Let’s agree that “Let’s Agree to Disagree” was a very fine and fun transition episode for Physical as it gears up for what I can only presume will be a towering, high-stakes season finale. At this halfway point, the fifth of ten episodes, things happened, but big things didn’t happen, right? Some things were sort of resolved, but nothing huge was resolved. Looking ahead, though, something’s gotta come crashing down at the end of all this, right? Something huge, like Danny’s campaign, Bunny’s business, Danny and Sheila’s marriage, all of the above? And like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a shuttered San Diego aerobics studio, Sheila will emerge … Victorious, but maybe victorious with a touch of sadness and isolation, a sense of “what’s it all for”? That’s the vibe I’m getting.
But I’m also getting ahead of myself. “Let’s Agree to Disagree” opens in unexpected fashion, with a focus on Bunny. She’s looking like she’s having a fun ol’ time zipping around town in her perky Volkswagen convertible (WAIT, I JUST GOT THAT BUNNY DRIVES … A RABBIT!) doing her routine errands, which include a stop at the post office to pick up the mail from her P.O. Box since she’s technically without a permanent, official residential address. She opens a letter handwritten in a foreign alphabet and, whatever it says, she’s not thrilled by it.
Speaking of not thrilled, Bunny’s got to contend next with Sheila and her never-ending list of asks. Today’s request: Shooting her much-dreamed-about aerobics video at Body by Bunny. “I’m not turning my class into a home videotape,” Bunny insists. Sheila responds, “What about all the women out there who need it? Blah blah focus on that one moment for themselves blah blah their health blah blah feel powerful.” I’m blah-blah’ing Sheila’s self-empowerment pitch because it rings a little hollow and forced and made-up to me. That could be due to the fact that it’s hard to believe a circa-early-’80s woman would ever talk that way unless she’s, like, auditioning for a Metamucil commercial. It could also be due to the fact that I don’t think Sheila buys what she’s selling, either. (But then again, if she’s got the self-confidence to spin bullshit for the sake of nailing down a business deal, that’s progress, right?) In any case, what Tyler tells Sheila a moment later resonates a thousand knee bends deeper: “The wives just want the pretty lady to tell them that they’re good.” I mean, that’s much of modern womanhood distilled down to a single sentence, right? Is anyone else starting to suspect that Tyler is actually their low-key fave on this show?
Back at home, Sheila is having a much easier time refusing to take no for an answer. Danny and Jerry are scheduling all the potlucks she’ll have to attend as a political candidate’s wife, but she instructs them to just cherry-pick those where her presence will actually matter. (She also notes that she doesn’t like eating all that food.) In response, Jerry gleefully launches into a lengthy harangue against her, trolling her “Jazzercising” habit and telling her she “grew up in a shallow place with shallow people.” In her first internal thought of the episode, Sheila mouths off in her mind’s voice, “It’s one thing to take shit from Danny, but this asshole, too?” (Go, Sheila!) And for what I’d say is the first time in the series, the shit-talking Sheila normally reserves for the inside of her head comes out.
“I’m shallow; that’s what you think? You’re a fucking asshole,” she tells Jerry after Danny leaves them alone by making a big show of checking on Maya to demonstrate that unlike some people in his marriage who selfishly don’t want to attend potlucks, he’s all about supporting his partner. She then hits Jerry where it hurts, calling out his patriarchal double standard, the one that implies she should be smiling ’til it hurts at potlucks because that’s what the Pat Nixons do, even as lefty dudes in Danny’s position should be bringing out the big guns against their male GOP opponents. (Dude, not to brag — no! I will brag! Because women can brag too and also I’m sorry for assuming that you, reader, are a “dude!” — but I called this about Jerry last week.) “I’ll come to the most important events and I’ll tell you which ones they are,” Sheila informs him, taking complete ownership of the situation. A very hilariously awkward back-and-forth ensues in which Sheila stammers her way through this new level of empowerment as Jerry tries to accommodate her, and then she tells him to leave, because “I can’t stand the sight of you.”
Sheila’s two-steps-forward-one-step-back behavior is on display to a much larger degree when she meets Tyler at the beach for their illicit, unpermitted aerobics-video shoot. It’s a scene of rare and lighthearted comic relief, with lots of silly sight gags as Sheila kicks sand in Tyler’s eye and chases Maya out of frame, but it’s underscored by Sheila’s intense self-doubt, which comes rushing back. “They’re all staring at you, you heifer,” she tells herself. “Who the fuck do you think you are?” (I will dime-store-psychology Sheila by pointing out that she felt the fear and did it anyway! She faked it ’til she maked it!)
Tyler insists the shoot went well and that there’s usable footage there, but Sheila is still flummoxed enough by the idea of seeing herself on tape that she rents (or buys? I think it was renting) a VCR in order to watch the footage. In case you’d forgotten in the past 12 seconds that Physical is set in the early ’80s, the guy at the VCR place goes on an extended riff about VHS versus Betamax (We’re in a format war! People need to choose sides!), then accuses Sheila of wanting to use the VCR to watch porn before she hightails it out of there.
