The Duplass Brothers’ Room 104, the multifaceted saga of one very eventful motel room, enters the world of women’s mixed martial arts fighting with the penultimate episode of its first season this week.
In “The Fight,” an MMA fighter finds herself stuck in the same dumpy motel (home to the show’s titular room), Greta Gaines (Natalie Morgan), as her competitor Rayna Gold (Keta Meggett). She complains to her manager JR (J. Claude Deering) about her accommodations and her middling wages.
She corners Rayna and invites her to her room. She begins quizzing Rayna about her earnings. Greta complains to Rayna about the fact that they don’t make a cut of the door earnings or merchandise. Rayna shrugs, conceding that though her competitor may be right, they have little choice, and Rayna needs to feed her family. Greta posits that they collaborate to throw the fight. The odds of the victor are even, so the bookie they’re talking to needs to know who to bet on. Tomorrow night is their last fight, they’re going to make enough a pay day to be financially secure for a while.
They opt to arm-wrestle to determine the victor of tomorrow’s fight. So they elect to spar, and stage the actual fight tonight. They have to watch their faces to ensure that they look good for tomorrow’s fight — an arrangement that quickly goes out the window. They agree to three two-minute sets, and a 60-40 split of their cut from the bet. Their competitiveness may prove to be their Achilles’ Heel.
They go at it for a few rounds, incurring more bumps and bruises than they had perhaps agreed to. Suddenly, Greta elevates the proceedings by shoving Rayna’s head against the motel’s lone glass window overlooking the outdoor walkway, cracking the glass into a cobweb-like spiral.
The fighting gets more violent. They discuss their futures after tomorrow night’s thrown bout. They don’t know how to do anything else, but they’re tired of being taken advantage of by promoters and managers.
The blows continue to elevate and with no ref, they have to determine who wins by tap-out. Rayna has the upper hand for the majority of the third round, but Greta wrestles her way free. The third round victor is indeterminate so they go to a fourth. Rayna eventually forces Greta into a chokehold, and pressures her to tap out. Greta’s stubbornness may doom her.
The next day, a hotel attendant appraises the damage they’ve done to Greta’s room. The fight plays loudly in the adjoining room, and is so vicious that the room’s occupant implores the attendant to check it out. What started as a fight for money has apparently metamorphosed into a hyper-competitive blood feud between two evenly-matched competitors.
So what becomes of their arrangement to throw the fight and split the winnings? Has that plan gone out the window now? Are they fighting for pride, money troubles be damned? Are they fighting for the love of the sport, for the love of the only thing in the world they’re any good at? Like most episodes of Room 104, “The Fight” leaves us with plenty of intrigue and plenty of questions. “The Fight,” directed by Megan Griffiths and written by Room 104 co-creator Mark Duplass, stands as one of the HBO anthology series’s clearer entries to this point, but it can’t resist the ambiguous resolution that has become the show’s confounding trademark. I want to know what happens at the end of both the hotel fight and the real thing the next day. I want to know what happened to their bet.
That said, the show is intense, and the performances by Meggett and Morgan are top notch (although Meggett would clearly kill Morgan if they were to really get into a ring together — the former has maybe 15 pounds of muscle on the latter). Another standout behind this week’s episode is cinematographer Doug Emmett, whose stellar, dexterous handheld camerawork operates without much cutting during the fights. Duplass’s cleverly structured timeline detailing the events of the night in a circular, anti-chronological order keeps us thoroughly engaged throughout what might otherwise be a fairly rudimentary narrative.
“The Fight” occupies a tier among the show’s more successful episodes, but its insistence on murkiness over clarity when it comes to resolutions feels more stubborn than Greta at her greatest moment of weakness.
Alex Kirschenbaum | Contributor