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‘Here and Now’ Season 1 Finale: Baby’s on Fire

‘Here and Now’ Season 1 Finale: Baby’s on Fire

In the episode’s most maudlin story line, the cause of Farid’s repressed trauma finally comes into focus. Made to flog himself in a public square, as a child, for defacing a poster of the Ayatollah — and then beaten to a pulp by his mentally ill mother, a pious Muslim who believed Farid’s irreverent act had gotten his father killed — he was rescued and taken to America by his uncle, Amir. Decades later, deep in the throes of his own mental illness, he tearfully flogs himself out of guilt over his father’s death and his mother’s decades-old unanswered telephone calls. He won’t listen when his wife and son assure him that he’s not responsible for what happened to his parents. Afraid for herself and their child, Layla takes Navid and leaves.

Farid finds himself at Imam Chuck’s door, the back of his white jacket stained with blood in the shape of angel wings. There’s nothing subtle about the symbolism on “Here and Now,” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But not even an actor as talented as Peter Macdissi, who plays Farid and is an executive producer of the show, can pull off material this overwrought.

If Farid’s bloody search for meaning in Islam is a figurative ascent to heaven, then there’s something hellish about Ramon’s pursuit of the man on fire. Because he’s at the top of a nearby hill when the eruption happens, he has to descend to the foot of Mt. Hood (in a mask so flimsy he’s surely inhaling all types of harmful gases) for his climactic encounter with the flaming figure. When they lock eyes, dozens of wispy humanoid shadows begin to float upward on the ashy ground behind Ramon. Then, the burning man walks away and Ramon strides toward the volcano. It’s a cryptic final shot, made even more ambiguous by the deceptively upbeat but actually quite dark Brian Eno track “Baby’s on Fire,” which plays over the closing credits.

Still, there’s a cathartic mood to this conclusion that mirrors many characters’ journeys from anger to relative peacefulness late in the episode. Duc turns to Carmen, whose intuitive powers begin to heal his nervous stomach, as they embark on a union that could become his first healthy sexual relationship. Kristen and Navid reconcile before he leaves town. Greg seems strangely comforted by his visit with Ike. The imam literally helps to heal Farid’s wounds.

The volcano is cool to look at, but in the end, “It’s Here” feels as weighed down by obvious symbolism and bereft of compelling plot developments as any other hour of “Here and Now.” Ball has heaped new ideologies and spiritual beliefs on the Bayer-Boatwrights and the Shokranis in each episode, to the extent that there’s little room left to advance the arcs of roughly a dozen characters. Many story lines have become redundant, digressive or inconsistent, instead of building suspense or bolstering thematic resonance.

“In Islam, the need to have all the answers is considered a kind of heresy,” Chuck tells Farid at one point in “It’s Here,” and the statement seems to sum up the show’s approach to storytelling. Sadly, what’s good for religious faith isn’t necessarily good for serialized television. Questions whose answers seemed imminent at the beginning of the season — about Ramon’s past, about the role his game plays in the 11:11 phenomenon and about his connection with Farid — remain unresolved after the finale. The Trump-era political overtones of early episodes have since been eclipsed by evergreen interpersonal conflicts. So it is impossible to tell whether the most recent collection of loose ends, like the homeless guy named Henry Bergen who steals Ramon’s bike and Hailey’s insistence that the treehouse fire was real, are cliffhangers or just oversights.

We may never find out. “Here and Now” has yet to be renewed for a second season — and its poor ratings, largely negative reviews and failure to insert itself into the cultural conversation don’t exactly bode well for its future. I can’t say I’ll be crying any tears if the show gets canceled; in my estimation, it’s among the weakest HBO dramas of all time and most of its cast could do much better. But I’m curious about whether anyone feels differently. Make your pro-Season 2 arguments in the comments, won’t you?

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