“Why do you still pretend to like your husband?”
You could hang this whole episode of Physical on Bunny’s offhand remark to Sheila while they’re rehearsing for their workout video. You could hang the whole show on it, really: Why pretend to like someone when you don’t? Why pretend to be someone you’re not? Why pretend … ever? Why do people (women especially) expend so much time and effort acquiescing to others’ desires, making themselves seem acceptable on the outside without stopping to think what they can and can’t accept for themselves?
“He’s the most brilliant man I’ve ever known,” Sheila tells Bunny in response to her question, but in the universe of Physical, Danny is a borderline dope, and Sheila knows it. I know I’ve said before that Sheila’s gonna wind up sleeping with Evil John Breem, but at this point, heck, I’d understand if she started having feelings for Ernie; at least his perspective on the world feels sharp and tangy, not all moldy and stale like Danny’s the-’60s-man! mentality.
“My wife is a stone cold fox,” Danny tells Jerry in the first scene of the episode, after Sheila has zapped some butter-flavored popcorn in that newfangled microwave of hers, after she’s offered for Danny to shoot his new campaign ad with “state-of-the-art video using the latest technology that I happen to have access to.” (I loved the opening shot of her practicing her moves in the microwave door’s reflection, using it as both a mirror and a TV screen.) A “stone cold fox” is, to Danny’s mind, the pinnacle of wifedom, the ideal of what any man would obviously want in a spouse and what any wife would want to be. But a beat later, he catches himself and realizes that maybe Sheila would want to be known as something else, so he adds “genius.” Sheila’s response in her head: “Don’t forget a liar and a thief.” (Jerry, the dopiest of them all, just wants to make sure that Sheila’s state-of-the-art plan includes shooting on Betamax. Physical can’t resist a Betamax joke!)
“I feel like no one tells me the truth anymore,” Greta tells Sheila the next day outside day-care drop-off, right after she’s asked Sheila if she’s cheating on Danny. You can hear the defensive crouch in Greta’s voice when she says it; she doesn’t have it in her to ask Ernie for the truth about whether he’s cheating on her, but after spotting Sheila out alone late at night in last week’s episode (after saying she was leaving dinner to go straight home), Greta can muster up enough gumption to basically use Sheila as a stand-in for Ernie and launch a little attack against her. In response, Sheila gives Greta … a half-truth. She says she’s been sneaking around in order to make her workout video behind Danny’s back (which she has been doing; it just wasn’t what she’d been up to at the moment Greta caught her). Greta’s response is all, you can’t tell your husband you’re shooting a video? But then again, her husband sure isn’t telling her about his videos, and all I can say, folks, is that Physical has layers.
The most interesting part of “Let’s Get It on Tape,” for me, is how some of those layers start to fall away. Sometimes they’re ripped off with force: About halfway through the episode, Sheila intervenes on behalf of Simone (who she doesn’t like, don’t forget) to get Jerry to quit it with all the shoulder-massaging. “Hey, Jer, she said stop,” Sheila says with confidence. “Oh, sorry, I thought she was into it,” Jerry offers up as a weaselly defense of himself. (Physical can’t resist re-litigating sexual politics through a modern, #MeToo lens and I AM HERE FOR IT. DRAG THEM ALL, SHEILA.)
“I don’t think about you at all,” Sheila coolly tells Evil John Breem in his office, where she goes to acquire mall space for Danny’s campaign after she and Danny see that Schmidt was given space there. Here again, Sheila’s finding her self-assurance. Breem’s whole persona is that of Intimidating Self-Possessed Businessman, but Sheila knows in this moment that she, too, has the right to self-possession, rather than apologizing for existing. And really, what I think she’s starting to do here and elsewhere in this episode is take the best parts of her inner monologue and use them to assert herself. At the risk of sounding cheesy, she’s starting to live out loud.
Side note: Breem is still an enigma to me, and I must admit I’m a little disappointed that, with the season more than halfway through, he’s been given little to do besides act as a convenient narrative tool. I want to know more about what makes him tick. I also wanted a steamy Evil John Breem affair and I think I still do (unless Tyler suddenly becomes available).
Where Sheila lives out loud the loudest, of course, is toward the end of this episode, at Greta’s weird “find your color” gathering. What a hoot this scene is. That Stepford Wife-y color consultant made me laugh, and then there’s Greta’s weird scarf-cowl headpiece that she thought would be a good idea to wear … why? Oh, Greta. She’s trying so hard and the more she does, the worse she seems to feel — and look. She paid someone to dip her face in acid! (Which is, you know, another way to try to shed some layers!) She did that and then, I guess to hide it, she came up with that Scarf-enstein monstrosity that seems to encase her head like a helmet. (I’m really going to be thinking about that helmet for a long time.)
“You have to, you have to,” Sheila tells herself at the meeting, and with that short and sweet self-pep talk, Sheila’s internal voice again comes out. “Is everyone buying this?” she asks the other women in the group. And then with her external voice, he encourages everyone to focus more about how they feel on the inside (“underneath our clothes, underneath our skin, our heart, our muscles, getting strong”) than how they look on the outside. “What if instead of talking about it, I show you?” she suggests. When she broke out her aerobics tape, I legit LOL’d. Not because I thought it was a bad or dumb idea, but because I was happily shocked by her boldness.
Sheila’s gambit pays off, literally; she sells out all the copies of her tape to the color group, including the color consultant herself (who, I noticed, drives a very nice black Cadillac). But Greta puts two and two together and asks Sheila point-blank if she made that tape with Ernie’s missing A/V equipment. Folks, I won’t lie: I thought Sheila would and should lie! But she comes clean, she confesses, she says it out loud: She is — at least sometimes, at least in this situation — a liar and a thief. She seems relieved to have said it. It’s one less thing she has to pretend about.