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Room 104 S4E1: “The Murderer”

Photograph by Tyler Golden/HBO

Room 104 S4E1 begins with Logan (Logan Miller) receiving a keg in the room. The delivery guy (Ricarlo Flanagan) thinks it’s weird that he doesn’t have any of the other accoutrements for a party, and thus we get to wondering from the get-go just what strange story Room 104 is going to deliver us this time. It ends up being a powerful one, as Room 104 S4E1 explores questions pertaining to human connection, loss, remorse, and fear.

As always, the show manages to flesh out its characters in short order. Logan is joined in the motel room by four friends, and even if we don’t know their names, they seem real very quickly. Of course, they also do not need a lot of depth. The important thing is that they are excited at the mention of Graham Husker, or at least the guys are. Katherine (Hari Nef) does not seem to be familiar with the name, or the story behind it.

According to Logan, in 1993 Bono took the stage to accept another Album of the Year award at the Grammys and proclaimed Husker’s album The Murderer to actually be the best. Of course, U2 did not win that award in 1993 (that would be Eric Clapton) and hadn’t won since 1988, so it would seem that this story is fictionalized beyond the creation of Graham Husker.

Yet the story works. It is true that in 1993 the internet didn’t exist as it does now (there was no World Wide Web) and it was entirely possible to simply not know about a musical act until you discovered them through some kind of happenstance. Bono onstage at the Grammys is a bit large in scale, but Room 104 is tapping into a feeling that a lot of us remember: discovering music for the first time that felt both life-changing and like you’d been let in on a secret you wanted to spread.

Graham Husker performs in Room 104
Photograph by Tyler Golden/HBO

Logan tells the others that he has found Husker going by the name Gary Horton, and I have to admit I was a bit incredulous as he told this part of the story. I wondered if the guy who was going to show up to Room 104 was going to be a fraud. That is not what happens, however, as Graham Husker (Mark Duplass) does indeed arrive at the room, where Logan has met his stipulations that there be a keg of Keystone Light and no more than four more people.

He drinks straight from the keg and is rather disheveled, but it becomes clear as he begins singing that he is the real deal. And the music is good. Room 104 S4E1 left me quite impressed with Mark Duplass, who is credited with composing the songs in addition to writing, directing, and starring in the episode. Further, these songs sound like lost music from the early ‘90s, when grunge was in ascendance. You could mix these tracks right into a playlist of Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Of course Husker has to stop not long into his performance to go vomit in the bathroom. Logan takes this opportunity to break the rules and grab his cellphone back from Husker’s bag in order to start recording video.

It’s no surprise that he gets caught. Perhaps if he’d been willing to simply record audio with the phone in his pocket Husker wouldn’t have noticed, but Logan has been too infected with the desire to capture things and post them on social media for that. [Insert rant about kids today here]. So Husker takes his phone, smashes it, and then puts it in the microwave, which strikes me as about the right reaction.

The most interesting dynamic in Room 104 S4E1 is between Husker and Katherine. He doesn’t really care about the fanboys fanboying out to his music; he cares what she thinks. But as she tells him when he asks her if they can speak alone in the bathroom, her primary thought is one of confusion as to why he would be doing all of this. Then they bond a little over the idea that the boys want to eat him.

Katherine and Graham Husker sit on the edge of a bathtub as he plays guitar
Photograph by Tyler Golden/HBO

He pounds some more Keystone Light and insists on playing a song just for her because it will make him feel better, before he tells her that he really did kill his mom. And her reaction is interesting. She’s calm enough not to freak him out, but then stands behind his back trying to gesture the others out of the room as he begins to the play the song that he left off the album.

This explains just how and why he killed his mother, cut her into 47 pieces, and buried her in Clyde’s backyard. And it is a rocking tune. He says he left it off the album because he thought it was too literal, and here reveals to the entire group assembled in Room 104 that it is a true story. “I am not a musician; I am the murderer.”

The guys flip out and beat him bloody before fleeing the room. I suppose that makes sense, as they are overcome by fear. There was also some accidental contact that preceded the beating. However even if the violence stemmed from panic, that panic was primed by fear at learning they are in the same room as a murderer. But the truth is the fact that someone killed their mother 25 years ago doesn’t really warrant such fear if we think in rational terms. This isn’t Hannibal Lecter we’re talking about here. He killed his mother because she was his mother, and was threatening to betray him. It is all too human to nonetheless react with disgust, loathing, and fear upon learning this. The move to violence against him is all too realistic. But beneath it, Room 104 asks about our ability to forgive and take one another as human.

It is only Katherine that manages to do that with regard to Husker. Of course, even she was trying to beckon the others out of the room after she learned that they really were listening to a murderer, but at the end of the day she sees his pain (both psychological and physical, given the beating) and feels compelled to comfort him.

It is a funny moment when she thinks that he is reaching for her hand, but is in fact gesturing for more Keystone Light, but S4E1 ends nonetheless with the two spooning in bed singing “Cradle Me.” Katherine pretends for a moment to be Husker’s mother, even. She offers him forgiveness.

There is no statute of limitations on murder when it comes to the law, and I don’t know that there should be. However, Room 104 S4E1 should get us thinking about the presumptions that lie behind prosecuting for something they did long ago. The biggest of these would be a thought that our characters are stable. There is a notion that some people are good, while others are evil, and the evil should, of course, be punished.

But at some level I think we all know that life is more complicated than that. We all want to believe in redemption. Yet this is not what we see with Husker. We see, rather, a broken man who cannot live with what he has done. He couldn’t live with success as a result of the songs he wrote about being a murderer and so he ran away. It’s not entirely clear what he has been doing for the past 25 years other than drowning his sorrows in Keystone Light (which, yuck, by the way), but what is clear is that he is not evil. He doesn’t deserve to be beaten bloody in the corner of Room 104. And it’s particularly sad when he has just told the group how much he appreciates them.

Does he deserve to be forgiven? Well, I’d contend that forgiveness is not about desert. This is what makes it different from excusing someone: to excuse is to accept a reason for what someone has done, to forgive is to absolve it for no reason but love, or compassion. The wrong remains a wrong even if it is forgiven. There is no excuse for murdering your mother and chopping her up into bits.

But Katherine consoles the murderer. Seeing the hurt, remorseful child within, she lies with him and cradles him in her loving arms.

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Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain studies philosophy and is a writer and head of the TV department at 25YL. He is also one half of Drink Full and Descend, a podcast that started in relation to Twin Peaks, but has now moved beyond it, and has begun to explore Surrealism. He lives in Brooklyn and has a cat.

2 Comments

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  1. I kind of like the idea that this is something GH does, he gets drunk, no cups, from a keg and sings his confessions to an empty room of fanboys while getting forgiveness from a mother figure, Kat, this many years later, about the age his mother was when she dies. If they die young enough, we become the older people than our parents. Kat isn’t there, nor were the boys. He sings to confess to forgive himself, cant, so he beats himself up, perhaps literally and is fortunate enough that the only person, a woman who like his mom never heard these songs, forgives him as he falls asleep and one would imagine goes through it all over again.

    • That’s an interesting way of thinking about it. I guess I like the idea that this is more of a singular event, and of course I am taking the other people in the room to truly be there and so on. But there is the question of what GH has been doing with his time. I suppose this could be a regular thing that he does with varying people

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