Maria Bamford as Maria, Wendie Malick as herself.
Obsessive thoughts aren’t too relatable to viewers who haven’t experienced obsessive-compulsive disorder firsthand. Most of us probably don’t share Maria’s repeated worry that she might chop up her friends and family and have sex with the chunks and bits and then use them to make a Cobb salad that she’ll feed to her parents. And yet “Knife Feelings” is super-relatable. The episode explores Maria’s fear of sharing these thoughts with a new romantic partner, along with everything else that makes her feel weird and different.
If Scott attends one of Maria’s stand-up shows, she’s convinced that he’ll instantly break things off. Not wanting to drag things out, she invites him to a show right away — one in which, like many of Bamford’s real-life sets, she talks at length about her violent and sexual thoughts.
Although Scott laughs throughout the set, Maria still assumes he’s about to dump her. To her surprise, he reveals that he likes her even more now that he knows about her chopping-up-family fantasies. In fact, he wants to sketch pictures of Maria chopping up her family. How romantic.
Meanwhile, Bruce’s financial woes just got worse. After Maria told him she wasn’t interested in selling T-shirts, Bruce wanted them out of the office ASAP. Too bad his assistant Chantrelle decides to overnight them to South Sudan for $32,000. Cut to a scene of soldiers opening up a box of the T-shirts, with one praising how hard Maria works to destigmatize mental illness.
Before Maria’s breakdown, agent Karen Grisham was the one calling the shots on her branding — not Bruce. And she had bigger ideas. With the Pepper-Bot selling well, Karen urges Maria to enter Wendie Malick’s Pitchapalooza, where the winning idea for a TV show gets pitched to a major network. (With Wendie Malick in a starring role, of course.) Maria tries to back out, saying she’s not a writer, but Karen insists that the pitch become leg No. 2 of Maria’s three-legged stool-of-success machine, whatever that may actually mean.
Maria is busy recording an idea into her phone (just like she heard Aaron Sorkin does) when Graham walks in on crutches after another stuntman accident. Maria persuades him to help her with the pitch. Her rationale: They’ve already moved in together too soon and gotten engaged too soon, so they might as well continue making inadvisable relationship decisions by writing together, too.
As in “No Friend Left Behind,” Maria might be in the middle of a hypomanic episode. She’s talking to Graham at a rapid, often incomprehensible clip and is easily distracted from the conversation at hand. The show portrays her symptoms as almost manic because she seems to be exhibiting echolalia, typically a sign of psychosis that involves repeating the sounds of other people’s words to form meaningless phrases. Psychosis wouldn’t square with Maria’s impending bipolar II diagnosis, but would instead be classified as bipolar I. At least for now, that potential distinction is a fairly minor quibble. Lady Dynamite has made a real effort to portray mental illness and the recovery process accurately and empathetically.
Meanwhile, Graham tries to tell Maria that he’s having an awful day because his ex-wife is fighting for custody of their kids. He also mentions that depression runs in his family, though he’s managed to largely steer clear of it so far. Maria can’t handle the pressure of someone else’s intimate problems (as we see Scott do for her in the present), so she goes to panic in her shower.
At Pitchapolooza, Maria is nervous about selling her TV show in just 60 seconds, but Karen reminds her that any good show can be pitched in three words. (Friends is “whiny, coffee, Jews.”) Armed with her three words, Maria approaches Wendie Malick when it’s her turn. Overcome with stress and memories of her past failures, Maria ends up sitting on Wendie Malick’s lap and shouting, “Turkey! Bacon! Club!” She gently suggests that Maria may need to talk to someone. Maria agrees, which feels like a big step.
In the present, Maria and Scott are on a nature walk the day after her stand-up set. They’re taking turns confessing weird things about themselves. It’s adorable … until Scott says his dad used to chase him around with knives. Just like in her relationship with Graham, Maria has a hard time handling other people’s baggage. The news of Scott’s dark childhood is too much to bear, so she panics and runs away from Scott, yelling, “Knife feelings!”
Maria runs to Bruce, who’s in the process of selling his possessions on Craigslist. She tries to tell him what happened with Scott, but Bruce also doesn’t want to handle someone else’s problems. “Look Maria, I just really can’t handle your shit right now, okay?” he snaps. She runs off again.
As usual, Bert the pug knows how to help Maria through her issues. After a lecture in Duluth from her mother about how she needs to work on eye contact, Maria is feeling down on herself. She asks Bert why she’s struggling so much. Bert says it’s easy for her to look him in the eyes because he can’t read human beings’ minds, then reminds her that humans can’t do so either. The lesson? People will only understand her problems if she’s open about them.
“You can’t worry about putting your baggage on other people,” Bert says. “The ones who love you will love you, baggage and all.” And with that, he puts on his best Gordon Lightfoot costume and starts singing “If You Could Read My Mind” with Maria.
In the present, Maria needs to grasp the flip side of Bert’s lesson. It comes to her in the form of a documentary about capuchin monkeys. As she watches two of them fight at a watering hole, it dawns on her that being in a relationship means having to handle another person’s shit — literally for the monkeys, figuratively for Maria. She can’t just focus on herself.
Right then, Bruce barges into her house with occasion-inappropriate balloons and a police teddy bear that says, “Sorry you died in service.” He apologizes for lashing out at her earlier. Maria explains her capuchin revelation, and all is well.
Now Maria just has to make things right with Scott. She and the police bear go to stake him out together. When she spots him, she nearly hits him with her car and handcuffs him to her. Maria tells Scott she wants to handle his shit, and they kiss and make up, still handcuffed. If you think that ending isn’t bizarre enough for Lady Dynamite, never fear: A monkey in a police uniform appears out of nowhere and shrugs. Watching this show can feel like a constant exercise in shrugging, but in a good way, as long as you don’t mind suspending disbelief.