In the slap, the children are only satellites, the adults in orbit behave badly
Dylan Schombing, Melissa George and Thandie Newton in The Slap.
Photo: Virginie Sherwood / NBC
There is a moment in Slap her, NBC’s eight-episode exploration of what happens when you punch someone else’s child (spoiler: nothing good!), after the post-attack hysteria finally subsides. A sweet young tween walks up to his dad to apologize for what just happened. He is neither the victim nor the aggressor. He’s just the 12-year-old boy who was unlucky enough to be made responsible while the adults drank, argued and held the hands of students who aren’t their wives.
The child is Adam (Khalid Alzouma). His father, Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), also not directly involved in the previous violence, immediately absolves him. Everyone is moving forward. If you check your phone at the wrong time, you will miss it.
But for all there is to say about the slap itself, it’s these excuses that remain with me. This is one of the few times the show – or the argumentative adults that populate it – cares about how all the screaming, beating, and straining affects the most vulnerable. The causes of the incident and what complicates its consequences have much less to do with how adults feel and treat their children than with how they feel and treat each other. These are people with messy lives; children are just another stain.
The abdication of adult responsibility that leads to Adam’s apologies is, unsurprisingly, also what leads to the slap in the face in the first place. The installation: A group of children are left to play Wiffle ball, unsupervised, at Hector’s 40th birthday barbecue. A Ruthian wooden bat somehow appears in the hands of Hugo (Dylan Schombing), a school-aged child, who we understand to be a problem child , because we saw him earlier commit atrocities like not sharing an iPad mini and needing a haircut. After knocking, Hugo begins to wave his wood in the general direction of the other little humans in the backyard. No adult does anything until Harry (Zachary Quinto), six foot big angry beard, takes the bat off, grabs Hugo brutally, gets kicked in the shins and does the worst possible thing. things. He hits a helpless 5-year-old.
It’s easy to watch the scene play out – especially knowing how it ends, since you’ve seen the promos – and assume things would never get this far though. you had been there. I certainly did. Events do not create a steam engine surge towards their open-palm inevitability; they stutter, firing flares along the way. The wooden bat in Hugo’s hand might as well be a semaphore flag signaling SOMEONE TO STOP THIS. In a world where parenting trumps everything else, the slap would have been entirely preventable, as would Adam’s guilt, as well as, presumably, a number of interpersonal tragedies. Slap her, in a way that is both refreshing and off-putting, does not live in this world.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of parenting styles on the parade. There’s Gary (Thomas Sadoski) and Rosie (Melissa George), whose hands-off approach produced Hugo the Devil. There are Harry and Sandy (Marin Ireland), alpha wrestlers who expect the same from their son. Hector and his wife Aisha (Thandie Newton) seem perfectly normal, save for all this up close. And then there are Koula (Maria Tucci) and Manolis (Brian Cox), Greek grandparents attached to old world ideals. There are many land mines laid.
Some even manage to escape. “You two don’t know how to raise a child, you two,” Harry scolds Gary and Rosie. (They do, they just don’t know how to raise a kid like Harry which suits them just fine). Gary, meanwhile, sees children as “mysteries beyond our wildest comprehension… They are not even ours. They are long stay guests. There are lots of great declarative moments like this, neon neon signs declaring a credo of educating children with all the subtlety of a medieval morality game.
Corn Slap her is as much a serious meditation on parental philosophies as Moby dick is a serious meditation on the vents. Children are just satellites, distrustful orbiting adults misbehaving. Even the defining incident of the show isn’t about the kid with the bat, not really. Harry is an angry man, provoked all afternoon because of his wealth, his politics. He would slap everyone at that barbecue if he could. With a big enough hand, you begin to understand, he would slap the entire western hemisphere.
That is why is it okay to hit a child? is not a question that interests me (of course not, do not hit the children, they are small and helpless and do not understand). But the way Slap her dramatizes how life can reduce our ability to become parents, to protect Adam from his guilt and Hugo from himself, and the backyard worth of spectators from a wooden baseball bat? How does that remind us that having big ideas about parenting doesn’t matter a lot when your focus is constantly wandering away from your kids? It stings a lot.
Brian Barrett is the former editor-in-chief of Gizmodo. He is currently launching a parenting site with the Awl network.