By the time we jump into Krystal and Travis’ marriage in the first episode of On Becoming A God In Central Florida, FAM’s damage has already been done. Travis’ foolish ambition and dedication to a company that exploits him has already torn at the seams of his relationship with Krystal, whose last attempt to salvage them is to give him an ultimatum. He makes a promise that he doesn’t keep, and it costs him his life. When it comes to Ernie and Bets, we get to watch their marriage begin to gradually unravel, watching these calamitous effects FAM—and capitalism broadly—have on interpersonal relationships and family dynamics unfold over time. We only saw the end for Krystal and Travis, but here we see it from the start, see the way FAM needles into its disciples heads and turns them against themselves.
Ernie is truly acting against his and his family’s best interests; he just can’t see it. And his young son is absorbing the nonsense, too. Bets is rightfully disturbed to walk in on the scene of her husband and son literally chanting FAM language in robot voices. “The more you buy, the more you make,” Harold recites. “That doesn’t make sense,” Bets responds. Because of course it doesn’t. But pyramid schemes rely on a perverse system of pushing people into buying an inventory that they have no guarantee of being able to sell. Bets points out that the FAM brochure itself says 50% of FAM businesses fail in the first year. Ernie thinks that to beat the odds, he has to push himself. That means leaving the waterpark, which he hides from his wife. And because the area has been so saturated by FAM distributors, it also means tapping into a new market. And Ernie has chosen—without realizing the harm he’s doing—to target a very vulnerable community of immigrants.
Bets and Ernie’s relationship has been an emotional cornerstone for the show. They’re sweet to each other, and there’s a lived-in personal history that reverberates between them. And that’s what makes it so devastating to see those seams begin to unravel like they did so extremely for Krystal and Travis. Ernie’s delusional to the point that he thinks it’s genuinely a romantic gesture for him to bring Bets to the English class where he has been recruiting his downline. She wanted bowling or the Olive Garden. He gave her FAM. Her skepticism is drawn in big and small strokes, seen in the way she worries about Ernie’s well-being but also in the way she cracks a window after the camera focuses on a FAM air freshener. FAM products are garbage, and the stench is seeping into every corner of their lives.
The music choices in On Becoming A God In Central Florida are very strong. The score underneath Bets coming home to all the hazard stickers heightens the eeriness of it all. “Tom’s Diner” playing over a car chase scene heightens both the tension and the humor. When Cody and the Bridges guy face-off, a playful Western-inspired score chimes in, making it all the more ridiculous. (Krystal’s “You guys gonna kill each other? Put those away” provides the perfect button here.)
Sound in general plays a strong role on the show, often functioning the same way it does in horror. Again, I think On Becoming A God In Central Florida exists on a spectrum of horror, seen most explicitly in its weirdest moments. Like the sweat lodge. Garbeau’s voice booms in echo as he threatens Cody, pushing him to the edge in an attempt to break him. The sequence lasts a bit too long, but it’s effective in the way it captures the weird voice of this show, blending humor and horror in extremes. But underneath those extremes, there are real stakes for the characters. Cody has something to prove, and he wants to prove it. He’ll do anything to prove it. He’ll take his own fucking life for Garbeau. Those are the terrifying results of the kind of power Garbeau harnesses. Any doubt that FAM operates as a cult quickly vanish here. On Becoming A God In Central Florida implicitly draws connections between religious extremism and capitalism. And it does so within its weirdo, heightened approach to storytelling.
Part of the delight of watching this episode is seeing Krystal excel at all the things that the men in her life keep trying to tell her she’s bad at. She’s cunning and creative in ways that these Businessmen don’t value or even really understand, because they’re too busy working within a system designed to work for them. But here, Krystal successfully negotiates a better cash deal for her engagement ring (and also buys a cheap fake to replace it so that Cody won’t even notice). She also talks Stan into letting her pay for Splashercise billboards and making her the new manager of the park. And when Mirta tells her she needs to stay close to Cody in order for them to get the real story on FAM, Krystal whips out her top manipulation skills.
To be fair, it isn’t that hard to convince Cody she wants to be with him and to get him to carry around a bugged briefcase. He’s an easy-to-manipulate idiot. But still, Krystal plays it all perfectly. She has to kiss Garbeau’s ass, too, and he goes so far as to pretend like he doesn’t know who she is. He really is a master of a particular brand of oppressive patriarchy. Cody and the guy at the floral shop partake in a somewhat pathetic display of macho posturing, and it’s easy to laugh them off as bozos. But it’s all different manifestations of the same fucked up system that FAM is built on, making these men feel like cowboys, like kings, like gods.
In the end, Krystal’s wins in the episode don’t quite matter though, because the strength of that system is strong. Krystal still gets trampled by the patriarchy, as Garbeau implies that he’s going to write her out of the very thing she created. Given the way Cody pledges his fealty in the sweat lodge, it’s doubtful he’ll stand by her side.
- Bets is right: What could possibly be better than the Olive Garden?
- Théodore Pellerin is particularly great in this episode!
- We learn that Cody’s father landed in prison because of money laundering, and we already knew he has some serious daddy issues, but those are really underscored here.
- On that note...“Who’s your daddy now? Am I your daddy?” Garbeau saying this is absolutely repulsive!
- Beth Ditto deserves awards.