Casual Recap: Professional Help

Nyasha Hatendi as Leon. Hulu
Episode Title
Death and Taxes
Editor’s Rating

Ever since Leon's introduction in the first season, I've looked forward to seeing his character develop. Whenever he's drawn into Alex and Valerie's world, though, he's been frustratingly one-dimensional. He has no real agency, and only exists to react and enable Alex's story.

It's an odd role for the character, to put it kindly. Leon started out as Valerie's love interest, then gradually became Alex's only friend, and now serves his moralistic guide, ultimately reduced to playing mentor to the white protagonist. Whenever Alex is in trouble, Leon immediately jumps to help, but lately appears annoyed with Alex or even disapproving. Leon doesn't even seem to like Alex that much, or benefit at all from their friendship, yet still seems beholden to him in some way.

Alex, on the other hand, blatantly uses Leon to work through his own problems. When it comes to learning any basic information about Leon, such as what he does for a living, Alex chooses to focus on himself instead. So why is Leon always there when Alex needs him, especially when Alex barely knows him at all?

In "Death and Taxes," Leon finally realizes that Alex should look for help elsewhere. We open with Leon at dinner, finally in a scene without Alex or Valerie. He is charming and self-assured, surrounded by friends, and instantly hits it off with Claire, an attractive woman at a restaurant. Their relationship develops quickly — they go from coy flirting to reading in bed like a married couple — and all the while, he keeps screening Alex's calls. But as soon as Leon discovers that Claire is cheating, it's over. By watching this relationship run its course, we're reminded that happiness never lasts on Casual.

Heartbroken, Leon visits Alex in the hopes of his discussing his own problems for once, but Alex shifts the focus to his eyebrows before Leon even walks through the door. Though it's taken nearly two seasons to reach this breaking point, Leon finally tells him, "You need professional help." Alex knows he's right.

At school, Laura must also come to terms with the end of a relationship: Aubrey is mysteriously gone. When she asks Spencer if Aubrey said anything to him, he just responds, "Maybe it was too intense for her," and like that, they've moved on to checking out cemeteries. When Laura was forced to leave her last school, Aubrey was the first person to make her feel welcome; now Laura has forced Aubrey out with no sense of remorse. Instead, she busies herself with Spencer, maybe so she doesn't have time to feel guilty.

Meanwhile, Alex seeks professional help … kind of. He decides he wants Jennifer as his therapist, because he has no sense of professional or personal boundaries. She refers him to Barry, a different therapist with no connection to Valerie, but they are unable to discuss anything except his eyebrows. He returns to see Jennifer, and begs for help because he has lost Leon, Valerie, and Sarah. He has nowhere else to go. Jennifer gives in, and after they speak, she points out that both Valerie and Alex's anger might be misplaced.     

Valerie also seeks help, but by binge-eating doughnuts in her car. We see that she's meeting Drew to file their taxes, and although Valerie is miserable, she realizes that he's even worse off, and find some small satisfaction in that. When they grab coffee at a restaurant nearby, however, we witness a shift in their relationship. They are no longer pointedly hurtful, but honest with each other. Drew believes they are "destined to be unsatisfied," while Valerie flirts with the idea of "cheating intimately" by having illicit sex with someone she knows. Who would have thought filing taxes could be so fun?

When Laura and Spencer arrive at the funeral home, it's all clearly still a game to Laura. She walks in and announces, "We'd like to procure one high-quality casket for my dying friend here." She's smiling the entire time, and although she relentlessly critiqued The Fault in Our Stars in last week's episode, she's falling into the same unrealistic trap. They joke about playing Wiz Khalifa at the funeral, and even climb into a coffin for a "test ride." Spencer joins in, because Laura seems to enjoy it, but when he insists that she should be his "social-media steward" after he passes, it finally dawns on her that it isn't some joke, or some weepy rom-com. He's truly dying.     

Valerie and Drew leave the restaurant knowing they will always be connected through their daughter. In a playful move, Valerie pretends to walk in the same direction as Drew, and he suddenly kisses her. It's hard to watch, knowing how deeply he has hurt her, but while Laura, Leon, and Alex brace themselves for the end of their respective relationships, Valerie revives her feelings for Drew. Perhaps she sees it as a chance to start over.

Following Jennifer's advice, Alex explores what brought him and Valerie so close together: feeling neglected by their father. He parks in front of his father's house, hesitant to go inside, when a homeless man asks him for change. When Alex hands him a dollar, the man responds, "It's all your fault. You're the problem." And the strangest part is that Alex listens to him. He is so completely lost without someone to guide him, but he's already alienated Leon and Valerie, the only two people willing to listen. I found it hard to believe that this man would be so helpful and aware of Alex's state of mind, and half-expected him to be revealed as a figment of Alex's imagination. After the man walks away, Alex drives off, narrowly missing his father being carried out of an ambulance on a stretcher. There's a chance that an impromptu family reunion wouldn't change anything — this is Casual, after all — but talking to his father might prompt some growth. Maybe he would learn to trust his instincts. Maybe it would encourage him to be his own guide. At least it would be something. Right now, he's desperate for anything.