Right here, right now: ‘We Are Who We Are’ episode 4 takes detour through deviance

Photo from HBO's "We Are Who We Are"

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The latest episode of Luca Guadagnino’s “We Are Who We Are” is the most ambitious of the season thus far. It challenges our assumptions and conceptions of the characters by placing them in a completely foreign environment and allowing their base instincts to drive the episode forward. The installment eschews any real plot development and focuses instead on what happens when the teenagers find themselves alone and unrestricted.

“Right here, right now #4” begins with a paintball fight that reminds us of the social dynamics that have existed up to this point. Sam Pratchett (Ben Taylor) and Danny Poythress (Spence Moore II) are both angry with Fraser Wilson (Jack Dylan Grazer) because they think he caused the end of Sam’s relationship with Caitlin Poythress (Jordan Kristine Seamón), a breakup that led to tension within their friend group. They express their anger by emptying paintball clips into Fraser’s chest, which doesn’t faze him in the slightest, and his jovial reaction offers the most comedic moment of the series so far.

The episode’s focal point is introduced after they leave the woods: Sam’s brother Craig (Corey Knight) has learned that he’s being deployed to Afghanistan the next day, and he wants to marry his girlfriend, Valentina (Beatrice Barichella), before he leaves. Craig’s departure has serious implications for the future of the friend group. As the oldest and most level headed, he’s the group’s de facto leader, and his absence will likely cause the deterioration of the group’s friendships to accelerate even more in future episodes.

The actual wedding of Craig and Valentina isn’t what’s significant about this plot point; it’s what their decision represents that matters. It’s a choice born of temptation, desperation, lust, impulse and gratification — all emotions that define what happens at the celebration after the wedding.

The group sneaks into a vacant villa owned by Russians, a sprawling property complete with a piano, a pool and an immense, open living room. When they arrive, the group disrobes and jumps in the pool.

The pool party is a sequence of total joy. Everyone gets along, and even Fraser finds opportunities to make the group laugh with antics that usually go unappreciated. Through the episode’s languid pacing, Guadagnino lets the events play out naturally so we can see how the characters behave in small moments. Guadagnino is not in a rush to reach some kind of conclusion or release — he’s more interested in letting us examine how the personalities play off one another and create new, exciting dynamics without the typical restrictions of life on the base.

As day turns to night at the villa, the atmosphere darkens and innocence gives way to drunken debauchery. The party moves indoors and the characters dance together half-naked for a while, but as the night goes on, the party gradually transforms into a quasi-orgy. There’s a lot going on in this sequence, but one of the more notable developments is the sexual tension that mounts between Fraser and Sole (Vittoria Bottin). Sole kisses Fraser, answering once and for all the lingering question of whether or not Fraser has ever kissed someone.

The kiss is awkward, and Fraser walks away to tell Caitlin what happened. She gets angry with him and tells him not to do anything like that again. We watched Caitlin and Fraser pledge to each other in the previous episode that they would remain platonic friends, yet Caitlin is oddly territorial of Fraser and feels empowered to set boundaries for his social life. This interaction is one of the few times they talk during the episode, but their connection is always palpable. The two constitute their own entity within a roiling sea of social strife. 

The episode’s final scene shows Sarah Wilson (Chloë Sevigny) sending off Craig and the rest of his unit to Afghanistan the next morning. After a day that felt as if it took place in a completely different universe than the rest of the show, Gudagnino brings the audience back and reminds us of the base’s stifling reality.

“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].