For the Record: A “36 Questions” Relisten | Act II

For the Record is a relisten and recap series of 36 Questions.

For the Record is a relisten and recap series of 36 Questions. You can see the full series here. 36 Questions was created by Ellen Winter and Chris Littler.


Act II

An embed to RadioPublic’s direct link for the episode, which you can also find here.

So, what happens in this episode?

Act II begins eight minutes after Act I ends and Judith has taken a moment to pee. Judith and Jase are now in Jase’s childhood bedroom (with Henry, of course), and going back through the 36 questions. Jase is skeptical, especially with Judith only being explicit in her flirtatious as she avoids giving any real information in her answers to the questions. Jase says he’s only interested in people who are open books given what he’s been through; Judith pours him a massive glass of wine and asserts that she is. Jase is frustrated that the answers is the same answers she gave when they first did the 36 questions and she answered as Natalie, and Judith says that’s because the answers are the same. This leads to the first song of the episode, “We Both.”

The song starts with a guitar as the two resume asking each other the 36 questions. When Judith asks Jase to guess one of her answers, she tells him it’s the same as it was last time, and the drums join the mix as Jase takes one step into being won back over. The pianos join in a beat before Judith begins singing the second verse. In the background, a pizzicato violin repeats the vocal melody from the song’s first line, “When I was with you, I was real.” The violin starts almost like a mantra of that line, the asserted idea that she always has been real, but as Jase becomes more convinced, the violin transitions to a bowed, loose, bluegrassy accompaniment.

As she lists the things she has in common with her persona as Natalie. Each point is specific but still relatable, helping both her and Jase feel more solid, human, and historied as she recounts moments from their past together. As the two hit the question about what they have in common with each other, the song also solidifies why they got married in the first place. It isn’t just their chemistry or an opposites attract dynamic; they might be very different people, but they align in ways that make them fundamentally work. Eventually, the two sing in unison:

We both have dreams much bigger than ourselves
We both think that’s how to live
We both put up a fight for all the right reasons
And we both eventually give

Jase takes the song into its bridge and outro, explaining that he’s been putting too much stock into Judith being a completely different person in spirit than Natalie, when actually the difference lie only, he sees now, in the facts. By the end of the song, the tables have turned. Jase realizes that he still loves Judith because of who she is at her core; meanwhile, Judith sits with the reality that Jase really does have the capability to see her true self, regardless of the lies she wove around her identity–something that might be scarier than she realized. Her repetitions of “When I am with you, I am real” transition to her singing, “When I am with you, I am actually too real.”

Before she lets herself get too too real, though, there’s a crash of thunder, and she’s back to jokes and flirtation. She goes to open another bottle of wine, and Jase talks about the situation with Henry. Like a fool who did not even listen to the song he just non-diegetically sang, he tells Henry that he’s going to be strong and not fall back in love. There is a crash of thunder so severe that all the lights go out.

The landline starts ringing, but Jase doesn’t answer it; he says only his moms call, and he doesn’t want to talk to them right now. Judith says she needs to charge her phone, but given the power is out, the only place they can charge it is in his truck. To make sure things don’t get “too sexy,” Jase starts driving them around his old neighborhood. Judith tries to get them to go to a motel nearby, but Jase vetoes.

Judith continues asking the questions as they drive. As she gets to question 10, “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”, she hesitates answering for the first time. Jase turns the blinker on and says he knows her parents died in a car crash . . . but then realizes this might not even be the case. Judith admits that they’re alive. Jase asks the question again, the sound of his blinker laying down the beat for the next song, “Our Word.”

The jazzy, rhythmic piano hits with accented syncopation, the emphasized notes falling on the first beat, the fourth beat, and just before the third beat. It’s somewhere between stumbling and anxious, and paired with the unsettled major 7th chords, helps the song feel on edge and unresolved just about until the bridge, where Judith explains that “somebody was paid to make it go away.” The piano is mixed with a light drum and swelling horns, making everything feel almost like the nightmare version of elegant, Sinatra-esque crooners.

