I've been thinking about this all week and I really do think this show has just been getting better. I thought maybe it was the experience of recapping Zero Hour and coming to understand what an actually shitty show looks like, or maybe just the low bar set by early episodes being overcome by familiarity, but even before tonight's installment I realized that 1) I kind of love this show, and 2) It really has been getting better week by week, on a basic level. Sad that the ratings aren't showing up, since even the worst episodes have had so much of that specialness that defined the pilot, but not hugely surprising, which makes it even sadder that we're presumably coming to the end of the story.
What made this one so good? Every episode has had a different writer's name at the top, so you can't draw the lines that way, but it definitely had to do with that: On a scene-by-scene level, it was smartly and humanly written and realized, with none of the weird tone-deaf race and gender privilege that has tended to plague the show at its worst moments. Five years ago it would be a case of the show "finding itself," but shows don't really have that option anymore, so that's not really something to shoot for. In some cases you can say it's just the sheer amount of shit going down as we rev up for the finale, but I don't think that's it either.
Because all the things that are usually good about this show -- Dwight and Robert being scary, Sofia being awesome, Mia having her shit together, those occasional moments of sparkling dialogue and human interaction -- were here, and then there was extra stuff: Joanna hasn't ever been this awesome, for example. She showed up in a big way this week, took part in a lot of the specialness, and even got to tell Will to suck about three different bags of dicks by the end of the night. Then, too, we saw new colors from a lot of people: Audrey gets her game face on, Dwight shows some steel, Sofia makes some tough choices and Robert manages to be menacing and sweet at higher levels of both than ever before. He also read my favorite sonnet at his anniversary party, which was then played for laughs. All awesome; all people acting like people, for once.
So. Given Joanna's ridiculous screw-ups last week, Robert decides to fly her mom (S. Epatha Merkerson!) out for a little dementia-mining, and -- as you might predict on this show -- she has it together in a way none of the other characters actually do. While she struggles with maintaining Joanna's cover story, she's more than sharp when it comes to the fact that Julian is still the same walkin' talkin' bad idea as when he was a kid.
Separately, Edward and Joanna confront Will with the connection between Audrey Cruz and Ben Preswick, having come to the same conclusion: She may have faked the entire "102 deaths" coverup in the first place, using Ben's relationship with Vivian to get her to destroy the company, which caused her murder. After bitching at them both -- Joanna for, predictably enough, being obsessed with her boyfriend's girlfriend, barf -- for most of the episode, he's able to use the anniversary party to connect Audrey to the Russian assassins, who -- he reminds us -- also provided that USB drive with copies of the fake files.
Disregarding Will's bullshit as usual, Joanna tests the waters on Julian's trust for Audrey, but once Audrey starts playing the girlfriend card, she drops Ben's name in a most epic way. Eventually, a distracted and jealous Audrey answers the phone -- but it's too late for Joanna, who's never felt so endangered in the Bowers house (in which she manages to stay a whole episode without getting thrown out)... At least until Julian shows up and sleeps with her, in a radical and almost romantic fashion. I hope this kills Will, I really do.
Scary Robert waits for confirmation that Mia's a viable marrow donor before doublecrossing the Senator, but he uses his Wyatt-related hold over Sofia to get things moving again. Oh, and not only was the Senator sleeping with one of Robert's kids and covering up another one's possible youthful rape-murder, but he also managed to help with their mother's assisted suicide, which brought Robert (and second wife Sofia) into like a multibillion-dollar fortune. Making Robert's bitchy obsession with ticking him off even more curious.
Once Kyle Motorcycle explains his part in the Senator's plans for her marrow, Mia refuses to donate. This cold-blooded murder is glossed over by everybody else on the show, and the ever-resourceful Sofia heads off to keep Wyatt in prison on her own terms: Planting drugs on her former true love while fucking him in a conjugal way. Attagirl.
Audrey, Motorcycle and even Julian had their moments this week; Edward's breakdown on learning that he may have taken over for Vivian as Audrey's pawn was touching; even Will was marginally easier to take, if just because people are finally telling him to suck it. In fact, I can't think of a thing I didn't love. Even the flashbacks, never too annoying on this show, were particularly stylish. But best of all, MVP goes to Joanna Padget Locasto, who had her head fully in the game for the first time, and was justly rewarded: Second-chance nookie with her first great love.
Next Week: In the penultimate episode, one expects to see Audrey dead and both brothers arrested for whatever reason, and Joanna's mom sticks around for another week, presumably because she shares her own dark secrets with Robert. Are we thinking affair? Implication somehow in the first wife's death? I'm thinking both. Mostly I just want to see our newer, stronger Joanna -- and this new level of quality -- to stick around for at least a couple more weeks. Legitimate A+.