“I could have done this all summer.” – Ellen “Me, too.” – Barbara
There’s a boatload of quotes in this episode, about finality, theatre, art, redemption, transience, and all sorts of beautiful concepts, and I had a harder than usual time picking one. After all, this is it, the last time I do this! I can certainly relate to the sentiments on display.
In the end, I go with the exchange that actually brought a tear to my eye, a very simple little moment in the wings. Two friends who have fought and made up, and are about to head onstage to die in a murder suicide, just appreciate how happy they are at that second.
That’s the theatre life in a nutshell, right there. The moment is all we have. We dedicate hours and hours in rehearsal halls to mining the text, or subscribe to lubricous color-based acting techniques, like Megan, all in the service of making individual moments stand out, bond together, and take the audience on a journey.
In the post-Sopranos TV era, a trend has come about of climaxing the season on the second-to-last episode of a season, allowing the finale to let things settle. Slings and Arrows follows that pattern, even though plenty still happens. But really, things couldn’t have gotten any more dramatic than the previous episode, could they? I believe the term “rock bottom” was used by me.
Here, events unfold with an almost zen-like inevitability. Richard files an insurance claim to make up for the loss of revenue from Charles’ failure to perform King Lear, which succeeds only because he was kept out of the loop. The catch? Anna receives disciplinary action, and Geoffrey must tender his resignation immediately. Richard protests, but Geoffrey is resigned to his…resignation.
Geoffrey breaks the news to the company, not only that he’s resigning, but that Lear is completely cancelled. After all, Barbara and Ellen have both quit, and Charles has less than three months to live. But Frank protests. “I’ve played every Duke, second nobleman, and messenger in the canon,” he says, and this year he made it to Broadway because of Geoffrey. But Geoffrey has nothing to assuage him.
Charles, now in remission, responds to the cancellation the only way a pro knows how:
“So we’re both unemployed?” Geoffrey: “Yeah.” Charles: “Wanna go bowling?”
It’s all so matter-of-fact. The drama is over, and now come the consequences. Everything is fractured, much like the 1 and 5 split Geoffrey has bowled (in America we call that a 7-10…you know the one). “Then there’s no point in finishing the game, is there?”, asks Charles.
But Shakespeare still has lessons for even Charles, who in that moment finally realizes that Lear’s isn’t serious when musing about his death: “He doesn’t really think he’s doing to die, no one does!” Hope always remains. Charles wants to do Lear. Just once. All the way through. But first, Geoffrey has to pick up that spare…
Reassembling most of the company is a snap thanks to Maria, but it’s Ellen and Barbara that are the real trouble. She’s shooting her new sci-fi show and isn’t speaking with Barbara anymore. So Geoffrey does the only thing he can do, and finally points out that Ellen is the most “passionate, sensual, heart-breaking” actor he’s ever seen, despite being a royal pain in the ass. He also is in love with her. She’s in, and she’ll get Barbara. She has a new appreciation for the difficulty of television work, and Geoffrey thinks maybe he should tell her that.
If the previous episode was all about the truth needing to escape, this one is saying, “only dissolution can bring reconciliation.” I kept thinking more of The Winter’s Tale than King Lear. Poor decisions from a leader destroy a kingdom, and only in the distant aftermath does the family find each other again. Tragedy has occurred, but comedy will follow.
And comedy there is! In the healing light of reconciliation, for example, Sophie and Paul reconnect, and Sophie offers to have a friendly dinner with Paul and Megan. With Sophie playing nice and trying to connect with Megan, Paul finally sees just how much he and Sophie connect and how much of a settlement Megan is for him. Beneath her bitter, beset-upon shell was the funny, kind, intelligent woman Paul had written off having a chance with in the first place.
The company finally resembled, Geoffrey finds a space in McTeague’s multi-purpose room at the church. What would a Slings and Arrows finale be without a heartbreakingly awesome performance of the central play to bring all the themes to life. This time around, there’s a whole series to wrap up, which means it will surely be extra-dramatic.
Before the show, Charles finally addresses the company with humility and grace, though he does have one final note for Sophie, only this time with warmth and humor:
“Keep up the pace in act one, or I’ll smoke you.” “You’re on, old man.”
Jerry is ready to go on as Kent, but his jaw is swollen shut from the bar fight. The poor guy can barely talk. Maria has a show to call and McTeague has never spoken verse before, so they can’t do it. Only one man really knows the text well enough: Geoffrey.
Of course, Geoffrey hasn’t acted onstage since his Hamlet-breakdown years ago. He enters with confidence enough, but is soon frozen, leaving poor Cyril to fill the void of dialogue as Gloucester. Oliver intervenes, ready to give Geoffrey that final push: “Thank what it’s like for Charles. If you don’t get past this part, he won’t even get to say his first line.” There is a higher purpose here, and Geoffrey finally, finally moves past his roadblock.
Of course, the show is marvelous. It always astonishes me that Slings and Arrows is able to deliver a performance episode that somehow tops the one before it. Charles is brilliant. Geoffrey is brilliant, and out there essentially playing the role that best represents his relationship with Charles, that of the loyal nobleman reduced to rags in his loyalty.
Paul finally gets to see Sophie in action. Much like when watching Megan, he is instantly enamored.
Ellen and Barbara share their moment backstage.
Geoffrey and Ellen reconnect. Her answer is yes. He has no idea what the question is, but he’ll figured that out later. Oh, and his little guy is working again!
Oliver, having successfully put Geoffrey back onstage and with Ellen, having atoned for his sins, is ready to leave. “The end will take care of itself”, but he can’t help but hang around and watch from the booth.
