“Bright and High Circle” is a bizarre episode of The Romanoffs that struggles to maintain a consistent tone or fully commit to an idea.
This recap of The Romanoffs Season 1 Episode 5, “Bright and High Circle”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
This week, the responsibility of covering The Romanoffs has fallen to me, presumably as some form of bizarre punishment for being too handsome. And having not watched any of Matthew Weiner’s anthology series prior to this fifth episode, what struck me the most about “Bright and High Circle” was how profoundly weird it is.
It isn’t so much about the plot, which mostly concerns Katherine (Diane Lane), a well-to-do woman who is told by a detective (Alexandra Barreto) that the man she has employed to teach her children piano for the last ten years might conduct himself inappropriately around minors. His name is David (Andrew Rannells) and he’s rather openly gay, which, according to Katherine’s partner, Alex (Ron Livingston), is evidence enough that he’s up to no good.
No, what’s weird is that the show, from scene to scene and occasionally even line to line, doesn’t seem to have any solid idea of what it wants to be. The tone lurches awkwardly from social satire to eerie thriller to pitch-black comedy, without any warning or evident purpose. Everything’s slightly off-kilter. No-one seems to behave consistently or understandably for any great length of time.
This might all be intentional. In fact, it almost certainly is. But I can’t discern what – if any – purpose it serves in the narrative, and the unintended consequence for “Bright and High Circle” is a layer of artificiality and emotional detachment that makes it difficult to care one way or the other. After a while, when Katherine begins asking her children and her friend Cheryl (Nicole Ari Parker) questions about David, and none of the answers indicate he has ever done anything wrong, the episode becomes a kind of whodunit – who among Katherine’s gossipy rich friends told a tall tale about a totally innocent man?
Whether or not David is totally innocent is kind of beside the point, as what “Bright and High Circle” is really about is how accusations, particularly false ones, can ruin someone’s life irrespective of whether or not they’re guilty. And it’s about how you deal with that when it’s someone close to you who’s being accused. Who do you believe? Do you trust your own judgement or other peoples’? Do you risk ruining a relationship and further ruining someone’s reputation as a simple precautionary measure? Is it worth putting people close to you at risk rather than make an uninformed decision?
These are interesting questions, but it’s difficult to overstate how thoroughly uninteresting “Bright and High Circle” is in asking them. The episode’s own thoughts on the matter are muddled and inconsistent, repeatedly taking a stance and then reframing the argument to accommodate another reaction or perspective. Again, this is possibly intentional. But if so, what’s the overall point here? What is The Romanoffs actually trying to say? By refusing to commit to a position, and then eventually concluding bizarrely with Katherine shutting herself away from the issue rather than continuing to deal with it, “Bright and High Circle” can’t quite decide what it actually wants to be about. And it ends up being mostly about one damn thing after another.