Right here, right now: Slowly but surely, subtext becomes text in episode 3 of ‘We Are Who We Are’

Photo from the TV Series, "We Are Who We Are"
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Now that we’ve seen the first few days of Fraser Wilson’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) life on the base from both Fraser and Caitlin Poythress’ (Jordan Kristine Seamón) perspectives, “We Are Who We Are” is moving on and diving into more details about the characters and their behaviors. We still have yet to witness any major plot movement, but questions that were merely implied in earlier episodes are given more explicit treatment in the most recent installment.

We know from the Donald Trump campaign ad we saw in the second episode that “We Are Who We Are” takes place in 2016, but “Right here, right now #3” gives us an exact date by displaying Hillary Clinton’s July 28 Democratic National Convention speech in the background of Sarah Wilson’s (Chloë Sevigny) office. The date matters more in this episode than it did in the first two — not only can we keep track of how the show is interacting with the political atmosphere of the time, but we can also contextualize the explosive growth of Fraser and Caitlin’s friendship between this episode and the last.

The pair have grown much closer in the few months between the story’s beginning and the present moment. From the very first scene, the episode hammers this point home by showing us how comfortable they are touching each other and sharing their frank and often critical opinions with each other. Their friendship is relaxed and charming, but it causes tension elsewhere on the base.

Caitlin’s boyfriend Sam (Benjamin L. Taylor II) breaks up with her because she’s grown more interested in spending time with Fraser than with him, a point Caitlin doesn’t dispute. The breakup reverberates throughout Caitlin’s social circle, alienating her from her friends and her brother, who expresses his frustrations by threatening to beat up Fraser.

Even though they’re much closer in this episode, there’s still a lot Fraser and Caitlin have to learn about each other. In one of the episode’s later scenes, Fraser calls Caitlin out for checking out a woman who passes them on the street. Caitlin vehemently denies that she’s attracted to girls, and she turns the question back around on Fraser by asking him whether he finds boys attractive. Fraser denies it too, but Caitlin’s not convinced. Caitlin isn’t the only one wondering this: Fraser’s repeated references to his friend “Mark” back in New York and his flustered interactions with Jonathan (Tom Mercier) have called his sexuality into question multiple times.

Though the plot is not especially dynamic in this episode, the composition is. Both Luca Guadagnino’s direction and Fredrik Wenzel’s camerawork are very different compared to their work in the first two episodes. The sweeping pans into close-up shots evoke the intimacy that cinematographer James Laxton achieves in his collaborations with Barry Jenkins on “Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The effect is somewhat disorienting at times, but it’s exciting to see Guadagnino explore new styles in different episodes.

The acting on the show is continuing to improve as well, especially in the case of Grazer’s performance. Early on, it was unclear as to whether he was up to the task of developing Fraser into a three-dimensional character or if his performance would never rise above Fraser’s boring and annoying qualities. In this episode, Grazer imbues Fraser with a well-rounded sense of humor, and as a result, he’s more endearing when he behaves rudely.

One marker of this development is the fight he gets into with Sarah, an even more violent confrontation than The Slap from the first episode. His actions are threatening, but his demeanor is so childish that his parents don’t take him seriously at all, and neither does the audience. The exchange ends up being more campy than scary, an interesting texture that’s unique to the show.

“Right here, right now #3” is the least expository episode of the series so far, but the slower pace allows the show to take a breath and let the audience see new dimensions of the characters we’re getting to know. It feels like a natural respite, one that allows the dust to settle before the plot accelerates.

“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].