Room 104 S4E12 “Generations” (directed by Sydney Fleischmann and written by Julian Wass) brings things to an end with either lilies (white) or golden daffodils, but whatever happens after the frame turns to black hardly matters. Is this the end, or will there be another year? At least with regard to Room 104, the answer seems to be the former. Or maybe not…maybe there will be another year at some point in the future. Daffodil? The ending is open.
But taken as the series finale of Room 104, “Generations” provides a satisfying conclusion despite (or perhaps in part because of) its ambiguous ending. Here we have had a show that has cut across space and time, traversing genre and generations of actors, writers, directors, and others. All that holds these lives together is this motel room…Why this kind of room? Did they test others out?
Keir (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) prepares for his Generations ceremony—it’s a celebration!—with Agnes (a woman on the TV screen who does not appear to age and is thus easily inferred to be some kind of AI) providing commentary, answering at least some questions, and offering a certain form of encouragement. Does Keir find her to be annoying, or experience her presence as that of a lifelong companion? Perhaps it is both.
When Agnes (Rebecca Hazlewood) asks him why he insists on reading the same book when she could offer him any number of different ones electronically, however, I couldn’t help but feel a bit annoyed in Keir’s stead. I have no specific thoughts about making thematic connections between Tom Sawyer and the story that forms S4E12. Rather I empathize with Keir’s quiet irritation at being pestered to pursue novelty through technological means. The book is better. It’s solid and has a history as an object in his life. But there is no point in trying to explain any of this to Agnes.
In a certain way, Room 104 S4E12 makes a mystery of its plot, but the structure of the episode serves the story well. It’s not that the truth of Keir’s situation is hidden or withheld from us as an audience, but rather that the events of “Generations” are presented in line with lived experience. A clunky exposition informing us that this all takes place on a spaceship would risk ruining the whole thing. Instead, the fact that this is the case is doled out through quiet moments, memories and reflections, as Keir prepares for his ceremony.
It becomes clear that this vessel is on a long journey, though the reason for this is left to the imagination. Neither you nor your children nor your children’s children will make it to the destination. All of this is for the benefit of generations not yet born.
And so people live, getting married, and have children. The full contours of the plan are not revealed in S4E12, but there is an indication that Keir and Ryoko’s (Susan Park) marriage was arranged for them before they were even born. One can’t help but wonder why. I suppose marriage and procreation can’t be left to chance on a voyage like this. The point is that you have children, and they have children, until one day we (but not we—our ancestors, generations down the line) make it to the promised land.
Of course this makes Keir feel that he hasn’t gotten the chance to have a life, but the truth is that his situation isn’t all that different from that of any given human being. We live. We die. Maybe we have kids in between. In fact, one could even argue that we are lacking what Keir and the others on this spaceship have—a definite goal. Instead this process of birth and death will just keep going, indefinitely, and we may be led to wonder what the point of it all is. Perhaps there isn’t one.
Ryoko is the wiser of the couple when she asserts that this is their life and she loves him even if they didn’t choose it—their circumstances, or even the fact of their coupling. But Keir struggles to accept this, and certainly he has grounds for objecting to the life that has been foisted upon him.
He didn’t choose this; it was chosen for him. He was thrown into not just existence, but an existence of a particular kind, more or less trapped in a space pod made to resemble Room 104 (unless maybe all of the stories of Room 104 have been on the spaceship? I’ll leave you to ponder that possibility for yourself). What’s worse, he was lied to, though one has to wonder what the details of this lie were. Are the children on the ship of “Generations” told that everyone lives in a motel? Regardless, it would seem they are not told that they are actually floating through space.
Keir learned this as a child, totally unprepared for the harsh cold reality that awaited him. It certainly couldn’t have helped that it came as a surprise. We see this in his preparations to reveal the truth to his daughter, Imoko (Kaya Rose Davis/Kristina Hanna). But Ryoko tells him in this memory that she already knows and is OK. Keir doesn’t understand how she could be OK.
But again, our lives aren’t that different. We didn’t ask to be born, nor did we ask to be born here and now. Perhaps to live is to suffer, and even if it is absurd to sue your parents for forcing you to exist against your will, the point behind such a lawsuit holds. I did not consent to be born. It’s something that happened to me.
And so we might wonder about the deception, and Keir’s anger at being deceived. It seems fair to say that no one likes to be lied to, and I could certainly offer a strident argument that lying is always immoral by pulling on the likes of Immanuel Kant. But such a position is likely too cold; or, more to the point, we have to ask ourselves whether it is a lie to tell a child that everything is going to be alright when you don’t know that’s true.
Who lied to Keir? His mother (Saidah Ekulona Arrika)? Agnes? Or was it rather the whole construct of his reality in Room 104 that conspired to deceive him? And if it’s that, how different is this from the way that parents generally want to protect their children from harsh realities? Is it wrong to do that? Perhaps it is, but this does not even seem to be Keir’s ultimate position on the matter. He focuses instead on the question of making sure his daughter is prepared to learn the truth. He doesn’t insist on raising her in it.
It is important, though, that each person on the ship that forms the setting of S4E12 learn that truth at some point as they come to adulthood. Surely they need to know in order to be able to accept an arranged marriage, and ultimately the celebration ceremony that will mark their death.
Why toss people out of the airlock? Presumably it is because they have served their purpose. Was Ryoko ill or was that scan a matter of determining that she had become infertile? If the purpose is procreation, in order to keep the generations going until the vessel reaches its destination, then the right question seems to be more why Keir was allowed to live to be this old. Room 104 doesn’t give us all the answers, or a vision of the whole plan.
But that is not the point. Death awaits us all, and it could come at any moment. There likely will not be a ceremony. There likely will not be a chance to say one’s final goodbyes. And we aren’t on a spaceship slowly making its way to a new home. We might hope that the future will be better than the past—that we’ll leave a better world for those generations not yet born—but there is no guarantee. And worse, looking at the world one might find cause to despair.
We live. Maybe have children. Clean the house. Push the boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down again. It’s not clear if we are going anywhere. But we love each other anyway.