Saturday, April 07, 2018

ATLANTA: "Teddy Perkins": What the faduck?

I'm gonna outline how I think the mechanics of this amazing slice of gothic horror worked. A (hopefully) straightforward-ish explanation of what people did when and why. If you haven't watched the episode yet, stop reading now, for beyond this paragraph, there be spoilers!~

My take is based on two big asks, the true identities and relationship between "Teddy" and "Benny."

1. The man who introduces himself as Theodore "Teddy" Perkins is actually Benny Hope. There has never been a "Teddy" apart from this alias of Benny's. Darius is basically correct that Benny created the "Teddy" persona to cover up/deny what he did to himself—and what happened to him—as Benny. Sometimes, Benny himself forgets that he's Benny, turning his cover into a genuine delusion.

2. "Benny," the man in the wheelchair who shows up at the end of the episode, is actually Benny's father. I like to think that he's actually Benny, Sr. and "Teddy" is Benny, Jr., which helps explain why "Teddy" without hesitation says, "Benny! You're alive!" when he rolls out of the elevator.
Of course, it could simply be the delusion.

What happened…

1. "Teddy" kills "Benny" a short time before Darius arrives. Benny stabs his father in the gut while he's in his wheelchair in the upstairs piano room. Darius's arrival apparently interrupts his clean-up of the scene. 
2. When "Teddy" explains to Darius that he doesn't have a butler, he plays back his reminders. "Wash your hands…immediately," is a reminder to clean his father's blood from them. 
3. When "Teddy" goes wandering off after that, Darius can't stand to remain in the room with the crack'd Owl's Casket. So he goes wandering as well. We then see that "Teddy" has the mansion wired for video, and can see and track a visitor's movements throughout his home. 
4. Eventually Darius follows the sound of piano music upstairs to the piano room. "Teddy" keeps him from entering, but Darius can see a wheelchair set in front of the upright with colored keys. This clicks for Darius as matching the progression of photos in the hallway, which show Benny as he ages, the last one depicting him in a wheelchair and covered up against the sunlight.
Why was "Teddy" playing the piano when he should be focused on covering up his father's murder? Probably cuz he's bonkers. He doesn't record reminders for himself for nothing. =) 
5. "Teddy" shoos Darius away from the piano room, explaining that he'll see him downstairs with his glass of water, promising a mix of brands. This gives "Teddy" time to finish cleaning up the Piano room. 
5.a. This might be when "Teddy" moves his car. See also 7.a. 
6. After meeting up again in the gift shop, "Teddy" leads Darius to what will be his prized exhibit, a room dedicated to "Great Fathers." Featured center stage is a manakin or tailor's dummy dressed in a suit whom he calls his own father. This is when "Teddy" explains how his dad set he and his brother on a regimen at an early age to become not just good at piano, but good at life. 
6.a. I think that in "Teddy's" completed version of this exhibit, that manakin would be upholstered with his father's skin, or perhaps completely taxidermically replaced. =) 

