Tuesday, July 5, 2016

REVIEW: 'Casual' - Alex, Valerie and Laura Embrace Life's Unexpected Twists in '100 Cows'

Hulu's Casual - Episode 2.06 "100 Cows"

Valerie agrees to be set up with Jennifer's friend Harry, but her mind is on someone else. Alex tries to impress Sarah with an engagement gift. Laura's friendship with Aubrey intensifies when things get personal.

This has been a pretty great and interesting second season so far for Casual. Its first few episodes were just a smooth reintroduction into this world. They were largely focused on building stories up in some pretty light and easy ways. It was fun seeing Valerie work her way into a friendship with Jennifer. That has been an amusing dynamic so far this season. Laura needed to find a new school. And now, she probably has found one with the home school co-ed. Sure, the important part about Laura's story this season has almost nothing to do with actual schoolwork. It was when Alex was teaching her. It was meaningful and mature that she decided the home school co-ed was where she needed to be right now. But now, she's just enjoying a new romantic dynamic with Aubrey. And lastly, Alex is showing that he really hasn't matured all that much this year. He wants to say that he has grown because he has stopped blaming his parents for all of his problems and has forgiven Valerie for betraying him. But he still gets sucked into projects with no desire to actually see them through until the very end. He is still capable of being pretty crazy and petty. At times, that can be infuriating. But it has had its fair share of devastating moments as well - like last week's reveal that his father essentially tore him and Sarah apart. Again, just a really solid start for the new season.

"100 Cows" embraces the unexpected. This season has informed the audience about several key details about its characters. But this episode takes those story beats in new directions. Spencer was in treatment. Laura and the audience believed that was for a drug addiction because he was selling drugs after school. But instead, it's for cancer. And now, he has relapsed again and Laura and Aubrey have to put together a care package for him. Sara and Jordan were introduced as a happy engaged couple. Alex was the one acting crazy and spiteful. She has matured beyond that. Despite all of his attempts to make her jealous, none of them seem to work. And yet, the procedure of business isn't enough to keep Sara in the dark on what Alex is up to. Drew knows that two teenage girls broke into his garage and stole his bikes. But Laura doesn't get punished for the crime. And lastly, Harry was introduced at Jennifer's game night with a new girlfriend. Valerie even had a moment with her to help her when the rest of the group was judging her. Plus, she seemed to connect more with Jack than Harry. They were in sync when it came to the game. Jack shows up at Valerie's office for a session and a date. And yet, Valerie goes to dinner with Harry who is single once again. Instead of embracing the awkwardness of first dates, they tell each the truth and wind up having sex. All of these little plot details are subtle but are really building up to a very unexpected and fun narrative this season.

Valerie's story is still filled primarily with details about her not knowing how to date. She is thrown by Jack being at her office for a session without an appointment. It's unsettling to her knowing that someone is in her office before she is for the day. He's aggressively pursuing her. That's why he wants to pay for dinner instead of the session. But him offering to date some night during the week informs so much of Valerie's story. She is excited about it. She wasn't going to fill her schedule with events just to make Jack feel bad for not setting an official time and place. She doesn't know those tricks like Laura and Alex do. She wants to be genuine. She doesn't want to manipulate her date in order to get exactly what she wants. Of course, that is what she does. Laura and Alex point out that it can be healthy to have competition. It will make the guys want to impress her more. That's something that she could enjoy. Drew is still lingering in her life dropping little and cryptic details that cause her to worry. Valerie wants to take charge of things. She caves in and goes on a date with Harry. Jennifer really wants the two of them to hit it off. She's been pushing them together for two episodes now. And their date surprisingly goes well. It does not implode and jeopardize Valerie's relationship with Jennifer. It works out and Valerie even gets some sex.

