HBO’s Room 104
Season 2, Episode 2: “Mr. Mulvahill”
Directed by Ross Partridge
Written by Mark Duplass
* For a recap & review of the Season 2 premiere, “FOMO” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Swipe Right” – click here
Jim (Rainn Wilson) plays “Ode to Joy” on the trumpet, then we listen to him narrate a letter to his third grade teacher Mr. Mulvahill (Frank Birney), who “coached baseball and taught music” to young kids at Jim’s elementary school. He has something to ask the old man, and he wants to meet with him. Strange, no? He says he was “profoundly impacted” by this teacher from forty years ago.
Was the impact good, or bad?
In the motel – Room 104 – Jim waits for a knock at the door. He finds the knock comes soon and there’s Mr. Mulvahill in the flesh. They start to catch up, though it’s a tad awkward after so long. The teacher’s happy to have shown up, looking forward to whatever Jim has to say.
The two men are about to sit together. Suddenly, Jim busts out “Ode to Joy” again, which they talk about, as he mentions 1978, a spring concert looming. Everybody wanted to play music from Star Wars. Their music teacher didn’t like that idea. So, then came Beethoven’s “dark and fiery compositions.” Jim seems deeply touched by the story of the great composer’s life. He thanks Mr. Mulvahill for teaching him a lesson by showing him about Beethoven’s own tough life.
Jim does mention the ending of a life, which feels sinister. He wonders if his music teacher remember that moment years ago, and the old man replies he does. Before Mr. Mulvahill can excuse himself he’s stopped, asked if he remembers them being alone together that day, too. Jim presses him about that day. He was made to take out his trumpet and play “Ode to Joy” while the teacher accompanied on piano. What followed? The old man claims he doesn’t remember, whereas it clearly affected Jim— especially telling when he knocks Mr. Mulvahill out with his trumpet case.
Things are turning nasty. Nobody will hear the old guy, tied up and immobile in the motel room, after Jim rented the motel out himself. The psychologically wounded former student recounts more of that fateful day when he was a third grade boy with the world ahead of him.
And why’s Jim so angry? He says his music teacher “teleported” in the blink of an eye. Jim asked how it happened, though Mr. Mulvahill denied it ever happening. This led the young boy to become a man, constantly wondering about the very nature of himself and reality as he unravelled over the years. That one moment essentially ruined the rest of his life, left in perpetual curiosity, as well as doubt about his own mind. He’s dangerously obsessed. Between Corn Pops and listening to This American Life, Jim decided he’d try and get the truth by preparing to swing a baseball bat at Mr. Mulvahill’s skull.
Jim gives a countdown, swinging his bat on the final count, and before he connects with the old man— gone. He’s left alone in the room and Mr. Mulvahill is gone someplace else. It’s as if relief floods into him, finally knowing for sure he isn’t crazy. Teleportation’s real, and he’s not crazy! That’s a pretty damn good revelation.
Fantastic episode! Stellar writing. Definitely saw this heading towards a reveal of sexual abuse, so it was neat to find a curve ball tossed into the script. Love Room 104, because even if the episodes are sometimes weak there’s usually a unique enough spin on things to keep everything interesting.
“Swipe Right” is next time, featuring my favourites Judy Greer, Michael Shannon, and Katya Zamolodchikova a.k.a Brian McCook.