May: “Geoffrey just fired Darren.”
Anna: “Oh God. I have such mixed feelings about that.”
Much of this week’s episode of Slings and Arrows focuses on consequences. What happens when you start dating the movie star in the cast? What happens when the man you bring in as the new Artistic Director turns out be unstable? What happens when you show up at your ex-lover’s home in the middle of a party, brandishing a sword, and threaten to kill the hack director who besmirched her honor?
The answers, briefly, are “jealous gossip fueling personal insecurity”, “a potential coup d’état”, and “the whole company ends up in jail, and you spend the night without your belt and shoelaces.” For “Outrageous Fortune” is primarily focused on dealing with the fallout of last week’s episode, and setting up the next one, which I gleefully think of as “the big one”.
This week, though, Geoffrey must spend most of the hour confined to a jail cell, looked over by a jailer who understands what “you actors are like” (no, really! His son is studying buffoon in Paris!), as well as Oliver. And while the jailer simply doesn’t want another messy suicide stamped into his memory, Oliver has bigger plans.
Until this point in the series, the question has remained open on whether Oliver is a figment of Geoffrey’s insane imagination, or a genuine spirit from “the undiscovered country”, to quote both the Bard and Star Trek. But what I love about the conversation that Geoffrey and Oliver have is that, ultimately, Oliver convinces him it doesn’t matter. If he is a spirit, “the dead don’t lie”; if he’s not, then he must be a manifestation of Geoffrey’s subconscious, his last lingering sanity, which also makes him worthy of a listen.
Astute Shakespeare nerds will note the clear parallelism here (hey, they both even set about their quests by means of a play!)
Oliver’s advice? Fix things with Ellen, and everything else will follow. Obviously Ellen is a huge trigger for Geoffrey, as Oliver discovered in his probing. Stabbing Darren Nichols (or, rather, lightly bruising him with a prop sword) wasn’t about Hamlet, or the theatre, or anything else but him insulting Ellen.
Before Geoffrey can truly set things right, though, he must be on the receiving end of the same thing. Ellen confides that Geoffrey was behind the disturbance at her house, which sets boytoy Sloan on a quest for revenge himself, ending with him socking Geoffrey in the eye. Geoffrey accepts this penance, but not without bonding with Sloan over a shared love of Ellen, and subsequently sicking Sloan on Darren Nichols, the real villain here. Tee hee hee.
It turns out that Oliver had a point. In the episode’s strongest scene, Geoffrey pays a visit to Ellen to apologize (for the duel and NOT the damage, which he insists was not his fault). In the midst of their conversation, Geoffrey confesses to Ellen that he’s been seeing Oliver and fears what it means. To this, Ellen actually tells Geoffrey that she, too, had a sighting, albeit of him simply staring disapprovingly at her during a performance of Dream. A connection is made, and a door is opened. Whereas Geoffrey started the scene as an intruder in Ellen’s home, it ends with her comfortably leaving Geoffrey there untended.
This is a bad day for poor Darren. After spending most of the previous night cowering in fear, he wakes up to a bruised arm and a bruised ego. Not only that, Geoffrey’s stunt has emboldened the cast to openly turn against him. Darren cancels multiple rehearsals because he can’t face them. It’s not their hatred, because being hated is “[his] THING!” after all. Rather, he’s vulnerable now. Fallible. The barrier has broken and he can’t whether the criticism.
The unexpected nights off turn out to be a boon for Jack and Kate, whose flirtation is quickly moving forward. The crazy lovebirds are ready to take things to the next level, and the cancellation of rehearsal comes just in time to allow them their first sexual encounter. However, Claire is still able to mess with Kate’s head, implying that Kate is flirting with Jack to get ahead.
What I respect about this subplot, and this show in general, is its overall respect for the sex. Even with the characters free to engage like the modern kids they are, everyone on the show seems to have a deep, visceral appreciation for the connection it brings. For Kate and Jack, it’s symbolic, since they spent their first night together without it, and talked about it first. For Geoffrey, it carries a powerful nostalgia, and as he recalls times spend in “old ironsides”, you can see an abiding love radiating through him. That sex meant a lot, and Paul Gross shows that incredibly clearly.
The other thing I really liked about Jack and Kate was the relatively contrivance-free conflict that emerges. Rather than Kate breaking things off cryptically because of Claire’s implication, she shares it with Jack. This is an act of trust, and Jack (rightly) points out that Claire is just “being a bitch”. However, the door to Kate’s insecurity has been cracked open, as she begins to doubt her own motivations for the romance, and her own faith in what she feels.
Parallelism abounds on Slings and Arrows, and perhaps this will begin to pay off in a future episode. Hmmm….
Before we leave Jack and Kate for the week, though, we catch a new detail about Jack: he is desperate to be cast in a legitimate role in a script he loves. He’s done a bunch of action films, but there’s something in him that connects to the idea of being a “real actor” (we also learn that he was a nerd growing up). He’s read eight times for the role, but keeps reminding Kate that they’ll “offer it to someone else.” That’s why he’s in New Burbage: to gain credibility as an actor. He probably needs to do something about those self-doubts, too. (Quick note from the real world: having spoken with a few bigger name actors with success under their belt, it’s a very authentic detail that self-doubt, and auditions for that matter, never go away.)
