Bored to Death plots by its own rules. With a little trimming, “Gumball” could have easily fit into last week’s episode and kicked off the season in one fell swoop. It could also have acted as the season finale (given episodes in between, of course, to deepen the mystery). But it falls somewhere in the middle; two weeks into the third season, last week’s cryptic crime has been solved, the gang is back together, and the larger issue at hand — the whereabouts of Jonathan’s real father — is merely teased. It takes a little bit of time, but Bored to Death always delivers the goods. Unless, of course, the goods are shots of Zach Galifianakis licking whiskey nipples as a sort of twisted foreplay. In that case, the goods are nowhere to be found.
Ray’s sexual misadventures happen off-camera, and thus the episode begins right where the last one left off, only one hour later. Jonathan is dangling from the clock atop the Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower, and Ray, fresh off his booty call, has finally arrived to rescue him. (How Jonathan managed to hang on while the minute hand spun completely around, I have no idea.) Bored to Death isn’t quite up to “thrilling action procedural” standards, so the saving of Jonathan’s life is unceremonious and brief: Ray barges into the apartment right below Jonathan’s, and infused with the power of his newfound fatherhood, Ray catches Jonathan — by the tie — as he leaps down onto a nearby ledge. With a quick good-bye to the unsuspecting tenants and a halfhearted attempt to fling eleven dollars at them for their trouble, Jonathan and Ray head to George’s apartment.
It’s definitely not the safest place to go. As Jonathan himself points out later on, the police needed merely to Google him to find the names and whereabouts of his closest friends. But the friendship between Jonathan, Ray, and George has always been a soothing one. They’re all a little neurotic and act on impulse far more often than they’d like. But if they’re all doing it together, then they don’t seem so isolated in their compulsions. Sure, the three of them usually do a ton of drugs when they’re together — like tonight’s “pothead’s BLT” of weed, Valium, and a little booze — but they’re gonna do the drugs alone. Why not get together and play “high, low” in the midst of a police investigation?
The next morning is Bored to Death at its best: goofy, ridiculous, and a little hazy from all sorts of drugs. It begins when the police visits George’s apartment, and the three friends — wearing matching pajamas — scramble to hide Jonathan. They settle on tossing him into the dumbwaiter along with Ray, haphazardly giving him shoes and phones to communicate (how logical), and sending him on his way. It’s the sort of low-grade, low-stakes excitement that Bored to Death takes very seriously, which makes the moment feel more comical; if they’re this worked up about something so minuscule, how will they handle some real stakes?
Pretty much the same, it turns out. After a quick visit to Howard Baker for some pilot uniforms (“George is paying for all this, right?”), Jonathan and Ray head to the source of the anonymous cell phone call Jonathan received last week. It’s a house just like any other house, only they peer in the window and spot the blonde woman they were supposed to have tailed. Jonathan smells a conspiracy, so he busts open the door and confronts the woman — who we later learn is affectionately called Gumball — about the mysterious client, the dead jockey, the perceived double-crossing, etc. And while Jonathan’s newly minted as a cocksure, mostly cool under pressure detective, Ray is in the background getting tangled in the phone cord.
It’s all part of yet another double cross. See, Gumball claims her husband caught her sleeping around with the jockey and used Jonathan to get the guy out of the picture. So she sends Jonathan and Ray to the carousel in Prospect Park (I’d expect nothing less from Bored to Death) to confront the guy and clear Jonathan’s name. But she’s setting them up to be framed yet again, which we find out shortly after they arrive, George in tow this time. Since they left him at the restaurant, George has been biking around Manhattan (he “borrowed” Bernard’s bike when the two run into each other outside the restaurant) and what little pot remains in his system has made him paranoid about being tailed. Everyone he looks at, be they construction worker or jogging passerby, is staring right at him. George is always off in his own little world anyways, so the show plays it like he’s completely crazy. And thus his visit to Prospect Park is met more with a shrug from Jonathan; the mystery’s already crazy enough, Jonathan doesn’t really need anything agitating it.
Things change once Gumball arrives, shoots her husband, tosses the gun to Jonathan (can you blame the guy for catching what’s thrown at him?), and planting the now-fingerprinted weapon on her dead ex. Those low-stakes situations Bored to Death is known for? This isn’t one of them; there’s a real chance Gumball’s going to shoot one of Jonathan’s teammates if they don’t start running around the carousel, letting the horses absorb the stray bullets. Thankfully the police arrive shortly after (just in time, those carousels will make you throw up after enough time take it from me) and confirm George’s suspicions about being followed. That construction worker, that jogger — they’re all part of a team that fingered Jonathan, knowing he’d lead them to the real perpetrator. Jonathan is thanked for his work by the cop he helped last season, he and Ray/George skip off into the streets, and the episode ends with a promise to track down Jonathan’s real father.
Like I said before, in and of itself, this episode plus the premiere would have been a satisfying-enough arc for just one episode, or potentially dragged out for a season. The fact that the show’s moving boldly forward has me psyched for what’s to come. It took Bored to Death a while to find its footing — to put it another way, for that whiskey to get to the nipple — but now it’s time to suck the rewards.