Each week Joe and Terry discuss the most recent episode of Peacock’s reboot of Queer as Folk, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for episode 5 “Choke”
Episode 5 “Choke”: Mingus celebrates their birthday at Ghost Fag’s drag wrestling event, despite Brodie’s best efforts to keep them away; Julian and Noah come to a difficult decision; Ruthie makes a mistake.
Hmmm. I’ll admit that I’m torn on this episode, Terry: the screenplay by Roxane Gay and Azam Manhood is principally focused on three pairs of relationship and moves two of them forward significantly, but “Choke” also feels a bit slight, if that makes any sense?
Perhaps it’s that a full third of the episode is dedicated to Brodie (Devin Way)’s inability to be a goddamn adult and tell Mingus (Fin Argus) that he doesn’t want to date him. Everyone and their mother has told Brodie to just man up and tell the teenager how he feels, but when Mingus announces it’s their birthday and they want to spend it with Brodie, the older man merely replies with a vague meme (seriously what the hell is “She startin’” meant to mean, Brodie?!)
It’s been three weeks since they slept together and Brodie has been dodging them ever since. It’s clear to everyone, including overprotective mother Judy (Juliette Lewis), Ruthie (Jesse James Keitel) and Noah (Johnny Sibilly), what Brodie is doing, but neither Mingus, nor Brodie, seems willing to actually come clean about what’s going on.
It’s no secret that this plot hasn’t been working for me, but I’ll confess that I was glad to see Mingus acknowledge that they know Brodie is blowing them off. And Brodie reveals to Ruthie at episode’s end that one of the reasons he’s reticent to face Mingus is because the youngster is the only one who looks at him like he’s not a fuck up. So that level of self-awareness is welcome.
Unfortunately that doesn’t make any of this interesting to watch. Sure having the pair work out their emotional issues in a physical way using oversized boxing gloves in a literal drag wrestling ring is an amusing visual, but this is the kind of pat, predictable storytelling I had hoped Queer As Folk would eschew. Perhaps it was unavoidable when Brodie and Mingus’ story went in this direction back in the second episode, but my hope is that now that the cards are on the table, the series moves on from this pairing.
Thankfully the other two relationships under examination are far more nuanced and complicated. Shar (CG) and Ruthie’s different trajectories continues (I grimaced so hard when Ruthie mentions she’s “babysitting” and Shar corrects that she’s “parenting”). Unlike Brodie & Mingus, writers Gay and Manhood find new avenues to explore to keep this storyline fresh, including Ruthie’s mini-breakdown when she nearly falls on one of the twins after tripping on a toy, and the pitch perfect visual of Shar’s more fulfilling relationship with Brenda (the voice of Kim Cattrall) as they watch a home renovation series together on the phone.
Despite the fact that this arc is just as predictable as Brodie and Mingus’, it’s fascinating to me how Ruthie and Shar’s relationship is far more interesting. Perhaps it’s that we’re still learning new aspects about them, such as the fact that Shar has mostly given up playing drums in a punk band to become a co-parent, which would naturally cause hurt (and likely some resentment) that Ruthie won’t stop partying with “toxic bad influence” Brodie. Shar is clearly more comfortable with the sacrifices that zaddyhood requires, as evidenced by their refusal to go out after the gig with their old friend; compare this to Ruthie’s penchant for lying about going to Ghost Fag, despite the fact that it’s suuuuper easy to find her there on social media (Sidebar: I can’t wait to see the personal and professional fall-out after Ruthie is tagged drinking alcohol with her underage students. Eeek!)
But Terry, perhaps I’ll turn it over to you to unpack the final relationship: how did you feel about Noah’s confession to Julian (Ryan O’Connell) about his reliance on meth to feel something? Did you feel invested in Mingus’ family drama with mom and absent father? How do you read Ruthie’s parenting struggle? And are carpeted floors really hardwood floors with self-esteem issues?
