Mark Watches ‘Slings & Arrows’: S03E06 – The Promised End

In the final episode of Slings & Arrows, the cast deals with the ramifications of Charles, and a play is staged. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Slings & Arrows.

What were these characters doing here?

They were putting on a play.

It’s a deceptively simple statement about an industry, a lifestyle, a hobby, a career, a living and breathing thing that is never, never simple. Yet when Geoffrey and Oliver utter it, it feels so perfect as a summary for the entire show. These people—those that came and went, those that devoted their life to the theater, those who dreamed of bright and successful futures—all tried to put on a play. That’s it. And of course, that’s not the only thing that happened on this show by any means. But it’s all that happened.

Theater is such a difficult art form, and it still terrifies me to this day. I only spent three years doing it, so I know that what I can speak to is limited. But in those three years, I performed in Romeo & Juliet as some bit part. (I don’t actually remember, to be honest.) I was an extra in Guys & Dolls. And then, with very, very little stage experience, I was cast as the lead in The Music Man. I remember the joy that shot through my heart when I saw my name at the top of the list for the casting announcement. That joy was quickly replaced by panic. I had never done anything like this. I had never done ANYTHING like this. Never had to remember hundreds of lines, hundreds of pieces of blocking, never had to sing by myself in front of other cast members and an audience. Once rehearsals began in full, I spent each day panicking, throwing up in the theater bathroom in terror, and then going right back onto that stage, and trying it all over again. 

I still don’t know how I survived it. I have vivid memories of pacing my room in my godfather’s house. I was living with him at the time, still estranged from my family, and his mother always laughed at me when she walked past me and saw me talking to myself. I recited lines while walking to school, I sang all the songs in my head during track practice (IS ANYONE SURPRISED I WAS AN OVERACHIEVER IN HIGH SCHOOL), I ran lines constantly. I struggled to learn all the choreography—I’m a clumsy motherfucker, y’all—and I winced every time I had to call for a line during rehearsal.

And I kept going.

The stress was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I’d done public speaking for years, won awards for it, and generally had no real problem performing in front of others. But this was over two hours of speaking. Singing. Dancing. To a room of hundreds of people. To a cast of actors and to a crew who had all worked just as hard as I had to put on this production. (Well, maybe not everyone. There were some slackers in there for extra credit, but such is the risk with school productions.) It was mortifying. Intimidating. It never stopped frightening me. 

And I kept going.

That opening night is one part of this I’ll never forget. The makeup made me itch; I sweat at the drop of a hat, so we had someone in the wings to wipe it away and quickly reapply my makeup. We assembled on stage for the opening number, a song I despised. I hated the language, I hated the awkward way it was supposed to mimic a train, and I was always thankful that I only had two lines in that whole scene. The crew had assembled a rather ingenious mimic of a train that required some people on the train without lines to keep the wheels moving. A piece fell off opening night, causing another actor to miss their cue, and for a moment, the whole thing came to a halt. Those three or four seconds were an eternity. And then an actor laughed it off, turned it into his character’s line, and shoved the play back on track.

We kept going. 

I feel like I disassociated my way through “Trouble,” a viciously complicated song full of a million words I would never have said and continue not to have said. But I didn’t miss a single one. I hit every note. 

I kept going.

I felt the same terror once we got to “76 Trombones,” a quintessential musical number and the same one I’d gotten the part with during auditions. I had still flubbed a part; just before the big horn section, there’s a line that says, “… a full octave higher than the score!” And that note at the end—the “score” part—was too high for me. I went flat in audition, and after I got the part, the musical director said we’d work on it. It took me nearly a month to be able to hit it.

I hit it that night.

We all kept going.

An elation hit me in that final scene as the stage went dark and the curtain briefly closed. I don’t know that I’ve ever found it, and for the next year, I chased it. I did theater for a couple semesters at Cal State Long Beach until I burned myself out with an overly ambitious first year . I dropped out, certain that Political Science was my calling. 

I’ve gotten close over the years to that feeling. There’s a high I experience sometimes when I do my readings in public, particularly because it captures the energy of improvisational performance. But it’s not the same. On that night, all the way back in the spring of 2002, me and a bunch of friends put on a play.

