This show is going to be the death of me. Suddenly, after weeks of stellar acting, great dialogue, and no forward motion whatsoever — after I had pretty much given up on anything even vaguely resembling forward motion — this week’s episode threw it at us left and right. I’m delighted, because I really do prefer to enjoy things. But also, I thought I had this show figured out, and now I’m starting to wonder.
I’m one of those people who almost never puts down a book, no matter how tedious I find it. I know, I know: Life is short, there are a lot of books out there, whatever. I can never quite convince myself to give up, though. I always feel a faint sliver of hope that the ending, when it comes, is going to be amazing, and everything that came before it is going to fall into place. I keep the faith because, as I said, I prefer to like things, but I’m going to be honest: I can’t really think of an example of a time this has actually happened for me.
But. But. I actually have that feeling I was talking about a few weeks ago, that excited-for-next-week, multiple-exclamation-point feeling. If this show pulls it off, if all of the slow burn that’s come before blazes into a full-on inferno — that would make me so happy. I will eat every negative word I’ve said with both ketchup and relish. I’m not sure I dare to hope. I think I might be hoping anyway.
This episode is all Garvey, all the time. It’s even multi-generational Garvey, which is extra fun. Our man is apparently four dates into what seems like an actual grown-up Thing with Nora; they’re Ready to Move Forward, but it ends up not happening because nothing kills the mood like chain-smoking cultists. I like Nora and the Chief. I like that they’re acting like actual people, sort of nervous and amused by their nervousness. The fake text the Chief pretends to send to Jill is wonderful and revealing, and when he and Nora acknowledge that they don’t really know how to talk to each other, that might be the truest thing either of them has said to anyone in this whole series. (Of course, when Jill gets his actual text message, she’s suffocating inside a refrigerator, which is so profoundly stupid that I can’t even — argh. More on her later.)
There’s yet another goddamn dream sequence here, but I can kind of forgive this one because it turns out that while the Chief was dreaming about dogs in mailboxes, his father — he of the flapping bathrobe and the voices only he can hear — may have brought an actual dog to the house. The Chief doesn’t remember any of this. Nor does he remember being bitten by something — those bite marks looked human, didn’t they? — and subsequently tended to by Aimee. It’s a little odd that when Aimee offers to fill in his missing time, he doesn’t seem to want to know, but then again, Aimee’s primary role in his life is to eat his food and loiter around his house in not-quite-enough clothing, so maybe he’s just trying to leave well enough alone.
In the bulk of this episode, though, the Chief is hunting for his father, who has broken out of the secure facility to which he and his voices have retired. After several near-misses and escapes, the Chief finally catches up with his dad (and preacher Matt Jamison, taking a break from making a new kind of poster — more on that later, too) to hover nearby in a small cloud of concern). The old Chief gives the new Chief the May 1972 issue of National Geographic and an invitation to join in his voice-hearing fun. The new Chief refuses to play along in the crazy, and after winning a scuffle, he flees into Nora’s arms, and the two of them proceed to earn the Strong Sexual Content warning that HBO gave us before the opening credits. “I think I might be going crazy,” he tells her afterward, a line that would surely win some sort of award for Worst First-Time Pillow Talk Ever if not for the fact that he’s with Nora, who just tells him that he’s come to the right place.
The National Geographic magazine reappears a little while later — Jill had found the note her grandfather had left behind and had ordered what was scrawled on it — only this time, he picks it up and looks more closely at the issue. We discover that ... oh, come on, you didn’t actually think we were going to get to read it, did you? (Don’t worry, that’s what the internet’s for!) Anyway, a lot happened here. In the dream sequence, the Chief says he doesn’t want to kill the dog this time, and in real life, he doesn’t. Instead, he gives it a steak. The Old Chief, so very concerned with his son being “awake,” tries to put the dog to sleep with his son’s sleeping pills. (We also — finally! — learn that he lost his job because he’d burned down the library and that somebody had gotten hurt.) Contradictions aside, the intimation is that somehow, the dog can be redeemed, if anybody bothers to do it. Which might hint that we can be, too. I’m not sure whose side those voices are on, but it’s a hopeful message.
