Baskets has such an amiable, pleasant rhythm that it can easily be mistaken for “low-energy.” Though I suppose people who would make that charge aren’t tuning in to this kind of low-key show on a weekly basis, it’s understandable that some would check their watch more than a couple times in many of the Baskets episodes. Though there are action-heavy episodes in the series — a life-changing Parisian escapade, a road trip to Nevada, adventures with reckless street performers — oftentimes the show simply features conversation between disparate people, even those in the same family.
Take this week episode: Christine takes Chip and her new friend Ken (Alex Morris) to the Ronald Reagan Library before Chip’s hearing. Though obviously there’s more to the episode than that bare-bones description, most of it involves honest discussion between different parties and an attempt to bridge gaping divides in understanding. Galifianakis, Jonathan Krisel and credited writer Samuel D. Hunter do a bang-up job dramatizing such an idea, even if it generally feels a bit slight, at least in comparison to prior episodes.
“Ronald Reagan Library” is primarily divided into two stories: Christine and Ken’s day date at the Library and Chip trying to figure out what to do with Morpheus’ abandoned pan flute. The former once again explores Christine’s life outside of her family and her involvement with a kind man genuinely interested in her company. Christine invites Ken along to the Library, even though he’s a Carter-loving Democrat and she’s a staunch Reaganite who previously worked on his campaign. They each express their political differences but neither embodies modern-day ideological polarization; they simply hold different worldviews and accept it without trying to change the other’s mind. One could call that naïve or shortsighted, especially given the current climate, but Galifianakis and company take Christine and Ken at face value and the episode is much better for it.
So, Christine and Ken spend the day getting to know each other. He tells her he has two ex-wives (“Well, who am I to judge. Nancy was Ron’s second.”) and that he runs a carpet business in Denver. They walk around the museum, take a photo together, and explore the gift shop, but when they lose Chip after he abruptly leaves the museum, Christine becomes dejected once again. She blames herself for not being a better mother following her husband’s death, saying she wasn’t prepared for the responsibility, to which Ken responds, “It’s not your fault, Christine, I promise you, and the recession wasn’t Carter’s fault. If Ronald Reagan had been president in 1978, he would’ve been a one-term president. Some things are just bigger than the office.” It’s a nice bit of affirmation that she needs to hear after years of blind optimism in the face of disappointment.
Meanwhile, Morpheus’ sudden and violent death haunts Chip’s dreams and he struggles with his involvement in it. Though he had his character flaws, mainly abandoning his young daughter, Morpheus accepted Chip at his lowest and he clearly feels somewhat responsible because his last words were for his ears, even if Morpheus was the one hanging off of a train. When he finds that Morpheus’ pan flute was in his bag of belongings, he feels uncomfortable keeping it and tries to pawn it off, but no one wants it. After hitchhiking to the coroner’s office to try to leave the flute with the body to no avail, he eventually tracks down Morpheus’ parents and young daughter at a motel. They reluctantly let him in and Chip proceeds to give the flute to the daughter. “Your dad was a great guy,” Chip says. “He liked to sing and dance. He loved trains. He opened a can of pasta for me once. Real free spirit.” The parents smile and fondly remember their son as a boy who liked butter noodles. It’s a heartbreaking, uncomfortable scene, but it showcases Baskets’ genuine compassion for everyone, no matter how small or minor they seem.
Chip eventually gets to the hearing and receives the slap on the wrist he was expecting, but Ken’s daughter Darla receives five years in prison since it’s a repeat offense. All Ken can do is shake his head and return to his life in Denver, but before he does, he gives Christine the Reagan bracelet that she was eyeing in the gift shop and tells her to look him up if she’s ever in Denver. They share a sweet hug and then he leaves. In Baskets, people drift in and out of lives like dust, leaving only a small mark on others. For Morpheus’ family, Chip provided a memento they can cherish for years as they contend with grief. For Christine, Ken was a kind soul eager to share his life with her. For Chip, it was a nomadic family that disappointed him and splintered too soon. The only thing left to do is to go back to Bakersfield.
- I love Chip’s response to Reagan leaving behind show business for the presidency: “To think he threw it all away for a boring office job.”
- Ken giving Christine a sugar-free cough drop is such a nice touch, especially after Christine’s deadly serious admission that she’s not proud of her behavior.
- Chip spilling everything on the coroner’s desk is classic Baskets slapstick and it’s appreciated.
- Funniest scene is Christine trying to find Chip over the loudspeaker and letting it slip that he has a hearing he needs to attend. “God, he’s going to have to go back to prison.”
- Also loved when Chip referred to the Judge (John Levenstein) as “Your highness” and the Judge accepts that title after brief consideration.
- “What did you steal a phone from a second grader?”
- “The Iron Curtain! I’ve always wanted to go behind that!”
- “It’s a lovely museum even if you’re a Democrat.”
- “I’ll just an Americano.”
- “So many little Reagans!”