R. Kelly was hard at work this weekend, blowing our minds three times. Trapped in the Closet: Chapters Eighteen, Nineteen, and Twenty are available now at IFC.com, and we've asked performance artist Neal Medlyn and Kenny Mellman (Kiki & Herb), creators of the musical Kenny Mellman + Neal Medlyn = Robert Kelly, to survey the brilliant wreckage.
Recap: We visit Rufus's church and meet the pastor and a stuttering pimp named Luscious. Rufus steps out to dump his secret lover, Chuck, over the phone. Randolph eavesdrops from a closet and later tells his gossiping wife, Rose.
Medlyn: These three weekend episodes have introduced a whole other unfolding drama — Pastor Rufus and his boyfriend, Chuck, from episode two. And like R. Kelly says in one of the introductions, these episodes go somewhere no one expected: church and AIDS, here mysteriously called “the package,” which I feel like indicates some other wildly ambitious plot twist in the works.
But here’s the most important revelation so far: R. Kelly is my grandpa! Sitting there in the introductions with the TV remote, making observations like “Heh, heh. He hates for her to look out those windows,” to no one in particular. He’s totally a weird uncle! Over the last few episodes I’ve developed a minor obsession with the relationship between R. Kelly and this IFC guy. They're sitting around watching television together, progressively getting chummier. It’s very romantic, especially imagining them watching the congregation in episode nineteen singing a truly moving and uplifting “You can do it, Pimp Luscious.” The fact that I found it uplifting feels very weird, but by this point, I don’t remember what normal is, or why I would ever care.
Also, how about the perfect timing of the reintroduction of the whole “Shit, think, shit, think”–hiding–in–the–closet motif!
Mellman: I think the most fascinating thing about these three episodes is the use of the choir. That and the fact that AIDS rears its ugly head. But let's concentrate on the background vocals for now: In the hands of the divine Mr. Kelly, a chorus of background vocalists actually sings "You can do it, Pimp Luscious!" And you really want Pimp Luscious to listen! Such conviction, such faith in the glory of God that he could even inspire the low-down Pimp Luscious to embrace a holier path than whoring out youngish girls for sex. It is the genius of R. Kelly that soon, after the choir sings those inspirational words, Pimp Luscious leaves the church with his gaggle of women, saying that he was only there for his cousin. This is a whole new tact — using the gospel as a commercial break from the real story.
And even while the gospel choir is Hosanna-ing and R. Kelly as the preacher is preaching the glory of bathing in the blood of the lamb, those same eight notes we've known since chapter one are still playing out underneath the pageant: "Da da da da da da da dum." Half the speed and at half the volume, those notes are still the real way to the light.