…each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.— from “September 1, 1939”, by W. H. Auden
There’s a very famous quote from the same poem I’ve quoted above that I think can also be applied to this week’s episode of Power Trip: “We must love one another or die.”
Death, and physical fragility, hangs over this episode of Realm‘s Power Trip, but I felt that that particular quote was honestly too morbid to utilize here, even as it applies thematically, so I thought I’d quote something slightly more positive, but which is still relevant, from the same poem — not Death being emphasized, but Love.
It’s really appropriate to this show that an episode titled “Hate Me” instead subverts its own title wish; Tatiana Maslany’s Jane acts practically this whole episode in a way that makes it clear she wants to be hated, she wants to be disliked, as if that’s what she “deserves”, but finds that what she actually needs or deserves from the world is love, instead. The clear through-line in “Hate Me” is Jane dealing with (and coming to term with) different types of love; one-night-stands, love of family; self-love; and, finally, perhaps, the self-sacrificing love betweem two partners.
We begin, of course, with that one-night-stand, and the loud music of a clock radio (not mentioned in the script posted by Realm, but a really clever bit of musical cuing by Hashem Assadullahi, the transitional-music composer, here) as Jane wakes up in her own bed with a jumble of limbs revealed to be an amiable lunkhead named Ronald (whose voice sounds enough like Brendan Hines that I can only guess, without more information, that it is him playing the part, although I could be wrong). They very quickly hash out their prior situation, but it devolves soon enough into a debate over the location of Ronald’s hibiscus-print pants, Jane wanting him out the door as soon as possible, and finally Jane forcing him to take a pair of sweatpants (that don’t fit him right) to wear to the class he has to teach.
For once in a morning-after scene, the woman holds the balance of power (pun intended) over the man; Jane is metaphorically, although not literally, wearing the pants, here. It’s a really welcome moment of comedy, coming on the heels of the previous episode’s events. Even though Jane is obviously going through all the things, at that point, and self-treating through bar nights and one-night stands (and not, as becomes important, through her needed anti-rejection meds), the fast-paced farce depicted through just the sound design, and the playing of the scene by Maslany and her co-star, is just delightful. Despite the awkward situation (naturally), the dialogue never once sounds forced — even the slight expositing of the events that have occurred between episodes (Jane going to bars, getting drunk, impromptu singalongs, talking about her own situation to guys) doesn’t take you out of it, because it goes by rapid-fire as set-up and the risque jokes are really damned funny — the sort of thing you can get away with in audio. Farce solely through sound design, editing, and performance has to be incredibly difficult to pull off, so I have to give massive props to sound designers Tom Maggs and Rory O’Shea (who also did the sound editing with Corey Barton) — it all works hand-in-hand together, flawlessly. The scrabbling noises of Ronald trying to grab his clothes, the flumping and rustling of bedsheets as Jane tries to mentally put together this morning-after situation, the movement of Jane and Ronald’s voices as Jane, with difficulty, ushers him out the door — if you can call it, perhaps, sonic stage-managing, it’s done perfectly. Kailynn West directs the bedroom farce with the sort of excellence I’d compare admirably to, say, Dan Slott’s run of She-Hulk for Marvel (if I might be so bold).
And, amazingly enough, that’s just the excellence of the comedy and design in this episode’s first scene — the light refresher before we and Jane have to face certain uncomfortable truths. There’s always facts, or feelings, or some sort of emotion in life that people don’t want to reckon or grapple with, that they would prefer to put off dealing with perhaps indefinitely. It’s a denying to one’s self, if there is something wrong, that there is something wrong; that maybe you do need help, and there is an alternate, better path to life than what you’ve been following. (I regret sounding like a self-help guru, but I think is this is necessary set-up to talk about the journey to catharsis in this episode.) Jane is on the verge of one of those moments that can shatter a person — but can also, on the other side of the moment, reform and renew a person. All it takes is a moment of self-understanding, and of reaching out.
But, before we reach this point, Jane dives back into the bar, in a scene that features a very tastefully-done (in that it leads you up to the joke without signposting it) bit involving Jane misinterpreting someone’s reaction to her unintentional top-slip; it’s done with a light touch in the writing, but it’s clear everyone else in the bar is deeply uncomfortable with Jane both literally and metaphorically “exposing her mess”.
