I have been very critical of CASUAL. When I feel it’s bad, I’ve called it out and stated my reasons. But I don’t have a vendetta or a grudge against the show, so that means that when it’s good, I also have to call it out. And this week’s episode was really good. Hands down the best episode of the season, “40” delivered in every aspect that Casual has been lacking. It’s commonplace for the show to forgo development or character driven choices for emotional growth. Often times this creates extremely confusing scenarios and at its worst, as noted in previous reviews, the destruction of Alex Cole’s character. “40” doesn’t fix those things, but sure does stand head and shoulders and every other body part ahead of other episodes.
Like most Casual plots, this story has three distinct plotlines that sometimes interweave with each other. Unlike most episodes of Casual, each plot serves its entire purpose, from emotional growth to character development to a rational unfolding of the beats. It kind of makes me kick myself, because this episode showed me the magic of what Casual should be. When it’s hitting on all cylinders, there’s not really anything like it.
The episode opens with last episode’s big fear – Valerie and her ex-husband Drew hooked up. And not only did they hook up, but as Valerie wakes up next to Drew, we realize in the ensuing dialogue that this is now a “thing” they do. The quick reaction is to blame them, Valerie even asks Drew if he feels guilty and he does, but from the get-go it’s easy to tell there’s something more going on here. You expect Drew to wish Valerie a happy birthday (the big 4-0) and he does. So when he asks her to lunch it’s not very surprising, what’s surprising is that she agrees.
They go to Chili’s and it turns out Valerie has always loved Chili’s. This is something of a romantic gesture, because it’s somewhat clear that Drew doesn’t care for Chili’s. When Valerie describes Drew as the Chili’s of sex, he’s offended until she explains that he’s the best she’s had since him. So what’s the logical next step for this plot? Valerie is drunk and enjoying her birthday, even enjoying being with Drew; and Drew seems enamored by the whole thing. So when Drew tells Valerie that he wants to be back together, it also doesn’t feel like much of a reveal. And the show doesn’t think so either, placing what you’d expect to be a big turn right in the middle of their episode. Valerie thinks Drew is out of his mind, and when he admits that he’s made a mistake and never should’ve left her, she hesitates for the briefest of moments before she leaves.
Laura and Spencer decide to get spontaneous tattoos that they choose for each other. Laura chooses a stapler for Spencer (because of Staples Center) and Spencer chooses their first emoji conversation. It’s a cute moment and Laura brings up a good point: Spencer’s staple tattoo is much less of a commitment than the emoji’s she has on her back. With this, Casual brilliantly pushes you to believe that Laura is OK with, and has even embraced commitment, the thing Aubrey called her out for a few episodes ago. But this is all a beautiful misdirect.
Much like how Walter White’s recovery from cancer antagonized him, so does it antagonize Laura when she gets a call from Spencer saying that he’s in remission. At first we are led to believe that Laura is in shock because her boyfriend is going to live and she’s too happy to rationalize the situation. But it’s clear after they have sex that it’s not this at all. With new time to spare, Spencer describes their lives at 19, 20 and 21, the trips they’ll take and things they’ll do and Laura is terrified. And maybe it’s not the raw commitment of what Spencer is detailing that solely terrifies her. Maybe it’s that she was in love with someone when she believed they were going to die at any moment.
I am happy to report that Casual has decided to pick up the pieces that are Alex Cole and put them (somewhat) back together. This is also done in a pretty ingenious way. When Valerie rejects Alex’s birthday breakfast waffles, Laura helps him realize that he hasn’t apologized to Valerie yet. But Alex affirms that, “Actions speak louder than words,” and thinks what Valerie needs is a surprise party. Getting the list of contacts from the board game night that Jennifer threw, he invites them over, even Jack who Valerie fell for and then refused to contact after she found out that he slept with Jennifer in the past. Anyways, it turns out that Jack and Alex are almost the same person and really hit it off. Jack even agrees to help Alex with a business venture and they quickly become friends. But what really sealed the deal on this scene for me was Alex apologizing through Jack about how he treated Sarah. It was not only refreshing to hear, but it’s something that old Alex would’ve done.
The surprise party is weird. Valerie shows up right after walking out on Drew and she’s not happy to see Jack. Alex’s explanations do not sit well with her and she quickly realizes that these people don’t seem like they’re there for her, but like they’re there for Alex. Think about it, Alex and Jennifer have built a rapport , Jack and him are the same person and Jennifer brought a good friend of hers who seems more like an Alex-type anyways. In that moment Valerie realizes that the person who made her feel special on her birthday was Drew and Drew alone, and she announces that she’s going back to him.
As Alex tries to stop her, Valerie opens the door to find a nervous paramedic, worried that he’s at the wrong house. After they confirm their names, the paramedics reveal that he’s there to drop off Val and Alex’s father, who’s been sick. They’re terrified. They do not have a good relationship with their father and their parents kind of ruined their lives. They’re not ready to come to terms with this, but it seems like they’re going to have to.
This episode was great. It delivered what you expected when and it kept plenty of time left for turns. It’s a shame that we had to climb a mountain to get to the peak, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. I still think that Casual would benefit from a non-week-to-week release schedule and something more in the Netflix vein, but regardless, this was one of the good episodes and it was great to watch.
Season 2, Episode 12 (S02E12)
Casual airs Tuesdays on Hulu
Arman loves sandwiches.
Arman Mohazzabfar | Contributor