Well, I gave it a shot. You know, in principle I thought Room 104 would be right up my alley. I think the ascent of serialized television has been, generally, a boon for new and exciting stories in the medium. But there is still room for shorter-form narratives, and seeing as how they are being virtually squeezed out of multiplexes in favor of Star Wars and Avengers sequels and spin-offs, TV seems like a great avenue for more nuanced stuff that doesn’t have to be consumed in ten hour segments. So when I heard about Room 104 and its ambitious anthology structure, I was excited to see what the Duplass brothers would do in exploring intimate, short-form stories. But maybe some of these episodes really would have worked best as feature stories — maybe their confusing and unresolved endings would be more entertaining if they were explored fully.
That being said, the show’s season finale has one major factor in its favor that all 11 prior episodes lacked: Philip Baker Hall. Hall was an integral ensemble piece in my three favorite PT Anderson movies (Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Hard Eight), in addition to being quite the Richard Nixon and the immortal Mr. Bookman. He stands as one of the great character actors of all time, and it’s always a treat to see him do his thing.
On their wedding night 56 years ago, Charlie (Hall) and Lorraine (Ellen Geer) consummated their love on both beds of the two-bed motel room of the title. Charlie, feeling adventurous on the eve of their meeting a bunch of rambunctious grandkids, has popped a Viagra pill. He and Lorraine make a valiant effort to relive the consummating of 56 years ago, but it proves too tough a task for both of them. After a minute or so of awkward activity, they resolve to order a Chinese food delivery. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a sequence of octogenarian intimacy captured on any screen, little or small, so that was at least a refreshing moment.
After a minute of chatting with Lorraine from across the room, Charlie rejoins her at her bed to discover that… she’s dead.
He consults Lorraine’s pulse on her neck and wrists, and finds nothing. Instead of calling 9-1-1 or the hotel for help, Charlie calls one of their daughters to prematurely announce that Lorraine has passed.
He starts crying and screaming. He confesses to her corpse that he knows about her extramarital affair with their friend Ed, then relays the reality that Ed confessed to their betrayal — and that afterwards, she made a declarative statement, and essentially chose to stay with Charlie over leaving him for Ed. This reeked of the first half hour of Alexander Payne’s depressing 2002 flick About Schmidt, where Jack Nicholson discovers the same reality about his recently-deceased wife.
Hall gamely tackles a fairly rote script from Mark Duplass. He does what he can with middling material, and the episode’s 27 minutes crawl by at an excruciating pace. Director Marta Cunningham handles the performances and camerawork well, really Duplass’s script is the primary culprit behind “My Love” not faring so well.
As is the show’s wont, “My Love” again ends on a fairly ambiguous and unclear note, as Charlie climbs into bed with Lorraine’s body and closes his eyes while the camera pulls out, in a graceful, wide high-angle dolly shot. The delivery man bangs on the motel room door outside, and Charlie fails to answer, leaving us to wonder if he’s just died, too. To be fair, this marks one of the better ambiguous endings of the show, a nice lyrical open-ended conclusion. If only the rest of the episode were as interesting.
Season 1, Episode 12 (S01E12)
Room 104 airs Fridays at 11:30PM on HBO
Alex Kirschenbaum | Contributor