I don’t know whether to salute Jonathan Ames or complain that “I Experience Shame And Anticipate Punishment” doesn’t really reach a climax. Probably the former, but the fact remains, the episode named for Harry’s erectile dysfunction just kind of goes limp at the end. After a failed attempt to report on an incoming hurricane from Galveston, Walter tries to green-screen it. But partway through his opening salvo, he breaks into “Singin’ In The Rain,” and we, well, I discovered what this show looks like when I’m not willing to follow Walter on one of his larks. For the first time I felt like Rosalie, who treats Walter kind of (that is, other than when she’s tweaking his nipples) like her senile father, speaking slowly, loudly, and clearly, humoring him within limits. I get it now. At a certain point, I just feel worried about Walter.
I’m not convinced he’s critical, but there are signs if you’re one of those viewers. Repeatedly Walter says he almost died on the previous night’s newscast. He talks about the hurricane green-screen like a last stand. “I would rather go out like this. A fool’s mission is still a mission.” Then there’s the general state of his life. He sees a vision of his mother when he passes out on TV. We get some more info on his particular “bathroom issues,” as Shelly puts it. And Harry treats him like a little boy at bed time. No, Walter acts like a little boy at bed time, complete with an excited pounding of fists as he demands a particular story (The Once And Future King), and Harry lives to serve the major and indulges such behavior. All this is to say maybe Walter is worth seriously worrying about.
But there’s no reason truth can’t come with a little hope, is there? There’s a less fargone take on the episode, albeit one with an equally dim prognosis. This is a test and spectacular failure of Walter’s humility. Compare Walter’s side of the episode to Harry’s, both of them somewhat stuck performing. Walter rightly calls out Harry’s pride when his man refuses to take a Viagra for the good of the cause. In fact, Harry taking a Viagra might have been an incredibly healthy step. Personally I could imagine better circumstances for getting over my overbearing-mother-induced-erectile-dysfunction, but this ain’t bad. Harry has a pill to keep him hard and a beautiful pro who’s convinced him she really wants to live out a teacher fantasy with him. Celia (Dolly Wells) doesn’t get that she’s acting. Must have missed the classroom set they all walked by on the way in. But eventually Sylvia, the actress, helps Harry take the pill. It’s a bit much at first. Who wants to root for a hero in such a stacked scenario? But at the end of the episode, when Harry mentions that he was once again stymied in his quest for sexual intercourse, suddenly it’s clear how good that would have been for him. When will he get a chance like that again? And it’s such a controlled environment, the entire might of this not-so-rinky-dink porn outfit working toward the goal of finishing this one scene, in other words, toward the goal of getting Harry off. Harry claims he has a full plate of pleasures in his life, and there’s no reason not to believe him. But he hasn’t chosen not to have sex. He’s been denied it by his psychology. Justifying his abstinence says a good bit about who this man is, but so does that final repetition of “shame” and “punishment.”
At least Harry gets over his pride—his protests, his excuses, his physiological failures. Walter refuses to compromise any more than he has to, and it leads him to that “Singin’ In The Rain” moment on the set of or at least by a movie poster advertising Semen In The Rain. First Gardner (Romany Malco) dispatches him to Galveston to cover the incoming hurricane that looks pretty far from Galveston on the TV weather maps but never mind. Gardner wants to capitalize on Walter’s momentum. “You were terrific last night,” he says as he slams down two newspapers with front-page coverage. The headlines? “Walter Falters: Chrome Dome Cabler Loses His Mind” and “Walter Blunt Arrested On Thursday, Collapses On Friday.”
Which, since we’re on the subject, is another clue that there’s a wide gulf between Walter’s Will McAvoy vision and his Howard Beale reception. Walter’s show is presented to us as a serious news program. You could give him the benefit of a doubt on the self-interrogation. He was pretty high after all. However, the hurricane business is revealing. Not only does Gardner see him as the kind of stunt newsman who would report in the rain to tell us it’s raining—side by side with those “What does it feel like to be tased?” local reporters—but Walter, too, turns out also to prefer showmanship to honest reporting. “I have to lie to tell the truth,” he says as he prepares to make his green-screen newscast from a porn studio in Los Angeles while Martin (Karan Soni) shoots the actual hurricane footage in Galveston. Walter even sacrifices the integrity of the news itself. His producers hand him all kinds of stories, but they’re heavy, so Walter dismisses them. He wants some semblance of hope in climate change, something good in what he repeatedly calls Biblical weather that he can use to entice his audience. Celia offers a family in Topanga living in a zero-waste manor. “They’re hoping that by having no impact they’ll also have an impact.”
Well, Walter misses his flight to Galveston because of his bathroom issues. Even if the climax were supposed to be funny, it would have a hard time living up to this sequence, maybe for Harry alone: ushering the occupants of the airport bathroom out and placing a sign out front so Walter can use it in peace, standing guard as he listens to the major’s cries of despair, aggressively intimidating a newcomer. “Sorry, pal. Loo’s off-limits,” he says with the menace of a mob enforcer. Meanwhile Walter’s defeated by the seat liners, the automatic flush, the automatic sinks, the automatic soap dispensers. At his lowest he gives up on the seat liners and reaches for the toilet paper instead, but he knocks the roll onto the wet floor. “I have been betrayed by the FAA and modern bathroom technology.” And also his own issues. At least Harry tried to get over his. So then he connects with Jim’s idea to green-screen the news program, which leads to him selling Harry to Brett Gelman’s porn producer Ronnie, which leads to him trying (in his eyes, successfully) to foster a grassroots awareness or something by dancing in the fake rain representing a hurricane that will likely kill people. Harry’s not the one with the pride issues.
The anticlimax is that the hurricane was downgraded, the newscast was cancelled, and nobody else will ever know about the aborted green-screen boondoggle. Walter’s momentum will have to wait until next week. Nevertheless, “I Experience Shame And Anticipate Punishment” does shed some light on what the series is, week to week, now that we’ve had two episodes of Walter trying to pull off a news program with an out-there hook. The supporting characters remain sketches, but Walter and Harry are clearer than ever. Besides, the episode begins by irising out over a dreamed up black-and-white Busby Berkeley musical number starring Walter and a circle of showgirls that’s light, beautiful, and over far too soon. There isn’t no climax. It just comes early.
- “I Experience Shame And Anticipate Punishment” is written by Jonathan Ames and directed by Tristram Shapeero, like the pilot.
- “Oh, fuck, we’re still on the air,” says Walter when he wakes up. Why didn’t they cut to commercial when he fell?
- Walter has truly learned something from his experience in the pilot. “I need to be a better father to the American people. And of course to my own children.”
- Harry: “What would you like me to read to you tonight? We have Rabelais, Winnie The Pooh, and the Quran.” Funny, telling detail: Walter puts his sleeping mask over his forehead, leaving Harry to pull it down over his eyes.
- Walter recalls Cokie Roberts using rear projection to pretend to report from the Capitol in 1994. “Oh, Cokie. All legs, no common sense.”
- Ronnie: “The mandatory condom laws have made it impossible to shoot in LA. Pun intended.”
- Walter tells Rosalie and Celia to see if they can get Harry to take the pill. “Try and cheer him up.” Celia: “You want us to fluff Harry?”