make Ellen realize that New Burbage isn’t the best she can do. I say that because Ellen seems to really like New York and that life, and Barbara’s little complaints might hit a little too close to home. Well, literally so, since she is now living with her and Geoffrey. I am also guessing that Anna is done with Lionel? I sure hope so I STILL DON’T LIKE HIM. And then there’s Charles, and I don’t even know what to fucking SAY. That last scene completely threw me off. The show largely keeps his characterization a mystery. We know he’s a great actor from the scene in the retirement home, and I suspect the drama around him is because of his age. But heroin? It’s another surprise, and it’s also something we don’t see much of: substance abuse in the elderly.
Basically: this premiere was a big surprise, and it was a good one. There’s so much the writers can do with this. I CAN’T WAIT FOR MORE.
The video for “Divided Kingdom” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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