A week later, Walter Blunt is still on the air, that cop’s testicles are fine or at least unruptured, and all the assault costs Walter is a suspended license, which suits him fine until he sees the tiny backseat in the car Harry bought, and weekly AA meetings. While he and Harry get a head-start on the 12-step path to personal growth, the rest of the Blunt Talk news team disperses into Friday evening to find some connection or fulfillment. The difference is they all put themselves out there to some degree or another. That is, they all make themselves vulnerable to the world. Walter blissfully bulldozes a 12-step program without even realizing he’s missing the point. His therapist wants him to get back in the dating pool, and the state of California wants him to see help for alcoholism. So he hijacks a sex addicts anonymous meeting and goes home with an addict. When her husband chases him out of their bed, he finds the silver lining: His therapist can’t say he didn’t try.
All the stories in “All My Relationships End In Pain” are missed opportunities. For starters, Shelly doesn’t even get a subplot. Or a news segment. Or a car. The colorful parade of fancy automobiles leaving the parking lot is followed by Shelly on a bike. That gives us as good a sense of her as anything else so far.
Martin takes a ride home from Rosalie, which apparently is something they did last Friday, or perhaps the one before that considering last Friday was Walter’s self-interrogation. Anyway, it turns out Martin longs to nestle in Rosalie’s bosom like Walter did with Gisele, and she gets a kick out of it, too. She flashes a cheeky smile that can’t even come close to disguising her desire. But he can’t ask for what he wants. She’s the one who offers him a ride home, and she’s the one who asks if maybe he wants a repeat of last time, at which point he dives into her rack. Of all the main characters, Martin and Rosalie come closest to a fulfilling evening. But by not asserting himself, Martin’s happy ending is a pit stop in Rosalie’s story, and not just because she’s in the driver’s seat. Without her calling the shots, Martin goes home to a weekend so boring it doesn’t get any screen time.
Rosalie’s in an open marriage with an aging, forgetful man named Terry (Ed Begley Jr.) who gets a little competitive when she tells him about Martin. He responds with a story he’s already told her, about a Persian divorcee he picked up at the salad bar. You get the sense she wants more from Terry and Martin, but she likes them both, and she likes the way things are with them both. She just wants more. One of the virtues of finally focusing on the whole cast, everyone with his or her own subplot, is how we discover things about the characters that make a lot of sense in retrospect, like Martin and Shelly being doormats in meetings and in life. And how Rosalie’s loud, aggressive command of that workplace also bleeds into her nonprofessional life, not that spooning with Walter is exactly professional. But she’s a powerful person who knows what she wants and how to get it. So the fact that she’s a little timid about bringing up her last fling with Martin suggests she has serious feelings for him, and she might want more. In the end, Terry brings up this one woman he hasn’t told her about, a Persian divorcee he found at the salad bar. She interrupts him with that brash Rosalie tone we’re used to. But after a moment, she just tells him she loves him, and lets him continue with the story he’s so proud of. And she means it, even though at the end she lies next to him looking out the window at everything else.
Tonal whiplash is a complaint people hurl at shows like this (and Bored To Death and Enlightened and Suburgatory and others) that balance, or, as the complaints go, fail to balance, slapstick with pathos. And it’s sometimes appropriate, but what’s overlooked is the strangeness, the specificity of the moods on these shows. The stories in “All My Relationships End In Pain” aren’t zero-sum games. There’s pain and triumph and regret and silliness and yearning. So just because the plotting gets broad doesn’t mean the emotions do. It doesn’t reduce the humanity. For instance, Celia’s story is just a disappointing hook-up. Well, not “just.” She meets a magician on a British dating app called Bangers & Match, so that’s a lot right there. But the contrast between this guy doing a dumb trick and Celia noticing his wedding ring is essential. She sleeps with him anyway. Afterward, as she pulls the sheets off her bed to wash them—apparently he doesn’t spend the night—it’s not all bad, and it’s not all good. She’s not self-loathing and she satisfied an urge. It won’t lead to anything. It was just a night. She wants more, but she probably got the best she could hope for from this guy.
Jim has the most immediately moving night out, thanks largely to the sad-happy-lonely expressions Timm Sharp manages acting against a shoe. Just from the awkward way he moves around the women’s shoe section, it’s clear he’s shopping for himself. It’s strange an associate would even ask if he was shopping for his wife. Maybe she has a thing for him. But if that’s a pass, he doesn’t realize it. He’s in a whole other headspace. In retrospect it’s a testament to him that the question doesn’t scare him off. What’s not clear is how far Jim’s appreciation of heels goes. Does he just like the shoes, does he just like wearing them, is he transgender? For now I’m guessing the middle, but the distinction almost doesn’t even matter yet, because no matter what, he can’t be open about it. He FaceTimes with his parents and then says he has to go, big Friday plans, etc. like the most obvious dweeb who ever tried to play up his social status. He has nowhere to go. He just has a new pair of shoes to admire. But the thrill he gets from touching them is powerful, and that makes his solitude more moving. For all we know, those are his first high heels. Big day for Jim.
So Martin gets some affection, Rosalie renews her feelings for her husband, Celia meets somebody, and Jim experiments. None of them have unadulterated victories, but they all seize the opportunities they’re given, which is what Walter’s supposed to be trying to do. But Walter doesn’t seize opportunities he’s given. He makes his own. As in, he goes to the sex addicts meeting after he gets his AA sheet signed, completely disregarding the rules and the reasoning behind those rules. “Hello, I’m Walter. I am not a sex addict, but I have enjoyed listening to you all.” The result is he doesn’t learn anything from AA, he isn’t pushed to challenge himself, and the woman he meets isn’t a viable romantic candidate. He’s too oblivious to realize he isn’t helping himself, and Harry’s too subordinate to help him. Enlightened is another show about how hard it is to achieve personal growth (emotional control, spiritual fulfillment, maybe eventually enlightenment). Like Walter, Amy Jellicoe has a somewhat skewed vision of the world. They’re both majestic fuck-ups lying to themselves. But Amy isn’t great with people. Walter is. I’m not sure who has the bigger obstacle to self-improvement.
- “All My Relationships End In Pain” is written by Jonathan Ames and directed by Michael Lehmann (Heathers).
- The episode opens with Walter and Harry playing a game where Walter pretends to be aloof while Harry stalks him, and then they fight. Harry proudly says Walter usually enjoys thrashing him.
- A snippet of Walter’s Friday newscast: “Well, I’m not sure I like the sound of children being chipped, like the family pet, but I was also skeptical of the mobile phone, and I once did lose a dog.”
- Walter isn’t sure which outfit to wear to AA, Bono or Peter Jennings.
- Harry: “You said to follow my bliss.” Walter: “I said a Volt or a Prius! You willfully misheard me.” A taste of his own medicine.
- Rosalie tells Terry that Walter’s going to AA. She adds, “Maybe it could help him. It helped Charlie.” “Charlie? He committed suicide.” “But he was sober.” “Well, that’s true.”
- When Walter decides to go to the sex addicts meeting, Harry decides to check out the gamblers one. Walter stops him before he goes. “Do you need any cash in case they lose control and a poker game breaks out?”
- Celia: “My dad used to love doing magic tricks.” The magician: “Used to? Why did he stop, the old bastard?” “Um, he died when I was 12 in a car accident.”