Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Everyone harbors secrets in an uneven We Are Who We Are

Jordan Kristine Seamón and Jack Dylan Grazer
Jordan Kristine Seamón and Jack Dylan Grazer
Photo: Yannis Drakoulidis/HBO
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“Surprise, I exist outside of your mind,” Caitlin says to Fraser after he says the moustache she’s painting onto herself isn’t how he imagined her. Therein lies much of We Are Who We Are’s essence: These characters are in a constant tug-of-war between how they’re perceived and how they want to be perceived. They self-mythologize against the narratives forced upon them, grasping for identities that might not be simple but bring them comfort. In the fifth episode of the season, everyone has secrets. And those secrets hinge on that self-mythologizing. Perhaps they’re all being their truest selves when they’re lying to others.

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Fraser and Caitlin’s friendship remains the show’s strongest beacon, a guiding force through which the rest of the—sometimes sloppily composed—narrative flows. They operate almost as a unit, whether it’s when Caitlin asks to hold Fraser’s dick while he pees or when Fraser helps apply the moustache or when Fraser cuts her hair. Their limbs entwine and become one but without any semblance of sexual connotation. Theirs is a more complex intimacy, and there’s a sense that We Are Who We Are is attempting to complicate intimacy and identity through each of its characters, but it’s best rendered with these two. The haircutting scene is particularly powerful. Fraser says not to do it at first, saying that Caitlin’s hair holds her power. But Caitlin knows her power lies elsewhere and pushes forward. It doesn’t take much convincing. Fraser and Caitlin rush to the clippers with frenetic energy. They’re being spontaneous teens, but it’s more than that, too. Caitlin is finally reaching for what has previously felt just out of grasp. She has Fraser to give her a boost.

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Caitlin ends up exploring her gender identity in a way that Fraser attempts to push back on, because it does seem like she’s leaning into a binary rather than questioning it. She practices shooting with Sarah, and they share a markedly different relationship than Fraser and Sarah do. Those contrasts are interesting—Caitlin clearly idolizes Sarah, which naturally infuriates Fraser. In a previous episode, Fraser seemed a little entranced by Danny pushing him around. Caitlin and Fraser see each other’s family members in divergent ways, and there are layers to that: It’s often difficult to see your family members for exactly who they are because your vantage point is way too close. I still don’t entirely comprehend Sarah and Fraser’s wildly co-dependent relationship, but it’s clear that Fraser can’t really see his mother for who she is. To be fair, I’m not entirely sure who Sarah is. But that’s perhaps a discussion for a different review since this episode doesn’t focus on Sarah too much.

Fraser ends up criticizing Caitlin’s narrow definition of what it means to be male, referring to the shooting, the shitty facial hair, the standing to pee. But instead of letting Caitlin offer her perspective here, we just sort of breeze past it and We Are Who We Are doesn’t end up saying anything at all about gender roles and expectations. The show often has lofty ambitions that go largely unfulfilled.

Caitlin meets up with Giulia with newly buzzed hair, men’s pants and the moustache, fully embracing Harper. She seems to get a thrill out of “passing,” which is why it’s such a gut-punch when Giulia reveals that she knows Caitlin “is a girl,” which first of all doesn’t seem to be an accurate assessment of the way Caitlin identifies and second of all brings what was a very sweet date to a jarring halt. Caitlin thought she harbored her secret well. Or, more accurately, she thought she wasn’t keeping a secret at all. She thought she was being her most authentic self. And then Giulia took that away from her.

Fraser’s secret in the episode ends up being a shared secret with Jonathan. These two literature-obsessed dorks have another run-in at the library, this time discussing historical fiction novel The Kindly Ones. But the bigger secret comes at the end when they watch Ouija: Origin Of Evil together. It isn’t an explicitly romantic encounter, but it brims with possibility. Jonathan takes a genuine interest in Fraser talking about fashion design after the movie. He’s also the one who invites Fraser up to sit with him.

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Maggie and Jenny have a secret of their own, too. Following the events of their little pie day, they’re having a full-blown affair, and I’m not sure I entirely buy it, but there’s no denying that they both have reasons to stray from their marriage. Jenny doesn’t feel seen by Richard, and she’s also always blatantly lying to herself and others about his behaviors. When she and Maggie get all domestic shopping at the PX together (their affair really seems to encompass more than just sexual intimacy), Jenny says that even though Danny isn’t Richard’s son, Richard has always treated him as such. We’ve of course seen quite the opposite. And Jenny also says the opposite when she’s with Richard, accuses him of not holding up his promise to treat Danny as his own.

Meanwhile, their spouses are none the wiser. Richard and Sarah are busy squaring off, Sarah demanding that Richard apologize for his soldiers’ behavior at the pizzeria. Richard does not like Sarah one bit, even forbids Caitlin from spending time with the family when she comes home with her new hair. Richard and Sarah each initiate sex with their spouses in ways that underscore the fact that they aren’t really tuned into their spouses’ wants or needs. They both seem selfish in the way they fuck, whereas Maggie and Jenny’s sex scene contains more of a mutual give and take.

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Some of the dynamics in the Poythress household come into sharper focus with this information about Danny and Richard. Danny makes more sense as a character, too, his rage clearly rooted in his romanticization of who his biological father might be and his resentment of Richard. It’s a useful and effective writing device to let us get to know a character by seeing how they interact with others and how others perceive them. Whereas we get a lot more of Caitlin’s interiority, with Danny it’s mostly the kind of character work that hinges on his dynamics with the people around him. Like Caitlin, he’s hunting for a clear identity and running up against things outside of his control, like the way Richard treats him. There are interesting threads here, but We Are Who We Are doesn’t end up having the story space in this episode to tug on them, bouncing around from secret to secret.

We Are Who We Are lives in this strange place of being both overstuffed and yet underbaked. Very little happens episode-to-episode, and yet . From the start, the show has been more about establishing mood and themes rather than being plot-driven. And yet, it does seem like the characters are sometimes acting in ways that simply service a plot. Maggie and Jenny’s affair feels wedged-in and hollow, easy conflict without much of a backbone. Some character work is happening too haphazardly while some takes too long, remains too vague. Sometimes it feels like We Are Who We Are has the same short attention span as Fraser.

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Stray observations

  • I love the show’s attention to personal style. Fraser is always in oversized jackets and shirts, and Caitlin is always in crop tops.
  • Britney and Sam are dating now, and Britney tells Caitlin she loves him and always has.
  • There’s a meta moment where Fraser admires the music of Dev Hynes a.k.a. Blood Orange, who also composed the music for the series.
  • The sex scenes in this episode feel a little more real than the ones from last episode.
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