Where has this show been this whole time? “The One That Holds Everything” is a titanic episode for The Romanoffs to end on, a sweeping and expansive story of a man’s life. Written by Donald Joh and Matthew Weiner and directed by Weiner, it’s the standout of the season, giving Hugh Skinner a spotlight role and telling the show’s most fascinating tale.
The episode opens on Jack (JJ Feild) traveling by train. His seat is occupied by Candace (Adèle Anderson), a woman with motion sickness who prefers the window. He reluctantly accepts, her interruptions and many questions making work impossible. But in Candace the story takes shape, and the story jumps to its true protagonist, Simon (Skinner). In its telling of his life from several angles, we are treated to a life of tragedy and the search for belonging, a sense of purpose. Simon’s story encompasses Hong Kong and England, but it’s at home where the show really drives its drama.
With Ben Miles as Simon’s father and Hera Hilmar as Ondine, his nanny, there are fragmented and tortured relationships in Simon’s life which reflect back upon troubled beginnings. Hilmar, especially, is a fantastic addition to the episode, her venomous smiles suggesting she is in control under every circumstance and really pinning Simon to a corner in his own life. Both the young Simon and the adult Simon hold enthralling parts of a whole, a life of replacement and abandonment too devastating.
It’s in its manner of storytelling where the episode also shines greatly. A story within a story within a story, when done right, can beautifully tell an audience something more, as it highlights rather than linearly allowing us a full picture.
In “The One That Holds Everything”, Joh and Weiner highlight with expert precision the two heartbreaks of Simon’s life, giving Skinner so much to work with. Skinner is fantastic, able to reflect on his pain and vulnerability and making you feel every slight. The direction by Weiner is subdued and all about extracting the best out of his performers, allowing the drama and the various time periods to breathe. The use of “West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys, too, is a genius touch.
The Romanoffs comes to an end with its best episode, leaving the entire experiment with wonder of why every episode couldn’t be like this. “The Royal We”, “Expectation”, and “End of the Line” were very good, but “The One That Holds Everything” is absolutely wonderful. Focus on a life in search of acceptance is an open canvas, and The Romanoffs gives it the time it needs to become something special.
The Romanoffs: “The One That Holds Everything” comes to Amazon’s Prime Video on Friday, November 23rd.