The stage of Kyle West’s life is carpeted in wall to wall artifice. And yet — when push comes to shove and blockbusters that prominently feature Norwegian cities need to be made — it’s none other than Kyle who has the temerity to tell us to just be ourselves — if we even know what that means.
Kyle, to lead actress (and apparently worthless human being) Amelia Briggs: “Stop acting. You’re no good at it anyway. Just be yourself — if you even have any idea what that means.”
A few examples of the layers of artifice heaped on in this episode:
Kyle uses his uncle’s oxymoronic childhood threat that “if he [Kyle] didn’t smile, he [said uncle] is gonna kick the crap out of him” as the lone descriptor of his pre-Institute life.
Megan’s interest in pornography raises concerns over artifice, especially in Terence, who chides Megan, saying that “porn is a fake version of sex,” and that she has “disconnected with Kyle and connected with a world where feelings don’t matter.”
Then there’s the titular car accident, in which Brandon Drake, star athlete and Institute recruit, causes a car accident because he failed to keep his hands at 10-and-2 (instead his hand were placed at 10-and-a-breathless-inaudible-Monica Gellar-7), only for Kyle and Megan to later see that the accident has been spun as a heroic rescue, thanks to some calls made by the ever-resourceful Terence.
And then of course there’s the overarching meta-symbolism of the fact that this is (1) a television show (2) about actors, which Megan so blithely and unironically delights in:
Megan, to idealistic theater director: “I know… I represent all of the fake Hollywood bullshit that you hate, but that’s not me. I’m an actor.”
All of this talk of artifice weighs on Megan, who is still learning to navigate the world she signed her way into. Her (seemingly real) feelings for Kyle rub up against the (obviously artificial) legal provenance of their relationship — which she is constantly and deftly reminded of by her agent/contract and by Kyle — to create an onerous psychological situation.
Megan says as much, and beseeches Kyle for a taste of reality: “You make things look one way, and then Terence snaps his fingers and you become a different person… It’s not normal. I’m supposed to be in love with you and I don’t know who you really are.”
Kyle, for his part, is “trying to figure that out” himself, seeming equally unsure, but is also avowedly certain that he is nothing without the Institute.
“I wasn’t worth knowing when I met Terence. He saved my life… Everything I have that’s good in my life I have because of Terence. Including” — painfully for Megan — Megan herself.
These lines get to the heart of the Institute. It seems to serve two purposes: (1) to do random nefarious things (like causing people to go missing who maybe aren’t really missing but I’m not sure — and I’m not sure if my confusion is warranted or if I just don’t pay attention) and more importantly (2) to completely mediate the life of Kyle West.
Kyle talks to Terence every morning. The Institute contracts his love interests. According to Kyle, Terrence saved his life. Basically, Kyle’s every experience is filtered through (or mediated by) the Institute. When they own the information, ohhh they can bend it all they want.
Because of this, I’d argue that the Institute is just a MacGuffin. I don’t really care much about the salacious details of the Institute, about Terence and Deann’s somehow edge-less threesome, or about the murder investigation, anyway.
The real story is Kyle’s and Megan’s existence in this mediated realm, and their attempts to break out of it — if they aren’t consumed in the process.
That Kyle prefers his new mediated life over his memories of the past is not surprising. Everyone dreams of being famous, which is really just existing on a more mediated plane.
And when we exist on a mediated plane, everything is, well, different. I won’t say better, but millions of people starting to live more and more of their lives online through facebook and VR-porn certainly make some kind of argument.
It’s maybe not better, but definitely easier. And comfortable. Cheap thrills with little emotional investment. And we all lead mediated existences to some extent — it’s the 21st century, baby! And beyond that, all life is mediated by our experiences and by those around us. Who’s to say what mediation is good and what is bad — after all, the Institute is a religion (I think) and all religions are some form of mediation…
But the Institute feels, at least to Megan, like mediation in a bad way. And aside from the fact that her instincts are (probably) filtered through some form of mediation, they are her instincts so they (probably) exist on some kind of psycho-physical level. I’d trust that. A (perhaps quasi) physical mooring in a mediated storm might be the only way to go.
And so The Arrangement will continue to try to cut through the levels of mediation that color the way we perceive our lives and the decisions we make the only way it knows how — through a television show. And I, for one, will be watching.