Good Girls Recap: Fake Money in, Real Money Out

Good Girls

Atom Bomb
Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: NBC/Steve Dietl/NBC

Good Girls could very easily become a procedural dramedy, where a couple of bumbling wannabe criminals — or rather, have-to-be criminals — bumble their way through a new heist every week to keep their heads above water. It’s not doing that, thank goodness. “Atom Bomb” isn’t the most exciting hour, but Good Girls has found a way to maintain its promising but precarious balance of wit, stakes, empowerment, and moral ambiguity without succumbing to the unmanageable pace of throwing our titular good girls into criminal peril. Ruby has been clear: She does not want to stick anything illegal up her butt, and a crime-a-week would certainly come to that.

“Atom Bomb” deals more in the small decisions that these women have to make every day (birthday parties, school bullies, bratty customers) rather than the large moral leaps we’ve seen thus far (grocery-store robbing, hog-tying witnesses, smuggling fake cash), but by the hour’s end, the story moves forward in its grandest and most unexpected way yet. Beth, Annie, and Ruby finally get out in front of the mess they’ve made for themselves.

“When did life become this big monster that we just have to constantly feed?” Beth asks in a particularly dark spiral, only moments before coming up with the gutsy plan that just might save her. “Alright there, little Nietzsche,” Annie teases her in return. But Beth, the most practical of our three leads, is right: Life had been a monster that Ruby, Beth, and Annie were unable to feed long before they decided to rob a grocery store. Yes, when said grocery store turned out to be a money-laundering front, they made that monster exponentially hungrier. But by deciding to become the launderers themselves, these women have finally realized that big appetites can only be satiated with big feedings.

Does that make their idea to work for Rio the Crime Boss is a good one? Absolutely not. But suddenly having the FBI show up at Beth’s doorstep mere hours after she’s decided to embrace the newly minted #momcrime lifestyle is thrilling for the future of this series, and anxiety-inducing for the future of its characters.

More importantly, it means we’ll surely be rid of opening every episode with the surprise arrival of some criminal activity, and Ruby responding, “I thought we were done with that!” It has been very clearly established that they will never be done. Even the days of calling the police when something scary happens are over for this trip, such as when Beth’s young daughter finds a man bleeding out in her bed. When Annie and Ruby show up, Beth confesses that this bleeding man might be related to the criminal they’ve been working for because she might have told that criminal — whose name they only just now learn is Rio from the bleeding guy’s phone — that they would do another job for him.

“Oh, so you think you can pick what you want to do, and when you want to do it?” Rio mocks when Beth calls him over to explain why there’s a bleeding man in her house. “She thought it would be like driving for Uber,” Ruby piles on. Annie, for her part, just can’t believe it was her sister and not her, which, same. Turns out, Rio’s idea for Beth’s involvement with his organization is a little more along the lines of Airbnb: “No one’s gonna shoot up Beaver Cleaver’s house.” He shows the women a few stacks of cash and tells him they’ll get their payment whenever he decides it’s a good time to pick up his associate.

Although the money is good for the women’s teetering personal lives, a bleeding stranger isn’t great for their mental states. Annie just found out that her sweet and precious daughter Sadie, who’s in the midst of exploring her gender identity, is being pantsed by the boys at school because “they wanna know what I am.” Beth’s son wants to have a big birthday party that they can’t afford, only to have her estranged husband Dean swoop in and promise a huge party for all 30 kids in his class. And Ruby may lose her job because a caricature of a punk teen keeps taunting her for being a waitress, and when she sternly snaps back about his 3 percent tips, he purposefully burns himself on the sizzling skillet she just served him.

This episode’s parallel use of adolescent boys and adult men — and just how early their immaturity can become both enabled by, and a burden to the women in their lives — is too obvious to be missed. Beth is forced into a birthday party she can’t afford because her husband can’t stand the look of disappointment on their son’s face. Ruby faces unemployment because the teen boy’s mother demands an apology for not warning her son about his plate.

So, boy does it feel great when Ruby says that she is sorry: “Sorry he’s such a punk-ass bitch because that is a surface burn! And I’m sorry that the friends you bring in here are as entitled and spoiled and awful as you, because if kids like you are our future, then God help us all.” But boy (oh yes, that is a pun) does it feel equally bad when you realize that Ruby standing up for herself ultimately means endangering her own family’s well-being.

It’s those two meetings of rocks and hard places for Ruby and Beth that lead to the trio’s biggest, baddest, dirtiest move yet. (Annie, for the record, has been down to criminally clown since the idea was first introduced.) When the women go to a Costco-like store to get the cheapest possible goods for the birthday party, the checkout clerk mentions that they have a 30-day return policy. “Is that for everything in the store?” Annie asks. Indeed it is, so Ruby, Beth, and Annie proceed to head back into the aisles shopping like queens who know that they’ll get their money back on everything they buy. The piling-on of bouncy houses, cotton-candy machines, and helium tanks is perfectly scored to Black Caviar’s “Coco Puffs”: “She keep it spicy like Old Bay / Got me so high I feel holy / We on that green guacamole / She got the Coco Puffs.”

Once Ruby loses her job, Beth finds out that Dean has cancer, and Annie is reminded of the impending fight to keep custody of her daughter, the exact same store will become the location of their next baller move — but the stakes are a little higher this time. The ladies call Rio to the local Costco to explain their proposition on how to improve his counterfeit-money methods. No one would think twice about moms going to big box stores and making big purchases like tires or flat-screen TVs that they then have to return: “Fake money in, real money out,” Beth says.

Rio seems tickled by the idea that these women think they can swoop in and take over the money-cleaning aspect of his operation, but he says he’ll give it a try. “We’re not here to try, we’re here to win, bitch!” Beth hollers after him, repeating the words he told her when she wasn’t able to deliver his bleeding associate back to him. He agrees to sharing 12.5 percent with them, and with that, Ruby, Beth, and Annie are now … in charge of a money-laundering operation.

What they don’t know is that Boomer has stayed on their tails and contacted someone in town from the FBI: Agent Turner, who mostly seems entertained by this obviously Law & Order obsessed dummy ranting about stay-at-home moms. But when Boomer actually manages to snap a photo of Rio leaving Beth’s birthday party, Turner matches it to a prolific murder wall at his headquarters. The episode ends with Beth opening her door, asking if she can help her visitor. “I’m hoping you can,” says Agent Turner.

A few loose ends

• The bleeding man manages to escape Beth’s house by holding the women at gunpoint and stealing Beth’s minivan. But like most criminals on this show, he seems to have an affection for the fish-out-of-water trio, and returns the car (now with fresh bullet holes) when he’s done with it. When Annie offers him a ride home, they make a detour so he’ll threaten the boys at Sadie’s school who have been bothering her, which is fun thrill … until he breaks one of their fingers. For now, it seems like it did the trick, but like most of the reckless things Annie does, it’ll surely come back to bite her.

• Lest you worry that Dean’s cancer diagnosis is skating a little too close to Breaking Bad territory, fear not — he’s faking it! I love Matthew Lillard, but this series will not let me like Dean. He has me shipping Beth with an actual crime lord.

• The check-ins with Ruby’s mature and understanding husband/co-parent, Stan, are always such a reprieve. I certainly feel most attached to her family dynamic, although I also want to smush Mae Whitman and Zach Gilford’s faces together like two dolls until they love each other.

Good Girls Recap: Fake Money in, Real Money Out