Room 104 S4E7 “Foam Party” (written by Bryan Poyser and directed by Natalie Morales) is like one of those horror movies you might have seen in the 1990s: the premise is absurd (by which I mean far-fetched, or outlandish), and so is its logic (which I ultimately don’t think is consistent—how does the foam function exactly?). I have to surmise that this is intentional. After all, we have seen Room 104 play with genre any number of times over the course of its run, and just two episodes ago got Room 104 the sitcom with “Oh, Harry!”—which also played with tropes from the ‘90s.
Indeed, something about the 1990s seems to be baked into Room 104 Season 4, from the nostalgia for ‘90s music expressed through “The Murderer” to the vibe of “Foam Party” here (and the fact that actual foam parties were a phenomenon that arose in the 1990s—did you know these were a real thing?)
Room 104 S4E7 also carries forward the thread of this season in relation to questions of personal identity. Jack (Benjamin Papac) is ultimately revealed to be one with the foam in some way at the end of the episode, and its horror proceeds through his friends variously taking on his visage as the foam moves to overtake them. One by one, this occurs to Luke (Harvey Guillén), Jenna (Olivia Crocicchia), Hunter (Timothy Granaderos), and Morgan (Alison Jaye) until by the end of “Foam Party” they are dead, having been consumed by the ever-expanding foam.
Jack, for his part, doesn’t seem to know what has happened. As he holds Morgan’s damaged ID he doesn’t seem to remember the events of the previous evening, which culminated in him wrestling with the force of the evil foam before it swirled itself into him. And this tracks with the way we learn towards the beginning of S4E7 that he has only been friends/roommates with the others for a short period of time. The inference is that this has all happened before. But Jack doesn’t know it. He’s a vessel for malicious foam.
This might bring to mind the plots of such films as The Thing or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but “Foam Party” is not nearly as deep or visceral. Instead, it is light on substance, much like the titular foam. If there is a message to Room 104 S4E7, it is perhaps about how something so light and, well…foamy, can nonetheless be pernicious. There is a danger posed by the insipid precisely by its ability to spread. Soon everything is surface, and we may as well all be Jack—boring, run of the mill, clichéd, but also seemingly palatable. If it’s just foam, it should wash away. What’s the big deal?
So it’s not Jack’s loss of self that “Foam Party” should get us thinking about—he never had one in the first place. The fact that he is a kind of walking stereotype has simply made him a vessel for this foamy malevolence. He has all of the depth of a Limp Bizkit song. He represents the threat to the identity of the others in Room 104 S4E7, but he himself is never presented as anything but vacuous.
This is all thematized in the “Conformity” song that plays during the montage of the party toward the beginning of the episode, and then again as the credits roll at the end (though the lyrics are different, I take these to just be different verses). Much as with “Sorry Not Sorry” from Season 2’s “Arnold,” Room 104 gives us here a song that was written for the episode, but which is done so well you might think it existed independently of it. (I’m told that Julian Wass and Mark Duplass co-wrote the song, and that it is Phil Matarese singing, so kudos to them for writing something that immediately got stuck in my head).
But “Conformity” also gets to the point of “Foam Party” as I am interpreting it. The song decries drinking Bacardi while our friends proceed to do just that, and intones negatively against the idea of a foam party in the verse after the credits roll, despite the fact that it just served as the soundtrack for one.
More to the point, this is an anthem against the forces of conformity, but is an utterly generic song. By this I do not mean that it is bad so much as I mean it embodies its genre. It is emblematic of so many tracks released in the ‘90s when this kind of rebellion was in the zeitgeist, but precisely by being a perfect version of such a song shows the lack of substance that occurred when the Alternative became the popular. Rather than Nirvana knocking down the structure that pre-existed them, ever more watered down versions of the sound they brought into the mainstream appeared, until we got pop music that may have resembled grunge or punk on the surface, but it was empty on the inside. It was all surface, like foam, or putting an anarchy sign on your book cover because you think it looks cool.
Of course, though I have spoken in the past tense, this has never stopped. One could even argue that everything is surface now.
There is no real Jack. There is only the foam.