It is pretty much in the DNA of a show like Room 104 that you are going to like some episodes more than others. And, if you’re honest, you probably really think some are just worse than others in a way that calls out for something like universal approval. People will disagree, sure, and to each their own, but underneath our post-modern ecumenicalism I expect most of us truly believe that some works of art are better than others, even if we’re averse to conflict. If you think about it, this is really kind of the presupposition of the whole field of art criticism.
Which is not, by the way, how I would generally conceive of what I am up to in pieces like this. If you’ve been reading along with me throughout Season 4 of Room 104, I hope you’ve noticed that I don’t tend to offer you a review so much as an interpretation, or analysis, of the episode. What I try to do is to find what is interesting about each week’s entry, and if I don’t happen to have thought that the episode was very good, what I find interesting is to try to engage with what I think it was attempting, even if it didn’t fully succeed.
Often, when I approach things in this way, whether it be Room 104 or something else, I find myself appreciating it more after I’ve gone through the process of writing than I did prior to it, and I hope that this might carry over to you, dear reader. Because it is more enjoyable to enjoy things than it is to not enjoy them, to appreciate them rather than rejecting them. This is not to discount the joy that can be taken in reading a scathing review of something that sucks, but I tend to find it rather boring to go negative, personally. Others can do that, but it’s not so much how I want to spend my time, unless perhaps it is a matter of engaging in some kind of social critique.
As you may have already guessed, Room 104 S4E11 “Fur” is not for me. But I mean that quite literally. At least this is how I have been thinking about it. I imagine that “Fur” has an audience and I am simply not a part of it. My attempts to expand my thinking beyond my personal identity to whatever extent possible just seem to fail with this one to the extent that I cannot seem to find a perspective from which to approach it fruitfully. I am not sure what the goal was, whether it was executed well or poorly, or exactly what the takeaway of “Fur” is supposed to be. I was excited for S4E11 on the basis of Mel Eslyn’s other work on Room 104 (most prominently “Oh, Harry!” and “The Specimen Collector,” which Eslyn also wrote and directed), so I cannot help but to worry that I am missing something.
Finley (Jordyn Lucas) and Grey (Natasha Perez) sneak into Room 104 in order to have some fun before things change. They are teens, or tweens, so it easy to think at first that they are talking about menstruation, with the first reference to leg hair easily enough taken in terms of a broader concern about puberty. And clearly this is intended.
They end up calling John (Jake Green), an older boy whose picture they’ve ogled in a yearbook, and invite him to join them in Room 104. Which, that’s dumb, but I don’t want to put too much weight on that—these are young girls, after all, who should be able to make some stupid mistakes without risking sexual assault. Of course that’s not the world we live in, but I’m not sure “Fur” has a real point to make about all of this.
Juvenile jealousy and the like ensue until John engages in the sexual assault that was all too predictable. Do we want to traffic in clichés about what kind of guy is likely to be a rapist? I don’t think so, but nonetheless John seems like that kind of guy from the get-go.
But despite the way he hulks out when Finley makes him angry—something that probably would have landed a little better if he’d seemed like a decent guy in the first place—she and Grey ultimately manage to emerge victorious. Because they’re werewolves. But Finley being a werewolf by herself isn’t enough, she needs Grey to also become a werewolf…and this is where I honestly am not sure how to interpret what “Fur” is going for.
The girls emerge victorious, which is clearly a good thing, and the analogy between menstruation and werewolf transformation is pretty evident on the surface of things, but where is this analogy supposed to be leading us? If “Fur” is an allegory, in other words—and it seems clear to me that it has the structure of one—what is the message?
I hesitate to even speculate about this because nothing feels quite right, and certain possibilities strike me as rather problematic. In fact they all do, because as much as I want to get behind the notion of girl power through fur put forward in the closing song of S4E11, I can’t help but worry that this narrative might be perpetuating some way of thinking that ties rape to attractiveness, or something like that. Or that the successful resistance of Finley and Grey might imply some kind of notion that rape victims did not adequately resist. And I cannot believe that anything along such lines was intended. But I’ve not been able to find an interpretation that feels good.
I’ve speculated over the course of Room 104 Season 4 that these episodes have pulled inspiration from the 1990s. At this point, I think this is a well-grounded claim on the basis of explicit references alone, never mind the less direct allusions that I have at times pointed out.
So perhaps this is how the idea for “Fur” arose. After all, it has the style of a ‘90s cartoon, with its animation resembling something like Daria. The fashion is another point of reference, along with the lack of cellphone technology, etc.
And then to this, let’s add one more thing—the worries about the episode’s message that I mentioned above. It was often the case in the ‘90s that even a story about gender dynamics or sexual assault that meant well ended up reinforcing problematic stereotypes and ways of thinking about the issue. The interpretations that I have resisted imputing to “Fur” would hold water when it comes to any number of things from that era. So perhaps S4E11 is meant to play with these tropes and subvert them?
If so I’m afraid I can’t help but feel that is fails. “Fur” does not feel meta, or at a critical distance from the tone of the ‘90s era narratives it mimics. And of course societally we are not beyond the problematic ways of thinking I gestured at earlier. We still see a lot of victim blaming.
I hope that I’m missing something about “Fur.” I hope that someone might show me how to appreciate this episode of Room 104. Because after this, barring some unforeseeable resurrection at some unknown point in the future, there is only one episode left.
See you next week.