The following contains spoilers for Mr. Corman S1E7, “Many Worlds”
I have this paragraph I have drafted more than once in the past weeks of writing on Mr. Corman and then cut each time because it didn’t feel like it fit right. At least I think I did. Surely in some alternate reality it made it through. Let me know if I’m wrong and it did in this one.
The paragraph is about how Mr. Corman made a point of showing us the date on Josh’s classroom chalkboard in Episode 1, letting us know it was August 2019. It would have been easy to not give us a date, to allow us to take this story as happening in some possible (fictional) world parallel to our own, but I have always felt this date marked this show as occurring in our world and wondered if the narrative would progress into 2020.
I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. When Mr. Corman S1E7 ended with an establishing shot on the blackboard, marking the date as March 2, 2020, it felt like a gut punch as we panned back to find Josh—our Josh again, clearly—talking about what a good day it would be.
As you might have expected from the episode title, “Many Worlds” flits between alternate realities and alternate versions of Josh. It opens with one where he and Megan stayed together and made it as musicians, which might almost make you think that Josh was wrong to give up on the band in the reality we’ve been used to, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Already, at the end of this opening scene, we have Megan waxing poetic about all of the choices that led the audience to that show on that night, and how each of them could all so easily have been somewhere else…and someone else.
This gets to the heart of what “Many Worlds” explores, which is not really the metaphysical type question of whether parallel universes exist, but rather a question of personal identity—are all of these versions of Josh we see over the course of S1E7 really Josh? What would make them hang together?
Whereas in an entirely different context or two I have speculated about personal identity in some way being what bridges the divide between alternate realities, that may well be a fantasy. Here we get: Josh as a telemarketer; Josh as somehow married to Lindsay from Episode 1, arguing about a car seat; Josh as something like an immigration advocate in Colombia; Josh as an arrogant businessman who has just gotten rich; Josh as a survivalist; Josh as somehow surviving a climate catastrophe, with a view from a highrise; Josh as a devout Jew, singing in Hebrew; Josh at a Russian discotheque kissing another man…
About halfway through, it struck me that the point of all of this seems to be that these aren’t the same Josh. These are totally different people, or at least I don’t want to think that it’s a living possibility within the Josh Corman I’ve come to know that if given a multi-million dollar windfall he’d suddenly be harassing a waitress at a bar. Or, worse, I’m pretty sure in one reality that we get just a brief flash of, he was trying to steal a woman’s baby.
Of course there is the question of the reality of the events in “Many Worlds” to grapple with. Perhaps it could be the case that the many worlds are interior to Josh’s psychic life in some way, not so much as fantasy in the everyday sense of the word, but perhaps along the lines of the term in a more psychoanalytic context.
In other words, this could all be Josh Corman’s unconscious or something like that—a further expression of his anxiety manifesting through the lens of unactualized possible lives (and deaths), with a crisis of personal identity at its heart. If one wished to follow this line of interpretation, one might point to the various moments in Mr. Corman S1E7 where the background framing is in animated style—the reality of what we’re seeing is thrown into question by the very form of its presentation.
Coming on the heels of his conversation with Megan at the end of “Funeral,” this could make sense, because what that made clear (or should have made clear) to Josh is that the possibility of a reconciliation with his ex-girlfriend is no longer a live one. He gave up on their shared musical dream to pursue what he thought was best for them in a stable job that would help them start a family. But this will not be the case. Thus the mix of apocalyptic scenes with variations on Josh being married to someone else, whether happily or unhappily, along with the fantasy of making out with a man.
But where is the line between being a different version of myself and being someone else entirely?
It’s easy enough to work out the possibility of many worlds running parallel to our own. All one has to do is to imagine each choice at each moment splitting in a variety of directions to approach an infinite number of such possible worlds. The question has always been whether these alternate realities are actual or merely virtual. Leibniz imagined God considering all of the logically possible worlds and then choosing one to create. God chose the best one, of course, but one could equally take the thrust of this as in the thought that there is only one world that truly exists, with all of the others cut off into some kind of metaphysical subsistence—virtual, imagined, fantastical, perhaps, but not actual.
