Apple TV+ limited series The Crowded Room plays its final hand this week, and the show finally broke me the way it reportedly “broke” its lead actor, Tom Holland. Danny finally gets to know all of his personalities at Rya’s behest, though he may have blown his chances at a fair trial already.
The show’s prior attempts at sensitively depicting Danny’s mental illness take a turn for the deeply unserious this week. And for this recapper, there is just no sane way to move forward.
The Crowded Room recap: ‘The Crowded Room’
Season 1, episode 7: Danny Sullivan’s (played by Tom Holland) trial is coming up and Rya (Amanda Seyfried), the criminal psychologist who’s been helping him understand his mind and the crimes he committed, is ready for a Hail Mary. She presents Danny with the idea that Jack (Jason Isaacs), an acquaintance of his from London, came by to talk to her. She even presents his glasses to Danny as proof. But the truth doesn’t sink in for him.
So she decides the only way to really break through Danny’s defenses is to show him conclusive proof of his delusions. She plays him a tape of him shooting at his stepdad in midtown Manhattan, the crime for which he was arrested. Ariana (Sasha Lane), his accomplice, is not in the tape — because she’s not real. This info is too much for Danny to handle, and out comes another personality, that of tough guy Israeli landlord Yitzak (Lior Raz).
While he’s buried in his own subconscious, Danny finds all his personalities hiding in the barn he was molested in as a boy. There’s Jack, Yitzak and his childhood friends Jonny (Levon Hawke) and Mike (Sam Vartholomeos). They’re all trying to make sure Yitzak doesn’t hurt Rya and make things worse for all of them. When it becomes clear that having this many personalities is an unsustainable thing for young Danny — and Rya’s defense of him — the personalities band together and kill each other so Danny can finally face the music.
A dull day in The Crowded Room: No more recaps!
The Crowded Room includes an ostentatious motif involving Pink Floyd song “Time” this week. Now … the episode starts with a solar eclipse … which would have been a perfect time to use Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse,” though obviously that would have been extremely overstated. But using “Time” for a few seconds at a time throughout the episode? What’s that about? Frankly, what is this show about? Because it’s no longer about psychology or the hard life of the impoverished in the late 1970s.
It’s been several months since I invoked the Hasselhoff. (That’s The Hasselhoffs Memorial No Recap Prize, which I invented and named for the ill-fated A&E reality series starring David Hasselhoff and his two daughters that only managed to get one episode to airtime before being canceled.) But I have to say that The Crowded Room has gone out of its way to not play things straight with its audience, so it’s time once again.
What do you know, and when did you know it?
The show’s writers, led by Academy Award winner Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind, A Winter’s Tale), and its directors (Brady Corbet, Mona Fastvold and Kornél Mundruczó) have up until now been acting like The Crowded Room was about the discovery of a horrible crime. That’s sort of a feint, because really that was playing Danny’s mental illness like a cliffhanger.
If you knew Danny had multiple personalities, then really all you could do was appreciate the show’s unhurried pace, photography and production design. If you didn’t know, then the show treated the discovery of Danny’s condition like a rug pull. But now that we know, lead actor Tom Holland must act like all of his personalities at once, and he’s not up to the task. This perhaps explains why Holland said the role “broke him” when asked about it.
The Crowded Room wants to be taken seriously as a depiction of a dark time and place in a man’s life … until this week, when he becomes a superhero.
Tom Holland can’t handle multiple personalities
The sight of Holland doing an Israeli accent and beating up huge guys in jail before switching to an effete English accent as he surrenders to prison guards is just too goofy for words. And it betrays the stated seriousness of the first act of this show.
Whatever pretensions toward purpose or artistry The Crowded Room once had have just been flushed down the toilet. The show was never great but it did have moments of graceful comportment. Handing the show from tryhards like Corbet, Fastvold and Mundruczó (who do ask to be taken seriously as artists tackling ostensibly serious arts), to this week’s director — the jobbing Alan Taylor, who largely directs TV for a living — is an admission of defeat from this team.
And let me quickly say: Taylor is not a bad craftsman. In fact, I trust his instincts more than Corbet’s. However, Taylor’s sensibility has nothing whatsoever to do with his predecessors at the helm of The Crowded Room. Taylor is many things, but he is not an arthouse director, nor has he pretended to be. He handles conversations well, and he shoots the action scenes like he thinks they should be shot (and how they usually get taken care of on TV). But those things stand in stark contrast to the tone and aims of everything else we’ve seen so far.
A show about multiple personality disorder has just sprouted a fourth personality — and I have grown completely uninterested in The Crowded Room.
A sudden switch that made me switch off the show forever
I don’t mind the facile idea of treating mental illness like a superpower. As a fan of the movies Glass, Split and The Predator, it would be hypocritical of me to scold the creators of The Crowded Room for insensitivity toward the subject on its face. But I do take umbrage with the idea of introducing it at the eleventh hour. The sudden switch comes after weeks of drama meant to take us inside the mind of a score of sexual-abuse victims, only some of whom turned out to be who the show said they were.
The Crowded Room’s creative team apparently decided that the tone the show previously adopted is not as interesting as the cartoonish sight of Holland playing Daffy Duck. If they’d said up front we were headed here, I wouldn’t have been so irked. But I won’t waste your time, reader, by going through the motions of the final episodes of this show when I have checked out. You deserve better.
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.