Though there are few misunderstandings we will post the original essay here, enjoy it! (Of course it's full of spoilers so watch the episodes first!)
Looking for something a little different in entertainment? Don't blame you. Everyone has their favorite shows, but every once in awhile it's nice to sample something different. Fortunately, you have your friends here at Time After Time to steer you in the right direction. If you're looking for a new web series to watch at your leisure with a little international flair, look no further than Stuck: The Chronicles of David Rea. This acclaimed web show written and directed by Ivan Silvestrini started life a year ago in Italy, and has recently found no shortage of overseas popularity. We here at Time After Time believe this show will be doing weekly recaps of this series first season to give curious readers a chance to decide if this show has what they're looking for.
The first episode, "The Observer Effect" is a keen display of kinetic directing, modernist wit, and surprising human insight. In it, we are introduced to........''emotional'' psychologist David Rea. David's an unusual chap who's life and work revolve around one principle: that every once in awhile, people get 'stuck'. According to him, all people reach a point in their life where their own choices limit their own potential in life for inner satisfaction, be it a go-nowhere job, a relationship with no future, etc. He says they try to dull the reality of their own limits through drugs and cults and other distractions. David, as you may come to guess, fancies himself as someone who as the only one who can put people straight, and by straight I mean make them see how pathetic and short-sighted their lives are.
We see David in action right out the bat when he recounts his consultation of a young woman named Emma. After coldly deducing her woes from her physical habits and body odor, he infers that Emma suffers from 'The Obvserver Effect' because of her abnormal reaction to her boyfriend proposing. He deduces that she is afraid of all the things she will miss when she decides to get hitched. David's solution?
Have sex with him in his office.
Did I mention this guy's a bit unorthodox?
Well needless to say, her fiancee doesn't want to come in to discuss her feelings after hearing 20 minutes a rather loud therapy session. Making matters worse is said fiancee being her boss. Not a problem for David! He could use a new assistant. Even though he hasn't gotten around to firing his old one. Who isn't his assistant. And also his wife.
So is David a charlatan sociopath? Or is he an outside the box thinker freeing everyone around them from the limits of society. "All people want to be manipulated" David states in the first episode. While his dinner date and ex-assistant/wife probably don't share his opinion, the episode doesn't prove this notion wrong.
Few things surprise me in fiction much these days.
I told myself at a young age that I wouldn't succumb to the cynicism of my family and friends. Who would want to live life under the conception that the future was just the present all over again, right? Unfortunately, the older you grow, the more the way thingsdon't change in life can be pretty exhausting. When you observe this in the things you love, like stories, the impact can be bigger than you think. I always wanted to write in ways that challenged and provoked people in the ways I felt when I read the classics by people like Steinbeck and Fitzgerald. I wanted to dazzle people with twists and turns and characters that people take with them forever. Everyone wants to recapture something from their youth that gave them a sense of wonder, and failing to find that over and over again in our lives today makes cynicism a natural response sometimes. We loathe formula and infrastructure in our entertainment, because we are wary of how the existence of these things threaten our capacity for genuine emotional response to art. Once in awhile, someone tries to teach us that recognizing the same thing again and again in our lives is inescapable. That this jadedness is symptomatic of the consistency and wisdom that define our adult lives and seperate us from our children.
Then you encounter something like Stuck, a show that manages to consistently surprise me everytime and make me feel like a child in ways I never thought I would again. That isn't to say Stuck engenders feelings of wonder and enchantment in me. Rather, it takes me back to those moments when many adults seemed liked inscrutable and perplexing cyphers motivated by scary forces beyond my comprehension. When watching Stuck, you notice these characters being motivated by sex and money and a petty sense of self-absorption. I should know about these needs at this point in my life. Yet the writing and direction combined make these latent forces seem like unpredictable spirits that burst out of the characters in ways that leave me feeling like I know less about them than I suspect. Never has the phrase "minefield of the human psyche" seemed more appropriate.
To illustrate what I'm talking about, see if you expected any of these sentences to lead to the one afterwards in my barebones recap of the second episode:
1. David's new secretary, Emma answers the door for Vince, David's lawyer and apparent financial advisor.
2. Vince discusses the threat an angry Ramona, David's ex-wife whom he recently replaced with Emma, could pose to David's enterprise in the bathroom.
