Two young Mormon missionaries (Adam Foster and Nat Wolff), tackle gay urges that test their faith when they check into ROOM 104, during “The Missionaries,” this week’s episode of the Duplass Brothers’ HBO anthology show. Noah (Foster) and Joseph (Wolff) discuss their failed recent recruiting efforts. When they discuss a comely potential convert, who was coming on to Joseph under the guise of being interested in Mormonism (for an hour and a half!), Joseph insists that any time sexual impulses find their way to him, he prays to keep them at bay.
Joseph insists they pray now at the bed. Noah presses the issue — after so many days of fruitless conversion, doesn’t Joseph ever have… doubts? What if their work is a big waste of time? They’re spending a lot of their own money, money that could be spent more directly on causes. The 20 year-old Noah continues mentioning that he has urges. He then makes a horrific confession: he had some coffee the other day.
Joseph pushes Noah into prayer again, this time for a sign from their god that theirs is the right path. Their television set pops on, seemingly spontaneously (but really, Joseph has sat on the remote), revealing some explicit pornography. Noah, taking it as a sign from above, wants to watch more, to explore it with Joseph.
Now that the coffee has been compounded by the pornographic viewing, Joseph is fully flipping out, pacing furiously. Noah sits Joseph down and tries to calm him. Noah takes a shower and Joseph reads scripture, but it offers him little comfort. He pretends to go to sleep.
When Joseph returns, late at night or early in the morning (the timing is vague), he comes bearing gifts: a six-pack of Miller. “How did you get it?” Joseph acts in excitement. “He didn’t even ask for my identification, I could’ve been anyone!” Joseph postulates a new theory: perhaps they’re on a path like that of a great saint who, because he had sinned, became that much closer to understanding god.
The two buddies proceed to get blitzed, jumping on the bed in excitement and confessing to PC sins like sticking their hands outside of active rollercoasters. They watch the porn tape (or DVR, perhaps?), and proceed to separately pleasure themselves — covertly, with the activity hidden beneath pillows.
The next morning, a newly sinful Joseph returns, replete with two coffees. He proposes seeing a movie called “Gangsta Love” instead of trying to do some recruiting in the “inner subdivision.” Noah wants to talk about last night, instead of consuming coffee. Noah concedes that he really is starting to have doubts, in light of the eve’s events. Joseph, suddenly, is excited by the prospects of last night. He thinks that their god was with them last night. He wants to go further before he really considers going back.
Joseph sits next to Noah on the bed, and makes a move. Noah resists despite clear physical evidence that he’s quite interested. Noah stands from the bed, and moves away. Joseph goes in for a kiss, but Noah pushes him away — and his head connects with the nightstand dividing their two beds. Suddenly he is knocked unconscious. Noah tries to revive his best friend, but Joseph is unresponsive. Left with little recourse outside of, you know, calling a paramedic (does Mormonism preclude him from being able to dial 9-1-1? I think not), Noah prays for Joseph. In speaking to his god, he openly questions whether they are being punished for their sins, but stops short of apologizing for them or recanting them. Noah sits up, gasping for breath, as if resurrected.
Jazzed, taking this as a promising fresh start, they prep for a thorough day of Mormon conversion. As they eagerly change into their standard-issue white button-up short sleeve dress shirts an their black pants, they elect to go for it, and bound across the beds towards each other as we cut to black.
“The Missionaries,” directed by Megan Griffiths, scales heights that are similar to what earlier episode “The Internet” achieved weeks ago. It uses the simple single-location set-up as an opportunity, not a shackle, and constructs a story about two wide-eyed young characters tackling the birth of something special, together. Foster and Wolff are great, and work great in tandem, totally selling this world of two young idealists pushing the limits of a faith they’ve always trusted but have started to doubt. And the final moment of their anticipated embrace is pretty much perfect.
Season 1, Episode 7 (S01E07)
Room 104 airs Fridays at 11:30PM on HBO
Alex Kirschenbaum | Contributor