Through all of this, Richard’s madness has subsided. He’s doing his job well and behaving like a professional, but the damage he’s done to the others is irrevocable. He repeatedly insists that Anna is his friend, pathologically, desperately. He has to find a new artistic director, but he can’t resist the idea planted in him by season 2’s board member, ever the devil on Richard’s shoulder. Richard should find someone he can easily control, and then he’ll finally have absolute authority over the Festival.
Despite several passionate applicants, Richard does the only thing you would expect him to in that situation. He hires Darren Nichols.
He has been instructed by the Board to give Anna an indefinite leave of absence, but Anna knows what it really is. All she wants him to do is just say it. Richard can’t, so Anna does what she always does, does the hard part for Richard, and fires herself. She has to make it in time for Lear’s curtain, after all.
Richard sits, alone with his power. The price of pursuing his ambition was losing what may have been his only real friendship. Anna spells it out for him before she goes. “You came so close, Richard, to becoming a human being. And now you’ve lost your soul. You’re just a fool.”
The performance ended, Paul wants to say something to Sophie, but is speechless. All he can do is kiss her. And kiss her more. And…okay, this is going somewhere. Charles interrupts, in bemused delight. The lovers scamp away, and Charles relaxes. He sees Oliver again, and this time, he’s ready to go with him.
Season 3 was the tragedy of Charles Kingman, and here he dies, his noble pursuit attained.
Some time has passed, and Geoffrey has continued to see McTeague. With Oliver finally gone for good, Geoffrey attempts the “talk to Oliver in the empty chair exercise” again. He fills Oliver in on what’s happened since he left. Anna went down to Bolivia to help organize the counter-revolution. Richard is working through the entire Rodgers and Hammerstein canon at the Festival, and intends to direct Oklahoma! himself. Ellen, having walked out on her TV contract, is being sued for breach, and has subsequently lost her house. So she and Geoffrey are moving to Montreal, and Geoffrey plans to reopen Theatre Sans Argent. And only Oliver can really know what Charles is up to now.
“And as for you, I wanna thank you, and I wanna curse you. I have to say goodbye now, Oliver. I love you, and I wish you could be here today.”
What’s so special about today? We only get to linger on Oliver’s empty chair, but offscreen we can hear McTeague encouraging Geoffrey to get out, as he’s got a wedding to perform right away. Geoffrey, meanwhile, has a bow tie to get tied, and people are waiting for both of them.
We end with an unseen wedding. How Shakespearean. Looks like Slings and Arrows was a comedy after all.
Stray Observations and Quotes:
No opening credits this episode. Too much ground to cover. Also adds to the “special” feeling.
The Bolivians remind Geoffrey and Anna “No pasaran.” “Never surrender.”
Some gems from Maria as she preps the costumes for Lear:
Geoffrey: “I see you’ve worked your artistry again.” Maria: “Save it, Geoffrey, it’s called theft!”
“If I have to cancel this play one more fucking time…”
Los Perditos perform the role of the storm using their instruments and a tin sheet. Oliver insists he’s always believed that’s all you need, and Geoffrey immediately calls Oliver on his bullshit.
The whole prep sequence is very reminiscent of the opening scene of the series. Geoffrey is back in guerrilla theatre mode.
Richard’s threat to fire everyone who participates in the off-sight Lear is laughed off.
Oliver coaches Geoffrey through the performance exactly the way Geoffrey coached Jack in season one. We see where Geoffrey got it from, and a taste of their old relationship.
“Breaks your fuckin’ heart.” – Oliver
“What are we doing here, you and I?” – Geoffrey
“Putting on a play.” – Oliver
“Putting on a play. This isn’t about us, is it?” – Geoffrey
“Nope. Never was.” – Oliver
Paul Hutt is absolutely phenomenal as Lear. It’s easy to see why the producers of Slings did this show for their final season. Much like Geoffrey, they had to let this man do this part, and let the world see it.
“No apologies, please. I remember getting laid in my dressing room. At the Old Vic, after a matinee of Oedipus Rex.” – Charles
The epilogue features Cyril and Frank performing a new song, called “I Played the Part.” It’s Geoffrey and Ellen’s wedding reception. Everyone is happy, together.
And just as it should be, the final line of the song, and series, is, “I’ll be sent with the other actors straight to Hell.”
The final image, however, after all the credits have rolled, is Richard, pressed against the glass on the outside of the bar, looking inward. So near, yet so far.
My friends, I hope you have enjoyed Slings and Arrows as much as I have. It’s been an absolute pleasure taking you through my experience of the show, and I wanted to thank you all for reading along with my thoughts, from the insightful to the pretentious to the self-deluded.
I want to thank Michael Dove, Renee Yancey, Andrew Griffin, Megan Reichelt, and Christopher Henley for offering their thoughts at various points, helping share what only they could, in how true to our theatre world this show really is.
Thank you Lorraine, for giving me this incredible platform.
Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank Caitlin Griffin. Her insights on nearly every post in this series have been a true gift, and opened my eyes to many things on the show I didn’t even know were there. Without exaggeration, I say that she is one of the smartest and most observant people I know, especially when it comes to Shakespeare and text-analysis (even when that text is a TV show…and why shouldn’t one be?!)
I was heartbroken that we weren’t able to get her contributions to these final few posts, and it is truly our loss. However, she has been absent due to an incredible new professional opportunity on her part, and I hope you join me in wishing the best of luck to one of my best friends.
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