Well, I feel invigorated! That episode delivered just the right kind of high-octane blitz I’ve been wanting from Physical and now I’m just craving more, more, more, because it all flew by so fast. So here we go: 5, 6, 7, 8!
“Clap, punch, kick. Clap, punch, kick. Clap, punch, kick.”
Sheila is reciting aerobics combos in her head. She’s waking up early and sneaking into her garage to work out in her PJs with a boombox. She’s hiding the cash she swindled from Bunny under her bed (that coffee can is like a supporting character at this point) and, when she’s not using that money to basically refund Bunny one aerobics class at a time, she’s tapping out aerobics rhythms on her kitchen counter. She is, as ’80s girl group Exposé tells us in the score to this opening montage, being taken to the point of no return. (The first truly electrifying soundtrack choice of the show so far! More, more, more please!)
But also, Sheila seems to be, for the very first time, content. This all feels so thrilling, but also confusing and concerning. Is she just replacing one addiction with another? We see no bulimic activity in this episode, but we do see some slight OCD tendencies in how she can’t stop repeating aerobics instructions to herself, and she is doing that thing where you get obsessively into something and all you think about is how to check out of the rest of your life and get back to that thing. When class ends at the start of this episode, Sheila tells herself, “And just like that, it’s over and you’re you again. Just another sweaty bitch sitting on your fat ass waiting for the next one. How long until you get back there. What’s it gonna take?”
Maybe what it’ll take is transitioning from student to teacher. Sheila asks Bunny and Tyler if she can teach a class, promising she’d bring in a fresh, new batch of attendees and that it’d be a boon for Bunny’s business. “You’re just like his porn directors: overpromising and under-delivering,” Bunny quips, which is funny; then Tyler asks, “Isn’t passive income the American dream?” Except I don’t think SoCal surfer stoners from the ’80s had terms like “passive income” in their lexicon, but whatevs! Bunny acquiesces, but tells Sheila to swap out her ballet gear for workout wear and to “bring some toilet paper” because “I can’t afford another trip to the gyno” and I’m not sure I get that joke, but whatevs!
If Sheila wishes she could be more like Bunny in the studio, someone else seems to be sliding into Sheila’s turf at home: Simone, whose presence leading Danny’s latest campaign meeting makes me laugh. (Here’s a note I wrote down, and honestly, I can’t remember if it came from Sheila’s interior monologue on the show or my actual interior monologue in my brain, but either way: They are totally gonna fuck.) Maybe it’s the aerobics talking or maybe it’s because Simone, like, instructed Sheila how to pass out snacks and supplies at the goddamned meeting (W-O-W), but afterwards, Sheila stands up to Danny and for herself when he asks her to collect signatures for him. “I have Maya, babe,” she informs him (“and a fucking life,” she says to herself), but then she realizes that she can kill two birds with one stone by canvassing for new aerobics students at the same time. There’s just one problem: None of the women she talks to are interested in this newfangled aerobics thing.
Or, it could be that none of the women are interested in being around her, because as the next two scenes bluntly hammer home, women don’t really like Sheila because Sheila puts on airs indicating that she doesn’t really like them. First, Simone (who now waltzes into Sheila and Danny’s home without knocking) asks her, “Do you have any tennis friends or mom friends who will help us out?” (“Tennis friends” + “mom friends” + Rose Byrne immediately made me think of this Bridesmaids scene.) Danny interjects with, “Sheila’s never had any female friends,” which elicits a patronizing kind of sympathy from Simone: “I also struggle to connect with other women,” Simone coos at Sheila, “or at least, they struggle to connect with me.” It’s a hilarious and jaw-dropping comment for Simone to make, but also, it sounds a lot like Sheila’s inner voice? This whole show, Sheila’s been putting other women down in her head and getting so wrapped up in her own interior monologue that she acts downright dismissively toward people like Greta — a perfectly nice woman who, Sheila seems to have convinced herself, has a highly contagious form of loser-ish fatness — and her old ballet teacher, Abigail, who she goes to visit for the first time ever in the hopes of scrounging up some aerobics disciples. “You’re the only student of mine who hasn’t been here yet,” Abigail pointedly remarks. When she finds out Sheila is going to teach a class, her reaction is even more barbed: “I didn’t know you liked people enough to do that.” She also says that when she’d invite Sheila to a party, it wasn’t just that Sheila wouldn’t come; it also seemed as if Sheila never even heard Abigail invite her in the first place. (Just like Greta!)
Man, Abigail just nails her in this scene — which feels rather gratifying to me as a viewer because all at once, all of the questions I’ve been asking myself about Sheila and exactly what kind of person she comes across as on the outside are being answered. (I’ll quibble that it almost feels like all the answers are suddenly coming a little too easily, no?)
In true antiheroine fashion, Sheila reacts to being rebuffed by Abigail by stealing the address book she wielded like a treasure map (haha!), and as we listen in on Sheila’s end of all those phone calls, we get even more confirmation that aerobics has become as much a salvation for her as it is a compulsion. “You’ll be amazed by how quickly it transforms you,” she says. “After just one class, you can feel it happen — you becoming you again.”
Speaking of becoming you again, we receive another puzzle piece from Sheila’s past as she walks through the mall to get to the studio and stops to look at a TV in a store window. Someone named Jack is on the screen, spouting a very 1970s strain of pop psychology. “You used to fuck that buffoon,” Sheila thinks to herself, and speaking of fucking a buffoon, John Breems saunters up. (They are totally gonna fuck.) It’s a great interaction that crackles with uncertainty as Sheila and Breem each try to size up the other, but just as Breem seems like he’s about to want something from her, Sheila tells him she’s running late and leaves.
Finally, we are inside Sheila’s first class. Greta is there, way in the back where Sheila used to position herself. After fumbling with the stereo and messing up her first few instructions to the class, Sheila finally finds a groove as Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” blares. (Another slamming soundtrack selection, and also, another song hinting at addictive or obsessive tendencies.) Sheila is, at last, emanating all the parts of herself, the healthy and the not-as-healthy: She’s doing her phrase-repetition thing in her head while also berating Greta in her head while also encouraging her students to use “every ugly thought you’ve ever had about yourself to fuel you,” which could be her talking or could be Jack from the TV talking. It’s a great scene and I want to go watch it again.
In the aftermath, a few things happen. Sheila is surprised to see how little she’s paid for her teaching, prompting Bunny to offer up a sarcastic platitude: “Welcome to America. None of this is yours.” (Earlier in this episode, there was a moment where we heard Bunny talking on the phone in another language and it’s hinted that she’s not originally from America. I’m enticed by this little narrative thread and excited to see what unfurls from it.) Then Sheila leaves the mall and finds Greta crying in her car. While her inner voice tells her to stay away from that pathetic cow, her better instincts pull her toward Greta. (See, she can want to be around other women!) Even more surprising, she offers to teach Greta private, in-home lessons so she can avoid the shame she felt in class.
The next morning, Sheila wakes up before Danny (as per usual now) and counts her coffee-can money. She’s still not close to replenishing the grand they had in their bank account, so she … heads to the studio at the crack of dawn? To steal more money? (That’s my best guess.) What she happens upon instead is some of Danny’s surfing footage, which prompts an epiphany: Make an aerobics video. This is conveyed to us visually, with a quick flash of Sheila in her Jane Fonda Workout Video best (by the way, how have I not made any Jane Fonda comparisons yet?) — just like when Sheila’s mind’s eye made the connection between aerobics and binge-eating.
So we know where this is going in episode 4 … 5, 6, 7, 8!