Review: The Slap Episode 2

The Slap, Episode 2, “Anouk”
Thursday, 8:30pm, ABC1
Stream on ABC’s iView

Like all good products of the NSW HSC system, I understand the importance of zooming out and talking about the framing of the thing, as well as the thing itself. Which is why forgetting to make fun of the opening credits last week was such an egregious oversight. I hope I still get a good UAI!

Anyway, The Slap, are you serious? A slow motion sequence of a glass plate… shattering?

Broken crockery is to drama as long walks on the beach are to romance. It’s iStock imagery, it’s pretty much the ‘Bewitched’ opening titles – a cartoonish version of the action on screen. But then again, maybe it’s just the correct answer. Perhaps it’s so thematically and culturally (the main family is Greek) perfect, that picking something marginally less literal* just wouldn’t do. *For example, a surrealist sequence of a family skating on thin ice, or maybe even the smashing of an iPhone screen, which as far as I’m concerned is a far rawer motif of human suffering.

The rather blunt relevance of the title sequence is bit like the show itself- it is a precise time capsule of all the issues that matter to Australians in 2011. This week’s episode deals with the aging population, the stress of being a carer, the stress of being a cougar, sexism in the workplace and an unwanted pregnancy. It is centered around Anouk, one of the people at DRAMATIC BARBEQUE in Episode 1. However she was far more disturbed by the flirting she saw between Hector and the young blonde Connie, than the slap itself. Anouk is a hard-working but creatively unfulfilled screenwriter in her late 30s. Her boyfriend Rhys is an actor on the show she writes for. We spend the episode watching her work through the discovery she’s fallen pregnant to him. She also has to deal with conflicts at work and look after her ill and lonely mother. Basically she’s the anonymous friend quoted in the ‘Can Women Have It All?’ articles in The Sunday Life.

This show engages with the pregancy/working woman headlines in a rather nihilistic way. When Anouk decides to have an abortion, it triggers a break-up with Rhys. When she experiences bullying and sex discrimination in the workplace, she melodramatically quits instead of dealing with it in a way that could actually be empowering. The themes raised by The Slap are viewed as a corrosive, destructive presence in life – evidence that everything is FUCKED. UP. (I, for one, would’ve been happy to watch her file a sexual harassment complaint with the Australian Human Rights Council and keep her job!)

From what I have seen of Crownies, it takes a more normative approach to these issues- by using the device of ‘extremely stilted dialogue’ to talk explicitly about stuff like gender and same-sex parenting. But perhaps culture is good way to initiate social change, instead of always romanticising grit? (BORING POINT!)

This episode is dotted with several sweetly elegiac scenes, which rescue it from fully embracing its more soapy evil twin. I loved the moment when Anouk woke up to Rhys falling over laughing while watching something on TV (he had headphones on but I’m going to assume he’s been torrenting this season of Parks & Recreation). There’s also a really lovely gesture shared between Anouk and Connie while watching Rhys’ ‘Live At the Wireless’ set. Through a series of barbed retorts, Anouk successfully conveys to Connie that she totally knows what’s going on. Connie shows the extent of her pre-occupation with Hector by asking thinly veiled questions about his well-being. Anouk suddenly realises she’s standing alongside a sweet and exploited girl, so she maternally pats her on the arm. It’s really nice. And it proves that as well as constructing forced moments of exterior drama there are good scenes which show the interior world of a genuinely complex woman.

Rhys (Oliver Ackland) covers Davendra Banhart’s ‘At the Hop’ in this sweet scene.

The key here is investing in bilateral relationships between unexpected characters- like when Elaine hangs out with George or Troy did ballet with Britta. The Slap is as interested in Anouk’s relationship with her sick mum as it is in Rosie’s relationship with Anouk’s sick mum, and this makes Anouk and Rosie’s relationship with each other even more interesting. At its worst, The Slap‘s take on female friendship is little more than an arbitrary cross-section of conflicting personalities – (Anouk is the Carrie, Aisha is the Miranda, Rosie is Charlotte). But having unexpected permutations like Rosie and Anouk’s Mum (I really should’ve bothered to learn her name), or Anouk + Hector, really give a nice sense of a friendship in context.

The ‘This American life’ theme for this week’s episode would be ‘Selfish’. In terms of buying her mum yoghurt and procreating, Anouk is constantly having to figure out whether she should do stuff for other people or do stuff for herself. Nobody could accuse The Slap of being a selfish show – it is so even-handed with issues and character types that ever possible coordinate of our social reality is traversed. Everyone in the audience will inevitably have someone to barrack for. For example, I identify very strongly with Anouk: she wants everyone to shit up about the slap itself, she doesn’t seem to like the pouty and nostril flaring woman who plays her mum, and she checks her iPhone at inopportune times.

One of the best bits about this even-handedness is the many houses they use to film the characters lives. They are all quite different and aesthetically specific to the characters that reside there. Rosie’s house has a watertank and a cubby for Hugo made from garish faded sheets. Anouk has an impractical kitchen sink, and her Mum has a cluttered 70s kitchen that would definitely smell of musty pantry. The astuteness of some of these visual details feel more novelistic than the descriptions in book. Staggered they didn’t have some sort of dollhouse for the opening titles.

Words By Sophie Braham