“At the end of it all, you’ve got to have some spectacular cock-ups, because THEN, you’ll have stories…and you’ll have had a life.” – Cyril
It’s a long way to rock-bottom, isn’t it?
In the last installment, I drew attention to the fact that during its third season, Slings and Arrows shifts from being a comedy to a full-on drama. I now amend that statement: it has transitioned from comedy to tragedy. It’s fairly appropriate actually, when you consider that the show has exclusively focused on Shakespeare’s tragedies for source material.
But only now is the tragic framework clear in the main narrative. Tragedy, as a wise woman once told me, is not defined by the hero dying at the end; it is defined by aspiration. The heroes of tragedy aspire to something greater than themselves or their worlds, and fall in that pursuit. Comedy, by contrast, is a dude spending five acts trying to get laid, having trouble, and then getting it.
To what do the protagonists of Slings and Arrows aspire? Geoffrey, it’s been made clear, is seeking a higher purpose beyond just “running a theatre” (because there is still comedy in there, he also wants his dick to work again). Charles wants to do Lear before he dies. Oliver seeks to finish his earthly works even in death. Ellen wants to be a grown-up. Anna wants love. Richard wants self-worth.
Looking back at the beginning of the season, it hurts to see where Richard has ended up. Whereas once he dreaded enjoying the fruits of his labor too much, now he has become drunk (and high) off of the happiness gained from making East Hastings a hit. He’s even earned himself a nickname: “Big Dick.” He’s constantly followed around by the musical’s composer and a girl from the company, like they’re the two popular kids who never let him sit with them at lunch who’ve suddenly realized Richard is cool.
And Richard just cannot handle success. It seems “Big Dick” has been taken to heart, as he constantly avoids doing his “day job” (yup, his job is now “that boring thing that theatre people do to support themselves”, as opposed to his primary focus). He’s absolutely obsessed with the success of East Hastings, to the point where he’s rubbing it in the faces of Anna, Maria, and the demolished company of King Lear.
Click to watch the entire episode.
King Lear is in rough shape, y’all. Charles has dozens of line screw-ups per show, and only about 10 lucid minutes a night. But by God are they brilliant minutes! Still though, the company is rightly becoming concerned, though Geoffrey’s focus is on fulfilling Charles’ dying wish.
It’s a testament to Paul Hutt that Charles is really only sympathetic as a human being when he’s completely pathetic. When he’s lucid, he’s still an asshole, particularly to Sophie. And he’s only lucid because Geoffrey is shooting him up with heroin on occasion.
Fortunately, Anna catches wind of things, and continues to earn her sainthood by quickly figuring out that Charles has cancer and is loopy from medication, and deciding to help Geoffrey cover it. She’s had numerous cancer-stricken relatives (because of course she has, because Anna’s life is the saddest), so can help modulate the drugs and keep Charles in the game. It’s the drugs and not the cancer throwing him off, she says.
It’s too late to save Lear, though. Geoffrey had to cancel opening, a PR deathblow if ever there was one. He couldn’t send Jerry on for the first show, so strongly does he believe in his mission for Charles. For this, Richard has no choice but to send the show to the studio space, allowing the sold-out run of East Hastings a much larger venue befitting its success.
Elsewhere, Ellen is being wooed closer and closer to pursuing acting outside the company, being wooed by a New York agent into a TV drama pitch. It’s just like Prime Suspect! She’s the Canadian Helen Mirren! It’s in space!*
* – Ok, slight digression here. I think TV has changed quite a bit since this series was produced.
I was reminded as I write this that today is the tenth anniversary of the premiere of SyFy’s gritty
Battlestar Galactica revival, and the perceptions in this storyline remind me just how revolutionary
that show was in deepening the serious dramatic potential in a science fiction show.
It’s on Hulu Plus and Netflix, and I highly recommend checking it out.
Finally, our biggest surprise came after Lear’s failed opening. Mid-conversation about death, Charles casually remarks that he hopes death isn’t like getting stuck in the bathtub, and Oliver quips that that sounds like a Beckett play. And Charles responds curiously, and the two begin chatting about the idea. Charles can now speak to Oliver as well.
Game-changing. Oliver thinks Charles has one foot in the grave. I’m inclined to believe it.
Stray Observations and Quotes:
“He does care, he’s just…happy. That can be distracting, happiness.” – Anna “I wouldn’t know.” – Maria. The stage manager’s lament.
“He’s not playing Lear. He’s living Lear. That’s the problem.” – Ellen
Pain was at an all-time high in this episode. Got very hard to watch, between Richard’s outbursts, Anna’s struggles, and Charles’ growing frailty.
Jerry, when pressed to go on for Lear, is ready. Then less ready. Then less ready…