'Room 104' Review: HBO's New Anthology Series Kicks Off With A Creepy Kid

(Each week, we'll kick off discussion about Room 104 by answering one simple question: what's the strangest thing in Room 104?)At first glance, Room 104 doesn't seem like an especially noteworthy place. It can best be described as "beige." Beige wallpaper, beige curtains, and beige carpet cover the drab motel room. But there's something special about Room 104, which a traumatized babysitter learned the hard way in the series premiere of HBO's new series.The stories in each episode of Room 104 won't necessarily connect at all. Creators Mark and Jay Duplass have promised an anthology series akin to The Twilight Zone in their new show. But they will all feature this room, which may just have supernatural qualities.

What's the Strangest Thing in Room 104? Ralphie

The episode title tips us off to the strangest and scariest being in Room 104 this week. When Meg (Melonie Diaz) first arrives in Room 104, she assumes she's babysitting a typical kid named Ralph – and like any horror heroine, she never questions why Ralph's dad barely bothers to get her, or rented out a motel room for his babysitter and son. Soft-spoken Ralph soon emerges from the bathroom, apologizing for himself and Ralphie. Meg thinks he's referring to one of his nicknames but he is Ralph, not Ralphie. The kid is very emphatic about that.Meg and Ralph bounce back from their awkward introduction and bond over some pizza and TV. But once Ralph's bedtime draws near, the conversation returns to Ralphie. Ralph doesn't want to take a bath before bed because Ralphie is still, he insists, in the bathroom. Meg begins arguing with him. Ralph begs her to keep it down. But it's too late: Ralphie woke up.Ralph goes to the bathroom, but a very different creature comes out. Ralphie looks just like Ralph, with a few notable exceptions. He wears a yellow cape. He is not remotely soft-spoken. And he immediately threatens to "get" Meg. He doesn't make good on that promise, at least not right away. Ralphie's first appearance is brief. He returns to the bathroom, upon which a sleepy Ralph walks out, asking Meg if Ralphie got her.But of course, Ralphie returns and when he does, Meg becomes implicated in a horrific situation that will likely land her in jail. It's never clear just how real Ralphie is. Is he a malevolent ghost? An evil twin? A complete figment of Ralph and Meg's imagination? The episode refuses to outright answer that question, toying with viewers until the very end with a clever final shot of the slamming bathroom door.room 104 review 2

Daddy Issues

In the few moments when Meg and Ralph aren't discussing the monstrous little boy in the bathroom, it becomes clear that Ralph and his dad have a complicated relationship. Ralph constantly corrects Meg when she says his father will be back by 10. "He says a lot of things that aren't true," Ralph replies. His mom is no longer in the picture, but his dad is dating again and Ralph hates it. Ralphie could, by that token, be a manifestation of the boy's angst towards his single dad and fractured family. Except by Ralph's account, Ralphie arrived much earlier – and may be the reason why his mom is no longer with him.Before he goes to bed, Ralph wants to tell Meg two stories: the one he and his dad tell people about what happened to his mom, and the one that actually happened. You know, standard bedtime stories. Meg makes a compromise that he can tell the first one, but only that one. They seal the deal with what is perhaps the most doomed pinkie swear in HBO history.The "fake" take Ralph tells is a dark one. One day, his mom didn't show up to get him. When his dad arrived in her place, he took Ralph to McDonald's and explained that his mom was sad. She wanted to escape, so she put a rope around her neck. Meg is appropriately shocked by this story. But Ralphie doesn't want her sympathy. He knows the story isn't real. It was Ralphie, not depression, that killed his mother.Grief is a natural source for horror. Just ask newly minted gay icon The Babadook. But it isn't easy to write Ralphie off as a mere symbol of Ralph's wild, raging grief over his mother's suicide. (If she even is dead.) His father, who only appears at the beginning and end of the episode, is a giant question mark. If he knows about Ralphie in any capacity, it seems awfully irresponsible to leave a new babysitter alone in a motel room with his son. The way he runs out the door before Ralph and Meg are even properly introduced implies a certain carelessness, or at the very least a lack of priorities. He can't be bothered to drag Ralph out of the bathroom, not when his date is waiting for him. Ralph also hints that his dad is a bit of a hound dog when he abruptly asks Meg about sex.Then again, Ralph is an unreliable narrator by design. We have only his account of the family history, and a sad kid isn't exactly the best source. Especially when there's a caped villain in play.room 104 review 3

Reading the Room

The first 25-minute glimpse into Room 104 was creepy, tense, and perfectly paced. But it didn't tell us much about the unique space. The room had two double queen beds with a nightstand between them. There's a television set in an entertainment center directly across from it, with a small desk and chair to the immediate left. Lots of lamps. A closet. The camera never goes inside the bathroom, but there is a sink and an enormous mirror right outside the door. For now, that seems the most significant. "Ralphie" is an episode that deals with dual identities, and the Room 104 trailer suggests that'll be a running theme. It's big on identically dressed pairs – two Mormon missionaries, two women shrieking in lingerie. They may not be identical the way Ralph and Ralphie, played by twin child actors Ethan and Gavin Kent, are. But they're still mirrored images. It's just not clear yet what they're reflecting.