“Episodes come along that you think have no bearing on the story, then 12 or 14 reels later it hits you with a crash.”— Harry Carr, writing about the classic film “Greed”
Things were going so positively in the last episode — surprisingly so, considering how rocky the Coney Island outing the episode before had ended — that even I didn’t expect consequences to come this soon. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; for every “command”, there is a slow wearing down of that “authority” over time — a slow loss of whatever “actualization” you may have gained from those efforts. When you lose that, and you’re already disadvantaged, having been only temporarily “advantaged” by that power you hold — and you’re already deemed a “mess” in the eyes of the world, whatever strengths you may have — well, whatever wave you thought you were cresting, you thought you were on top of, has suddenly flipped your life on its head quite nastily.
Is it deserved? What is deserved? At what point should consequences come into play for those using “power” for advantage? There is no one answer to fit all situations, but consequences finally come for Jane’s actions and elisions and faults in Power Trip‘s episode 6, “Dance with Me”.
And they very suddenly come, too, one after the other, in quick succession; just enough time for Jane and the listener to process each, but not enough time for Jane to dig herself out of each hole after they come. Because there’s no advantage to be had here; there’s nothing currently with which Jane could possibly pull each situation out of its own separate tailspin. Jane and us can only ride the emotional wave of each consequence, each lie-by-omission, as they come, as uneasily and as tipsily as Jane is this episode. There is, for the moment, no breath for relief.
Realm‘s Power Trip is must-listen streaming.
I continue to be impressed by the emotional strength of Mary Hamilton and Cara Horner’s writing; even when the shifts in this episode surprise you, they never feel illogical or not borne out from what came before — they proceed as you might expect from what Jane’s been doing all this time… just not exactly how you might expect, or even at a moment you might expect them to. That’s something that gives “Dance with Me” even more of a wallop, with the overarching structure of the episode, Jane reeling from one disaster to another to another, giving the events the feeling of inevitability — of necessary events finally coming down the pike, so to speak.
But it starts nicely (and positively!) enough, though, at Deirdre’s party, and, for the opening few minutes, there’s no hint of coming calamity; Jane arrives with orange wine (which I’ve never had, but will have to look into, now), Leah continues to shyly court her, and Jane attempts to put off dealing with Bruce again as the “Power Hour” group organize their budding mini-Bacchanalia. There is, for a moment, a really lovely, softly-played romantic interlude between Leah and Jane, as Jane works up the courage to finally dance with the woman with the Jade Ivy tattoo — thus, quite appropriately, the episode’s title. As someone who’s disabled, I know the sort of awkwardness that would go into somebody with a cane dancing, but Tatiana Maslany’s Jane and the actress playing Leah ease into it so gently that your heart swells, for a moment. Could it be?
And, then, the first turn happens.
To break things down, there are three basic turns within this episode; the first being the party, ending with Bruce’s entrance into it; the second following Bruce’s entrance, which pivots at the end on Jane using her powers against the whole group and leaving the party, and finally Sloane’s own party, which ends with Jane walking home after being dismissed by Sloane.
Having accidentally told him her location, Jane is suddenly face-to-face with her boyfriend in her secret friend group. Bruce’s sudden entrance into the party both confirms and upends everything we might have expected would happen — this collision of Bruce and the “Power Hour” has been a long time coming, but it doesn’t involve him meeting everybody in the group as you might have expected — and the way it’s played by Maslany and Brendan Hines rips the heart out of you. Bruce has been getting “commanded” constantly since the very first time we’d met him, and he’s basically not shown any vocal resistance or fought against these commands, so his coming to the party and finding a voice to finally say what he’s been wanting to (or trying to) this whole time is bracing — he’s outright disgusted, unhappy, and you don’t blame him at all for feeling that way. Bruce has been a terrific guy this whole time, even before Jane started “commanding” him — has she really needed to self-actualize herself in this fashion by taking control of him? For once, Jane has had practically all the control in a relationship, but Jane’s misuse of it has finally burst Bruce at the seams — she can’t command him anymore. The scene between Maslany and Hines is played almost in a way that she has violated him — and, by removing his agency, you could say she has. But whatever natural reservoir of patience Bruce has had has run dry. He leaves, seemingly for good.
Coming on the heels of this emotional moment is the group’s reaction to Bruce having crashed Deirdre’s party — no one without powers, even a significant other of a group member, has been allowed to know about it. Jane cannot explain, or, as it turns out, even “command” her way out of it; the confrontation builds and builds until Jane, low-key but drunkenly, tells everyone to “stop”… and they do. It violates the whole group’s autonomy, and it seems absolutely unforgivable — even to Christian, who follows Jane out of the party after she undoes the command.
(I’m going to take a moment here, because I can’t fit it anywhere else, to praise Tatiana Maslany’s performance in this episode — it’s a strange sort of cosmic coincidence that this is the second time she’s been able to show her range and ease with “tipsy” acting in a piece of media this week; in the other, more comic, but in this one, very, very much more dramatic and outright emotional. Television and audio are two different mediums, but she clearly has a mastery of both, and I think both deserve people paying attention to them, here.)
