Michael Rispoli, Jim Sturgess/AMC
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“Secret Sauce” introduces so many new complications and shuffles through them at such a dizzying pace, they all become equally weightless and laughable. I don’t know how much of Feed The Beast’s initial audience consisted of people interested in the restaurant business, but I have to imagine most of them have bailed by now. The show makes trying to open your own eatery look like death by a thousand cuts, both big and small. Solving one problem creates ten more, as if the writers panicked and dumped a season’s worth of plot points into one episode in hopes of generating excitement.

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The hour certainly moves along swiftly enough, but whether all the sound and fury amounts to anything is a different matter. The first major complication was introduced at the end of last episode, when Aiden presented Tommy and Dion with their new head chef, Kevin Mahoney (Fredric Lehne, a longtime TV “That Guy” perhaps most recognizable as the marshal escorting Kate back to the U.S. on Lost). Kevin’s meat and potatoes approach is more in keeping with Aidan’s sensibilities, even as it’s an affront to Dion’s culinary aspirations. Per the contract neither Tommy nor Dion actually read, however, Aidan is well within his rights to pull this power move, resulting in Dion’s demotion.

Kevin is a tyrant whose management style is vividly described by one member of the kitchen staff as “like listening to Emeril Lagasse’s asshole.” Kevin’s reign of terror spills over into other areas of restaurant business. He doesn’t think Tommy’s fancy-pants wines pair well with his cooking, and he wants to replace the sliding panels from Rie’s sacred “look book” with heat lamps. He also hires an attractive female cook who Dion immediately starts to hit on, and who we immediately (and correctly) deduce is Kevin’s daughter. Getting Kevin out of the kitchen is the primary plot engine this week, but it has plenty of company.

Pilar is also getting bossed around by Kevin, so she drops by her sister Blanca’s restaurant for advice. In the process, she distracts the harried Blanca, who falls and hits her head. At first this doesn’t look serious, but it wouldn’t have happened for no reason, and sure enough Blanca later ends up unconscious in the hospital. All of this is simply blunt script engineering designed to get Pilar in the same place as Woichik, who is hanging around the hospital because his father has so far survived the attempt on his life in prison. Within 30 seconds of waiting room chat, Pilar has already confided that she’s the manager of a new restaurant and doesn’t know what she’s doing. Woichik puts in a call to the mayor’s office ensuring that Thirio’s inspection will go smoothly. At the same time, Woichik is bumping up Dion’s vig to $6000 a week, and his amazing van driver with the best timing in the world (truly the secret hero of Feed The Beast) runs Dion’s Uncle Stavros into a parked car just when he was on the way to pick up the cash Dion needs for his payment. (Why did the van driver do this? Just on general principle, I guess.)

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Every character is screwed to one extent or another, but TJ, with three imperfect father figures and no mother, may be worst off of all. The big surprise in this “Secret Sauce” is that Dion, a complete disaster in every other area of his life, may actually be TJ’s least objectionable male role model. Granted, he takes the boy along on a coke deal, which is maybe not the best idea. But when TJ gets in trouble with a security guard who catches him adding to a graffiti mural, it’s Dion who gives him pragmatic advice about how to avoid getting killed simply because of “existing while black.” By contrast, Aidan offers nothing but toxic masculinity. His boxing lessons could be justified as another form of pragmatism, but for Aidan to let TJ play with his handgun, unloaded though it may be, is easily the worst idea ever. The psychology of the scene couldn’t be clearer: Aidan feels emasculated, confined to a wheelchair and reliant on a grim, coverall-clad woman for his every need, and since he sees his own son as a pussy, he’s trying to project his tough-guy image through TJ. As for TJ’s real father, he’s a well-meaning wet noodle who’s not spending enough time in his son’s life to realize how strong these other male influences have grown.

The episode’s main conflict is resolved with one of those TV-friendly schemes that relies on so many things going right, you can’t believe a bumbler like Dion could actually pull it off. (Since one of the key elements of Dion’s con is having sex with Kevin’s daughter and taking a picture of her in her underwear, it’s not easy to make a case that this show has come a long way in its treatment of female characters.) It’s a revealing window into Feed The Beast’s methodology: find a plot that would have worked on any drama (or even sitcom) 20 or 30 years ago, add a little sex, drugs, and adult language, simmer for 45 minutes, and presto! Here’s your generic, pseudo-edgy cable show. Some hours go down easier than others, but in the end you’re still left with empty calories.

Stray observations

  • Because there weren’t enough soap opera contrivances already in play this week, it turns out Dion’s lawyer Marisa is pregnant.
  • Woichik shoots a prison guard right in the parking lot of the prison. This is some slick criminal.
  • “You hired a bean eater as your bean counter.” Even Archie Bunker sneers at Aidan’s lame racist quips.

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