3. David washes his penis in the sink immediately afterwards.
4. David's new client, a teenager named Richard, explains that he feels that a sex life, as a phenomenon, does not exist, and as a result is significantly dismotivated.
5. David chalks up these anxieities to relationship problems, and tells Richard to take Emma (who is in the room) on a date so he can practice seducing her.
6. Out in a field, Richard opens up more about his anxieties and lack of experience with sex. In a moment of sympathy, Emma tells him the sex lives, on the whole, tend to be sporadic and messier than society makes them out to be.
7. Richard tries to rape Emma.
8. Richard is shot with a tranquilizer dart right before he can rape Emma, but nevertheless passes out on top of her, pants down.
9. Emma's savior turns out to be none other than David who came to congratulate Emma on being part of the team and that means he will always look out for her.
10. Emma confesses that she is in love, prompting David to ask who with.
11. David shoots her with a tranquilizer dart before she can answer, and carries her unconscious body home.
12. Ramona confronts Vince with her own history as a widow and it is highly implied her first husband was David's brother.
13. Ramona tells Vince that, if they don't want a lawsuit, she desires one thing and one thing only: to conceive David's children.
14. The End.
Confused? You should be. Just from reading this, we should infer that sex is on the mind of all these characters, yet they express it in ways that all build on each other in completely unexpected ways. Trying to relate to any one character either makes them seem vulnerable to the chaotic psyches of the other characters or makes us question everything about them a few seconds later. Keep in mind that this is only the second episode! Ivan Silvestrini managed to craft a show that can only be described as a 'Psychological Mystery' in two 15 minute youtube videos! Perhaps Stuck's writing and directing may come off as too audacious for your taste. But there's no denying that there's anything else like it in Web Series or Television right now. That alone is noteworthy.
Can you change your nature?
Obviously a loaded question, but Stuck is obviously a loaded show. Part of it’s charm is how it manages to pack in so much character development in so little time. When we see Emma reading a book about Primatology, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to expect it’s relevance in the next few minutes. But even as the show now manages to stage a formula, it’s introspective tone and writing mix keep finding ways to mix with it’s darkly comic characters to things constantly fresh.
Int this episode, it initially appears that David has met a patient he can relate to. Roberto, a suave looking man in his 30s, thinks he’s in love with his girlfriend. The problem is, he’s pretty sure that she wants children. As he tells David with a shrewd smile, men like them shouldn’t have children. David seems to be in agreement, and when he casually tells Emma to ‘get the fuck out’ after her passionate interjection, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to disprove their similar natures.
The rest of the episode eventually proves this isn’t the case. David tells Roberto to break up with his girlfriend immediately. He tells him that they will both feel bad now, but it’s better than “being miserable for the rest of [his] life”. Soundly reckless advice, as always. Turns out that David isn’t actually the strongest adherent of his own teaches, because when Vince tells him that he Ramona will drop charges against them if he has a child with her, he actually considers it. Emma justifiably calls him out on this, and he tells her that the only reason they didn’t have kids before was to protect his brother. This doesn’t convince Emma, but if Ramona’s picture is any indication, it would seem that there’s definitely more to David’s nature than meets the eye.
As we see Roberto sobbing after his phone call, it’s clear the point the show is trying to make is that ‘nature’ is nothing but a thing ‘to’ change. He and David have more or less the same attitude and tendencies, but what we see of their reactions to ‘fatherhood’ suggests that the science behind their mentality is far too murky to classify. Trying to abide by a ‘nature’ or a ‘role’, Stuck suggests, is no substitute for trying to be yourself.
My guess is that this episode is what separates the curious from the dedicated in the Stuck audience base. Things start off pretty grounded with David visiting Ramona’s house and accepting her weird melon ball martini (always a poor choice in the house of someone who wants your baby). We infer a little more about Ramona’s lingering feelings of resentment towards David for stopping her relationship with his brother. We learn that David is still trying to call the shots in their relationship as he tries to reestablish it in terms of ‘friendship’ or ‘kinship’. That works as well you would expect.
