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Room 104 - Generations - Review

10 Oct 2020

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WARNING: Please don't read if you haven't seen Room 104 4x12 Generations yet! SPOILERS AHEAD!

And, ending.

But, of course, with every ending is a new beginning.

One generation passes on and another one is born to deal with what has been left behind for them.

It is easy to see why the producers made the Sydney Fleischmann directed episode, Generations, the final aired episode of this 4th and sadly final season of HBO's Room 104. From what I've read, they didn't intend for this season to be the last season of the anthology series, but, apparently, they were all expecting it to possibly be. This was, after all, a late night anthology series that was greenlit right before AT&T merged with Time Warner. Would this get greenlit in the era of HBO MAX? Hard to say, but it doesn't sound promising, but I'm referring to an alternative universe here.

Speaking of alternative universes, 4x12 Generations introduces one that I found to be strangely familiar. One where Shirley Jackson's The Lottery story is paired with...oh...I don't know.. Aniara, maybe? One complaint I had with the series was that it didn't venture into serious sci-fi enough. I refused to believe that the "Rogue" episode from Season 3 was the only storyline they could come up with apocalyptic overtones. This was, afterall, an anthology series about an average motel room where literally anything and everything could happen and usually for the worse (except, of course, for the motel exploding, or imploding for that matter). It wasn't enough that the producers decided to program a tragic dystopian story for the series' swansong. Oh, no. It also had to be a space opera.

This time, the story centers on Keir (The Chi, Treme and The Knick's
Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), whom I can only assume was named after 2001: A Space Odyssey's Keir Dullea. Keir is in Room 104 preparing for what is known as the Generations celebration with an AI being named Agnes (Rebecca Hazlewood) who may or may not have more knowledge as to what is really going on than "she" leads on. If you've been watching this show enough, you probably have already guessed that that this celebration is probably more like a forced retirement/funeral. Yes, this futuristic society has decided to recreate the similarly politely brutal Japanese society of The Ballad of Narayama and get rid of their citizens to make room for the next generation. Why? Details are intentionally vague as usual, but it seems everyone in this society are living on a spaceship wherein they live in living quarters designed to resemble anonymous hotel rooms back on Earth to give them a sense of normalcy and false security during their pre-determined limited lives. It is never told who is running this ship, what kind of resources they are trying to salvage, or even what promised land this crew is headed toward.

No, this 1/2 hour episode is only concerned with one life on this spaceship to seemingly nowhere. Perhaps it's all a dream and everyone is really in a cryogenic sleep (or at least should be so they don't have to go through this "celebration" scam and watch every family member they know be selected for termination before their time while they wait their lives away in a makeshift motel room with a holographic sunny Earth backdrop). It could be argued that maybe every single episode of Room 104 was actually taking place in this universe since every story seemed to be specifically created for a different alternative universe designed specifically to suit a protagonist's psyche, but I will leave that up to the TV conspiracy theorists.

It is clear as the episode progresses that Agnes is the only real companion for Keir after his mother is selected for Celebration early on in his life. Sure, he later has a wife (Susan Park) who it is suggested was arranged to marry him by the powers that be before they were even born and had a daughter with her named Umoco (Kristina Hannah), but he is still living in a state of frustration that he had led an unfulfilled life in this false motel room. He adamantly reads the same book, even though Agnes urges him to try some new technology. This quiet rage consumes him as his Celebration time gets closer. He would fear that Umoco will have the same reaction to the truth of their rather modest existence and fears telling her what's what, but the memory of his wife telling him that she already knows and is OK with it sooths him at least a little, leading to a sweet father/daughter zero gravity dance scene that looks fine on the Season 4 Blu-Ray cover. Sadly, their bliss is short-lived.

The real sadness of the episode for me lied in the notion that this deceptive sci-fi world is actually very similar to the life experience many have in our regular lives. Many stay in the same vicinity their whole lives, have children, discover their average jobs they were forced to take to survive are a crock just designed to make money/ prop up the rich, then die feeling lonely and used. Is forcibly being tossed out of an airlock any different to dying all alone in a nursing home? Keir harbors anger at this society for deceiving him, but parents always deceive their children to protect them from some pretty harsh truths before they are ready.

Some of the best sci-fi stories are the ones that are allegories for what happens in our regular world. The problem here with this episode for me wasn't the emotion of the episode, it was the feeling of "been there, done that" I kept getting. Yes, we know that Keir will be selected for Celebration. Yes, we know that his daughter will be complicit in seeing him have to go while getting ready to have her own baby. Yes, we know Agnes will never age and probably knows more than she is letting on. But...what else? There are no real surprises here. Again, it's only a 1/2 hour show, so they cannot drown us in clunky exposition. The story structure is very mysterious and the script works b/c the plot is laid out as life experiences rather than simply revelations about the horrible society and the intergalactic mission. Is it Mars? One of the Saturn's moons? Pluto? Planet X? An asteroid headed toward another galaxy? We're never sure.

We are not given a lot of information here, which kind of makes the poignant emotion we're supposed to feel about Keir's Celebration a little awkward and anti-climatic. His wife is suggested to have been infertile, so they Celebrated her much younger than hat they're doing to Keir. Why was he allowed to grow so old? Is it because his daughter is mature enough to have her own baby and doesn't need his parenting anymore? At first, I though that the Celebration ceremony was a matter of reaching a certain age, but it looks like it just a matter of procreation pragmatism. Everyone eventually knows the truth of what is going on in order to accept these absurd societal rules, but that happens in almost every country in our own world as well. We don't need to be on a spaceship to know that the only way of really getting through all of it is to love one another and accept the given circumstances, no matter how inevitable they might be.

Even more sad than being forced into a Celebration ceremony in this story is knowing that death is going to happen to everyone. Maybe it will be a heart attack. Maybe it will be COVID-19. Maybe it will be someone murdering us. Maybe it will be a head-on traffic collision. We never know and often don't get a Celebration ceremony while we are alive with a pretty speech to give our descendants to remember us by. A wise comedian once said, "Death is a funny thing." Usually, that is the truth, but at least we can still write stories like the one in Generations where it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.

And for that alone, we can only hope HBO eventually allows the Duplass Brothers to make another visit to Room 104 before we are all forced out of our own airlocks.