The Crowded Room takes a very long-winded route to get to its end, and even then, the general takeaway can be that the miniseries is about dissociative identity disorder, and that mental illness can be some kind of superpower. I agree with the former because that is the show’s subject matter, but I am skeptical about the latter because it’s a slippery slope. That said, what I think is its most compelling theme is the self-destructive reaction to abuse. During the concluding moments of the show, we learn that Danny’s biological father had issues, which is why Candy ran away from him. When she got involved with Marlin, she assumed that he wouldn’t turn out to be as horrible as her former husband. The assumption turned into an aggressive form of dependency, which made her look away from the abuse that Marlin was inflicting upon Danny. Candy suffered in silence, and Danny’s alter egos took over for him because the reality of his situation was so hard for him to handle.
Rya’s (the criminal psychologist who unpacked Danny’s mind) inference was that, when the human mind gets exhausted after tolerating everything that life throws at it for years, it doesn’t pick and choose how it is going to cope. According to her theory, the human mind searches for reasons to understand how an individual has landed in the situation they are in. In doing so, it makes the fatal mistake of putting the onus on the victim and not the perpetrator or the combination of random things that happen in life. Rya thought that the process of faulting oneself for one’s predicament gave the person an illusion of control, thereby making them think that their suffering was the punishment they were getting for making mistakes, and hence they deserved to be in this perpetual state of oppression. The truth of the matter was that neither Danny nor Candy were in control of the things that happened to them; Marlin was. So, until and unless they realized that cold, hard fact, they wouldn’t be able to move forward and heal.
As mentioned before, Danny and Candy reacted to the abuse they were facing in very different ways. Danny relied on his alter egos, and Candy relied on the abuser, i.e., Marlin. We will be here all day if we go back and forth about why somebody does that or how we, as passive observers, would’ve done things differently. But the truth is that Candy found some weird kind of solace in the fact that she had somebody to lean on after all this time, even though that person was abusing her own son 24×7. Going by Danny’s description of Candy, she just wasn’t a decisive person, which was a result of the circumstances that she had been through. I mean, it’s expected of mothers to stand by their child (or children) no matter what. But that universal rule goes out of the window when a person’s understanding of right and wrong has been warped to a dizzying degree. Of course, that brings up the topic of forgiveness and whether you should empathize with a person whose indecisiveness and spinelessness fundamentally changed the trajectory of your life.
Like everything else in the world, there aren’t any rules to forgiveness unless it’s something catastrophic like genocide or mass murder. Well, to be honest, I can’t say for sure if that’s even the case anymore because courts and people all around the world are championing fascists and mass murderers because it fits their definition of politics. But that’s a broader topic. Let’s just stick to the relatively low stakes of The Crowded Room. The biggest factor when it comes to forgiving someone like Candy is empathy. Does she deserve it, especially when we know that she wasn’t at fault and was merely prioritizing self-preservation over everything else? Is it okay to look at the reason behind one’s actions and the result of one’s actions separately? Well, Rya did give Candy the benefit of the doubt because she had an outsider’s perspective on everything that went down. However, in Danny’s case, he wasn’t able to do the same because he bore the brunt of Candy’s behavior. Therefore, it all boils down to Candy’s ability to forgive herself instead of looking for it from someone else. By the end of the miniseries, we knew that Candy was living on her own and away from Marlin. If that gave her the opportunity to do some self-reflection, maybe she should take that as a win and move forward.
Now, things are a little different when it comes to Danny. His alter egos not only protected him from external harm, but they also kept him away from the realization that he was a victim at all. The working theory is that it was his way of disassociating from his reality while also allowing the various aspects of his psyche to function as individual, sentient beings. So, while Candy was in a toxic relationship with Marlin, Danny was in a kind of toxic relationship with himself because all his alter egos weren’t necessarily protecting him. Jack, in particular, wanted Danny to stay broken so that his alter egos could exist. He was under the impression that therapy would erase them from Danny’s mind and that their absence would make Danny susceptible to all kinds of harm. Jack refused to see that he and the other alter egos were deteriorating Danny’s physical and mental health and that it was necessary for him to seek medical help instead of relying on his own broken parts. But does that mean Danny can never trust himself and has to depend on therapy and doctors to keep him stable? Well, it is complicated.
Rya was of the opinion that Danny was very intelligent and imaginative. That was why his mind was able to compartmentalize everything that he had faced and even concoct fictional backstories that would allow things to stay that way. So, in a very twisted fashion, he was helping himself deal with the shock and trauma of the abuse that he had faced. He was self-dependent while imagining that others were helping him. Rya believed that as soon as Danny realized that the people he thought were aiding him throughout his life were just projections of his personality, he would become self-dependent. That said, the first step after becoming self-dependent would be to admit that he was a victim of abuse and that he wasn’t to blame for what he had undergone. Rya’s theory worked out because, after recognizing the existence of his alter egos and the reason behind their existence, Danny understood that he didn’t have a twin brother who faced Marlin’s torture. It was him all along. That, in turn, helped him understand that he didn’t need to break himself into pieces and suffer. Marlin was the one who needed to suffer.
The weird thing about The Crowded Room is that, and correct me if I am wrong, even after Candy and Danny came to terms with the fact that they shouldn’t blame themselves for what they had faced, and Marlin should be punished, Marlin was able to roam around scot-free. We hear that he even stalked Candy for a few weeks and then disappeared. That’s a rapist! And nothing happened to him. The court acknowledged that Danny was a victim of abuse and that his actions were justified. But they didn’t put the cause of those actions, i.e., Marlin, behind bars? Am I supposed to assume that that is a commentary on how the justice system is flawed and that real justice is a pipedream? Well, even if I do that, the miniseries is still at fault for not properly addressing the fact that that was the point it was trying to make with Danny’s acquittal and Marlin’s freedom. Also, it’s a fictional show with fictional characters and a fictional narrative. It wouldn’t have hurt the showrunners to come up with something optimistic after putting its central character through such a grueling ordeal. Anyway, that’s just my opinion. Feel free to watch The Crowded Room, form your own opinion, and share your thoughts with us.