The following contains spoilers for Mr. Corman S1E8, “Hope You Feel Better”
Mr. Corman S1E8 throws us right into the time at the beginning of COVID-19, or at least the beginning of things like stay-at-home orders and the like, and no matter what I said last week, I can’t say I found the experience of watching this episode to be an enjoyable one. That’s not to say it is a bad episode of TV—I think it is quite good, actually—but rather to express that this all still has a way of feeling too soon for me. The pandemic is not over, and it’s hard to reflect in retrospect on the events of a year and a half ago when in so many ways the world still feels crazy now, even if in ever-differing ways.
At the same time, I can’t help but imagine how odd it will be for anyone who comes to Mr. Corman too far in the future, as the thing itself is hardly referenced and the reasons for Josh’s behavior hardly explained. The background context is taken for granted and is even likely to come as a shock to anyone who wasn’t paying close enough attention to the end of “Many Worlds” and the date on Josh’s blackboard, thinking that through.
I’m reminded a bit of a particular episode of High Maintenance wherein everyone is reacting to an event without ever saying what the event was, which I actually did come to long enough later that I had to sort it out for myself. Being who I am, I found that to be a fun puzzle, and the episode itself to be more intriguing as it was structured around something implicit, as though it could have been any event of sufficient import that everyone was in the aftermath of.
I suppose a similar effect is unlikely with regard to Mr. Corman S1E8, though, and that the pandemic has been such an Event in the course of history that there will be no forgetting. It’s hard to say from the point of view of 2021.
One thing that did strike me, however, in watching “Hope You Feel Better,” is how much things have changed in the past year and a half even if COVID is an ongoing problem. Mr. Corman takes us back to the beginning of the whole thing, and I remember that kind of hyper-paranoia, the uncertainty and mixed messages in the world about what we were dealing with—the neurotically repetitive washing of hands.
The thing is, all of a sudden we were being told this wasn’t neurotic but proper caution. And I can’t speak to everyone’s experience, but mine was a lot like Josh’s as he unpacks the food Victor brought home, touching packaging, washing hands, touching packaging, washing hands…but in particular these little moments in between when we see him thinking about it. I thought about washing my hands, so best be safe and do it. This was my life in the latter half of March 2020. Was it yours?
The problem is that COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. Maybe when Mr. Corman S1E8 was being produced, it felt like things were finally getting back to normal, but they haven’t. We’re in the midst of something new and freshly terrible. I agree with Josh about the pandemic being his worst nightmare, and the bad news I have for him is that it’s not going to stop…maybe ever. Because the virus is only one part of the nightmare—the other, perhaps bigger part, is the behavior of people.
I wonder about how others have coped, and we get some glimpses into differing existential responses in S1E8. Victor keeps working day to day at UPS because he has to, and of course they won’t shut down UPS. He’s not exactly wrong when he calls Josh out for not understanding how the world works.
But for someone like Josh (and someone like me), the message in March 2020 was that the world has to stop indefinitely. The virus doesn’t care if someone is a friend or a family member. As the paranoia set in (and I will call it that, but note that in my mind it’s still paranoia even if you’re right), I found myself, like Josh, simply aghast at those around me who weren’t following the rules or who were even merely bending them.
I think that many people—most people, even—simply couldn’t really live this way. They couldn’t truly quarantine or maintain social distancing. They couldn’t imagine a world without handshakes. And so they’ve wanted things to get back to normal so badly they have been willing even to accept new versions of normalcy. Whereas others of us hunkered down and waited for an “all clear” that it now seems clear will never come.
“Hope You Feel Better” places Josh mostly in that latter group, though the end of the episode sees him returning to his apartment despite Victor still going out into the world every day to work for UPS and so on. Because of course we all want our normal lives back, and I don’t mean to seem like I’m passing judgment on anyone for wanting that.
The question is whether we can get it, and on what terms. What does the new normal look like, and can we cope?
Hope You Feel Better
Mr. Corman has taken a big risk entering into the era of COVID-19. In some sense, one could argue that this, finally, is what the show is “about,” as the remaining two episodes of the season will clearly have to grapple with the situation Josh is now in and which the world at large has yet to exit.
Mr. Corman might exit this space, however. The show has throughout been tinged with moments of fantasy. S1E7 took us through a plethora of alternate realities, and so it is hard to predict where the next two episodes will go.
I hope they aren’t all Zoom classes and quarantine. I have had enough of that in real life, even as I can relate a bit too much to Josh’s experience in Mr. Corman S1E8. The scene where he talks to a younger version of himself is a nice touch. It is messed up that he doesn’t remember what he was thinking when he wrote that music. But that’s the thing: given enough time by yourself, you can start to realize you’re not sure how well you know yourself when it comes down to it.
And I think this is still the theme that makes Mr. Corman cohere as a narrative, the problem of being in the world and of being oneself. Where this story goes from here is anyone’s guess.