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Room 104 S4E4: “Bangs”

Photograph by Tyler Golden/HBO

Room 104 S4E4 “Bangs” (written by Jenée LaMarque and Lauren Parks, and directed by Jenée LaMarque) follows in line with the previous episodes of Season 4 in a couple of significant ways. As with “Star Time” and “Avalanche,” the reality of events is meaningfully in question, and the plot centers on what could be called an existential crisis for the protagonist. In fact, the same could be said with regard to “The Murderer,” insofar there was some question (at least initially) as to whether Mark Duplass’s character was truly Graham Husker, and the plot centered on how he related to his own identity. As an anthology show, I would tend to suggest that episodes of Room 104 could be watched in virtually any order, but I increasingly have the feeling that Season 4 is developing along the lines of a theme.

For example, I suggested that the struggle that Doug (Dave Bautista) engages in to regain his sense of self in “Avalanche” is something that we all face in parallel, if often smaller, ways. This is precisely what we see in Room 104 S4E4 as Eva (Melissa Fumero) struggles with her own identity in light of her divorce. It’s not just a question of her doing different things in life, it is a question of who she is, as Poppy March (Breeda Wool) emphasizes as she pushes Eva to move beyond a collection of facts about herself to connect with something deeper.

Of course, it makes the most sense to suggest that this is all in Eva’s head. Or, at least, I see nothing gained by an interpretation that insists that the scissors are actually magical and that the people from Eva’s life actually appear in Room 104. You can take this all literally if you want to, but the point of S4E4 will remain a thematic one, and the titular bangs will remain symbolic.

Do You Feel Like You’ve Lost Yourself Yet?

Eva looks in the mirror at her bangs and '70s style dress
Photograph by Tyler Golden/HBO

Eva and Jaimie (Vivian Bang) are in Room 104 to celebrate Eva’s divorce from Derek (Adam Shapiro). They plan to mark the event by cutting Eva’s hair to give her bangs. It is a common trope, of course, for a character to cut their hair in response to some major life change—common enough in film and TV that I do not feel the need to cite examples. Eva herself seems to note this when she worries about the bangs being a “basic bitch move,” but the interesting thing about this trope is that it has some basis in reality.

For whatever reason, cutting one’s hair tends to evoke something psychologically symbolic of change or renewal. Perhaps this is simply because we have imbued it with such significance, but there is the underlying biological fact that hair grows and we have to do something about it. The notion that there is some link between one’s hair and one’s identity goes back at least to the story of Samson, who it is said lost his great strength when his glorious locks were cut off.

This also gets to Eva’s initial trepidation about the haircut. It represents a change in who she is. But she is already in the situation of transition. Major life events have a way of opening you up to possibilities, be they about the future or the past. It makes sense that the first person Eva sees in Room 104 after she cuts her bangs is Walker (Finn Roberts), because he represents a road not taken.

But she quickly realizes that her juvenile crush wouldn’t harmonize with how she is now. She doesn’t like his song and has a hard time getting past that. Eva at 33 or 34 is not the same person as she was in high school. That the fantasy presents itself makes sense, but Room 104 S4E4 has her confront the reality that the Walker she’s been carrying around in her head smells good because of whatever shampoo his mom buys. It’s not that there was anything wrong with her teenage crush, it’s that this doesn’t fit with the woman she is now.

Equally, the time loop that Eva gets caught in with Derek makes sense as representing the quagmire of her life that she both wants to escape and to return to because it is comfortable. Change is scary, and even if the situation is bad there is a temptation to remain within its inertia. You don’t have to think about who you are when you are caught up in the drama of the day to day (fighting with your husband).

But now Eva has been thrown out of all of that, and even if this is a good thing, the flipside of that opportunity is a crisis. The most powerful scene in Room 104 S4E4 is when Eva is confronted by all of the figures from her past and present. She asserts that she isn’t the girl who was too scared to leave the letter she wrote in Walker’s locker, but she didn’t give him the letter, so isn’t she? Poppy March urges her to find her true, unique self, but is she really on the path to that with the cutting of her bangs, or is she copying Poppy?

Poppy March stands by the bed in Room 104
Photograph by Tyler Golden/HBO

It’s not clear whether Eva really finds herself in S4E4. After Jaimie returns to Room 104 with a fresh bottle of tequila, Eva laments that she feels like she has to figure everything out at once. It’s that feeling that is often at the core of an existential crisis—everything is thrown up in the air. We are, as Jean-Paul Sartre insisted, condemned to be free. Of course, it isn’t possible to decide everything at once, and Eva doesn’t need to do that. No one can, or does.

If Eva doesn’t “find herself” by the end of “Bangs” it is perhaps because there is no self to be found for any of us. That’s just not how identity works—there isn’t some core self to be discovered underneath all of the habits and collateral associations that define us day to day, or if there is it is more of an opening than something solid.

Thus Eva’s decision to shave her head represents her decision to lay herself bare and to embrace that opening. As Jaimie says, she’s like a baby, with her whole future ahead of her. To cut bangs is not radical enough—one must go to the root and begin anew.

But of course that’s all symbolic, and if we return to the world of tropes we’ll be reminded that a woman shaving her head tends to represent a reaction to some great trauma. In some regards, that is the case for Eva, if we think about the trauma as an event that cuts one’s life into a before and after rather than dwelling on its more violent connotations.

Yet I do not read Eva’s decision to shave her head as stemming from some extreme anguish (unless you mean anguish in the Sartrean sense). Nor does it strike me as some kind of overreaction. Room 104 S4E4 does not show us Eva after the fact—with the episode cutting to black as the sound of the clippers begins—but I think she’ll be sexy as hell. And I imagine her, not deprived or her strength like Samson, but shorn of her emotional baggage and embracing the openness of her future, not determined by her past.

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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.

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