Judith explains that her family has always been steeped in lies and mystery. It’s a trait she’s not only been taught, but always pushed the limits of. She references three times she almost went too far, but only gives details on the third: when she 26 years old, way too high, she wound up drowning herself and dying for three minutes while she tried to take a bath. A police siren weaves very faintly in and out of the song. She perseveres almost entirely out of spite as she imagines what lies her parents would weave if she stayed dead.

The song ends and the musical backing dies out as Judith says, “It’d be their word, only their word, on its own.” Jase doesn’t even realize that the light has turned. He pulls over and apologizes to her that her parents were so awful.

Judith tries again to lead him to the motel, but instead the two wind up going to the beach. It’s too windy to continue to recording, but Judith convinces Jase to huddle up to her under her jacket to record more. As they get to a question that requires them to give their life stories, Judith’s story is joined by a soft, tender piano that builds as Judith gets more emotional.

For once, Judith’s voice isn’t accompanied by the full band. It’s just her and the piano–open, clear, minimal, and vulnerable. Judith is doing what terrifies her most: being truly emotionally honest, and realizing she needs to.

We know that the music isn’t diegetic in 36 Questions; music in musicals usually isn’t, but Jase specifically points out that Judith doesn’t sing earlier in the episode. This non-diegesis is brought into clearer focus as Judith sings the chorus:

It felt like my life, but a better version
With you in my life, I was a better person
I heard music in the words you were saying
Melodies with no band playing
For the first time I was in love
And I loved who I was with you

Judith apologizes for what she’s done, and Jase kisses her. Judith brings up the motel again, and Jase vetoes–but it’s where they end up regardless. They leave Henry in the back seat and get even more drunk. They do a rapidfire round of questions which starts out silly and sweet, but takes a turn when Jase says it’d be easier not to care what people think about him if he has to explain why she’s back in the picture.

Judith latches onto this immediately, asking if she is back in the picture. Jase backpedals, but Judith keeps trying to pin him down with an answer. Jase says he’s undecided, but Judith keeps trying to regain the power in the conversation. Jase says he’s going to go check on Henry, but Judith jumps to put it “on the record” that he’s taking his keys–which Jase says he’s doing so he can get back into the car to see Henry. When Jase asks if she thinks he’s going to drive away, Judith passive-aggressively answers that he’s done it before.

Jase points out that she’s the reason they’re in this situation to begin with, because she’s the one who lied to him and then continued to lie. Judith says she apologized and asks, “When are you gonna let me off the hook? [. . .] When do I get out of lie jail?” because, to Judith, it really can be that simple. Jase tells her it isn’t he’ll never be able to trust her again.

Like Judith at her most vulnerable in “A Better Version,” Jase at his most vulnerable here is primarily piano. But “Reality” isn’t just Jase doing what terrifies him most–shutting her out again, and understanding that he has to–he’s also hyping himself up to make sure he’s strong enough to follow through.

He tells her it was wrong to string her along and goes out to the car. He tells her it’s over. Judith keeps trying to maintain power over the situation, her attempts becoming more and more immature–“I can’t hear you over your scampering away”–until he leaves.

Judith, crying, goes back to the motel room. She asks herself question 19, “If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?”” and answers by taking a drink.


The truth

  • Natalie Cook: Natalie Cook is a fake identity for Judith Ford, thought up on the spot when Judith met Jase in a park. Natalie’s parents died in a car crash.
  • Judith Ford: The real, but still mysterious, identity of the woman married to Jase. Judith is from Arizona and is not totally straight and can play guitar. She wears a retainer, maybe just to sleep. She has won Wheel of Fortune twice. Judith Ford is played by Jessie Shelton.
  • Jase Connolly: Jase Connolly is an elementary school music teacher married to Natalie Cook, the fake identity of Judith Ford. Jase has two mothers, an older brother, a brother-in-law, and a niece. Jase Connolly is played by Jonathan Groff.
  • Henry: Henry is Jase’s very good pet duck. Henry loves Cheerios.

