Here’s a scene from a gem of a show I’ve recently found on Netflix- Feel Good. It’s funny, heartfelt, and attacks each topic with tenderness and humanity, while also maintaining a relatively lighthearted rom-com structure.
The Scene: Season 1, Episode 4 of Feel Good
The Writers: Mae Martin & Joe Hampson
Where to Watch: Netflix
Scene Context: Mae, while suffering from drug addiction, was kicked out by her mother when she was a teenager. Now an adult, Mae wants to make amends as part of her 12 step recovery program. Her mother, however, has never discussed this chapter of their lives with her. They are at a beach boardwalk.
- Mae wants an apology from her mother.
- Her mother, Linda, wants Mae to stop talking about the past.
- Mae sits with her mother. George, Mae’s girlfriend, sits with her father. Mae tells her mom, jokingly, to buckle up. Her mother doesn’t find it funny.
- The ride starts. Mae immediately announces that she wants to have a discussion. Her mom says she wants to enjoy the ride.
- Mae asks why she was kicked out. Her mother offers that they asked her to leave- says there’s a difference. A ghost prop shoots out and scares Mae.
- Mae asks where her mom was after she got kicked out. Her mother says she doesn’t plan to discuss it. Mae scoffs, annoyed.
- Angry with Mae, Linda begins to go in. Says she gave Mae everything, only to see her spend it on drugs.
- Mae tries to defend herself, says she was running from something- pointing towards home life. Linda immediately stops her, says she’s not a victim but a “privileged little girl”.
- Linda continues, pointing out that Mae was a drug dealer and stole from them. Mae tries to defend herself, but Linda continues.
- Linda argues that she can’t be responsible for Mae’s dysfunction. Mae is scared again by something on the ride, and says she needs to get off.
- Linda looks at Mae plainly, asks if she’s on drugs. Mae leaves the ride.
Why It Works:
Surprising Setting: Were this scene to take place in a kitchen or a back patio, it would be considerably less exciting. This isn’t to say the dialogue or conflict is boring, but simply that, by putting this conversation into a setting which this conversation is definitely not reserved for, the audience is engaged on a whole new level. The irony of having an intense, personal conversation on a cheap boardwalk ride is clear, giving the scene a quiet humor beneath it. Similarly, the setting is a nice mirror of their conflict, with both struggling to deal with the “ghosts” of their past. As the conversation becomes more intense, we see Mae become visually uncomfortable thanks to the shifting intensity of the ride.
From Attack to Defense: Mae starts this scene out in a position of attack. She’s aggressive and readily digs into Linda, hoping to elicit an apology. Quickly enough, Linda turns the tables, forming an argument against Mae which plainly overwhelms her and forces her to literally retreat. This shift in dynamics gives the scene a new sort of intensity that forces the audience to remain engaged and highlights a clear change in both characters.
Don’t Let Up: When Linda goes in on Mae, she goes in. She metaphorically throws Mae against the ropes and simply doesn’t stop, mixing her accusations with truth in such a way that entirely paralyzes Mae. Though somewhat brutal, it hearkens to the necessity of the scene within their relationship. If Mae and Linda want to repair their frayed relationship, it will require full and complete honesty from both parties. Though painful to hear, Linda’s diatribe against Mae is a form of honesty which she must express in one form or another. Because of this explosion, they will not only be able to reach a common ground, but it will be an understanding which feels earned to the audience.
Though the character work going into this scene is wonderfully grounded, the stand-out factor of the scene lies in it’s setting. By putting something as private as a conversation about addiction on a boardwalk ride made for children, the writers create a funny and unsettling sort of irony which permeated entirely through the relentlessly intense scene.