If I were Sheila’s shrink, what I would tell her after today’s session — erm, episode — is: Well, that’s all the time we have right now, but you’ve made excellent progress today. And I would be so looking forward to it! After a bit of a slow, plodding start, Physical has found its rhythm, zipping along on a crest of energetic self-empowerment as Rose Byrne’s anti-heroine comes into her own and becomes more and more of a true heroine along the way (with still a little bit of a stealing habit).
Speaking of finding your rhythm, episode four begins the same way episode three did: with Sheila thriving to the beat in her head, dreaming of aerobics class with a contented, faraway look on her face while whisking … is that hollandaise sauce? Because later on, she mentions making Danny eggs Benedict. Did all ’80s housewives know how to easily whip up a plate of eggs Benny? Because I am impressed with Sheila’s culinary prowess. And now that I think about it, episode one (I believe) found Sheila ragging on herself in her head for her subpar cooking. Come through, Sheila!
Her reverie is interrupted by Danny crying out, “Fuck!” He’s trying to hit up an old Berkeley buddy for a campaign donation and can’t muster the gumption to see it through. (In her head, Sheila urges him, “Ask! Ask for the money!” Sheila’s come a long way, baby.) Danny excuses his little failure by claiming he was still exhausted from what happened at the end of the last episode when Sheila snuck out of the house at dawn and he was left to parent their early-waking child by himself (the horror!). We find out how Sheila lied her way out of that one by claiming she needed to hit up a 24-hour pharmacy, but as she’s getting irked by Danny’s self-serving behavior (him: “You could’ve left a note.” Her, internally: “You could be less of a whiny little bitch”), she makes up another excuse to get the hell out of there and goes to Greta’s manse for their one-on-one appointment.
Sheila’s self-talk is fast on its way to doing a total 180 from where we started, and although her interior monologue can still be snarky, it feels like it’s directed more toward others than herself, no? (Not that putting other people down is an objectively healthy practice, but we’re going to count that as a win for now.)
When she gets to Greta’s house, all perky in her aerobics getup (belted leotards, I die!), we see Greta trudging out to greet Sheila in her frumpy pajamas. She reveals that she too recently got up at the crack of dawn, except instead of working out, she made and ate an entire batch of oatmeal cookies. And it hit me that Greta is Opposite Sheila. She’s what Sheila would be — and to a large degree, what Sheila was — before she found her higher calling/raison d’être/whatever you want to call it in aerobics. Sheila wakes up early now to exercise; Greta instead eats cookies and always finds a reason not to work out, even as she can agree that doing so would probably benefit her. Most interesting from a storytelling perspective, Sheila’s negative self-talk has been entirely internal, but Greta speaks hers out loud.
After Greta leaves the room, Sheila steals her husband’s AV equipment. (“Fuck it, you’re not leaving here empty-handed,” she tells herself.) We know what she’s thinking: Ernie’s expensive home-viewing playthings are exactly what she needs to make a high-production-quality aerobics video. She hits a snag when Ernie almost catches her red-handed at her car, but like all the husbands on Physical, he’s too enraptured by his own persona to really see beyond it. So instead, he just tells her about a party she and Danny should attend at his private club to glad-hand and rake in some campaign donations.
Sheila heads home and is greeted by a dead ringer for an ’80s-era Tommy Chong who calls her “Tequila Sheila.” This, we learn, is Jerry Goldman, another old Berkeley friend and, apparently, Danny’s new campaign manager. He’s played by Geoffrey Arend, whom you likely know from (500) Days of Summer or Madam Secretary, and can I just say I LOVE HIM. Arend instantly starts chewing up the scenery in hilarious fashion, saying ridiculous shit like telling Sheila her hair smells “like lady parts and pineapple.” Later on, he’ll declare that “the hair of a pussy can pull a freight train,” and I just want to say that whoever wrote that line deserves to take the rest of the day off.
I am going to love hating this dude, who is a worst-instinct embodiment of Danny, kind of as Greta is to Sheila. The next morning, there’s more of the same, with the men absentmindedly burning things in the kitchen (the smoke alarm waking up Sheila from another aerobics dream) and Jerry talking in hippie platitudes, like how there’s “geezers, wheezers, and teasers” to schmooze on the campaign trail. When Sheila tells them about the party Ernie invited them to, Jerry responds, “Does this Dinah Shore joint even let Jews in?” I don’t know what’s funnier: that line or Sheila’s feeble retort, “As of seven years ago, yes.”
