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Room 104 - The Night Babby Died - Review

26 Sept 2020

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WARNING: Please don't read if you haven't seen Room 104 4x10 The Night Babby Died yet!  SPOILERS AHEAD!

As Room 104's final season winds down on HBO, the season-long theme of creeping nostalgia and making peace with one's squandered youth doesn't seem to be letting up anytime soon. 

For this tenth episode, two childhood companions, Abby (Kelly Reichardt regular Lily Gladstone) and Bruce (Westworld's Leonardo Nam) are reunited in our beloved titular room for the first time in over a decade. The plan was to go to a nice dinner for two, but then Bruce decided to ruin it all by unveiling his old video game Nintendo console. The game he wants to play? The fictional Crowning Glory 2, which has the aesthetic design of the very early 90s RPG games, like Dragon Warrior and so many others. 

Why does he want to bring this game out of the woodwork into a cheap motel room? Well, to allude to the pre-shipping character they both created long ago known as "Babby," which is, naturally, a combination of their names. What caused Babby's demise, as the episode title refers to? Well, we're not sure, as Room 104 creative regulars Jenée LaMarque and Julian Wass's mysterious and ambiguous script dances around this ultimate elephant in the room in dramatically successful fashion. The answer probably isn't that interesting. Maybe they just grew apart? Maybe they had an argument over who was better at playing the game? We're never really sure. Sure, they waste time accusing each other of playing alone and destroying their game-playing synergy, but that is a moot point. All that matters now is that Bruce wants to live vicariously through the past and create a new character, "Abruce." Is it really such a bad idea? Should the past just remain gone but not forgotten? As usual, this is only a 1/2 hour episode, so ambiguity rules the structure and direct answers are few and far between. 

Miscommunication seems to be the real culprit since Abbey felt that it had to do with Bruce's father betraying his family, but Bruce apparently didn't get the message since Abby stopped calling him. So, how was he supposed to know anything is she doesn't directly tell him until they get together in Room 104, where real life never seems to apply? There is a tragic and obvious irony to this situation, but, thankfully, violence is never a factor in this story. They claim Babby died in 1991, so that must have been around when these two former buddies grew tired of seeing each other for game play. Despite almost 20 years passing, the pain of that split is still, well, painfully evident on both of them. 

No mere dinner could have rekindled the flame these two have been repressing for each other this whole time. Abby even cries when they are able able to resurrect their long, lost avatar. Only by putting their creative energies together as the older, wiser entity, "Abruce," is the spell slightly working again. Yes, for anyone old enough to remember the technological limitations of NES games of that era (myself included), the notion that a character's bones being saved on a game for many years on end is minor nit pick (saving info for that long didn't really start until at least the 21st century games), but dramatically, it kind of works for what the creators are going for here. I guess they could have had a humorous scene where Bruce has to insert a very long, complicated password code into the game to even begin to return to a position where they left off, but that was probably better left off screen. And, sure, a video game that old would never be self-aware enough to give the character a present-day tombstone death date or restore the youth of the characters, but the metaphorical subtext the writers went for is clear and evident.

I think I would have preferred a few metaphors for lost and rediscovered youth that weren't as on-the-nose and cliched as they are here, but, again, it's the emotions that matter here, not the intellectual trickery. If anything, being clever is what gets this narrative in trouble. In the video game, the tombstone graphic reads that Babby died in 2020, but didn't s/he really die in 1991. So, are they saying that it's the dwindling spirit that really needed to die on this night in 2020? Perhaps this death never really occurred and was sent to an agonizing purgatory. It seems that way since it ends with these two former and maybe future friends acknowledging the lingering darkness that kept them apart and rediscovering that the twin flame between them they have been denying may not be extinguished after all. 

Nothing ever really dies. Even if you draw a Death card in a tarot deck, it just means the start of something new. We leave this episode pretty sure that the only thing that has died on this night is the feeling of death in the first place.