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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

We Are Who We Are captures the disorienting power of a crush

Illustration for article titled iWe Are Who We Are /icaptures the disorienting power of a crush
Screenshot: We Are Who We Are
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A consistent strength of We Are Who We Are has been its ability to give very high stakes to very low-stakes situations. It deftly and somewhat unnervingly captures the oscillating highs and lows of youth. The boredom, the mania, the explosion of feelings without a place to put them. The show finds intimacy and urgency in unexpected places, gently surprising with its everyday weirdness. A musical interlude interrupts “Right Here, Right Now VI” in its first act. It features Caitlin and Fraser dancing in all white to “It Is What It Is” by Dev Hynes. It’s a little bit surreal. It’s a perfect example of the show’s playfulness and ability to surprise. The moment reiterates their closeness, the freedom that Cailtin and Fraser feel when they’re together.

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After that, Caitlin and Fraser spend much of the episode apart. Here, We Are Who We Are gives those intense stakes to a simple situation. It’s just one weekend apart, and yet Fraser and Caitlin feel ripped from one another. Fraser texts her furiously in search of guidance about Jonathan. He’s a mess without her. And Caitlin, out on a hunting trip with Richard who spends much of the episode glaring at/about Fraser and unable to even say his name, searches for service so she can stay in contact with her best friend. The person who understands her best. Richard doesn’t get it. Of course he doesn’t. What Caitlin and Fraser have belongs entirely to them. Their intimacy and ability to fold into one another remains one of the most intoxicating parts of the show.

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The presidential election continues to unfold at the periphery of We Are Who We Are, and this episode ends on Trump winning. Sarah watches a news broadcast about the schism between Trump and Hillary supporters reacting to the news, but she’s interrupted by a serious phone call. I have a feeling it has something to do with the troop she shipped out. But after Sarah leaves, we’re left with the broadcast, which plays over the episode’s credits. It’s a striking choice, but it’s a little difficult to parse out exactly what We Are Who We Are is trying to say with it. The show consistently tees up to say something meaningful and then just sort of drops it, as has been the case for Richard’s MAGA hats.

I still struggle to make sense of Sarah, who is very supportive of her teen son going on a date with a thirty-year-old man. On top of that, as Maggie points out, Jonathan is also Sarah’s subordinate. Sure she’s having an affair of her own, but Maggie often seems to only exist as some sort of device. She gently pushes back on Sarah but also falls into her arms pretty easily. The dynamics of the Poythress household have been coming into sharper view since last episode and continue to do so in this installment as Richard takes Cait on a hunting trip in an attempt to better understand where she is, but I’m still perplexed by the dynamics in the Wilson household and by Sarah as a character in general.

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To say Sarah’s bad at boundaries is an understatement. There’s her codependency with Fraser. There’s the fact that she never really seems to see or value Maggie. And then there’s this strange encouragement of Jonathan and Fraser to get closer. She tells Maggie that she thinks it’s good for Fraser to have an older male presence in his life, and it’s unclear if this is actually what she thinks the situation is—which is not very believable—or if she is just saying that to Maggie to put her at ease. Either way, the motive’s confusing.

Sarah crosses another boundary near the end of the episode when she asks Caitlin if her father knows she wants to be a male soldier. It’s very blunt, especially considering Caitlin has never explicitly talked about gender with Sarah. I don’t think it’s out-of-character for Sarah to be this forward and to assert herself as an authority figure, but I’m not sure We Are Who We Are has a strong grasp on who Sarah is and why she’s like this. We Are Who We Are seems to have more of a grasp on general mood and tone than it does on its actual characters, who show spurts of specificity and interiority but often lack depth. There’s something seductive about We Are Who We Are’s sort of ambling approach to plot, but it would come together much better with stronger character development.

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Fraser’s crush on Jonathan dominates the episode and is another perfect example of how something so small can feel so huge. We Are Who We Are is specific and strange in its rendering of Fraser’s crush, and it works well. Fraser gets Jonathan a book and tries to write a sweet inscription, becomes overly anxious that he fucked it up. Wandering Jonathan’s office, he sniffs his things, sticks his finger in a toy dinosaur’s mouth and kisses the toy before pocketing it. Attraction inspires bizarre behavior. Even just the thought of touching an object that your crush has touched becomes erotic.

Jonathan takes Fraser on an unusual first date that nonetheless brims with beauty. He takes him to a World War I burial site, where they frolic with sheep and pee outside. We Are Who We Are strives to find loveliness in the unexpected. Fraser’s full-body excitement and anxiety leading up to and during the date is palpable, uncomfortable even. But it’s a meaningful discomfort, one that is so much more layered than just general teen angst. The writing of Fraser is strongest in these moments with Jonathan and his moments with Caitlin.

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Stray observations

  • The date veers slightly off track at the quaint restaurant afterward when Fraser realizes that Jonathan invited a third, a woman he’s friends with. But he quickly moves on, basking in red wine and a raucous round of karaoke.
  • On that note, everyone singing along to “I Want It That Way” is so delightful.
  • I’m all about messy mom narratives, but I just don’t understand Sarah’s mess. She’s both overly attached to Fraser and also almost doesn’t actually care about him. Is she just a narcissist?
  • There’s a lot of background dialogue and really quiet moments on this show, and unfortunately the screeners provided to press don’t include closed captioning. I can’t make out exactly what Jenny and Richard are fighting over in the background while Caitlin is watching videos about hormone injections, but I assume it’s an extension of the fight they had before about Danny?
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