I Knew You Weren’t Dead Review

(Each week, we’ll kick off discussion about Room 104 by answering one simple question: what’s the strangest thing in Room 104?)

This week, the Duplass brothers stepped in front of the camera for the first time in Room 104 history. Well, at least one did. Jay Duplass stars in an unusually quiet and mournful episode about a middle-aged man seeking advice from an old friend. The only problem? His friend died 20 years ago. “I Knew You Weren’t Dead” lacks the scares or aggressive weirdness of past episodes, but it’s still a unique half-hour of television. You can thank Patrick for that.

Patrick in tub

What’s the Strangest Thing in Room 104? Patrick

When “I Knew You Weren’t Dead” begins, there’s nothing remotely weird in the room – just a man and his Subway sandwich. But once Daniel (Jay Duplass) finishes eating and goes to bed, Patrick (Will Tranfo) appears. Patrick is Daniel’s best friend, yet Daniel seems surprised to see him. Patrick dismisses his concerns so he can break the good news: he just scored tickets to a Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden show.

Patrick’s wild enthusiasm over a very ‘90s concert tips us off to a crucial plot detail: Patrick is dead. He’s been dead for a long time, but it sounds like this isn’t his first “visit” to Daniel from beyond the grave. The friends’ initial encounter in Room 104 is cut short when Patrick’s face starts to warp and Daniel wakes up from his dream. But after Daniel pleads with an old photo of Patrick for advice, his ghost pal reappears (in the bathtub, no less!) for a lengthier discussion.

Daniel has never gotten over Patrick’s death. He dropped out of college and messed up his marriage due to his all-consuming grief and guilt. But Patrick has some baggage of his own. He’s mad at Daniel for not joining him in the surf where he drowned, for not saving him. It sparks a screaming match and physical shuffle that ends with Patrick bursting into a million ethereal pieces. But he returns one last time, now as an old man, to absolve Daniel and leave for good.

Patrick and Daniel old photo

Ghosts and Grief

Although Room 104 has never been a strictly horror anthology, the past three episodes have all featured frightening moments or, at the very least, great tension. But “I Knew You Weren’t Dead” never tries to be scary. It uses the supernatural instead to take a broken man through the stages of grief, ending on a surprisingly optimistic note.

In the 20 years since Patrick died, Daniel has never actually tried to process this loss. His estranged wife Diane complains in a voicemail that he’s “like a child” and that’s a pretty fair assessment of Daniel’s arrested development. He’s still stuck in that time when Patrick was still alive, to the point where he believes Ghost Patrick understands him better than anyone else. How could he? He’s missed so much. He doesn’t know Brenda, the boss with whom Daniel is having an affair. He’s never met Daniel’s kids, even the one who shares Patrick’s name. “I’ve never been married and had these affairs,” Patrick says. “I’m fucking 21 years old, man. How the fuck am I supposed to know about this shit?” Daniel expects Patrick to have some sort of otherworldy wisdom, but he’s still just a knucklehead college kid. Except now, he’s undead.

This episode points to some interesting series potential, since “I Knew You Weren’t Dead” feels more like the final act of a play than some freaky sideshow. The Duplass brothers seem intent on infusing every episode with at least a little oddity – Patrick’s still a ghost – but clearly Room 104 isn’t confining itself to horror or dark comedy. It’s just as interested in quiet human drama.

Patrick old man

‘90s Nostalgia

“I Knew You Weren’t Dead” places Patrick firmly in another time through his constant ‘90s references. He isn’t just hyped to see Chris Cornell in concert; he’s wearing ripped jeans, Doc Martens, and an Everclear T-shirt while cracking jokes about “selling Amway shit.” Nostalgia has been a bit of a constant in Room 104. In “Pizza Boy,” Meg reminisces about watching an old TV show with her dad that she used to hate, but now loves. More recently, “The Knockandoo” reveled in ‘80s cheese through its cult tapes, filled with Casio keyboards and neon colors. Room 104 may be occurring in current times (as the smartphones and clothes indicate), but its characters are still hung up on the past. In Daniel’s case, the room actually helped him break out of his ‘90s haze and focus on the present. But other characters haven’t been quite so lucky. We’ll have to see if the room ends up helping rather than harming future characters. But right now, it’s batting one for three.

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