Criminologist Rya Goodwin takes center stage in this week’s episode of Apple TV+ drama The Crowded Room. She discovers that the way around the many dead-ends in her life is to crack the case of Danny Sullivan, the man who opened fire in a crowded Manhattan street, and the many personalities living in his head who drove him to murder and mayhem.
Entitled “Rya,” it’s an above-average outing of this oft-frustrating show.
The Crowded Room recap: ‘Rya’
Season 1, episode 6: Rya Goodwin (played by Amanda Seyfried) is having a tough day. Her son Ezra (Thomas Parobek) is acting out, and her babysitter, who happens to be her mom (Laila Robins), makes Rya feel especially bad about it. Rya’s ex-husband (Daniel London) is the one her son wants to see most often — and her mom sides with him.
Plus, Rya’s probably not getting tenure at her university job, which looks like the result of the sexism of her review board. And then Detective Matt Dunne (Thomas Sadoski) walks into her classroom and offers her the Danny Sullivan (Tom Holland) case. Rya and Dunne went on a date a while back, during which she let slip that she needed a really difficult case to make her thesis and get tenure at the university. Danny is that guy, according to Dunne.
As we’ve seen, Danny’s been exhibiting symptoms of multiple personality disorder. But now that we in the audience conclusively know what to look for, The Crowded Room’s writers go back and show Danny talking in the voices of the many people he has pretended to know, from landlord Yitzak (Lior Raz) to damaged survivor Ariana (Sasha Lane) to English businessman Jack (Jason Isaacs).
Danny’s a special kind of head case
Rya has a hard time convincing Danny’s lawyer (Christopher Abbott) that his client has a special case and isn’t just a theatrical whackjob. However, when she presents it as a moral issue rather than a clinical one, he relents and lets her have time with Danny.
The first thing Danny does when Rya arrives is to start speaking in Jason Isaacs’ accent as Jack, wowing her with his well-researched understanding of Danny’s condition. It takes days of hammering away at Jack before Rya has a revelation. Rya’s mother reminds her that when she was young, she used to clam up about her own emotion. But when her dad would ask about her stuffed turtle Mortimer, Rya had no trouble telling everyone that the turtle was sad or angry.
This gets her thinking that Danny created these personalities to deal with his emotions. She tries a different tactic, and Danny finally puts in an appearance and starts confessing.
A change-up behind the camera works for The Crowded Room
This week’s episode of The Crowded Room, about the perils of womanhood in the ’70s, was directed by Mona Fastvold, whose 2020 movie The World to Come I rather enjoyed. It’s a movie about forbidden romance on the American frontier, but it’s also about the ways in which people who love each other can teach and/or show the world to the other person in new and exciting ways.
Perhaps it’s thus telling that, procedurally speaking, this was the best and most disciplined episode of The Crowded Room yet. It wants for some of previous director Kornél Mundruczó‘s lyricism, but I think Fastvold was aware that half-measures weren’t going to count for much on TV. (She figured right.)
Having said that, deciding that the sixth episode of your 10-episode series is going to be the one where you get to know the other lead of the show is a risky gambit — and I’m not convinced it was the right one. Especially since Amanda Seyfried must duke it out with Tom Holland doing a raft of character voices that don’t work. He’s basically doing James McAvoy’s performance from M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, but about a million times worse.
Still, it was good to have an hour basically dedicated to Seyfried’s emotions. She’s up to the task of carrying the episode and Fastvold knows it.
Watch The Crowded Room on Apple TV+
New episodes of The Crowded Room arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.