I mentioned in my review of Flaked‘s previous episode that it was clear that some sort of narrative swerve was on the way. The show had been meandering along in its early going, but was slowly starting to suggest that there’s more to these characters than originally thought. Something had to happen, and it makes the most sense that that something would happen to London and Chip, two of the more mysterious characters on this show. Furthermore, I mentioned that the swerve had the potential to change the dynamic and perspective of the show in an interesting way, or conversely, completely pull the rug out from under the story in a contrived way. Now that a twist has arrived, it seems as if, for the most part, the latter is true.
Before getting to that twist though, “Shell” is similar to just about every other episode of Flaked in that it’s listless while being occasionally funny and insightful. But “Shell” also exposes the flimsy character work the show has been engaged in all season long. “Shell” largely revolves around the tension between Chip and Dennis, as Dennis is upset that his best friend would kiss London, the object of his (sometimes) affection. Dennis is sick of Chip’s lying, and Chip doesn’t see how he’s really any different than he’s ever been. Plus, in this case, he’s not completely lying. Either way, the problem with “Shell” is that it’s hard to get emotionally invested in the conflict between two people who are ultimately annoying, if not downright terrible.
Flaked seems to want to present a cast of complicated characters with hidden, varied motivations and reckless emotional reaction. But there’s no real depth there, and for the most part, Chip and Dennis don’t give us anyone to root for. When Chip and Dennis are arguing about the supposed “statute of limitations” on the women in their lives, I’m left with nothing but sympathy for those women, and indifference towards the broken friendship between Chip and Dennis. These are two manipulative people trying to out ‘Nice Guy’ one another—even Dennis’ care towards Kara comes with this air of necessary male protection, as if Kara needs to be looked after—and it’s not exactly enjoyable to watch.
That could be forgiven if there was some sort of moment of recognition waiting in the wings. All season long I’ve been waiting for Chip, and Dennis as well, to have his moment of self-reflection. I’ve been longing for him to reckon with the lies he tells himself and others. For a moment, that happens here. When Topher asks Chip to set him up on a date with London, he reluctantly agrees, saying he can float the idea by her but that he makes no promises. Then, when London agrees, because she knows how important the store is to him, things get weird. Topher visits the store and says that the price is too high, but that London sweetens the deal. When Chip acts all shocked about the rich tech guy’s true intentions, Topher gives him shit, saying that he knew exactly what he was offering even if he’s not willing to admit it. And it’s true. Chip knew that if he set London up with Topher, it’d likely lead to a business deal.
Chip reckons with that decision and sends Topher away. It’s him taking responsibility for once, trying to correct a gross decision he’s made, and it mostly works. The problem comes after that though, when it’s revealed that, after George does some digging, London is the sister of the man Chip killed in the drunk driving accident ten years ago. Credit where it’s due: it’s a twist that immediately shakes things up and gives some new life to the story, pushing it in new directions and shedding a light on everything that came before. But, just because a twist gives the narrative an instant jump doesn’t mean it works within the framework of the larger, long term story. As Chip realizes who London truly is, and she tries to explain her reason for seeking him out, and how their romance “just happened,” things take a turn for the worse.
In essence, the reveal that London has been lying to Chip all along means that Chip gets let off the hook way too easily. He’s been a mess of lies and contradictions all season long, and yet here’s Flaked gleefully letting him off the hook for his behavior by throwing a severely under-explored character under the bus. The revelation suggests that, to a certain extent, there are outside forces working against Chip, and that perhaps he’s right to be so cynical and guarded. It shifts the blame for these messy relationships from Chip to London, and that’s a troubling choice to make. It was bad enough that early episodes of Flaked used female characters to push along the sadsack male narrative, but inserting a twist that excuses the shitty behavior of Chip might be even more egregious.
Basically, by the end of “Shell,” it’s clear that Flaked wants you to feel some sort of sympathy towards Chip. But that sympathy is never really earned. Sure, London has been lying about who she is, but does that excuse Chip for using her as a bargaining piece with Topher, or excuse his treatment of Dennis? The twists positions Chip as the victim, as he shames London for getting close to his friends, to him, to his work, and that’s a troublesome turn for the show to suddenly take.
- “That’s too cliche, even for you two assjobs.” Cooler remains my favorite character.
- Cooler’s best moment may have been when Dennis says he’s pissed that his friendship with Chip is more of a 90/10 give-and-take ratio lately, rather than 50/50: “Would you take 60/40 maybe?”
- So, Dennis and Kara are kind of a thing now? What do these women see in these guys? Also, what was the point of the whole Uno thing?
- I did like the scene where George calls Dennis out for being a stubborn asshole about Chip. Some good backstory and insight in there.
- On paper, the story of a woman who seeks out the man who killed her brother while driving drunk, only to kind of fall for him, sounds mildly promising—there are interesting complicated emotions in there—but the way Flaked has structure that story has left a lot to be desired.