Room 104 Voyeurs Review

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

Ever since its first trailer, Room 104 has been hyping a dancing woman in a red slip. She’s even the landing page photo for the series on HBO’s website. In “Voyeurs,” we finally got to meet her – and the encounter was unforgettable. “Voyeurs” is not your traditional scripted episode of television but instead a wordless ballet full of loss, longing, fear, and frustration. It’s thrillingly original, and it co-stars a motel figure we’ve surprisingly not seen thus far: the housekeeper.

Housekeeper and girl dancing 2

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

Up until this point, we’ve caught little more than a glimpse of the actual motel staff. But “Voyeurs” builds an entire episode on a housekeeper (Dendrie Taylor), who comes to clean up Room 104 after a romantic tryst. She finds an uncorked bottle of wine, a slice of cake, fortune cookies, lipstick-stained cigarette butts, and a card. But her strangest discovery is a young woman in a red slip: The Girl (Sarah Hay). The two initially don’t seem to notice each other at all, but soon start dancing in synchronization. It becomes clear from the clues left behind and the housekeeper’s wistful stares that this “girl” is in fact the housekeeper’s younger self.

Their wordless ballet is a means to work out their dilemma concerning a man (Matthew Bellows). He and the girl are at a crossroads in their relationship. A newsletter the housekeeper pulls from under the bed reveals that he’s a rising star at his insurance company… and a handwritten list of baby names scrawled onto the bottom indicates the girl is pregnant. Therein lies the problem. The motel setting suggests the two are having an affair, and a quick shot of the man’s wedding ring confirms it. The newsletter photo, featuring the girl standing behind the man, suggests she’s probably his secretary. But the man doesn’t seem totally invested in the girl. His card, which is full of cash, confines his love to a place and his voicemail is heavy with exhaustion and resignation. The girl is trying to figure out what to do, so her older self helps her through dance.

She steadies the girl as she desperately spirals across the room, and crosses out the man’s weak declarations on the card with what the girl wants to hear: “I’ll give it all up to be with you.” When the pair conclude their ballet, they both fall on the bed, arms with matching tattoos outstretched, until the older housekeeper fades away. She was apparently never real, just a faint impression of the future. Now it’s just the girl, left alone to make a choice.

Housekeeper and girl dancing

Gotta Dance

“Voyeurs” is the most exciting episode of Room 104 yet, simply because it’s so unexpected. There’s an exhilaration that sets in as you realize, yes, they’re really going for a half hour ballet and it’s kind of moving and perfect? The stunt musical episode has long been a reliable way to drum up press attention and fan hype – just ask The Flash, Scrubs, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But those episodes are usually built on Broadway showmanship. Plaintive ballets are a little outside the norm. This one works so well because it takes a typical ballet tragedy and infuses it with supernatural elements, as well as modern touches like the very ‘80s song which scores some of the dance. It’s not stuffy or overly esoteric, just a well-executed dance that tells a story with style.

Housekeeper and girl

Technical Challenges

Neither the girl nor the housekeeper say a single line during the episode. With the exception of the man’s voicemail, it’s an entirely wordless ballet. The Duplass brothers committed to this dance showcase with conviction, hiring Dayna Hanson to direct, write, and choreograph, as well as dancer/actress Sarah Hay to star as the girl. Hay previously acted in the Starz dance drama Flesh and Bone, making her a natural choice for this episode.

In both “Voyeurs” and “The Internet,” the Duplass brothers have presented their casts with unique acting challenges. “The Internet” required Karan Soni to act against nothing more than a voice. “Voyeurs” asks its actresses to create an entire story without dialogue. Both are big swings, which I hope Room 104 continues to take as it moves into the second half of its first season. If HBO is going to give you a weird anthology series carte blanche, you’ve gotta run with it – and tricking your audience into watching a gorgeous ballet at 11:30pm on a Friday night is certainly running with it.

Girl

Pivots and Pirouettes

The latest string of Room 104 episodes have all featured characters at a critical turning points in their lives – people about to make a choice that changes everything. While we get to see the decisions the male protagonists make in “The Internet” and “I Knew You Weren’t Dead,” we don’t get to see the girl’s final call. We’ve glimpsed what can happen to her in the future, but the housekeeper isn’t necessarily what will happen to her. To paraphrase that famous miser Ebenezer Scrooge, these are the shadows of things that may be, only. The girl’s ultimate fate is still in her hands. Will she chase after the man? Will she have the baby? It’s all up in the air, but with any luck, her stay in Room 104 convinced her to kiss that awful insurance guy goodbye.

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