This The Romanoffs review contains spoilers.
The Romanoffs Episode 7
Seven episodes in, I think I’m ready to call It on The Romanoffs. Despite an all-star ensemble, exotic locations, and a concept that theoretically should have freed up Matthew Weiner to tell ambitious, diverse stories, The Romanoffs is a staid, uninspiring slog that positions Weiner’s last great TV project as a miraculous fluke. Don’t expect any critics to still be talking about this one come next month’s End of Year debates, unless they’re discussing the year’s biggest disappointments. What’s truly sad is that “End of the Line” is one of the better installments in the series, yet like past episodes it frustratingly features the same highs and lows.
One of the biggest problems that The Romanoffs has is that, due to its anthology format, characters must be introduced and developed over the course of a single episode. Character transformations that would have taken an entire season to traverse on Mad Men, with subtleties and simmering tension, come haphazardly crashing down like a bull in a China shop. That being said, “End of the Line” features two of The Romanoffs’ most well-drawn characters Joe (Jay R. Ferguson) and Anka (Kathryn Hahn) Garner and the extended runtime, though still less of a feature than a bug, allows for quiet moments where we can learn about their personalities in ways that the pair talking together never could.
The Garners must reconcile their expectations versus reality when they travel to Russia to adopt a baby. Videos and photos promised the Garners that they would be adopting the perfect addition to their budding family, but during their first visit with their soon-to-be child, they visibly try and fail to hide their disappointment when it appears that the baby may be a victim of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Though they continue to put on a brave face, Weiner cleverly keeps the camera on both Hahn and Ferguson as they slowly register that things aren’t right. Once back in private, Anka makes it clear that she is no longer interested in adopting the baby if it’s going to have developmental issues, which shocks and disappoints Joe.
Though the pair have a very interesting and painfully real discussion about the sacrifices involved in trying to give birth and the moral issues with abandoning a baby that they pretty much committed to adopting, it’s inconceivable that the two would not have had a conversation like this prior to landing in Russia. Hahn and Ferguson are realistic and poignant in both of their sides of the argument, but anyone with a brain would have foreseen this being a possibility given the sketchiness of the entire Russian endeavor. Anka’s brutal honesty is an ugly thing to hear, but it’s reasonable. However, it’s a shame that by the episode’s end, Anka is basically rewarded for her uncaring pragmatism, but at least we’re able to see some trepidation on Joe’s face.
Their hotel room argument is the entire crux of the episode, the only reason to watch; two people learning brutal truths about a partner they thought they were aligned with while visiting a brutal place. The rest of the episode is spent either trying to figure out what Joe and Anka are doing in the harsh Russian winter or sitting tense waiting for something terrible to happen because of the viewer’s preconceived notions about Russia. The last episode was like a tourism video for Mexico City; this episode seems to do the opposite for Vladivostok. If there’s only one essential scene in a 90 minute story, then something is obviously wrong. Maybe if someone bribed me with chocolate bars, coffee, and baby clothes I’d be feeling kinder.
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.