Room 104 S4E10 “The Night Babby Died” (written by Jenée LaMarque and Julian Wass, and directed by LaMarque) presents a fairly straightforward story, particularly by the standards of Room 104. It is certainly a far cry from the fantastical nature of last week’s “The Last Man” (which was bonkers), lacks the level of magical realism that defined “Bangs” earlier this season, and bears little resemblance to last season’s “Rogue,” at least on the surface of things.
In terms of its form, “The Night Babby Died” feels more in line with Room 104 episodes like “Shark” or “The Hikers” but its thematic content also resonates with those previous offerings that stemmed from the minds of LaMarque and Wass, whether together or separately. This is a story about friendship and family, but more deeply about how our relationships can become broken, and the difficulties presented by any struggle to fix them, or move forward in light of the failure to do so.
That is all very general, of course, but it is interesting to note how there are certain themes that have a way of running through Room 104 even though every episode presents not merely a different story, but different characters, along with different people operating “behind the camera.” So while this is a show that is sometimes quite strange, it is also one that remains grounded in the exploration of the human condition.
The Night Babby Died
S4E10 begins with Abby (Lily Gladstone) arriving to Room 104 to meet Bruce (Leonardo Nam). The two are supposed to go out to dinner, but instead Bruce unveils an original 8-bit Nintendo, which contains Crowning Glory II, a game they used to play together when they were kids.
It quickly becomes apparent that Bruce and Abby have not seen each other in a long time, and that their friendship became fractured at some point—the night that Babby died. They had created a character in Crowning Glory II together when they were kids and combined their names to form “Babby.” They played the game together all of the time, until…well, it’s not clear that we learn exactly what happened from S4E10, as each accuses the other of playing alone and causing Babby’s death.
This is not the real point however. Babby is a symbol for their relationship, and the debate about who caused her to die is a symbol for the apparent bidirectional misunderstanding of what wrecked their friendship. Abby thought it was because Bruce’s dad moved out on him and was engaged in a romantic relationship with her mom, but it would seem that Bruce did not even know about that until Abby says something all of these years later in Room 104. This is how such things often go: I think you’re mad at me, so I don’t call you, and since I don’t call you, you think I’m mad at you.
It is always a step more complicated, of course, but what S4E10 does well is to present the way in which a friendship can fall apart without either person really knowing why. Abby and Bruce didn’t just lose touch over time. They lost touch with one another at that point in time, which I am guessing was in 1991, symbolized by the night that Babby died.
So to play Crowning Glory II together in an attempt to resurrect the character of Babby isn’t to try to accomplish something in the game as much as it is to try to accomplish the reconciliation of Bruce and Abby in real life. They both know this perfectly well, even if they would hesitate to articulate it out loud. It is there when Abby resists at the beginning—she doesn’t want to revisit those old wounds. And it is there when she breaks down crying after the resurrection in the game fails. But the process of the two playing together as Abbuce accomplishes the real goal, insofar as this was ever possible.
You can’t go back and make things better. There is no fixing of the past, and even reconciliation does not restore it. The plot of “The Night Babby Died” might be straightforward, but the relationship dynamics it dramatizes are far from it. Talking things through over dinner would likely not have done it. It takes a moment that is almost magical even though it is completely mundane.
Crowning Glory II
I hope you don’t need me to tell you that Crowning Glory II is not a real game. For one thing, the very idea that Babby’s bones would be saved within the game is rather implausible when it comes to an NES cartridge.* These were the days of leaving Ninja Gaiden on pause for hours or entering a long-ass save code that contains something that might be a zero or an O—you’re not sure. And there is no way the game would be able to know that it is now 2020 in order to create Babby’s tombstone, presuming that this is meant to be the implication of that scene.
It does not matter, however. The Nintendo game provides an ideal lens for the story that S4E10 wants to tell, and it would even if the game didn’t involve a pretty on the nose symbolization of nostalgia by rewarding Bruce and Abby for their accomplishments by literally restoring the youth of people within it.
But that’s not what happens to the people in Room 104. The tombstone in the game is better taken with real-life correlates. Babby did not live from 1991 until 2020; Babby died back then in the early ‘90s. But her bones remained. Abby and Bruce couldn’t resurrect her. Instead those bones turned to ash. So it is not Babby who died in 2020 on this night in Room 104, so much as it is the symbol of her death that passed away.
And that gets at what occurs between Bruce and Abby. They get past what has stood between them It doesn’t become nothing—ash is not nothing—and they may not start farting into the phone for one another again, but they have achieved the more realistic result of moving on from the night Babby died.
*N.B. Julian Wass insists that the bones thing is real.
— Julian Wass (@julianwass) September 26, 2020