 7. When Darius suggests they finally cut to the chase and close the colored keys deal, They return to the upstairs piano room. The wheelchair we saw earlier is gone. After "Teddy" leaves to turn on the elevator, Darius notices a drop of blood on one of the keys. "Teddy" missed a spot when cleaning up. 
7.a. This might be when "Teddy" moves his car. See also 5.a. 
8. Darius loads the piano onto the elevator and presses the button for the first floor. However, he ends up in the basement—"Fine, destiny." There he encounters "Benny" who is actually "Teddy," dressed exactly as we last saw him, but with the addition of a black hat, wrap, gloves, and a blue face mask/bandage that covers everything but his eyes and mouth. Darius sees through this charade, but plays along because, bonkers, remember? Without speaking, "Benny" communicates to Darius that Teddy will kill them both and that he needs Darius to get him a gun from the attic to protect himself. Darius plays along and tells "Benny" that once he moves his piano into his car, he'll be back with his gun. 
9. Darius rolls the piano out the front door only to find that his U-Haul has been blocked in by the Hopemobile. He goes back into the mansion to find "Teddy." He finds him reviewing some home movies of one of Benny's piano session with his abusive drill sergeant of a father. Darius explains that he's been blocked in. "Teddy" says that he'll move the car. I think at this point, "Teddy" might be fine letting Darius leave with the piano. However, Darius then asks to use the bathroom, which to "Teddy" sounds like an excuse to move around the house. "Teddy" was the one who chalked to Darius in the basement that a gun was in the attic, so he assumes that that is where Darius is heading. Now Darius is a potential evildoer-slash-enemy, whether he believes it was "Teddy" or Benny he spoke to in the wheelchair.
You can see the flick of the switch in "Teddy's" face when Darius asks about the bathroom. 
10. "Teddy" has Darius cuff himself to a chair in the foyer. This allows him to put down the gun and have some last words with Darius. His plan seems to be to kill Darius and stage things to frame him as a home invader who killed "Benny," his father. 
11. Darius may be the best possible person to stop this gothic clockwork. But even his grace is not enough. Just as "Teddy" denies Darius's beautiful notion of Stevie Wonder's seeing through music, the elevator arrives, revealing the real "Benny."
Donald Glover's "Teddy's" look of shock through the mask of his face is amazing.
"Benny" picks up the shotgun and kills "Teddy."
We know this is the real "Benny" and that he's been attacked by "Teddy" because although he does seem to be wearing exactly what "Teddy" was wearing when he appeared to Darius in the basement, his white shirt is soaked with blood over his belly and otherwise blood-spattered, too. 
12. "Benny" motions to the still handcuffed Darius to give him the fireplace poker. In shock and perhaps gratitude, Darius complies, too late realizing that "Benny" needs it to push the trigger with the gun pointed at himself.
I *think* that explanation of events works out pretty well. We only ever see photos and film of *one* child, and that is Benny Hope. There is no Theodore Perkins. "Teddy's" story of how his father trained Benny for greatness is supported by the home movie clip we get to see. It's not hard to imagine that at some point, Benny, perhaps already a caregiver for his father, snapped, and began returning abuse on the man, physically turning his father into a copy of himself, and ultimately killed him…

…planning to turn him into a prized museum exhibit. =)

Also, I don't think that "Teddy" was planning to frame and kill Darius the whole time. That exchange they have in the screening room felt to me like a (bonkers) test, and when Darius asks about the bathroom, he fails it.

Question: Did anyone catch what message board Darius learned about the piano on? Sounds something like "Buy-something-King," but not tight/short enough to be "biking."

However, The Girl came up with an even more satisfying take. After watching with her—her first, my third viewing—she suggested that I might have the "Teddy" and "Benny" thing reversed. So, "Teddy" is the father, and "Benny" is actually Benny Hope. I *really* like this idea. That makes the father's name Teddy, and he's the one who's speaking to Darius throughout the story. Benny is Teddy's son, and he's the one in the wheelchair who shows up at the end. If you watch again, keep this possibility in mind when "Teddy" speaks about his father and reacts to Darius's comments about abuse and sacrifice. Also at the pride implied in the conversion of the home into a museum.

This also adds even more chill to "Teddy's" hope early on that at the end of "Benny's" suffering they might get a masterpiece.

The Girl also explained to me that the Jacksons' parents had cosmetic surgery to match the surgically altered noses of their children. I'd never heard this before. This hints to me at a backstory of father Teddy seeing Benny altering himself, perhaps to the point of illness, and doing the same to himself, so that they would appear very alike to anyone who didn't know really know them.

I kind of wish that the episode had ended with "Benny" unlocking Darius's cuffs before killing himself. Then Darius could hightail it out of there on his own, before the cops or anyone else shows up, and the entire episode could be framed as a kind of haunting, an interaction with ghosts, a projection of a dark "what if?" from Darius's own life. Crazy talk, I know.

Alas, not to be. It all (sur)really happened. And, man, I really hope later episodes refer back to this one somehow. Maybe musically? Perhaps they've already played music by "Benny Hope" in season 2 episodes and we just didn't know.

I *really* hope that Darius doesn't count the outcome of his f'd up day out as one of his two life regrets. He did everything he could to get that piano, as well as curb "Teddy's" madness. Part of me does hope that we get to meet his agent of regret-death, tho.

Darius should be able to get that piano out of impound. After all, he signed the papers, right? And he sure as faduck deserves it.

Keep on keepin' on~