This week’s episode is all about identity: What makes us who we are, and can someone else imitate us so well that they become us? Jeff’s been struggling with these issues since the season began (PS — renewed for a second season, Kidding fans!) but now at last he must truly confront the reality of being played by Tara Lipinski. He, uh, doesn’t handle it well.
But first: do the kids explode?
We pick up where we left off last week, with Will helping his friends break into Jeff’s house to smoke up. Once inside, they immediately begin trashing the joint, like it’s that house where Silas and Megan used to party in the first season of Weeds. They’re throwing eggs against walls, tossing flour around, and, of course, getting ready to smoke. Right before Will lights up, Cassidy notices that the gas is on and jumps on the lighter to save the day. Whew!
Shaken by their brush with death, Will and his friends go to smoke weed and work on some pottery (“blaze and glaze”). Honestly, we’ve spent a lot of time with these #teens by now, and they really seem like good kids! Getting high and working on pottery, getting high and watching Will practice magic tricks, they don’t really seem like the bad influences Jeff and Sebastian are convinced they are.
Perhaps moved by his near-death experience, Will starts going through Phil’s stuff, including notes he’d hidden for girls in a hollowed-out copy of Jeff’s book (and Phil gave Jeff a Hitler mustache on the cover — ice cold). Will has alluded to it in the past, but Phil was kind of a player, and indeed quite a few of these girls remember him somewhat fondly. One girl gives Will a kiss, and they both pretend for a moment that he’s Phil. Will isn’t Phil, of course, but he seems to get a kick out of spending some time in his skin this episode.
Unfortunately, Vivian’s not doing so great. It looks like chemo isn’t having the intended effect on her, so she’s ready to be done with it, which of course Jeff cannot abide. He spends some time talking through her choice with her, but of course what it comes down to is Jeff’s consistent refusal to respect anyone else’s choices. Vivian’s definitely more bummed about this than we’ve seen her be in the past; she’s concerned that she’ll be leaving no legacy behind and that the rest of her short life will be dull, predictable, and painful.
Jeff immediately requests that Deirdre costume a puppet using fabric from one of Vivian’s sweaters. Deirdre’s down for it, and she also suggests that they discuss feelings (dating a woman who’s dying would be tough for someone much better adjusted than Jeff). His first feeling, of course, is that he hates what Deirdre’s doing to him. This is yet another success by Sebastian: While Seb pulls the strings behind the scenes, he keeps his two children divided and frustrated by one another so they don’t spend as much time being frustrated by him. It’s rough, because Jeff and Deirdre are both having really tough times and could use some support from one another. But at least Jeff doesn’t scream about it or punch anything here, which definitely feels like progress (worry not, fans of Jeff Being A Disaster, he’ll end up alienating us all by episode’s end).
Now Tara Lipinski, with the Jeff Head on, is signing pickle jars for kids, and she’s perfectly imitated Jeff’s signature. (Callback: She explains that nailing the signature is “all about the P.”) In moments like these, the show reminds me most of the dearly departed Last Man on Earth — the set pieces are casually bizarre and sometimes chilling, and it makes the whole experience that much funnier. In this case, Jeff and a child compare the Mr. Pickles from TV, the Tara Lipinski-Mr. Pickles, and Jeff himself. The child prefers Tara Lipinski’s voice. This moment of identity crisis is made all the stranger by the fact that Tara Lipinski is herself a celebrity. She tells Jeff that she likes playing Mr. Pickles because everyone looks at her like she’s won a gold medal, which she has IRL. So what’s the difference between them?
Backstage, Jeff meets Tara Lipinski’s twin sister Sara (pronounced Sah-rah because Tara doesn’t want their names to rhyme). Here again we’re thrown into the surreality of differentiating between twins as a larger comment on identity. It turns out that Tara is kind of a jerk to her sister — Jeff gets an earful from Tara’s parakeet (her “Tarakeet”), who parrots the verbal abuse that goes on between them. Jeff, never one to tolerate anyone using a swear word, rapidly flips the light switch to give the bird a seizure and kill it. Great, Jeff, you’ve really grown.
At home, working on puppets, Deirdre gets distracted by Maddy’s oboe practice and slices into her own finger. Angry, not just at the noise but also at the reminder that her husband’s affair ruined Maddy’s piano tutelage, Deirdre storms in and screams at her daughter. She then flashes back to her childhood, when she and Jeff began working on puppets and their mom left for good. Young Deirdre and her mother fight while young Jeff plays with a puppet Deirdre designed. Reflecting on the end of her relationship with her mother, Deirdre apologizes to Maddy, but the tension is still boiling in this nuclear family and it’s not going away with apologies.
Back at the studio, Jeff treats Vivian to a big multi-puppet musical number. This, to me, felt completely fantastical and impossible, Kidding once again straddling the line between real and unreal. Part of the point of the song is to show off a new puppet character (a librarian named Viva Las Pages) wearing a puppet sweater made out of Vivian’s sweater. This, the puppet explains, will be part of Vivian’s legacy — her sweater will be worn on Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time for years to come. It’s a really sweet scene, and it convinces Vivian to return to chemo so she can visit Honduras some day.
Jeff puts the parakeet he murdered in a shoebox and takes it outside to bury. When he sees that it’s pouring rain, he decides instead to grind up the bird in his kitchen garbage disposal. And that’s where our episode ends, with feathers spinning around Jeff as he destroys a parakeet. Jeff actually generally acts like a mature adult in this episode, talking about his feelings, but this bird thing is a big step back for him. When Vivian dies, it’s yet unclear if he’ll handle his grief like an adult in mourning or if, as Sebastian believes, he’ll fall apart bad. We’re past the season’s halfway point, so we’re beginning to slide toward that inevitable disaster.
Notes Left in a Hollowed-Out Book
• Will was cruising for a bruising, and sure enough Cassidy was not thrilled by his journey among Phil’s girlfriends.
• Even small moments, like the discussion of a male ice skater named Michel Cuan, are all about the vagaries of identity.
• I love how Tara Lipinski says that she “rescued” the bird “from the pet store.”
• Jeff hits hard at his dad on this one! “Every day I get a little more powerful and you get a little older” is a great thing to say to anyone who gives you a hard time. Try it today.
• I don’t think we’re anywhere close to understanding the elements of Jeff and Deirdre’s backstory that’s made them such messed-up adults today.
• Jeff mentions that his relationship with Vivian feels like a book with pages ripped out. This image returns multiple times this episode, in Phil’s copy of his dad’s book and in the books Viva Las Pages drops. It really underlines how disorienting life can be.