That is political scene #1. I’ll point out the other one after we look at what is happening to Duc in this episode.
Duc: His life is a bit of a lie. He claims to be celibate but as one sexual escapade after another plays out we learn he is far from that. Duc goes to Vancouver to strike up a publishing deal but learns it will only happen upon the reissue of Greg’s book. Duc is living in Greg’s shadow and it hurts. How to heal or diffuse that hurt is through orgasmic delights with various women he picks up in the hotel bar. All that is also linked to his youth as his mother was a prostitute entertaining clients at home. In time we will watch Duc sort out those issues.
Shokrani: I almost forgot that we are introduced to Farid Shokrani’s family as he struggles with the meaning of Ramon’s link to him. (By the way, Farid’s birthdate is 11/11.) We meet his wife Layla and their gender fluid Navid. It is interesting to see an Islamic family depicted here and the issues and prejudice they face. More of that will surely unfold.
Greg & Audrey: Lastly, we find out what is up with Greg & Audrey. He is growing more and more frustrated with his life, its purpose and what to do next with it and she is embroiled in her work as a counselor in the school district. That leads to another interesting political moment with students as they debate the issue why a pro-Caucasian group isn’t welcome or necessary at the school even though all the other ethnic and minority groups can ensemble. It is an interesting little roundtable that you can find in the middle of the episode. I surprisingly didn’t mind this scene as long as they don’t start to dominate the storylines in any way.
The episode concludes with Greg following his GPS to get him to a conference. He comes into a T in the road. GPS says to turn left on Rt. 11, but instead he turns right. Oh, no he is seeing 11:11 also! And this sets us up for Episode 3.
–Episode # 3 – If A Deer Sh*ts In The Woods”
As we continue our look we will continue by looking at what transpired character by character starting with patriarch Greg.
Greg: We left him veering from his intended path. He pulls over to watch a deer crossing the road and decides to follow it into the woods. Greg gets lost and during his time out there has an epiphany. What is it? It is hard to fathom at first as he is stung, rained on and front row in watching the stag walk up and leave a healthy, moist dump in front of him. He makes it back to his car and finally arrives late to his panel discussion. It is there his revelations are revealed via a nice little rant. Now, this isn’t as great as Will McAvoy’s rant in THE NEWSROOM, but it does nicely elaborate on Greg’s depression. I’d have picked this moment as the scene to highlight here but Alan Ball had other ideas (and we’ll get to that). The gist of Greg’s rant is that nature just plods on making us all inconsequential and little in the scheme of things. There is no optimism or positivity; just basic existence. If a deer shits in the woods it just shits in the woods, that’s it. Let’s see if the day was better for anyone else in the family.
Ramon: He has made progress in his relationship with Henry and at work. He got picked as one of the few to go to a Gamer’s Expo and he was stoked about that and he gave Henry a key to his place. He also had a setback though. He is now having aural hallucinations. He is not just seeing dancing flames but also hearing a phone ringing through his bathroom sink. What? Yeah, we know you can have those types of hallucinations but that is an odd one to have. There is no reason you’d expect to hear a phone ring every time you turn on the faucet, but then again hallucinations aren’t logical to begin with. When given the opportunity to tell Dr. Shokrani of any unusual events since the last session Ramon does not bring this up. So, he is not being completely open with his treatment.
Kristen: She didn’t have the best of days either. She tells Randy of the chlamydia and he blames her for giving it to him. She had to remind him that he took her virginity that night so the fault wasn’t hers. He is indifferent and can’t even get her name right so she knows any chance of making anything permanent with him is out of the question, especially after his latest chick walks in. His comeuppance is soon at hand.
Ashley: Ashley is the one to dish it out too. As you recall Randy is a model for her website. So, under the pretext of a video shoot, Ashley confronts him about the statutory rape of her underage sister. His videotaped confession is held over his head and is ordered never to see Kristen again. Randy is still a part of the issue between Ashley and her husband Malcolm too. Randy, what a douche.
