Escapade Dunfree started as a mysterious enigma on Party Down. When Lydia joined the team, she told stories about her young daughter nonstop. So viewers and the Party Down crew learned much about the teenager solely from her mother’s perspective. Our very first introduction to Escapade was in a one-way phone conversation as Lydia tells her she can’t have the Hot Pockets in the fridge. She says, “Just salad, study the Hannah Montanas, and bed.” Seeing as we know Lydia, we know this is coming from a loving place, but isn’t it kind of sad?
Given what we know about Escapade’s level of fame, it feels pretty much like she and Lydia truly did “make it” in Hollywood. They beat the odds, but at what cost? Who have they become? These are the questions that Lydia has been asking since she met Tandy post-cake-revelation a couple episodes back. Lydia’s fears turned out to be at least partially true: Escapade didn’t really have a childhood. She had a career. And now her mom is throwing her a belated prom.
In a fun twist, not only has Escapade made it big, but the OG Escapade, actress Kaitlyn Dever, has as well. (I wonder if her mom is her manager too?) Oddly, Dever is not here playing an aged-up version of Lydia’s once-bratty daughter. Instead, Liv Hewson takes on the role with aplomb. (That Hewson is stepping in to play a character already established by a younger actor while their teenaged Yellowjackets character is getting a perfect adult counterpart feels like a fresh dose of karmic happiness to me.)
The episode opens with Ron and Lydia prepping for the big prom night. Because the momager in Lydia just can’t help it, the party is doing double duty as a “prom-otional” event for Escapade’s upcoming movie, Proms Away. I imagine this movie to be a cross between the prom in 21 Jump Street and the cake scene in Sixteen Candles. This version of Escapade seems capable of handling both action and romance.
Ron is anticipating a visit from an events legend named Sloan. (I can’t find the official spelling of her last name anywhere, but the idea that it would be perfect as either homophone — “Meets” or “Meats” — given her choice of profession, gives me a chuckle.) Sloan (Lyric Lewis) is confident and capable but terrifying. She compares her own prom to Carrie, because they “poured pig’s blood on an annoying girl and got into trouble,” and she never actually swallows Henry’s perfect gin martinis she keeps ordering — she tastes them and spits them out. I understand not wanting to be intoxicated on the job, but it’s one sip, lady! And it’s prom!
Behind the scenes, Constance has unexpectedly shown up for duty and seems to enjoy being back in the service aisle with the employees. As usual, she does almost zero work and keeps an ear out for gossip, dispensing love advice like a debauched Dear Abby. At one point, she rattles off a list of romantic dalliances she’s been in, casually including the absolutely wild phrase “coin-flip fucks” to the mix, and Roman is floored. Also, she continues to serve up her iconic “follow your heart” mantra. This worked out pretty well for her, as she is a billionaire now, but it didn’t work out so well for Ron when he followed this advice in the season-two closer. But nothing works out for Ron, so we can’t really judge based on that.
Roman is hyped because of his psychedelic breakthrough. He thanks Lucy for encouraging him to trip, because he’s finally completing his opus, now titled Wells of Time. (Someone should tell him that there’s already a very successful fantasy series with a similar title, but it might be more fun to let him find out the hard way.) Roman meets a sci-fi enthusiast named Steph (Taylor Ortega) at the party, and the two of them geek out, chatting about the genre, then circling around to his screenplay. At first, Roman thinks his feelings are romantic — thus the “follow your heart” advice from Constance — but he eventually realizes that someone being really into his work feels very much like love. Steph buys Roman’s idea for her fledgling streaming platform, Smydgyn, which is the worst platform name since Quibi. It’s a win for Roman, but it’s starting to feel like his opus might turn into a nope-us. (Sorry, not sorry.)
On the dance floor, Kyle and Sackson compete for Escapade’s attention, but it’s really not about her. It’s about proving their worth as entertainers. Kyle remembers when Escapade was just an impressionable teen who hung on his every word, but now he’s older and no longer as “cool.” Sackson wants to groove to the newest dance craze, inexplicably called the “Smeeze,” and test out some killer moves in front of an audience … and maybe show up Kyle in the process. Both guys corner Escapade, and she tries to keep her cover as they flail in front of her. It’s all too much, though, and she breaks character, rattling off a list of Stanislavski-method acting techniques that she’s employing to survive the prom and prove to her mom that she’s having fun. Kyle demonstrates a surprisingly firm grasp of these techniques, but Escapade doesn’t really care. She was having fun as part of a performance, nothing more, and she can’t add managing fragile male egos to her to-do list.
