I have to say, this show is definitely growing on me. I realize that the first couple of episodes had to lay a lot of groundwork to make these last two possible, but the more recent shows feel much clearer of purpose -- and, therefore, more entertaining -- than anything Milch and company did in the first couple of weeks.
Things that have me happy this week include the expanded role for Dr. Smith, quickly becoming my favorite character with his genuine awe of John and the events surrounding him; the new sober Butchie, whose clearer mental state has forced Brian Van Holt to dial down some of the more annoying tics in his performance, and whose flirtation with Kai managed to be both sweet and dirty at the same time; Cass finally becoming useful as John's new roommate (and leaving Linc to no doubt turn into this show's version of Cy Tolliver, bitching off in the corner while the rest of the cast does stuff without him); the promise of many, many scenes to come of Dayton Callie and Ed O'Neill bickering in Milchspeak; and the sense that the motel is finally becoming important as a gathering place where all the characters may become "permanently associated." (Or is that too overtly gay?)
Best of all, though, was the way that John stopped feeling like a quirky plot device and became, if not a person, someone interesting. When he was in the first van, his echolalia seemed dangerous; he was baiting the guy to stab him, because he needed to help Vietnam Joe (who clearly fell down on the job in a similar situation when he was in country) and find a way to connect with Cass. And there was a confidence to him when he returned to the motel that I hadn't seen before. (Maybe he was feeding off of Dr. Smith's abject worship of him?)
If you want a more thorough breakdown of all the religious symbolism in episode four, check out Keith Uhlich's review over at The House Next Door. Some other quick thoughts:
- Well, now we know both how Bill got involved with the Yosts (his late wife urged him to cut 10-year-old Butchie a break), and why he's crazy (his wife broke her neck falling down the spiral staircase in their home, which Bill now pads with bubble wrap to protect future stair-climbers).
- There was a lot of speculation that the earthquake that snapped Shaun's neck was connected to Freddy punching John, but John got both punched and stabbed here with no major environmental consequences.
- The mysterious blonde (whose identity was made quite clear in the previews for episode five) was played by Chandra West, late of "NYPD Blue" (in the post-Milch era) and wife of "John" producer/director Mark Tinker. In more direct Milch alum news, we have Stephen Tobolowsky (aka Jarry from Yankton) on board for at least one episode as the hospital's liability lawyer. I'm just glad we didn't have to see him motor-boating.
- Lovely economy of dialogue: "Bill's not Freddy's first Bill" and "Freddy's not Bill's first Freddy."
- Still don't give a damn about Mitch, Cissy or Shaun. Sorry.