Duc: Which leads us to Duc. He ends up not having the greatest of days either. He and Malcolm tangle words about Randy during a mountain bike run with friends. Malcolm vocalizes that he wished his best bud Duc would have told the truth about Ashley having fun with Randy & Duc the night of Greg’s party. I told you it was still a soft point with Malcolm and has yet to be really resolved. Malcolm sort of gets even with Duc by setting him up for a blind date with a gal named Carmen (played by Fernanda Andrade) at a dinner party thrown by Ashley & Malcolm. This is even after Duc told all his biking buddies he was celibate over beers. We know that’s not true, but he needs to maintain that image for some reason; like he needs that control and discipline in his life. Since when does giving in to sexual pleasures a sign of lack of control? It is natural urges. Anyway, he resents being set up with Carmen, but they realize that they have goals & sensibilities in common so, we’ll have to see how that plays out.
Shokrani: Before we get to the matriarch of the family here are some thoughts on the Shokrani’s. Though the doctor, Farid, didn’t hear the truth from Ramon during their session he was granted, upon his request, to see the video game material Ramon is working on. He hopes to perhaps understand Ramon better by accessing that material. I wonder if anything will be revealed. More is revealed, however, about the Shokrani family. As a Muslim in America Farid has fears. He fears for his son Navid. It is hard enough to feel secure as a Muslim let alone being gender fluid. So Farid has growing concerns about his son’s acceptance in society. We also learn that he has trouble either being Muslim in public himself or with religion as a whole. He can’t even bring himself to bear going to a wedding and slips off to buy some weed to ease the anxiety. We learn via flashbacks the reason behind the heavy scarring on his back is religion based so that is a clear indicator of his stresses. So this show, on top of everything else, is trying to give us the Muslim family dynamic as well. It is all a little much.
Audrey: Lastly to Audrey and her bad day. A burning of an effigy at the school has caused heat for her and her Empathy Initiative. The media choose a sound bite from her questioning of the incident in the wrong context. It made it appear as a fluff off of with the remark that “kids will be kids” and so there shouldn’t be any repercussions. That got up Audrey’s ire and ended up cutting funding for the program she worked so hard on. And it is this moment that Ball decided to single out. There were a few good social discussions and heartening scenes in this episode but the political statement is the one he focuses on. I don’t want to make light of the scene. With all the interesting moments of the episode (the dinner party at Ashley & Malcolm’s; Greg’s panel speech), I was disappointed though that this was the one singled out.
In the end, Ashely & Malcolm made love but Ashley wasn’t enjoying the afterglow afterwards; Farid & Layla did the deed also to better results; Duc was polite to Carmen; Ramon let Henry keep the house key; Kristen moved past her issues and Greg & Audrey made love without the need for ED medication. Afterward, he ended the relationship with his mistress via e-mail as we discover artwork above the marriage bed spelling out 11:11.
–Episode 4 – “Hide And Seek”
All the characters in episode 4 are playing Hide And Seek here and not just an innocent child’s version. We continue now with the regimen of looking at each character. Actually, the story is pretty evenly divided among everyone. All the Bayer-Boatwrights will assemble by episode’s end for Hailey’s birthday party, but it takes a bit of an effort for all of them to get there.
Audrey & Greg’s married life is better after reconnecting as it were, in bed, but their issues are still there. Audrey’s whole Empathy Initiative is tanking after the school incident that is stressing her to find funding to keep it alive. Both Greg and Ashley, in a later scene, tell her to seek out a wealthy friend to help her. We just might see that happen and I wonder if they might regret suggesting it if & when she does. Greg is not so much having an issue in this episode, but some telling information regarding his relationship with Duc does play out. Duc interrupts a conversation between Greg and his favored student Michael (played by Kevin Bigley). It seems before, during and after Duc’s appearance that the other two were hitting it off quite well, as if Greg & Michael were father and son. Duc picked up on it. Greg cannot relate to Duc, but Duc did ask his father to write the forward to his book nevertheless. That is one relationship that needs to be worked on; it needs to come out in the open and not be hidden.
