Created and written by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, on the surface Roar plays out almost like a feminist spin on the beloved, dystopian sci-fi series Black Mirror. What cuts this Apple TV Series above the rest is the sheer talent and passion poured into it. The contribution of women on and off-screen can be witnessed and felt in every episode. Based on the book of the same name by Cecelia Ahern, Roar is a short story collection attempting to target every type of woman. The anthology series follows the same format as each of the eight episodes unfolds around different types of women.
EPISODE 1 – ‘THE WOMAN WHO DISAPPEARED’
The series kicks off with a steady slow burn. The Woman Who Disappeared follows Wanda (Issa Rae), a Black writer who finds herself on the receiving end of some recent success. As she reluctantly dips her toe in the capitalistic benefits of her newfound fame and glory, she gradually starts to disappear. Less and less people begin to notice her until she becomes entirely invisible in her most important moment – the surprise virtual reality reveal of her book (a childhood memoir).
On the sci-fi surface, the tale of an invisible woman is hardly remarkable. Yet, the episode successfully reflects and replicates the daily and professional imperceptible barriers Black women face, providing genuine and often ignored commentary in the climax of the episode as Wanda says “Fuck it” and turns to face her corporate co-workers, in the assumed confrontation of their exploitation of her experience. The perspective The Woman Who Disappeared presents is still rarely showcased, establishing an honest and authentic reflection with serious yet light-hearted, uplifting execution. Directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, the first episode of Roar is a brilliant, moving beginning and sets the emotional standard for the rest of the series.
EPISODE 2 – ‘THE WOMAN WHO ATE PHOTOGRAPHS’
An executive producer of the series, Nicole Kidman takes the leading role in the second episode; The Woman Who Ate Photographs takes a closer look at the struggles of family responsibility, dealing with a looming illness and the delicate relationship between mother and daughter/sick parent and caring child. Certainly the slowest episode of them all, episode two opts for an empathetic, close up examination of a caretaker/dependant role reversal.
Kidman’s character offer’s her home and son’s bedroom to her sick mother. Diagnosed with early-onset dementia, the sick mother is reluctant to move, as Kidman drives a moving truck to her house and helps her pack. Compelled by nostalgia, Kidman’s character discovers old photo albums and begins devouring different photographs, instantly reliving and feeling the memory. The consumption turns into a subtle coping mechanism as the relationship between a sick mother and an anxious caring daughter is explored. Directed by Kim Gehrig, The Woman Who Ate The Photographs serves as a reminder to cherish the profound moments and to never forget the little ones.
EPISODE 3 – ‘THE WOMAN WHO WAS KEPT ON A SHELF’
A fantastic feminist parable, The Who Was Kept On A Shelf opens with a wistful monologue from Amelia (Betty Giplin) as she reflects upon her mother’s wisdom and her childhood memories of beauty pageants. “If I had to choose between you being smart or beautiful, I’d choose beautiful every time.” Proclaims her mother, as if callously preparing her daughter for a world of objectification. The episode plays out as a poetic metaphor for every woman placed on a seemingly beautiful pedestal.
Perceived as boundless admiration, worship and devotion, businessman Harry builds his lovely girlfriend Amelia a giant pastel pink shelf she can sit upon for the rest of her days. Although an obscure offer, she is tempted by the promise of luxury, comfort and satisfaction of every desire. Her new life begins, married and perched upon the shelf content – for now. The number of daily romantic gestures, gifts and attention she receives starts to dwindle as married life continues. Each passing day Harry seemingly cares less and less about his spouse until he turns his back on her completely, leaving her alone most of the time, still perched on her pedestal three years later. In an inevitable and glamorous fashion, the first heel drops, then the other, as she jumps down on her quest to freedom and eventually smashes the very shelf she called home into pieces.
Satisfying and executed with a charming fairy-tale goofiness, The Woman Who Was Kept On The Shelf is an uplifting homage to self-love, independence and taking ownership of oneself. The reclamation of one’s identity from restrictive patriarchal standards is no easy task, but Roar presents it as a modern fairy-tale, exploring the aftermath of happy ever after and the pros and cons of the privileged, perfect pedestal lifestyle. The end is open to much interpretation, as Amelia’s quest for freedom leads her right back to a pedestal, this time built by her own hands. The implication of whether this is a better thing is certainly there, although foreshadowing an even bigger industry of patriarchal standard – the beauty industry.
EPISODE 4 – ‘THE WOMAN WHO FOUND BITE MARKS ON HER SKIN’
By far the goriest and most sinister entry in the series, The Woman Who Found Bite Marks On Her Skin opens with Ambiya (Cynthia Erivo) in labour induced agony as she is forced to give birth to her son. Haemorrhaging begins as the doctors announce the labour as a “blood bath”. The screen cuts to black and we are greeted months later by a smiling, healthy Ambiya, preparing herself for her return to work as her husband (Jake Johnson) stays home to care for their two kids.
Delving into the complexities of having it all, the fourth episode provides insight into the endless, constant gruelling work required to juggle two kids, a heterosexual marriage, an important career and erratic emotional anguish that is eating Ambiya from the inside out. Horrid, sore bite marks appear on her chest and spread daily as the stress, dysfunction and guilt build. Half her face covered in teeth marks, Ambiya’s anger unleashes, provoked by corporate co-workers. Forced out by the rage, a tooth gorges its way out of her knuckle in a truly sickening fashion.