Okay, first of all, I don’t know if this is now a meme or something but I’ve seen people say “carpeted floors are really hardwood floors with self-esteem issues” more than once this week, Joe, and that’s kind of weird. Also as someone who’s currently living in a house with 100% either hardwood floors or tiled floors, let me tell you this thought is overrated. Listen, sure hardwood floors look nice but they sure aren’t 41 year old fat guy approved. The knees going up the stairs, Joe. The knees!
Speaking of overrated, this whole Brian Kinney and Justin Taylor relationship just isn’t working between Mingus and Brodie. I know it’s one of the ways in which Queers as Folk tries to homage the original series, but these characters just feel so flat when they’re together. They’re also the most broadly drawn (probably at least partly because they are the Brian/Justin relationship so far) so that when the narrative switches from more thematically interesting couples to them it flops like a wet blanket. And the narrative never even tries to subvert expectations with the characters.
The same goes for Mingus’s home life, which is similarly uninspired. When Judy announces that Mingus’s father is absolutely, totally going to be here for dinner (“he called from the road”!), even Mingus seems bored. It would have been far more interesting if Dad had shown up. Instead, it’s just another predictable plot beat that is probably meaningless in the grand scheme of things. I don’t think the show has really given Fin Argus anything for them to really dig into, outside of the first episode.
Contrast this with Ruthie in an episode that continues to authentically facture the relationship between her and Shar. While “Choke” hits a number of familiar beats (we all knew that Ruthie’s partying life was eventually going to come to blows with her professional life), it’s still enthralling to watch, particularly as the dominoes are laid out episode-to-episode.
Even Shar is wise to Ruthie’s ways at this point, telling Brenda that Ruthie said she was going to the gym, but Shar knows she’s going to Ghost Fag. Their growing divide is relatable for parents, I’m sure, but it also quietly interrogates queer culture. At the macro level, we love to party and Queer as Folk explores that gray realm between trying to settle down mixed with friends who are into sex, drugs and rock and roll. It’s a delicate balance beam and I think their relationship is the most intriguing to watch because of it.
I’m also curious to see whether we learn more about Ruthie’s desire to be a parent. Because it seems as if this is something she did for Shar, but she’s not really into it. I don’t think Ruthie wants to be a parent and that’s an intriguing complication that continues to paint these characters as messy.
Which leaves Noah and Julian, a relationship I’m slowly warming to. Noah getting caught looking up pictures of Chris Meloni’s butt is relatable content…but c’mon dude. That’s what your phone is for. Keep that off the work computer, noob!
I’m glad Noah finally told someone about his addiction to meth and his need to keep using more and more in an attempt to find that feeling that Daddius once gave him. It’s an emotional moment, albeit poorly timed at a restaurant (and to cap off their first real date, to boot).
Julian’s response of “I don’t know what to say” felt authentic. The two of them wrestling with it later that night, however? Not so much. Nor did Julian’s insistence on no PDA (“it’s a small town”) or his reluctance to tell Brodie. The three of you live in the same house and you’re staying overnight in Noah’s bed. It’s going to come out and it’s going to be a whole lot worse if Brodie discovers it instead of being told about it.
My biggest concern about the addiction storyline is that I really don’t want to see Queer as Folk be a “pain porn” sad fest all the time. Noah struggling with work and what he wants for himself after a traumatic event is enough; I don’t particularly want to go down another addiction storyline because those kinds of storylines tend to define a character.
Overall, I’m with you, Joe, that “Choke” is a slight episode. It feels like the transitory episode that bridges the first half of a season with the dominoes unfolding in the back half. So I’m curious if you think those pieces are going to fall soon, with Ruthie being tagged in dozens of Instagram comments? Do you think Mingus and Brodie are going to continue this uneasy relationship? What do you want to see from Noah and Julian’s story? And, have you ever been to a drag wrestling show? I didn’t even know that was a thing!
I’ll confess that I am Ruthie in this situation, Terry: I have a former student that I taught at Uni who now moonlights as a drag queen, who I *believe* may have done drag wrestling (Toronto: come support Rhys Indigo!) So I knew it was a thing, though I’ve yet to see it in the flesh!