Back at New Burbage, Holly seizes an opportunity to assert control of the Festival. Richard is in her back pocket (here being a place where a deep connection to sex is a bad thing), and now she has an opening to seize control of the Board. Geoffrey’s stunt casts doubts on his sanity, which Holly uses to then cast doubt on May’s decision-making abilities. To hammer this in, Holly secretly holds multiple Board meetings without telling May, making her look like she either doesn’t care or is going senile. Free of the need for her vote, the Board appoints Richard Executive Director, officially outranking Geoffrey.
It is fortunate, then, that Geoffrey pulls it together and fires Darren when he does. Even though Darren is appreciative and regards it as euthanasia by this point, the hostility hasn’t gone away. Geoffrey reminds him that he plans to take over directing Hamlet; says Darren, “Good! I hope it kills you this time.”
And so here we are, ready for episode 5, “A Mirror To Nature.” Without spoiling anything, I’d say it’s the one we’ve been waiting for, since the show’s very premise has had us clamoring to watch Geoffrey take up the reigns of the show that represents his biggest fear. Will he go mad, or worse? Will Richard’s newfound authority cripple him before he even starts? And what of poor May, last seen suffering a heart attack right there in the boardroom?
Ahead we plow!
And, from Caitlin:
Perhaps it is trauma affecting Geoffrey’s inability to disconnect from Hamlet, or perhaps that’s further unnecessary psychoanalyzation, but this episode explores Geoffrey’s relation to the melancholy Dane’s morose mental state. After the events at Ellen’s party, Geoffrey is held in lockup for a psychiatric evaluation – is he crazy? Is he a suicide risk? (“Isn’t everybody?”) “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go…”
Hamlet’s brief opportunity to talk to his father’s ghost is focused on his burning desire to find out what happened. When Geoffrey comes to reluctant terms with the fact that he can talk to Oliver’s ghost, he asks the question forefront in his mind: “what is the undiscovered country like? Is it a relief?” Neither of them get an easy answer. Hamlet’s set on a path of destruction, and Geoffrey is told with a shrug and a smirk that death is not the relief he thinks it could be.
Oliver also takes the opportunity to point out the Freudian relationship Geoffrey has to Ellen – an analysis often remembered in Hamlet’s relationship to Gertrude. Later, Geoffrey re-enters Ellen’s home, and asks about ol’ Ironsides, their formerly shared bed, shortly before revealing that he can see Oliver and because they both loved him he hoped Ellen might see him, too. This is a much gentler closet scene, one without a misguided sword and frenzied purpose. Even as Hamlet’s whipped himself up to carry out his father’s ghost’s command, Geoffrey’ is leveling out to meet Oliver’s challenge to direct the play that ruined his life. Destiny, it seems, comes for them both.
Ways to watch:
1) Borrow the complete series DVDs from a friend. Trust me; someone you know owns them. If you want to drop the cash, they sell the DVDs in the Shakespeare Theatre Company gift shop and on Amazon, where the whole series is $38.99.
2) Netflix! has the series available on DVD.
3) Amazon Prime. If you’re paying for the year-round two-day shipping ($74.99 a year), you already get it for free as part of their unlimited streaming content.)
4) Amazon Instant. $1.99 per episode, or $8.99 for each whole season.
Stray Observations and Quotes:
Good Lord, everything out of Darren’s mouth in the opening scene was gold. My favorite: “I had to spend the night in prison; I had to share a toilet with members of the young company!” Even eternally patient Anna lost it!
“Why are you writing about this? You’re a critic; there’s nothing to criticize!” – Anna, to Basil on the phone. Having been through a theatrical incident myself and dealing with press after a performance mishap, oof, I can relate.
“Are you a suicide risk?” – Jailer “Isn’t everybody?” – Geoffrey, before losing his belt and shoelaces.
“That’s not a good position for prison, darling.” – Oliver, re: Geoffrey’s fetal positioning.
“I do not want to be insane, I refuse to be insane. So I’m going to assume that you’re a ghost, Oliver.” – Geoffrey, deciding for us.
“Does death put an end to the ‘heartache and thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to’? My knee doesn’t bother me anymore. I feel forgotten, like an old phone number. I barely feel here at all. Death isn’t worth the effort.” – Oliver, with humor and poignance.
Once again, we have a brief flashback to the night of Geoffrey’s fateful breakdown during Hamlet. And once again, Paul Gross sells us on the effect of something by his visceral connection to the memory when he awakens.
“If you want to make a name for yourself at the festival, try being a good actress.” – Claire, who got there via nepotism, and is terrible.
“I did an Arby’s commercial once.” – Jack, as Kate disrobes. “Don’t ruin this for me.” – Kate, saving the moment.
Great touch: Geoffrey muttering the “What a piece of work is man” speech to himself en route to fire Darren.
“More people listen to the radio than go to the theatre. And nobody listens to the radio.” – Darren, explaining his pity for the art form.
As Geoffrey assumes control of Hamlet, he reiterates: “The very best things happen just before the thread snaps.”