Our culture allots two very separate slots to friendship and love. Friendship is considered a brittle thing, hard to make and easy to break, while love is supposed to occur near-instantaneously and last forever. The reality of both is much more complicated, of course, a point this episode adroitly makes through the unexpected return of Trent, Rebecca’s college classmate and fake boyfriend who remains obsessed with her.
Rebecca is Trent’s Josh, and just like Rebecca did with Josh, he tries to get closer to her by infiltrating her friend group. But while I rooted for Rebecca last season, even as she essentially laid waste to Josh’s entire orbit of friends and family, Trent is the funhouse mirror that reveals how awful and destructive that impulse really is. It’s weird that he drops $10,000 on bro-wear to fit in with Josh, WhiJo, and Hector — but Rebecca spent far more, to the point that she went broke. It’s sad that he makes up fake clients as an excuse to get Josh’s pals to watch the game with him — but Rebecca made up fake friends, too. It’s crazy that he decides to just walk through Rebecca’s door — but Rebecca snuck into Josh’s house, too. Rebecca really is no better than Trent. She just had slightly more charm and savvy (and a lot of help from Paula) to pull off her plans.
Nevertheless, we’re supposed to forgive girls or boys in love; they can’t be held responsible for their actions. The surf-shop cashier makes this point most explicitly: When Trent drops $10,000 on winning over Josh & Co., she tells him that “forcing friendships never works,” but as soon as he reveals that the end goal is Rebecca, her tone changes. “Forcing friendships is weird, but forcing love is so romantic, everybody knows that. Look at Prince Charming — he made a whole country try on a shoe.”
We know from Rebecca’s past that she’s also a Trent when it comes to trying to build friendships. (Cue up “I have friends, I definitely have friends!”) The good news is that she’s found two other people just like her: Valencia famously eschewed gal pals, preferring to quietly cut them down, while thoroughly blunt Heather struggles with women because she’s not an “indirect communicator.” Their resulting friendship is sort of sweet, like a Girl Group of Misfit Toys. Valencia doesn’t know when to giggle, Heather tries (and usually fails) to find ways to be nice, and Rebecca desperately channels pop-culture depictions of female friendship (from selfies to #squadgoals to rosé) to bring them together.
Just as Rebecca’s glossy, facile treatment of relationships undermined what she really had with Josh and, especially, Greg, her facile treatment of friendship is undermining the meaningful relationship she has with Paula. Last year, Paula was delighted to be Rebecca’s self-proclaimed Joan Cusack, but this year, she has real problems and has found a real give-and-take with Sunil, who’s in the same shoes. She’s still willing to open herself up to a real conversation with Rebecca, but Rebecca is blocking her out with an avalanche of themed T-shirts and Moscow Mules and sex-toy parties and the other girly crap that she thinks is what female friendship really means. Rebecca may mean well, but it’s not surprising that Paula eventually loses all patience with her.
My major gripe with this episode is that it doesn’t attempt to address any of these very interesting points in song. Although I loved the concept of “Friendtopia” — which asks the tempting question “What if Spice Girls–esque ‘girl power’ constituted actual political power?” — it’s musically muddled, and doesn’t really have a lot to say about the themes of the episode. (It also could have used some more joke punch-up on the lyrics, especially in the last third.) Heather’s R. Kelly “Stuck in the Bathroom” tune is more or less a throwaway, too.
I found myself wishing for something as cathartic as “You Stupid Bitch” (which is, admittedly, one of the show’s most inspired moments and tough to top). Rebecca and Paula’s friend-breakup is even more heartbreaking than her romances with Josh and Greg, but it didn’t get the musical weight it should have.
Given the tumult that is Rebecca’s life, it’s nice to wrap up with Darryl, who’s been CXG’s sunshine as it explores a lot of painful ideas. This week, the show finally took on his weirdly antagonistic relationship with office Millennial Maya (played by Esther Povitsky, who really shines in her first longer appearance), and how it plays into his own desperate need to befriend Rebecca and Paula. As he tells Maya, “You’re overeager, desperate to be included, forcing yourself on people, and I don’t like that about myself. And when I see it on someone else, I find it even more repulsive.” Pete Gardner continues to be a hilarious unsung hero of the show, and a much-needed tonic as it takes on a lot of really dark stuff.
- I imagine some people will carp at Rebecca taking Trent’s virginity after how weird he acted, but to me, it’s perfectly in keeping with her tendency to pursue random hookups when she’s emotionally low. (Also, the button with her shoving him under the covers for oral sex is hysterical. “Nope, nope, nope, you gotta pay the toll first, buddy, come on.” “This is my favorite!”)
- Does anyone know the hip-hop song Darryl and Maya danced to? I played it into Shazam and couldn’t find a match. If the songwriting team made it up, kudos. It is really catchy.
- Karen, er, Angelique squeezing lube into her mouth is one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen. Stephanie Weir also nailed that bit of physical business with opening the lubed-up doorknob.
- Parvesh Cheena’s delivery makes all the difference for those pitch-black jokes about Sunil’s wife and her suicide. “She left a note on Facebook. And this was before all those different ‘like’ options, so people didn’t know what to do.”
- Rebecca: “But you said [the late recommendation letter] was really good!” Paula: “That’s like saying birthday cake is better the next day.” Rebecca: “Which it famously is!!” (Do not fight Rebecca on carbs. You will lose.)
- This episode had so many good jokes, but for me, the funniest bit was Josh playing “Peanut Monster” in the Aloha back room, and then the camera lingering on him as he re-shoveled the packing peanuts over his head after Trent left.