Whew. I remembered this as a dark one, but didn't realize how dark until I watched it again. This is one where the only person who comes out smelling good is Champ. Trevor's desperate, bullying and acting very much the lunatic and not the exiled god, Claire makes at least one, if not two big ethical violations, and the guest star of the week lets Trevor push him into doing a bad, bad thing. And yet, in the midst of this darkness may be the biggest laugh I ever got out of the show. Weird how well the comedy and the tragedy sometimes go together, isn't it?
So Trevor's starting to panic again about not getting back to Mt. Olympus, especially when the very desirable Helen Davis (Sherilyn Fenn, halfway between knotting the cherry stem on "Twin Peaks" and getting into a custody dispute on "Gilmore Girls") tries to make a move on him. Because of Zeus' "No shagging the livestock" rule (for those not up on your Greco-Roman myths, Zeus was infamous for nailing everything that wasn't already nailed down), if Trevor has sex with a mortal, he becomes one, permanently.
His state of mind isn't helped by all his glimpses of the happy, horny union he created between Claire and Alex. If it wasn't obvious before that he's in love with Claire, it is here, and if you read this episode as if Trevor was just a delusional human, his desperate need to escape is him twisting his fantasy to cope with his own jealousy. On Mt. Olympus, after all, he won't need to see Claire and Alex having a fun sexy time, will he?
Trevor's bitter desperation makes this a very bad time for him to meet Sam (Todd Field, back when he was an indie film actor rather than an indie film director), a nice, shy member of the singles group, and to hear Sam talk about Sure Score, a seduction technique that Claire describes as "drug-free Rohypnol." Under ordinary circumstances, Trevor's belief in true love -- and his understanding that his "mission" involves love and not sex -- would make him think of Sure Score as both useless to his cause and kinda gross. But hard-up, jealous and tightly-wound, he talks himself into the idea that it would have value in his mission, and in turn bullies Sam into using it on the barista for whom he has an unrequited crush.
While Trevor's trying to avoid Helen and pressuring the very decent Sam into doing something both know isn't right, Claire is having sex with Alex -- lots and lots and lots of sex. This is a very different Claire than we've seen before (and a different Paula Marshall): looser, happier, hungrier and more physical. (Two or three episodes ago, it would have been hard to imagine Claire strutting down the street and singing "Bad to the Bone.")
But as she mentioned back in "Heaven... He's In Heaven," she has a bad tendency to throw all of herself into a relationship, and she's so fixated on Alex and all the dirty things they can do to each other that she gets sloppy in other areas. She's not really on top of the Trevor/Sam thing, where under ordinary circumstances I think she would have spotted this happening as soon as Sam piped up about Sure Score in the group. Worse, she outs Trevor as a mental patient when Alex starts to get jealous of all the time she spends with another man. And when Alex -- who doesn't seem so swell in this episode, either -- lets Trevor know that he knows, then directly confronts him about Trevor's desire to be with Claire, it pushes Trevor so far over the edge that he decides to have sex with Helen and give up his godhood (or his delusion) once and for all.
He can't go through with it (there'd be no show if he did, after all) after Claire leaves a perfectly (or imperfectly, depending on your POV) timed message on his answering machine apologizing for her recent behavior and encouraging him in this new relationship. This leads to the bleakest moment of the series: Trevor in his underwear on the edge of the bed, babbling to himself about how he needs to go home already, while a freaked out Helen quickly gathers her things to go. (Piven really kills it in this scene.)
And just when we think things can't get any darker, or stranger -- after Sam has seduced the barista and then left her in a fit of self-loathing, after Trevor's meltdown and all the rest -- we cut to Claire in bed with Alex, telling him a story about her childhood, and the more she talks and the more she touches him, the more we realize that she's using Sure Score on him.
Now, Rob doesn't get into this in today's Rob Remembers, so we're on our own in deciding what Claire is or isn't doing here. The point of the scene could have been to show that the difference between Sure Score and a perfectly ethical seduction technique may not be that great. But from where I was sitting, it seemed like Claire, just as desperate in her own way as Trevor, afraid of screwing things up with this perfect on paper match, decides to give herself an edge using a technique she had read up on.
