Catherine Steadman, Jon Fletcher, Ronan Raftery
Photo: Starz

Superhero characters with multiple personalities are often tactless treatments of mental illness masquerading as misguided acting showcases. Looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan. However, the metaphysical reverse—a character with one consistent personality spread over multiple bodies, all working in unison as a human hive mind—has now delicately made strides as a queer metaphor in Starz’s supernatural spy series The Rook.

The Gestalts are quadruplets (two fraternal, two identical) that share a single consciousness. Eliza, Teddy, Alex, and Robert Gestalt are one. Gestalt serves as a Rook, alongside the show’s amnesiac protagonist Myfanwy (pronounced like Tiffany), in the Checquy, a secretive division of the British government that fights the unnatural forces of the world with some of its own. It’s like if all the 00 agents were third-string X-Men. And, of the show’s slightly enhanced mutants, Gestalt is the one that actually fulfills the allegorical element associated with the Marvel team thanks to their unique approach to performance.

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Gestalt’s circumstances aren’t really a power per se, but they do have the practical ability of “compartmentalization.” In home movie footage found in “Chapter 3,” a younger version of the singular sibling is seen being groomed to act differently with each body. Splitting their bodies’ behaviors allows them to be in four places at once, which makes for a hyper-efficient recon agent. Four times the productivity, four times the physical prowess. If one sees something, they all do. In the present day, they’re so adept that we have to be reminded of their identity as a hive mind: “Speak to one, you’ve spoken to all.” But that becomes clear soon enough.

A beautifully choreographed scene in “Chapter 3” shows Gestalt waking up and getting ready for the day, dressing their four bodies in red tracksuits or slick black-and-white business wear and eating their breakfast with Olympic-level synchronization.

Actors Jon Fletcher (Teddy and Alex), Ronan Raftery (Robert), and Catherine Steadman (Eliza) are comfortably harmonious, blending beyond their bleached-blond hair. By the end of director China Moo-Young’s tranquil sequence, as they all slip into the world beyond themselves—watching the news, reading the paper—they’ve fully transitioned from private singularity to public differentiation. They may button and zip their clothes together, but their fashions are all intentionally unique. Presenting a certain way, in this case as different people, is the only way they go out into the world.

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As great as it is for being an intelligence agent, compartmentalization also grants Gestalt the social benefit of not freaking everyone out. They don’t have to always walk around speaking in creepy cultish unison, or dress like Things One, Two, Three, and Four. Although they do sometimes speak in concert, there’s a clear and thoughtful effort of in-fiction performance in all their public actions. They explain this point to agent Monica Reed (Olivia Munn) in “Chapter 4” (which aired July 21), after she asks why they bother ordering different types of coffee.

“Why do you do that?” Reed asks. “Pretend to have different tastes in coffee? I mean, it’s all you, right? Why the pretense?” Gestalt explains, “The illusion of distinct personalities puts other people at their ease. Which allows me to hide in plain sight.”

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Here’s an aspect of performativity, anthropomorphized as a genre character that toes the line between representation and explanation. They wear different clothes, drink different coffees, appear in different places. Gestalt is creating Eliza, Teddy, Alex, and Robert every day, but it’s clear in their interactions with those that know them that there’s just one person behind it all.

Photo: Starz

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Their otherness is hidden away, broken into multiple masks, all presenting as individuals, because—both in Gestalt’s line of work and in general—it’s helpful to placate those not in the know with socially constructed personae. More pressingly, to do otherwise would lead to ostracization. The correlation to queerness, particularly to non-binary performativity, is best seen here. Trans people or those outside of gender binaries may find themselves regularly performing different and/or imperfectly representative identities in order to be accepted and recognized by other people. So as to“put other people at their ease,” according to Gestalt.

Gestalt is definitely queer, too. They may not perfectly transcend gender and sexuality, but that’s because of society and not themselves. The hive mind is clearly non-binary. Daniel O’Malley, in the novel The Rook is based on, writes that “Gestalt is kind of disconcerting, because it/he/she/they is/are spread over four bodies.” The narrator, in either line-in-the-sand defiance to the singular “they” or gross bigotry, settles on “it.” In the show, they usually go for “the Gestalt” or “Gestalt.”

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Gestalt’s seemingly intrinsic element of flexibility and fluidity could problematically position them as a kind of catchall tasked with shouldering any and all queer representation. Gestalt subverts these expectations by being so distinctly singular and confident in their specific experience. They aren’t a gay man, a bisexual woman, or trans person, but someone outside these bounds—and no less certain of who they are. While their power (and how they use it) may or may not reflect experiences shared by more than one segment of the LGBTQ+ community, they’re a character with their own perspective allowing them to stand out under the admittedly nebulous umbrella of queerness. And whatever their sexuality, they’re into Myfanwy (Emma Greenwell).

One of the first points we learn in the show is that Myfanwy and Gestalt drunkenly hooked up the night before the former lost her memories. This is introduced a bit like a running gag, because the only thing worse than not remembering a blackout makeout is not remembering who you are... in addition to your blackout makeout. But this subplot keeps coming up, with both characters developed thanks to this increasingly serious attraction.

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During “Chapter 3,” Gestalt (Eliza’s body) kisses Myfanwy after they saved Myfanwy from an assailant. Gestalt has a great time, such a great time that they decompartmentalize. Sure, Eliza’s into it, but Teddy, Alex, and Robert are, too—with slapstick-esque consequences. Across the city, coffee is knocked over, handrails are grasped, and cars are sideswiped. Yes, it’s such a horny kiss that one body gets into a car accident.

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Gestalt’s façade can (hilariously) collapse under the strain of a solid smooch, physically cutting through the performance and causing equally physical consequences. The four bodies’ identities collapse into Gestalt’s—one constructed, more truthfully, by a kiss that doesn’t require them to fit in with society’s expectations.

As the text helps Gestalt’s queer subtext bubble to the surface, they stand out as The Rook’s best character. Being funny, queer, complex, savvy, and well-performed means that Gestalt is also helping right a lot of sci-fi allegories’ missteps. Their imperfect and faltering veneers, constructed through performance, puts Gestalt in the LGBTQ+ canon as a superpowered person whose very existence deals with the day-to-day struggles of queerness.

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