Maslany masterfully plays the tipsy initial farce of the bar scene, flitting on top of the awkwardness of the situation like a rock skipping across the surface of a pond — if that rock was drunk. She knows not to play it too broadly, or over-the-top; it’s Jane being drunkenly bubbly on the surface, because there’s a volcano of emotions underneath being masked by Jane”s continued playing of the whole situation as sex-farce that will soon blow the whole “farce” apart.
Jane is, you could say, in denial of what genre she’s in, right now.
This flitting-on-top-of-the-volcano puts me in mind of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence — that same naturalness of knowing how far to push it without accidentally lurching into some form of self-parody, because there is emotional truth under it; there is an evident awkwardness under the drunken farce in the bar scene that is intentional and integral to it, because the bubble of farce on the surface needs to pop in order for Jane to face what’s really driving that awkwardness she’s been trying to avoid — a segue into some deep emotional truths.
And when the segue begins — Jane’s realizing her kidney’s power has been tapped out, run dry, and is being rejected by her body — it sidles up to you so gently next to the din of the bar farce that, even if you’re expecting it to come, it still hits you full-force as hard as it hits Jane, because the direction and audio production put you right in Jane’s position: The slow horror of realization that there is no “power” left — the gasp of pain, the ringing growing ever louder, Jane audibly collapsing to the floor and the bar patrons’ audible distress being slowly drawn-down in volume as Jane lapses into unconsciousness — it’s a brilliant hand-in-hand melding by Maggs and O’Shea and Barton’s work on the sound design and sound editing and mixing on the one hand, and Kailynn West’s direction of the cast on the other; without both, you wouldn’t get nearly half the effect you do from the work.
Realm‘s Power Trip is must-listen streaming.
Furthermore, there has been a recurring cue from Hashem Assadullahi signaling “something is wrong”; it’s played in previous episodes as a scene transition or an outro when Jane has screwed something up majorly or is at her lowest, but it has never felt, and still doesn’t feel when used here, overwrought or melodramatic. It reminds me of Marius Constant’s theme from The Twilight Zone; it’s used sparingly, here, but I’m bringing it up at this juncture to note just how effectively it’s been used in Power Trip both in previous episodes and now — the sound design, editing, and music have never detracted from one another, and the combination here really effectively leads into the emotional bulk of this episode: Jane, hospitalized, dealing with her body, and her power, failing her at the worst possible moment for her to be dealing with.
Jane’s skipping her anti-rejection meds has resulted in the seemingly-imminent loss of her magic kidney. She looks set to be stuck on dialysis, needing sponge baths for the rest of her life from her mother, who’s now suddenly right there in the room with her at a hospital. Jane’s mother hasn’t a clue what Jane has been up to; she just knows it looks like Jane urgently needs her, once again, right now. And Jane’s attempting to parse this situation aloud — hospitalized, again? With mom? Helpless? — has the feeling, from her, of a difficult truth grasping for expression, struggling to take form in words that try to pierce through to the heart of it, as best she can. That’s not to say that she’s unable — she is able; she is an author, after all. But being faced with this, now, isn’t something any human being could do without threatening to break to pieces. She hasn’t had to deal with this exact situation in so long that she’d hoped she’d never have to deal with it again.
I have been there, in those very hospital rooms; I have been there, lying in a bed, in terrible distress, feeling like I’m not able to function without someone’s help, whether a parent’s or a doctor’s. I know that smell of hospital alcohol; the saline drip; the persistent beep of the monitor affixed to your index finger tracking your pulse. I have been in the most excruciating pain in my life, unable to move from it in my own apartment, and been deeply reluctant and mortified to call my own parents or an ambulance until the last minute — because when you’re disabled, that autonomy, that ability to be self-reliant, is something maybe you prize above reason, at some points. You feel proud you’ve gotten this far; you’re reluctant to turn to others whom you worry you might be burdening with yourself, and you’d think being an adult means you’d never have to do that sort of thing again. But when it happens, if it happens — as Jane finds out as her kidney gives out and her mother comes back into her life — you shouldn’t be afraid, as difficult as it is to not be, and as defensive as you’d be — as Jane is — in the event.