But imagine that these worlds do all exist and with them a nearly infinite number of versions of yourself. What distresses you more: the idea of those versions whose lives are going better than yours, or of those that are going worse? Am I the best of all possible Caemerons? That thought just kind of strikes me as depressing in its own distinctive way.
Regardless, the metaphysical question isn’t what’s important to Mr. Corman, and I don’t expect the show to resolve it—this isn’t Devs, after all. What is important in taking S1E7 in relation to its surrounding narrative is precisely this kind of question about Josh. Is one the best and one the worst? Or are they all just different in ways that can’t be assessed qualitatively?
That also strikes me as depressing in its own particular way.
There are two versions of Josh that hew closest to the reality known heretofore in Mr. Corman. First is a world where Josh is more successful in life than his sister Beth, as the two try to stage an intervention for their mother Ruth, making clear that this is a universe where she never left their (terrible) father. The second, at the close of Mr. Corman S1E7, is a world where it was Josh who died instead of Dax, in much the same way.
Each of these does feel like it presents some insight into our Josh, as the differences between worlds aren’t so great. In the intervention reality, he seems largely the same, but perhaps more confident and less anxious. It’s not for nothing, however, that in this world a lot of his focus is on worry about others, with his sister being a bit of a mess and his mother trapped in a marriage bad enough that her children are actually urging her to leave their father.
Equally, in the world where Josh has died, we get Megan reflecting on how maybe he was trying to look out for her and worried about her. Josh may seem judgmental, but at root he cares about others and is trying to live authentically. He just struggles with how.
And so we’re back to the classroom and the terrifying date on the board: Monday, March 2, 2020.
To my recollection, that is about a week before everything went crazy. I taught my (college) courses on Monday the 9th on campus. Tuesday they moved the rest of the semester online.
“Action Adventure” took place on Halloween and we can presume “Funeral” occurred shortly after that. So either Mr. Corman is skipping about five months or this is a flash-forward and we’ll pick up next week at some previous point in the timeline.
Presuming Mr. Corman does tackle life in the era of COVID-19, I find myself weirdly looking forward to it, as this may finally be the fictional work to grapple with its existential dimension for someone like me.
Mr. Corman S1E7 opens with Josh and Megan performing their song, “So Long,” onstage with their band, and closes with the same song playing over the credits. Composed by Nathan Johnson and sung by Juno Temple and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the first thing I want to say about the song is that it is actually quite good! The music throughout Mr. Corman has been very impressive, along with the sound design more generally, so this should be no surprise.
The use of this song in these contexts—paired with its use in last week’s “Funeral”—is particularly striking, however. You’ll recall that Megan didn’t want her mother to put it on, and Josh agreed it was a bad idea, even though that didn’t stop Cheryl from playing it. Let’s take a look at the lyrics:
Another day slips away and you’re fading
Beyond, beyond us now
You never were one to stay where you belong
They say love takes time, but why’d you waste mine, baby?
Be hon—, be honest now
You’ve been gone for so long
So, so long
Apparently this is basically a song about Josh and Megan’s breakup that they wrote as a couple prior to their breakup—unconscious thoughts seeping into lyrical expression, if you will—but yet the version of the pair at the beginning of “Many Worlds” still wrote this song, which indicates that their split wasn’t a foregone conclusion. And Megan’s monologue about choices leading everyone to that concert on that night stands in contrast to Ruth’s claim that we often only think we have a choice when we really don’t.
Of course we do. It’s choices all the way down. Which is, of course, terrifying.
As Mr. Corman S1E7 ends, after we see the blackboard, Josh declares that he’s “feeling it” that day, and they’re going to get a lot done. Of course he’s speaking to his class of fifth graders, but again here we get a sharp contrast with the first line of “So Long,” which hits immediately after as the credits roll. This isn’t a day that’s slipping away and he’s not fading. (Too bad he’s on the precipice of lockdowns, social distancing, quarantines, and all.)
This seems to be the lesson of “Many Worlds” if we look for one—to embrace oneself and one’s choices. This world. This Josh Corman. Perhaps what really matters isn’t all of those possibilities that have slipped away, beyond us now, but this present moment we’re living in together, as us, here, in this world.