The Guilty Remnant
Far more hopeful than the GRs, for instance. Oh, what is there even to say about these people? I get it. Nothing matters, so nothing matters, and they’re here to remind the un-Departed of that lest they make the mistake of actually trying to live their lives. They’ve taken the SAVE THEM posters that Matt’s been making, which have Gladys’s face on them, and are splattering them with red paint. It’s grotesque. They are cartoonishly heartless and, although the preview promises the possibility of future shock, for the time being, they’ve stopped being shocking. Here’s all I’ll say about them: When Meg, nearly trembling with anger and indignation, “tells” Laurie that the Chief and Nora are doing it, Laurie’s written response — “SO?” — seems refreshingly wholehearted and non-conflicted. She appears to have gone all in with them and their batshit-crazy nihilism. At least that’s something.
I am almost loath to address the stupid goddamn refrigerator (seriously? Do they no longer make kids sit through stupid film strips about not getting into abandoned refrigerators?), but I have to. Because the “invocation” that Jill reads before climbing into the thing tells us that a kid Departed from inside it and contains the words, “Now I honor the mystery of his loss by repeating his suffering and embracing the great darkness.”
Everyone in the show is doing precisely this: finding his or her own way to Depart, whether through batshit-crazy nihilistic cults, magic hugs, or lots of beer. Once again — as with the dead dog, as with the pilfered Baby Jesus — these kids, failed by the rituals their parents pushed on them, are creating new rituals to give meaning to their lives. Drunken, stupid meaning; but meaning. Does Jill emerge from the depths of the abandoned refrigerator with a new understanding of ... something? Her grandfather rescues her; maybe she’s in his world now, not the Chief’s. I will say, though, that at long last the poor kid seems to be trying to let go of her mom, which is good, because as I’ve already pointed out, her mom is gone.
Tom’s back, and so is his hair. Christine is eight months pregnant and sick when Wayne calls Tom for the first time in two months, tells him to tape half of his money to the underside of yet another mailbox. And Tom, for the first time, disobeys: He leaves the money, but hangs around to see who comes to get it. Instead of Wayne, the pickup guy leads him to an unpleasantly familiar situation: an idealistic former college kid, way more coked up than Tom, taking care of a second pregnant Asian girl, Liane. Like Christine, Liane has been told and believes that her son (and she’s sure the baby will be a boy, as is Christine) will be “the one, the only one,” and “the bridge.” Tom and Bizarro Tom discuss the magic hugs through hysterical laughter; Bizarro Tom says they’re for real. Then Liane, apparently driven nuts by the revelation that her baby is not the only Only One, decides to solve her problem with a gun. Tom takes a bullet in the hand (leaving him and the Chief with matching injuries). Later, Wayne calls, and hallelujah, Tom finally smashes the goddamn phone and goes home to find that Christine has had her baby. Horror of horrors, it’s a girl.
Here’s the thing: Maybe the magic hug is for real. Maybe it’s not just the sum of desperation and the power of suggestion. That doesn’t mean Wayne’s a good guy. And even if he was a good guy once, it doesn’t mean he still is. It doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of abusing his power, lying to well-intentioned college students and what appear to be extremely young girls. What Tom and Bizarro Tom are struggling with here is, in many ways, the central tenet of the series: Miraculous experiences do not automatically confer sainthood. It was right there in the first episode: My brother-in-law was one of the Departed, and he was a dipshit. Laurie and Tom are an interesting study in contrasts: She’s all in, and he, I’m delighted to say, seems to finally be all out.
- Garvey men, 2; intact mobile phones, 0. Maybe all the “off” buttons Departed.
- Margaret Qualley really does look like Snow White.
- I admit, my contempt for the refrigerator scene approaches the irrational. I really did have to sit through those film strips. I guess they worked.