Vulnerability & Dragons
Before Graham Linehan went completely off the rails and became a full-time internet crank, he wrote some of the best British sitcoms of the 2000s. Black Books and The IT Crowd rank among my favorite shows of all time—stellar casts, beautiful set designs, and a distinct brand of humour keep me coming back to both even today. And in my most recent rewatch of the latter series, one episode struck me in particular as not just well-written and funny, but touching.
The episode, “Jen the Fredo,” opens with oddball IT specialist Moss discussing his roleplaying game with manager Jen, who is more interested in applying for the newly-vacant Entertainments Manager position in the company. Despite Moss’s attempts to dissuade her, she decides to ask Douglas, head of Reynholm Industries, to give her the job. Shortly after, our second IT drone Roy arrives, attempting to put on a brave face to cover up his recent heartbreak. One thing in particular is preventing him from moving on—his ex never said goodbye.
With our A and B plots set up, Jen soon discovers that every man to previously hold the position of Entertainments Manager has been a man—and that the last one died of a “massive heart attack.” The job essentially entails being a pimp for the worst men in the world, Phil, and two men named John. Meanwhile, Moss tries—unsuccessfully—to comfort Roy.
Similarly, Jen’s attempts to entertain the businessmen fail miserably, with their hopes of catching a “raunchy” show doused when it turns out to be The Vagina Monologues (“The next time you take us to something about talking fannies, it better be about talking fannies.) But Moss has a solution—bring Phil and the Johns to participate his roleplaying game. Roy, still depressed and nursing a glass of wine, is dragged in too, and everyone sits down to adventure through the land of Elfenheart.
The Johns and Phil are unimpressed, both with Roy’s mood and the game. “It seems gay!” Phil shouts. “Are dragons, gay, Phil?” Moss replies, “mighty warrior priests wielding golden staffs? I suppose they’re gay too.” Undaunted, Moss pushes on, assigning the men the roles of a unicorn man, a wood fairy, and the “gypsy assassin Esmerelda.” We cut to Douglas for a minute, then we’re back—and the men are now, comically, fully immersed in the game—all except Roy, who is still drinking and trying to fake his way through it at the behest of Jen.
As the party successfully completes their adventure, Moss describes how a mist surrounding the area clears to reveal a lone female figure. In a high, lilting voice, Moss addresses Roy. “Hello, Dark Harden,” he says, “’tis I, Queen Elijah, Elder to the Elves who cruelly jilted you not three moons ago.” Roy is stunned, shaking his head. “Don’t do this,” he pleads. But he pushes through.
“Hello, my queen,” Roy replies, and the conversation goes on.
“So, what are you up to?”
“Oh, you know, just keeping busy. Missing you a little bit. Yourself?”
“Usual boring pageantry. You know how the people of Pipsi Hollow love a parade.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I sense a sadness in you.”
“It’s just hard. You know? I miss you. I can still smell you on our pillow. When I close my eyes, it’s still your face I see. It’s just hard. You were here, then you were gone. What do you want?”
“It was not easy for me to come here, Dark Harden. But I had one thing I felt I needed to say to you. Goodbye.”
Roy breaks a little, holding back tears. “Goodbye.”
As the scene fades to black, Phil and the Johns are weeping.
The audience is cracking up through the entire thing—and to be sure, there’s some initial humour as Roy reluctantly roleplays with his best friend. But after that awkwardness, it’s a powerful scene that demonstrates a tenderness between men that isn’t frequently depicted in comedy. Where Moss’s more genre-typical attempts to help Roy move on by imitating a stereotypical man and commiserating with him about women failed, roleplaying gave them a space outside of their normal interactions to work through difficult feelings. As the episode closes, the two friends are laughing and joking together again.
Sometimes we need that kind of space to open up. Whether it be visiting a therapist’s office, getting high, or playing a game about wizards and warriors, those of us who have trouble letting our guard down often benefit from creating situations where it feels a little safer to express ourselves and recognize our emotions.
And while Linehan now seems to be more interested on sowing hatred and mistrust than telling interesting stories or simply funny ones, that doesn’t change the fact that this episode of The IT Crowd is testament to the strength we draw from friendship and to the necessity of letting ourselves be vulnerable to heal from emotional pain and achieve mutual understanding with others—perhaps some lessons Linehan himself ought to learn himself.