In this week's episode of Casual, it's a relief to see our characters finally forge new relationships. Alex offers to host a BBQ at his house (complete with Cornish game hens), Valerie gets invited to Jennifer's game night, and Laura goes out with her new friend from the homeschool co-op.
It's not all rosy, of course. Alex misses his meeting with JME Capital when he refuses to sign in downstairs, and he's still adjusting to the fact that he no longer runs the company. When he hears that his new co-workers are going out for drinks, he jumps at the chance to take over, quickly inviting everyone to an impromptu BBQ extravaganza.
At work, Jennifer and Valerie seem to be getting closer, especially once Valerie shares her brilliant plan to drink a barrel of wine until she passes out. That's all Jennifer needs to hear; she asks Valerie to join her for game night. She even offers to set her up with her friend Harry, who doesn't have any personality disorders and genuinely likes playing board games, but not in that "creepy, infantile way." Valerie is still unconvinced, mostly hesitant to attempt dating again.
While driving, Valerie gets a call from Drew, and she discovers he wants to buy out her half of the house so that he will have space for a potential child with Mae-Yi. Although Drew and Valerie are just now beginning to get along, he's slowly pushing her out of his life by making room for a potential child. Valerie panics, and decides it's time for her to move on after all.
Alex prepares for his BBQ with Leon, and they shop for the proper grill. Alex insists he wants fire because it's "comforting and speaks to our inner caveman," which speaks to his desire for a more visceral experience of the world. When Leon asks if Alex has ever been hunting, though, he's appalled. "Of course not," he responds, "I'm a pacifist." We then discover some shocking news: Leon has other friends besides Alex! This is unfathomable to Alex, demonstrating just how narrow his worldview has become. Later, Alex seems to regret getting the fire grill, but as is the case with most of Alex's gut decisions, he will never admit it. Both Valerie and Laura reveal they have other plans and leave Alex to fix the grill without them, a lone caveman fending for himself.
As soon as Valerie walks through the door to game night, she sees that she may have already lost: Harry is there, but he brought a date named Allie. Jennifer's friends barely manage to introduce themselves before apologizing profusely. Once Valerie finds Allie crying on the stairs, however, she recognizes that she isn't the only outsider. In comforting Allie, Valerie seems more relatable and authentic than she's ever been. Those good vibes don't last long: Riding her newfound confidence, Valerie returns to the game and takes control of the room, ultimately marginalizing Allie instead of making her feel comfortable.
After a day of classes about trigger warnings and safe spaces, Laura and her new friend Aubrey (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Dylan Gelula) work together at a diner. It's more talking than working, and they quickly discover they both have parents who hate each other. These two are equally jaded and dismissive of the guy who tries to flirt with them. After he leaves a plate of cookies on their table, Aubrey demands, "How do you see this playing out?" She has clearly seen this all before, and knows how it will end. Laura watches Aubrey in amazement, eventually joining in until the guy backs away, shocked. It's hard to remember that the girls are still supposed to be 16.
Guests begin to arrive at Alex's BBQ, and Mary suggests he should have gotten a gas grill. Alex reminds her that he doesn't care about sustainability. He cares about ribs. Things take a turn for the worse when Jordan introduces his fiancé, who also happens to be Alex's ex-girlfriend, Sarah. The last time Alex saw her, she broke into his apartment and stole all his light bulbs (including the one in the fridge). Sure, it's a psychotic thing to do, but the attention to detail there is fascinating. Alex tries to get Valerie to come home, endearingly calling her his Tonto and his Robin, but she abruptly resists his co-dependent behavior and returns to game night, abandoning him yet again.
After his phone call with Valerie, Alex finds a single light bulb unscrewed on his chandelier. He's sure that Sarah hasn't changed. When no one else is around, he confronts her: "I like my marginally satisfying life, and I'm not going to let you ruin it." Not the most moving speech, but touching in Alex's own way.
Once they've left the diner, Laura and Aubrey get high in Aubrey's car. Could it be? Is Laura is finally starting to feel comfortable with someone her own age? She returns home, relaxed and smiling, and it's the first time she seems truly happy. Meanwhile, Valerie is also making a friend. She helps Jennifer clean up after game night, and they celebrate her victory. Valerie has successfully charmed Jennifer's friends at the expense of alienating Allie, and we know that Valerie is here to win. It's clear how ruthless and self-serving she can be, which makes you wonder how far she will go — and how many people she will sacrifice — to get what she wants.
Back at the house, without Valerie to guide or distract him, we witness Alex's unraveling. Sarah leaves the BBQ, but instead of unscrewing another light bulb and playing into Alex's neuroses, she remains calm. She tells him she sleeps like a baby because "that's what happens when you find someone who really loves you." For once, Alex is speechless. He returns to his bedroom and he sits alone, reflective and alert, finally realizing who to blame for his misery.