Like many an FX dramedy, Dave often excels by ignoring traditional serialization in favor of self-contained short-story-esque installments. It’s hard to tell on a week-to-week-basis what character arcs an episode of this show will deal with, if any; besides the significant developments like Dave and Ally’s breakup in season one or Dave and Elz’s reconciliation in season two, character development typically comes in small doses, scattered throughout a season.
But “#RIPLilDicky” is an unusually plot-driven episode that pushes this season’s narrative unexpectedly forward. It’s a little jarring, at first, to hear the bit of Emma’s tour documentary that opens the episode, with Dave declaring that he wants to cancel the rest of the tour and rebrand. While Dave has had some negative experiences this season, he’s also made some real and meaningful connections on tour recently: with Rick Ross and Usher, but also with Robyn in Wisconsin and his biggest fan Meg in Mississippi. Aren’t things largely going the way Dave wanted them right now?
But I suppose the issue is something deeper, as Dave explains in that soliloquy. Sure, he’s met amazing people, but the structure of a tour has made those connections fleeting and difficult to sustain. At the end of the day, what keeps sticking in his mind are the worst fans, like the men who booed Meg last episode. (It’s fitting that the last we saw of Dave was his expression of dismay at realizing his new fan, Meg’s brother, interpreted his music as white supremacist.) Hearing his own lyrics screamed back to him has been flattering, but the intense scrutiny is beginning to suffocate him.
Mike is cool with canceling the tour, but Keith, the head of the label, is understandably not. Dave and his team have only ever been a liability for them; apparently, they’ve only recouped $18,000 off a $400,000 advance. I generally have no argument with Keith’s characterization of them as “the most mismanaged operation I’ve ever seen,” but I’m not totally sure his claim that “We just don’t believe in this Lil Dicky shit anymore” squares with what we’ve seen this season. Sometimes it feels like Dave has almost reached household name status! But I suppose name recognition doesn’t always directly translate to profit, especially when Dave has such a penchant for blowing the budget. And watching this show often means accepting that traditionally big plot moves might happen off-screen, or gradually in the background.
After the bus breaks down and the phone call moves outside, the bad news is interrupted by something much worse. As a result of their rat infestation reaching the engine, the bus explodes without warning, taking most of the gang’s belongings with it. That includes Elz’s laptop, Dave’s Adderall, and GaTa’s bipolar medication. Everyone is fine but rattled, especially Dave. It feels like a significant moment when he says, “Fuck all this Lil Dicky fucking shit,” watching the image of his face on the bus shrivel and burn away.
Nobody has phone service, so they spend hours walking down the highway through the desert until they reach a diner. By that point, a pair of guys have stumbled upon the burning wreckage and spotted the legs of Dave’s sex doll protruding like a real body. Thinking those legs belonged to Lil Dicky himself, they posted the footage, declaring, “RIP Lil Dicky.” It went viral, so now the internet thinks Dave is dead.
Almost immediately, the upside to this dark misunderstanding presents itself: The longer Dave can hold out revealing that he’s alive, the bigger the bump in followers and streams. Mike is the one who actually vocalizes the idea of staying offline overnight. (Apparently Dave could recoup all their losses in one day.) But it serves everyone, including GaTa, Elz (who still hasn’t actually profited from his beats), and Emma (who needs a hook to bring the tour documentary together).
Dave is still slow to warm to the idea; after all, didn’t he want less attention, not more? What changes his mind is learning that one LeBron Raymone James followed him on Instagram. It’s hard to argue with that kind of attention — especially when Mike dangles the prospect of Drake acknowledging his existence. So Dave sets aside his original plan and agrees to one night off the grid … which gets extended to three once Mike points out they have a shot at both a No. 1 album and a No. 1 single. It’s a slow week for music, and Billboard stops counting streams on Thursday. Dragging out the lie a bit longer could do the trick.
So Dave resists the temptation to DM Drake and LeBron, holing up while his manager gets to work juicing this for all it’s worth. There are some solid jokes about the various insincere responses from clout-chasers trying to profit off Lil Dicky’s death; Post Malone recorded an acoustic remix of “I’m Drunk,” which could actually end up launching his original version into the stratosphere. Machine Gun Kelly wrote, “I’m so sorry about what happened in Germany,” referencing the Holocaust in general.