I can’t compliment Kailynn West’s direction enough in moments like these — particularly in an episode like this. It’s hard to hear two people who’ve been getting along as well as Jane and Christian have, with Jane having encouraged his blossoming romance with Mateo this whole time, suddenly come to verbal blows and recriminations. It comes on strong, and it’s difficult because it’s emotionally difficult — you never want to hear people get into such a bad argument, but this is the point Jane has brought the story to: She is in the long process of realizing and admitting to herself in this episode that she is a “mess” — that the consequences to her actions have finally broken past the powers she has to get right into her face and make her see just what a mini-tornado she’s become, picking up everything and everyone in her path and sweeping them along with her through her power to “command”. Tornadoes are, after all, generally mess-makers.
But that’s not to say she’s purposefully cruel, or an evil, or bad character — not only are those judgments I’m not going to make, they’re also wrong. Jane is not evil; she’s not perfect, either. She is a human being — a person, with all the faults and good parts that every person has. That’s why I keep saying, every week, that this is some of the best disability representation I’ve been able to experience in a piece of media in years — the character is a person first, a disabled person, not a symbol. Jane is not a “plaster saint”, or a paragon of virtue — she’s a human being, as messy and complicated as you or I might be in that situation. Maybe more so, in parts, and less so, in others, but we can relate — she is, in a very real sense, us, given power and potential. For anyone disabled, as I am, this is deeply refreshing to be able to experience — even as this episode, yes, has taken her through one wringer after another after another. And it’s got one more to go.
In a final spur-of-the-moment decision, coming down from leaving Christian in that further moment of dejection, Jane decides to visit Sloane’s children Charlotte and Reau Surely they’ll be happy to see here, and not want to judge her at all? Unfortunately for Jane, she is drunk from that orange wine, and Sloane is having a large publishers’ get-together, so when Jane tipsily makes her way in, she’s in such a state, drunkenly giving Uber lollipops to the kids, that Sloane decides to let Jane go — but not before giving Jane some very hard-edged life advice. Everyone has lost their patience with her, with each person — from Bruce to Christian to Sloane — being at varying levels of politeness; it’s never outright “cruel”, but truth can harm when it’s been held in check for so long. As has been happening for most of the night, Jane does not use her powers on her now-former employer, and Sloane truthfully tells her that, despite liking the story, she doesn’t know who Jane is or what sort of writer she truly wants to be. And thus, Jane is forced to walk, with her cane, home, having handed in her keys and her last chance at “no judgment”.
Once again, the sound design by Tom Maggs and Rory O’Shea, sound editing by Rory O’Shea, and additional sound editing by Corey Barton all work in tandem to put the listener into Jane’s head and the world she lives in; there’s an incredible sound effect when Jane attempts to “command” the party to stop — it’s not loud, or brash, but its subtlety arguably gives it even more power, because it sparkles and twinkles over the sudden silence of the party and of Jane’s voice-over, emphasizing through non-emphasis just what a violation this inadvertent outburst is. If it were louder and more “frazzling”, perhaps, it might have overwhelmed the emotion of the moment, so I’m really impressed by the restraint. Not a single important word of dialogue is lost in the mix, with every word coming across clearly — even deviations from the script in the spoken lines don’t confuse, because they come across clearly and don’t interfere with the meaning of what’s being said. And, as always, Jane’s cane becomes its own emotional tool of percussive emphasis in those times when hearing it can impact a listener most — the quiet scraping down a sidewalk, the gentle tapping during the dance scene, the awkward klumping of it as Jane heads out her employer’s door for what seems to be the last time. Being someone who knows that sound in their own life, and where one’d probably hear it best, the emphases on it ring completely truthful to me — because it’s the little moments in life, the moments of romance or contemplation or self-loathing, that those sorts of sounds come to fore in your own mind. It’s brilliant editing and sound design.
If that’s not enough, and you need text to follow along with it, Realm generously provides the script for every episode with each recorded episode — this is, unfortunately, a rare thing for audio companies to do, which is a shame when people who are hearing impaired (as I am) might want to be able to more easily follow what’s going on, but Realm has been consistently doing this for every podcast they’ve put out;, because they don’t need to, but they do it anyway, because I’m sure they know just how many disabled folks experience their work, at this point. My being one of them, I can only just keep professing my gratitude.
If you are the type to binge, the entire season of Power Trip is available right now with a Realm Unlimited subscription, which is what I have; each episode has been released one after the other for free to the public for the past six weeks. It’s been an incredible ride thus far, and I hope you’ve been listening along and experiencing it with me. I can’t praise this cast and crew’s work enough, and I don’t know that I’ll be able to enough to do their work the proper justice. Each week brings something new and exciting and emotionally honest, and Realm I don’t think has disappointed its listeners and subscribers yet.
We’ve got two more weeks to go, two more episodes left to experience, and, frankly, if Realm finishes this season right (as I think they will), I’m going to have to revise my assessment from last week: This might not be the fiction podcast of the summer; this might be the fiction podcast of the year. For every reason I’ve been able to list, and maybe for a few of your own that I might not have thought of. For everything this podcast is doing, from representation to depiction to considerations of agency to sound design and direction… right down to that kidney that started the whole Trip. This is the one.
Power Trip is available on Realm.fm, or wherever you listen to podcasts.