Quote of the week: “I am he that aches with amorous love.”
Episode MVP: Caitlin Poythress
“Right here, right now #2,” the second episode of HBO’s series “We Are Who We Are,” opens with a shot of Caitlin Poythress (Jordan Kristine Seamón) floating in a boat in a dark chamber. Inexplicably, the water begins to descend around her. Eventually, the darkness of the chamber gives way to the early morning sunlight reflecting off the Chioggia canals. It’s a brief sequence, but it’s an early indication that this episode will focus on Caitlin’s tumultuous — but gradually illuminating — understanding of her identity.
Caitlin was revealed as having some sort of secret related to her gender expression at the end of the previous episode, but in this latest installment, these questions are brought to the forefront. In the remainder of the beautifully shot opening scene, Caitlin and her father, Richard Poythress (Scott Mescudi), make deliveries to shop owners along the canal. Seeing Caitlin from afar, an Italian man announces to his dog that “the boy with the tanks” has arrived, an assumption he’s made based on the ill-fitting, traditionally masculine clothing Caitlin is wearing. When she gets closer, the man notices her long hair and changes his mind: “He’s got braids? Maybe he’s a girl. Who knows?”
The man is a stand-in for the audience, albeit a somewhat brutish one. He’s asking the questions we all wanted answered after the first episode ended, but he’s doing so in a completely tactless manner. This could be a preview of the scrutiny Caitlin may face later on as she grapples with her gender identity, or it could be the writers letting us know that they think our surrogate’s questions are as crass as he is.
The episode retraces the same events that last week covered, but it shows them to us as Caitlin perceives them. Because the story is told from someone inside the social group instead of from Fraser’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) outsider perspective, we get a much clearer picture of the cast of characters on the base. Danny Poythress (Spence Moore II), Caitlin’s brother, and Jenny Poythress (Faith Alabi), her mother, are both struggling to figure out how exactly they fit into life on the base, or whether they fit in at all.
We also get to know Richard, who Caitlin spends a lot of time with over the course of the episode. Midway through, Caitlin retrieves a package from the post office and hands it to her dad when he comes home. Richard invites Caitlin upstairs to open it, and with great ceremony, they unwrap a pair of bright red “Make America Great Again” hats. Without saying anything about President Donald Trump himself, they try on their hats and comment on how they fit.
In this scene, the show sets up a fascinating tension. Without much foreshadowing to warn the audience of this turn of events, the Poythress’ support for Trump is genuinely shocking — even in 2016, the year the show takes place. The hats surprise the viewer, but they’re utterly banal to Caitlin and her father. The writers’ choice to treat their support for Trump as a foregone conclusion leaves no space to examine the motivations behind their support and instead inspires imagination about its implications.
Near the end of the episode, we experience an extended version of the scene from episode one, in which Caitlin visits the cafe dressed as a boy. As it turns out, she reenters the building to confront Fraser, who nonchalantly tells her that she needs a better wardrobe if she wants to execute a convincing disguise. He later sends her some of his old clothes — who knew Fraser owned a striped polo and jeans?
“Right here, right now #2” covers the same few days as “Right here, right now #1,” but by showing us the events through new eyes, the writers are able to piece together a narrative that is much deeper than it initially appeared. It’s clear now that the show is much more intricately drawn than the first episode let on, and with the groundwork laid for Fraser and Caitlin’s relationship, the series will only grow more compelling from here.
“We Are Who We Are” is streaming on HBO Max with a new episode every Monday.
Matthew DuMont covers television. Contact him at [email protected].