CASUAL Review: “The Great Unknown”


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If was a sandwich, it would have the best bread and the worst meat. It’s been a frustrating season, with a lot to chew on, but I have to say, these last couple of episodes have really delivered. I’ve always felt that Casual is a show about selfish people doing selfish things. There is a constant fear permeated throughout Casual that your good times are gone unless you complete X, Y, Z, which none of the characters seem to do appropriately. We’ve seen bouts of depression, flings and hookups, relationships won and lost, and businesses and hearts broken. But I don’t think anyone was quite prepared for the level of what was to come next.

Most episodes of Casual deal with individual plotlines that converge, but this is not the case here. There really is only two plots worth paying attention to this episode. Laura is trying to reconcile her loss of attraction to Spencer after finding out that he’s not dying anymore, and Valerie and Alex’s father, Charles, in pain and dying, wishes to euthanize himself in the presence of his children. There’s not a lot of plot here, but it’s because there doesn’t need to be. The emotional arc of the episode is more than enough to sustain, and the theme of selfishness wonderfully permeates throughout. The two driving characters and forces here are purely selfish, the difference is Laura recognizes it and tries to change.

The Cole family is not the greatest and as far as we know, it’s Valerie and Alex’s parents who are to blame. Namely Charles, who is a hedonist in every sense of the word, completely warped the world view of his kids. But because of that, this plan to euthanize himself makes sense. He goes to Alex and Valerie’s not for closure, but because he doesn’t want to die alone. There’s no pleasure in the lack of attention, and that is him in a nutshell. And the kids know this. But as Alex tries to fight with him he realizes that it’s not worth it. This man who has caused a wealth of problems in his life is still his dad and still sought him out in his time of need. Is Charles selfish? Absolutely. But does that mean that he and Valerie can’t get some closure off of this? They definitely can.

Most shows would create a path for Charles to choose life over death, but Casual is not that kind of show, and it never has been. To take on old fashioned moral dilemmas would be irrelevant. The real conflict is Valerie and Alex figuring out how they’re going to get closure. They both decide in very different ways. Valerie needs to inform their mom and hopefully try to get her dad to stop this. Until every resource has been extended, she will not be OK with this. Alex on the other hand stays with his father and hesitantly keeps his distance unless he’s called upon. Slowly though he becomes more and more involved in the process, even picking up the medicine (sleeping pills) that Charles will use to euthanize himself.

Because Valerie left her car at Chili’s from last episode, Leon helps out and drives her around. First to her mother’s and then to get her car. Probably the biggest shocker of the episode comes with Leon and Valerie’s flirtation. Where did this come from? We find out that Leon helps Alex because he finds him amusing, but also because he wants a second chance with Valerie. Valerie is clearly flattered by this, but I got to say, it is pretty bewildering. And it’s not a small plotline or an aside thing either, but plays a major role into the third season. Leon suddenly becomes more than a friend Alex calls to fix things, he becomes a love interest for Valerie.

Laura is having a tough time reconciling her feelings about Spencer’s death. Why would she want him to die? Why did she get this stupid tattoo? What’s the point of having a relationship? Eventually these feelings bubble into anger, and the anger spills out all over Spencer. He’s bewildered and understandably hurt, but Laura isn’t doing this as some sort of power trip or revenge, she tries to fight her feelings but cannot. When Valerie returns, she finds Laura crying in her room. Valerie tries to show her that she did not actually want Spencer to die, but Laura pushes that she did, not to harm him, but seemingly because she felt safer in the relationship knowing it was going to end imminently. But what’s important about this is that even though Valerie is too soft on her daughter, Laura is not. Valerie allows her to be selfish, but Laura is fighting against it. It seems as though the “Cole Curse” of selfishness will break with her. We’re left with an ambiguous scene where Spencer finds Expendable DVDs with a note attached wishing to continue their movie marathons. It’s hard to say what they are to each other, but they’re definitely something and that’s some serious growth for Laura.

As Alex, Valerie and Laura break sleeping pills into a glass of water for Charles, they begin to feel like a family again. Although Charles clearly had some selfish motivations with the whole thing, it seems like Alex and Valerie have reached a point of conclusion – with not only him, but with themselves. Valerie tells Alex that he always ends up on top. It’s an interesting thing to say and shows exactly what she thinks of him, because Alex is quick to point out that he ruined his ex-girlfriend’s life, he lost his company and now he’s about to kill his father. If that’s top then what’s bottom? Valerie lets him know she’s planning on moving out and Alex agrees that it’s a good idea. The short distance will be healthier for both of them.

As they watch their father pass away, Valerie begins to cry and Alex has a moment. It really is the end of an era. So much of their problems were tied to this man who rather unceremoniously departed from this world. But there is something poetic about it, because in that moment it seems that Alex and Valerie both realized that life goes on. Alex begins seeing Jennifer for therapy – as an actual patient, not just dropping in. And Valerie moves into a new house with Laura and… Leon. The Leon bits were pretty strange, but it could be interesting to see how this develops in season three. He is very different than any of the other men Valerie has dated, let alone lived with.

Through its ups and downs, Casual managed to end with a good taste in my mouth. It was a very well put together finale that focused on its strengths: character and emotion. Often times the plot of this season or the motivation was off, but Casual managed to pick up the pieces in a way that felt justified. I am definitely looking forward to season three.

Season 2, Episode 13 (S02E13)
Casual streams Tuesdays on Hulu


Arman loves sandwiches
Twitter: @armanbfar

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