I know for a fact that Stephen Dunn, who developed this latest QAF iteration, is a big Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. (Yes, this is yet another reminder you should watch Closet Monster!) So I wasn’t so much surprised as tickled by the way my favorite quippy blonde became a central figure in the budding friendship between mopey, broody Noah (Johnny Sibilly) and guileless, wide-eyed Julian (Ryan O’Connell). Because, honestly, there is no better way to bond than over the delicious monsters-are-all-around-us world of Sunnydale High.
But the Buffy reference (and Noah’s very valid concerns about Buffy’s about-face in that first episode and his shock over Angel’s vampire-ness) reminded me that Dunn and his team of writers and directors (which includes Satya Bhaba, who helmed this episode, and Des Moran, who co-wrote it with Dunn) are mining the many horrors queer folk grapple with every day, turning them into episode-size monsters to slay slowly — whether with a killer wig (as Mingus toys with doing at the start of the episode) or a confetti-infused violent fantasy. This isn’t a glittering utopia that imagines a world where homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, and misogyny don’t work in tandem to make the prospect of walking down a street or going out to a club as a queer person in 2022 a safe choice. Instead, these are stories about how queer folk move through the world in spite of the dangers that await them. Which is not to say they’re defined by their traumas or their obstacles. It’s a fine balance to strike; you can’t deny the horrors of living in the United States as a visible, out, queer person, but you also can’t dim them to make them the only thing we ever see of us.
It’s why that Mingus moment in his bedroom is so poignant. As they don a punk-rock wig (giving us “Wig in a Box” echoes, Hedwig-style), the room around him becomes a blurred vision of colored lights that opens up a fantasy vision scored by Grace Gaustad’s “Creature.” They start to lose themselves in the imagery the wig conjured for him, a future vision of a performance, a snippet of a daydream of an imagined possibility that could help them unlock a way of healing, perhaps. Only, just as this hazy imagery all but takes over the screen, the sounds of that fateful night at Babylon take over and snap them out of this trance. Queer artistry may have been offering Mingus an off-ramp, a way to cope, but they can’t really channel it, and instead they dive headfirst into despondent despair. Let us hope their tantrum doesn’t last long; I want more inspired Mingus drag in our future!
Speaking of drag and the spaces where queer artistry thrives and where the community can find a safe haven to escape the darkness (both within and from outside), I actually love that after putting Babylon through the wringer, QAF now sets its sights on creating a new kind of queer nightlife space. What the survivors of the Babylon shooting need isn’t more sadness but more light, more fun, more glamor, more glitter. “This is how we should be honoring Daddius and all the other victims,” as Brodie (Luther King) puts it. “Not some shitty vigil that caters to sad heteros.” But a grand fab party that embraces the most outré aspects of the queer community at … quite conveniently, Noah’s place. Why Noah would agree to this in the first place is a kind of contrived plot clog that we should probably all let go of lest we realize it’s more of a narrative requirement than in any way in keeping with how the straitlaced lawyer would actually behave.
Speaking of Brodie … I think we need to talk about him. Prickly, narcissistic characters are a dime a dozen, and I’ve been going back and forth over how much the show has been trying to leverage his abrasive swagger as a way to force him to deal with his own life choices. He’s lethally charming, and so you get why he’d feel untouched when faced with criticism or some pushback from those he loves, but he’s also the kind of person who moves through the world unaware of how his agency is central to what he’s going through. “You gotta stop blaming other people for your problems,” his mom tells him. “You screw up your life all on your own.” Sometimes in his mind, he’s a hapless victim, without realizing he can be careless and thoughtless. At least Ghost Fag, no matter where it originated, allows him to convince himself he’s doing something for others, even if it remains, in the end, a selfish play to keep himself moving lest he stops and examines his life. That can’t last for long, though, right?
Fun As F - - -
• Kim Cattrall. That’s it. That’s the bullet point. Honestly, when Peacock announced that the former Sex and the City star had joined the series, I was overjoyed (especially once we all knew our beloved Samantha Jones would not be coming back). And so, just like that, we had some more Cattrall to look forward to (again, continuing my plug of all things Canadian, you should seek out Sensitive Skin if you want to see the Emmy-nominated actress play a decidedly different woman coming into her age). She’s such a treat here, an actress goddess coming down to grace us with her presence, affectations, and warmth, especially in those scenes with Shar and Ruthie and Brodie as she gets her Gam Gam on. (Seriously, give whoever decided to have Cattrall say “Zaddy” any and all the awards!)
• I promise, I promise I won’t talk about Cattrall and Juliette Lewis every episode recap, but oh my God. Her eyeliner? Her attempt at being a “mom” even when Judy can’t bring herself to be assertive, even when she takes her high schooler to a gun range? Just masterful. Proof that between this and Yellowjackets, we underestimated this most eclectic of our actresses for too long.
• Also: Armand Fields. A presence. An icon. I need more Bussey in my life — especially when they’re doling out tough love (at knife point!) to young Mingus.
• Can I just list all the quotes from Benito Skinner’s J.C.J’s vigil speech? Because every goddamn one of them was gold. But if I had to choose one, it would be: “I was a happy little faggot.”
• “Do you want me to be honest or pretend you’re someone else?” deserves to become part of my everyday lexicon when dealing with friends’ drama.
• How can a scene featuring a campy ditty about poppers sung by a leather-clad Daddius (Chris Renfro) be so heartbreaking? Honestly, I worried that we wouldn’t get to witness Renfro’s buoyant energy anymore, but his deployment in both flashbacks and fantasy-slash-ghostly sequences has been a balm.
• Julian and Noah! Julian and Noah! To be continued, I hope …