Which leads to more of what is going on with Duc, though the answer to that I’m still not quite sure of. I still don’t understand who he is, or what he really does for a living. He is confusing us and fooling himself. He has opportunities in front of him to take a girlfriend or a one-night-stand and always balks at the chance, as seen in this episode. He appears so in control while at home yet is someone else when he is out of town. He needs to figure himself out fast. Hell, he is playing hide & seek with himself.
Ramon focuses on his video game, which now features shirtless men with wing-like lacerations on their backs. He’s very focused until Henry pulls him back to bed. Ramon, who has a strong reaction to Henry’s assertion that technology is a way to avoid real life, speaks with emotion about ending up like his Uncle Ike. That night, Ramon wakes up to find Henry missing, and his phone left behind.
With Hailey’s birthday approaching, Ashley and Malcolm realize they never received responses to their invite. Ashley gets on the phone immediately to see if she can find some kids from Hailey’s class to attend. Having tanked their daughter’s birthday plans, Ashley suggests they do a family picnic at Forest Park instead.
Audrey visits Ashley looking for business advice; her daughter suggests the same thing as Greg — find a wealthy backer.
Kristen and Navid are paired for a class project titled, “My Portland” where they have to film people and places that have meaning to them. Kristen has little interest in working with Navid but is thrilled when a hot jock, Robb, invites her to a party after class.
At the party, Kristen tries to give Robb her first blow job, but he makes it clear she’s not very good at it. Initially embarrassed and upset, Kristen’s courage kicks back in and she dismisses everyone at the party with a “f**k you” on her way out.
Between patients, Dr. Shokrani plays Ramon’s game. Layla calls and asks him to pick some things for their dinner with Imam Chuck, a Muslim convert and the head of their mosque. Once at Imam Chuck’s home, Layla reminds her husband to be polite and is furious when he reveals he brought wine for himself. Farid speaks honestly about Islam with Chuck, but he rides the line of being aggressive. Eventually exploding in anger, Farid points out that as a converted Muslim; Imam Chuck has no right to tell him about religion. Afterward, Layla is ashamed of Farid’s behavior, reminds him how important Imam Chuck is to Navid. The clip explains were his mind is at:
Kristen arrives at the Shokrani’s to work on her project with Navid and is immediately intrigued when she sees him in his makeup and hijab While making sandwiches for Hailey’s picnic Audrey speaks to Greg about her failures, unsure of her next steps in life.
Audrey, Greg and Kristen stop by Ramon’s to pick him up for the picnic. Ramon is upset he hasn’t heard from Henry, but still decides to go. In Greg’s car, Kristen searches for a phone charger, and her mother pulls out the cock sling — not knowing what it is — instead. Kristen texts her siblings to ask, and Duc identifies the object. Greg quickly covers his tracks with his wife, claiming it’s for the gas tank, but later admits it’s a sex toy, without explaining why he has it.
Wandering Forest Park, Ramon comes across Witch’s Castle, a hiding place. He steps in and is suddenly in a vision of a Colombian village. A woman Ramon calls “Mami” is relieved to see him, but suddenly vanishes. Ramon retreats from a FARC guerrilla and finds her again in a cave. Screaming, she scratches her face just like the woman from his previous dream. Flames appear where she once stood, and Ramon is trapped in the cave with the guerilla behind him. He hurtles through the fire to escape. Ramon wakes up screaming for his mother; Audrey and the rest of the family race to him. Audrey rocks her pale, confused son back and forth, while the others, unsure of what to do, look on.
And so do we as we wonder how it all works out. The next episode might help.
