The Romanoffs‘ third episode is basically a horror movie. And I loved it !
House of Special Purpose is the fascinating story of a movie star called Olivia who endures a harrowing experience on set in Austria. Olivia is actually the lead of a miniseries called “The Romanovs”, which adds a funky meta twist to the whole thing.
It’s not surprising to see creator Matthew Weiner cast Christina Hendricks as the episode’s protagonist. The actress was just phenomenal in Mad Men, and she’s equally brilliant there. She’s vulnerable, headstrong and everything in between. Moreover, the episode does a terrific job of immersing us in her experience as a foreigner on set right from the taxi ride at the start, all the way through the hotel bar incident, the creepy little girl, and the sexual assault. It’s all tremendously unsettling.
As Olivia’s eccentric director Jacqueline, Isabelle Huppert is also fantastic. She has moments in which she comes off as surprisingly warm, and moments in which she’s absolutely bonkers in every way (the visuals of her talking to herself are just hilarious, while watching her grab her lead actor’s junk is jawdropping in its audacity). Naturally, she also thinks she’s a Czar (or at least makes people think she is).
The hour’s final ten minutes are especially haunting. When Olivia finally quits, her escape through the woods mirrors Anastasia’s run in the title sequence. For a moment, you even wonder if she’s been transported through time as she stumbles across real (?) Bolshevik soldiers before being attacked at night and forced to endure the title sequence execution. It’s a chilling turn of events that culminates with Olivia’s death from fright (after she herself previously said that dying from such circumstances is not possible). Was it all part of Jaqueline’s twisted plot to get the best performance possible? Sure seems like it!
Olivia: Oh. The dead body gets another take.
Jacqueline: A beautiful woman comes along, and suddenly everyone is on their best behavior.
Olivia: You know that better than anyone.
Jacqueline: That’s very sweet, darling, but you don’t need to bother.
Olivia: What do you mean?
Jacqueline: I did the same thing when I was younger. Younger than you.
Olivia: What are you talking about?
Jacqueline: You fucked the director on your last job, and you’re already fucking the male lead on this one.
Olivia: This is bullshit.
Jacqueline: Everyone knows. It’s obvious and it’s boring. I understand. You don’t want to give yourself over, so you take the easy way out. I’ve tried.
You either don’t react, or you react like a crazy person.
Olivia: I’ve been acting since I was 18 years old.
Jacqueline: And you keep using the same tricks.
Olivia: Did you ever think that maybe you’re a great actress and a terrible director?
Jacqueline: Very good. Where was this person hiding? It’s nice to have a pretty face, but that’s not what Alex was known for. In fact, you’re far too beautiful to play her. She was cunning and intelligent and powerful. You fuck everyone to avoid putting your whole self into the role. But surprise! You can’t fuck me.
So you’re going to have to do your job.
Olivia: I’m sorry you’re too old to play this part. It must be hard to watch the parade go by.
An utterly spooky and absorbing hour. Not to be missed!