'Grand Army' Episode 4: Sid's gay storyline laced with stereotypes not as fleshed out as Joey or Dom's arcs
We see Joey going through a breakdown in slow motion -- tearing off hair in chunks, looking in a stunned disbelief at the bruises on her thighs in the bathroom (that Dom also sees), to getting drugs from Luke (her friend and rapist). This part of the episode is ultra-strong.
So is the portion dealing with Dom seeing a glimpse of the kind of life she could build after meeting her love interest John Ellis's mother. And then, just after that, seeing that future being snatched away. We know Dom's family lives paycheck to paycheck (made worse by her mother's habit of wasting money). Her elder sister, a health care professional, gets fired after she loses her balance helping a senior. She is in pain and paralyzed and without her paycheck, the family will get kicked out of their home. Dom already knows what's going to happen. She will have to drop out of school too and get a job just so her family can make it.
Her dream of being the first one in her family to go to college and getting out of there is shattered like her sister's spinal disc. It is bye-bye to a psych internship and her future three-bedroom house with a home office, she told her friends about.
It shows why generational wealth matters and how a health crisis means dooming of an entire family's future when one lost paycheck is the end of the world. There are no margins or corners to cut or a belt to tighten -- they are just one step above the poverty line.
Like the first few episodes, we get a thorough exploration of both Dom and Joey's stories. But Sid Pakam, the closeted South Asian swimming champ and dutiful son, gets the short shrift.
While Joey and Dom's stories are also talking about well-known phenomena, they feel driven by dialogue and interactions that give their stories heft, while avoiding stereotypes and familiar beats.
But Sid Pakam's story has been clunky and laced with stereotypes, from the very first episode, from his reluctant interactions with girlfriend Flora, to the conversations with his traditional Indian family pinning their hopes on their male 'heir' rather than Meera their daughter, to now, his gay identity.
We get his 'thoughts' via a Harvard essay which has to be 'wow' and make him stand out. It is not enough to talk about his PTSD around the bombing and how he is being profiled. So, he also uses his 'I'm gay' card in the most cynical use of minority credentials yet on the show.
His school counselor even asks him if he is okay with essentially outing himself in an essay. That we otherwise don't really spend time with Sid (like we do with Joey and Dom), his story is a classic example of the disastrous 'tell, but never show' school of filmmaking.
We never see his anxiousness around his identity or even a reaction to the frat boys of his swim team who frequently crack homophobic jokes. He even has the Grindr app on his phone -- for a guy hiding who he is, that seems like a major misstep.
There are also beats to the story that makes no sense. Sid is shown to be an ultra-cautious guy, focussed and prepared, even jamming his door before jacking off to gay porn. Yet, he has unprotected oral sex with a stranger in a public location? And then afterward, a while later, googles STDs. For Sid to be this reckless is out of character behavior, which makes his vaguely fleshed-out character even more like a cardboard cutout.
'Grand Army' premiered on October 16 on Netflix.