In the Season 3 finale of “Room 104,” the motel room that has housed three dozen different self-contained stories does something it certainly hasn’t done before: It sprouts into a rainforest.
Even if you haven’t seen the episode yet, “Room 104” executive producer Sydney Fleischmann is OK with you still knowing about it.
“Our initial reaction with a lot of things is, ‘Oh my God, that’s a spoiler! That’s gonna give away everything!’ And then we sort of talk ourselves down and remember no one has any sense of anything that happens in the room. It’s all going to be fresh and weird and new,” Fleischmann told IndieWire. “And so showing the room as a jungle is not, it’s not a spoiler, it’s really alluring and it’s weird. I think the fun part is that it’s much more than ‘the room is filled with green.'”
The details of who is behind this unexpected blossoming (the star of the episode will be a surprise to even the most eagle-eyed of trailer watchers) is right in line with the joys of this HBO show. Knowing that each episode exists within the confines of Room 104 itself means that there will always be an element of surprise in how that story unfolds.
“Due to the nature of the show and having done 24 episodes before this season, these episodes were all, ‘OK, what else can we do? How can we view this room differently? How can we tell a different story? Whose story have we not heard before?’ It was really just finding new ways to look at the room and really push the limits of it,” Fleischmann said.
Some thematic material might stay consistent across certain episodes, but one of the unintentional pillars of the show has been keeping all these installments separate. Fleischmann said that there have been various attempts to try to work in a continuation or a revisit or a double episode. So far, none of those approaches have ended up on screen, but that’s still right in line with the natural way the show has evolved over the past few years.
“Within the show, we’ve kind of organically avoided that,” Fleischmann said. “We’ve hit this wall where we feel like any time we try to do that, it’s just become unnatural and it feels forced. Season 1 we tried to do all sorts of things with Easter eggs, but any time we tried to insert something it just felt wrong. So we’ve let the show tell us when it wants something to come back up.”
Following the show wherever it leads meant that the show broke through into uncharted genre territory this season. With a story about father and son artists Jimmy Ray Flynn and Gianni Arone, “Room 104” finally broached a documentary episode. As both men talk about their family relationship, their work, and the various divisions and circumstances that have complicated both pursuits, it’s one of the series boldest moves so far. It’s one that Fleischmann said took a while to figure out how exactly something closer to nonfiction would function in this show’s universe.
“People watched it and thought, ‘Is it real? Is it not real? Where is this going to go?’ Just having viewers trust us and trust that we’re going to tell a story that is engaging and can connect with people on some level is really cool, especially with that one,” Fleischmann said. “There was nothing on its surface scary about it. But I think that having that level of suspense and not knowing where it’s going to go just adds this additional layer to it, that additional complexity.”
Despite the closed quarters (or maybe because of that), “Room 104” can be one of the more physical challenges for a performer. This season, the show has again assembled a fascinating cast from episode to episode. Most installments feature only a handful of actors — there’s even one in Season 3 that’s effectively a solo piece. Fleischmann singled out Josh Fadem and David Paymer, who she says really committed to their ’70s cult TV-adjacent episode “Night Shift.” Late in the season, in the episode that aired last week, one performance particularly stands out.
“June Squibb in ‘Crossroads.’ I’m always amazed at actors’ stamina, just because they have to be on and they have to be in front of people for so many hours when they’re shooting. But she was one where I was just blown away by how much she threw herself into it. She loved all the cursing and she really just fully embodied the character while we were shooting,” Fleischmann said.
That episode, in which Squibb plays the older version of a character who has sold her soul and catches a glimpse of eternal damnation, also speaks to how flexible the room has become over the seasons. In “Jimmy & Gianni,” the two use the motel furniture as a canvas for a special kind of art installation. In the Sam Richardson and Steve Little-led “Drywall Guys,” one of the room’s walls undergoes an unexpected (but necessary) modification. So the set hasn’t completely remained intact, but Fleischmann said there are a few elements of the room that have survived through the various strikings and rebuildings and reworkings over the past few years.
“At the end of each season, we take down the walls, pull out the carpet and all the furniture and put it in storage. We’ve replaced some of the walls due to things that we’ve done to the room. In ‘The Fight’ episode, somebody went through the wall, so we had to replace that one. So slowly bit by bit, the room has been replaced,” Fleischmann said. “But getting it back together only takes about a week or so. So it’s really, it’s just: put it away and put it right back up again.”
That process will continue with Season 4, which HBO officially ordered back in February. Knowing that the show would be coming back, the team had time to let some of those new boundary-pushing ideas start to gestate.
“It’s been about our or five months of really letting the ideas marinate and knock around in our heads and figure out what to do with all of them,” Fleischmann said. “It’s this dance of, ‘We need time to develop and write, but we’re also really eager to get back into production.’ We don’t want to wait too long to get back into it. I think any writer would probably say it’s always too soon to start shooting, but we just pick a date and start running with it. It’s worked out well, I think.”
“Room 104” Season 3 is available to stream via HBO GO.