Maria Bamford as Maria, Andy Daly as Dr. Achter.
Lady Dynamite is at its most fun when it focuses squarely on Maria’s insecurities and her ill-fated attempts to overcome them. “A Vaginismus Miracle” is all about her trying to gain confidence in herself. And yes, it’s also about vaginismus.
Despite Larissa’s crusade to be the world’s worst personal assistant, Maria gets her calendar sorted out. In doing so, she realizes it’s been a year to the day since she’s had vaginal sex. In Maria’s world, vaginismus is not just a condition that makes sex painful; it’s also the day each year she must have sex by midnight — or 1 a.m., at the latest — in order to keep her genitals from closing up shop for good. (Obviously, this is not rooted in science.)
Before she can deal with that crisis, Maria has an audition to attend on the Fox lot. It’s the first one since her breakdown, so it’s important she proves to herself that she’s back and ready to land big-time gigs.
When Maria pulls up, the security guard (James Black) tells her she’s not on the list and has to turn around. But she’s too eager to ace this audition, so she plows right ahead anyway. Once she enters the audition room, it’s immediately clear she’s reading for the part of a young black man. Great job managing the schedule, Larissa!
Although Maria showed up to the wrong audition, she nails the part, which turns out to be Cookie Lyon’s younger brother on Empire. She triumphantly drives off the lot, accidentally throwing hot coffee on the security guard in the process. As a result, Fox bans Maria from its lot for life. To boot, Bruce tells her that Empire passed her up, but her performance did persuade them to rewrite the part for a white, blond woman. Too bad they gave it to Amy Schumer instead.
Still, Maria acing an impromptu audition seems like a huge step up, confidence-wise, compared to her recovery in Duluth. While shopping inside her hometown Checklist, she runs into sales clerk Kirsten Rydholm (Melanie Hutsell), a.k.a. the junior-high bully who later married her fourth cousin. Kirsten announces over the store’s loudspeaker that Maria is buying Monistat. Maria has no idea how to stand up to her.
Other shoppers start gossiping about Maria, with rumors ranging from the truth (she has bipolar disorder) to very ridiculous gossip (she’s engaged to the heir of Polaris snowmobiles). The latter rumor makes its way back to Kirsten, who is suddenly impressed and angles to strike up a friendship. Maria doesn’t want to accept Kirsten’s invitation to come over watch the game that weekend, but her mother pops up and advises her to “take the win.”
Meanwhile, present-day Maria is trying to be more assertive. She works up the nerve to chew out Larissa for sending her to the wrong audition. Not that Larissa is likely to step up her game anytime soon: She’s taking calendar-management tips from her dim-witted business coach, who recommends scheduling everything by fortnights because that was good enough for Abraham Lincoln.
And as we learn, this isn’t the first time Maria has dealt with dim-witted but persuasive professionals. Before her breakdown, we see agent Karen Grisham convince her to fire Bruce over voice-mail because he won’t answer the phone, not realizing he’s trapped on a disabled cruise ship with his wife and her boyfriend.
Firing Bruce has Maria on a power trip. Really, it looks to be the start of a hypomanic episode, though she may not realize it yet. Maria punches Graham in the face twice while they talk about how he’s too old for stunt work. (Yes, they’re still living together.) She then encourages him — with way too much enthusiasm — to get back into swimming. Her suggestion? He should train to swim to Catalina Island in a couple of weeks.
As Graham sets off for the first training session in his Zwim Gym — a bulky, water-filled suit promoted by Adrian Zmed — he gets hit by a bus. He’s treated by Dr. Achter (Andrew Daly), who tells him he broke his neck, nearly died, and won’t be able to swim anytime soon. Maria isn’t having it, and she goes off on Dr. Achter.
It’s an absurd situation: When she’s uninhibited, Maria talks incredibly fast and jumps from topic to topic with jokes no one can understand. The scene definitely plays well for laughs, but Lady Dynamite effectively balances this type of comedy with clear reminders that Maria could likely benefit from treatment for bipolar II disorder. And so, Dr. Achter pulls Maria aside to see if she’s on medication. She’s been taking anti-depressants since age 19, but the doctor lets her know that he’d like her to undergo some testing to see if she should try a mood stabilizer. It’s a pleasure to see a TV show highlighting the quirks of mental illness without shaming or dehumanizing any characters.
Back to Maria’s most pressing concern in the present: She needs to find a guy to sleep with on Vaginismus Day. She’s holed up at bar drinking a Diet Coke and cranberry while she waits for a suitable man to show up. Sure enough, the Fox security guard walks in. Maria apologizes for scalding him, and two hours later, around 11:30 p.m., they’re still bantering. He goes back to Maria’s place, where she proceeds to awkwardly pressure him to have sex with her. He doesn’t want to, since it’s their first date and he’s looking for something serious.
After he walks out angry, Maria heads back to the bar. It’s now 12:48 a.m., and via Empire audition monologue, she turns down one of her past Vaginismus Day hookups, the bartender. Defeated, she heads home again. When her lights go out, she walks over to the house party next door and asks if someone can come help her with the circuit breaker. An electrician in the bunch volunteers, and after he flips a switch for Maria, they quickly start making out and undressing. Why? Because this is a sitcom, and that’s what happens in sitcoms.
Just in the nick of time, Maria is saved. It’s a true vaginismus miracle. The next morning, the electrician wants to have sex again. She declines, not seeing the point of doing so beyond her annual medical upkeep. He tells her he wants to do it again because he really likes her. Maria’s response: “Why?!” Looks like someone still has a ways to go in the self-confidence department.
It’s great to see Lady Dynamite slowly laying down the framework for longer, more nuanced story arcs. This episode in particular shows how using three timelines to tell the story of Maria’s recovery can really pay off. It’s a risky narrative choice, flipping so abruptly from seeing her grapple with undiagnosed hypomania to facing stigma in her hometown to rebuilding her life on her own, and it entices viewers to stick around as the gaps in Maria’s story are slowly filled. This isn’t just a sitcom. It’s a high-wire act.