Does it hold up?

Act II of 36 Questions is beautiful, and painful, and stunning. The questions raised in the first Act are completely irrelevant in this episode–by now, if you’ve accepted the suspension of disbelief, you’ve accepted it. The songs are gorgeous and catchy, even at their least convincing. I’ll never be won over by how many times “Reality” literally says the word “reality,” but that doesn’t mean I won’t be singing it drunk at 3 a.m.

The only distraction in this episode was how quickly Judith and Jase transition into and out of inebriation. Jase hopping up and down on the motel bed eating Toblerone because he’s so drunk he’s turned into a bit of a five year old sounds believable, but it also sounds like an equation that can only end in vomit. By the end of the episode, though, he’s sober enough to not only control a conversation with Judith, but also drive away?

What really sticks out on this listen, though, is how furious I was with Judith on this listen. Her manipulation–trying to get him drunk, trying to lead him back to the hotel, and then trying anything she can to get him to stay–was so clear and so sharp, it felt impossible to want Jase to stay.

This isn’t to say that Judith’s moments of truth and vulnerability weren’t real, or that Judith’s own trauma doesn’t matter. They did feel real; an upbringing always matters. What came into focus on this listen was how those can be true, but they don’t matter in how she treated Jase.


The 36 Questions

You can find the full list of the 36 Questions here.

