“Mein Ramp” is all about commitment phobias and the perils of not making personal health a priority. Of course, because Maria’s problems are never totally normal, it’s also about an international child-soldier scandal.
Let’s back up: Maria is going viral, and not in the way a comedian would hope. There’s a trending YouTube video of South Sudanese child soldiers wearing T-shirts with her face and the words “bam bam.” Maria never knew that the shirts existed in the first place, as Bruce shipped them off to Africa the second he realized Maria didn’t want to sell them.
Maria does what she does best: She panics. Bruce tells her he’ll handle it. Cut to dinner with Scott — who, by the way, Maria invites to her Thanksgiving get-together after six months of dating — when her phone starts blowing up. Her alleged support for child soldiers is making the rounds on the news.
Meanwhile, Scott fields a text congratulating him on Maria’s pregnancy. Wait, what? Bruce decided to handle the situation to start tweeting as Maria, fabricating a pregnancy for her to engender sympathy. Don’t worry, Bruce tells her, he’ll tweet about her fictional miscarriage next.
Back in Duluth, as is so often the case, Maria is also in hot water. At her suggestion, Susan’s husband Paul goes on a two-week nature retreat with her favorite therapist, Bear Claw. (Yes, the only joke about his character seems to be that he’s Native American.) Susan thinks he’ll hate it.
Susan, meanwhile, has jumped from dismissing all forms of art to taking a stand-up comedy workshop at the local community college. It’s not clear if she’s learned anything at all, though, since her jokes aren’t really jokes. They’re just mundane facts about herself, which she shares while chuckling.
In the midst of a fight about Maria not supporting Susan’s stand-up, Susan gets the call that her husband has died. She’s obviously a wreck when he walks in a minute later, explaining that he just lost his wallet on the retreat while crossing a river. Thinking she might’ve lost Paul boosts Susan’s desire to make their marriage work, but the retreat had the opposite effect on him. He wants to move in with Bear Claw, but Susan, still her husband’s gatekeeper, warns that he’ll never see his kids again. Maria winces through all of this, already sensing Susan will take out her frustration with Paul’s retreat realization on her.
Of course, Maria also has an awkward situation to deal with in the present day. As the child-warrior controversy rages on, she agrees to make an appearance on The Ginny Kimmle Show, thinking it was Jimmy Kimmel. She faces a hostile web-show host and an audience of local high schoolers who have looked into her controversy. Maria thinks she’s telling the truth when she says she had nothing to do with the T-shirts. Unluckily for her, Ginny asks Bruce to join the interview, and he’s quickly forced to admit that an order of 10,000 Maria Bamford T-shirts ended up in South Sudan. (Chantrelle’s son, who runs a gumshoe club at Santa Clarita High School, ratted him out.) Bruce makes a big show of firing himself on air, but Maria won’t accept it. She forgives him, and he promises he’ll never lie to her again.
With that issue settled, it’s time for some insight into why Maria’s so nervous about getting serious with Scott. (Or more serious, anyway.) It turns out that in the past, Graham let her down. When he visits Maria on the Checklist set, she’s acting sluggish, thanks to a new medicine that treats her hypomania. Graham doesn’t want to have to take care of someone else the way he took care of his depressed mother, so he’s out. He won’t even let them fight about it, because apparently once you fight in a relationship, it’s over. He leaves, dropping rose petals in his wake. Maria can’t even protest, though, because she’s literally falling asleep in a dog bed.
Agent Karen Grisham is predictably unsympathetic to Maria’s exhaustion. When Maria confesses she has mental problems, she’s met with a “No shit, Sherlock!” Karen claims 96 percent of Hollywood is mentally ill, and then perpetuates the myth that all great artists are unstable. It doesn’t take much work to persuade Maria to throw out the meds she needs. God forbid she prioritize her health over her career. One of the highlights of not only this episode, but Lady Dynamite as a whole, is Ana Gasteyer’s total commitment to her role as an impossibly villainous agent.
The next time Maria takes a stab at the Checklist commercial, she’s back to her over energetic self. She comes home giddy and ready to cuddle with her pugs, only to discover that Blossom died from ingesting half of one of Maria’s pills. Bert took 21 pills and is still walking and talking, but he’s basically immortal. (“Worry not,” he says, “I have the constitution of a Friends season-seven-era Matthew Perry.”) Maria can’t stop crying and cradling her dead 18-year-old dog.
As Maria’s voice-over says while we return to the present, relationships are all about opening yourself up to loss. Thanksgiving dinner with her friends and Scott isn’t going well. The debate about whether Maria supports child soldiers is still roaring, thanks to Larissa. Scott tries to cheer Maria up by poking her. Bad idea, Scott — she hates being poked.
Maria leaves the dinner table to Google “how to break up with someone.” When Scott walks in and sees her screen, Maria says she has “very good reasons” to end things, and then parrots the very same breakup speech Graham once recited to her.
Eleven episodes in, Lady Dynamite has no shortage of hilarious and touching moments, but it still suffers from a very simple problem: We get the biggest window into the present day, but that timeline is consistently the least compelling. Nevertheless, a very confused Scott makes for a suitable cliffhanger heading into the season finale. We’re likely cruising toward a breakdown in the past, yet another friendship meltdown in Duluth, and God knows what else in the present.