Overall, the drizzle of horror over this otherwise tale of motherhood hardship and ‘having it all’ provides a gripping, nasty reflection of the consequences of unaddressed, repressed guilt. Unlike the other entries in the series, The Woman Who Found Bite Marks On Her Skin leans further into its darker moments, relying less on its humorous likeability to pack a punch. Directed by Rashida Jones, this episode stands alone in its horrifically visual display, yet stands united in its happy ending – something Roar declares all women deserve.
EPISODE 5 – ‘THE WOMAN WHO WAS FED BY A DUCK’
Entirely influenced by a New Yorker article analysing duck sex and the patriarchy (seriously…), it’s no surprise The Woman Who Was Fed By A Duck tackles the horrid, dramatic rollercoaster of a toxic romantic relationship.
Alyssa (Merrit Wever), a single, thirty-something student, spends her days studying in the local park, enjoying crude facetime with her heavily pregnant sister (Riki Lindhome) and watching the ducks. After a touchy conversation about Alyssa’s love life and a quirky joke about a duck’s dick, an encounter with an actual talking duck named Larry (Justin Kirk) leads to some rather hilariously questionable moments and some much darker ones.
Overall, The Woman Who Was Fed By A Duck is a bizarre yet thoroughly enjoyable parable of the lingering patriarchal love that can so easily manifest.
EPISODE 6 – ‘ THE WOMAN WHO SOLVED HER OWN MURDER’
By far one of the strongest episodes in the entire season, The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder takes the classic cop drama duo of two angry white dudes investigating yet another murder of a dead woman and adds a hilarious, dry feminist spin on the crime genre’s love of butchered women. Murdered, tied to a tree and dressed in a skimpy bunny costume, two male detectives get to work on analysing Rebecca Moss’ corpse. After a sudden realisation of self-awareness, Rebecca (Allison Brie) appears alongside her own body, invisible, ghostly and horrified at her own death.
Reluctantly placing her reliance and the mystery of her murder in the hands of two overtly masculine, self-observed detectives, Rebecca slowly pieces together the puzzle of her unjust death. After the detectives come up with nothing over than a few bruises, the ghostly heroine takes charge of her afterlife and gets to work finding her allusive killer. Aside from the obvious commentary on the crime genre’s lack of interest in a female victim’s life, the gloomier commentary is best left to its own secret reveal. The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder shines for its impacting message, using every second of the 30 minutes run time to subtly persuade you of false killers for maximum effect in the climactic grand reveal.
EPISODE 7- ‘THE WOMAN WHO RETURNED HER HUSBAND’
Directed by Quyen Tran, The Woman Who Returned Her Husband is a dystopian tale of the currency of marriage. Dissatisfied with her marriage and her husband’s lack of involvement, Anu (Meera Syal) returns her spouse to the department store in exchange for a new one. 37 years of marriage cease and Anu begins getting to know herself through a series of different husbands, eventually settling on single life and self-exploration.
All is seemingly well until Vik (Bernard White), Anu’s ex-husband, moves in across the road with a petty neighbour. Jealous, slightly obsessed and lost, Anu eventually finds her way back to Vik and the episode proclaims that sometimes people have to grow apart to grow back together. Not an ode to the single life in any format, The Woman Who Returned Her Husband is a lesson in the longevity of relationships and the experience of heterosexual marriage. Somewhat relatable, and wrapped in a charming layer of wit, this episode remains one of the more forgettable.
EPISODE 8-‘THE GIRL WHO LOVED HORSES’
Set in the wild, wild west, the final entry in the series follows horse-loving teenager Jane (Fivel Stewart) on her mission for revenge after her father is unjustly murdered in the middle of town, and his horse stolen. After slicing her hair off and donning her father’s garments the morning after his death, Jane’s revenge duty is abruptly halted by her old childhood chum Milly (Kara Hayward), who arrives to pay her respects. Like any decent friend, Milly refuses to let Jane go on her quest alone, so the two set out to take back what is rightfully Jane’s.
A strong, silent type, Jane is a girl of few words, which contrasts greatly with her pal Milly, a cheerful chatterbox and daughter to the town’s pastor. It’s the charming duo’s dynamic that not only carries the episode, but also gets them in, and then out of trouble. Directed by So Yong Kim, The Girl Who Loved Horses is an uplifting ending to Roar’s first season. A charismatic tale of two young gal pals against the patriarchy, the episode provides commentary on the toxic reign of masculinity and the importance of comradery and best friendship. The western setting is a warm and welcomed change in pace and aesthetic. Although it does not stray too far from the series’ overall quirky, colourful design this episode feels lacking in its commentary and general emotional pull and could have easily evolved into something far greater by the inclusion of a queer perspective and storyline.
Whilst the series attempts to encapsulate stories for all women, none of the eight episodes features any stories of queer women or even attempts to produce a commentary on the experiences of women’s lives outside of heterosexuality and heteronormativity. This lack of representation leaves a blind spot in the ethos of the show, as every episode is certainly relatable, although not every episode is entirely representative. There are mass amounts of women’s experiences left uncharted. Roar should aim to broaden its horizons in terms of inclusion and further radicalise its commentary if a memorable impact is to be made in future seasons. Looking beyond this, Roar is still a fantastic piece of feminist commentary and almost every episode achieves its goal of radical relatability, easily enjoyable for everyone.
by Kelsie Dickinson