Strip away that it’s the rodeo in Bakersfield, where the IQ level of the talent may be low, and the crowd may be in it for cheap toilet pleasures. When Chip Baskets dances in his spotlight set, shrouded in darkness with French music in the air and confetti twinkling around him, there’s real, timeless beauty. It’s well shot and perfectly paced. Then he pulls out roses for his wife, Penelope. Romance. Glee. Excitement. Happiness.
Only seconds later, after realizing Penelope has left the rodeo and the fans are raining boos on him, Chip gives in to his fate. Let the bull out of his pen. Get the pain over with.
In “Reverie,” beauty comes in those found moments of happiness. But it’s fleeting, and how.
The second episode of the second season of BASKETS gets the pain over with, plunging Chip to his lowest, and is one of the finest 23 minutes of television you’ll find.
When we last left Chip, he was stunned to find the police at the door of the house he and his homeless drifters had invaded. Those drifters – named after characters in The Matrix and led by Morpheus – were too busy sleeping off heroin injections, but Chip was completely sober and worried about his fate. Luckily he thinks fast, stalling the cops long enough to get his crew out of the house and back into the woods.
But Chip isn’t happy. He left his home to find friendship, only to realize that he had it in Martha. Flashbacks show us that three months prior, Eddie promoted Chip to host of the rodeo, and the prize of “free tickets” (tickets must be $5, right?) was too tempting to deny. So Chip invited everyone, from Christine (too busy giving a crap about a television show profiling a dog that delivers mail) to Dale’s family (Dale hangs up on him) to Penelope. But Penelope actually agrees, sending Chip into momentary bliss (his go-to happy song is “Joy to the World”).
Of course Penelope doesn’t care that Chip is hosting the rodeo. She wants “culture” (or what Bakersfield can create for her) and a chance for the cowboys and clowns to gawk at her (she makes a point of walking into the dressing room before the show). Chip doesn’t see this at first, instead bragging to all the cowboys and clowns “she’s my wife.” He even goes as far as to demand the bull not be released during his spotlight set.
But during that set, not even embarrassed for herself but bored with Chip’s attempt at being a French clown, Penelope books it out of the rodeo. Chip sees it. He frowns. Eddie wants the bull. Chip asks for the bull. In comes the bull.
It’s a great run of smash cuts. Chip looking helplessly into the void. Martha, her niece and nephew squinting in horror. Chip, face on the ground, practically dead. And nearly nobody cares.
The thing about Morpheus’ death is I saw it coming. After the crew hops onto a freight train, narrowly escaping the very police looking for them earlier in the episode, there’s enormous catharsis. For Morpehus is allowing himself to smile and celebrate the small accomplishments. He tells Chip – who clearly shows the crew he doesn’t belong – that he had a daughter, freaked out about being a responsible adult and left his family forever. All of that is deeply repressed, so Morpheus chooses to embrace the little victories of being destitute. It’s why he and his crew put on freak shows for tourists. It’s why he enjoys the high of doing drugs in other people’s homes. And it’s why he laughs in the face of the local police who can never seem to catch him.
But yeah, I saw it coming. He celebrates a bit too long while hanging off that train car. A bad fall off the car was my initial prediction. Then I thought about a well-placed brick wall, a la Wile E. Coyote.
I didn’t think about a well-placed crane, whose smack mirrored that of the bull knocking Chip to the ground.
Morpheus didn’t have to die for Chip to realize he was running for all the wrong reasons. He died because it had to happen. Just like the bull always has to gore Chip, Morpheus had to die. He just wasn’t allowed to have that much happiness.
But there is hope for Chip. He didn’t run off on a helpless wife and daughter. Sure he has a wife, but Penelope showed how she felt about him. There’s redemption, and it rests in old reliable Martha, who came to the rodeo with her niece and nephew (Chip’s comment about taking the kids back to The Corn is on point – great casting) to see Chip in all his glory. She doesn’t leave, unlike Penelope. And after the rodeo ends, she hangs around with the kids, who want autographs and a chance to pee outside, just like the clowns (after being lambasted about watching a boy pee outside, Chip saying “he’s my friend’s nephew” doesn’t make it any better).
Then everyone dances. And Chip and Martha find themselves dancing together. The French music returns. It’s sweet, not treacly, a reward for a guy who hasn’t yet had one small victory.
Chip realizes Martha is there for him, so while under arrest after Morpheus’ death, his one call goes to Martha. And her “I’m coming” is the right dialogue choice.
In 23 minutes, “Reverie” hands us a ballad. There’s messiness, moments of beauty, tragedy and plenty of clarity. And if you’ve never watched an episode of Baskets, you could start here and get it right away.
This is superb television.
Season 2, Episode 2 (S02E02)
Baskets airs Thursdays at 10 PM on FX
Timothy, who grew up on The Golden Girls and Seinfeld, writes regularly about entertainment, arts and lifestyles for a number of publications.
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Timothy Malcolm | Contributor