‘Queer As Folk’ Season 1, Episode 7 Recap
Anthology episodes are difficult to achieve. By their very structure, they require a level of disconnect in terms of plot and tone that can create a disjointed hour of television. When it’s done well (paging Mad Men), they can shed light on aspects of the show’s characters in ways that formally deviate from how we normally encounter them. I found myself torn about “Problematica” in a way that can only be felt when dealing with a collection of interconnected stories; some you love, some you could do without. But in the end, I could at least understand what Stephen Dunn (who directed and co-wrote the episode) wanted. After all, when you have such a solid roster of queer day players, wouldn’t you want to dabble in all genres and see them thrive?
And so, “Problematica” gives us one hell of a dinner; a touching mothering exchange; an open-mic date night; a mushroom journey and a button of a story of everyone finding their way home. Let’s do some lightning recaps for each (with stars for each):
Part I: Hawaiian Punch ***
As soon as Meg “Hi Gay!” Stalter shows up, you know we’re in chaos. But it’s unexpected that we get a hilarious hybrid of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and band boys, all filtered through the lens of a budding relationship that may or may not survive dinner with friends.
This is perhaps the purest distillation of COMEDY we’ve gotten on the show so far; there’s a degree of sitcom hijinks here, but any scene that makes me scream buffy season six is always going to be good for me. Also, I keep wanting to cheer on Noah and Julian, so here goes.
Part II: Not Alone****
“It’s darker when you can’t laugh about it.”
That’s the line I’ll take home not just from this tender section, but from the episode as a whole. Of course, it all starts with the most recognizable trope in the history of AIDS/HIV (if a queer person gets tested on screen but we don’t see the results immediately, you should already know what kind of results they got; think of it as the opposite of Chekhov’s gun), but it turns so quickly into something so much more in-depth about how a new generation continues to fight HIV/AIDS that I forgive him.
Because, really, watching Mingus practice in real time (with the help of a drag performance) how they feel about what they know is no longer a death sentence worth every other moment of the episode. Really great work by Fin Argus, especially in his rendition of Bowie’s piece.
Part III: Maybe Mom ***
The show’s ability to make Shar and Brenda (“Can I say asses?”) such a wonderfully unlikely couple is enough to make me write a line like “That’s not Twitter,” which is much more effective when ‘she’s swapped between another unlikely duo (Ruthie and Mingus in the pilot episode). And, to be fair, the writers slowly got us to that And just like that… time in the bathroom. It was simply when, not an if.
But their couple stages a conversation between people who might not identify with each other, something Queer as Folk‘s together done so well. And, just like previous sections, it’s the actors’ ability to inhabit their characters and ground them in authenticity that makes what would otherwise feel like didactic Ted Talk moments feel real. Just enhanced and styled for those of us watching at home.
Part IV: Tunnel ****
We’ve seen hints of Dunn’s horror styles throughout the series. Most obviously in the first episode where the Canadian filmmaker deployed his characteristic magic realism to offer us a vision of a possible future that could not be. But this section’s focus on Brodie’s mushroom journey might just be enough to make you want another feature that delves into the horrors inside and outside of the queer experience.
Giving you everything from David Lynch to Black Swan, “Tunnel” is a tour de force, a labyrinthine journey into Brodie’s psyche that’s as fractured, wounded and terrifying as one would expect. (I want to have been at the props meeting when someone realized they needed to produce a giant cup of cum and figure out a way to create a muppet dog that would be both adorable and slightly off across).
The conclusion (“I’m sorry you’re so screwed up”) may have left me feeling unsatisfied. But I guess it was a journey of self-discovery that just helped set up our last game of the night.
Part V: Home ***
There’s no place like home.” But what is Brodie’s home? Is it the home he shared with Noah that has now been tainted by Daddius’ ghost and Julian’s presence? Is Brenda’s house always felt like a place he needed to get away? Is it Ruthie and Shar, the only characters who are actively trying to build a house that will survive them?
As he struggles to find his place in the world – and a reason to stay there; isn’t he just making everyone’s lives worse? – Brodie lands at Noah’s house, only to face the brother he’s seemingly always resented. Unlike the Ruthie/Brodie showdown we had last time around, this one feels decidedly more educated and perhaps a little less satisfying.
If the final showdown between Brodie and Julian seems a little too over the top (they’re so measured! So insightful! So self-aware!), it at least offers O’Connell a chance to color Julian’s personality, which follows given that the Special the creator co-wrote the episode with Dunn.
I don’t know if I would have considered this duo the structuring anchor of “Problematica”, but thinking of these two as queer foils gives the episode, and the series, in turn, a beautiful sensibility. twinned. Each has dealt with their own otherness in different ways, and each has found their own way of turning their past into charming parts of their present. How Brodie will get over once again being alienated from someone he loves remains to be seen, but we only have one more episode, so hopefully all those ominous stabbings and sharp edges no longer portend violence in our/his future.
• “Skinny white boys will always be here fucking!” Armand Fields brings such regal poise to Bussey, both in and out of drag, that I’m ashamed it took me so long to single them out in one of these recaps. But really, that scene between them and Mingus was just masterful.
• “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” by David Bowie and Kim Cattrall singing “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret? I guess that is a show called QUEER as Folk.
• Mingus may have rocked their rehearsal/performance of Bowie in the cavernous relic that is Babylon, but I wanted to see more of their demonic version of the singer during Brodie’s journey. They looked fabulous in a way that only a Bowie fan attending a horror convention could.
• Ed Begley Jr.! I was just complaining that he only appeared for one scene, and here he is… in just one more scene! Also, who do we think kept Johnny Sibilly’s polaroid straddling Ryan O’Connell? Do we think it will be auctioned soon?