“Love’s Slimy Embrace” technically tries to accomplish two things that most good sitcoms pull off at this point in their run: build out the supporting cast and create storylines between two characters that don’t often interact. Derek, Zøg’s half-amphibian son and heir to the throne, takes center stage as he struggles with loneliness following his mother’s departure. He wants to hang out with Bean, but she still resents him for their wildly disparate childhoods, so he sits alone by the ocean until befriending a one-eyed octopus that he calls Slimy. Meanwhile, Zøg, in a foolish attempt to impress the pretentious Duke of Tinseltown, tries to contract gout with the help of Luci. These are the makings of an interesting, different kind of Disenchantment episode, one that’s interested in looking beyond Bean’s adventures.
Unfortunately, “Love’s Slimy Embrace” more or less falls back on standard territory. Slimy, feeling protective of Derek, wreaks havoc in the castle and eventually steals him away to his lair, forcing Bean and Elfo to go rescue him. It becomes another regular adventure instead of really being a Derek episode, which would be only mildly disappointing if the actual adventure was at all fun. Bean and Elfo swim through a tunnel, find Derek, and rescue him with the help of the Party Barge captain. That’s the extent of the mission.
Bean’s rescue would have more emotional weight if Disenchantment didn’t shortcut her relationship with Derek by limiting it to flashbacks. We see her send Derek away from the pub, see flashes of their childhood where Derek got to play with swords and ride horses while Bean was forced to be a princess, and that’s about it. There needed to be another scene featuring the two of them before the rescue, so her guilt about wishing him dead had the appropriate meaning. Instead, it all just happens, ending on a nice moment of connection between half-siblings that should nevertheless land better.
Worse, the gout storyline mostly peters out. Zøg quickly contracts the disease with Luci’s malicious diet: sausage links, bacon-wrapped cigars, organ meats (lung loaf, lard cakes, blood gravy, liver balls), and, of course, drinkable cheese. He shows off his swollen big toe to the Duke, who condescendingly explains he’s on the next stage of gout: amputation. Zøg obviously regrets his choices now that he had to be carted around by servants and can’t reach slippers that have fallen off his feet, but the story neither resolves nor progresses beyond that. It’s possible that Zøg’s gout will be a runner for the rest of the season/series, and that Disenchantment was merely introducing it in this episode, but even if that’s the case, it still renders the episode fairly uneven.
Despite this episode’s shortcomings, I generally prefer the stand-alone episodes to Disenchantment’s serialized stories because there’s a longer runway for jokes and inventive characters. For example, it was nice to see the Party Barge Captain, Disenchantment’s Sea Captain-like figure, return for a brief moment to spout seafarer inanities and cheapskate warnings (“Since this be a rescue mission, I’ll only charge ye half price. But I warn ye, there be hidden surcharges ye can hardly imagine.”) He gets gobbled up by Slimy at the end, but it was worth it if only to watch him fail to relax by Monster Island.
- I did really enjoy the wordplay banter between Zøg and the Duke of Tinseltown: “Hey, I got a gut.” “But you haven’t got gout.” “I could get it.” “That I doubt.” “Get out!”
- The Sea Captain wouldn’t be as cowardly as the Party Barge Captain. “Arr, me vessel has gone under, and tis the immutable law of the sea that a captain must go down with the ship. Still, I don’t think we need to be sticklers about it….”
- Other diseases in The Big Book of Diseases: Gallstones, gangrene, giraffism, gyro-scrotum…
- Gout, defined: “A painful joint disease caused by sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, and a diet heavy in foods like bacon, organ meats, and skillet drippins.”
- “He was already blue. I think he’s actually turning less blue.” “Is that good or bad?” “How should I know? I’m green, not blue. God, do all people of color look the same to you?”
- “How? The two of us could barely fit through that tunnel, and Derek is rather Ruben-esque. You know from eating all those Ruben sandwiches.”
- “Don’t worry, love. When the revolution comes, we’ll rise up and kill you all.”