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A standout episode of We Are Who We Are highlights the power of its cast

Illustration for article titled A standout episode of iWe Are Who We Are /ihighlights the power of its cast
Screenshot: We Are Who We Are
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We Are Who We Are is the rare conundrum of a show where the cast is operating on an almost entirely different level than the writing. There isn’t a weak member of this cast; it’s solid across the board. More than solid, it’s a cast that harnesses humor, drama, and complex emotions with depth and precision. It’s almost enough to elevate the undercooked writing. It’s almost enough to make We Are Who We Are’s pieces click into place.

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The penultimate episode of the season sees its characters through devastation that’s palpably felt. Tragedy has struck the base, the unit that Sarah deployed suffering major casualties that include Craig. But the penultimate episode also highlights how the show has struggled to pull everything together into a meaningful story. There are so many threads that We Are Who We Are has introduced, but instead of pulling at them or turning them into a more complex and interesting picture, it just sort of lets those threads sit there limply. Of course, a show about the mess of identity and relationships is bound to have, well, mess.

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And it’s the actors who pick up those threads and make something more substantive of them. Cait and Fraser continue to be fascinating characters, even in their most mundane moments. There’s nothing mundane about this episode though. We watch the characters all process the horror of death in their own ways—shock, devastation, grief. The episode doesn’t press pause on some of its subplots but rather filters them through this collective grief. Cait stops pursuing her own wants and needs, rattled by the effects of loss. Danny channels his increasing anger into something physical and disturbing, hitting a metal beam over and over. Cait and Britney continue to struggle to connect.

Maggie and Jenny argue, throwing a wrench in their affair. A secret relationship isn’t so fun when shit gets real. But the fallout of this relationship is as hastily paced as its build-up. Sarah casually reveals at episode’s end that she knows about the affair, a confusing moment. Sarah often perplexes. While the whole cast is stellar, it does seem like We Are Who We Are struggles to balance the sheer amount of characters it has. It’s an ensemble show, but sometimes it feels like different characters are on different shows entirely, like the subplots are cobbled together haphazardly.

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The fractured feeling of “Right Here, Right Now #7” is, at least, thematically resonant. Death fractures. A community in crisis is a bonding force, but it also can widen schisms, heighten tensions, create unrest, and We Are Who We Are explores that well. People blame Sarah for the deaths—Richard in particular, who warned her that the men weren’t ready. He gets drunk and sloppy, lashing out at the banquet. The friend group rejects Fraser, saying that he was never one of them, not wanting him to be a part of their collective grieving. He’s left alone, wind whipping his hair, an outsider once again.

The episode clocks in at well over an hour, but it’s actually the first episode of the series to really warrant the overlong runtime. The show often spreads itself thin, but this episode manages to tackle grief as complicated and imprecise. The scenes of the friend group getting fucked up are starkly contrasted with the last time they went to the party house. There’s no carefree fun to be had this time. Just tough and quiet processing of a thing that feels impossible to process. The scenes of Fraser don’t work quite as well. Alone, he finds his way to Jonathan’s, where he proceeds to hook up with Jonathan and a woman. It’s tonally disconnected from the rest of the episode.

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Fraser cuts the encounter short, gets drunk, collapses. Then the story takes a more interesting turn when Fraser asks Sarah why she never tells him anything about his father, asks her if she sent him to his death. The moment brings Fraser and Sarah and Maggie’s dynamics into a somewhat sharper focus, this big unsaid thing hanging between them, the underlying force of so much of the tension that surfaces in their household. But we don’t get to spend much time here. In general, We Are Who We Are struggles to follow through on the paths it wanders down.

Often, it feels like We Are Who We Are is trying to provoke rather than say something meaningful. Sarah strips naked in the middle of the situation room, remarking that they’re all soldiers here. There’s no consideration for how exposing herself is actually workplace harassment, and the whole moment just feels like empty provocation. The show’s messaging on the military is muddled at best, and I often wonder exactly why a military base is the setting for the show. This episode confronts its setting the most overtly, but because the setting hasn’t been strongly developed or all that nuanced leading up to it, it’s a lot to take in all at once.

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The sequence cutting between people on base standing in a moment of silence is striking to be sure. In addition to its cast, We Are Who We Are is strong in its visual storytelling—as well as its music cues. Danny walks as if stuck in a bad nightmare, straight into the camera, unbalanced and slack-faced. We Are Who We Are zooms in and out of grief through the episode to great effect. We get to see it on the community level as well as the individual level. It’s haunting.

All along, We Are Who We Are has somewhat eschewed conventional storytelling mechanisms, sometimes dipping into fantasy, playing around with perspective, letting its characters wander through their lives. The performances have an improvisational quality. The camerawork is fluid and sometimes evocative of a music video. All those things are still relevant here, but sometimes the dramatic tension of the show makes it slip back into the conventional. It goes for the obvious story beats. Again, the performances here and the focus on a community’s collective as well as individual reactions to grief make it ultimately work, but there’s still a lot left to be desired when it comes to character development and overall narrative coherence. This is a tightly executed episode, but zooming out, the show’s fractures remain. And there’s only so much heavy-lifting the actors can do.

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Stray observations

  • Dev Hynes deserves so much recognition for this score.
  • Sometimes, Fraser and Sarah come off as sociopathic, but I’m not sure if that’s intentional on the show’s part or if it’s ever going to be addressed.
  • God, I feel so bad for Valentina. She and Danny really are the most devastating characters in this episode.
  • Really low lighting has been such a trend in cable dramas for a while now, and I’m not really a fan!
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