Good Girls Recap: Seriously Secret Shoppers

Good Girls

Special Sauce
Season 1 Episode 7
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: NBC/Steve Dietl/NBC

Ruby, Beth, and Annie stumbled their way into a get-rich-quick scheme, but they’re quickly discovering there’s no such thing as a stay-rich scheme. I continue to love the way Good Girls compares their growing criminal operation to that of a more typical direct-sales pyramid organization — but instead of tricking the neighborhood into hosting their Tupperware parties, Ruby, Beth, and Annie are tricking their fellow carpool moms into buying thousands of dollars of goods with counterfeit cash, then returning the goods for real cash, and finally handing it over to a criminal overlord for their deescalating share of the profits.

This Secret Shopper scheme is a fun, relatable, and potentially smart twist, but the haplessness with which Ruby, Beth, and Annie operate said scheme is … frustrating. Let’s start with the fact that Tyler, a man who left $20,000 worth of merchandise in his car to be stolen, is still in their Secret Shoppers club. That’s absurd. If Tyler is an example of the discretion with which they’re handing over Rio’s cash to outsiders, it’s no wonder that that someone has simply been handing their Secret Shopper cash back with a faked questionnaire, without ever really buying and returning any goods, as revealed at the top of “Secret Sauce.”

But Ruby, Beth, and Annie don’t figure out that flaw themselves. Rio figures it out for them, because Rio puts in the work to make sure his operation is running smoothly. He’s taking a risk by involving Beth in his money-cleaning process, but he’s also keeping tabs on her operation because this is his livelihood. That does not make Rio a hero, of course: He holds a gun to Beth’s neck and tells her he’s going to “take care of” whoever tried to trick him with his own cash. But it does make Rio someone who recognizes that just because he’s not making money the old-fashioned way, doesn’t mean it is without effort. Nobody cannot outrun hard work.

When trying to figure out which of their nearly 30 Secret Shoppers handed the same cash back in with a faked shopping survey, Annie realizes it wouldn’t take a criminal mastermind: “Just somebody smart, but like, lazy.” Beth and Ruby stare at Annie until she realizes she’s describing herself, but she’s also describing all of them. At the zany, coffee-fueled Secret Shopper meeting that opens “Special Sauce,” Annie screams at their shoppers about making sure to keep their receipts — it ends with everyone chanting “RECEIPTS! RECEIPTS! RECEIPTS!” for goodness sake — but presumably the three women in charge don’t then check those receipts?

No, Ruby, Beth, and Annie are too busy enjoying the spoils of their … well, not exactly hard work, but they’re definitely enjoying the money. Annie is flashing cash around to buy fancy suits for Sadie, Beth is indulging in an expensive necklace, and Ruby is treating Stan to a dinner of tiny, fancy foods. But Rio, his men, and all their guns arrive while the women are watching The Real Housewives as a stern reminder that if you’re going to make big and spend big, you have to step up big too. Rio informs them that he knows they purposefully tried to hand back $100,000 in counterfeit bills without him noticing. They swear up and down that they didn’t do that, and they have a system for cleaning the cash. Ruby desperately suggests maybe it was “one of the women.” Uh oh…

The realization that Ruby, Beth, and Annie have started their own little cleaning operation within his operation doesn’t seem to bother Rio. He just wants a name so he knows who to “take care of” whoever tried to cheat him. During a stakeout, it becomes clear that the woman who duped them is Mary Pat, a character we’ve only just met, but whom our core trio apparently entrusted with nearly $100,000.

The women of Good Girls clearly aren’t criminal masterminds, but they have always been presented as intelligent. How could they have had no system for keeping their secret shoppers accountable other than a one-page fake survey? How could they have not been checking receipts? Need I remind you again that Tyler was entrusted with more money after losing $20,000?

But just because the writing of Mary Pat’s laziness is a little lazy itself doesn’t mean I don’t want to see more from this character. One, because she’s played by the wonderful Allison Tolman (whom television has been tragically lacking lately), and two, because she exists as proof that Ruby, Beth, and Annie are not exactly special — they’re simply victims (or winners, depending on how you look at the situation) of their own circumstances. There are millions of other women out there, just as desperately looking for a loophole to their own disasters as these three were when they decided to rob a grocery store. In robbing that grocery store, they stumbled into an even more profitable loophole. But in getting a little too big for their britches (and a little too lazy for their circumstances), they exposed themselves to someone else finding a loophole inside of their loophole.

When the women finally confront and fire Mary Pat, they find that she’s a recently widowed single mom who’s barely scraping by. Mary Pat is so embarrassed to have been found out, but she ran out of time to make the purchases and couldn’t do without getting the money. She’s fired gingerly, but just as her former employers are about to leave, she has a few questions: Why did Annie say she “turned in the same cash?” How could she know that? And if she’s being fired from Secret Shoppers, shouldn’t that come through the “corporate office” that they keep referring to? Why doesn’t she just give the Better Business Bureau a ring to get a few answers?

Instead of offering up a solution themselves, perhaps a monetary one, or the option to stay a Secret Shopper, Beth just says, “What do you want?” Criminal masterminds — even criminal middle-minds! — they are not.

Mary Pat wants $10,000. And Beth is going to give it to her because that’s her way of “taking care of it.” When she refuses to give Rio the name she wants, he doesn’t put up a fight, but he wants to give her a little advice: “When you got a rotten egg in the bunch, it stinks up the whole batch until you get rid of it.” He’s right about that. Beth tells him not to ever point a gun at her again. She’s also right about that.

That self-assurance is what’s been missing all episode, and I think it’s absence makes the hour seem a little off. I can buy that the Secret Shopper program would go off the rails, but I can’t quite buy that it would go off in such an amateur way. Seven episodes in, Ruby, Beth, and Annie certainly shouldn’t be master criminals, but I also shouldn’t feel like they’re not learning anything from their mistakes simply for the sake of hilarious hijinks … even if the whole Secret Shoppers concept is very funny.

Less funny is listening to Ruby tell an awful story about her time working at the diner when she had to stir a 55-gallon barrel of “secret sauce” with her arms because her boss was trying to save money. Annie’s horrified face is all of our horrified faces, but the point is that Ruby can’t go back to the diner. And she can’t get out of this mess with Rio, at least not yet. She’s stuck — just like they were all stuck, floundering in their own lives, when we met them. The question now is, are they going to look for yet another loophole, or are they going to put in the work to take control of the mess they’ve already made?

It’s a mess that gets a whole lot bigger when they deliver the $10,000 of hush money to Mary Pat and ask if they’re good now. “Yeah, we’re good,” she says. “Until next month.”

A Few Loose Ends

• A seriously loose end pops back up in the form of Rio’s associate who nursed a gunshot wound at Beth’s house, drove her minivan around for a while, and then broke Sadie’s bully’s finger in the middle of an elementary school as a favor to Annie…

• It looks like Agent Turner is going to get that fella to talk. Closing in on Rio means the FBI is bringing in some local police to form a task force — a task force including newly minted police officer, Stan.

• Speaking of police, Annie also briefly goes to jail for the drugs Boomer planted in her work locker. Then Annie sleeps with her ex when he comes by to pick up Sadie’s jeans. Oh Annie … why do they make you do the things you do?

• This is the second episode in a row where there’s a tear-filled personal argument among Ruby, Beth, and Annie that’s suddenly resolved off-camera just because they love each other so much. It’s not my favorite thing the show is doing.

• And that’s because my favorite thing is Ruby, Beth, and Annie gasping at the “Please don’t let it be about Tom” episode of The Real Housewives of New York!!! That is just a perfect detail.

Good Girls Recap: Seriously Secret Shoppers