Lady Dynamite Recap: Adventures of a Sheep-Herding Pug

Lady Dynamite

No Friend Left Behind
Season 1 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Maria Bamford as Maria.

Lady Dynamite

No Friend Left Behind
Season 1 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Maria Bamford as Maria. Photo: Netflix

Some friends deserve to be left behind. Watching Maria learn this lesson the hard way is equal parts funny and stressful, a mix that’s really working well for Lady Dynamite.

While Maria hangs out at the café with Dagmar and Larissa, she makes the mistake of going to the bathroom and leaving Larissa unattended with her phone. In that brief moment, Larissa plays a prank supposedly popularized by Anderson Cooper 360 — in the world of the show, at least — in which she takes her friend’s phone and texts, “How ya doin’?” to a random contact.

When Maria returns to the table, she finds out that Larissa texted Jill Kwatney-Adelman (Annie Mumolo). Their friendship ended in a blowout years ago, and it’s far from the only friendship that Maria hasn’t kept. As she scrolls through her contact list, she realizes it’s a “minefield of shattered relationships.” Karen Grisham (life coach) isn’t all that interested in Maria’s lack of friends, which she attributes to her bipolar disorder.

Maria pays that cruel remark no mind, instead deciding that she should try to reconnect with Jill as part of her new “no friend left behind” policy. She doesn’t bother sharing this idea with her old friend Jill, then shows up unannounced to the sheep-herding center in San Jacinto where she works.

Jill greets Maria and her pug, Bert, with more than a little hostility. But she warms up quite a bit as soon as Bert miraculously aces his first-ever attempt at sheep herding. Jill thinks Bert is so talented that he could make it to the national sheep-herding competition, which is apparently enough motivation for her to restore their lost friendship with a squeal and a hug.

With a look back at Maria’s time in Duluth, we start to get a sense of how this friendship unraveled in the first place. Jill visits Maria in the hospital, and Maria mentions she doesn’t want to live anymore. Before actively encouraging her to take her own life, Jill imparts wisdom she got from reading about mental illness and dogs in Bark magazine. When telling Maria “Who’s a good boy?” doesn’t seem to have the desired effect, Jill leaves Maria alone with some sketchy pills and her dog, Rusty, whom she has ordered to try and help Maria die. This scene, designed to roast misguided right-to-die narratives that promote the offensive notion that sick people are better off dying, lands particularly well in light of disability advocates speaking out against the film Me Before You.

Maria lives, obviously. Two months later, Jill is bragging at a bar about how she herded Maria out of death’s corral. Not quite, Jill. Not quite.

Jill spends the rest of the night boasting about her nearly nine-year marriage while also fawning over her crush: her husband’s friend, Todd (Peter Christian Hansen). Maria has a short chat with Todd, which ends with her agreeing to go out with him sometime. That so-called betrayal — combined with the fact that Maria never bought her a wedding present — is enough to prompt Jill to end their friendship.

In the present, another Jill blowup is in the making. This time it’s over a sandwich. Jill has celiac disease and finds Maria’s choice of pretzel bread offensive. On top of that, Maria, who had no knowledge of Jill’s autoimmune disorder, finally got around to gifting her now-divorced friend something for her wedding: a pizza stone. Perfect. Still clinging to her No Friend Left Behind resolution, Maria is quick to tell Jill that ordering pretzel bread was inexcusable, and that she’s ready to herd sheep again. Their friendship is safe. For now.

Before her breakdown, Maria was in a rough patch in her relationship with Bruce, whom she had just fired. Disguised poorly as a shrub, he shows up on the commercial set — which he’s banned from — for the Bamford Pepper Stepper Pepper-Bot, a contraption that allows you to eat a pepper while you’re jogging. Following the lead of Karen Grisham (agent), who had the idea to fire Bruce in the first place, Maria tells him to leave and that their friendship is over. He’s humiliated.

Back at the sheep-herding center, Maria gives Bert a pep talk to will him into repeating his last performance. It doesn’t seem like he’s focused enough, so Jill takes Bert from Maria and starts shaking him violently. When Jill slaps him, that’s the last straw. Maria will let anyone walk all over her, but when it comes to her pugs, she has a much lower tolerance for bullshit.

Maria takes Bert in her arms and runs through the woods, apologizing to him for interfering in his destiny. As a heavenly light shines down on Bert, fittingly voiced by Lady Dynamite writer Kyle McCulloch, he tells her the sage, soothing things she’s badly needed to hear. First, he assures Maria that it was never his destiny to herd sheep; he chose to sacrifice himself so that she’d realize Jill was not a friend. Therefore, Bert concludes, her No Friend Left Behind promise remains unbroken.

Despite Bert seemingly having the answers to the universe’s biggest questions, he says he can’t lead Maria all the way, as she is not a sheep. Instead, she must decide for herself how to respond to a text from Scott, the electrician she slept with on Vaginismus Day. Maria figures Scott is probably pranking her, so she texts back, “LOL Ha ha!!!!! Anderson Cooper 360!!!!!!” and then follows it up with a barrage of JKs, LOLs, a single pug emoji, and a shruggy emoji. Scott is understandably confused.

By putting all of her time and energy toward renewing a toxic friendship, Maria ended up neglecting Scott. From the little we know about him, Scott seems like a perfectly sweet and supportive partner — and maybe he still will be. It wouldn’t be an episode of Lady Dynamite if it didn’t end on a surreal life lesson, coupled with the latest case of Maria’s self-sabotage.

Lady Dynamite Recap: The Sheep-Herding Pug