Episode 5 – BRIGHT AND HIGH CIRCLE.
This was the latest weekly episode aired of the miniseries on Friday, 2nd November, 2018. The next will air this Friday.
This is a sombre, topical addition to the anthology as a woman who is shown to be a Romanov descendant unravels in the upwardly mobile mindscape of Los Angeles. Again her affluence and position as a college professor of Russian studies hardly prepares her for the moral knots she is caught in.
The woman in question ( a supremely natural Diane Lane) is put in the fix when her decade old friend and her children’s beloved piano teacher (Andrew Rannells) is entangled in a misconduct case. The script informs us about it through the intervention of a police officer and the veracity of this claim hangs in the middle as there is no certainty about it. It comes as a casual disruption to her and soon her extended network of friends and of course family, including the two sons who are trained by him, invite different contours to the grave matter.
The children are sure of his innocence while her friend Cheryl ( Nicole Ari Parker) too vouches for him. Another known person ( Cara Buono, of MAD MEN and STRANGER THINGS fame ) is confused about the whole situation and a past taunt by the teacher, who’s part of the elite inner circle of these women, throws a curveball that maybe a past slight has festered for too long. The husband ( Ron Livingston) has always been wary of him and hence reacts in the same fashion, with his personal dislike clear in his overall sense of things. So it’s up to the woman at the center to investigate on her own, looking at all angles and making sense of everything. Diane Lane does that with great subtlety. The writing is stationed on this plane of ambiguity and realistically so. It shows how trust can be a fragile concept and the power of suggestion of the negative , even if we have evidences to the contrary, can render us infirm.
The most important point we take away is that the man who is being suspected doesn’t confirm to heteronormative standards of this seemingly liberal society owing to obviously his sexuality and so the sense of apprehension hangs in the air as he is shown in flashbacks, suggesting his talent in music, his wit and support for the lead female protagonist and the way he opens his heart up to her. Everybody has an opinion and when someone ticks off the wrong bracket that is not in the majority, our fickle, contrarian sides emerge. Diane Lane here tips the scales towards a neutral position, uncovering her own fears and doubts. Andrew Rannells too paints a portrait of obvious pain and persecution coupled with his exaggerations and lies that sustain him in the eyes of an order where he is an outsider ; there are hints as to how he is nothing more than an employee and an acquaintance, who serves the needs of these people to gossip and indulge in luxuries that their status affords them.
It’s an effective hour and ten minutes, touching upon the complexity of people like us when a single incident feels life altering whereas concern takes the shape of moral lapses. Watch it to know how incisively it confronts our inherent prejudices, stakes of truth and what is merely conjecture. Lane is a working woman and mother caught in the cross hairs while Andrew is the enigma who is given a chance even as the claimant of the complaint and an eventual resolution is made absent, making it more effective in the vein of mystery. Identity is the main issue here. It’s a powerful installment.
Some other thoughts :
** the opening scene with the piano recital and interpersonal rapport is directed well.
** a throwback moment where Ron’s father rebukes him for unintentionally judging his friend who is teased about his appearance by other kids is quite effective and it has an awkward counterpart in the present day when Ron does the same for his sons, with a number of common platitudes on essentially the principle of seeking truth and not clouding judgements based on mob culture. He shows signs of prejudice, distance and paranoia regarding Andrew earlier, exactly for which his father remonstrated him in his younger days and this speech is an uneasy transition but it’s real in the sense that internalized change is hard to come by for mature adults.
** the above point is particularly important : parents usually disseminate the best parts of their personalities and conversations to their wards even though personally they may be rigid / sketchy about certain aspects. After all, they are complex human beings, flesh and blood individuals at the end of the day.
** the tense conversation between mother and middle son, especially when he mentions her people, those belonging to the Romanov dynasty, as a couple of “rich a**holes” ; it’s realistically centered on the viewpoints of the young boy and the experienced woman.
** The lackadaisical attitude of the police force too comes up, as when a visibly concerned Diane is more active than the officer who keeps postponing the appointment due to her partner not being available.
** Diane plays a professor of Russian literature and her interactions with her students – especially the reading of the poem by Pushkin on which the episodic title is based on – are well portrayed. In the other interaction with a grade A student who doesn’t agree with getting a C grade on her assignment for the first time, she shows her genuine nature and conciliation when accepting she made a snobbish remark and apologises to the student.
** the level of artifice which becomes a mainstay of the upper middle class, as evidenced in many of the conversations.
** the closing of the door of the room by Diane in the end, as a mark of her faith in Andrew when he and her son Benji practice.
** Ron Livingston himself played a teacher wrongly accused of misconduct in the satirical and effective PRETTY PERSUASION (2005)so it’s a volte face here in the sense he plays a father who deals with the fallout of an accusation on the piano teacher who trains his sons. He is effective here on all counts, emphasising the contradictions and complexes.
** finally, it informs us that our polish exteriors cannot mask the fact we may be grossly ill equipped to handle earnest matters as we weigh them on a richter scale of morality first, even though we have spent eons with the person who is doubted .