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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Rev.: “Society”

Illustration for article titled Rev.: “Society”
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After talking about four straight episodes of Rev., I realize I’ve never talked about my old favorite, story construction. After this fifth, I’d say it’s pretty clear that the show never really ends where you expect it to. Stories take weird twists and turns once they leave the starting point, and they end up in places that seem natural once you get to the end, but are essentially unpredictable when you begin. In that sense, the show has a lot in common with Mad Men, of all things, as that show will also start in one place, run along the typical story path for a while, then jet off into the hinterlands to pursue gophers or whatever strikes its fancy. But after five episodes of this show—episodes I’ve seen before, mind—I love that I can’t necessarily say with any certainty which episode I’m watching from the early scenes. There’s just no definite path an episode can take. I don’t want to say the show is unformulaic—even though it is that—so much as it decidedly doesn’t care about formula, and that’s terrific.

For instance, look at “Society,” which has been given the unfortunate title of “A Fine Bromance” by Hulu. The episode’s storyline hinges almost entirely on a huge coincidence—one that the show strains a bit to make work, if we’re being honest. Adam’s new friend, Leon, whom he’s met when showing Leon and his fiancée around the church in preparation for their wedding, turns out to have been a college fling of Alex’s (or, as he calls her, “Lexi”). When Adam learns that Leon and Alex had sex—well, not complete sex, whatever that means—on a double-decker bus, he silently stews with jealousy and resentment, unable to figure out how to handle this information. It completely changes his view of Leon; it even changes his view of Alex, just a little bit. Again, here’s a story turn that was essentially unpredictable when the episode started, and if it cheats just a bit (some foreshadowing might have been nice), the payoff is worth it.

In this first series of episodes, Adam keeps running into the fact that he’s more liberal and tolerant in what he says than in what he feels. He’s a man capable of making that awful gay joke in last week’s episode. He didn’t mean it maliciously, but some part of him thought it the best way to seem clever on the talk show he’s on. In this week’s episode, he tells God that Alex’s sexual history is one of the things he likes about her, but when he’s confronted with it in such an up close and personal fashion, he recoils. That’s the thing, though: Adam’s only human at the end of the day, and anyone who’s confronted with the actual facts of a significant other’s former lovers will recoil. Adam imagines himself to be above it all and part of some great tradition of looking down with benevolence upon his parishioners, but even he would admit this is more a thing he aspires to than something he actually does.

The episode even begins in a place where he’s acutely aware of just how much people can ignore him. As he laments the fact that Nigel has over 300 Facebook friends—and a profile picture that features Simon LeBon, apparently—and the fact that Alex has something planned with some other friend for every night of the week, he’s sad that he doesn’t have a single friend to do anything with. He’s stuck in his vicar’s outfit and his church, which cause people to see right past him. When he goes down to the pub, nobody wants to tell him a dirty joke because, well, would you tell a dirty joke to a reverend? He’s invisible, he laments to the heavens. People looks right past him or only see his uniform, when underneath it all, he’s a regular guy, who just wants to hang out sometimes and have a spot of fun. It’s a beautiful articulation of a problem that likely arises specifically among ministers but is easily recognizable to just about anybody alive.

Is it any wonder that he latches onto Leon, then? Leon may be a little crude, and he may be a little lax when it comes to commitment to his fiancée, but he sees Adam as “just a bloke,” and Adam grasps onto that phrase like a rope tossed to a drowning man. Soon, he’s going out for a drink with the man, going jogging with him, spending lots of time hanging out with him. He’s even willing to get out the old remnants of the way the church was before he arrived, the things that tied it more directly to its roots in the Catholic Church. (Since the previous minister “ran off to Rome,” these outfits and the burning of incense were relegated to a storage closet.) Since Leon’s fiancée wants a wedding filled with these moments—to remind her of her happiness when attending the church as a child—he’ll go out of his way to make it happen.

When he has the sudden, shattering realization that Leon isn’t just a bad guy, but someone who has a sexual past with his wife, it’s as shattering for us as it is for him. We wanted him to have this small bit of normality, too, and once it’s taken away, there’s nothing left to hold onto. I think the episode goes a bit too far in making Leon out to be a real asshole—he’s apparently been texting other women and sending racy e-mails, which causes his fiancée to call the wedding off—but at least it prepares us for this revelation, and it finally has Adam admit that Leon has gone too far in what he’s done. It’s fascinating how the show sets up Adam as a figure of modern religious benevolence, a progressive Christian who doesn’t want to turn anyone away from the church, then puts him in situations where he has to reaffirm the old morality, even if he’s completely justified in doing so (as he is here). Leon stands up to face down Adam, and he runs off, a final bit of cringe comedy to send the episode out on a laugh.


Of course, Adam doesn’t need a best friend. He’s got wonderful friends already in the little community surrounding his church, even if he wouldn’t want to call, say, Colin a friend. And he’s got Alex, who insists that she can be his best friend. There’s a wonderful moment here that beautifully underlines just how insecure and human Adam feels about so much of his life, when he says to Alex that he bets someone like Leon could have gotten her pregnant, and she says she didn’t want kids. It’s quietly devastating, in the way the best episodes of this show are, and it speaks beautifully to the lives of a couple who are slowly realizing they’ll be everything and all to each other (and only each other) for the rest of their lives. It’s evocative and sweet—and it’s all but impossible to predict that moment would arrive in an episode that opened with Adam worrying about Facebook friends.

Stray observations:

  • I punted on identifying Leon’s fiancée, because I have basically no idea how to spell her name. My best guess is Debs, but that sounds kind of weird.
  • There are some great Nigel moments in this episode. I particularly love any time he uses five syllable words when a one syllable word would suffice. I always laugh, at least.
  • The show keeps coming back to that little pub Adam visited in episode one, and it really builds out the series’ sense that this is a persistent world these characters live in every day, one that we drop into for bits of time but aren’t around for every moment of.