This is now the second time in a row that Janelle Monae’s character, our protagonist, has woken up groggy surrounded by woods. True, in this case it’s just the wallpaper enveloping the motel room, but it feels significant. And if the season premiere had her returning to consciousness and finding the car key fob, this episode sees her using that fob to silence the car alarm going off just outside. She may not have her memory, but she’s got wheels, an address, and a steely sense of determination that may not always elicit the most logical behavior, but it certainly gets results, for better and worse.
If anything, “Giant” accelerates the pace of the narrative, a welcome change from the streaming-drama norm of drawing things out to fill time. In the space of these 28 minutes, Jackie gets a vehicle, tracks down Audrey, follows her to Geist, participates in a focus group for scents, sees a speech from the company’s founder Leonard Geist where he warns everyone their new partners are a danger to everything good they’ve accomplished—and then, to top it off, learns that she is actually Alex Eastman, and seems to be in a relationship with Audrey. (Maybe Audrey is just a very effusive greeter, but that kiss was a pretty clear giveaway.) That’s a lot to unpack, but the show is so fleet and engaging, it doesn’t much matter that, with the exception of Leonard, we’re through two full episodes and things like character development and emotional depth really haven’t happened yet. I couldn’t tell you anything about anyone, save for the barest of personality sketches, but I’m having a ball with this series.
The show is leaning hard into its Hitchcock influences, from the North By Northwest-style nature of its mystery to the Bernard Herrmann-like score that rises and falls with the action. If season one employed a lot of the tropes and stylistic devices of ‘70s conspiracy thrillers, this season is going back even further in time for its aesthetic and structural pleasures. This is never more clear than when Jackie (let’s go ahead and call her Alex from here on out; “Jackie” is presumably part of her false identity) is driving to her home, discovers Audrey there, and follows her all the way to Geist. There’s such an old-school vibe to the way it all plays out—Alex tails Audrey in broad daylight with perfect results, then muddles her way through the focus group with maximum calling-attention-to-herself choices, and yet she manages to tase our old friend Craig (hi, Alex Karpovsky!) and gain access to Audrey’s office without a single person noticing. It’s elegantly constructed and artfully edited, yet the story itself is simple as can be, even if it does consist of a rabbit hole we’re still busily tumbling down.
Clearly, it hasn’t been very long since the events of the first season, because Colin Belfast’s nameplate still occupies both Audrey’s parking spot and office door. It seems she took over his job only a few weeks ago, and everyone is still getting used to her being in a position of authority. Including, oddly, her boss, Leonard, who expresses surprise that until two weeks ago he didn’t even know her name, yet now she’s talking like she knows him. Maybe this should go in my baseless speculation corner in the stray observations, but there’s a strong implication that maybe Audrey herself isn’t the only person she’s used Geist’s memory-wiping drug on. Either way, he’s awfully unhappy about Geist’s new partners in maybe-crime, and scornfully dismisses Audrey’s “I accept it” attitude as part and parcel of what looks like a company-wide sense of money-hungry blindness to the evils these unknown partners have brought with them. Of course, if you want to convince people you’re right, maybe a rambling, unfocused speech isn’t the best way to do it. Credit Chris Cooper for being so compelling that you want to go along with what Leonard’s saying, even at the parts where it doesn’t make much sense. And for her part, Audrey basically treats him like an unwanted and clueless grandparent, cutting his mic when he starts ranting during the celebration event about the threat posed by “these assholes.” Cue the balloon drop.
Alex’s infiltration of Geist gets a lot of laughs out of the juxtaposition between her paranoid attitude of Big Brother-like conspiracies and the mundane nature of the business environment she stumbles into. It may look a lot like the Florida facility we inhabited last season (something tells me it’s the same location), but there’s no cloak and dagger theatrics to the prosaic corporate goings-on here. After sneaking in and claiming to be there for the “testing,” Alex is seated in a room with six other strangers, when everything goes dark red, a glowing orb rises in the middle of the table, and emits a grey mist. And yet it turns out to be an extended gag: The group is just trying out some potential new scents from Geist, overseen by Craig’s patient interviewer. If you only watched this season, you might feel bad for Craig when Alex tases him a few minutes later during her escape to break into Audrey’s office; luckily, we know just what he was up to only a few months ago in the show’s timeline, and thus a tasing seems like the minimum fair punishment.
Along with Jackie being Alex and in a relationship with Audrey, the other big reveal is that her unknown drinking buddy from two days’ prior was almost certainly Walter Cruz. The voice message we overhear Audrey leaving Alex before she heads to the office makes it sound like Alex told her things got “fucked up” during whatever plan the two of them were executing—Alex losing her entire memory was presumably not part of the plan. Audrey asks her where Walter is right before the episode ends, and the last time we saw him, he was living happily in the small rural outpost in Yosemite Valley, seemingly blissfully unaware of what had happened to him at Geist. If he’s back in the picture, then something must have happened: Alex is involved in some sort of subterfuge, pretending to be a soldier, which means Walter and his former unit are probably involved. It was unclear last season if Audrey was a hero or villain, despite being the one to deliver Colin’s comeuppance to him. Now that Alex is by her side, we’ll know soon enough.
- Leonard Geist’s busy watching Airwolf reruns. “It gets me fired up.”
- I loved both Audrey’s underling Lane explaining the kind of music he could program for the event (“Fun, but chill. And optimistic.”) and her response (‘What does that mean?”).
- “Does anyone else have negative associations with citrus?”
- To give Audrey credit, Leonard’s speech is exactly as rambling and bizarre as you could imagine. But also, credit to the employees for not laughing once he started ranting about how, when you go camping and you’re enjoying it, that’s when you play your flute.
- Baseless speculation corner: I still think I might be right about Alex being an investigative journalist, but now I’m adding to that: Audrey drugged Leonard to make her promotion happen, then erased her own memory of what she did so she could move forward with a clear conscience. And she’s working with Alex to help expose...something.
- Lane, you should be commended, because Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” is the definition of “Fun, but chill. And optimistic.”