Some television episodes deliver big, cathartic moments. Others simply set the stage for the big moments to come, putting the pieces in motion for a big confrontation, or falling out, or romantic entanglement. With “Biden,” Casual manages to do both at once, and the results are (at this point) predictably solid. It doesn’t pack the punch of last week’s episode, but that’s all right. Tastes great, less filling.
That’s not to say that “Biden” doesn’t have its share of big moments—the biggest, of course, being Valerie and Drew’s showdown at the broken-garage-door corral—but it’s also charged with a lot of set-up, getting the characters (and the audience) ready for what’s to come. It’s a neat trick that director Michael Weaver and episode writer Liz Tigelaar pull here: in 26-ish minutes, they give us three events that could be considered the focus of any one episode. Then each is revealed to be the set-up for a bigger event to come. The result is vaguely unsatisfying, but in an oddly satisfying way. They’re not quite cliffhangers—it’s more like when Wile E. Coyote goes racing off the cliff and takes a few minutes to realize there’s no ground beneath him. Next week: poof.
The first of these big moments is Alex’s date with Emmy, the one and only (and 100%) match to come out of his honest Snooger profile. From the beginning of the episode, it’s obvious that Alex is hanging an awful lot on this one match—as it turns out, he really did think he needed to perfect the algorithm. Then he and Emmy (the terrific Eliza Coupe) have a basically perfect date, from the great food to a completely charming (and beautifully written) conversation about nachos to an obviously satisfying sexual encounter. Normally, this would be enough: next episode, the show would set Alex up for some sort of commitment-phobic freakout, or she’d read the Jezebel piece about how he said Snooger is a lie, and it would seem like it wasn’t going to work.
Instead, we get a completely unexpected penny-drop. Emmy’s in an open relationship, something Alex either didn’t read in her profile, chose to ignore, or maybe didn’t think would be a problem. The Alex we’ve gotten to know through the course of the season wouldn’t have a problem with casual sex. But this is his magical one-and-only match, and the realization that his life isn’t suddenly about to change sends him for a bit of a loop. Hopefully Emmy will be back—Coupe is excellent, and her scenes with Dewey had a kind of easy charm and sexiness that’s a perfect fit for the show—but either way, it sets Alex up for an unpleasant arc. “Maybe I’m not supposed to be happy,” he tells Valerie early in the episode. It’s likely that he thinks he just got confirmation.
Valerie’s big moment is obviously the biggest of the three, and it’s pretty remarkable that Casual still manages to make it a set-up for what’s to come. Her scenes with Drew (Zak Orth, also excellent) are the episode’s highlight, and manage to get the pair through a lot of rough stuff in a very short period of time. As with last week, the selling of their house becomes a symbol of something bigger, and locking Drew in the garage forces a détente. It’s a sad, quiet, heartbreaking scene, giving us far more information about what went on in their marriage than all five of the previous episodes combined. More importantly, it gives Valerie some closure. Somehow, the catharsis of their sushi dinner leads to a moment that, paired with Laura’s story, gives the episode a sense of impending doom (or at least trouble): she makes a phone call and, just like that, she’s going on a date with Michael.
“Biden” spends less time with Laura than it does with Valerie and Tommy, but it’s her plot (and reveal) on which the ending hangs. Emile is back, and the show cleverly makes him look like even more of an ass than he had previously—seriously, the “Heart-Shaped Box” thing was exquisitely insufferable—so that when a sex tape starring he and Laura starts circulating the school, it’s all-too-easy to believe he was behind the whole thing. But he wasn’t, of course. Grandma—sorry, Dawn—gave Laura some questionable advice at the episode’s outset, and rather than just releasing those pheromones, she releases the footage. It’s unexpected, and sad, and sets the stage for a whole lot of trouble.
The closing shot, of Laura’s eyes looking into the camera as she shuts off her computer, manages to disturb in a way that nothing in the show has thus far. Divorce can be unbelievably rough on everyone involved, even when it’s a good thing for the family, and so far Laura has seemed to be basically impervious. With one quick glance, Casual (and Tara Lynne Barr, doing her best work so far) manages to show exactly how untrue that is. Whether this is the result of her home situation or some other source of unhappiness, she’s obviously not as OK as she seems, and the episode leaves us with the certain and very unsettling knowledge that things are just going to get worse.
Overall, “Biden” is another solid episode, continuing Casual’s streak of solid, soulful storytelling. But big moments aside, it’s hard to feel wowed when the whole point seems to be that something even bigger is coming. It’s not disappointing, it’s not unworthy, and it’s not remotely boring. It’s just another good episode, and it makes me all that more eager for next week.
- I have to admit that after Parks and Recreation, just giving an episode the title “Biden” isn’t enough for me. I expect an appearance from Diamond Joe himself.
- It’s a nice touch that Alex’s messages to Emmy are so similar to Valerie’s “folded your clothes” messages to Spoonless James a few episodes back.
- It’s kind of great seeing Frances Conroy play a character that’s even remotely stylish. I love those glasses. (No offense, Myrtle Snow.)
- Always weird hearing actors playing characters talk about other real actors. Weirder still when they then talk about actors they look like. How often do you think Patrick Heusinger and Michaela Watkins have had someone tell them they look like Armie Hammer and Catherine Keener?
- “Was it boobs?”
- “My brother’s a drug addict. Lives in Fresno.” “That’s sad.” “Yeah, I keep telling him to move.”
- This is the second episode I’ve written about this week that sees a female character talk about pheromones and wildlife. Frances Conroy’s delivery was perfect (and weird), but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s bit was funnier.
- “Does it have to be an actual person? How about an upside-down mop?”