Then before you know it that Melon Ball starts to kick in and things get weirder than ever before. And yes I know the show’s already pretty weird.
It turns out that David himself is the one who gets ‘unstuck’ in this installment, and we discover that his attraction to Ramona is predicated on a very creepy Electra Complex that she is all to ready to take advantage of. Vince and Emma show up to stop him from doing anything drastic (like say impregnating Ramona). They are too late to stop him from having sex with her, a fact that Vince uses to try and steer Emma away from David towards him. Alas, despite making use of the leftover Melon Balls in Ramona’s apartment, he is blue-balled again in a figurative sense when David emerges post-coitus and then in a literal sense a minute later by an angry Ramona.
Things only get more uncomfortably psychological when Ramona turns her wrath towards Emma in a weirdly sexual fight for David’s affections that David drunkenly breaks up in favor of Emma. It’s cute that she’s still his one landline to sanity, but it seems they will both have to contend with Ramona’s plans to lure him to the dark side.
But wait, you may ask, wasn’t drugging and having sex with David all part of Ramona’s plan in the first place? Well leave it to David to have a completely bizarre ace up his sleeve! In between bouts of lucidity in the getaway car that isn’t getting away, David explains that, despite evidence to the contrary, he did not inseminate Ramona in any way because of the skills that earned him his “High School Championship in Premature Ejaculation.”
After last week’s exceedingly weird installment of Stuck, the antagonist of this episode almost seems like a ray of sanity. Emma’s old boyfriend, Joseph Shaw, swaggers into David’s office looking for Emma to tell her he’s forgiven her and wants her back. He’s mostly testy and arrogant when dealing with David in hopes of finding her. David, for his part, subtly mocks him before offering him Vince’s location (and caricature). We already know by now that Emma means more to David than he lets on, so it’s no surprise that he immediately calls Vince afterwards to tell her to hide and protect her while she deals with the hangover from last episode.
While dealing with all these shenanigans, Shaw generally acquits himself like all Rom-Com antagonist/secondary love interests and loses his cool in the face of David’s savoir faire. He returns to David’s office after realizing he’s been duped, throws a hilariously telegraphed punch into David’s face, and demands that he take her to Emma. Yet when he finally finds her, Mark Lawrence makes him seem genuinely glad to find her in a way that reminds the audience of how fundamentally sympathetic his situation really is. He offers to take her away from “these people” and start off from the beginning in a way that illustrates how in love he actually was with her before she essentially betrayed him. After the time we have spent with David, Vince, and Ramona, it’s hard to not side with Shaw at least a little bit. Yes, David and Co. have little to no delusions about their lifestyles or their actions, but that still doesn’t make them any less callous or flawed.
Emma herself still seems halfway-Stuck as it were. Even up to this point, she still seems more attached to social norms and hopes of a future than David. When Vince points out that she still wants to wallow in her romantic woes and pursue David, it’s a testament to the show’s writing that you don’t know if he’s being accurate or acting petty because she won’t be charmed by his ‘defend the weak’ shtick. Emma still seems to want to make David into a typical boyfriend, and she does bring out behavior in him that seems pretty atypically romantic. The series leaves the possibility of how ‘stuck’ either of them are in relation to each other pretty open, as it’s clear from the last episode that David’s not exactly without his weaknesses.
To make matters bleaker, Ramona is still trying to forcefully impregnate herself with David’s seed in an attempt to follow the frighteningly charted future of motherhood she envisions for herself. David talks again about human nature and responsibility early in the episode, and it’s clear from Ramona’s little speech that the sometimes trying to make plans based on our innermost desires aren’t always practical. That’s what makes society and the world that Shaw lives in so appealing. Yes we can become lost and out of touch with our own whims and impulses and risk being unhappy, but at least there is stability and practicality. At least we can connect with other people. As insightful as David can be sometimes, there’s no denying that he is woefully out of touch with actually communicating with others.
So when the episode ends with Emma genuinely unsure of whether to stay with Shaw or remain with David and co, I think it’s safe to say that we can’t really blame her in this regard. What will she choose? And what is Lisa Durren planning with David in her upcoming appointment? I guess we will have to wait to find out.
