HBO’s Room 104
Season 2, Episode 3: “Swipe Right”
Directed & Written
by Liza Johnson
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Mr. Mulvahill” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Hungry” – click here
In Room 104, a small Russian marching band arrive and head into the bathroom playing. Afterwards, a man called Nathan (Michael Shannon) arrives talking to somebody on a headset. He’s talking about “non–skinheads” and “young socialists,” as well as a mission to confuse people. In the meantime, he’s on personal days from work there in the motel. Also with him is a woman, Vochin (Katya Zamolodchikova a.k.a Brian McCook). Nathan’s waiting for a different woman to arrive. He’s important, a “political technologist” out of Russia with security outside the room.
Soon, Darla (Judy Greer) arrives to meet the Nathan and they sit together at his table, where he’s brought a nice golden candle holder with him to class the place up. The two start talking, after corresponding online for a while. He gets a call in the middle of it, yelling in his strong Russian accent about enemies and a “Black Panther” thing he has in the works. Darla’s compelled by his job, wanting to know more. He beats around the bush quite a bit. He asks about her career— she works as a veterinary nurse.
Things are a little tense. Although the pair enjoy each other’s company enough to keep talking. Darla doesn’t know what this guy’s deal is, which isn’t surprising given that Nathan’s every move and every phrase is weird. He starts asking about her experiences with online dating, so she recounts a few awful talks and meetings with men. She mentions most men – “the rich ones and the poor ones” – seem like they believe they ought to be happier, more successful. Sounds like entitlement. Then Nathan wonders if Darla’s slept with lots of men, making things more awkward. He hilariously quips he’s great at listening while tapping away frustrated at his phone.
The date wears on and Nathan confesses he didn’t write the book his name is on, telling Darla that’s not even his name. He segues into claiming he’s building a city. Then he claims the book is a “piece of shit,” but he’ll sign a copy for her. Following this, he rants briefly about the Gothic brilliance of Hamlet.
Darla is increasingly concerned with Nathan wearing a wedding ring. She tries asking about it, and he only rambles further. He busts into a rap after claiming he’s the “realest in the game,” as Vochin and some dudes show up to dance for his impromptu music video while Darla watches on in surreal confusion. Soon enough the marching band turns up to give him a different beat.
“You guys have reality TV?”
“Of course we do. Do you know that sometimes, it isn’t totally real?”
Once the show’s over Darla isn’t sure what to say. Nathan excuses himself to the bathroom. Darla asks Vochin about him, getting no real answers out of her. She just wants to get to know the guy. In the bathroom, Nathan is doing his impression of Hamlet, and instead of Yorick‘s skull he uses a bottle of Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka (manufactured in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador[!!!]).
When Nathan comes out he’s confronted by Darla, who finally Googled him, finding out he’s definitely a married man. She’s disappointed because their online chats seemed so great and they were getting to know one another so well, or that’s how it appeared to her. Nathan’s not really too worried by any of it, acting fairly nonchalant. What comes up is the difference between who someone is online v. who they are in real life— something many of us know about today in the postmodern digital world.
Through it all, Nathan says he needs somebody “truly real.” He’s pushy, too. He won’t leave her leave, and when Darla tries opening the door his security won’t let her go, either. She reluctantly sits while Nathan goes on rambling, stuck there with him and unable to escape. She has to stay and listen to him recount his life story. A hilariously grim end to a surreal, perplexing episode! Great, odd stuff.
This show’s so wonderfully off the wall. Personally, this episode resonates because before Father Gore found his longtime partner online, he experienced quite the barrage of weirdness. It’s only worse for women. This feels like an allegory of all the unknown madness of online dating. Shannon’s Nathan is the living embodiment of what it’s like meeting somebody online, with a constantly shifting identity behind a digital barrier.
“Hungry” is next time, and it’s loosely based around the Armin Meiwes case.