My two favorite songs about the Fourth of July — X’s “4th of July” and Bruce Springsteen’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” — are both sad songs reminiscing about life that was once great but is now long behind the narrators of each song. “This boardwalk life for me is through / You know you ought to quit this scene too,” Springsteen sings, in a perfect encapsulation of what David wants to say to everyone in his orbit but can’t. So it makes sense that I love “Fourth Of July,” the fifth episode and midpoint of Red Oaks and my favorite so far. Independence Day is supposed to be a time of celebration and hope; life in America is great now but it can only get greater. But “Fourth Of July” had a wonderful plaintive sadness running through the entire episode. There is hope there — that Wheeler might now actually get the girl, that Skye may actually want to spend time with Getty, that Nash will become rich off of insider trading — but there’s also an inherent sadness to the episode. It’s all handled beautifully by Hal Hartley, a director who flashed big on the indie scene in the ’90s but has faded away since.
That’s best perhap personified through Judy’s thread throughout the episode. She was my least favorite part of the pilot, all broad innuendo and nag nag nagging over Sam. But as her character has developed, she’s become this beacon for a life not-yet-lived. In “MDMA,” she talks about her loss identity, how she feels adrift without a role as mother or as a happy housewife. But going to the party at her yoga teacher’s house just confused her more. She has no idea what she is, how she was born, because she’s never seen it before. This hidden happiness is presented to her twice in the episode: as her yoga teacher adjusts her and she begins to feel better than the average stretch and when that same teacher takes her face in her hands and is on the verge of kissing her. But her teacher’s advances only confuse Judy more. She’s ignorant of her own lust. Her final scene of the episode is not one of lust, as she stares at the girl in the bikini walking down the street and swaying a sparkler. She may be attracted to this girl, but what pulls Judy to her as the girl walks slowly away is a sense of freedom that she has never gotten the chance to experience. Sam is adorably ignorant of everything, mistaking Yvonne for Juan and believing that the mustachioed man with the Marines tattoo is as straight as he is. It’s lovely comic foil to Judy’s inherent sadness. Sam can’t see what’s right in front of him while Judy is just starting to open her eyes.
But there’s also hope in this episode, a promise of new beginnings. Still, those new beginnings are not a foregone conclusion and themselves tinged with uneasiness. Judy may be out of sorts by her revelation, but at least she knows something about herself that she didn’t know before. That will only mean something, though, if she has the courage to act on her feelings. Misty’s relationship may have ended with a slap, but it means that Wheeler is one step closer to being with her, even if means he will find out she’ll never want them. Even as Nash is constantly shot down — being rejected by Getty as a teacher, getting his poker game shut down and losing his winnings — he gets the stock tip from Getty that may make him a millionaire even if that mean he might to going to jail for insider trading. Getty asks David to coach him in the epic tournament against Stan Feinberg, something that in the long run means nothing to Getty other than a place on plaque on the wall, but it means so much more to David. It means freedom and independence and a walk up in the Village. But if he loses it means another year in New Jersey.
The last scene between Getty and his wife demonstrates everything that’s great about the tone of this episode. Getty turns to his wife and says they should buy a house in Hamptons. “You realize this doesn’t mean she’s going to spend more time with us,” she says, as the camera cuts to Skye. “It doesn’t mean she won’t,” he replies.
- Amy Heckerling will also direct a couple of episodes. Red Oaks is becoming a haven for underused film directors from the ’80s and ’90s.
- “Tell them I have diarrhea,” has never been said more gracefully.