Bathrooms can be scary places.
You will agree if you’ve been watching the latest binge-worthy offerings on your small screen — Made in Heaven, Russian Doll, and The Umbrella Academy. Three very different shows, but each boasts of at least one (arguably) iconic bathroom scene.
The setting takes its cue from the silver screen — think The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, The Shining, American Psycho, and Home Alone — but the small screen adds a new dimension to the room where an average human spends a considerable amount of time, doing more than just ‘bathing’.
If some of the lately popular web series may stand as examples, the small-screen bathroom is more intimate and private, hinged on desire. But the horrors lie within, rather than in the unknown out there.
Made in Heaven’s Bathroom of Desire
Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) sits in the bathtub, wearing all the precious jewellery that she has accumulated through her marriage to business tycoon Adil Khanna (Jim Sarbh), in Made in Heaven’s iconic bathroom scene.
Tara is a decked-up Cleopatra, nursing a rage against her unfaithful husband, but also battling an inner conflict. The bathtub and the jewels — objects that scream luxury — represent her desire for social mobility, an upward climb on the ladder of class.
Fed since childhood on the idea of ‘aspiration’, Tara reaches the highest ‘heavenly’ rung of the ladder — populated by the uber-rich — only to realise that one must never kill our ‘true essence’, in the show’s controversial conclusion.
Made in Heaven explores desire in other ways too, centralising the private space of the bathroom once again. Karan’s mother walks in on teenage Karan during an intimate encounter with his school-time boyfriend Nawab, in the bathroom.
For the older Karan (Arjun Mathur), the scene marks a rite of passage — sexual desire often signifies transition from childhood to adulthood — but also serves as a reminder of intense violence and trauma.
Karan and Nawab’s love-story finds closure (symbolically) in a bathroom, as they sit gazing at each other in the bathtub, which perhaps suggests that resolutions are also a matter of privilege.
Our entry into Tara and Karan’s bathrooms and our voyeuristic gaze says something about our own desires. It also says something about the ‘human condition’ — bathrooms are contemplative but lonely spaces — a theme better explored in Netflix’s Russian Doll.
Russian Doll’s Bathroom of Infinite Time
Russian Doll opens with a knock on the bathroom door, as Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) looks at herself in the mirror on her thirty-sixth birthday. It is to this bathroom that she returns, over and over again, in her attempt to escape the nightmarish time loop that gets activated every time she dies.
The devil is in the details, really.
In the first conversation that Nadia has with her friends Lizzie and Maxine, the bathroom is described as ‘killer’ and the door — painted in a galactic pattern with a gun-barrel for its handle — as ‘terrifying’.
Nadia drops a you-blink-and-you-miss-it bomb of a dialogue when Maxine asks if she’s having fun at the party: “Staring down the barrel of my own mortality always beats the fun.”
The show is, in fact, full of references to this ‘condition of mortality’. Death is inevitable, the show tells you, and life unbearable, and human beings are either afraid or lonely or both in this realisation. “Humanity... a little bit overrated, no?” as Nadia says.
For Nadia, as for Alan (Charlie Barnett), the desire to escape the time loop is also the desire to escape this human condition. However, since that’s practically impossible, the only way to cope with the terror that it evokes and the loneliness it offers, is through human connection.
You can’t refuse to engage, as Nadia initially wants to, when the universe is trying to f*ck with you. And, therefore, you must relent. Nadia and Alan must connect and ‘save’ each other.
Alan: “You promise me I’ll be happy?”
Nadia: “No. But I can promise you you will never be alone.”
The Umbrella Academy’s Bathroom of Connecting with the Dead
On the note of connection and mortality, we have another arguably iconic bathroom scene from Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. I say ‘arguably’ because the scene is short, and barely competes with other iconic scenes in the series. However, there is more to it than meets the eye.
The scene occurs in Season 1, Episode 3, when Klaus Hargreeves, or Number Four, (Robert Sheehan) is lying in a bathtub taking a bubble bath. He hears the voices of the dead who are trying to communicate with him. He must remain drugged, at all times, to suppress this ‘superpower’.
Damaged by their upbringing at the hands of their foster father — a man said to be incapable of giving love — the Hargreeves children are brought together under the roof of their childhood home by the news of his death.
They must connect with each other to avoid the inevitable, to save the world and themselves. Klaus’ connection with their dead father is the key to the events that unfold in the show.
Oscillating between loneliness and connection, the human pendulum, driven by desire, is captured by small screen shows like Made in Heaven, Russian Doll, and The Umbrella Academy, which claim for themselves the bathroom, in its pristine, gory, intimate, and terrifying glory.
To answer the golden question of Made in Heaven’s Jauhari (Vijay Raaz), “Bathroom istemaal karte hain ya nahin?” (Do you use the bathroom or not?) — we all do.