Living With Yourself
The first shot in “Made in a Strip Mall” lays to rest the possibility that Top Happy Spa’s treatment is merely the placebo effect in action. Patients who fork over their $50,000 don’t feel better about themselves because they want to feel better about themselves; they do because their DNA has been rebuilt like a ’57 Chevy Bel Air with fresh polish and a new engine block. Miles 2.0 is shiny and rejuvenated, as unsullied as a newborn child but with the privileges of adulthood, which is a fantasy all middle-aged people have, especially when they’re burnt out at work, listless in their marriage, and absent the joie de vivre they enjoyed when they were younger and the world was still new and surprising.
The bad news? It’s all downhill from here.
The first episode of “Made in a Strip Mall” was told entirely from old Miles’s perspective, so it’s a smart move to circle back to Miles 2.0 and how his day went before he discovered his doppelgänger. As it happens, he feels amazing after his hard reboot, breezing right through the post-op paperwork and instructions, which veer toward the Gremlins-esque. (Don’t look the first time you use the toilet.) When he gets in his car, he discovers he doesn’t even need his glasses anymore — it’s like his entire body has received Lasik. He then becomes a character out of a Terrence Malick movie, dashing into a cornfield just to appreciate the beauty and tactility of nature and the sun glinting through the stalks. The old Miles was not a frolicker.
Miles’s bliss carries over into the office and at home later in the day. He cannot fathom returning to a job that’s so meaningless to him, so his solution is to impose meaning on it. “We’re sitting here in this hermetically sealed coffin of a conference room,” he says, “spending our precious minutes here on this planet to sell some cellular infrastructure company when we could be out living and breathing and fucking and dreaming. So why? Why do we give a shit?” Those sound like the words of a man about to quit (or be fired), but his mind is set on accentuating the positive aspects of a (relatively) ma-and-pa telecom business, which is the personal connection that it facilitates. It’s almost a shame that his pitch lands, but this part of “Made in a Strip Mall” is about emphasizing his happiness, and his confidence and passion carries the day. Sometimes people are grateful for the opportunity to feel good about themselves, and certainly the occupants of this “hermetically sealed coffin” would qualify.
Back at home, Miles 2.0 weirds out his wife, Kate, with homemade casserole of farm-to-table apples and squash and a soliloquy about how amazing she is. He even smells her later on. Their marriage has been fraught over the issue of his delayed appointments at the fertility clinic, which she has taken as an indication of his indifference about starting a family. But on this point, Miles 2.0 is sincerely reformed and reinvigorated, and his newfound excitement about Kate carries over into a newfound excitement about having children together. It would be interesting to see a version of Living With Yourself in which Miles 2.0 comes out of this successful operation and never has to confront his original self. How long would it be until life beat him down again?
But halfway through the episode, when the doppelgängers confront each other, it’s clear that Miles 2.0 is on an accelerated plan. When he and Miles drive back to the spa to get some answers on what happened to them, Miles 2.0 learns that he’s the clone, which cancels any claim he has on the only life he knows. Now that blissful feeling is a curse: For a few hours, he was able to appreciate his job, his wife, and the world around him as he hadn’t in years, and now he’s entitled to none of it. Miles 2.0 now feels disappointment as vividly as he felt joy, like a Technicolor melancholy that sweeps over him, and now his future is seeming lonely and uncertain.
The conversation between Miles and Miles 2.0 over what the latter should do is full of insight into the fantasies entertained by those who feel hamstrung by commitment. Men and women like Miles, who are fully locked in by the expectations and routines of a life shared with someone else, like to think about what freedom would look like. What if they didn’t have to go to work? What if they didn’t have to continue the drudgery of domestic life? What if they had the resources and freedom to travel the world and do whatever they wanted? For Miles 2.0, there’s a beachside cabana in Fiji that Miles himself will probably never visit. It’s grass-is-greener scenarios like this that keep people from appreciating the lives they actually have, and the premise for “Made in a Strip Mall” allows it to make the point clear. When actually faced with the possibility of doing the thing Miles has fantasized about, Miles 2.0 is crushed by it. The beaches of Fiji are a poor consolation prize for a man who realizes he already has the life he wants.
So the episode ends with Miles 2.0 outside the house, coveting the life that old Miles has reclaimed. And he’s probably feeling like that entitled sad sack doesn’t deserve it.
• The farmer who has now seen both versions of Miles — the one who picked from his field and the one who turned up later that night in a diaper — would seem to factor into how this plays out. Then again, both Miles are behaving so strangely that he has no reason to doubt they’re the same guy.
• “It’s so nice not to feel so full of shit for once.” —Miles 2.0, after kind of sounding full of shit.
• The two Mileses exchange origin stories: “I was made in a strip mall.” “So what? I was born in New Jersey!”