Mark Watches ‘Slings & Arrows’: S03E02 – Vex Not His Ghost

In the second episode of the third season of Slings & Arrows, various characters seek out surprising means of support. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Slings & Arrows. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of drug use, cancer, mental illness

I’m blown away at how this show has sort of looped back around to the first season with the arc of season three. I’ve commented on this probably more on video than here, but I do love that Oliver works as both a literal ghost and a metaphor. In terms of a manifestation of Geoffrey’s mental illness and creative process, he’s brilliant and evocative. But I like interpreting this show as if Oliver is also just a ghost, one that only Geoffrey can see. (And maybe Brian. MAYBE!!!) And it’s that second lens that makes this so compelling: Oliver has to accept that he’s dead, that his legacy is what it is, and the he can’t ever change it. He’s done. And while Geoffrey struggles with this notion of a higher purpose, we watch as a ghost struggles with the exact same thing. What’s the point of it all? Why can’t Oliver just be dead? Why does he feel so awful about everything?

Over the course of “Vex Not His Ghost,” multiple characters struggle with deep, existential problems, and they do so by reaching out to unlikely people. We see that as Geoffrey finally finds a therapist… in a priest at the Anglican church. The show could have played this for laughs—and there are certainly some humorous moments, like Oliver’s arrival and the squeaky toy. But instead, Geoffrey’s therapist is stunningly insightful, eager to note Geoffrey’s bullshit, and willing to provide him with information he needs to hear. And that sincerity makes all the difference! For the first time in his life, Geoffrey has a disinterested party interested in what he’s going through. McTeague is just so piercing, and it makes perfect sense that Oliver—ghost or delusion—would be drawn to this process. Of all the people that are chosen in the midst of these crises, I think Geoffrey chose best. He’s needed this for so long, but the real question is: Will he stick with McTeague?

I hope so. Richard needs a therapist, too, but his outlet is… oh god. It’s not good. His interest in musical theater could be better if he wasn’t dealing with Darren Nichols, who continues to be just as terrible as he’s always been. It also doesn’t help because Richard often lacks the courage to stand up to other people, and Darren is a loud and aggressive bully. And there’s something there! Richard clearly has a calling here, and this might be his way of getting involved in musical theater without performing! But Darren always stands in the way, and thus, Richard chooses his person to confide in: Anna. While he’s incredibly drunk. And then he forces himself on her. IT’S A DISASTER. No, Richard, don’t kiss your coworkers when you’re their boss, and don’t get drunk and ramble on about how drunk and horny you are! Don’t do that!

Before I move on to Charles, though, I did want to talk about one other aspect of this episode that I found charming. It’s easy to assume that the musical is included here for humor, and I won’t deny that there’s a lot to laugh at in those scenes. East Hastings is exaggerated, self-important, and absurd… like a whole lot of musicals are. (Seriously, it’s like this show’s weirdo cousin version of RENT, isn’t it?) But younger actors are attracted to it. And they believe in it. They’re so excited to stage this musical, and that exuberance is part of why Richard sees potential in the production. The obvious contrast, of course, is that the musical is too on-the-nose and in-your-face, while the Shakespearean production is more of a serious, respectable creation. 

And yet, right at the end, it’s shown that the musical is talking about something—drug addiction—that another character is currently dealing with, and that person has been in theater longer than any other character in Slings & Arrows. So maybe the musical isn’t bullshit; it’s the artificial divide between these two casts that is making it impossible to relate to one another. The younger cast thinks the “traditional” one is stuffy and obsessed with ritual; the older cast thinks that the younger one has no respect. 

That divide still exists in the King Lear cast, too. There’s no denying that Charles is incredible, but that does not excuse his monstrous behavior. It’s a bold choice in terms of writing because it would have been so much easier to have him just be this beloved actor dealing with mortality. Instead, there’s another layer: he’s a complete asshole. Like, seriously, if Ellen is lecturing you on behavior, MAYBE YOU’RE BEING TERRIBLE. He is just so insulting and abusive, particularly to Sophie, who is doing a fine job and also: IT’S JUST REHEARSAL. He’s dismissive of Barbara and Ellen, he charms everyone with his little stories, then lashes out if things aren’t perfect.

It’s not until the end of the episode that we find out why this is, and it’s another example of the show looping back on itself. Both Oliver and Charles are innately obsessed with their legacy and what they’re leaving behind. Or, rather, in Oliver’s case, what he left behind. Charles, now in the final bit of his life due to a cancer diagnosis, wants to go out performing the roll he loves. And what a thing to ask of your director! He knows that this role might actually kill him, and Geoffrey knows that he can’t do something like this. How would that affect the festival? The other actors? And that’s where Oliver’s influence means so much, because now Geoffrey’s got it in his head that this could be some greater purpose, that perhaps Geoffrey can grant this dying man his last wish.

But at what cost???

The video for “Vex Not His Ghost” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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