The third episode of The Romanoffs pits actress versus director in a weird and wonderful way. Prepare for a distorted reality.
In order to truly embrace The Romanoffs, you have to inhale the strangeness that each episode represents. Episode 3, “House of Special Purpose”, exhibits a form of strangeness that equals the likes of Black Mirror. If you do not prepare for distorted reality from the start, you will not enjoy it.
“House of Special Purpose” on the surface is about actress Olivia Rogers (Christina Hendricks) attempting to break into the upper echelons of the industry by landing a unique role. Her salesman-type agent Bob Isaacson (Paul Reiser) has given her an opportunity for that break, to star in a miniseries about the fate and history of the Romanov family. The Romanoffs provides a Ricky Gervais’s Extras feel, where the story is on set, and you witness the reality of what it is like to act.
“House of Special Purpose” is not as simple; nothing is in this anthology series. The longer Olivia is on set, the more sinister her day to day job as an actress becomes. The episode is designed to show the conflict between the lead actress and the director Jacqueline (Isabelle Huppert), whose methods grind on Olivia, who feels they are abusive.
As you witness the strangeness unfold, you realise that not all is what it seems at the setting where they are performing most scenes. Jacqueline appears to be engaging with some kind of spirit with each take, and that seems to be her way of confirming if the scene was good enough or not. The entire principle of “House of Special Purpose” is that the director is creating the mini-series on an emotional level, tapping into that spiritually to create the content, which makes the situation far creepier for Olivia.
The Romanoffs leaves you in two minds in its third episode; it is difficult to try and gauge how “House of Special Purpose” is going to end for the characters. The ending gave me goosebumps, confirming the intention of the episode worked. I was well and truly fooled by the methods that unfolded. As it progresses, the set feels like it is turning into reality – both acting and real life appear to merge.
The episode shows the reality of actresses that face the industry today, by implementing those themes within the overriding objective of the narrative, which is to shine a light on the #MeToo movement. At one point, her agent tells her to accept an incident and move on so she can become famous; Olivia had been sexually assaulted on set by her colleague Samuel Ryan (Jack Huston), who seemingly becomes too encouraged by the aura of the production. This scenario is even eerier because the director allows it, shouting “cut!” when satisfied.
The strength of “House of Special Purpose” is how the episode encourages naivety on the part of the audience. I was compelled to believe one story through the entire 90 minutes, but by the time I reached the end, I was fooled by a great twist. Credit where it is due, actresses Christina Hendricks and Isabelle Huppert are the reasons for the episode delivering in the way it did, as their conflict drives you down a path of the unknown.
The third episode of Amazon Prime’s The Romanoffs is well drawn, and plays with a concept that would have been hard to construct. So far, this is a strong anthology series by Matthew Weiner.