S01E09 — Jane retreats into The Underground, a treacherous place deep within her own mindspace, where she encounters her many personas and dark traumas of her past.
After watching this episode the first time (yes, I watched it more than once), I told our intrepid Editor-in-Chief that this episode vexed me and that I might need a little more time. That sounds like a cop out, probably, but this episode really threw me off. It was a great hour of tv, don’t misunderstand; it just had a lot of layers. Trust me, I realize what that sounds like, in light of the episode’s focus (Jane) as we’re dealing with a large handful of characters out of 64. And while I’m somewhat upset that Diane Guerrero didn’t portray all of them, I realize what a logistical nightmare it would have been, in terms of SFX and editing in post. I get it. Still, this one was challenging in ways that I couldn’t really contextualize, and still can’t.
How do you “review” this? I’m well aware that I recap more than I review (hence the quotes) and I then put some personal spin on what I’ve seen, but still, in that regard, this episode was a challenge. Let me explain.
First, as we’re dealing with multiple personalities out of 64, you have to know right away that visually you are going to miss something. It’s like sleight of hand tricks or three-card monte; you’re looking at what you perceive to be the right thing, but before you ever started, the thing you’re looking at was window dressing.
You have Jane, Karen, Penny Farthing, Scarlet Harlot, Hammerhead, Black Annis, Flit, Driver 8, Baby Doll, Kit W’the Canstick, Lucy Fugue, Silver Tongue, Jill-In-Irons, Mama Pentecost, The Nun, Pretty Polly, The Secretary, ad infinitum/nauseum (because it would be entirely masturbatory at this point), and finally, Kay.
I may have been remiss in mentioning Kay prior to this episode, but Kay (Challis) is Jane’s real name and is the child whose psyche was broken into 64 pieces as a result of abuse. I’ll return to this, but in terms of the alternate personas, each one is distinct and real in their own way(s). Because of this, one has to assume, you can’t have the same person portraying all of them, so what happens is the individual actors inject something new into the pre-established lore.
Each actor makes a choice in her portrayal (even if they are nothing but window dressing and don’t actually say anything) and each of those choices, in turn, informs Guerrero’s choices while Guerrero’s former choices kind of inform the other actors, and the circle goes on forever.
You find out fairly quickly that in order for Kay to remain at an inner state of equilibrium, Jane has to be in charge (or, “the primary” personality). The problem with that is that Jane doesn’t want to be the primary anymore. She’s walking away from her duties, abdicating as it were, and letting someone else do the hard work because, let’s face it, maintaining 63 other personalities is hard work.
And that’s where Guerrero shines this week. While she doesn’t take on the Herculean task of being the other aspects, you can see in her performance the toll this fictional “job” takes on Jane. You also realize that Jane, while a reluctant savior of a sort, realizes that being the primary is a necessary evil.
One of the reasons why this week’s episode is a tough one to talk about is because of the abuse that Kay received at her father’s hands. It’s never explicitly stated, but the abuse is sexual, verbal, mental and emotional. After a while, anytime you hear her father’s voice, even if he’s off screen, you cringe. You start to get antsy. In short, you get get triggered (even is abuse was never in your past…I shudder to think of how bad this was for anyone with abuse in their childhood), but you also understand Jane and what goes in to being who she is and how she keeps herself safe. In the end, she confronts the memory of her father in the Well, and seemingly breaks free of his terror.
Or so we are led to believe until we hear his voice one last time at the end of the episode.
Cliff, via the Negative Man entity, enters Jane’s mind and is on one hand a constant reminder of the life she now lives, but also a constant annoyance to her because Jane wants to be left alone. There’s an obvious throughline here, with Cliff being the father figure that she probably needed, and Jane being a chance at Cliff’s redemption. Either one of these is arguable, sure, but on the surface, Cliff is definitely trying to get his daughter back through Jane, while Jane has been without a father for so long (for ever?) that you can understand her reticence at accepting his help.
In fact, it’s not until Cliff is threatened within the Underground that she comes back and accepts her role.
Going forward, we’re obviously going to see how this affects her, and how the trauma comes back, but what I’d like to see is everyone on the team accepting the idea that they are a dysfunctional family made of misfits that, on the surface, are inconvenienced by their love for each other, but willing to do whatever they must to keep their family together.
Or, I don’t know…more rats crawling out of brains.
Will you watch next week’s episode?
Next week’s episode deals with the other side of the room, namely Rita and Vic, so it’s kind of essential viewing to get a full picture of the story.
EXTRA POINTS & NITPICKS:
- One thing I can say for sure is that the Underground, and all of Jane’s personas, are possibly better realized here on the show than they are in the comics. Comics are, but virtue of their printing, usually brighter and more colorful. As rare as it is with a superhero adaptation, the darkness in lighting and in costuming really punches up the idea of the Underground as a really scary place within Jane/Kay’s mind.
NEXT WEEK: S1:E10 – HAIR PATROL
Vito Delsante is a comic book writer, graphic novelist, editor, letterer, and the co-creator/writer of STRAY with Sean Izaakse, and THE PURPLE HEART with Dean Haspiel and artist, Ricardo Venâncio. He’s written for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Image Comics, AdHouse Books, and Simon & Schuster, among others, and his stories have been reprinted in other countries. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife, Michelle, his daughter, Sadie, his son, James, and his pitbull, Kirby. You can find him online at incogvito.com and you can follow him on Twitter @incogvito