The following contains spoilers for Mr. Corman S1E2, “Don’t Panic”
Writing about Episode 1 (which I’m feeling the need to tell you I did before watching Episode 2, given that I know they’re being released at the same time), I posited that Mr. Corman was fundamentally about millennial anxiety. S1E2, “Don’t Panic,” makes that all the clearer and more literal, as Josh suffers from an anxiety attack, or series of attacks, for its duration.
Apparently this is something new for him, and his anxiety is undiagnosed. Mine is as well, for what it’s worth, but what I further find interesting is that I didn’t necessarily intend the word in its clinical sense when I was writing on “Good Luck”—I was thinking about something I take to be far more general as characterizing at least my generation. But perhaps this is at least in continuity with such a technical use.
I’m reminded of the philosophy professor who chastised me for mentioning anxiety disorders in relation to Martin Heidegger, insisting his thought about existential angst was not the same as the psychological problem. I have never been able to decide if he was right about that.
Certainly there is an existential dimension to an anxiety attack, at least for me. And to conceive of it in Heideggerian type terms tracks—a crisis of being-in-the-world.
But then, with Heidegger this is related to his line about being-towards-death and a thought about moving from inauthentic to authentic being through a moment of vision and resoluteness, so perhaps that is different from the type of anxiety that Josh experiences (and which I have also experienced), which isn’t so directly related to a confrontation with one’s ownmost possibility of death. It’s something much more general. Maybe it’s Heidegger who’s wrong with the whole business about resoluteness and authenticity. Is it even possible to believe in authenticity anymore?
When Victor tells Josh that everyone knows the world is f*cked so that can’t be what’s causing his anxiety, I think he’s wrong. Maybe everyone feels it at a low level and is able to cope in one way or another, and it’s Josh’s coping that we see failing.
Perhaps I shouldn’t speak for everyone. But what kind of monster is well adjusted to this world, flipping from news that the planet is dying to celebrity gossip, and left to try to find human connection by swiping right?
Is the service rep on the phone a human being? Josh asks, but it’s not because the voice sounds robotic so much as because the responses he’s receiving feel automated regardless.
What about the debt collector?
Sorry, he has a script. So he keeps calling Josh by his name even after he asks him to stop more than once. It’s this kind of thing that can put one at risk of fritzing out—the intractability of the world and its idiocy. The way in which we’re constantly bombarded by forces outside of our control and thus a fear of what could go wrong and what is going wrong at this very moment. Did I forget to lock my car? Should I check? Is that stupid paranoia? Am I now leaving my car unlocked?
Once again Mr. Corman is colored by a tinge of magical realism, as an asteroid plunges towards earth in the opening moments of S1E2. Don’t panic. Josh doesn’t know where his proverbial towel is as he calls in for a sub from the school parking lot and goes home.
He doesn’t know what’s wrong. He can’t tell Victor what’s wrong. Except he also does, because it is everything—every thought and decision or lack thereof thrown into question.
Will this end? Will he be OK? The anxiety feeds on itself and threatens to spiral out. But he is breathing. He yells at the woman on the phone who is trying to help with her suggestion, but ultimately takes it by going to the breathing workshop that closes S1E2.
There is a sort of cruel irony at play as he’s asked to decide for himself what to pay, as Josh is forced to operate without bearings, and it’s a lack of control—or lack of feeling control—that can provoke the panic. Does it make sense to say there is an ethical line that would be crossed by indicating how much people tend to pay? There is a realism to the scene nonetheless.
The group that exists now but will never exist again gives some credence to the thought that anxiety is pervasive in (post)modern life, and there is a paucity in the responses Chris (Jonno Roberts) gives to members of the circle. (“It’s still sad this week.”)
And yet ultimately, it seems to function. S1E2 breaks into a montage of breathing, with the rhythms of each individual coming to be punctuated by an accompanying musical score that creates a growing sense of calm, whereas the bulk of S1E2 was pervaded by a soundtrack that accentuated Mr. Corman’s anxiety.
The sound design of Mr. Corman has been impressive through two episodes, but in particular in S1E2 the tolling bell sound keys us in to Josh’s mental state. The sound is practically a character in the drama, and credit is due to Nathan Johnson and all of the others involved in its creation.
Sometimes sound in TV and film can feel merely auxiliary or ad hoc, but it is clearly intrinsic to Mr. Corman and not just because of Josh’s history as a musician.
We do see him making music at the beginning of “Don’t Panic” and that seems noteworthy. It’s not giving him a respite it would seem so much as even perhaps priming him for his confrontation with existential dread. Not that it’s the music’s fault. Not that he shouldn’t have played.
But his uneasiness is manifesting. Along comes an inability to enjoy, with its guilt, and an uncertainty that cuts to his being.
But the end of S1E2 brings a moment of calm in the connection with another. Josh doesn’t breathe along until he’s observed the sad woman beside him. He finds some peace through empathy and they console each other as they reach out to hold hands.
It’s not that things are suddenly all better. But in this moment we are living through right now, you are not alone.