The following contains spoilers for Mr. Corman S1E5, “Action Adventure”
Well, that was a punch to the gut. I don’t mean the fight in the parking lot, but rather the ending of Mr. Corman S1E5, and thus retroactively its entirety. This is Dax’s episode—even if he doesn’t get the same treatment as Victor did in “Mr. Morales“—but it lands with Josh emerging from sleep to a string of texts and learning Dax (Bobby Hall) is dead. It’s a feeling that is all too easy to relate to: the seeping dread of recognition as he groggily reads the messages coming through. Something terrible has happened, and the pings of the phone and words it displays hardly seem real, or like they could be.
How could something as banal as a text carry such weight?
The tragedy is that we (and Josh) just bonded with Dax after the events in the parking lot late the night before, and this is mirrored in how Josh and Victor insist to each other that they’d just left him, and he was fine.
He was fine, right? Or are we culpable for thinking so?
In all likelihood, Dax got a concussion when he got laid out on the pavement. And of course we also have to wonder about the reality of the events that follow, what with the overblown style that Mr. Corman takes up, paying homage to Street Fighter, etc.
But those events seem to be confirmed from the banter Josh, Victor, and Dax engage in after the fact (or at least some version of them), so it is a question as to what exactly happened, even as the truth again lies in the fantasy that they fought together and won, unleashing something deep within them to overcome a guy who clearly deserved a beatdown.
Let’s talk about Dax, though. He is a bit annoying, but what is ultimately striking to me is how genuine he is in his shallowness. He wanted to be like his idols but now settles for middling influencer status on Instagram. Or, he doesn’t settle for it being middling—he wants desperately to do better. He wants people to like him and he isn’t afraid to say it. He seeks meaning in the approbation of others, and don’t we all?
But perhaps we aren’t so honest about it.
Of course it’s shallow to seek the meaning of life through social media Likes, but there is a sadness in how easy it is to relate. Of course we seek human connection, and are we so sure that Dax has been going about it wrong?
Josh may say that you can’t care about what people think (they’re idiots), but it is also clear that he does himself, at least to the extent that he spends his whole night staring at his phone, moping and hoping to hear back from his erstwhile date. And then there is Victor, who’s got 500 followers now (thanks to Dax) and feels kind of good about that despite himself.
Ms. Perry Gellar (Amanda Crew) puts a point on the thematic throughline of “Action Adventure” when she talks to Mr. Corman’s class at the beginning of S1E5 about personas. It’s Halloween (presumably still 2019, where S1E1 began), which gives an excuse for her to wax on about masks, but what she really delves into is the relation between how we present ourselves and who we are. The mask is a persona you put on, but what’s underneath it? Another persona. It’s masks all the way down, insofar as it is always a question of how one presents oneself—the face one puts on. You aren’t “most yourself” alone in a dark room, or if you are it’s not because you’re bereft of disguise. There’s still the mask you present to yourself—the persona that is your self-conception.
What do our costumes say about us? Victor goes as Batman for Halloween, which is adorable, while Josh is dressed as Arrow from Harry Nilsson’s The Point!
That’s a deep cut, and it’s no surprise that he gets mistaken for Sonic the Hedgehog, but it’s also terribly fitting that Josh would choose to go as something so obscure and then get annoyed with people for not getting the reference.
Does he identify with the protagonist of The Point!, Oblio, who is the only person in the land without a pointy head? No, he chooses his canine companion. Josh wants to be the one who helps the hero out of a jam. Where is his boy?
The question has no answer, in that Josh has no idea himself. What is the point? Is it this moment we’re living through together right now? If everything has a point, isn’t that basically the same as if everything were pointless? Is that the message of Nilsson’s story?
Our identities are fragmented in this (post)modern world we inhabit. There is the persona I present on social media, another in the classroom with my students, another when I am trying to flirt. Is one more real than the others?
Dax puts more weight on his virtual presence than I would tend to think is healthy, but we can’t pretend it’s fully separate from “real life” either. And what he wants is what at some level I think we all want—to be valued.
When he calls Josh out for not caring about him, Dax calls us out as well. Did we care about this character? Did we see him as having this kind of depth? Did we see the sorrow lurking beneath his bravado before this moment?
Are we culpable?
In the last instance, perhaps we all got too caught up in the action-adventure fantasy and the persona that Dax put on, and forgot to tend to the human suffering underneath.