Horace and Pete (and Sylvia) may be family, but Pete stands alone. He’s the one who has been in and out of mental hospitals for most of his life, who needs medication so as not to think the floors have teeth, who was lied to by his father for most of his life, who has difficulty connecting with otherwise healthy people, and who needs the bar more than anyone else because it provides stability and comfort. Pete’s problems are beyond the comprehension of most of the people in his life, and as such, they either take pity on him or treat him as an oddity. He may not eat alone, but he is alone.
It’s this fact that makes the minute-long shot of Pete breaking down in tears scored to the instrumental of Paul Simon’s “Horace and Pete” in “Episode 8” all the more powerful. After getting word that the hospital won’t be able to renew his prescription because of its adverse side effects and thus he’ll have to be readmitted, Pete immediately starts weeping, knowing that he will soon lose all freedom and control over his own life. C.K. appropriately lingers on the moment, refusing to put an “Intermission” title or to cut away as the music swells; he forces you to watch Pete mourn the impeding loss of his own autonomy. Though Buscemi initially doesn’t get much to do in the office scene other than act unnerved and irritated at both Horace and Dr. Evers (Colman Domingo), his breakdown feels remarkably intimate and genuine, and it’s easily some of the best acting of the series thus far.
It’s almost topped by his long confession to Horace about the limitations of his own life and his suicidal thoughts. Pete knows that his life is about to become a nightmare and that when he enters the hospital, he’ll be staring at monsters made of his own fears indefinitely, but he also understands that the life he lives now isn’t exactly a joyful one. Limited by circumstance and health, Pete mostly goes through a fairly standard routine that doesn’t allow for much happiness, but he keeps doing it, like the rest of us, in the hope that something better will come along (“You sort of bide your time to see what happens next, what life has to offer.”) or just something nice that will happen in the future, like Easter. But now that Pete knows what will come along, he wants out, and openly contemplates blowing his brains out like Uncle Pete, no matter how much Horace strenuously objects. When all you can see is darkness down the road, it’s hard to argue with someone who wants to veer off, even if there is some light a long way down the line.
But in “Episode 8,” C.K. argues that simply hanging on to life amidst all the pain and suffering is the very definition of bravery. When Tricia (Maria Dizzia), an old friend of Pete’s who suffers from Tourettes, returns to the bar, she doesn’t comfort Pete by urging him not to kill himself or that things will be better down the line. She just says she thought he was so brave when he was losing his mind because he was actively living with terror. It’s a simple moment of understanding that neither Horace nor Sylvia could ever offer him, and it’s all he needs at that time. Tricia’s presence doesn’t suddenly make his problems disappear, but her own mental illness combined with their shared history makes their relationship necessary and vital.
In fact, much of “Episode 8” is actually filled with lovely empathetic moments, even if they’re surrounded by one form of darkness or another. The opening scene where Horace and Sylvia bond over their respective sexual trysts, the first time we’ve seen Sylvia truly happy, opens the door to a series of brief connections. Take Kurt’s discussion of acid and artificial intelligence with Mark and Leon: It begins with an explanation of why Kurt takes acid all the time and ends with his insistence that the singularity will eventually enslave humans to their technological rulers. Kurt claims that it won’t be this massive undertaking, but a gentle push into captivity until people are just data on some cloud server somewhere. But when Leon asks how he knows it hasn’t happened already, Kurt shrugs and says, “Who cares? It feels real,” completely unaware of the epiphanic point he’s made: Whether or not anyone is ever aware of the exact nature of their existence, it’s real in the moment, and thus requires us to treat it as real, even when it’s dull.
But C.K. also never lets the audience forget that these brief connections happen in and around others floundering within themselves. This time it comes in the form of Lucy (Lucy Taylor), a severe alcoholic who lashes out at Horace and Sylvia for cutting her off and who can’t remember what she did to Nick after they slept together. She’s loud, obnoxious, and abusive, but she’s also very ill. When she points out that she suffers from alcoholism, it’s a heartbreaking reminder of the way society accepts certain mental illnesses but shuts the door on other more public ones. Lucy is just as loud with her disease as Tricia is with hers, but only Lucy gets kicked out off the bar to go fend for herself. Obviously this doesn’t justify Lucy’s behavior, but C.K. appropriately complicates the matter, and depicts the spectrum of illness that walks around everyday. But, as Dr. Evers says, there are plenty of people who have a firm grip on reality and are just not happy with it. Horace And Pete routinely claims that it’s often our unhappiness and discomfort that connects us with strangers more than anything else.
- Reg E. Cathey (The Wire, House Of Cards) plays Sylvia’s one-night stand and Karren Pittman returns as Rhonda. Both are wonderful in their brief appearances, especially Cathey, who has an infectious laugh.
- Love Pete’s bit about how A Beautiful Mind has convinced large swaths of people that those suffering from mental illness can simply learn to fight it or live with it.
- Kurt’s outburst from last week was referenced again when he says, “Hey, is Pete gonna fuck that chick who says ‘cunt’ all the time. What! I didn’t say it, I was quoting!”
- Kurt hilariously dismisses Mark’s question of what he does just out of hand. Love if that becomes a recurring bit.
- Sylvia also reminds Horace that they’ll have to find a new bartender if Pete goes away again, deftly laying the groundwork for future episodes.
- “I usually like a little levity. That’s just me. Actually, it’s not just me. It’s a lot of people.”
- “When you look at me, do you see me or some kind of hallucination?” “I dunno. What do you really look like?” “I don’t wanna talk about it.”
- “Like The Terminator?” “Nah, like, more elegant than that.” “Elegant how?”
- “Then why’s it so dull?” “That’s why I take acid, man.”
- “It’s hard to hang on knowing what’s coming.”