Dave Bautista gives a surprisingly tender performance in “Avalanche”, as Room 104 creatively and ambiguously explores trauma and mental health.
This recap of Room 104 season 4, episode 3, “Avalanche”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Stunt-casting the hulking Dave Bautista as a retired pro-wrestler is a smart play for what is largely a comedic anthology, but “Avalanche”, the latest episode of HBO’s Room 104, isn’t content to settle there. Instead, the clever half-hour subverts expectations by coaxing a surprisingly tender performance out of Bautista, who plays a man being gently led through his own tattered psyche in the aftermath of at least two terrible events.
At first, Bautista’s character, Doug, or more fittingly “Raw Dawg Avalanche”, remembers his past in terms of a championship match against his in-ring rival Dr. Destruction, the recollections rendered as action figures knocking harmlessly against one another. His skeptical therapist, Tamara (Natalie Woolams-Torres), begins to introduce contradictions to his narrative which reshapes itself to include a “nerdy-looking” kid (Evan Girard-sun) who is fascinated with Avalanche’s dangerous signature suplex.
Doug’s demonstration of the move, which he performs reluctantly and with the warning that it could get both of them in trouble, leaves the young boy in a crumpled heap after being slammed through a table. Later, the act is repeated more truthfully in a bar, with an older man being plunged through the furnishings. Doug loses his temper, in response to a supposed joke which prompted the attack in the first place, and then afterward, as he angrily insists that he isn’t a violent man and that he was made this way — his issues are bundled up in his memories of his father, and Bautista sells this moment with a fiery, vein-popping intensity.
The next we see of him he’s older, slower, more cowed, as he enters the familiar Room 104 with a cane, surveying two dolls on the bed. One represents him as a young boy, the same we saw earlier, the one fascinated by Avalanche’s suplex. The other is his father, a seemingly altruistic doctor who stayed with his son in this very room, where something happened between them that, he insisted, could get both of them in trouble. It’s not difficult to imagine what.
Room 104 season 4, episode 3 ends with the camera panning to reveal that neither the dolls nor the therapist is really present; Doug has led himself along this journey of healing from the trauma that shaped him and atoning for the action he committed as a result of it. It’s a clever and subtle way of examining mental health and the cycle of physical abuse, bolstered by a raw performance from Bautista. One of the anthology’s best installments.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.