February 22nd, 2010
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I’m pretty sure that something actually happened on Life Unexpected tonight.
Sure, the plot of “Truth Unrevealed” was just a delayed payoff from the pilot, so there wasn’t actually anything revealing – fitting, considering the title – about the episode, but it was the first story that felt like it went beyond the awkwardness surrounding Lux’s arrival in order to answer the question of “what next?” Yes, it didn’t particularly take the story very far in that direction, and it threw out a number of anvils on its way to its conclusion, but that conclusion feels like something that is actually going to change the trajectory of these characters, rather than just a rumination on a particular facet of having being a parent foisted on you.
And that is, if not particularly subtle, at least more revealing and more significant than some of the season’s early episodes.
In some ways, “Truth Unrevealed” is less satisfying than “Turtle Undefeated,” in that there’s less of the fun turtle races and more of the secrets and emotional drama that the show is unquestionably interested in. If you’re watching this show for the comedy, there were certainly some good moments here (primarily Baze’s stint on the radio show), but for the most part this was an hour about what it means to be in love, what it means to be honest, and how often those things intersect in potentially volatile ways.
The episode doesn’t break any new ground in terms of Cate and Baze’s relationship, instead finally playing out the ramifications of their post-Lux hookup. And the storyline does a lot of things that the show has needed to do for a while now: they needed to move Ryan away from his saintly response to Baze’s invasion of their life together, and they needed to more clearly establish the long-term position of Cate and Baze as a couple. On the first point, Ryan’s frustration finally boils over with an early morning bathroom invasion, and he quite rightfully gets angry when Baze invades their professional lives and shares a look with Cate which suggests there’s something more going on there. He doesn’t approach this like a crazy conspiracy theorist: yes, he misread the “hand on hand” contact from last week’s episode, but you can’t really blame him, and Kerr Smith made Ryan out to seem logical and balanced enough that we feel really bad for him when Cate eventually lies to him about what went down with Baze. He’s trapped in a middle of a complex situation, and it was about time he stopped being a Saint and called Cate on the madness of it all.
Of course, it is a complex situation, and the show isn’t interested Cate and Baze’s relationship beyond that. Liz Tigelaar is on the record that this is not a “will they, won’t they” situation, and I thought Lux’s line summed that up nicely: “Cate and Baze are…Cate and Baze.” I know that sounds like a non-answer, but the show isn’t interested in turning their connection into true love or something similar. Could they eventually end up together? Absolutely, but they aren’t destined to be together, and I thought this episode did a lot to help that: neither can claim with a straight face that their night together meant absolutely nothing, but the show went for a comic tone when the event happened, and all seemed to admit that it was a mistake. However, they didn’t rob it of all its emotional meaning, and they’ve left the door open for that to come back. I thought the episode made a pretty compelling argument that Baze and Cate could never be in an actual relationship, but it also did so without undermining the connection they share.
More importantly, it allowed that story to work mostly independent of Lux: for the first time, Baze and Cate fought over an issue that really had nothing to do with their daughter, which kept the episode from reaching the conclusion that Lux is really a positive influence in their lives, even if it presents new challenges. That narrative worked for a while, but it also compromised Cate and Baze as characters, defining them too rigidly within their new roles as parents. This week, the show still allowed them to be parents (Baze fell asleep watching The Real World with her, while Cate gives her some advice about honesty) without making the episode about their role as parents. There wasn’t a flashing neon sign or a wacky cooking sequence to tell us when they were making mistakes or when they were having moments of self-realization, and it felt refreshing (even if, because of the more serious tone, some of the humour was missing).
Even Lux got a more eventful storyline than usual, as Bug has officially flown the coop: it wasn’t a surprise that Bug wouldn’t be sticking around, but it was nice to see something happen in Lux’s life that can’t be undone by a rooftop barbecue and that won’t be forgotten by the time next week rolls around. The grand theft auto charge carried into this weeks events, and with time we came to see a more violent side to Bug, and although Cate’s advice was for Lux to be honest, Bug wasn’t a fan of hearing that he was turning into his father, and runs rather than find himself treating Lux like his father treated him. It was a bit quick, but it’s something that someone Lux’s age would have a hard time understanding, so I buy her emotional reaction, and I buy that his fear of people leaving him is so strong that he would leave someone who feels the same way.
In the end, all of this works well enough that I don’t want to complain too much (or else I’ll jinx it and next week will return to the premise again), but man were there a lot of anvils tonight. In case you missed it, Cate was really talking about how she should be honest when she was talking to Lux about honesty, and when she bailed out of actually telling Ryan the truth she was being a hypocrite. Similarly, the episode rushed Jones’ characterization way too quickly: we get that he found her more jaded approach attractive, but are we supposed to buy that her emotional story about Bug really put him over to her side, rather than his desire to make out with her? I was expecting them to turn him into a total pig, and yet he was suddenly buying her jewelry at episode’s end? If the show wanted us to buy him as a potential love interest, they needed to avoid having the character change directions seemingly without notice just so that Bug could get jealous, and Lux could become guilty, and the ending could go as they planned. The show can come together a bit conveniently at times (like Treena happening to be the woman that Baze ran into at the coffee shop), but as long as it’s played for laughs (or awkwardness) it can work. If it feels like contrivance for the sake of dramatic convenience, then it isn’t quite as effective.
Still, at the end of the day, things happened that are probably actually going to really matter next week. Looks like the show’s going to have to go all out on next week’s “Previously on…” segment.
- As someone noted last week, the character I referred to as Matt is actually “named” Math. I think my brain chose to block that out, but this week Jamie used it as an insult, so it was kind of hard to ignore.
- Speaking of Jamie, he got to be in quite a bit of this episode, although I’m curious if he’ll actually get a storyline of his own (at least Math has time at the school with Lux). There was some stuff with Alice in earlier episodes that could go somewhere, but I don’t think Erin Karpluk is doing that many episodes, so I doubt that’s much of a long term strategy.
- We’ve only got four episodes left, and the ratings are…okay. The Monday airings aren’t doing particularly spectacular, but the show is actually repeating pretty well on Wednesdays, and TV on the Numbers points out that “new” viewers make up the large majority of those watching the repeats. That means that the numbers are pretty solid at the end of the day, and a second season is possible (if not guaranteed, since I’m still not convinced The CW wants to hearken back to The WB as much as some of us might want them to).