–Episode 5 “From Sun Up To Sun Down”
Well, this is that ‘next episode’ and it doesn’t help much at all. In fact, it only really explains a bit better the issues of only one character and it isn’t Ramon.
Ramon – With him we just stumble across coincidences showing that his birth mother shared some characteristics with Dr. Shokrani’s mother. I guess we are supposed to perceive some special connectedness between people and not mere coincidences but this series has yet to convince me of that. Perhaps such a reveal will never happen and we are just to believe it so; just like we have to accept The Sudden Departure in THE LEFTOVERS without knowing its particulars.
We are not satisfied with that and neither is Ramon or his parents as Ramon’s session comes to an abrupt halt by his parents upon hearing him scream. Ramon arrives home to find Henry in his apartment as if nothing happened. Henry explains he left quickly to help a friend and apologizes for not being there when Ramon needed him.
Shokrani – He is showing agitation that his treatment of Ramon halted as he feels there is a mysterious connection between the two of them. He continues to try to find that connection by accessing Ramon’s video game, which as all kinds of 11:11 symbolism contained within. We also learn that he is on medication for anxiety but when the pills spill out in the bottle in an 11:11 formation he flushes them. Is this ever going to add up to anything?
Duc – The same could be said for him. Is anything going to add up for him as he is the least designed character of them all? In the few moments he is on the screen he meets with Ramon and advises him to abandon his look back to the past and his birth mother. Duc has flashbacks of remembering his and it causes nothing but pain. He recalls as a youth lying awake in bed watching his mother prostitute herself over and over. Duc tells Ramon to leave the past in the past. Carmen, the woman he has sort of hit it off with, shoots Duc a text and they meet at a restaurant. He immediately makes it clear he is celibate and is slightly embarrassed when he realizes sex wasn’t on her mind. The two enjoy each other’s company without the pressure of ulterior motives. I guess he has a chance here if he was truthful. Maybe, in time if we can care about him long enough to see it happen.
Kristen – She and Navid start working on their “My Portland” project, but quickly realize they are filming the same locations as everyone else and opt to find a more unique approach. Quite frankly, I am not sure why this storyline is even in this series. Right now we tolerate them exploring who each other are. They do, however, capture video evidence of what Henry was up doing. They find him spending time with a homeless man in a tent. The question is whether they take that evidence to Ramon or not.
Ashley – The biggest revel in the episode spells out her issues for us. She has a problem of identifying herself as ‘white’ or ‘black.’ She spent most of her years going up in Greg & Audrey’s household as a privileged child. The less progressive see her as a black woman. Yet when she is in black society she does not line up with their cultural construct and this conflict truly displaces her. This all comes to light when Ashley meets Jamila, a mother of one of Hailey’s school friends. They don’t quite hit it off as friends even though Hailey’s teacher thought they would because they are both black mothers. That night, Ashley is surprised she and Malcolm have been invited to Jamila and her husband Corey’s for dinner. Ashley tries to connect with the couple, but cannot tell if Jamila’s responses are condescending or genuine. When Jamila hears Ashley’s sister attends the high school with the lynched effigy she is concerned, until Malcolm reveals Kristen is white and Ashley is adopted. After dinner, he doesn’t understand why Ashley is so sensitive about him sharing the information. Finally, we have a character that is clearly defined. We will see how she deals with it.
Greg & Audrey – She discovers the email history exchanged between Greg and his call girl Famiko, including one about the infamous cock ring and the shit hits the fan. Audrey leaves Greg a voicemail to call her back and he tries to but by the time he gets out of a faculty meeting (that didn’t go well) to respond she has worked herself up to an irate state and doesn’t return the call. She is too busy printing out his incriminating emails. Later that evening Kristen overhears the two of them fighting over the affair and Audrey throws Greg out of the house and the episode ends with Greg unsure of where to go and what to do.
So, are all these people salvageable? We are at the halfway point of their story; we will see where it goes in our look at episodes #6 – #10.