“The Golden Hour”

Life is Strange is the very definition of inconsistent. The penultimate episode, Dark Room, furthers that analysis, delivering the emotional punches the series has excelled at, along with weak writing and some heavy-handed situations, set to a jarring tone. It’s not without a few strong moments, though Dark Room possibly bites off more than it can chew. It’s an episode that goes from impactful highs to uncomfortable lows, scene to scene. The final product both reinforces and contradicts what has made this series special, building and breaking down the impact of its narrative and characters along the way.Life is Strange Episode1Dark Room opens strong, beginning with an emotionally affecting look at the relationship Max and Chloe could have had if things would had been different. Episode Four picks up during the alternate timeline, introduced during the heart-wrenching, final moments of Chaos Theory. It’s an interesting and empathetic exploration of an idea that had potential to turn the season’s direction, completely on its head. Though Dark Room doubles back, choosing to play things safer. It’s a rough transition that goes to betray the brave possibilities which resided in the alternate timeline. This lessens the potency that follows, as the narrative and characters both take a hit when returning to what seems natural.

Dark Room is the longest episode of the bunch, and easily the most charged-up. It undergoes constant shifts in tone–some smoother than others–encompassing a wide range of emotions from dread to triumph. What transpires between the strong opening and shocking finale, moves slow, occasionally gaining momentum in the form of a standout scene. Yet, those are somewhat infrequent in Dark Room. The episode spends a lot of time attempting to recreate interactions and pull similar strings that Life is Strange had already executed, and much better. The story, characters and choices are at their most jumbled and unorganized. Granted, we’re dealing with a narrative that’s main driving force is time reversal, but Dark Room fails to understand and build upon what made Chaos Theory great.Life is Strange2The entire episode builds up to a darker, scarier tone, as Max and Chloe’s investigation begins to reveal twisted evidence. Dark Room isn’t afraid to dive into horrifying territory, proving what seemed to be concerning was just the tip of the iceberg. The search to find Rachel Amber and uncover more about the corrupt Prescott family, ventures into much deeper, consequential waters. Life is Strange has come to embody the characteristics of any strong mystery or thriller story, but lacks on the presentational side. Characters still come off as awkward and contrived via inconsistent voice acting and lackluster writing; the worst of all being the unnatural reactions characters have in response to horrific events. Dark Room isn’t short on fear, immediate danger, and sadness, either, making the causal reactions not only feel completely out of place, but upsetting. As the series continues to become increasingly heavy and mature, the imperfect nature of the writing and performances need to be ironed out, if not too late–it’s one gaping loophole Life is Strange can’t seem to get right.

Dark Room left me as much intrigued as it did conflicted. The events that come to a head in Life Is Strange’s penultimate episode, are somewhat hard to swallow as they’re coated with awkward execution and unstable pacing. I’m left pondering various questions, but they’re not the type that stem from thought-provoking proposal. Rather, they are the sort that come from sloppy storytelling, and not from good foreshadowing or advanced messaging. Max’s big choices and the options she is given to tackle them–or lack there of–don’t align coherently with the compassionate girl the season has portrayed, thus far. Some sequences corner characters and certain plot threads just for the sake of shock value, making both more muddled than meaningful.Life is Strange4Conclusion: Dark Room is a rollercoaster of an episode. It’s able to deliver some strong emotional blows and link past decisions in a big way, but doesn’t have enough confidence to capitalize upon their impact. The constant obligation to shock and shift tones Dark Room forces upon itself, unconsciously compromises its characters for the sake of darkening the mystery. While the spotty voice acting and inconsistent writing is somewhat to be expected by now, it doesn’t change the fact that it fails to do Life is Strange’s interesting characters the justice they deserve. Strong intro and outro sections go to prove Dontnod has what it takes to warp up the season with flying colors, regardless of the position and pressure this episode has landed them in. The pressure to “go big” is inevitably what held Dark Room back, robbing it from shining and relishing in its stronger, more meaningful moments.

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