The metaphor’s maybe a bit too strained, but the last Men Of A Certain Age of season two (and maybe ever) gets a lot of mileage out of the sensitivity of Joe’s busted tooth. Throughout “Hold Your Finish,” Joe winces in pain every time he takes a drink of cold water. But when his friends ask why he keeps drinking, the best response Joe can muster is, “I know, why?”
Really, the question could be turned around on all these guys. Still riding a creative high from his work on the Thoreau Chevrolet commercials, Terry is beginning to feel a familiar wanderlust. He gives away a potential sale to Lawrence, even though they’re tied in the monthly contest. While on a test drive with a customer, he waxes rhapsodic about how the birds on the telephone wire don’t have to check in with anyone before they fly. (The Zen approach works; he sells the car.) Finally, he comes to the inevitable conclusion, telling Owen that he’s quitting to pursue his new dream of becoming a director. Owen makes the obvious suggestion—that Terry keep his job and pursue directing on the side—but Terry goes with his heart, and his heart isn’t in sales. So Owen lets him go, but not without a little chastisement: “This is the same shit you’ve been doin’ since the day I met you.”
The real trouble comes when Terry has to tell Erin that he’s quit his job. Perhaps unconsciously (and perhaps not), he picks the worst possible time to let her know, slipping it in as an “oh by the way” while she’s in a hurry to get to work, then leaning in for a kiss that Erin coolly rebuffs. At the end of the day, Terry comes home to find that Erin’s not there, so he drives over to her old apartment, where she’s huddled on a bare floor, crying. He tells her that he got his job back as a building manager, so he won’t be sponging off of her while he gives directing a try. “Gimme a year,” he begs. And so Terry drinks the cold water, even though he knows it’s going to be uncomfortable.
Owen, meanwhile, finds himself poking at an old wound when he confronts his father over the future of Thoreau Chevrolet. Owen Sr. is annoyed at his son for his goofy commercials, his counter-intuitive promotions—a free car wash with no obligations?—and for being honest with his staff about how lousy the dealership’s books are looking. It all comes to a head when a customer grabs a bullhorn to complain about the busted car wash—the episode’s one major false note, in my opinion—and Owen Sr. shoves the customer around, tossing the bullhorn into the street, where it gets smashed. He orders one of the employees to pick it up, but nobody will, since Owen Jr.’s their boss now. So Owen Sr. drives over to Scarpulla, gets him to up his offer, and then accepts it, without consulting his son. Owen Jr. calls him a “pathetic old man” who’s letting his pride get in the way of his son’s sense of accomplishment. Later, though, they reconcile, as Owen Jr. insists that he wants to make a go of the dealership, debts and all.
That’s a lot of drama for one episode right there, but the heart of “Hold Your Finish” (and much of its tension) is in Joe’s story. That’s Joe, who doesn’t just drink liquids that make his tooth hurt but also re-watches the security-cam footage of Manfro kicking his ass. Joe, the day after his 50th birthday, puts himself into yet another potentially embarrassing and painful situation when he enters a pre-qualifying event for the Senior Tour. Now he has the pressure of his own expectations, and the expectations of his kids, who half-joke: “We don’t want a loser for a dad.”
Joe’s whole golfing experience turns out to be an E-ticket roller-coaster ride. On the upside, his kids Albert and Lucy bring him grandpa’s club-covers and their own painted golf balls for good luck. (“I wish I played,” Joe jokes.) On the downside, Terry comes to see him play and distracts him by talking about Erin and by loudly cheering. On the further downside, Albert messes up in his caddying duties, carrying an extra club in the bag, which costs his dad a two-stroke penalty. But then something unexpected happens: Joe feels so deep in the hole that he figures he may as well just go for it. He starts taking daring shots and making them, putting himself back in contention. All he has to do is make his last putt to finish in the Top 5 and move on to the next stage of qualifying. But though Albert tells him to “mind’s-eye that shit,” Joe misses the putt, and then misses the easy tap-in that follows. After he finishes, Joe tells Terry that it’s no big deal—that he has Albert and Lucy, and that should be enough. Then when Terry leaves, Joe breaks that “extra” club in two and watches as his scorecard blows away. Finally, just when it seems like this’ll be it for Joe and professional golf, it starts to rain—and old guys can’t play so well in the rain. The other players’ scores begin to rise, and Joe ends up qualifying after all.
About halfway through “Hold Your Finish,” I realized—as I do almost every time I watch Men Of A Certain Age—how invested I was in the outcome of Joe’s tournament, and Owen’s business, and Terry’s future. I’m not really ready to be cut off from their world, especially since this episode leaves so much unresolved. What’s to become of Thoreau Chevrolet? How will Terry’s new venture fare? Will Joe survive the next cut? Will he ask Dory out when he sees her at his next dental appointment? And what of Manfro? There’s a lot of story left here, and this second season—particularly the second half of this second season—has been so strong that it’d be a crime against television not to keep the show rolling.
C’mon TNT. Just give ‘em a year.
- For Joe’s birthday, the diner gives him “a three-month-old muffin that’s going to make me crap all day.”
- Owen can’t make it to the tournament, but he looks Joe in the eye and seductively says, “I’ll be rooting for you. In my mind.” (Joe: “Why you gotta make it sexual?” Owen: “It’s your birthday.”)
- Owen Sr. got tired of waiting for his neighbor to trim his hedge, so he trimmed it for him. That about sums up Owen Sr.
- Thanks to all you steadfast commenters. This isn’t the most-trafficked spot on The TV Club, but you guys are thoughtful and loyal, and it’s been fun watching this show with you. I really, really hope we get to do it again next year.