“Lovesick Ass” (season one, episode eight, unaired)
“If I were in a position to be interested in somebody, I think it could be safe to say it’d be someone very much not unlike you.” — Jaye Tyler, “Lovesick Ass”
Of the many disparate genres and tropes that come together in the delightful melange that is Wonderfalls, the most pronounced of those elements is that of a romantic comedy. In the midst of various good deeds and sarcastic quips, Jaye’s attraction to Eric has been her constant, the only thing other than the threat of near-insanity from muse nagging that’s led her to be even slightly motivated. It’s a plot that’s developed gradually over the course of the series, the two enjoying easy banter and getting involved in various schemes. The relationship is easy and human enough that it’s not hard to imagine a reality in which Wonderfalls didn’t get picked up but that core concept—jaded retail clerk and jilted bartender find love amongst the waterfalls—survived and was adapted into a screenplay sans talking trinkets and drastic tonal shifts.
For the majority of Wonderfalls to date the developing connection between the two has played out in the background, with “Wound-Up Penguin” being the only episode to tie it into the weekly muse structure as Eric projected his inner turmoil onto Sister Katrina. “Lovesick Ass” goes a step further than that and brings seven episodes worth of flirting to a head, Eric finally questioning why he and Jaye can’t be together and Jaye scrambling to find a way to explain her situation without discussing the fact that inanimate objects speak to her randomly. It’s a move that takes us through the conflict stage of the romantic comedy arc and delivers a satisfying end to the initial stages of their courtship—even though the attendant conflicts and adventure feel more off-putting than they ideally should.
The events that lead to this resolution are set in motion when Eric spies a woman sleeping by the fountain outside Wonderfalls and opts to listen to her grievances and share his donuts. (Donuts he was bringing to Jaye, who’s first annoyed at this interloper and then horrified by his aside that a “little voice” told him to stop.) The woman identifies herself as Katya, a recent immigrant from Russia who’s come to meet her online boyfriend Peter, the man of her dreams who’s promised to marry her—and yet didn’t show up at the appointed time. As in “Wound-Up Penguin,” Eric’s empathy for someone in distress leads him to adopt her cause, and Jaye’s desire to spend time with him drags her along on the quest. Once again there’s a good interplay between Caroline Dhavernas and Tyron Leitso as they follow various leads and commit a series of misdemeanors, and there’s some additional shading to Eric as being in a wedding chapel again leads him to have a panic attack.
And the plot thickens once they track the messages to its source, as it turns out Peter’s not the man he said he was—in fact, he’s not even a man at all. Peter is one Peter Johnson (Spencer Breslin), a 13-year-old boy whose conception of relationships isn’t even close to healthy: “I found a woman, I paid for her, I intend to marry her” forms the crux of his argument. Katya, understandably horrified at her “uncooked dumpling” of a betrothed, holes up in Jaye’s trailer and hurls every last knickknack at him when he comes to collect, leaving Jaye and Eric to play parents and try to convince him he’s too young to know what love is. Unfortunately, that argument is undermined by a variety of factors, played hilariously in a crosstalk between the two adults full of “thinly veiled subtext” as Jaye angrily puts it. Eric expresses that a relationship doesn’t work if the other party isn’t interested, Jaye counters that there is interest, he throws her attitudes about love back in her face (comparisons to bad fish and open wounds form the basis), and she’s left sputtering about an “insurmountable” obstacle.
And that gets to the oddest part of “Lovesick Ass,” in that this obstacle—the muses—are almost entirely absent. They rope Jaye into the mystery early on by suggesting “Girl needs a donut” and sending her out into the world looking for one, but beyond that they’re apathetic to Katya or Peter’s plight. It isn’t out of character for the show to go without their voices for a while, as “Muffin Buffalo” provided ample evidence that Jaye’s capable of doing good deeds without their direction. What feels off about their absence this week is that Jaye’s spent so much time claiming potential clinical insanity as the reason why she can’t be in a relationship with Eric, and when that reason doesn’t even show up it undermines Jaye’s central argument. I can see how that may be intentional—the muses are a convenient excuse for her not to take a chance that changes her life—but the execution isn’t where it could be, and as presented, Jaye comes across as self-contradictory in a way that feels notably out of character.
It might not be such a big deal if the rest of the episode was more cohesive, but “Lovesick Ass” feels a little off in several ways. When Jaye resorts to threats to get Peter to leave Katya alone he switches his attention to her, though where he takes it leaves things in an ugly place. Here the romantic comedy tropes are reversed; unlike About A Boy or Love Actually, this is not a circumstance where adding a kid to the mix brings about a cutesy resolution to romance. Peter’s legitimately unsettled, first giving himself a black eye to make Eric seem abusive and then proposing “an evening of Tchaikovsky and heavy petting” with Jaye. His implication that he can keep her safe in a cabin with a cellar is even creepier, and makes one wonder when Bryan Fuller will dig back into his rolodex and add this character to Hannibal.
