'The Romanoffs' review: 'House of Special Purpose' gives new life to the show but still falls short on expectations
Though hands down better than the last two episodes, the muddy storyline and superficial details of the characters do not meet the expectations of a Matthew Weiner show
The third installment of Matthew Weiner's 'The Romanoffs' is out and is titled 'House of Special Purpose'. In the last two episodes, we were shown two very different stories, one about an ancestral fortune and the other about a failing marriage. The third episode brings out another story from the life of protagonists who claim to be descendants of the Romanovs.
The third episode stars Christina Hendricks as Olivia, who is a Hollywood star, and Isabelle Huppert as Jacqueline, who is a movie director. In a bit of meta twist, Jacqueline had cast Olivia in the lead role of her miniseries titled ‘The Romanovs: A six-part miniseries'.
Jacqueline tells Olivia it is the story of her family, and throughout the 90 minutes taunts her to do her job (to act). Olivia is hurt by Jacqueline's nonresponsive behavior towards her performance compared to her behaviour towards her co-star Samuel, played by Jack Huston.
However before Olivia can understand her director, things get spooky. Olivia has someone knock on her door and disappear, along with a little girl’s ghost who appears in her room and vanishes after walking in her wardrobe.
Olivia mulls multiple times to leave the miniseries as she cannot bear the situation, especially after her mother’s death, but her manager Bob, played by Paul Reiser convinces her into staying put and gives her a picece of advice that he once gave Meryl Streep: “Learn lines, hit your mark and diet.” Olivia knows something is up with Jacqueline, as she sees her murmuring all by herself as if she is having a conversation with someone; she is scared but decides to ignore it until they meet the investors of the miniseries.
While sitting for dinner with the investing husband and wife duo, Jacqueline has a paranormal episode, where she is possessed by a Romanov woman, who commands the wife to not kill her family and save them this time in Russian.
However, only the wife understands Russian, and she tries talking to a possessed Jacqueline, who curses her if she is unable to save them all. The investor's wife had to be immediately admitted to hospital as her "heart stopped, she was literally scared to death."
This event scares everyone at the table, but to Olivia’s surprise, everyone knew that these things happen to Jacqueline but they kept this from her.
Olivia tries to support Jacqueline by talking to her about it, where she learns that Jacqueline lied about being a descendant of the Romanovs and just said so just to get the job. This is the only scene where Jacqueline and Olivia talk to each other about the struggles of being a woman in the movie industry and make a pact to support each other on the sets. However, it doesn't last very long.
Olivia quites the show and her manager arrives at the location promising to get her out of there the next morning. A happy Olivia, goes to her room, packing and falling asleep in the same dress as she was shooting in, with the hope of going far away from the madness but she is kidnapped by a few police officers and taken to a room, the room of special purpose, which was the set where they were going to shoot the massacre of the Romanovs.
Her co-stars are also present but all of them are scared. When someone asks what is happening, the police officer line up and shoot everyone, recreating the massacre of the Romanovs. It is revealed that the whole ruse is a method used by Jacqueline to get real reactions out of her actors, but it goes terribly wrong as Olivia is so scared that she dies. This was a twist no one ever saw coming.
The episode was definitely a spooky one and managed to scare viewers with its many jump scares. Isabelle is amazing in the role of a possessed director, and a total badass, evident when she held an actor literally by his balls to make him act better. The scene in which she is possessed by one of the Romanovs also gives viewers the chills.
Christina Hendricks does a good job of playing a commercial actress who wants to be critically acclaimed for her acting skills.
The story though decent could have been better if the makers focused on just one element rather than juggling between many concepts. For example, the scene where Olivia is called by the director to the bar of the hotel they were staying in, and the receptionist says that there is no bar in the hotel. Although, in a few days, Olivia stumbles upon the bar, where the receptionist is the bartender. There is no explanation provided for this scene. Nor for the ghosts making rounds in Olivia’s room. Does it mean that the hotel is haunted? Does it mean Olivia is just seeing things? Is being possessed by ghosts, an act by Jacqueline? The episode left many questions unanswered.
Over the 90 minutes of the episode, the character of Olivia tries to take shape but is never fully realised. The creators could have added more to her character as well as Jacqueline’s who is shown to be possessed by the Romanovs ghost with no explanation at all.
Though hands down better than the last two episodes of the show, the muddy storyline and superficial details of the characters do not meet the expectations of a Matthew Weiner show.