We Are Who We Are
A glorious season of television comes to a glorious close. It’s no secret that I was smitten with We Are Who We Are from its very first frames. Week after week, this Italy-set HBO drama has surprised me, further burrowing itself into my subconscious and making me feel a little less alone at a time when any escape from my day-to-day felt like a welcome respite. Thankfully, director Luca Guadagnino and co-writers Paolo Giordano and Francesca Manieri knew there was no better way to bid us good-bye than giving us an equally melancholy and ecstatic closing episode that was, much like Fraser’s oversize Raf Simons sweater, exactly the kind of cozy comfort blanket we needed.
In many ways, this final episode is about the preciousness of bidding others, and even parts of yourself, good-bye. And since we spend much of our time with Fraser and Caitlin, let us pause first and revel in the way We Are Who We Are managed to imbue so many of its supporting players with carefully observed subplots that could very well have anchored entire series on their own.
I’m left wondering what will happen with Sarah and Maggie (Chloë Sevigny and Alice Braga): Will their marriage survive Fraser’s teenage years, the weight of Sarah’s job, and the alienation we have seen so afflicts Maggie? I’m left thinking about whether Richard and Jenny (Kid Cudi and Faith Alabi) will get to rekindle a sense of normalcy once they move to Okinawa, or whether his political leanings, her fling with Maggie, and her kids’ teenage awakenings (regarding faith and gender, respectively) will topple the fragile familial ecosystem they had taken for granted. And yet I’m at peace with Guadagnino and the show’s writers not neatly tying up every loose thread in this final chapter. Much of what has made We Are Who We Are so refreshing is its own sense of pace. I’ve compared it to poetry before, given how enamored it is with lines and sentiments borrowed from Walt Whitman and Ocean Vuong. And so it makes sense that rather than trying to conclude its story with a final chapter, the show opted for a more self-contained epilogue — a final stanza of sorts that sums up and reframes much of what we’ve spent the past eight weeks watching.
But before we dig into those romantic moments that close out the show, let’s talk about that Bologna concert. It’s ballsy to basically do away with the setting and tone the show’s been known for and create what is ostensibly a bottle episode of a season finale, taking us away from the Army base, away from the show’s ensemble, and letting it all feel like we’re still in the same world we have come to love. Despite being billed as a moment of reconciliation and bonding for Caitlin and Fraser, though, the trip to Bologna and the concert itself prove to be a test of their friendship, with each gravitating toward others eager to make a connection. If We Are Who We Are has been an eight-hour exploration of the fluidity of desire and the recklessness of youth, Blood Orange’s concert was its queer apotheosis. Joyful and ecstatic, the event proved a perfect setpiece to clarify just what Caitlin and Fraser wanted for themselves. Caitlin explicitly acknowledges her trans identity (“FTM, right?” she’s asked), while Fraser gets to kiss a boy who is just as into fashion as he is. Yet both moments feel fraught — off, even.
As Caitlin flees that stark confrontation with her own identity (as “Time Will Tell” echoes all around her, with a throng of smitten Blood Orange fans crowding her), the camera turns us upside down as she heads into the bathroom to wipe off her put-on facial hair. It’s a disorienting moment for her, crystallizing what had long been a tacit understanding. Her decision to head out and back home feels like an impulsive attempt to, as she’d done once before when another girl had so labeled her, go back to her family’s embrace, forsaking (a wholly oblivious) Fraser in the process. Thankfully, after his own ill-fitting kiss, Fraser finds her and, once more, asks her to take a leap with him, setting up the show’s tender final moments.
Perhaps more aptly, though, we end not with one of Dev Hynes’s compositions but with Prince’s “The Love We Make.” The bittersweet ode to the late guitarist Jonathan Melvoin, who died of an overdose, is a celebration of the time we have and an acknowledgment of the active role we take in caring for others and ourselves: “The only love there is is the love we make,” he sings, and it’s those words that end up framing our final moments with Fraser and Caitlin, who giddily kiss before Guadagnino’s camera pans away to offer us a gloomy but beautiful Italian landscape.
Oh yeah, did you catch how, when all was said and done, it turned out we were witnessing a love story? To quote Britney, “Don’t act like you didn’t know.” The final reunion and kiss between Caitlin and Fraser — as rom-com-y as a literate HBO drama that takes cues from William S. Burroughs and E.M. Forster was going to get — felt revelatory for the way it was the culmination of a season-long arc as well as a willful recalibration of the relationship between the two teens. From the beginning, the two had seen something in the other they hoped to see in themselves and pushed one another to live up to the ideal that lived in each other’s heads. They were each other’s anchor, even as the show mired them in a dour rainstorm that threatened to break them apart.
Of course, the fact that We Are Who We Are has spent an entire season urging us to disavow labels and to embrace fluidity, not to mention dive right into messy questions about identity and sexuality — about how we relate to others and to ourselves — means there’s no easy way of distilling into words what we’re left with in those final moments. Who is Caitlin to Fraser? Who is Fraser to Caitlin? What will they be to each other once they return to their lives, away from the “most beautiful place in the world”? The show doesn’t give us an answer. Mostly because it doesn’t owe it to us to settle such a question, but more likely because the answer is still up in the air for our two precocious teens. Given the show’s focus and embrace of the ephemerality of experience, they may well not be thinking that far ahead. They’re focused, as the show’s many episode titles have reminded us, on the “right here, right now.” And we would do well to follow their lead.
This Is What It Is
• How glorious was that Dev Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange) concert (including renditions of “Better Than Me”and “But You”)? Music has been one of the key ways Caitlin and Fraser have bonded, and it was lovely to see that being so explicitly called out in that moment when they’re sharing a pair of headphones and listening to their favorite track. (Speaking of which: Did we all watch the full-length video for “Time Will Tell,” featuring Jordan Kristine Seamón and Jack Dylan Grazer? I’m obsessed.)
• Fraser’s winter wardrobe is as fab as his summer one. That giant green Raf Simons sweater? To die for. Also, of course Fraser would be obsessed with Comme des Garçons (“The irregularity is the essence of it”).
Can we talk for a bit about the great street art we get to see as Harper walks toward the station? Even in the middle of the night, this vision of Italy is just so, so lovely!
• What’s in a kiss? Channeling the spirit of fairy tales, it was the power of a kiss that eventually unlocked something in Caitlin and Fraser — both of whom got to feel firsthand what it’s like to kiss someone whose attention flatters you but who may not really stir all that emotion within you.
• Sigh. I’m truly going to miss these characters — and writing these recaps! Thankfully, I’ll continue to cherish Hynes’s gorgeous score, which has become a key part of my writing routine. Plus, we can always hold out hope for a season two, no? Time will tell!