This The Romanoffs review contains spoilers.
The Romanoffs Episode 8
Only this show could find a new way to be completely maddening. Who on earth decided that “The One That Holds Everything” should be the last episode of The Romanoffs? Was it because Matt Weiner and co. knew that every subsequent episode would have been a massive letdown following such a compelling installment? Where was this quality of storytelling and craft hiding in every other episode of this small disaster of a series? The world may never know.
Saving his best for last, Weiner delivers a gripping, emotional rollercoaster of an episode with “The One That Holds Everything,” delivering twists, turns, and a mostly satisfying ending that course corrects on quirks that initially seem like faults. At first, the episode’s framing device feels unnecessary; Romanovs miniseries writer Jack Edgar (J.J. Fields) listens to the sad tale of modern-day Romanoff Simon (Hugh Skinner), told by fellow passenger Candace (Adele Anderson) on a train ride to reunite with his mother and new fiancé. Subsequent framing within the framing device muddle things further, leaving you to wonder what the point is of including Jack and this old woman, until we snap back to the train and discover that Candace is actually an adult Simon finally getting sweet revenge on the “family” that left him behind.
The reveal packs a wallop, especially after enduring all of Simon’s plight. Even though I don’t think it was required to tell Simon’s story out of order, confusingly shifting to his lover’s perspective at one point, the entire tale is tragic. One might say that Weiner returns to his old crutch of an extramarital affair to propel this story, but Weiner’s past ruminations on affairs have never featured a mistress so conniving and calculating. Herma Hilmar as Ondine, the babysitter turned step-mother that more than likely murdered poor Simon’s mother by burning their house down, is a fabulous villain, able to enrage with a sly smile. Skinner is equally as good as Simon, conveying a woundedness that’s evident before we learn a thing about him.
Perhaps the most revelatory aspect of the episode is the way that it handles Simon’s transition to becoming a woman. Rarely do we see the stories of transgendered individuals depicted in mass media, especially with such care and nuance. Simon’s search for acceptance takes him from England to Hong Kong and back again, while sensitively highlighting the fact that so many of these tales end with suicide attempts. The episode’s strongest scene comes when Simon has a chat with Dana (Rebecca Root) after he opens up about his life and his struggles with identity at a group meeting. Dana urges Simon to stop thinking of himself as a victim and to stop defining his ideas of femininity based on the ways that men have tried to define it.
Though it handles Simon’s transition with taste, it’s a shame that the twist ending, even if it works well, hinges on having a transgender character use their identity as a “disguise” for a nefarious purpose. That portion of Simon’s story perpetuates negative stereotypes and outdated Hollywood clichés that have harmed the transgender community for decades. It feels like a missed opportunity to tell a truly inclusive story.
Anyway, Simon’s conversation with Dana allows Simon to embrace who he truly is, and he uses it as a source of strength to confront Ondine about his mothers’ earrings, a Romanov heirloom that rightly belongs to him. Their confrontation is powerful even with it being largely quiet and restrained. It results in Ondine cruelly flaunting her relationship with her son and dismissing Candace and her birthright with one of her signature smirks. The outcome isn’t what Candace had wanted, but it’s clear that the encounter served as a turning point in her life and validation that she is now on her true, correct path, no longer a victim.
Even though the ending left me with mixed feelings, “The One That Holds Everything,” feels like the most complete episode of The Romanoffs, with memorable characters, exotic locales, and a story that fits its runtime. As a series, The Romanoffs doesn’t hold much, but at least this one holds more good things than most.
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.