In the fifth and penultimate episode of the third season of Slings & Arrows, everything is a fucking mess. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Slings & Arrows.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent, substance abuse, cancer, sexual harassment
I don’t even really know where to start.
This was the most chaotic episode of the series so far, and I would honestly be surprised if the series finale was even more chaotic than this. But it has to be: “All Blessed Secrets” is the point in this story where all the secrets come out, and the damage is wrought. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to watch because of how messy it is. Because so many nice, well-meaning people get hurt. Because you can assign blame to a lot of people, but no one person is responsible for it all. Because life is fleeting and fragile and this episode reminds us that at any moment, circumstance and luck can just sweep it all away.
It’s a dark episode, too, one where there is virtually no light at the end of the tunnel. Charles’s health takes a turn for the worse, King Lear is cancelled for the remainder of the season, Sophie is heartbroken, Jerry is accidentally brutalized, and Ellen has quit. All these plot points make sense and have been built over the course of the season, but they still sting when they happen. Hell, they somehow sting more because it was obvious this was going to happen, right?
For a moment, though, I thought that we’d get what we’ve gotten in past seasons: a last-minute stroke of brilliance. Anna’s presence here is vital and thrilling, and watching her definitively stand up to Charles was invigorating. It also worked. Charles was brilliant in his first rehearsal back, but how long did that last? A few scenes? A few takes? How long until he assaulted Ellen, lost in the blurring lines between his character and his own identity? In so many ways, this season mirrors the experience of King Lear, all depending on who you choose to focus on. It’s undeniable that Charles is him, too, and the writers toy with that line in disturbing and illuminating ways.
But as much as we might understand Charles or Geoffrey or Anna, there’s so much in this script for the audience to empathize with Ellen. She does not deserve to be assaulted, not for the sake of some old man’s career or his dying wish. She doesn’t deserve to work in an environment where her boyfriend sides with an abusive actor who also appears to be coming to rehearsal and performances while drunk. And look, I don’t agree with a lot of Barbara’s behavior throughout this season—her ambition puts her above any sort of loyalty at all—but she helped Ellen realize that New Burbage does not value her. What’s the point of being a “true” artist if you’re so unhappy? If you aren’t treated with a modicum of respect? If you can barely get by? Maybe that works for some people, but over the course of Slings & Arrows, it’s been clear that Ellen wanted more. Is her timing unfortunate? Sure, but maybe Geoffrey could have stood up against Charles before he hurt Ellen, and maybe he could have been more proactive before things got so out of hand. God, what if he had told Anna the truth at the start of this? How much could she have helped?
Of course, that still ignores the question of whether Geoffrey should have helped in the first place. I understand why he sees King Lear in Charles, but the price everyone has had to pay in order for Charles to live out his dream has been so horrible. It’s not worth it anymore!
It’s also too late. There’s a dire tone that settles over “All Blessed Secrets” once the opening night is cancelled, and it doesn’t lift until the episode is over. The defeat on those poor actors’ and crew members’ faces was horrible. For someone like Sophie, this was supposed to be a dream come true. But now, she won’t even get to step on the stage at all. All that work was for… what? Nothing at all?
But I also don’t want to ignore Richard’s role in all this. Geoffrey and Charles deserve a lot of criticism for what they did, but Richard, more than any other character, infuriated me. His constant sexual harassment of Anna is disgusting, and if she straight-up murders him in the finale, I’d be satisfied. Every time he gets close to understanding how he’s messed up or harm others, it’s like he has to find a new way to fuck over the people in his life! Anna makes it so clear to him that she doesn’t want to be referred to as “sexy” or to be addressed in such an objectified manner, and yet he just keeps on pushing past all the boundaries she sets.
And it’s not just that. He forced a ton of his work onto her so that he could pursue the musical theater opportunity, and in doing so, he’s ignored just how much he’s negatively affected her life. Then—because all that isn’t enough!!!—he makes it clear he’s not working but getting high and drunk during office hours. THEN THERE’S HER BIRTHDAY LUNCH!!! WHICH HE TOOK ECSTASY BEFORE! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH RICHARD!!!!
So it feels monstrously hypocritical that after all this, he finds it problematic that Charles was high. Like, how are you one to talk about professionalism and respect? You’ve violated both multiple times since the success of East Hastings! Ugh, y’all, he just makes me so furious. I know that Geoffrey’s decisions, poor as they were, are important in understanding the end result. But Richard doesn’t help; he makes matters worse, every time he gets involved, and because he acts oblivious, because he doesn’t stop and listen to anyone, he gets away with it. No one calls him on his substance abuse in this episode, but other people who use drugs are despicable.
This is such a low point to end on, but I do have some hope. There’s one last episode left, and I’m eager to see what the cast and crew does now that their lives have seemingly fallen apart. Who will get closure in this finale? Who will move on to other things? Will Oliver finally feel satisfied with himself?
This show has been a delight, and I’m sad that it’s ending so soon for me.
The video for “All Blessed Secrets” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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