The only thing standing in the way of Forrest MacNeil is Forrest MacNeil.
He could easily put an end to Review, the show that has single-handedly torn his life asunder. At the very least, he could charitably interpret his Review assignments so that they wouldn’t adversely affect his very existence. Hell, he doesn’t even have to do certain reviews because of his unlimited veto power, an option he has publicly cast aside. There is no larger mechanism at work. There is no fate. There is just a man with a one-track mind willing to do anything for a show that gives him nothing in return.
If last week’s episode strongly suggested this idea, then “Co-Host; Ass-Slap; Helen Keller; Forgiveness” basically makes it text. Each of his three reviews emphasize Forrest’s inability to fashion a life outside of Review as well as his staunch refusal to listen to any advice that goes against his own worldview. Andy Daly usually offers some avenues for the audience to pity Forrest, since he suffers immense pain every time he steps into the world, but not this time. Instead, it’s shock and awe at how low Forrest will go to continue doing something that’s essentially meaningless.
Forrest’s first review is to explore what it’s like to be a co-host, and before he can devise an elaborate scheme to complete this task, his Review co-host A.J. Gibbs bounds onto the stage and tells him to sit in her chair. Befuddled and uncomfortable, Forrest reluctantly sits in the chair and provides A.J. with her own review. While A.J. exits the studio to go review “slapping a stranger’s ass,” Forrest stays behind and gets his first glimpse at the mundane behind-the-scenes reality of his own TV show. He walks around aimlessly while people scurry off to perform various duties that have nothing to do with him. When he’s not at the center of attention, Forrest feels alone and irrelevant.
He eventually finds his way to Gibbs’s dressing room, where he discovers that Review takes up a very small amount of her life. She goes to the beach. She travels. She enjoys the company of friends. Forrest wonders how someone could do such a trivial job day in and day out, once again without recognizing the irony of his statement. He does an “important” job and he’s obviously miserable and broken, while A.J.’s job is “insignificant” but allows multiple opportunities for happiness. Forrest feels rudderless without a bigger purpose, even if said purpose only causes him misery.
Forrest is in for another surprise when he learns about A.J.’s own approach to being a life review — which is the exact opposite of how Forrest does it. She heads out into the world prepared to slap a stranger’s ass, but then contemplates the ethics of doing such an action, consults her boyfriend for some worthwhile advice, and then decides not to do it. “Thinking about others instead of just myself allowed me to learn something I’d never forget,” she tells the camera with a smile. Naturally, Forrest is horrified at her complete disregard for procedure and the show’s innate rules. But guess what? The world didn’t fall apart because she decided not to review such a frivolous request. By comparison, if Forrest had gone out to do the same thing, something calamitous would have likely occurred.
That calamity occurs in the next segment when Forrest reviews what’s it like to be Helen Keller. Though the initial wording of the review focuses on the concept of “adversity,” Forrest obviously takes the request literally and decides to become temporarily deaf, blind, and mute, complete with a soundproof, lightproof helmet. He enlists his interns Josh and Tina to help shepherd him around, but soon he becomes a nuisance to everyone around him. From there, things get profoundly uncomfortable when Forrest shows up to his murder trial with the headset and dressed like the real Helen Keller. Though Forrest’s wife, Suzanne, swears on the stand that he wouldn’t actually kill someone, even for his work, Forrest is unable to defend himself in court because of his commitment to the review. Of course, Forrest places the blame at the feet of Josh, Tina, and Review, which “left [his] fate to the hands of fate,” but obviously none for himself.
Oh, by the way, Forrest is acquitted of murder. Why, you ask? The district attorney says it’s almost impossible to convict a white man for using a gun in America. Forrest’s explanation? He believes the jurors probably saw Review and understood the value of his work.
Though the episode treats Forrest’s acquittal as a joke, it also neatly underscores Forrest’s agency in his own misery. Though the murder that occurred last season could reasonably be called an “accident” — or with enough moral convolution, “self-defense” — Forrest’s own actions, his own determination to do anything and everything for Review, led him to hold that gun in the first place. It’s remarkable that Daly doesn’t let Forrest off the hook here. He’s the master of his own destiny.
Suzanne pretty much says this to Forrest’s face during his last review of the episode: “What is forgiveness?” Forrest finally convinces Suzanne to step onto the front porch because she expects him to ask for her forgiveness, but instead Forrest forgives her for suggesting in court that he’s not committed enough to his work. This sends Suzanne on a righteous tirade about how Forrest’s own selfish actions have negatively impacted her life: He divorced her, he killed her father in outer space, he led her and their son to believe that he had brain cancer, he gave her a drug-resistant form of gonorrhea, he catfished her, all for the show. The laundry list is damning, but all Forrest can do is nitpick semantics.
“You are not a person,” Suzanne tells him. “You are a malfunctioning robot. And it’s sad, Forrest, because you used to be a person. You used to do things because you wanted to do them.”
Instead of taking these words to heart, instead of thinking about others, instead of examining his own life, Forrest takes the easy way out and asks forgiveness of his producer Grant for throwing him off a bridge and paralyzing him from the waist down. He ironically claims it was his fault, when actually that might have been the one review where it wasn’t only his fault, seeing as Grant and the show led him to believe he was being hunted. Grant, knowing that he has Forrest in his pocket, provides the answer he wants: “I forgave you before we hit the water.”
Forrest believes forgiveness provides you with freedom, but it’s only locked him tighter in Review’s cage. There’s only one episode left in the series, and maybe that’s just enough time for Forrest to wake up, but I’m not holding my breath. Honestly, he would have been safer in prison.
• While A.J. is out on her review assignment, Forrest practices for his murder trial. One of his defenses is that he gave “killing a person” half a star and a “murderer who wanted to murder somebody would probably have given the experience more than half a star, maybe even five stars!”
• The funniest sight gag of the episode is Daly in the Helen Keller outfit, which makes him look like a Victorian monster.
• Suzanne gives Forrest’s review of forgiveness zero stars. When Forrest reminds her that she can’t give any review zero stars, she tells him she gives “zero fucks.”
• “This assignment had gone from frivolous to deeply concerning” could describe every single review in the history of this show.