And with that, the plot twist that sunk a thousand neck-tattoo-meets-soccer-mom ships commences. Though it’s really more of a plot pivot, and an intriguing one at that. Even if we do have to put our Beth/Rio Make-Out Watch on hold.
I love when a penultimate episode takes the structural risks that can’t quite be taken in a finale, where the concern is generally more focused on explosiveness and cliff-hangers that’ll suck in audiences for another season. “Summer of the Shark” feels complicated and complex, but still fun, not sensationalized in the slightest. There are multiple scenes featuring Ruby, Beth, and Annie just sitting at tables, staring at their kids, thinking about what the future looks like. These women are confused and we’re watching it unfold with all the bright colors and quick cuts of Beth’s most transcendent bullet journaling.
While deciding if they’re going to tell Rio about the loose screw in his organization, knowing it would mean the kid’s certain death, Ruby says, “It’s one thing to wash fake cash, or rob a grocery store — but there’s a line here, and if you cross it, you can’t come back.” Reader, can I tell you that the line gets crossed, and it doesn’t matter whether they wanted to cross it or not? Because Ruby, Beth, and Annie have been reminded over and over that they can’t go home again. With one episode left, they face the question that must follow realizing one can’t go back: How do you move forward?
For Ruby most of all, the future stands a chance of looking brighter than ever. At the top of the episode, she and Stan find out that Sarah has been moved to the top of the transplant list for a new kidney. Of course, that will be $100,000 out of pocket, so Stan is wondering if Ruby has “heard anything from corporate” about reopening that business where she brings rubber bands full of cash back home.
Corporate, as it were, is Rio. He isn’t ready to reopen his lucrative wrapping-paper business, but he is ready to be vague: He needs the gals to pick up a truck, and “don’t worry about what’s in it.” Reader, can I tell you that they do worry about what’s in it? Beth assumes that the truck is being watched by the FBI (given what Stan told Ruby about the kid in Rio’s operation who’s talking), Annie is sure there are chopped-up bodies inside, and Ruby worries her daughter will be bumped from the transplant list that if they do this and it goes south. And if they don’t do this …
As they all sit in a parking garage, staring at the dirty yellow truck of destiny, they decide there’s only one way to find out if the cops are watching this truck, waiting to arrest its driver.
Ruby has to get Stan high from the leftover “Nelly 2003” stash, and see if he knows about the truck. The only problem is, Ruby also gets so high that she forgets what she’s supposed to be asking Stan. But after a quick phone chat with Annie, she very subtly drops the bait: “Hey babe, that gangster you all flipped, did he say something about a truck or something?” Luckily, Stan is chatty when he’s high — hence Ruby’s stellar plan in the first place — so he grabs some cheese puffs and starts spilling.
It’s not a sure thing, but Ruby is 97 percent sure the cops don’t know about the truck. Beth says that’s almost as accurate as the pill, but Annie corrects, “That’s only if you take it perfect. For most people it’s, like, 91 percent.” And with those odds, the next thing we know, three yellow trucks, each one driven by a different good girl, are exiting the parking garage, weaving in and out of traffic, and heading out on separate routes. Which is a very smart plan! A very smart plan, applied to a very dumb decision, but still. Our girls are learning!
But after splitting up on their routes, Beth — who happens to be the one driving the Rio’s original truck — looks in her rearview mirror and sees a police car. Before I even knew the title of the episode or heard Mary Pat’s attempts at flirting, I loved the imagery of the cop car popping in and out of Beth’s line of sight like a shark’s fin. The fear of looming fatality is enough to make Beth basically read her will over the phone, telling Ruby and Annie that they have to help Dean with the kids, and they can’t let him marry a bimbo. She says she’ll write it all down, but they have to promise. The blue and red lights come on, the cop pulls her over, and then asks Beth to go around the back of the truck…
“Why didn’t you do it yourself?!” Beth screams at Rio when she delivers the truck. “Why did you need us to bring you an empty truck?” It’s simple: Rio “had a kid” in his organization who was turned by the Feds recently, and he needed to know if the kid told them everything. It was a test, not for Beth, but at the expense of Beth. “I have a family, I have children!” Beth yells at her pseudo-mentor and, oh, that is it for me and for Rio. Because Rio is not the one endangering Beth’s children. Beth has made it very clear to anyone who will listen that she is in the position she’s in now because she made choices. That’s a little easier to say when you’re explaining how you’re solely responsible for your beaucoup cash, and a little harder when you’ve made a decision that nearly got you taken away from your children.
Rio tells Beth that he doesn’t have time to hold her hand; Beth throws the truck keys at Rio. Rio gets right up in Beth’s face and tells her, “That family, you’re always talking about — go home to them. What me and you had is done. Over.” Rio says that they’re basically a charity case to him, and he doesn’t need the drama. Beth asks what he meant earlier when he said he “had” a kid who turned on him. “Go home,” Rio tells Beth again. But as Beth looks at him, standing 20 feet away from her, she knows she can’t go home again.
Beth tells Ruby and Annie that Rio will be coming for them: “I’m telling you, this time it’s different, we’re no good to him now.” Annie asks if the look was like when a great white shark’s eyes go from inky black to white right before they kill you. Then she tells Beth that the last time this happened, “You were all, ‘Yeah just try to hurt us, we eat at P.F. Chang’s, bitch!’” I love Annie.
When they split up again, possibly with a former employee planning to kill them, Annie calls Sadie and fills her voicemail up saying how much she loves her. Beth gets out her markers and her calendar and writes everything down, just like she said she would. And Ruby … well, Ruby gets a call in the middle of asking Stan what she’d have to do for him to leave her. A girl in Wisconsin just got hit by a drunk driver, her family is about to take her off life support, and the girl is a transplant match for Sarah. The gravity of this moment for Ruby’s family — and for another, less fortunate family — makes all the chaos of the episode snap back into sharp focus.
At Beth’s house, as the three women look at their children playing, Beth finally looks to the future: “All those fairy tales they told us, the morals were always, if you’re good, if you follow the rules, don’t lie, and don’t cheat … if you’re good, you get good things. And if you’re a dick, you get punished.” But what if the people who told those tales were the dicks? What if it was all a lie to keep the good guys from sharing in the wealth? “It doesn’t matter what we’ve done,” Beth says. “We’re the good guys.” Rio is the bad guy. He shouldn’t be out there waiting to pounce on them — he should be going to jail. “Then let’s put him there,” says Ruby.
Kate Pierson’s “Throw Down the Roses” plays into credits, barreling toward the season finale: “I don’t stick around / I won’t wait around for the ending / Another the curtain closes / We already know there’s an end to the show we’re making / I’m throwing down the roses.”
A Few Loose Ends
• Throughout all this, the romantic coupling from hell is happening. When Boomer sees Mary Pat having a weird interaction with Annie (extortion for groceries!), he joins her church choir, takes her out for coffee, and plants a recording device in her house. At times, their getting to know each other is almost sweet … but these two just can’t help but be awful.
• Three of the men that Ruby, Beth, and Annie formerly took orders from: Bullet, Demon, and Mr. Sisqo.
• Is Annie a Pesci or a Pacino?
• I know it’s not a great time to mention this, but Rio said “Elizabeth” when he was telling Beth to go home, and that was really something.