Room 104 S3E9 “Prank Call” is the third Mark Duplass-penned episode that So Yong Kim has directed, following Season 1’s “I Knew You Weren’t Dead” and Season 2’s “The Return”. Both previous episodes focused on dealing with grief and the absence of a loved one, but this tale is more concerned with the emptiness we can feel even without that loss.
Adrienne (Mary Mouser) sits between the motel bed, staring blankly ahead, being ignored by her mum and dad who are getting to ready to go out to a meeting with Bill. They’re bickering as to whether Dad complimenting Mum’s “big old tits in that dress” is insinuating that she should use them to get Bill (understood to be a tits guy, and hopefully also a bank guy) to refinance the mortgage. Dad then claims that Mum uses those tits to get what she wants, especially when he’s not around. With that happy family moment complete, they leave without saying anything to Adrienne or even acknowledging her.
She sits on the bed, bored, watching young children’s cartoons and munching Funyuns. The way she grabs the phone seems to imply that this a normal occurrence for her, it’s just a way to pass the time, as does her lack of nervousness once on the phone. These are routines that she has down depending on who answers and how they respond. What seems like an annoying but relatively innocent teenage pastime takes a turn when we start to understand that Adrienne is getting her kicks by sowing the seeds of marital suspicion with people. The first mention of hot tubs seems oddly specific but it didn’t seem particularly significant just yet.
As Adrienne poses in front of the bathroom mirror, preening like any teenager, trying to look more adult, she begins to narrate a scene involving Bill and a hot tub, and her big old tits. We’re left unsure as to whether this is a memory, or simply a teenage girl fantasising about a sexual encounter with an older man. The language she uses to describe the encounter is not that of someone experienced in sex—it’s halting, clumsy, akin to the acting you might get in ‘70s soft porn. Snapping out of her reverie she looks slightly disgusted with herself, but again, we’re not sure if this is disgust at herself for fantasising in this way or disgust at the memory of something that actually happened.
Adrienne is a girl longing to be a woman, as evidenced by her dressing up in one of her mother’s dresses and lipstick (both red, of course) and smoking a cigarette (smoking has always been cool). She isn’t very accomplished at smoking either. Suitably fortified, she makes another call, but on hearing the answerphone message of a happy family, she puts the phone down, visibly saddened at the lack of such a warm loving family in her life. This is compounded by the cartoon showing on the screen, outlining what a happy family should look like, two parents, two kids, all happy together. The sadness turns to anger in her eyes, but is this simply anger at the lack she feels at not having a normal loving family or is there something deeper there?
Channelling that anger, she makes another call. It’s a man, and there’s a definite shift in her energy. It takes her a moment to compose herself, but once she does she slips into a more confident persona. The person she is on the phone with a strange man is the woman she feels she is ready to be perhaps, although to our eyes she is still simply a naive young girl trying desperately to be confident and sexy, and using a phone as a crutch. It provides an escape though, a way to become someone else, a more confident older Adrienne; someone who can talk to older men, flatter them, even tease them. This is the game of a deeply lonely girl, desperate for attention.
As Adrienne speaks to George (Macon Blair) she grows in confidence, feeling her way into the role of what she imagines is a confident experienced woman, although revealing her clumsiness by blurting out “big old tits” as if she imagines this is in some way sexy. It’s this naïveté in her that makes George suspicious. Normally women generally don’t lead in by talking about their big old tits, but for Adrienne having only had her parents as role models as to what constitutes sexy talk it seems like a normal adult thing to say. Her control slips however when George wants to hang up; she doesn’t want to be alone, she needs someone, anyone to pay attention to her, to make her feel wanted.
Later, after regaining George’s confidence a little, Adrienne narrates a scenario for him, leading him on, teasing him. We’re back to the hot tub again, and the repetition here is what made me feel that there is some kernel of truth to the incident. It’s left vague, which is something Duplass does a lot in his stories, and there’s also the possibility that this is something that Adrienne has witnessed—maybe her mother and the fancier of big old tits Bill—that she is trying to process. Inexperienced as she may be, her scenario has the desired effect on George, and with that sudden disgust back again, she hangs up the phone and goes back to the bed, into to her own clothes, and childish pursuits of cartoons and Funyuns.
Things become a whole lot more tense when George turns up however, and we’re led through a tumultuous final act where our expectations of George are played with. At first, a violent attacker, then a hypocritical preachy asshole, then back to a more dangerous example of toxic masculinity when he doesn’t get the apology he seems to feel he deserves, which he largely lays at the altar of generational privilege, in a way that really deserved a quiet retort of “Ok boomer” that Adrienne seems too scared to deliver. George considers his behaviour righteous in trying to teach Adrienne a “lesson” because her actions could have led to an aggressive male asshole breaking into the room and doing horrible things to her, not realising this is exactly what he has done, and further not realising that the real reason he is there is because of his own guilt and anger at what Adrienne provoked him to do over the phone.
George pulls his gun, and still playing the aggressive “what if I was a bad man” role threatens Adrienne of dire consequences if she doesn’t show him her big old tits in the hot tub. Instead of scaring Adrienne further however, by creating that connection between the scenario happening in the real world and her fantasy world, it allows Adrienne to push back the scared young girl and allow fantasy Adrienne to take control. Fantasy Adrienne knows how to handle men and, her whole demeanour changing, she starts to take the power back by forcing George to confront his own desires, the desires that he can’t accept in himself. Fantasy Adrienne is however, a little too accomplished, and driven by Adrienne’s own anger and naïveté she pushes George too far, into one last twist that still manages to surprise a little.
On the surface, “Prank Call” is a relatively simple story, but Duplass manages to scatter enough of his trademark ambiguities into it that your own mind starts to add layers of complexity, where even just adding a definite extra layer would perhaps not have the same effect. It’s an effective method of adding interest to a story, without having to waste runtime that Room 104 just doesn’t have. All in all, “Prank Call” was a decent episode that had me questioning the basic story, but ultimately, I think I’m still missing the experimental manoeuvres we saw in Episodes 6 and 7. Will I ever recover? We only have three episodes left, but to be honest, even if nothing matches up to those two episodes I’ll still be happy.