“Lovesick Ass” does try to put Peter’s actions in context somewhat, though those efforts are undermined by the methods the episode takes to sort matters out. Eric tries to track down Peter’s father, Dick, for answers, and he learns that Peter’s mother died a year ago and the boy’s largely raised himself. (Yes, the father’s name is Dick Johnson and his son is named Peter. All together now: PHRASING.) The exposition feels jumbled compared to the way answers have come out in prior episodes, delivered by a wounded Eric as opposed to the usual elaborate process of discovery Jaye gets involved with.
The lack of involvement from the muses is also felt in Katya’s resolution, as Dick goes to her in an attempt to make things right, and he discovers Peter used his mother’s love letters to woo the other woman—a reveal that leads the two to set Jaye’s trailer a-rocking. Yes, it’s a happy ending for both of them (no pun intended), but there’s something squeamish about the entire scenario of a man sleeping with his teenage son’s Russian mail-order bride, who herself falls in love with him based on letters he wrote his dead wife. To cite “Wound-Up Penguin” again, we know from that episode that Wonderfalls can reach deep and emotional resolutions to its characters’ problems and do so in beautiful hour-long fashion; by comparison, the resolution of “Lovesick Ass” unfortunately feels empty.
At least, the resolution of this week’s featured players is empty, because the focus on the central characters remains strong. Katya decides to move on with her life by cleaning up Jaye’s trailer and inviting Eric for dinner, a lively affair where the two discuss capitalism and card games. Embittered Jaye is usually the best Jaye, and her annoyance at Eric and Katya’s ease together has her sputtering angrily about fish Jell-O. (“You do realize that’s Jell-O and fish?”) Similarly, when Peter goes on the warpath and decides to steal Jaye’s car and kidnap Eric for potential mayhem, it leaves Jaye in amusing shell-shock mode, covered in feathers thanks to hitching a ride on a poultry truck. (That move also sees a return to form for Mahandra, now skeptically responding to Jaye’s rushed explanations and inquiring about why she’s acting like she and Eric are dating.) She speeds to the rescue, only to find the two having a genuine conversation—in a neat twist they seem to be discussing Jaye, but it turns out to be Eric trying to help Peter through his mother’s loss—and Peter’s self-aware enough to leave them alone for a moment.
Normally I summarize in these circumstances, but this conversation is sweet enough it deserves to be repeated verbatim:
“Frankly with you I think any sort of human interaction is iffy… I’m damaged and I think I’m going to take some time to heal. Which is why I absolutely think we need to have a date.”
“Forget about your damage, I’m quite possibly certifiable. Why would you want to get involved with anyone as potentially messy and complicated as me?”
“Because you make me happy.”
And then, as it must, Jaye’s so overwhelmed by his sincerity and tired of fighting her own self-doubts that she falls into his embrace and agrees to a date, a richly satisfying moment as acted by Dhavernas and Leitso. Granted, the moment’s sabotaged when Peter lights Eric’s car on fire to turn the latter’s victory into a pyrrhic one, but as far as dark twists go this one doesn’t detract too heavily from the positive feeling at the end. These two crazy kids—one who might be literally crazy—finally have the nerve to act on what they were feeling, and while it’s not even close to “happily ever after” at this point, it’s a step in the right direction.
- If you’re watching along on the DVDs you know we’ve reached the end of the second disc, and before we switch over I encourage everyone to watch the Wonderfalls music video if you haven’t already, because it is an utter delight. (And if you don’t own the DVDs, it’s available on YouTube here.)
- Todd Holland’s back behind the camera for “Lovesick Ass,” and the episode’s full of his subtle yet enjoyable flourishes: the flip between day and night when Katya’s waiting at the fountain for Peter, the back-and-forth between Jaye and Eric at the Barrel as they argue their relationship without actually arguing it, the parallel shots of Peter and Eric showing up at Jaye’s trailer with black eyes and similar stories.
- Sharon’s the only other member of the Tyler family in this episode as Jaye consults her for help with Katya, leading to a mortifying moment for the elder sister when she catches Dick and Katya in mid-coitus. And she gets a rare moment of pure amusement when considering Jaye’s new roommate: “I just think it’s funny you moved in with a woman before I did!”
- Best Caroline Dhavernas expression this week: The dumbfounded “Buh?” look on her face when Eric asks if she’s ever been in love.
- While largely absent in the main plot, the muses do provide one of the episode’s biggest laughs early on when Mahandra uses the wax lion and brass monkey to act out Jaye’s lust for Eric, and neither muse is amused. “Inappropriate touching.” “This isn’t fun for anybody.”
- Eric: “Haven’t you just wanted someone you could be yourself with?” Jaye: “I’m not really sure who that is yet.”
- Most apt summation of the riddle that is Jaye’s heart, courtesy of Peter: “She’s a lifetime of New York Times Sunday crosswords.”
Next week: Jaye and Eric’s first date may be free of first kiss-related tension, but the arrival of Jewel Staite as Eric’s wife Heidi in “Safety Canary” doesn’t mean it’s a smooth ride going forward. (Though to be honest, having both Jewel Staite and Caroline Dhavernas in love with you seems less like a problem and more like a dream one tries to have every night.)