This, combined with Dave’s intense withdrawal from Adderall, pays off in one of the wildest, most irreverent, and most meme-able hallucinations this series has ever done: Dave shooting the shit with Anne Frank, comparing his motel room to the attic where she hid from the Nazis. Most of this is pure outrageous comedy, with Dave explaining phones, the internet, LeBron James, and the whip. But beyond the classic comedic scenario of explaining the present to someone in the past, the conversation shows just how myopic Dave’s worldview is. Not only does he repeatedly interrupt Anne Frank, but he trivializes what she went through by drawing connections to his own self-inflicted problems. (It might be an easy joke, but I laughed pretty hard at “Cancel culture is a total nightmare.”)
Eventually, Anne reminds him of the basic point he mentioned to Mike earlier that day: the more listeners he has, the more scrutiny he’ll attract. But before Dave can probe too far, Mike returns. While Dave was busy making Osama Bin Laden references to a teenager who died in the ’40s, Mike was calling Keith from a pay phone outside, putting on a goofy voice and pretending to be Dave’s attorney to secure some posthumous radio play. But Mike gets interrupted by a waiter from the diner, who finds Dave’s headphones marked “LD.” He manages to make up a lie when the waiter asks what the initials stand for, but it’s not worth waiting any longer for their cover to be blown. It’s time to abandon the plan and hole up back in Los Angeles.
Throughout this episode, we’ve seen glimpses of texts between Mike and his brother, who have been sharing responsibility for their asshole dad. During the drive, Dave accidentally sees part of the brothers’ text conversation, and Mike briefly opens up: His dad was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and his brother has been taking care of him until Mike puts him in assisted living after the tour is over. Mike shrugs it off, but it’s clear his feelings about the situation are complex; he doesn’t want to lose his dad, but he also never got the gratitude or affection from him that he deserved, and now he resents having to take care of an emotionally abusive parent.
Quickly moving on, Mike asks Dave to read the destiny manifesto email that he sent back before he’d even uploaded his first video. After all, they should celebrate this moment: Lil Dicky is taking off in a big way, and when he comes back from the dead, Dave will get to define this new phase on his own terms. But the Dave of a couple of years ago sounds almost unrecognizable when the Dave of today reads his words out loud. That more idealistic artist hated phonies and people who sold their souls for a shortcut to fame and success. “I never change who I am just to be successful,” he vowed. Coming from Dave’s mouth now, the words just sound hollow.
It’s a great scene, especially how it offers closure for Emma’s documentary. And while I wasn’t sure about the pacing of some of this episode’s developments, here we can see the complete journey Dave has taken on this show, from perhaps overly concerned with artistic integrity to increasingly comfortable with cynical stunts. As artists, we want to stay true to our ideals and most authentic selves, but there’s always the dream of getting that elusive LeBron follow.
In a clever visual flourish, director Ben Sinclair (who created and starred in High Maintenance) cross-cuts between Dave’s sobered-up passenger-seat declaration (that he doesn’t want to reach No. 1 this way) and his ultimate decision (to go through with the plan anyway). In fact, he chooses the initial showy idea he had while he was spitballing with Anne: to announce his resurrection by showing up at Grand Park in black sweats one day and waiting until people realize it’s him.
As the new Lil Dicky gets totally swarmed, we see a Dave who has accepted and embraced the scrutiny that he canceled a whole tour over — in his mind, the same scrutiny a beyond-the-grave Anne Frank would have to deal with after her diary was published. As he sees her again in the crowd, taunting him with another giggle-inducing whip, he whips back: uneasy, but firm. When we look back at this moment, will it feel like a push into new territory, with Dave turning into a more cynical and shameless performer? Or will watching the world react to his death give him the perspective he needs to take the step back he knows he needs? I’m afraid one possibility sounds much likelier than the other.
• Emma keeps Ally apprised with the news that Dave is alive, but his parents are the only people he calls, and he still makes them accomplices by asking them to cancel their plans and talk to no one. But he clearly doesn’t deem Robyn important enough to be worth the risk of letting her know, so he’s forced to listen to a painful voicemail of her crying to someone she thinks is dead.
• Okay, there’s no way Dave would actually be able to recoup all those losses in a day from streams alone, right?
• The rappers who robbed Dave in “Hearsay” are also capitalizing off Lil Dicky’s death, posting the song they recorded together. “Good for them, that’s smart,” Dave remarks.
• There’s something so wrong — and so funny — about how Dave uses the word “clipped” when referring to Anne Frank.
• “Nobody came out of the Holocaust looking better than you. You came across really well in the diary!”