I could watch Louie Anderson’s Christine Baskets for hours.
Maybe it’s because I grew up around women just like that. They speak their mind, sigh and groan more often than they laugh and smile, and seem to talk in some random string of ideas that only they – and the people who populate their world – understand. They’re also incredibly human. Warts and all.
All this to say the writing on BASKETS is often outstanding. Samuel D. Hunter is credited with “Ronald Reagan Library,” a continuation of last week’s Hunter episode “Bail,” and the continuation of the arc that has started this season, with Chip running away only to meet drifters, one of whom dies shockingly.
Chip has to deal with that. And Christine, dealing with her own demons, starts to turn some corners in “Ronald Reagan Library.” It’s another fantastic episode, slightly more muted than usual, but utterly poignant.
We left Christine doing water aerobics in a river late at night, a beautiful and empowering moment for a woman determined to take control of her life. Now she’s demanding Chip get going, singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers” while planning a day trip before Chip’s sentencing hearing later in the day. She targets the Ronald Reagan Library because she’s a devoted Reaganite (she worked for his first gubernatorial campaign) and, hey, we all like to escape into our better visions of America once in a while.
While planning she runs into Ken, the guy who helped her figure out the bail situation in “Bail,” and father to Darla (Cypher from Morpheus’ crew). Despite Ken being a Democrat, he gives in and joins Christine and Chip on their Reagan trip, though Darla doesn’t have to come (maybe there’s something there about Cypher betraying Chip and, as an extension, Morpheus).
Christine can’t get enough of Reagan, interspersing her love of Ronnie (“[Iran-Contra] was a blip on an otherwise spotless record as a president”) with questions to Ken about his life (he lives in Denver) and kids (three, two from a second failed marriage). And this is where the writing shines. Christine isn’t changing her personality – she grumbles a lot, annoys the heck out of her kids and whines until she understands what the hell is going on. Yet she’s wonderfully endearing. You could spend a day with Christine and enjoy yourself, as Ken does, and ultimately, she’s a smart enough person simply trying to better herself in whatever way possible.
Ken sees this. He may even want more than friendship. That much is suggested but not said explicitly, which is perfect. Instead, Ken heads back to Denver and Christine is slightly uncomfortable but probably flattered.
As Christine begins to open herself up, Chip is trying to close old wounds. Specifically, he wants to move on past the memory of Morpheus’ death, and can’t while holding onto the guy’s pan flute. While Darla, maybe a little more used to this kind of tragedy, may zone out by the pool, Chip can’t shake how the guy who told him “Welcome home” was wiped out so mercilessly. So Chip, bored with the Hall of Reagan (on his films: “I think he threw it all away for a boring office job”) and unable to find closure, hitchhikes to the county coroner’s office to drop Morpheus’ pan flute with his body. Only he can’t.
So he finds Morpheus’ family, specifically his parents and daughter. Meaning well, Chip shares a story about Morpheus before giving his daughter the pan flute. She may not completely understand it (“sounds like a video game”) but for Chip, it’s more than enough. He gets to his sentencing in the nick of time, the judge gives him probation, and Christine is relieved. “Should we go home, Chip?” “Yeah, Mama.”
More importantly, Christine finds out Chip witnessed Morpheus’ death, which makes her see Chip in a slightly different light. It also has her demanding that Chip talk to Christine more about these things, but Chip doesn’t want to worry her. It’s sweet. Right in line with who he is. And with who she is. It may never change, but at least they’re beginning to acknowledge they’re lonely, hurt individuals attempting to better themselves.
Who knows where that leads. Chip will likely address his relationship with Martha, and he’ll probably have to deal with Dale, but maybe at this point these obstacles will be more manageable. Or maybe Chip isn’t allowing himself to absorb Morpheus’ death enough. Heck, it could’ve been him hanging off the train and smacked by the crane. He could’ve received more than a slap on the wrist (Darla gets five years, a sad finality for her and a comment on the country’s criminal justice system not given too much room to breathe). He’s probably getting off a lot easier, but he’s also likely to revert to old habits.
As for Christine, she’s certainly trying. Her story is thus far the most fascinating of Baskets‘ second season, which is wisely pacing slowly and letting characters’ small choices mean more than large set pieces. Think about this: We’ve had a home invasion, a number of swimming pool scenes, prison scenes, a death by blunt force trauma, multiple relationship possibilities and a trip to a presidential library in these first four episodes. And the most memorable stuff so far? The small scenes where characters breathe and make poignant decisions.
Baskets is a testament to good writing and world building.
Season 2, Episode 4 (S02E04)
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