And so, for the first time in this entire season of Power Trip, Jane and her mother are in the same room, staring face-to-face — quite closely face-to-face, initially, as the case may be. No longer can Jane avoid her mother’s presence as she’s been doing practically this whole season by not taking her calls or answering her texts; writers Mary Hamilton and Cara Horner have finally thrown them together, after having built up, in the background, the simmering tension in this relationship over six episodes, in the wake of Jane’s reckoning with her kidney, and with a possibly-permanent loss of her power. This is maybe the worst time for Jane to be face-to-face, in the same room, with her mother — not only had Jane not been expecting this (she’d forgotten her mother was her emergency contact — I might have done the same thing, in the same situation), but it’s a reminder of what she’s been trying to escape this entire series; what she’s been using her power for: To self-actualize, to exert force on the world the way she had never been able to because of her disability and upbringing; to be someone of agency. The power to command had been that gateway for her, to find (or create) a better life for herself — with emphasis on herself; she had never had the ability to be so self-reliant, thanks to that power, in her life. No wonder she wants to unravel the doctor who tells her the terrible news thread-by-thread; he’s basically sentencing her, in her view, to a lifetime of infantilization and non-agency.
So, Jane lashes out — not at the doctor, who seems nice enough but whom she does not know and is out the door before she can process the situation — but at someone whom she feels can “take” it: Her mother. And, naturally, her mother is confused by this. They talk past each other, at first; Jane’s mother has no idea, of course, of the power Jane’s been wielding in her life — Jane hasn’t told her a thing about it. All Jane’s mother knows is that her daughter is once again losing another kidney, and evidently needs the help she’s always given. But, for Jane, it is so much more than just that, for all the reasons given in the preceding two paragraphs. She doesn’t want to go back to feeling like she has no control — no command — over her own life.
It’s interesting to remember this exact scene was excerpted in the very first trailer Realm released for Power Trip, two months ago — outside of that context, with different music playing under it and edited line readings, it came across vastly differently from how it does here:
In context, however, it hurts to listen to. It feels emotionally raw, like a real argument. And the rest of the scene only takes you further along with it, until Jane reaches what seems like might be the point of no return.
There is a moment where it seems as though Jane might lose that last bond with a person close to her, in her hour of deepest need, from lashing out and taking every bad feeling and regret out on that person — her mother. And her mother is about ready to walk out the door.
But Jane realizes: She can’t keep driving people away. Sometimes, you can’t “command” a thing to become what you want it to, whether it’s a situation or a person. Jane has reached that point where you have to peer over the other side of the wall and deal with life as it is — head-on. Jane lets down her last emotional barrier — she breaks down. She sobs for her mother; she can’t bear to be alone, even as she’s been trying to drive people away with her “mess”.
And her mother comes back into the room, and holds her. And embraces her, and lets Jane cry into her shoulder. There’s finally a moment of opening, of love between them. It’s what you’d expect from a good parent seeing their child at the brink, crying for help. In this series driven by a magic kidney, but full of so many relatable, human moments besides, here is the moment — the moment Lisa Loeb as Jane’s mother gets her chance to properly shine, with Maslany. And she takes it; even if you have a heart of stone, these two actresses will move you, here. The writing, the performances — it just comes together. It lands.
This is the sort of human depiction in fiction I adore; it’s realistic; it has emotional vulnerability and relatability. I’ve too often seen disabled people in fiction who are more saints than people; crafted to prove a writer’s point and not function as a compelling character. At times, they seem to be purposefully crafted to have issues or problems that a non-disabled person can’t relate to — almost as though the writers themselves can’t relate to them. But Hamilton and Horner’s writing here, coupled with the performances from Maslany and Loeb, are a shining example of how to do this right. We know Jane has never been a saint, but she’s never been meant to be; she’s a human person, disability or no disability — which is how it should be. Neither Jane nor her mother are absolutely in the right, here, and you can see how each of them understandably have their own perspectives on how to deal with things. The interpersonal relationship between them that has been built up until now makes what happens in the wake of the kidney failure all the more understandable — and that seeming resolution between them all the more cathartic, in that it is earned. Jane and her mother are never going to have a perfect relationship — they have never had a perfect relationship, to begin with — but, from this moment on, it seems like they will at least have a better relationship.
And then Leah shows up at Jane’s hospital room door, holding a unicorn balloon — the last person Jane expected to see now, outside of her mother. It transpires Jane had texted Christian while in the ambulance to the hospital (although she doesn’t remember this), and Christian had told Leah, who came as soon as she could. After what had happened with the “Power Hour” group, it’s surprising that Leah would be there, and, indeed, it’s a little difficult at first for Jane and Leah to find their way into a conversation about the whole thing (particularly as Jane’s mother is right there in the room with them, initially). But once it does, there’s a slow realization of… well, something between them. Not a forgiveness, exactly — and it’s not as though Jane is asking for absolution, here — but, perhaps, a clearer perception of things between them. Of things, as Jane is realizing, as they are — and as Jane is.