The charmingly peculiar series Stuck reaches something of a turning point for its two main characters in its sixth episode. The story is divided into two narratives, one picking up where we left up with Emma and co. on the beach and the other jumping ahead in the future with the appointment hinted at in the last epilogue. It’s an appropriate choice, but one that strangely makes the episode feel a little less weighty than the others. Granted, having every patient’s problem segue way into David’s little circus of absurdity would have gotten tired or limiting eventually, but somehow the dual focus makes the psychological undertones about gender seem more on the nose than usual. I’m not saying the mix-up itself is unwelcome, but at this particular point in the storyline it seems to bring out the less subtle aspects of the show’s writing.
But back to Emma. With David refusing to step up and rescue her from Shaw somehow, she realizes she needs to come to terms with her former fiancés’ smothering love. She tells him off and says she was never happy, but Shaw is fairly insistent that they were the picture of bliss. When he gets a little more forceful, Vince decides to step in the best he can, the trooper. Yet despite removing his pants for some presumed aerodynamic advantage (I assume), his berserker martial art skills are no match for Shaw’s noteworthy “dodging an inch left” fighting style. It’s telling that Vince is the most noble and romantic character on the show, yet he somehow finds time to be the most unpredictable and ineffectual.
Emma takes it upon herself to knee Shaw in the testicles to get her point across and establish dominance (Freudian!). She calls out David for not stepping into save her, and David of course argues that she has reached a breakthrough and learned how to establish her own voice without anyone helping her. They’re still scheduled for an appointment later, but it’s clear that David’s warped logic is quite correct in this regard, to Emma’s obvious chagrin.
The other storyline interspersed with Emma’s concerns David’s platonic confidante, Lisa. It turns out that David may belong to something Lisa refers to as “Sadists Anonymous” which certainly doesn’t portray his motivations thus far in a positive light. Nonetheless, David tries to offer advice to Lisa about the man she is seducing, as if she is another patient. Things quickly become awkward for David when Lisa turns the table on his aloof poetics by seducing him. He tries to stay professional and maintain the “dominance” he used to break and make Emma. It becomes clear however that his contempt for human nature may stem from contempt for himself, since his altercation with Lisa reveals he’s a rather weak person. If Emma is only getting stronger, he is certainly getting weaker.
After three weeks of patients whose personal relationships with David dominated their episodes, the first few minutes of Stuck’s 7th episode seem weirdly normal. The patient in question is a young man played by Stefano Masciolini who has never met David before, though given how quickly they bond over ‘Megadeath’, you’d be forgiven for thinking they aren’t secret soul brothers or something. The 20-something metal-head is brought in by his mother because he has covered the majority of his body in rather impressive tattoos. David quickly gains his trust by asking his mother to leave the room and sharing his own opinion of the band’s history.
For awhile it’s almost as if David is a normal psychologist and anyone not privy to the last 6 episodes would mistake Stuck for a grounded show. Even when David hones in on the guy’s innate wish to preserve certain things forever and uses it to spout more pseudo-nihilism, the context isn’t too bizarre as to suggest there’s something especially wrong with David himself. Then he steps outside of his office and chaos immediately bursts into his life. After 7 episodes of Stuck, it’s clear that David’s therapy sessions are more therapeutic for him than his patients. Having someone else in a vulnerable position to focus on makes it easier for him to forget the complete ramshackle state of his own life and relationships. If anything, being a therapist gives David a way to project his own issues onto his patients to deal with them.
It’s hard not put the pieces together when Ramona tries to corner David for a quick round of car sex. David is so jaded that he’s indifferent to the threat of her lawsuit. Yet he can’t stop himself from looking back when Ramona shouts that fatherhood ‘will change him.’ Driving home doesn’t help much, especially when Vince wakes up from his nap inside the car. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not he is completely homeless. What starts off as pretty playful banter about Emma’s attractiveness clearly touches a nerve in David since the ride ends with him dumping Vince off pretty far from his destination.