Escapade is busy trying to set her mom up with another agent named Ted Fine (Seth Morris), but Lydia is too entrenched in the momager of it all to see past her business goals. Lydia was so busy trying to make her daughter famous that she forgot to have a life of her own. With the help of Sackson, Lydia banishes Ted from the event, afraid that he’s trying to poach Escapade from her. Cutthroat Entourage vibes linger in the air until Escapade reveals her intention. Later, Lydia seems to finally realize that the Hollywood lifestyle has really put a damper on, well, everything else, so she fires Escapade as her client.
Elsewhere, Ron is running into trouble. After scarfing down an entire batch of Lucy’s ambitious sea-urchin appetizers, he’s feeling a bit under the weather. (Whatever happened to not eating the client’s food, hmm, Ron?) It turns out that Lucy’s supplier sold her a “hot” batch of urchin, and Ron couldn’t tell it was bad because his quadruple COVID infections wiped out his sense of taste. What follows is a series of total gross-out scenes that quickly escalate into a literal shit show. In less capable hands, this devolution of bodily function might read as immature or simply cringey, but Ken Marino uses his superior physical-comedy skills to make each beat into an uproarious tableau.
Ron’s incapacitation leaves Constance to pick up the slack, and she does an excellent job despite having a case of nerves. My favorite bit is when she snaps at Sackson and Roman as they’re setting up the thrones for prom king and queen, telling them, “Arm’s length! Like a human arm!” And when she shouts, “This is no joke! This is catering!” I definitely felt shades of Uda Bengt. Constance seems to be a formidable force when she cares deeply about something.
All night, Henry waits for Evie. He has gelled his hair in ’90s “sad emo boy” style, and he dutifully tends bar, serving up a drink dubbed “Who Spiked the” Punch? to the crowd. When Evie finally arrives, the two discuss a potential role for him as Colonel Balorian in the Star Saga series that Evie is about to oversee in Tunisia. Henry is interested, but I can’t help thinking he’s setting himself up for heartbreak again.
Henry and Evie’s canoodling eventually catches the eye of Sloan, and Constance is forced to fake-fire Henry on the spot. This earns Sloan’s respect, and Constance proudly shows Ron the golden business card that will ensure that Party Down stays afloat … at least for now.
• At the top of the episode, Sackson comes out with a “Once Upon a Time” banner with drawings of trolls and haunted houses on it. Ron admonishes him, saying that the theme isn’t “that kind of fairy tale,” telling him that he wants “happily ever after” instead. But, honestly, most old-school fairy tales don’t have happy endings. That’s Disney.
• This episode plays with the idea of attempting to recapture lost youth, and a scene in which Kyle, Ron, and Henry all gather in front of the bathroom mirror is a surprisingly poignant visual.
• When Roman rattles off the various technologies that Smydgyn caters to, he mentions “fridge screens,” which feels like a pointed reference to a pivotal plot point involving smart fridges in the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, in which Martin Starr had a main role. It’s very possible that I’m reaching here, but I’d like to think it’s all connected.
• Did Ryan Hansen actually do that backflip? Because damn!
• The concept of adults reliving their high-school prom reminded me of when Leslie Knope invited Ben Wyatt to prom on Parks and Recreation. She thinks she’s being whimsical by rigging Ben’s desk drawer to go off with a confetti bomb, but instead, she ends up terrifying him. The way that Adam Scott shrieks “Am I dying?!” as Ben trying to process the invitation will forever be imprinted on my brain.
• Constance in the men’s room at the end of the episode is an odd mirror to her now-dead husband hanging out in the ladies’ room at their wedding in the season-two finale.
• With only one episode in the season left, I wonder if we will get a brief cameo from Lizzy Caplan as Casey Klein. I’m also wondering if Starz is considering a season-four pickup, because the world needs more Party Down.