In the fourth episode of the third season of Slings & Arrows, death is imminent, and everything is a mess. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Slings & Arrows.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of death
Death has always surrounded Slings & Arrows, and once Oliver died at the end of the first episode, this show was always going to be concerned with the topic. Initially, we saw how Oliver’s presence allowed Geoffrey to deal with grief and his creative process, but the concept of mortality still stuck around. These people had legacies to leave behind; what would they be remembered for? Was the work they did meaningful, or was it always a pointless trainwreck?
This season, however, is so much more in-your-face about death. In Charles, we must accept the realities of aging in a way that the show only alluded to in Ellen. I still think her character is concerned with death and aging, too, and I don’t want to ignore that aspect of this specific episode. But it’s so much more direct with Charles, whose cancer is advancing, whose medications are clashing, whose behavior is erratic because of the maelstrom of all these things. And he’s absolutely taking it out on the cast and crew! That’s undeniable, and it’s important to acknowledge that because it lends necessary insight to Barbara’s decisions.
I like how Geoffrey eventually summarizes it to Anna when Anna confronts him: He is in over his head. He’s drowning in this decision, and he sees no way to save himself, to save Charles, and to save King Lear. It is an agonizing experience that precedes this, though. We see another botched rehearsal where Charles can’t remember his lines, tries to insult the other actors, and then is FINALLY stood up to, and that goes disastrously, too. Because Geoffrey knows Charles’s secret, he’s so obviously biased to help him out, and it’s why he isn’t more strict about Charles’s outburst. He should be, and we’ve seen him take others to task far quicker in the past. The cast knows this, and it infuriates them! Why have all these exceptions been made for someone who, if they were someone else, would have been criticized or fired already?
So I sympathize with the cast, even in the case of Barbara, who has no loyalty to the others at all and backstabs them to advance her own career. She might be selfish, but who can blame her after an experience like this? Charles regularly refers to her as a cow in rehearsals! She’s not an amateur and she knows what she’s doing! But Geoffrey is trying to balance a solid and talented cast with a single actor who is talented, but their own life is a horrible fucking mess. That preview night was just… lord. I’ve seen bad on this show, and that felt almost absurd in comparison to some of the other performances we’ve seen.
But that’s part of why Geoffrey is so stuck, something he tries to work through in therapy. God, those scenes were so spectacular, y’all! I loved that McTeague got Geoffrey to speak directly to Oliver, unaware that for Geoffrey, that wasn’t an exercise. It was reality! It produced another electrifying scene, brilliantly acted by all parties, and it shed such necessary insight into where Geoffrey’s frustration came from. He felt pushed into this act of charity, only for Oliver to largely abandon him once things got difficult. Which is fascinating if you think of Oliver as a ghost—meaning that Oliver’s haunting has begun to take over Geoffrey’s life—or as a manifestation of Geoffrey’s mental illness. That part is a lot more complicated. Is this unresolved guilt? Is this Geoffrey’s obsession with leaving behind a legacy? Is he willing to indulge Charles because it makes him feel like a good person or because it might go down as a legendary last performance, one that Geoffrey was partly responsible for?
Regardless, all of this comes to an upsetting climax once Charles does not show up for opening night and Geoffrey makes the decision to flat-out cancel the performance. For a moment, I was excited to see what Jerry would pull out of his, but I understood why Geoffrey couldn’t do that. Despite everything, he still believed that Charles had the right performance in him. And what a demonstration of faith! He was willing to cancel the whole thing so he could still give Charles a chance.
So what does it mean that Charles can now see and talk to Oliver? I’m of the mind that he’s closer to the veil of death, that he’s accepted that the end is very, very near to him. And that acceptance brings forth a sensitivity to… well, someone like Oliver. This feels like confirmation that Oliver really is a ghost, but you know what? Despite that I prefer that interpretation, I’m still into the idea that this never needs to be defined. Because here, it works as a chilling harbinger: Geoffrey does not have much time left.
And since Richard doesn’t know the truth—and, frankly, probably wouldn’t care—he can only make a decision based on his business background. Despite that Richard, now affectionately called Big Dick by the musical cast, seems to have found the success he’s wanted, it wasn’t lost on me that he became exactly like he was at the beginning of the show. He ignores Geoffrey’s creative process and need, and he decides to swap the musical and the play because… money. That’s it. Well, I bet he also knows that the musical cast and crew will be thrilled to have a bigger space, and they’ll further elevate Richard in their eyes. It’s such a brilliant contrast with another character: Ellen, who doesn’t pursue fame and success once it’s offered to her. I mean, she might change her mind after the events of this episode, but it’s very intriguing that she resists Chris’s attempts to bring her to Hollywood. She is a self-admitted shallow person, and yet, she demonstrates more loyalty than Richard does.
I wanted to close this off singing the praises of Anna, who continually is one of the most real and enjoyable characters on this whole show. That scene where she confronts Geoffrey about Charles is incredible, yet another sign that there is probably no one else in Slings & Arrows who is more empathetic than her. She weaves her way through this theater company, doing what she can to help others, and most of the people have no idea just how wonderful she is. I WILL FIGHT FOR HER, OKAY.
Anyway: everything’s a mess, LET’S GO.
The video for “Every Inch a King” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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