Each week, we decide a brand new episode of the week. It could possibly be good. It could possibly be dangerous. It is going to all the time be attention-grabbing. You may learn the archives right here. The episode of the week for July 21 via 28 is “Chapter 4,” the fourth episode of the primary season of Starz’s The Rook.
Starz’s new sci-fi present The Rook is likely one of the most weirdly uneven TV reveals to debut this yr. It’s a weird mixture of storytelling by bland rote components, combined in with a number of concepts which are so blazingly new, they make you kind of squint on the display and say, “However … how?”
Most of The Rook is a generic, supernatural-inflected spy thriller; when you have ever seen an advert for Blindspot, you just about have the final gist already: girl with amnesia, powers mysterious even to her, authorities conspiracies, and many others., and many others. However a part of The Rook is constructed round a love story between our amnesiac heroine and one other character — a personality named Gestalt, who’s a single consciousness in 4 our bodies, performed by three actors. And that plot is one thing that I’ve by no means seen on tv earlier than.
The Rook’s newest episode, “Chapter four,” which aired Sunday night time on Starz, is a case research in how deeply inconsistent this present can get. Most of what goes down is a straightforward-enough shadowy conspiracy storyline, with a pair shoot-’em-up scenes simply to liven issues up slightly and some betrayals that, when you have ever watched TV earlier than, you will notice coming from a mile away. However then again, there may be Gestalt, and it doesn’t matter what else is occurring onscreen, I by no means fairly see what’s taking place with Gestalt coming.
Most of The Rook is a stew of concepts you could have already seen play out in additional attention-grabbing methods elsewhere
The premise of The Rook is as follows: a younger girl named Myfanwy (Emma Greenwell) wakes up coated in blood and surrounded by lifeless our bodies, with no reminiscence of her previous life.
Myfanwy (“Rhymes with Tiffany,” we’re instantly instructed) quickly learns that she is an operative for the Checquy, a secret department of the British authorities dedicated to regulating “EVAs,” or individuals with “Excessive Variant Skills.” (They’re X-Males mutants, mainly.) Myfanwy herself is an EVA with the facility to … zap individuals with electrical energy, I suppose (it has a fancier identify within the present, however that’s mainly what it does), however as a result of her powers aren’t notably sturdy, she works as a paper-pusher in center administration. Her rank on the Checquy is “rook.”
Now, Myfanwy should return to work on the Checquy with out revealing to anybody that her recollections have gone, or that her powers have apparently grow to be sturdy sufficient to kill an entire bunch of individuals. Fortunately, she appears to have had some discover that she would quickly lose her reminiscence, as a result of Myfanwy’s previous self has left her a useful collection of letters and video guides that specify precisely who everybody on the Checquy is and the way they relate to her.
Would you be shocked to study that issues on the Checquy will not be completely on the up and up, and that it might in actual fact be exploiting the very EVAs it claims to wish to shield? Would you be shocked to study that Myfanwy’s kindly boss Farrier (Joely Richardson) — who Previous Myfanwy describes as the one particular person she will belief, and who’s the one one who is aware of about Myfanwy’s amnesia — is possibly not appearing completely in Myfanwy’s finest pursuits? Too dangerous, as a result of The Rook certain expects you to be shocked by each these revelations.
The Rook relies loosely on a novel of the identical title by Daniel O’Malley, however whereas I haven’t learn the e-book and might’t affirm, the Hollywood Reporter argues that the Starz present has ditched most of O’Malley’s “matches of grotesque whimsy” in favor of the blandness we discover onscreen. That blandness extends to a lot of the characters, whom Previous Myfanwy helpfully explains to us with a personality chart that lays out everybody’s fundamental archetype: there’s ice queen PR agent, the sweetly succesful assistant, the apparently sinister however in the end well-meaning second-in-command, and so forth.
The place O’Malley’s “matches of caprice” seem to have been too entrenched to totally weed out, nevertheless, is within the character of Gestalt, one other rook on the Chequy. Gestalt seems like a set of quadruplet siblings: one set of equivalent twins who go by Teddy and Alex (each performed Jon Fletcher), and one set of fraternal twins who go by Eliza (Catherine Steadman) and Robert (Ronan Raftery).
All 4 of these siblings, although, are literally the identical particular person. They’ve one thoughts.
Hive thoughts characters aren’t a brand new concept. Gestalt, nevertheless, is.
Hive thoughts characters aren’t new to science fiction: Star Trek had the Borg, in spite of everything. Nevertheless it’s nonetheless fairly uncommon to satisfy a hive thoughts character with whom we’re requested to empathize who doesn’t end up to secretly be a gaggle of people cruelly compelled right into a collective by an oppressive overlord. And that is sensible, as a result of it’s easy to root for a person particular person with an simply understood, singular physique to interrupt away from a mass of people that discuss in unison and use complicated pronouns. That’s a narrative that we’re educated early on to know and to search for.
However that’s not the case with Gestalt. Gestalt actually is one particular person, and what oppresses Gestalt is appearing like they’re not.
