Room 104 S2E6 “Arnold” may not be entirely sung, but it nonetheless constitutes a musical episode of television. And, while some such episodes have a way of feeling a bit gimmicky because the musical aspect is unexplained, “Arnold” falls rather in the camp of those rare ones (like Buffy’s “Once More, With Feeling”) where the singing fits and helps to elucidate things thematically. Here it is presented as a key to the unlocking of memories.
Arnold is in Room 104 and does not know how he got there. I was going to say that he awakens in the room, but this is actually not clear as we first hear him in the bathroom, from which he emerges wet before beginning to sing. This first musical number consists simply of small elements that bubble up in his memory: a yellow jacket, Kiki Alvarez, falling…
I only came to drink one beer
I only came to drink one beer
How did I end up…here?
Brian Tyree Henry carries “Arnold,” as most of the episode amounts to a one man show. He receives a phone call from P-Dawg (Phil Matarese), sure, and there is the song which involves other voices as he reads his text messages, but for the most part Arnold is alone in Room 104, with the exception of the scenes that occur in the latter half of S2E6 where Vicki (Ginger Gonzaga) appears.
“Arnold” is not the first episode of television to explore a mystery on the basis of the experience of losing time. One of my favorite episodes of Boomtown, “Blackout,” centers on David McNorris (Neal McDonough) waking up in his car after a bender and then trying to piece together the events of the previous evening. There, however, it is clear that David just got really drunk. “Arnold” ultimately complicates the question with the reveal that occurs at the end of the episode that Arnold is, in fact, dead.
I Only Came to Drink One Beer
Of course, Arnold also got really drunk during his night out, and it would seem partook additionally in marijuana and molly. Thus, for the most part Room 104 S2E6 consists of a story that many can relate to. Our friend Arnold got pressured into going out by his friend P-Dawg, intending to just have one beer, but he met a girl. And it is fundamentally the fact that he met Vicki that led him down the path of the rest of the night.
I can only relate to this too well—you know you should go home but feel that kick of adrenaline in relation to a possible connection with someone. It may seem pathetic when Arnold laments that he has fallen in love and blown it in the same night (again!), but I at least have had this experience. Sure, calling it “love” may be overblown, but we aren’t simply talking about lust here either.
Arnold is impressed by the fact that Vicki played his favorite song on the jukebox. They bonded over their shared appreciation of science fiction novels, and talked about David Bowie. And Vicki would seem to be that kind of woman who has a way of making you feel at ease and valued. She’s a possibility that has to be explored, even if that means Arnold going outside of his normal comfort zone. He may have enjoyed all of the other things we ultimately see him doing that night, from the dancing to the drug use, but his ultimate high was being in Vicki’s presence itself.
Until he tries to kiss her and she claims he has misunderstood. She likes him, but not like that. They’re just having fun, and when she told the asshole at the bar that Arnold was her new boyfriend and kissed him it was just because the guy is her ex and won’t leave her alone. And so Arnold says he feels used, but I think the feeling is more one of disillusionment. Vicki caught him up in a fantasy, and here the spell is broken.
Sorry Not Sorry
The central song of Room 104 S2E6 is “Sorry Not Sorry” which is supposedly a song by Dante Dupre (within the narrative of “Arnold”) but is actually a song written for the episode by Mark Duplass and Julian Wass. This does not stop it, however, from feeling like a song that exists outside of the Room 104 universe, which is a real testament to the writing and the performances of Brian Tyree Henry and Ginger Gonzaga. I’d expect just about everyone who watches “Arnold” turns around to google whether this is a “real song.” And thematically, it gets to the heart of S2E6.
Take a walk together towards the ledge
Hold me closer I am falling
As we teeter on the razor’s edge
If we fall we are not sorry
On the one hand, this is a song about falling in love, or being in that liminal space where this is a possibility. To fall in love is to lose oneself, to lose control of oneself—there is a reason for this language of falling. One does not choose the experience, it “chooses” you.
Of course, at the end of the day, Room 104 S2E6 reveals to us that Arnold’s fall was ultimately more literal. He interceded when that asshole Chris (Chris MacLaughlin) came after Vicki and ended up being thrown off a roof to his death.
And so he lost himself in an even deeper way, but is interesting to note how the lyrics of the same song can be taken to refer to either thing. This is not mere ambiguity on the part of the words, even, but a certain resonance between the experiences of love and death, which “Arnold” plays with throughout.
After Arnold finally learns of his fate, he sees Vicki in Room 104 calling his mother, tells her not to feel bad, and this leads into a reprise of “Sorry Not Sorry.” Does Vicki hear him at the end? Is she really there in the room? Is he? Is the Room 104 of this episode some kind of representation of purgatory or limbo? How are we to interpret the events of the entire episode up to this point? Is there some kind of thesis about what happens when you die at play here?
I think the answer to that last question is basically no, and that all of these are in general bad questions. That is, they miss the point. “Arnold” doesn’t provide us with anything that could begin to answer these questions, first of all, and I think it should be clear that what Room 104 is up to with S2E6 is something entirely to the side of metaphysical speculation.
It is about the experience of teetering up to the edge, of pursuing something or someone in spite of the risk involved, whether that is losing oneself to love or death. And when you fall, as Arnold does, are you sorry, or not? Is he sorry or not sorry about what he got into the evening of his death? The interesting thing is the way in which the answer is both. “Sorry not sorry” is not feigned apology here, it is a certain sadness in the face of loss together with a lack of regret at having taken the risk.
The song is a duet, but also a call and response. Thus the end of S2E6: Vicki is sorry and Arnold is telling her not to be.