Things come to a head when he visits Emma at her home in the middle of a pretty intense hair brushing session before the unwavering judgment of her Superman and Batman action figures. David’s unusual behavior (for him) is revealed to be a reaction to Emma essentially cutting him out of her life since the beach incident. He is insistent on having some kind of relationship with her, but Emma has had enough of his dismissive approach to her affections and demands that he commits to at least some convention of romance by uttering the “L” word. David replies that for once in his life, he could use a relationship that isn’t based on words. Whatever happened to David and his brother, it was apparently so disillusioning that the bridge between society’s conventions and David’s convictions, however shadowy they may be, seems to have been permanently destroyed. He certainly has ideals and values. They just have been ingrained in them so severely that those off-puttingly large superhero figurines have a better chance of connecting with people. And when a plastic replica of Batman is more put together than you, you’re the one who needs the most help of all.
At least Emma gets him to admit that she is ‘special’ to him, if nothing else. Unfortunately for Emma, she’s still so into David that she’s willing to accept nothing else and falls back into her former role of being his secretary/love puppet. Suddenly those superhero action figures in her room take on a higher resonance. Sometimes it’s easier to fall in love with someone if you make them an idealistic fantasy figure in your mind rather than deal with the complexity of who they are. Idealistic fantasy figures will always be more appealing than actual people. Just look at the box office numbers for Man Of Steel.
Everyone has to grow up eventually. If the closing shot of the metal-head and his unexpected lady-friend are any indication however, David and Emma are taking their time more than others.
It took awhile, but we finally get a peek at the background behind David and his extremely unusual lifestyle. As you might expect, it’s extremely unusual.
I guess it was foolish of me to expect otherwise, as the show’s proven so far that the more we find out in this show, the more questions we have. We learn that David and Ramona were once a rather happy married couple…..until he decided to pee in the middle of the night and was chided by a ghost for doing so like a woman. No really. The ghost introduces itself as an epiphany, it can offer in terms of self-knowledge is that David is/was totally whipped in his union with Ramona. Given what we know about her, that doesn’t sound too implausible. But this doesn’t excuse the audacity of David’s own psyche basically telling him to pack up and leave his wife to screw around with other women (and dudes) in the middle of the night. Whatever emotional frustration or chemical imbalance is behind David’s problems, we’re just gonna have to dig deeper.
Also his real name isn’t David, but let’s save that one for next season Donald Draper.
Flash forward to the present and it appears that we aren’t the only ones interested in David’s psyche. That Sadists Anonymous group, whatever it really is, contracted Lisa to get David back into their sights. She succeeds by faking sex with David to torture Emma who is listening outside his office. David is forced into a skype convo with three mysterious figures who claim that David’s profession made it easy to disguise his manipulative nature, but thanks to Lisa, they have finally located him. This council appears to consist of psychological professionals themselves, albeit ones who are even more manipulative and callous than David.
Making matters worse is Ramona’s decision to actually follow through with her decision to evict David from the building, and using David’s own follies to put Vince in a corner. In panic, Vince tries to actually convince David to give Ramona what she wants, but he’s already in the custody of Lisa. What will become of our……..umm……”heroes” is a strong word. But whatever they are, what will become of them?
The end is nigh for David and co. The listless therapist has been caught by Sadists Anonymous and is compelled to face his demons once and for all. Despite the sadistic Lisa’s suggestion that he skip town with her, David seems intent on coming to terms with his mistakes now that they are all coming back to bite him. To that end, he goes to find his twin brother’s lover, a deaf hairdresser who seems like a friendly enough guy. Even though David’s twin brother apparently died, one would expect things to be tenser considering all the hoopla with Ramona. It turns out there’s a reason for this but we’ll get to that later.
David brings the hairdresser up to speed about the Ramona situation, and while the hairdresser first assumes that he’s blaming his dead brother for his present foibles, David actually seems more focused on making amends with everyone involved. He brings the hairdresser and Lisa immediately back to his office, where it just so happens that Ramona is visiting at the moment. She’s pretty vexed because, in her words, her “period is a tsunami.” Vince responds with the sanest words in the entire series: “we’re pretty fucked.”
