This week, the Duplass Brothers’ HBO anthology show ROOM 104 delves into the metaphysical, and a Duplass Brother graces us with an appearance. The 42 year-old Daniel (Jay Duplass) listens forlornly to a chastising voicemail from his wife in the familiar old haunt that is room 104 (she wants him to move on from a 20 year-old event, though we’re not sure what she’s referring to at the time of this call), then watches a late-night talk show as he drifts off to sleep.
The door opens, and an excitable younger man, the 21 year-old Patrick (Will Tranfo), pops in. Patrick was his best friend. Patrick excitedly tells Daniel that he bought tickets to a Melvins/Rage Against The Machine/Soundgarden concert for a scant $20 a pop. Daniel realizes that this wasn’t a proper rate. Suddenly, the moment begins to fade — they already went to that concert. Patrick is dead. Accordingly, his best friend’s face begins to contort, his left cheek expanding and drooping as Daniel begs him to stop.
Daniel wakes up in a panic. He speaks quietly into the empty space. Daniel summons the ghost of Patrick again, requesting relationship advice. He finds Patrick in the bathroom, lingering in the tub.
He requests his best friend’s help anew. Patrick obliges, but wants to dress first. Daniel sits in the front room and waits.
Daniel named his first kid after Patrick. The loss runs deep. Daniel tries to explain his predicament to Patrick. Daniel started dating his boss, Brenda, and was prepared to cut it off before his wife, Diane, saw them at a Baskin-Robbins. Now she won’t return his calls and he’s moved into room 104. Patrick complains that this complicated adult situation isn’t something he feels equipped to handle, trapped in a terminal state of arrested development. Just because he’s a ghost doesn’t mean he has gleaned some sort of ethereal wisdom. The conversation begins to circle back around to the inevitable…
Patrick drowned 30 yards away from him, drawn out by a rough current in choppy beach front conditions no one was supposed to swim through. This iteration of ghost-Patrick claims it’s Daniel’s fault that he’s dead, blaming Daniel for not being more aggressive in demanding he stay ashore. Daniel struggles to plead his case, explaining to his long-departed compadre that there was nothing he could do, and that Patrick, in his 21 year-old idiocy, knew the consequences of the risk he was taking.
Patrick complains that he is a lingering ghost, tethered to Daniel through 21 years of extended mourning. They wrestle angrily. After Daniel lands a blow on Patrick’s face, Patrick’s ghost shatters and disappears.
Daniel wakes up. Across from him on the bed is an older man in his 60s or 70s. It’s Patrick (Frank Ashmore, albeit dubbed with Will Tranfo’s voice), aged into a hypothetical senior citizenship. Patrick claims this is the last time Daniel will ever see him, asserting that it’s time to move on. Daniel has made a habit of visiting the beach where Patrick was swept away by an aggressive current. Daniel apologizes for not trying to save Patrick, but Patrick shakes this off. “If you had tried to save me you’d be dead too,” Patrick confirms.
Daniel weeps softly. He misses his buddy. Patrick sits with him on the bed, urging Daniel to let him go.
Daniel looks up. Suddenly, Patrick has departed again. Daniel texts Diane, agreeing with her voicemail that he needs to move on from the death of Patrick 20 years ago. And he approaches the window blinds, gazing into the sun as sheets of light pour in.
The most frustrating element of Room 104 thus far has been a string of ambiguous payoffs and endings, wrapping up three very enticing story set-ups. “I Knew You Weren’t Dead” was by far the most straightforward of the Room 104 episodes to date. But it suffers from a wholly different problem: its main story has trouble engaging us. The conceit is simple and understandable. But after we’re fully looped into what’s going on, the story meanders to a very simple wrap-up. Daniel has resolved to at least try to put the pieces of his family life back together. Director So Yong Kim navigates us through Mark Duplass’s script with deft camerawork and characterizations, but it doesn’t change the fact that there isn’t enough there there. I wanted to know more about Patrick, about his life in the great beyond and just how tethered he was to Daniel. It’s unclear if his ghost was a literal companion to Daniel through the years, or has been more of a figurative presence in his best friend’s life. I wanted to feel the arc of Daniel’s despair, and the moment of clarity that accompanied him reaching out to his wife again. But I was kept at arm’s length.
Season 1, Episode 4 (S01E04)
Room 104 airs Fridays at 1130PM on HBO
Alex Kirschenbaum | Contributor