June Squibb and Paul F. Tompkins kill it as they debate the afterlife in an engaging episode of Room 104. Exec-producer Sydney Fleischman explains.
The afterlife is the great unknown. Will we have to defend our every decision, like in Albert Brooks’ classic film Defending Your Life? Do we rack up or lose points prior to death according to an outdated system like in the NBC comedy The Good Place? Or do we live in a world where an assistant to the devil lurks in dingy motel rooms, ready to sign contracts for souls? Room 104 episode “Crossroads”, written by Sam Bain and directed by Patrick Brice, argues the latter.
Each episode of Room 104 is a standalone tale, so if you’re missing the gently comedic afterlife stylings of The Good Place while it’s on winter hiatus, this episode might just be for you. (Note: If you haven’t seen this episode quite yet, spoilers follow, so proceed with caution.) Starring June Squibb as Jean, a woman who sold her soul as a young adult, and Paul F. Tompkins as a guy stuck in hellish middle management, the story stays fun and playful while still addressing deep and thoughtful topics such as morality, souls, and success.
Room 104 executive producer Sydney Fleischman gave us some insight into the episode. She shared that June Squibb and Paul F. Tompkins were primary choices to play Jean and Louis. She stated that both Tompkins and Squibb came aboard quickly once they read the script, and that Squibb seemed to, “see something fun in it, because it’s not at all what she usually does. She had so much fun with the role, and really leaned in to the vulgar spirit of it all.”
Setting this story of good versus evil at Christmas time is certainly a fun choice, and Fleischman states that it was writer Sam Bain’s idea “to add to the religion aspect of it, and this weird sort of holiday spirit. It adds an extra level.”
After a lifetime of riches, sex, and booze, Jean meets up with Louis. She seems to have willfully forgotten her promise to the underworld, and refuses to allow Louis to cash in on her soul. Understandably, Louis is exasperated. Fleischman aptly terms his situation, “career ennui.” Imagine having to deal with this crap for all of eternity. Sheesh. She signed a contract! The powers of fire and brimstone stood up for their part of the bargain, and now she wants to back out of hers? Unbelievable.
But Squibb, er, Jean, clearly has the gift of gab, and she begins to talk her way out of the situation. What follows is a spirited debate between two agents of depravity.
When asked what she thought the ultimate message that Room 104 was sending about the afterlife with this episode, Fleischman stated, “Sam really wanted to write this modern Faust episode, but do something that made it different from all the other Faustian stories we’ve heard before. Maybe the moral of the story is that it’s never too late to start over.”
And it’s never too late to check out this devilishly fun episode on HBO.
Room 104 airs Fridays at 11/10c on HBO. All episodes can be streamed on HBO NOW and HBO GO.