Of course, Vince in a rather unpleasant situation, as he’s baring witness to the “Megadeath” guy put the moves on Emma, his eternal paramour. Emma seems pretty hesitant on engaging the man in his late 20s covered in tattoos honoring late 80s metal bands as far as romance goes. Nevertheless, Beardy is pretty intent on making that “quickie” Emma gave him into something resembling a respectable relationship. He even asks Vince how awkward it is that he’s moving in on the girl he spent all series pining for. Vince tries to play it cool (the guy is kind of a moron), but it’s obvious he’s still nursing a crush on Emma.
Fortunately, David bursts right into the office with his charge right when he needs everyone in the same room. Hey, you got to have a cast reunion somehow right? Despite some hostility from Ramona towards the hairdresser who stole he lover, David manages to get everyone to sit down for something approaching a group therapy session.
In reality, it’s more of a confessional experience for David himself. He commits to the 9th step of his process and reaches out to everyone in the room whom he has wronged in the past (sans Megadeath guy, who’s just happy to be there, and Emma, just cuz). He apologizes to Vince for his unprofessionalism. He apologizes for not helping the hairdresser through his grief. He apologizes to Lisa for the sex they had and the sex they didn’t have. He apologizes to Ramona for not being the person she deserves to have. It’s all actually played pretty straight, and seeing David at his most human after 9 episodes of detachment makes the scene particularly powerful.
Then David drops the bomb that explains everything behind the series so far. It turns out that all this time, David’s brother had not died at all. In fact, there never was a twin brother. All this time, David had been pretending that he was his own brother to get away with his bi-curious affair behind Ramona’s back when they were a couple. This certainly explains the flashback in the last episode, in which the Epiphany tells him to cheat on Ramona and indulge his homoerotic urges. It also explains why he wasn’t referred to as “David” in the flashback. He assumed a new identity to avoid responsibility for the stifling life he had built with Ramona and to try out new impulsive affairs with men and women alike.
Vince is relieved by this news, as it clears up the tax problem with Ramona. Ramona is, of course, completely blown away by this elaborate ruse. The hairdresser should be mad, but apparently David is just that good because he immediately tries to make out with him again after this confession. Unfortunately for him, it looks like David’s bi-curiosity was just that: curiosity. Emma is just kind of speechless.
The episode ends with David confident that now he has come to terms with his past and how his actions have hurt those in his life, he is confident that now he can rebuild his life and his relationships so they can become “one big happy family.”
And so ends Stuck, a series that still has me unsure of how to feel about the whole venture. I came away from the series feeling fairly positive, but I still can’t escape the feeling that certain methods employed by the series felt a little circular and extraneous. In the end, the series is about a blunt, nihilistic life-coach who himself has been stunted into putting his life on hold because of his insecurities and fears about life. Much of the show hinged on sexual psychology and the ways these issues both compel and end human relationships. Obviously William (no longer David) started out fairly out of touch with his sexuality, but the finale offers an alternate hypothesis in its sumptuously shot opening: that his’s failings are primarily emotional. He forfeited a potentially normal life with Ramona because he was unsure if he could live the rest of his life with the potential failure.
Leave it to Emma to point out the obvious life lesson from all this, and everyone else to point out what a messed up ass he’s been for keeping up this weird façade for so long. Ramona admits that she knew about William’s lie from the very beginning. She just couldn’t admit to the embarrassing reality of it in front of everyone. She didn’t really want his sperm. She just wanted the man he used to be back. Vince tries to bond with her over this, but ends up having to put a creepy cut-out mask of William on his face just for her to open up. Some people have a ways to go.
In an oddly conventional ending, William catches up with an angry Emma and sincerely apologizes to her. She points out that he’s been taking advantage of her crush on him for some time now, but William decides to recant and promises not to have sex with her until he feels they’re in love. Even though it’s not the most creative way to end the storyline, it does feel heartwarming and appropriate. William’s finally ready to face the consequences of his life being stuck, so he himself can move on and try again.
….At least that’s what it looks like. The pre-credits scene however offers us a shot of William being contacted by a mysterious man over the phone. The man wants to use his therapy to cultivate “a new political class”. William says he’ll think about it. Whoever this guy is, he’s working with Mark, so this already ominous man is clearly up to no good.
If the series ever continues, it certainly has a lot of interesting new ground to cover. Here’s hoping!