Sunday, April 16, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Arrangement' - Megan and Kyle Travel to New York While Terence Gets High in 'Trips'

E!'s The Arrangement - Episode 1.07 "Trips"

Kyle accompanies Megan on a trip to her hometown to officiate her best friend's wedding. Terence goes on a journey of self-reflection after a confrontation with Kyle. Annika inspires DeAnn to take more risks with her life.

The Arrangement sees itself as a glossy soap opera. It's a drama that's primarily about a core relationship and the struggles of being a celebrity in the spotlight. And yet, it's also shown a willingness to embrace dark subject matter in order to provide more depth to the story. That's something that has always been present. The very first episode teased that something dark and more sinister was going on at The Institute of the Higher Mind. However, the show has gotten very repetitive in giving tertiary characters these big moments of them talking about the horrors they've endured in the past just so the main characters can react to it. It's starting to become very annoying and manipulative. It also takes the power and depth out of those moments. Plus, it's difficult for the audience to care about the tragedies of these characters' pasts knowing that they will probably never be relevant again this season. Kyle, Megan, Terence and DeAnn are the important characters. Whatever happens to them is important. Everyone else is largely present for an episode and then cast aside. The world-building of this show needs to be more consistent and grounded for it to be successful.

Of course, the lead characters have tragic backstories as well. Those have gotten fleshed out across this season too. It's just been annoying that the show has constantly teased something dark in all of their pasts. Constantly bringing that fact up to the audience may bring excitement for some. But it also sets up expectations for the inevitable reveal. Plus, it takes away the surprise of that moment. It's absolutely horrifying when Megan confesses to Kyle that her stepbrother molested her for years. It's powerful that Kyle gives her the space to tell him that and remain a stable part of her life in the aftermath. And yet, it comes after an entire season of the show cryptically teasing the audience with hints and misdirections about something more nefarious going on with Megan. It's a soap opera convention. But this show wants to be taken more seriously than that. It wants to also be able to tell a story like this and have it mean something for the character. It just hasn't found the right balance yet. Hopefully with this information out there, it will force the show to evolve its storytelling and no longer rely on teases to inform some big reveals with the characters.

Plus, Megan's dark past is basically the whole focus of her story in this episode as she returns to New York for a friend's wedding. The location brings all of these memories up again. But it takes a long time for her to actually open up to Kyle. It's still almost a full hour of her internalizing all of these fears and the show just teasing that something devastating is a part of her backstory. At least, the reveal finally came this week. And yet, that's basically the only thing that defined this trip away. It's the sole focus. The show isn't distracted with anything else. That precision could be a strong quality. But it also makes most of this story feel one-note. Kyle is simply the supportive boyfriend even though he's going through his own darkness as well. He and Terence are on the outs because of what Terence made him do to protect the Institute. That should inform his actions a little more than it actually does. It's weird. The show hints at that being a traumatizing experience at the start of the episode. But in the end, it really doesn't mean anything. Kyle is the stable guy for Megan. He's simply not relevant in the grander story. It's just about Megan and how she's coping with this experience. Her telling him about it is important. The show caring about his mindset in this moment just feels a little lost. The two are distant from each other but the show also wants the audience to think that they are working perfectly fine as a couple.

Of course, nothing with Megan and Kyle can quite compare to the absolute weirdness that is going on with Terrence at the moment. That drug-tripping scene is just so random. It embraces a storytelling quality that really hasn't been a part of the show so far. Plus, Terence has never really had his own agency before. The audience doesn't really know him all that well as a character. He's the controlling guy who can often get Kyle to do whatever he wants. But who is he outside of that relationship? It's been pretty unclear. He's simply the one-note antagonist who Megan has to put up with from time to time simply because she's dating Kyle. This fantasy sequence largely just happens so the audience can understand what Terence is all about. It's very expositional and just throws a lot of information at the audience. It wants it to mean something profound. It took Terence going through this experimental treatment for him to get right in the head and see the value of his work. It refocuses him. It's just a concept that drags throughout this episode. It would have been better if it was this short and concise thing. Instead, it's this over-the-top sequence where all of the other main characters are simply just telling him what he's feeling. It's suppose to be a pivotal turning point for him as a character. Instead, it simply plays as yet another middle-aged white man going through an angsty crisis that's really not all that bad.

It's all just building to Terence refocusing his efforts on making the Institute work better as a program. He has gotten way too caught up in Kyle's career. That is absolutely true. He's been very controlling but he's not actually a producer. He's stepped on DeAnn's toes on a number of occasions. He belittles her professional opinion so much of the time. It's hard to take them seriously as a couple. Meanwhile, it's hard to take Terence seriously when he's the one running a workshop at the Institute. This is apparently him in his comfort zone helping people who need it the most. This is the program he created. And now, he's getting back to the work that energized him in the first place. He wants to make a difference. He's gotten too caught up in the celebrity world of Kyle's. He needs this refocus. But again, it's a moment about Terence even though it's a scene largely about one guy talking about his father killing the rest of their family. Again, it's dark subject matter that is only utilized to show something new with a main character. I don't expect to see that guy ever again. It would be much better if he was a recurring character. That would show the actual process of the Institute. So far, it's largely just been glimpses of workshops where people talk about their tragic lives. It's also a little unbelievable that people would open up so easily in this program. It's all just a little too artificial and manufactured to be all that meaningful. Plus, how effective is it in showing a new side of Terence? He has new agency. But is it all that interesting? Not really.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Trips" was written by Mel Cowan and directed by Lukas Ettlin.
  • Other things are set up during Megan's New York visit. But again, they are simply not important in comparison to the wedding and her big reveal. Nate calls with an offer to do the play Off-Broadway. Plus, Leslie calls with an audition for a supporting role in a Hulu limited series. Both of those are just teases for the future though.
  • Moreover, it's super annoying that Nate is still around. He's still desperately obsessed with Megan and it is just so off-putting. He has a line about hearing her voice instead of just her monologue from the play that is really creepy. And again, it still feels like the show is setting up a love triangle the audience should be invested in. It's just not working.
  • Shaun and Hope were set up as Megan's friends who know every aspect of her life. That is their function on their show. They don't exist outside of that. So, it's weird that neither one of them is at the wedding. Yes, they may be college friends while the wedding is a reunion of high school friends. It's just odd for Megan and Kyle to be stranded in a new place with completely new people.
  • The show thought it was necessary to say that DeAnn and Terence don't believe in monogamy. That's why it's okay for DeAnn to be sleeping with Annika even though she's married. And yet, that wasn't a huge concern because Terence is a dick and their marriage has never felt real or loving this season.
  • DeAnn is absolutely right to try to push Kyle to find a new film to direct. Something more original would have the better odds of being a success. It's great that that seems to be the direction of the story and not DeAnn tracking down and fighting for the rights of a novel about World War II.
  • Megan and Kyle return home from New York to discover that the house has been broken into. The burglars didn't steal anything. It's just a scene that comes with a stern and ominous message. These two aren't safe in this place. It wouldn't be too far-fetched to say that Terence is behind this, right? It's a way for him to regain power and control over Kyle while not wasting all of his time and energy on him.