There was bound to be a point where Living With Yourself expanded beyond the boundaries of its bizarre love triangle and introduced some other complications into the mix. It’s possible that the events in “Neighbors and Friends” could be setting up a dazzling payoff — the hazards of reviewing episode by episode — but it’s nonetheless a letdown after the first five episodes of the series were so committed to getting into the headspace of Miles, Miles 2.0, and, finally, Kate, who had such a strong showing in “Va Bene.” Shifting to some corporate intrigue about Hillston Telecom adds a moral component to show, but for now, the entire subplot is feeling less essential.
“Neighbors and Friends” starts with an ominous cold open that feels like it’s out of Michael Haneke’s domestic thriller Caché, or maybe an episode of Amazon’s Homecoming. With eerie music underscoring the sequence, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris show the delivery of a crate that has the height and width of a coffin, and the slow surveillance pan out reinforces that impression, along with a title sequence that glitches up the letters. We don’t discover until the last few minutes what’s inside the crate, but the opening does set the tone for an episode where Miles attempts some corporate subterfuge to save his job, but opens himself up to dangerous blowback in the process.
In the meantime, Miles has returned to a dreary new normal with Kate, which looks like the old normal — a lot of checking smartphones during breakfast — but with a note of desperation on his part. He knows he’s been a disappointment to her and he’s trying to change his behavior a little, but he doesn’t know that Kate’s head is somewhere else. She’s headed to the city for a week for a design conference that’s really a retreat into the arms of Miles 2.0, who also happens to have tucked a spare $20,000 into their special account to make them whole again. Five days later, Miles gets a call from the fertility clinic about an appointment, but for once he doesn’t cancel. His cloning screw-up, and the continued presence of Miles 2.0 somewhere in the world, has lit a small, toasty fire under his behind. He may not have Miles 2.0’s joie de vivre, but he recognizes that he can no longer get away with going through the motions.
(Speaking of motions, the scene where Miles chooses “a stimulatory aid from the hand terminal” for masturbation purposes recalls Paul Rudd’s turn in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, when he decides to further along his middle-aged friend’s sexual development with a big box of porn.)
The majority of “Neighbors and Friends,” however, is given over to a rural town-hall meeting where a community chooses between two different telecom companies, Hillston and Broadspan, for the leasing of space for a cellphone tower. Miles rushes over to the town hall after getting word that Miles 2.0 has been flaking, but his motive for going is mostly to see his clone’s cheesy marketing campaign crash and burn in the real world. (Contacted by the Gold Pencil Award after his company submitted it for consideration, Miles is aghast: “Seriously? That sappy piece of shit?”) And crash and burn it does, as farmers rightly blanch at offers of milk and cookies at the door and pablum in the promotional advertisement like “Our state-of-the-art fiber connections have nothing on the connections between hearts.”
But Miles’s attitude shifts when he overhears that his job is in jeopardy if Hillston fails to secure the deal. So he takes an anecdote from an agriculture magazine as his own, claiming his grandfather was a farmer who may have gotten cancer from a foreign cell phone tower on his land, and winds up winning the votes he needs over Broadspan. A Broadspan suit recognizes the story as nonsense and threatens libel after tossing a little piss in his direction, and his farmer buddy Ray learns about the ruse too late. (“Sad thing is, I pegged you for a pervert and a fool, but not a liar.”) Miles’s massive moral and ethical lapse in this situation brings us back to the cloning issue, which is a moral and ethical landmine all its own. What does it say about Miles that he’s capable of this kind of duplicity and underhandedness? When the going gets tough for him, he seems willing to do anything.
“Neighbors and Friends” isn’t as compelling as the previous episodes, but it does the grunt work of setting up the final two, which appear to be taking a drastically darker turn. There’s some irony — and poetic justice — to the implication that Miles’s duplicity is coming back to haunt him in the form of his clone, who’s the last person he see before someone throws a black covering on his head and presumably abducts him on Miles 2.0’s direction. The motives for the kidnapping are not entirely clear — could have something to do with Hillston, could have something to do with Kate, could be something else entirely — but there’s really no scenario that could put Miles 2.0 in a heroic light. And while Miles didn’t know his spa treatment was actually a cloning procedure at the time, that moment now seems like the original sin that has put a series of troubling events in motion. He’s not done getting punished for it.
• Pig cloning makes Hillston’s gift to Miles all the more symbolically significant. This 2014 article from BBC claims that China is cloning them on “an industrial scale.” The implications are not promising.
• Can anyone confirm that fertility clinics have giant pictures of babies in rooms intended for masturbation? Because that seems not helpful as a mood-setter.
• The slogan “We know you” from the “Friends and Neighbors” campaign veers awfully close to “We here for you” from Succession. Both have a creepy corporate intimacy to them.
• Pissing on someone from an adjacent urinal is a classic alpha move. Gotta mark your territory. Wolf taught us that.