The Chequy educated Gestalt to compartmentalize as a toddler, so that every physique can carry out totally different duties. Meaning Gestalt has 4 instances the working energy of a standard spy: They are often in 4 totally different locations doing 4 various things directly, they usually don’t have to speak with one another as a result of what one among them is aware of, all of them know.
However when Gestalt is alone, they don’t differentiate between their our bodies. After we see them prepare within the morning in “Chapter Three,” they transfer in unison, their our bodies interacting with each other solely in the best way that your palms work together with one another to do up a zipper.
And we will inform that Gestalt feels near Myfanwy as a result of they cease differentiating themselves round her as nicely. With everybody else, Gestalt refers to themselves as “we,” as if every physique is a separate particular person, however with Myfanwy they revert to the extra truthful “I.”
Issues are tense between Gestalt and Myfanwy, although. After a collection of suggestive conversations Myfanwy has to bluff her means via, she realizes that she and Gestalt drunkenly attached shortly earlier than Myfanwy misplaced her reminiscence, and now Gestalt thinks Myfanwy is blowing them off. Gestalt dismisses the encounter as a mistake, however when Myfanwy kisses one among Gestalt’s our bodies, the others momentarily lose their skill to compartmentalize. The one driving a automotive will get into an accident.
As Jacob Oller wrote for the AV Membership, Gestalt is a basically queer character who by their very presence shakes up the gender binary. And their skill to compartmentalize — to behave the best way the remainder of the world does in an try and make different individuals snug — is a potent metaphor for passing in public.
However Gestalt isn’t solely attention-grabbing as a result of they’re pushing again towards the heteropatriarchy. They’re additionally the one character on The Rook who can’t be simply summed up in Previous Myfanwy’s neat little character chart, who’s doing one thing new with their trope. That signifies that in each episode, they really feel like a personality from another, way more attention-grabbing present.
In “Chapter 4,” it turns into clear how rote most of The Rook is, and the way stunning Gestalt’s stuff is in distinction
“Chapter 4” sees The Rook transferring its numerous shadowy conspiracies dutifully round. Monica Reed (performed by Olivia Munn, so no factors for guessing that her archetype is “attractive American spy”) infiltrates an unlawful public sale promoting EVAs to the best bidder. We get affirmation that Farrier was making an attempt to promote Myfanwy in an identical change the night time that Myfanwy misplaced her reminiscence, and we meet the EVA behind stated reminiscence loss.
There’s even a uncommon, non-Gestalt vibrant spot within the type of James D’Arcy, who reveals as much as visitor star as Myfanwy’s former therapist. D’Arcy is charismatic sufficient to make a flat function enjoyable to look at, however even he can’t do a lot with the truth that his complete half revolves across the query of whether or not this dude who was a physician in a secret authorities program coaching super-powered youngsters did one thing type of tousled. (Spoilers: the reply is sure!)
However whereas all of that’s happening within the foreground of “Chapter 4,” Gestalt is hanging out within the background, being quietly extra attention-grabbing than everybody else. They discuss to Myfanwy with two our bodies (to “dilute the impact you could have on me”), and when Teddy’s physique begins biting their fingernails and Myfanwy knocks their hand away, Alex’s physique begins biting their fingernails as an alternative. Three of the our bodies go off on recon with Monica and get separate espresso orders for every physique, which they sip in unison.
“Why do you do this?” Monica calls for. “Faux to have totally different style in espresso. I imply, it’s all you, proper?”
“The phantasm of distinct personalities places different individuals at their ease,” Gestalt explains as Eliza, after which switches over to Teddy so as to add, “Which permits me to cover in plain sight.”
“It kinda creeps me out,” Monica says.
Watching Fletcher, Steadman, and Raftery play off one another as Gestalt feels slightly like watching Tatiana Maslany do her factor on Orphan Black, solely in reverse. As an alternative of watching doppelgängers develop personalities so distinct that you just begin to neglect that they appear equivalent and are performed by the identical actress, you’re watching three very different-looking actors — united solely by their Kids of the Corn dye job — subsume their variations into one character. Once they’re on, you neglect that Gestalt is performed by three separate individuals, as a result of it’s all simply Gestalt.
However Fletcher, Steadman, and Raftery even have a leg up over the remainder of Rook’s solid, as a result of they a minimum of are working with materials that the viewers hasn’t seen a thousand instances earlier than. Rook is a trope-based present, however it’s sleepy in its use of tropes; it feels as if it’s counting on a components not due to any actual affection for that components however as a result of it’s too lazy to do anything.
Gestalt, although, is a personality who doesn’t comply with components, who relies in tropes however does new issues with them. And that signifies that when they’re onscreen, this bizarre and sleepy present has no alternative however to get up.
A confession: I don’t notably care what occurs with Myfanwy and her quest to search out out why she misplaced her recollections. I type of do wish to maintain watching The Rook, although, simply to see what Gestalt does subsequent.