Room 104 Red Tent review

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

It took almost a full season, but Room 104 has delivered its Trump episode. While his name is never mentioned, the specter of Donald Trump hangs heavy over “Red Tent.” He’s present in the unseen, inflammatory politician who tells it like it is. He’s there as a prospective voter gripes about immigration, NAFTA, and gay marriage. Trump is the implicit theme of an episode that also spends a great deal of time on Adolf Hitler. These are exhausting topics, but “Red Tent” handles them deftly through a nuanced discussion between an AC repairman and an aspiring terrorist.

Room 104 Red Tent review

What’s the Strangest Thing in Room 104? The Tent

Our protagonist Alex (Keir Gilchrist) is introduced inside a red tent. He’s working intently on something, while talking to a second man outside the tent. Alex seems much calmer than his partner Josh (Brian Hostenske), which is surprising, since he’s making a bomb.

The two men have gathered in Room 104 just prior to a political convention. The bomb is intended for an apparently incendiary candidate speaking that night. But Alex and Josh aren’t on the same page. While Alex is laser-focused on his project, Josh is falling apart. He tramples into the tent, babbling about the Green Bay Packers and Lambeau Leap to steady his nerves. He quickly exits to throw up. When Alex finishes his work and leaves the tent to check on Josh, he’s gone. A note on the bed simply reads, “I can’t do it. Sorry.”

Alex is prepared to carry out the mission on his own, but he’s interrupted by an AC repairman (Hugo Armstrong), who enters the room while Alex is in the shower. The repairman insists he’ll only be a few more minutes, so Alex must nervously wait until he leaves. He also has to explain that red tent.

The repairman, Steve, assumes it belongs to a kid. Alex is only too happy to go along with this lie, prattling on about his imaginary seven-year-old son. But the tent almost gives him away on multiple occasions. Alex freaks out when Steve accidentally knocks one of his tools onto the tent, prompting the suspicious handyman to try to peek inside. Later, the phone attached to the bomb rings. Although Alex delicately disables the alarm, Steve correctly guesses it’s an LG burner and asks if he can help. Alex declines and frantically zips the tent back up. His plot seems to stay hidden through all these scares, but Steve may know more than he lets on.

When Steve takes a call from his wife outside, Alex manages to shove the bomb in his briefcase and collapse the tent, covering his tracks. Right before he rushes out the door, though, Steve insists Alex join him in front of the now-working AC unit. “Stand where I’m standing, Alex,” he says. “See how it feels.” Alex sits down and closes his eyes. An unseen crowd chants, “USA! USA!” He opens his eyes. Cut to black.

Did he go forward with his plan? We don’t know. But Steve’s invitation to relax and take a breath might’ve stopped the attack.

Steve and Alex

Time Machines and Trump

The unnamed politician that Alex is planning to assassinate has a lot in common with Donald Trump. He’s a divisive figure, one that’s “tough to ignore.” Alex obviously hates him, but Steve admires the man. “Immigration, NAFTA, the whole mess in the Middle East…[the] guy really tells it like it is,” he says. Steve isn’t sure the country is ready for someone so “real,” but he’s ready to vote for this candidate in November. Steve also makes homophobic jokes about LeBron James and casually dismisses his son’s interest in women’s studies. So he fits the profile of a rabid Trump supporter almost too well.

Alex is disturbed that this politician has already gotten so far, and sees it as his moral duty to end the man’s campaign – and life – before he gets any further. But he’s still nervous about bombing the convention, so he asks Steve the age-old question: would you kill Hitler? Steve, who must spend a blissfully minimal amount of time on the internet, hasn’t heard that one. So Alex lays out the entire scenario. You have a time machine. You can get into a room with Adolf Hitler in 1930. He’s alone. You have a gun. Do you shoot him?

The ensuing conversation is fascinating. At first, Steve supposes he would do it. He knows it’s a sin but he thinks it’s justifiable. Plus he hopes he would have the guts to do it. Alex agrees, saying it would be worth it to prevent the Holocaust. But that gives Steve pause. Who’s to say another Hitler wouldn’t be waiting in the wings? “We somehow associate this one man with all these millions of deaths, but he wasn’t the one pulling the triggers, right?” Steve observes. “It’s easy to say, ‘If I met Hitler, I would’ve blah, blah, blah.’ But nobody ever did. So that means a whole lot of people must’ve agreed with him.”

Steve’s hesitant argument underlines a point missed in so many discussions about Hitler, Trump, and other hateful figures: they didn’t get there on their own. Other people have to bolster them or at least allow them into positions of power. We can’t pin a mass failing of humanity on one target. That’s too easy. We have to look around us, even at ourselves.


Political Discourse

Trump references are so abundant across scripted television that it’s hard not to cringe when any show drops a new one. But Steve and Alex’s conversation works surprisingly well, because Room 104 refuses to assign moral superiority to either man. Alex believes he’s making a sacrifice for the greater good, but his mission will kill innocent people. Steve is a bigot, but he has a point about that time machine query – and he may be sneakily working to stop Alex’s bomb from detonating. “Red Tent” never suggests the crisis they’re facing could be solved through some bipartisan kumbaya bullshit. But it does insist the situation requires a little more reflection and a lot more hard work. One bomb, one vote, one man won’t change the world. Only a society can – and if Alex and Steve can agree on one thing, it’s that their society is sick.

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