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Mark and Jay Duplass’ Room 104 anthology series, airing on HBO from 2017-2020, tells a wide array of shocking stories, regarding various guests the eponymous hotel room has hosted over the years. The season four episode “Avalanche” marked my introduction to the show, chosen for an acclaimed performance by half-Filipino-American entertainer Dave Bautista.

I hope my readers need no introduction to Dave Bautista, a former WWE Heavyweight Champion who went on to achieve a more accomplished movie career than most wrestlers. I’ve admired him ever since 2014, the year in which Guardians of the Galaxy demonstrated his acting chops to millions of moviegoers. Many of the pictures I’ve seen him in outside of the Guardians series relegate him to supporting roles, often evil and/or dead by the end. Quality-wise, they run the gamut from the enjoyable Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy, to the disengaging Kickboxer Vengeance. Regardless, Bautista always delivers powerful performances, and Room 104 provided him a rare spot in the limelight.

Avalanche

Airdate: August 7, 2020 (#39)
Director: Ross Partridge
Writer: Mark Duplass

My head’s already cloudy and I don’t need you futzin’ around all in my memory like this!-Raw Dawg Avalanche

“With the help of therapeutic dolls, retired pro wrestler Raw Dawg Avalanche taps into his memory of an epic bout gone wrong.” (HBO Max’s official synopsis)

If nothing else, this marks my most abstract subject yet. Early exchanges between Raw Dawg and Tamara, the woman I assume as his therapist, cast doubt on his credibility as a narrator.  The use of live actors and mannequins to visualize his memories make it further difficult to distinguish the truth from fabrication.  To paraphrase an interview HBO Max also posted with Mark Duplass, this difficulty can parallel professional wrestling, which can elicit genuine emotional investment even from viewers who recognize it as a staged medium.  After revisiting this episode, I mentally noted that it only uses the Raw Dawg doll for a re-enactment of one of his matches, when he’d presumably have the most control over his behavior.  In contrast, Raw Dawg appears in the flesh and blood for scenes set outside the arena, without an in-universe storyteller manipulating his actions.

Dave Bautista’s performance as Raw Dawg effectively delivers the necessary emotion and pathos.  Viewers who best know Bautista as WWE heel Batista and/or goofy Guardian Drax the Destroyer might feel unexpectedly impressed by his subdued delivery of such emotions as confusion, concern, and anguish.  When he finally unleashes an outspoken and enraged monologue, he elicits the viewer’s fear and pity, rather than mockery.

The episode eventually suggests that an unspeakable ordeal from Raw Dawg’s past yielded a profound psychological effect on him.  While it gives a few details about the ordeal, it doesn’t say what exactly happened.  However, it doesn’t feel difficult to predict the events.  Even then, the effects on Raw Dawg – aptly conveyed by Bautista’s performance – feel more important to the story.  If you can stand the constant ambiguity and surreal visuals, “Avalanche” provides a fascinating watch, and a powerful demonstration of Bautista’s acting ability.

Special thanks to the relative whose HBO Max account I mooch off of for programs like Room 104.

By NJ

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