Whatever the reason, this is the only episode so far that made me uncomfortable by the end. That's not a knock, by the way. I think "Pick-Up Schticks" is very effective at what it's trying to do in showing the side of Trevor's world that isn't so happy-go-lucky. Just as episodes like "A Truly Fractured Fairy Tale" (which isn't remotely as well put-together as this one) are useful in reminding us that Trevor won't always make a match, episodes like this are important in keeping open the possibility that Trevor's as sick as Claire thinks he is. I'd have a better time watching "Meat Market" or "First Loves" again and again, but Trevor on the edge of the bed, on the edge of sanity, is one of the images I'll always remember when I think back on this show.
And it's time once again for Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator (past and, hopefully, future) Rob Thomas gives a behind-the-scenes look at each episode:
Interestingly, I liked this episode much better when I watched it this week than I remember liking it at the time.Some other thoughts on "Pick-Up Schticks":
I remember what made me cringe when we shot it -- the Sure Score scenes. I don't think they were particularly well-written and we really went overboard to underline that these guys were losers -- the military uniform on the leader was just one example of overkill. Those scenes became painfully on-the-nose, and they took me out of the episode. I really felt how badly we'd misfired later when I saw the movie MAGNOLIA. I didn't much care for the film, but in it Tom Cruise was essentially teaching a brand of this uber-male, make-women-your-prey philosophy, and I thought he was spellbinding. Did he win the Oscar for that role or merely get nominated? I seem to remember Michael Caine winning that year, but I could be wrong. I digress...
Interestingly, we had to be extremely careful with those scenes as not to encroach on the empire we were lampooning -- something called Speed Seduction if I remember correctly. ABC was very concerned as those people were apparently quite litigious.
My biggest regret was to have Claire break doctor-patient confidentiality so cavalierly. If I had to do the episode over again, I would've either made it an accidental slip or I would've really backed Claire into more of a corner in order to excuse it. We took a lot of flack from fans for that, and it was probably deserved.
I suppose I was pleased, however, with some of the fallout from Claire's error. I love the Trevor/Alex confrontation scene. I think the Trevor/Claire/Alex scene at her home is one of those scenes I'd put on a reel to show off what made Cupid work. Jeremy and Paula are great in it. I'm particularly proud of the "un" runner. The scene that we went back and forth with the network about was Trevor's meltdown when he decides he can't have sex with Sherilyn Fenn. The network thought it played too real. They thought he looked genuinely crazy, and they preferred him in lighthearted, "television-crazy" mode. We trimmed a bit out of it, but fought hard to keep the bulk. It was important to both Jeremy and me that the show could go in that direction.
There was also an argument about his motivation there. The network didn't understand why, given Claire's blessing, her apparent lack of jealousy, Trevor would then opt out of having sex. The reason, I argued, was that if she didn't care for him romantically, then he didn't want to be stuck here "on earth."
- While everyone else is busy going down the morality rabbit hole, Champ is involved in a fairly pure, chaste courtship of his upstairs neighbor. It fits thematically with the rest of the episode, in that Trevor keeps trying to corrupt things by turning their apartment into a shag pad. But what's interesting is that, at the rock bottom of his depression, as he prepares to sleep with Helen and give up everything he believes he is, Trevor still has it in him to rectify things with Champ and the neighbor, by offering him a copy of Lord Byron's "She Walks in Beauty" -- real magic words, as opposed to the hypnosis of Sure Score -- for Champ to read to his girl.
- Maybe it's because I was 25 with the mentality of someone 10 years younger when I first saw this episode, but the moment when Trevor goes out on the balcony to do dumbbell curls -- a payoff to the "forearms like Popeye"/masturbation joke from earlier in the episode -- produced whoops and whoops of laughter from me at the time. My wife, who was just starting to date me at the time and watched each episode with me, says it took a lot of trust on her part to keep the relationship going after witnessing that spectacle.
- Even if we didn't have Rob here last time to unravel the conclusion of Nick's flirtation with the Kate Walsh character, his continued presence at the singles group is proof that he's not still dating her. Again, once characters from the group find love, they don't come back.
- As I said back in the "First Loves" review, Snuffy Walden's score for this episode sounds like an unused "thirtysomething" composition, and it gets kind of distracting in spots.
- In the montage near the end, we see Sam successfully hitting on a different waitress. Given the lacerating speech he delivers at the Sure Score meeting, I'm assuming he was just flirting with her the old-fashioned way, but I could be convinced otherwise.
- Nice throwaway moment where Helen, stalking Trevor, bumps into him as he's arranging for two local joggers to alter their routines just enough to bump into each other and maybe pair off.
What did everybody else think?