This The Romanoffs review contains spoilers.
The Romanoffs Episode 5
There’s no way to talk about the fifth episode of The Romanoffs, “Bright and High Circle,” without discussing the accusations against showrunner Matthew Weiner. Former Mad Men writer Kate Gordon alleges that while working together late at night in 2008, Weiner said she owed it to him to let him see her naked.
After the incident, Gordon said she felt “threatened and devalued” and said that Weiner’s remarks shook her confidence in her writing ability and ultimately led to her exit from the show, for which she had won an Emmy co-writing with Weiner. Marti Noxon, a consulting producer on Mad Men, backed up Gordon’s claim, saying that Weiner ran his set like an “emotional terrorist” who would “badger, seduce and even tantrum in an attempt to get his needs met.” After Gordon’s accusation, a PR rep for Weiner said: “He does not remember saying this comment nor does it reflect a comment he would say to any colleague.”
It is with this backstory in mind that the plot of “Bright and High Circle,” about an extremely talented piano teacher with some noted character flaws accused of misconduct and being put on trial by the neighborhood court of public opinion before the allegations are even made clear, feels incredibly gross and misguided. Imagine if Louis C.K.’s much derided comeback standup set included lengthy jokes about power dynamics and the nature of consent, then wrapped with a moral about giving folks a second chance. That’s not to say that art shouldn’t be addressing certain questions that are brought up by “Bright and High Circle” and incredibly relevant in the #MeToo era, about mob mentality, due process, and bearing false witness, it’s just that Matt Weiner shouldn’t be leading the conversation.
By the episode end, it feels like Weiner is using Ron Livingston’s prickly character Alex as a mouthpiece and it’s all extremely unsettling if you’re aware of Weiner’s history. Alex rants to his two sons about how bearing false witness is the worst crime one can commit and how allegations can color your perception of someone whether or not they are valid. He also tells a story about his childhood where the moral is thinking for yourself instead of listening to the groupthink of a mob. It all seems to be desperately screaming “I’M INNOCENT AND MY IMAGE HAS BEEN UNFAIRLY TARNISHED!” and reeks of some “doth protest too much,” even if the episode ends on an ambiguous note about whether piano teacher David (Andrew Rannells) is guilty of misconduct.
Like all of the episodes before it, the cast of “Bright and High Circle,” is superb. Diane Lane returns as Katherine Ford, swinging wildly between disbelief and outrage, wanting to protect her friend but willing to do her due diligence. However, Rannells is the true star of the 70-minute episode, charming but irksome in his lies and boundary-less nature, like a slicker Tom Ripley. Still, upper-class game of telephone that is “Bright and High Circle” is brought down by other things besides its questionable, too close to home content.
There’s hamfisted, too on-the-nose allusions to Russian literature and a corny speech about the power of music, and once again, even at just over 70-minutes, the episode drags. Also, the Romanov connections continue to feel grafted on instead of substantial connective tissue. Weiner does manage to get in a couple funny visual gags, like all of high society fast asleep at the opera. It’s this sort of whimsical tone that makes the intentions of “Bright and High Circle” hard to pin down. Is this satire or sincere? Unfortunately, I was so shocked by the audacity that Weiner would openly draw these comparisons to his real life that I couldn’t quite tell. Don’t blame the mob for this condemnation; I came up with these thought all on my own.
Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.