The inclusion of something so fantastical…within Noah’s house, tells us that Queer As Folk is still trafficking in the realm of fiction. Which is probably something that we need to keep in mind as we examine what is working for us on the show, and what we’re constructively critiquing.
Seeing something as flamboyant and exciting as drag wrestling is fun because it’s quirky and unusual, even if it doesn’t entirely make sense that this is an actual house and Noah’s house probably hasn’t been zoned as a bar.
Or that minors were seemingly able to waltz in, grab alcohol and casually Instagram Live themselves without this place immediately being shut down. In real life, Ghost Fag would have been a one and down and the neighbours would have hit them with a noise code violation, and that would have been the end of it.
In the world of the show: drag wrestling and disability orgies.
For the relationships on the show, though, I do feel like Queer As Folk is aiming for realism. So regardless of what we think of Mercury’s ability to get into the club, this is absolutely going to fuck with Ruthie’s job stability. It’s intriguing that it comes in the same episode as Noah’s career setback. The two feel like they’re quietly in conversation with one another: while we’re rapidly putting the events of the premiere and Babylon behind us (this episode takes place six months after), it’s clear that the people at the club that night have been fundamentally changed in a way that has compromised the paths their lives were on.
We don’t know if Noah was in the running to become partner at his job, or if Ruthie was a great partner to Shar before this, but we do know that they’re fucking things up professionally WAY more now. It’s as if the shooting unmoored them and now they don’t know what they want or where they’re heading…and that’s really fertile narrative ground to explore.
Now, do I want to see Noah spiral and struggle with addiction? Not really…if only because we’ve seen countless queer stories that have tackled the subject before. Ruthie, on the other hand…well everything is new when it comes to telling trans narratives because we’ve been so starved for representation that nearly any story is going to feel fresh (though for the record: I’m with you that she and Shar’s storyline feels incredibly relatable, despite my complete lack of interest in kids).
I can’t help but wonder if Brodie and Mingus will become more interesting now that they’re free of this Brian and Justin redo. Imagine how much more interesting Brodie will be when he has to grapple with Noah and Julian’s relationship? And who is Mingus when he’s not pinning for Brodie? Unfortunately I think it’s going to be “will they, won’t they” with these two, so Brodie learning the truth will likely send him spiraling into Mingus’ confused arms.
Which, for the record, I don’t want…
What about you, Terry? We’re running out of episodes, so what do you hope Queer As Folk addresses before the end of the season? Is there any way that the show name drops Meth and then doesn’t pack that pipe? And what will happen first: Ruthie getting fired or Shar absolutely ripping her a new one?
As unrealistic as Ghost Fag operating out of what amounts to a penthouse home is…I want to go to there, at least once! And I would love to see Drag Wrestling.
But onto more pressing matters. Moving into the final set of episodes, I have to assume that Brodie will learn both of Daddius and Julian and that will presumably cause huge friction between him and Noah (and probably Julian, if we’re being honest). Noah’s been sneaking around with the Daddius news since episode one and Julian has been wanting to keep their relationship secret for a bit now that I can’t imagine Brodie will take either bits of news (particularly in tandem) very well.
A show can’t show a character continually going back to a meth pipe without having the character relapse. I could very well see the Daddius/Julian reveal and (presumably) Brodie’s resulting outrage as a testing point.
You mentioned the way that Ruthie and Noah’s stories are in conversation with each other, so with Noah losing his job I can’t imagine the show would recycle that storyline with Ruthie so quickly. If this were the real world? I can’t imagine the news of her partying with her students wouldn’t result in her removal, but in the world of Ghost Fags and ghost Daddiuses, I think she’ll be fine (for now). But that reckoning with Shar has been building all season…
I took a peak and according to the plot synopsis, next episode is probably going to give us a bit more insight into Ruthie and Brodie’s relationship in high school…and I’m really excited to see what that entails!
We’ll find out when we go back to Gayly Dreadful for episode six, “Pretend You’re Someone Else”
Queer as Folk is available in its entirety on Peacock