Jane, now, seems to realize just what she’s been wanting this whole time: For someone to look past her “mess”, her disability, her past, and to see her. Without any blinders; without any preconceptions. Jane realizes just how liberating it is for someone to perceive; writers Hamilton and Horner know the importance, here, of seeing, and to be seen. It’s a little ironic that this emphasis comes in a show with an audio-only format, but this feeling, this depiction — even putting aside the romantic context — is really welcome, to me, because it doesn’t even necessarily need the romance to be a resonant example of validation for somebody like myself. If I can appreciate it, as a cis hetero man who is still, you know, disabled, somebody who isn’t can surely, too — it’s that well-written.
This is, at the heart of it, a feminist text. it’s a text of self-actualizing of women, whether disabled or not; Jane self-actualizing through her power; Leah self-actualizing through her love for Jane (and using her power for such, as we soon see); Jane’s mother self-actualizing by… finally coming to terms with Jane as her own person, and her own problems, and the differing senses of that shared past they have. I know Tatiana Maslany has spoken out against the term “strong female character” relatively recently, partly for its seemingly-cliched nature, so I take her words into account when I say that these women aren’t just that: These are well-written characters; well-written, strong, people. Even if you are not a woman, or not disabled, I think (or hope) that you will appreciate that, perhaps just as much as I do.
And, in the end, it looks like Leah, almost just as unexpectedly as her arrival, utilizes her own power — the power of bringing living things, like plants, to life — to save Jane’s kidney? We don’t know for certain yet. Leah leaves as soon as she completes that deed, but before she goes, she asks Jane to trust her. And, maybe for the first time in this whole series, Jane does — she trusts someone. Unreservedly.
All of this is communicated in the performance between Maslany as Jane and the actress playing Leah (whom I still, to my own shame, cannot find out who plays her); it’s like a delicate, gentle, tender dance of words, emotions, phrases and little pauses. Realm, graciously, still keeps providing the scripts of each episode with each recorded version as they release, and so it’s absolutely fascinating to compare even minor word differences between the page and the spoken text and wonder if they signify anything more than just each actor’s choices for their own characters or director Kailynn West’s own preferences. Regardless, if you’re hard of hearing, as I am, or feel each episode isn’t complete without being able to see the text, having that ability to follow along is welcome every time. Realm‘s kindness in this accommodation, which, again, not every audio company does, goes a long way.
It’s kindness, finally, that rules this episode — kindness, and love. Jane has craved what she could not have for so long, and used her power to “command” it be so, and has self-actualized herself, in the process. But, deep down, every thing she has commanded has been some substitute for something she’s wanted her whole life — unselfish care, affection; love from another person. The sort of seeming self-sacrifice Leah has performed here; the sort of care and tenderness she’s displayed in unguarded moments since Jane’s first met her. What Jane wants — and what she knows she needs — is that direct connection from another person; not a one-night stand; not a forced display of power to “forge” a link in a chain that might just as easily set it up to break afterwards. A bond between two people; a meeting of minds, and of hearts. What Jane has wanted is not for everyone to love her — it’s for one person’s love, genuine love, to reach her.
Not universal love, you see, but to be loved alone.
If you’ve not been following along and listening, and you want to catch up, Realm has every episode, including this one, available for free — and if you want to jump ahead to the finale, it’s already available if you have a Realm Unlimited subscription. Even if you’d prefer not to jump ahead, I’d still recommend the subscription, because it comes with so many extra, good things, besides, such as other podcasts exclusive to having a Realm Unlimited membership, as well as bonus episodes featuring the production teams behind Realm‘s programs talking about their work (and, in Power Trip‘s case, exactly what magical power they’d want). If you want to personally support Realm continuing to make more great shows like Power Trip, I can only recommend a Realm Unlimited subscription.
We’ve got one more week of the Trip left, and I’m excited to say I don’t have a clue how this is going to end. I could probably try to guess, but I don’t think it’d remotely stack up against whatever Realm has planned. It’s been a wonderful journey, and I hope you’ve been having as much fun listening and following along (if you have been listening and following along) as I’ve had in listening and writing about the great production and scripting and performances on this show. It’s been the summer of Tatiana Maslany, if you have been following along (and, obviously, not just in this fantastic show), and we only have a single episode left — with a momentous title: “Forgive Me”.
Power Trip is available on Realm.fm, or wherever you listen to podcasts.