  1. “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”
    • Jase: “Michelle Obama. I would have dinner with Juuuuuuuuudith”Judith: “It’s you.”
  2. ” Would you like to be famous? In what way?”
    • Judith: “No. No, I would not like to be famous.”
    • Jase: “I’d like to be famous for reforming American education. And also for winning The Bachelorette.”
  3. “Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? If so, why?”
    • Jase: “I only rehearse phone calls if I know I’m going to have to speak Spanish.”
    • Judith: “I do not rehearse phone calls [. . .] I rarely think about what I say until I’ve already said it.”
  4. “What would constitute a perfect day for you?”
    • Judith: “Tomorrow could be the perfect day if we just let it be.”
    • Jase: “A picnic with [his] whole family, a mini muffin basket for lunch, everyone getting together under a big blanket and watching the entire third season of The Office.”
  5. “When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?”
    • Jase: “This afternoon, to Henry [. . .] He only stayed for half.”
    • Judith: “Oh I’m gonna die out here.” Her singing it to him “counts” as the second half of the question.
  6. “If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?”
    • Judith: “Body.”
    • Jase: “Mind.”
  7. “Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?”
    • Jase: “In [my] car, but [I’m not] sure how.”
    • Judith: “[I’m not] afraid of death.”
  8. “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.”
    • Judith: “Easy. We both are super good at Settlers of Catan. We both become monsters when we lose. We both think we have the best worst name for a band. We both check Twitter for our news. There’s four.”
    • Jase: “We both say the other is better at cooking. We both hate that kitchen island we built. We both need a glass of water on the bedside table. We both recycle purely out of guilt.”
    • Both: “We both have dreams much bigger than ourselves. We’ve both think that’s how to live. We both put up a fight for all the right reasons. We both eventually give.”
  9. “For what in your life are you most grateful? “
    • Jase: “I have wonderful parents. I have a job that I love. I have a duck in my back seat eating cheerios out of my estranged wife’s hands.”
    • Judith: “I, for one, am grateful for second chances.”
  10. “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”
    • Judith: “Can I just say my answer is literally everything?” See: “Our Word”
    • Jase: “I guess at this point I would ask my parents to raise me to be less trusting.”
  11. “Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.”
    • Jase: “Two moms, grew up around here-ish, one older brother who’s married and living in Palm Springs with his husband and my niece, I always wanted to be a teacher and then I became one, lost my virginity at 21–thank you Lisa Coleman–dated this girl for a few years in college who grew up to be a famous journalist. [. . .] then my moms moved to Austin and I moved to Austin and then I met you, and we got married really fast, though everyone said it was a bad idea, and then we had our life together. For a couple years. Which was nice. And then, yeah, I dunno, we’re here on the beach under your blazer.”
    • Judith: “I was born in Phoenix. My parents were–are–what I think are what is colloquially referred to as ‘monster people.’ I lived in New York for a bit, I got laid for the first time when I was 15–yeah, Kevin McKinney, couldn’t make him up–did make up where it happened, though, because it was actually on my parents’ yacht. [. . . ] I did the 20s thing, was a writer for a while, then a nanny, then I died, then I moved to Denver, then I moved to Seattle, then I moved to Austin.”
  12. “If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?”
    • Jase: “I said flight, baby. I wanna fly like a baby bird, like a duck. I miss Henry.” Well, duh, Jase.
    • Judith: “I would like to be able to shapeshift, a la Mystique.” Well, duh, Judith.
  13. “If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?”
    • Jase: “Will my capacity to forgive be my downfall?”
    • Judith: “If I’m actually good in bed.”
  14. “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it? “
    • Jase: “Sexy cosplay: weird Dr. Who bedroom stuff. [. . .] I felt like I couldn’t do the role justice. Lots of scarf stuff.”
    • Judith: “I changed my answer to his because that sounded fun.”
  15. “What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?”
    • Jase: “STUDENT LOOOAAAAAN! High five.
    • Judith: “Winning two episodes of Wheel of Fortune, which Jase was there for.”
  16. “What do you value most in a friendship?”
    • Judith: “Dependability.”
    • Jase: “Honesty.”
  17. “What is your most treasured memory?”
    • Jase: “My mom teaching me ‘Edelweiss’ on the piano.”
    • Judith: “For me it was our wedding, hands down, best night of my life.”
  18. “What is your most terrible memory? “
    1. Judith: “Dying! That was pretty bad. The day you found out I had a fake name sucked, finding out you skipped town without telling me where you were going super sucked. [. . .] You leaving, then.”
    2. Jase: “My most terrible memory would be finding out you were lying to me. And then having to tell my moms they were right.”
  19. “If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?”
    1. Jase: “Yes. I would do myself a huge favor and stop caring what people think of me and live my life the way I wanna live it! And there would be no repercussions because I’d be dying, so who cares, right? Seems easier.”
    2. Judith: No explicit answer given in the audio, but an implied answer of, “All of it, because obviously.”

Hear me out

  • While 36 Questions does have some good burns on Arizona, it wasn’t the first in this era to roast my home state. That honor goes to, of course, The Good Place.
  • I’ve seen the line “We both are not totally straight,” from “We Both” taken out of context to suggest that both Judith and Jase are not totally straight. In context, the line clearly means both Judith and Natalie are not totally straight. However, I would like to remind everyone that this, in no way, negates the possibility of Jase also not being totally straight.
  • Two absolute garbage alcohols are name-dropped by Judith: Yellow Tail wine and Seagram’s. Both are, at least in my experience, mainstays of college parties.
  • So where’s my spinoff about Camille?
  • Judith’s family having a house in Sedona is another layer of indication for how wealthy they are. Sedona, a city in northern Arizona, is known for its beautiful red rock formations, its weird amount of New Age spiritualism, and its attractiveness to celebrities and the extremely wealthy.
  • Judith says that Toblerone, a traingular chocolate bar from Switzerland with honey almond nougat, is the most romantic candy bar. She is, of course, correct, but I need to know what kind of motel has bars of Toblerone lying around.

For all of the 36 Questions recaps, start with this post, or see all of the posts in the series here.

Listen to 36 QuestionsApple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Website | RSS

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