Best line: “It was something akin to living inside a kaleidoscope.” — Remus
Episode MVP: Swofford (Eric Edelstein)
In its season three premiere, the chillingly supernatural realm of HBO’s “Room 104” comes as close as it ever has to delivering an origin story.
Where all previous episodes have taken place between the four walls of the hauntingly unassuming motel room, this episode, titled “The Plot,” finds its characters braving the outdoors. But despite the illusion of openness that the surrounding wilderness presents, the slow synth crawl of the music and the constricting chiaroscuro lighting fills the screen with the same isolating energy that is curated by the stale and menacing room 104.
Front and center in that isolating space are two estranged siblings, Roma (Christine Woods) and Remus (Luke Wilson). Remus apologizes for missing their father’s funeral, speaking vaguely about the reasons he couldn’t attend. Roma remarks with subtly pursed lips that her father always wanted him to travel, to be out there in the world. This exchange characterizes Roma and Remus’s entire relationship as buried deeply beneath insecurities and sibling anxieties, which are bubbling to the surface in the slimmest lines of dialogue.
Within this laced dialogue and narrative lighting lies some of the serie’s greatest strengths. In its allotted 30 minutes, each episode of “Room 104” to date has been able to craft an entire plot, develop vibrant characters and curate an entire world — one pulsing with otherworldly and sinister danger — while still being incredibly believable.
It is soon revealed that the plot of land the siblings are standing on is to be a motel that they will jointly run. As Roma discusses her business proposal, Remus chews on a chicken drumstick. She speaks of her various meetings in regards to the property, and he talks about settling down and asks where to sign. As she berates him about traveling while leaving her to take care of their dying father, he mumbles a weak apology.
The sharp disconnect between the two is swallowed in a slow-creeping score. And as Roma’s face contorts more and more into a clenched-teeth, bug-eyed expression of disdain, the background synth drone becomes increasingly rhythmic — like a hammer repeatedly hitting bone.
But Roma cuts through the seeming approach of disaster by calling for a toast. They each hold their glasses in the air, the fire standing between them in a beautiful baroque flurry of color. But neither drinks. The silence grows until Remus finally says he has given up drinking, putting his glass down.
At this remark, Roma melts into quiet anguish, setting her glass down. It is vastly evident that Remus’ sobriety has thrown a wrench into Roma’s ominous plans. But as she anxiously mumbles, trying to pull herself together through her disappointment, she notices Remus’ pistol on his hip, clouded delicately in a pillow of ivory-colored fabric. With this, Roma springs into action. She asks Remus to show her how to use the gun, and when he does, she shoots him.
But just when it seems as if Roma’s troubles are over, a homeless man named Swofford bursts into the scene, stumbling out of the woods and onto the plot of land.
The triangle formed by the shaking Roma, Remus’ corpse and Swofford eating chicken loudly is neatly centered on the screen, making Swofford’s lighthearted quips of conversation deeply menacing.
This exchange is what positions Eric Edelstein’s character as the most valuable player of this episode. Edelstein’s delivery of crude and awkward jokes is undercut with a vibrantly threatening tone. His body language likewise posits him with the presence of a looming shadow rather than a person. And when he notices Remus’ body, sticking his fingers into the blood and licking it up, the audience is already primed for the supernatural and fantasmic horror that begins to unfold.
“Now you’re mine,” Swofford says. Roma shoots him, and he crumbles to the ground — but not for long. Within moments, Swofford is rising once again, and as he turns around, he has stolen Remus’ face. Roma falls to the ground, hitting her head on the way down, blood seeping from her scalp. Swofford edges toward her and tastes her blood, saying “Now you’re mine too. And I like you better.”
The tone of the episode, and season three at large, is set from the start of this episode. From the reclamation of very specific and haunting lighting to the world building that has impressed audiences for the past two years, each part of this episode demonstrates why “Room 104” is an HBO show not to be missed. It has created a space for itself in which anything goes and nothing is questioned — and why would it be? Half of the fun and fright is the uncertainty of what makes this room so whimsically terrifying.
As the final shot simmers into the end credits, Swofford is now Roma. He repeats “Welcome guests,” his voice fluctuating between feminine, masculine and monstrous until it takes its final form as Roma’s voice. The shot pans out and around the plot of land for a final time, and we see that this space they are in is tagged as room 104. And with that, we are off for what will be an extraordinary season.