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On Becoming A God In Central Florida leans into its psychological horror

Image: On Becoming A God In Central Florida (Showtime)
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There are many laws of horror, and one should probably be that if someone ever says “step into my orifice,” you should probably run. “Birthday Party” offers up the weirdest, most disturbing sequence of On Becoming A God In Central Florida yet. The episode is part ridiculous caper, courtesy of a very reluctant Roger bringing Cody along on security duty, part psychological horror, courtesy of Krystal taking a trip to Paradise Caye to visit Garbeau’s wife Louise, who seems to have her own side hustle going within the FAM machine.

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Krystal’s descent down the rabbit hole starts with gin on ice and ends with gentle cello music. In between, she is forced into a simulated womb and hallucinates about her own labor, intercut with images that represent birth and also literal images of FAM products. Or, in Krystal’s own words, “I physically fought myself out of a goddamn vagina tub for no fucking reason.” Of all of the bizarro encounters Krystal has had since immersing herself in FAM, this one takes the cake for being both the weirdest but also the most legitimately scary. Each week, the show has upped the ante in terms of its horror, striking a standout balance between horror and humor as it pushes its characters to the edges.

Louise claims her “therapy” is all about bringing old traumas to the surface in order to let them go. That sounds positive on paper, but watching Krystal go through this and then seeing her anger rise to the surface makes it clear that this process is, in and of itself, traumatic. Even more worrisome is the presence of Harmony, who apparently used to be one of Louise’s “patients” and has that post-lobotomy chill about her that often spells doom when it comes to medical horror. She makes references to a previous life, one in which her husband supposedly went against FAM (and the law, although it’s hard to know if he actually broke the law or just FAM rules, which are asserted as law within the organization). And it’s certainly possible that she and her daughter are the long lost family of Judd Waltrip, based on some of the references she makes and the things he said when he was trying to expose FAM. But one thing is for certain: Louise is using her goddamn vagina tub to placate and manipulate.

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This doesn’t necessarily mean that full-on brainwashing is happening. But at the same time, the way Louise dangles the carrot of a nice, peaceful, prosperous life at Paradise Caye for Krystal and Destinee is its own powerful form of control. Louise knows that Krystal wants what’s best for her and her daughter, and she uses that as the primary lure. Louise doesn’t implicitly make references to FAM during the “procedure,” but it’s unsurprising that images of FAM products pop up for Krystal given where she is, who she’s with, and her associations with Travis, her family, and FAM. The sequence of images literally ties FAM products to the life cycle, and the implications of that are huge. FAM rewires its workers into blurring the lines between work and life, equating the pursuit of a good life with the pursuit of profit—profits that don’t even benefit most of these workers but rather Obie and Louise and those at the top. Again, FAM runs like a cult, and Louise’s vagina tub makes that very clear.

“Birthday Party” struggles a bit with structure and pacing, taking on just slightly more than it can handle in just 44 minutes. Because in addition to Roger setting up Cody and Krystal being pulled deep into the innards of Paradise Caye, there’s also another subplot centered on Ernie and Bets that is quite good but doesn’t get enough time to breathe. Mel Rodriguez gives another fantastic performance—his best yet. The desperation and mania of Ernie’s reaction when Bets lets him know that Juanita told her about what happened at the pizza shop is gutting. He’s in shock and denial, and the scene paints a layered and visceral portrait of trauma. The episode’s real emotional core sits here. Suddenly, FAM has become not just a job for Ernie, but a coping mechanism. The way that FAM stands in for family, therapy, and community is the most dangerous part of its business model.

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Aside from the Ernie and Bets stuff, the finest scene of the episode comes at the very end. After discovering the similarity between Krystal’s handwriting and the notes he and Roger stole from Mirta’s, Cody goes to his fiancé, who is rocking her baby while listening to the cello music from before. On the surface, it’s a tender and intimate moment between a family. But underneath, distrust seethes. There’s so much dramatic irony going on that the scene pulsates with tension: Krystal heard on the tapes that Obie wants to eliminate her, but Cody doesn’t know she knows; Cody has finally connected the dots on Krystal secretly working against FAM, and she would never suspect him of knowing since, most of the time, he’s an idiot. They’re both playing each other.


Stray observations

  • Théodore Pellerin also gives another fantastic performance. He’s always good at the humor of this character, but he’s forced to do some more subtle work here in that final scene.
  • Sometimes, Mirta feels like such an afterthought on the show or just like a plot device, but there are certainly some connections to be made between her and the show’s central themes regarding work, family, and the relentless pursuit of prosperity within a system that is so fucked.
  • There are a lot of funny moments in this episode, but Krystal slapping the Lord Byron poetry collection out of Stan’s hands is absolutely the funniest.
  • Give Beth Ditto awards for her work on this show.
  • The imagery of Krystal and Stan on the carousel at the beginning of the episode—a thing that’s supposed to be fun and playful and yet is rendered here as foreboding and depressing—is very exemplary of this show’s particular brand of visual storytelling.
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