CASUAL Review: “The Magpie”

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It took me a while to realize this, but is a show about people making mistakes. When they’re not making mistakes, they sit uncomfortably neutral, waiting for their next opportunity to make a mistake. This makes the show frustrating for a number of reasons. Chiefly, it can be extremely difficult to track reasoning behind character actions. This episode features a few of these problems, and it can be extremely distracting.

For much of this season, Casual has felt like Alex’s show, and this episode is no different. Usually I like Alex’s plotlines and feel like they’re going somewhere, or at least have some meaning behind it. But now I’m starting to have my doubts. I knew that Valerie and Laura were self-sabotaging characters, but Alex just seemed above it all. His methods were unorthodox, and sometimes he would use his friends a little too much, but he always had a defined purpose and always sought out something of a resolution. Prepare to throw all of that out of the window.

I would finish this review with the Alex plotline, just as the episode did, but his plot is too defined by the problem I have with this show to not have it permeate throughout this review. So Alex has been determined to make Sarah jealous again. It’s a fool’s errand, but a fairly harmless one. Alex just wanted to feel wanted, and with Sarah suddenly thrust back in his life he saw something familiar with her. Last episode, when his plans unexpectedly lead to the reveal that Jordan is cheating on her with his assistant Fallon, Alex genuinely feels sad. When Sarah comes to his door at the end of last week’s episode, he is there to comfort her (and have sex). But this week, there is an unexpected shift, and it’s hard to decipher where it happened.

I guess we’re supposed to think that having sex with Sarah is such a familiar experience that it makes him hurt again. If so, there is some traction to it. This theme would then permeate throughout an episode that is bookended with scenes of sex. But even if this is the case, it’s not clear at all. The only plotline that this feels relevant to is Laura’s, because she describes this phenomena, and what she wants from sex instead. It’s not inferred from the plot or character interactions, so if it wasn’t said so explicit, it wouldn’t track. And so when Alex walks into work, worried he’ll be fired, only to find Jordan apologizing to him for Fallon’s behavior, it makes sense to see relief. But when Jordan goes on to say he and Sarah are going to work it out and stay together, I can’t understand why he keeps the pursuit up. Alex won. He got what he wanted, and more. Why continue? But he goes so far as to text Sarah immediately after Jordan leaves.

This is the shift. Alex didn’t want to make Sarah jealous, he wanted to make Sarah his. But as the episode goes on, even that doesn’t feel right. When he confronts Sarah, he isn’t asking her to stay with him, he’s asking her to leave Jordan. When Jordan does find out and tell Alex a la a supervillain of his plan to destroy Alex’s company, Alex leaves angry. But it’s hard to tell what he’s angry about, because when he comes home to find Sarah, with her bags, waiting for him in his room, he doesn’t stop to question, “How the hell did she get in my house?” He doesn’t say please leave, or even why are you here? He lets her stay and he lets her sleep in his bed. And late at night, when Alex looks up, it’s hard to tell if his stare into the middle distance is that of shock or fear. I understand that characters can make mistakes and let their emotions get the best of them, but that’s not Alex’s makeup. He set out to make her jealous, he ended up stealing her back. And what of Sarah? She went from one cheater (Jordan) to another (Alex). What does that say about her makeup or the situation they’ve created for themselves?

I’ve been a strong proponent that Valerie’s battle this season isn’t between Harry and Jack, but actually between Jennifer and Jack. She chose Jack last week and when she went to Jack’s hotel room she was taken aback to find him not there. What I didn’t expect was how mad this would make her. But honestly, who cares? I thought she would make an effort to chill out, but for some reason this minor thing set her off. First of all, Valerie didn’t confirm coming over, and second of all, Valerie made it sound like she wasn’t interested in seeing him again. She has no right to demand any sort of communication expectation after one date. This episode features her stumbling through life, and it’s pointless.

The only interesting aspect of Valerie’s plotline is the confirmation that Harry is just an extension of Jennifer. So when Valerie asks Jennifer if she can go out tonight, or to lunch, she finds herself denied in various ways and the reasoning is clear. By choosing Jack over Harry, Valerie has effectively chose Jack over Jennifer. And Jennifer is very aware of this fact.

Spencer wants to have another threeway with Laura and Aubrey, but Aubrey quickly denies him. Laura is worried. She tries to explain that she views sex as something truly “casual”, so when Aubrey begins becoming possessive, she buckles. It’s clear that Laura likes Aubrey more than Spencer, but Spencer validates Laura’s views on sex and life (through no actual decision making of his own). Spencer’s imminent death from cancer, allows Laura to explore with no fear of commitment, emotion or rejection. In a way, Spencer and Laura are using one another to explore with no commitments. So when Spencer and Laura hang out in her hot tub, it makes sense.

For the first time Laura’s character and plot are the strongest of the episode. Her character, choices, and views are both clearly defined. And her conflict with Aubrey is understandable. No previous iteration of Laura exists where she is into commitment. What we’re looking at is an evolution of a character, and not the changing of one.

Regardless, this episode fell flat for me. I understand what Casual is trying to do, but there’s a way to do it without changing your characters midway through the season. It’s also hard to see any sort of endgame. Few of the plots matter, and only Alex’s has any real stakes. It will be interesting to see if Casual can bounce back next week or if it will be more of the same.

TB-TV-Grade-C-
Season 2, Episode 8 (S02E08)
Casual airs Tuesdays on Hulu

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Arman loves sandwiches
Twitter: @armanbfar

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