Just as Sheila cues up the video in her garage (I mean, VCR Guy definitely picked up on Sheila’s sense of shame surrounding whatever it was she wanted to watch), Danny barges in blabbing about some upcoming public-access debate. To hide what she was up to, Sheila is all smiles and invites him to enjoy a foot rub. (She’s sublimating her ego, needs, and desires for him; she’s Pat Nixon!)
Sheila goes back to Body by Bunny and confesses some of her insecurities surrounding the tape to Tyler and her worries that nobody will like her idea. “Everybody hates everything ’til they don’t,” he tells her. Tyler’s just a straight-up guru at this point, and I know I was saying a few recaps ago that Sheila was going to wind up in bed with EVIL JOHN BREEM, but now I’m thinking she should sleep with Tyler. I mean, she’d sleep with Evil John Breem out of a moment of self-hatred and Danny-hatred and probably even Evil John Breem–hatred. (She’d hate-fuck him, is what I’m trying to say.) But now I’m picturing her and Tyler together and it’s much more tender and it’s much more about him opening her eyes and opening up a bunch of other stuff if you know what I mean and excuse me while I go rent a VCR.
And UHHHHHHHHHHHH, apparently I’m not the only one getting turned on around the audiovisual equipment, because as Sheila and Tyler are watching their aerobics tape, suddenly something truly bizarre comes (no pun intended, sorry I’ll get my mind out of the gutter) onscreen: a series of anonymous women seated before the camera, shaving their heads. My husband and I literally both said, “What the fuuuuck …?” at the exact same time in the exact same way. I was completely, totally, and utterly thrown until Ernie, Greta’s husband, appears onscreen to lasciviously fondle the women’s shorn domes. It is so bizarre. Tyler and Sheila have opposite, gendered reactions. Tyler is mesmerized and in awe and even impressed, admiring Ernie for “putting a lot of work in here” and opining that Ernie’s fetish isn’t necessarily sexual (“this is like fucking Bambi”) — although he also declares that “getting to see someone do brave shit is sexy as hell.” What I think I may also see, for what it’s worth, is Ernie getting off on disempowering someone else by taking away a piece of them, by convincing them to give up a part of themselves for his enjoyment.
Danny’s debate arrives, and wouldn’t ya know it, EVIL JOHN BREEM has unexpectedly shown up to face off against him. Danny freaks out at having to debate a “Mormon mall bot” until Sheila slips him a joint, which prompts him to call her “the good witch lighting me back home.” (Oh my God, men in Physical who aren’t Tyler, enough with casting every woman in your life as a secondary character that exists only to forward your narrative.) Danny kills it at the debate, though, getting in some good digs at Breem’s expense and exhibiting a glimpse of the charming, well-intentioned self-control that, I’m assuming, is what originally drew Sheila to him. As soon as the debate’s over, though, that thrill is gone as Danny and Ernie go full douche at (of all places) a fondue restaurant, where Greta, like she did in the last episode, further articulates her awful, self-punishing thoughts. (I hate myself for not liking Greta more, for not focusing more on her relatability rather than her lack of likability. Then again, I hate myself for saying I hate myself; that’s Gretaspeak! Oy, the layers on this show, I’ll tell ya.)
Sheila — who, it just occurred to me, spends this entire series surrounded entirely by either people she doesn’t like or people who don’t seem to like her (but also Tyler; hey, Tyler!) — can’t stand another second at the fondue restaurant and leaves with a rushed excuse about needing to go home and check on Maya. In an instant, she’s back at that seedy motel engaging in her bulimic behavior and promising herself it’s the last time. (Two steps forward, one step back. Or, as I’ve sometimes put it to myself in my own interior monologue, sometimes you have to make a mistake 100 times before you finally figure out how not to make it.) On her drive home, she and Greta end up pulling up next to each other at the same stop sign. The moment is so weird, and filmed in such a surreal way, that I thought Sheila was going to crash her car or something. Instead, she makes it home in one piece and tells the babysitter to … what was that? Throw a rock at the neighbor’s dog? It seems like some sort of ploy to create an excuse for why she was out in the car by herself and it whooshed right by me. (Please, somebody fill me in! Comment below!)
The episode ends with Bunny telling Sheila that she looked at Tyler’s beach footage and she’s now down with making an aerobics video, then Danny and Jerry telling Sheila they need her to get on the horn to Tyler ASAP so they can shoot a commercial after Danny’s excellent debate performance spurred an attack ad from the opposition. It’s a bit of a brusque ending (“We need to make an ad” — BOOM; cut to black). So I’ll mimic that and end real quick here by saying that, in conclusion, let’s agree to agree that Tyler has stealthily become the best part of this show.