This week’s Room 104 S3E11: “Crossroads” is from the tag team of director Patrick Brice and writer Sam Bain. Mr. Brice is basically an honorary Duplass Brother at this point, it being his third turn in the director’s chair this season alone. Sam Bain, who started out co-writing Peep Show with Jesse Armstrong ( and now heads up HBO’s Succession) wrote the recently-released comedy horror movie Corporate Animals with Brice directing.
In a recent (yet to be published) chat with 25YL, Brice said that the opportunity came around for them to work on Room 104 together after they’d been working on the film for a while. Sam “had an idea for an episode in the hotel room involving a Faustian bargain that takes place over a couple of decades. It was very much in his tone but also a little more dramatic and sweet than you’d expect. It was a nice primer for us being in production together.”
As we get our first view of the room and meet Louis (Paul F. Tompkins), it’s clear that the time period has to be the ‘60s or ‘70s because of the rather special gaudy decor and the giant CRT television sitting on the sideboard. Louis sits on the bed, and appears to be meditating or mentally preparing himself, but in hindsight, we can assume he’s downloading info on his upcoming clients from the infernal cloud.
We meet Jean (Aislinn Paul), who seems innocuous at first glance, but we quickly realise that she is actually kind of obnoxious. It isn’t long before we get the general gist of what is happening here from the mention of potential clients needing to be fully committed, Jean’s mention of Black Sabbath (which further dates this to somewhere not long after 1968), and her remarking that a lot of the best musicians must end up in “your place.”
Louis isn’t giving anything away about other clients and while Jean is reeling off a list of musicians unlikely to go “up there” she mentions Robert Johnson, about whom there is a famous legend that he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in return for mastery of the guitar. Crossroads have a long history as liminal places where deities, demons and supernatural entities can be summoned and bargained with, and motels, often placed at junctions, seem like the perfect “neither here nor there” place where two realms can touch and magic can occur. Of course, we know from the first episode of Season 3: “The Plot”, that this particular motel was born in devilish deeds, so it seems the perfect location for Faustian pacts.
Jean’s reasoning for making a deal is essentially jealousy. She wants to be part of the wealthy partying set with the boyfriends and the cars. It’s a fairly common desire in the young who don’t have those things (and think that they want them) but it’s not all that common for someone to be willing to sell their soul for it. Or maybe it would be if the offer was on the table? Beyond the general lust for material wealth and physical attractiveness, Jean seems to have a great deal of real anger at not being one of the rich beautiful people, and malice towards anyone who’s ever been mean to her in any way.
Jean is in a hurry to get the deal done, brushing off the “eternity” clause without concern, while Louis seems a lot more hesitant. He wants to make sure she has read everything in the contract and is 100% sure of what she is getting into. He is, in short, the least evil agent of darkness there ever was. Despite Jean signing away her soul for the rewards she hopes to gain in return, she doesn’t actually believe in souls or that she will be consigned to eternal torment as a result, and laughs in Louis’s face at the mention of it . Her rationale doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but we are starting to get the picture that Jean is an incredibly self-centered person. She thinks it’s her right to get everything she wants, and that nothing bad should happen to her. I’m starting to hope that she’s wrong. Regardless, the deal is done. She signs the contract.
We return to a clearly more contemporary Room 104. Louis lets in an elderly but happy Jean (June Squibb), who has had a fantastic life filled with worldly pleasures, and as she is at pains to point out, a lot of physical pleasure, the saucy old minx. Louis tries to tell Jean that today is the day she will be paying up and going to Hell for eternity, but she has her sights set on jetting off to St. Kitts and is having none of it. She can’t quite bring herself to believe that Hell–actual Hell with flames and demons with pointy sticks—can actually be a thing, prompting Louis to show her a preview through the bathroom door. It’s pretty Hellish that’s for sure.
“Is this that ironic version of Hell?”
Jean tells Louis of a point in her life when a man she had used both physically and mentally started sobbing, she realised she could turn off her compassion and just not give a shit about others, and, having never turned it back on went on to do some truly awful things. Louis reveals to Jean that he isn’t the devil, merely an executive assistant, and definitely not a demon. After millennia, he’s tired, haunted by everything he’s done and seen and unsure how much longer he can do it, but can’t stop for fear of what will be done to him. Jean’s solution is simple, she takes over and Louis can retire.
“I feel so connected to your whole brand. The whole evil thing. It’s really me.”
Louis is doubtful that Jean really understands the level of evil required, and that simply being a sociopathic narcissist would do it. Jean is determined she’s up to the task and proves herself by calling in her loyal assistant Dustin (Jon Bass) and dispatching him without a care through the portal to Hell that is the bathroom. Louis checks with his supervisor and the answer is yes, confirming that having looked into Jean’s soul the Devil has found nothing even remotely resembling human empathy or compassion.
This is when Beth (Lily Mae Harrington) arrives, an aspiring musician wanting to do a deal to become a rock star. She’s not the normal egotistical hard-living type that Louis has no doubt seen hundreds of over the years, and doesn’t even drink. She doesn’t want anything other than to be a great musician. Jean is slightly outraged and disgusted by her naiveté, while Louis is confused as to why she is selling her soul for this rather than just working at it.
Beth, realising that making it in the music business is almost impossible, has decided that this is her one chance to become famous. Louis continues to try and persuade Beth of other routes, recognising that she really doesn’t deserve eternal damnation and could achieve what she wants without selling her soul. Having spent millennia consigning idiots and self-centered assholes to Hell, Louis really doesn’t want someone who’s only real flaw is ambition to make this kind of mistake.
Jean though has had enough of Louis’s interference and with a few choice words tells him to get out of her way. Proving that she is going to be a very different kind of agent than Louis, she is already encouraging Beth to not bother with the terms and conditions—all she cares about is getting the signature. About to leave into the snowy night, Louis steps back into the room and asks Beth to play a song, “Oh Christmas Tree.”
Maybe it’s his plan to melt enough of Jean’s cold black heart with the song to evoke a little compassion in her, or to help Beth realise that she already is talented enough and just needs to keep trying. Maybe he just wanted to hear a beautiful Christmas song. Jean, of course, is immovable. She’s going to go far.
Join me next week for the twelfth and final episode in this season of Room 104: “Specimen Collector”. How time flies!