It feels right for Lady Dynamite to finish out its wild, energetic first season with an episode that’s particularly heavy on the surrealism. “Enter the Super Grisham” has the usual talking dogs, yes, but it’s also got an omniscient guinea pig and a battle straight out of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
In the week since Maria broke up with Scott, she’s been avoiding him. Being single, she tells Bruce, gives her the freedom to go to a cat show by herself, consistently acknowledge the homeless, and think about developing an interest in embroidery. Maria probably shouldn’t have a serious life conversations with Bruce, though, seeing as he’s high on owl sedatives at a gym for women.
Meanwhile, Scott hasn’t given up on winning Maria back. At Dagmar’s suggestion, he shows up at her house with a self-help book, La Croix, and a pug-themed clock. Bert closes the door on him, but not before accepting the clock. The world’s wisest pug still thinks Maria should talk to him, and only turned him away at his owner’s request. Maria tells Bert she’s just worried about letting Scott down — not unlike the time she let Bert down in Duluth.
Cut to the Checklist parking lot. While loading up the car with her parents, Maria realizes Bert slipped out of his leash. When she goes to put up a flier at the animal shelter, she finds Bert there, hanging out with a new lady pug. He wants Maria to take her home, too, but she feels like she can’t be trusted with another dog. The shelter goes dark and Blossom (RIP) appears, singing an old-timey, French-influenced song meant to persuade Maria to atone by adopting Bert’s new friend and moving back to Los Angeles. Also, Blossom casually mentions that had Maria not killed her, she would’ve shot her with a pistol. Bad dog!
Maria isn’t really swayed by Blossom’s song … until the shelter employee mentions that they drown dogs that aren’t adopted while holding shotguns to their heads. At that point, adopting Blueberry is a no-brainer. With that done, Maria also takes her dead pet’s advice about getting back into the comedy scene. She calls Bruce and asks if he’ll represent her again.
Little did she know that he’d later have her do a herpes medicine commercial that’s geared toward “the sexually active bicyclist.” Of course, Maria’s been agreeing to Bruce’s bogus projects as a means of distracting herself from the Scott situation. That plan doesn’t really work, because when Maria jokes with her co-star about how they make a great couple, he starts crying. He says his ex broke up with him, but never gave him a reason. When he learns Maria did the same thing to Scott, he urges her to make it right. She rides off set on the prop bike, eager to do so.
Maria and Scott close out the episode by getting back together, now that she finally understands couples can fight without splitting for good. But the finale’s truly epic moment takes place in a previous scene, during a long look into the past.
At a wake for Blossom, all three Karen Grishams show up to pay their respects (even though past Maria hasn’t even met her life coach yet). Maria mentions that she’s been dreading an event at the Checklist Checkdown in Minneapolis, which requires her to make a speech. And so the Grishams take action by joining hands to transform into Super Grisham — a talking guinea pig that encourages Maria to face her fear.
In Minneapolis, Lady Dynamite finally answers the first important question it raised: Why on Earth is there beef between Mark McGrath and Maria? It all started at this Checklist convention, which Mark is hosting. Super Grisham persuades Maria to criticize Checklist onstage. As she rants about how the company oppresses Mexican workers, Mark jumps in to try and calm her down.
Maria tells Mark he’s evil. He doesn’t deny it. With no other options left, they battle: Mark takes the form of a Sugar Ray Sugar Beast, and Maria is Ultra Maria. Naturally, the three Karen Grishams control her movements. They can’t work together as a team — shocker! — so Ultra Maria falls to the Sugar Beast.
When she’s first hospitalized in Duluth, a couple of people refer to her as “the girl who went crazy at the Checklist Checkdown.” That quick line perfectly illustrates why the show’s first season works. To take an unflinching look at the stigma surrounding mental illness, the show unapologetically includes characters who call Maria “crazy,” talk to her like she’s a dog, and assume her illness makes her incapable of humor. These scenes can be overtly moralizing, but always in a cheeky way. Lady Dynamite trusts viewers to get it.
Similarly, we’re encouraged to laugh both with and at Maria. Instead of toning down other aspects of Maria’s life to compensate for the ridiculous plotlines about her mental illness, Lady Dynamite instead goes in the other direction, piling on surreal moments, voices, and near-constant leaps through time to punctuate Maria’s boneheaded decisions. Her experiences in and out of the psychiatric hospital can be so absurdly bleak that it’s tough not to find humor in them. Laughing at misguided people — and at the absurdities of mental illness itself — can feel like a logical step toward the recovery process.
The show’s all-in approach to telling these funny stories without sparing accuracy or darkness — a natural extension of Bamford’s stand-up act in both content and style — caters to people who live with bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, substance abuse or whatever else it may be. Lady Dynamite joins a growing number of acclaimed shows that waste no time trying to win over people who are too scared to laugh, or who assume that people experiencing mental illness are violent and crazy.
Nevertheless, the delivery of Lady Dynamite’s message has been hit or miss, in terms of both broad plot points and individual jokes. (It’s a forgivable flaw, though, since the show experiments with such risky storytelling devices.) A second season would do well to spend more time in Duluth, where Bamford’s chemistry with Mary Kay Place and the novelty of clever, non-stigmatizing hospital scenes really shine. In the end, Lady Dynamite succeeds most when it eases up on the sitcom meta-humor and considers a much more difficult subject: How should a person take care of herself in a world that doesn’t give a damn about her health or happiness?