Sunday, August 14, 2016

BSN Mini-Review: "Zander"

Like “Bryn,” “Zander” is a little hard to pin down. The basic story is fairly straightforward: Zander tries to have sex with Mia, but fails because of some inhibition; Deme needles Zander about his inhibitions, then takes a drug; so Zander takes the same drug, which loosens his inhibitions.

It takes a little more work to locate the source of those inhibitions. There are two possibilities that comply with what we see on screen. Either Zander’s trying to drink/hook up with Mia because other people want him to, and he fails because he doesn’t want to. Or he’s doing these things because he wants to, and he fails because he’s scared (or nervous or intimidated).

Either way, Zander’s arc aligns nicely with Lena’s. The lovers can be split into characters who are confident in themselves and their place in the world, and characters who aren’t. Deme and Mia are on one side, and Zander and Lena are on the other. Everything Zander does is just a little bit off, a little bit awkward, and like Lena, he finds the world of people who know what they’re doing to be intimidating. The difference is that Zander is more embedded in that world than Lena is; Lena fades into the wallpaper, while Zander stumbles his way through the center of the party.

All of this is new information, which goes to show that “Zander” has its share of detailed character work. We learn a lot about Zander from it. He’s kind of an undercover dork; he’s deeply in love with Mia; and Deme gets under his skin like no one and nothing else.

In particular, Zander and Deme’s relationship shines. They’re friends, but obviously friends who have never totally gotten along. Deme needles Zander relentlessly, and Zander lets it get to him every single time. Even when Deme tries to let up on him (“You don’t have to do it,” “You good?”) Zander keeps up the competition on his end. Despite that, Shane Murphy and Dani Yourukova have a wonderful, easy chemistry that keeps the characters’ friendship and obvious history present, even when they’re sniping at each other.

That said, there’s a vagueness at the center of Zander’s character that puts me on uncertain footing. It all comes back to the question of what it is, exactly, that he wants. Is he uninterested in drugs and sex, and just wants the approval of the people around him? Or does he actually want to try all the things that he’s scared of?

I tend to think that the latter is the more likely option (it makes the drug into something that loosens Zander’s inhibitions, rather than something that totally reinvents his desires, and it makes Puck’s little speech about worries and inhibitions relevant), but I’m not sure, and there’s something offputting about that. Not knowing a character’s backstory, not knowing what they need, not knowing where their story is heading—those are all manageable gaps in the audience’s knowledge. But when you’re not even sure what a character wants, it’s hard to access their story.

Random Bits

“I’m gonna pull your hair out.” “Don’t pull it out. Do pull it, though!”

Deme and Zander take drugs off of the Quince family photo. I do love a good visual juxtaposition.

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