And there’s nothing in the world like it. Which is sort of the point of this episode and this show. At the end of the last episode, it felt like the audience had been dropped to the bottom of a terrible hole along with all these characters we’d come to love or hate. The opening scene of “The Promised End” was the death’s knell. King Lear was cancelled, Anna had been officially reprimanded, Charles was still in the hospital, and Geoffrey had been asked to resigned. In one rapid sweep, it was all gone. Done. Over. It felt so surreal because these people had surmounted such impossible odds so many times in the past. This couldn’t be it, could it?

But that’s the sheer and utter joy of Slings & Arrows. It is brutally honest about the theater, and now that I’ve seen it all, I’ll echo what others have said: this show is basically a documentary. Yet that brutal honesty brings with it a fantastic sense of hope. Throughout this show, Geoffrey in particular has tried to find out what this all means. Why do this? Why put yourself through so much misery and unhappiness and stress? Why exacerbate your own mental illness?

Because sometimes, you get to put on a play.

That’s what he does. And it’s absurd and last-minute and ridiculous and rebellious and punk rock, but it’s exactly what he’s been striving to find. It’s not easy, and it ends up terrifying him so much that he freezes up on the stage. But he got back, y’all. He did it. He faced a fear he had not dealt with in nearly nine years. What’s so satisfying about watching this unfold, aside from the sense of catharsis, is that none of this feels cheesy. It feels earned. When Ellen quits and returns to New Burbage, it’s not because she’s settling; it’s because she still clung to her misery, just in a completely different medium. She came home because performing these roles really did make her happy. Barbara returned because she really did want to spend time with her longtime friend. And all of them assembled for another reason. Perhaps this is just conjecture, but I think there’s more to this than granting Charles the chance to play one last role. That’s part of it, sure, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness. Even if we’ve seen the crew come together to pull off an impossibility, it has never felt like this.

So I’m glad it’s the last one. But I have theory. There’s such a genuine love of the theater throughout this show, and it’s clear that these actors and crew members wanted to stick a middle finger to Richard for all the ways he had screwed them over. It’s easy for me to imagine that these people wanted to affirm their love for the theater. For each other. For the dedication Geoffrey had given them year after year, even if he’d fucked it up along the way. This act of defiance was a defiance of death, a spark of light in a world that can get pretty damn dark. It all felt so alive, and if this season was all about mortality, then this was the show’s answer to the inevitable death of us all. Live. Thrive. Survive.

And maybe put on a play. 

There were two things I needed from this finale, though, aside from the resolution of season three. I needed Anna’s confrontation with Richard, and I can barely contain my glee that this show committed to dunking on him in the end. He fucking deserved it, and I love that the literal final image of the show is a shot of Richard outside of the afterparty for Ellen and Geoffrey’s wedding. Once again, he is an outsider in every since of the word. Not because he’s strange or awkward. Plenty of these characters are! No, he’s an outsider because he fucked people over. He almost became human, he almost found his soul, but in the end, he chose himself. And I’m so glad that of all characters, Anna was the one who got to tell him.

I also needed closure for Geoffrey and Oliver. Their relationship has been fraught and bizarre and antagonistic, but the truth is that Slings & Arrows would not be what it is without the two of them. I still like the reading that Oliver is an actual ghost who struggles with moving on, and so, this finale was what I wanted. Oliver finally put his ego aside and admitted that this play was not for him. And that still works if Oliver is just a manifestation of Geoffrey; Geoffrey had to put his own ego aside, too. Once they do so, they realize how important this whole community is. They recognize that this fucked up found family is special, and their job as a director is to bring them together. To accomplish, through sheer grit, determination, talent, and luck, the utterly fucking impossible. 

To put on a play.

When that’s done, and when Charles accomplishes his dying wish, Oliver dies, too. He finally moves on. I needed to see that on the screen, and I needed to see Geoffrey acknowledge it, which he does in his last therapy session with McTeague. It’s done. It’s over. There’ll be more—Montreal sounds promising for Ellen and Geoffrey—but for now, this story is finished.

What a fucking ride. 

Tomorrow, I start my journey through Babylon 5. Until then: thank you, friends.

The video for “The Promised End” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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