In fact, everyone gets sex in "100 Cows." They each use it in interesting and different ways as well. It's only after Valerie and Harry finish that she gets the text from Jack asking if she's hungry. She answers knowing that she has just been satisfied and could likely get to play Jack as well to see where things will go. Meanwhile, Laura goes to a college party with Aubrey. She is trying to navigate the awkward state of their friendship after that kiss when they were both high - and criminals. And yet, it's not played as a big deal at all. Laura is worried but Aubrey seems pretty chill about everything. The two of them do seem eerily similar. They have the same view of the world. Of course, Laura opens her mouth when she doesn't know the whole story. She questions why Spencer gets a care package when he's in rehab. And yet, none of this does much to alter her life. The true change comes when she decides to have sex with Aubrey at the party. They are a very formidable duo who are able to call out the double standards of college party culture. They are the ones who push for two guys to make out instead of two girls. Of course, they then take pictures of themselves in their bras to include in Spencer's care package. But that's enough to show this is a connection Laura wants to act on. Sure, she can mess it up very easily moving forward. But it's a fresh and new dynamic for her as well. That's very exciting.

Elsewhere, Alex has sex too but he's not the one pushing for it. He gladly accepts it when it falls onto his lap though. He's focused on finding a way to make Sara jealous. He doesn't want to believe that she has this happy and honest life with Jordan. Even though he now knows the truth about how things went wrong a decade ago, he still wants to believe that she is the girl for him. He realizes that he really did love her and that's why he cheated. It was too real and he couldn't handle it. He thinks he can now. He's trying to believe that. But he's probably not capable of a real relationship now any more than he was a decade ago.. And yet, he doesn't make much of an impact on Sara's life. Instead, he just finds himself dealing with a sick Leon and an assistant called Fallon who wants to fuck him and then sign the HR forms detailing their relationship. It seems Jordan has an aura of trust with everyone he works with. Both Sara and Fallon told him the truth about their relationships with Alex. He must be doing something right if they are so open with him and he can still work with Alex. Alex is still the one with a problem. He freaks out by the small level of commitment that Fallon asks of him. It's business as usual for her. They simply sign these forms to protect themselves from wrongful termination. But to him, it's a life-changing declaration. He doesn't want to believe he's protected by it until Sara shows up at his door filled with rage and jealousy. He only further commits to a relationship with Fallon knowing that it would make Sara more jealous. But that's only carving a path for him ultimately betraying and disappointing two women. He could easily wind up all alone having learned absolutely no lessons from last season. Hopefully, he won't make those mistakes but this seems like an all too familiar path for Alex right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "100 Cows" was written by Molly Smith Metzler and directed by Iain B. MacDonald.
  • Jordan and Sara's wedding registry is gifting animals. That's such a fun yet peculiar detail that really informs that relationship. Alex buys a hundred cows and then $10,000 in chairs. And yet, those efforts don't seem to be noticed by Jordan or Sara at all - at least not until the very end.
  • Fallon was such a minor character in her introduction last week. And yet, it's not surprising at all that she's going to be important this season because she's played by Britt Robertson. Just like it's not surprising that Kyle Bornheimer is playing one of Valerie's romantic interests. That's just a role he is seemingly playing on a ton of shows this year.
  • In the love triangles right now though, Fallon and Harry are clearly in the lead for Alex, Valerie and the audience's affections. Fallon isn't afraid to go after what she wants. That's very compelling. She's not simply the girl the guy is trying to make jealous - though I expect more will come of Sara later this season. Meanwhile, Harry is actually very open and honest with Valerie. Sure, Jack does get the backstory of surviving an almost plane crash. But that date proves that Harry is more than he initially seemed as well.
  • It's significant that neither Alex nor Valerie really know Aubrey, right? That's pointed out especially in this episode. Valerie wants to make sure she's not the new friend who has cancer. Meanwhile, Alex thinks it's an odd that she would bring Laura coffee before class.
  • It's a fun, recurring joke this season that Alex keeps going to Leon for legal advice. He is not a lawyer. He just went to law school. Plus, it sets up the joke that no one can remember that his actual job is as a music composer. And now, he reveals he has an affection for classical music.
  • For a moment, it seemed like Leon was faking being sick in order to get off the phone with Alex to do something else. But no, he was indeed sick and that didn't stop Alex from reaching out for advice on his complicated situation.