The characters in Casual are self-destructive, painfully narcissistic, and brutally honest. But when they’re offered opportunities to redeem themselves, as is the case in “Reunion,” it’s rewarding to witness their growth.
Casual aims to portray authentic, flawed relationships, a goal that’s particularly true when it comes to Valerie. Compared to Alex, she is much more grounded in reality: She’s the older sibling, she married young, and she has a kid. Over the past two seasons, her vulnerability has undoubtedly caused her to make poor, irrational decisions, yet she attempts to learn from her mistakes. Alex, on the other hand, is impulsive and blinded by his own self-interest. Without any real perspective, he acts without thinking, then waits for Valerie to clean up the mess.
Until now, anyway. “Reunion” introduces a role reversal to their sibling dynamic: For once, Valerie allows herself to live within a fantasy, while Alex is forced to be accountable and confront his problems.
We open with Valerie recounting a dream to Jack while drinking a Bloody Mary. She is blissfully self-indulgent, and Jack pushes her even further. He tells a couple that they’re on their honeymoon, and Valerie decides to join in, adding, “We just eloped.” To be fair, they’re still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship, so maybe it doesn’t count as a complete lie.
Back at the house, Alex’s relationship with Sarah is no longer a far-off dream. They skipped the honeymoon phase altogether. Sarah not only fully moved her things into his home, but feels comfortable enough to go to the bathroom while Alex is still in the room. Although he doesn’t hesitate to chase what he wants, once he finally gets it, it often falls apart.
Alex already knows that he made a mistake by bringing Sarah into his home, but he isn’t able to reach Valerie. He can’t rely on her to solve his problems this time. Meanwhile, Valerie ignores Alex’s calls, as she is busy getting into the honeymoon suite. From the suite, she orders In-N-Out from the concierge like a child who just discovered room service, and clearly enjoys her time away from real life.
Spencer is over at Laura’s house again, but when they spend time together, Laura seems almost perversely interested in his cancer. She speaks about him dying in a way that feels crude and disrespectful, and although she seems to care for him, there’s a lingering sense that she’s using him as a fun distraction, just like she used Aubrey.
Without Valerie to save him, Alex convinces Leon to come over. As usual, Alex has absolutely no interest in anything Leon says, and uses him purely as a sounding board. When Sarah’s mother and sister arrive, Alex knows he is in too deep. He asks Leon to find Valerie, instructing him to “start at the beach, work your way east, four and five-star hotels only.” This time, Leon refuses to give in.
Meanwhile, Spencer and Laura finish watching The Fault in Our Stars. Spencer is emotional, but Laura feels nothing and criticizes the teen-cancer drama for “eroticiz[ing] the Holocaust.” She argues that she wants movies to realistically portray love, and sounds more cynical than Valerie at her worst. “I just feel bad for the kids who think it’s gonna be forever,” she says. “At least I was properly primed.” Spencer doesn’t fall for the act, though, and reminds her that she doesn’t need to appear cut off from her emotions.
Alex shows up at Valerie’s office, desperate for help, but when he can’t find her, he settles for the next best thing: Jennifer. “I think she’s hiding,” Alex says. “Pretending she’s in some fairy-tale romance.” He expects Valerie to know better because he needs to depend on her.
At the hotel, Valerie and Jack are still living out that fairy-tale romance and decide to crash a high-school reunion. Valerie is hesitant at first, asking Jack, “What story are we telling this time?” He insists that it’s “fun to sample someone else’s world.” Although Valerie is usually reliable and pragmatic, Jack enjoys living romantically and challenges her to step outside of her comfort zone. The only problem? It’s difficult to tell the difference between what is real and what is an act.
Laura attempts to masturbate after Spencer leaves, and then, in a surprising turn, decides to FaceTime him. While Valerie is off living a fantasy, and Alex is forced to face his problems, Laura assumes a new role as well. It seems like she’s finally learning to value an emotional connection over physical intimacy.
When Valerie sees that Laura texted her, she rushes home, only to realizes that it was Alex. Before she’s able to return to the hotel, Alex tells her that Jack also had a brief affair with Jennifer. When Valerie still refuses to help, he finally verbalizes the feelings of resentment he’s kept hidden away all season: “I let you into my home and you fucked my girlfriend. I loved Emmy. I was really happy with her. And you took that from me.” It’s a heartbreaking moment of honesty that clears the air, but still pushes Valerie away.
Alex apologizes to Sarah, but she understands: “You’re just a self-absorbed boy who wants what he can’t have.” Once again, he’ll be left with nothing. To make things worse, she tells Alex that he has “creepy eyebrows.” He might never come back from a burn like that.
Once Valerie is able to see Jack for who he is, she’s falls back to reality. At home, Sarah packs up her things, and Alex is left alone to care for himself. Both were given brief opportunities to grow in this episode: She tries spontaneity and putting herself first, and Alex has a chance to be in a committed relationship with someone he cares for. But this is Casual, a show that knows all fairy tales must come to an abrupt end, so Valerie and Alex inevitably assume their previous roles. Their search for a way forward continues.