Sheila heads to Ernie’s club, and I must acknowledge that this poor woman really is surrounded by the worst people. Ernie sucks, John Breem (who’s also there, of course) is EVIL, and Greta is in the very unfortunate circumstance of also being surrounded by jerks and deals with that by coming off as a Debbie Downer. (She muses aloud to Sheila that Ernie’s mistress is probably also at the party; can you imagine actually saying that out loud to an acquaintance??) And Sheila is steamed because the most worst person in her life (Danny) isn’t there with her. Oof.
So where is Danny? With Jerry, natch, and actually not far away. They’re drinking beers on the beach as Jerry ruminates about how “in the old days, there was no separation between work, play, drugs, and sex. These days, it’s all rules, expectations … I hate to admit it, but I think it’s all over.” TED Talk idea: How all the hippie dudes who would have proudly labeled themselves as “woke” 40 years ago actually upheld the patriarchy as much as any Reaganite and, if still alive today, would have been rightly #MeToo’d straight into the sun.
Then Simone shows up out of nowhere (because, of course), and next thing we know, Danny’s gone on a rogue bender like when Billy Crudup went to that teenage house party in Almost Famous.
While Danny’s getting high with Simone on one stretch of beach, Sheila’s likewise consorting along the shoreline with her future sex partner (I mean, right?), who is none other than EVIL John Breem. (Hey, at least he’s got a great ass, as Sheila noticed at the mall earlier.) “Going for a swim?” Sheila asks him. “I didn’t bring my suit,” he responds. “Skinny dip in the moonlight, then?” Sheila jokes. (SHE’S NOT JOKING. THEY’RE DEFINITELY GONNA SEE EACH OTHER NAKED.) Then Breem seems weirdly freaked out by the tide or all the grunion (a grunion is a fish, I’ve learned!) and leaves abruptly. Sheila notes how weird that was. She can ask him what was up with that when they absolutely go to bed together sometime in the next five or six episodes.
Sheila’s got one more run-in to endure at the party: Ernie again. This time, he’s more focused on her than on himself. He tells her she can “charm the uncharmable” and hints that maybe she should be the one running. (I don’t know if I 100 percent agree, and I would maybe think that’s where the story is headed except I don’t think politics can ever pull her away from aerobics.) He says he’ll match whatever donations she brings in on the absent Danny’s behalf. (I thought that moment would play into a bigger story line toward the end of this episode, but she just offhandedly mentions later that she brought in $2,000. No bigs!)
The episode culminates back at the Rubin residence in a huge and hilarious way when Sheila walks in on the impromptu party taking place. Here we see a woman on the edge throwing daggers at everyone from Maya’s babysitter (I loved the way she paid and destroyed the sitter all in one gesture/glance) to scantily clad Simone. But nobody out-scantily-clads Danny, who is back on his side-butt-showing game by wearing nothing but a poncho (a very, very sublime costuming choice).
However, just when it seems as if Danny’s about to be dumped in epic fashion, he tells Sheila she’s “the fucking sun to me” and genuinely surprises her by offering to clean up from the party all by himself. The next morning, as Sheila does her usual lying awake in bed, she tells herself, “Today will be different. Today will be better. Today he will speak out and be heard.”
Self-talk twist! “Today will be different/better” is the way she used to talk about herself. Sheila’s putting the on in confidence these days. It honestly makes me smile and makes me excited to see where she’s going to go and how much she’s gonna leave Danny in the dust when she goes there.
As Sheila gets out of bed, I’m bracing myself to see that he hasn’t picked up a thing, but it seems he has. The last straw instead is when he demands she make him a fresh pot of coffee. Sheila storms out (misogynist Jerry suggests, “Maybe she’s on the rag”), and we see a quick, almost brusque montage as she re-enacts her old bingeing routine — the three bags of fast food, the motel, taking her clothes off — until she catches a glimpse of her own reflection in the screen of the motel room’s TV. To me, she’s not just stopping and literally reflecting on what she’s doing; she’s also getting a look at what her future could be with her literally on the TV. Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” plays (love it), and Sheila makes a healthier choice. She goes to see Bunny’s boyfriend, Tyler, the one who’s still hoping Sheila makes good on her empty promise to let him film a campaign ad for Danny. She’s got a better idea: “Fuck the campaign video. I’m ready to make a fortune.”
Sheila, I believe this is what we pretend psychologists call a breakthrough. I’ll see you next week.