[This is a review of Blunt Talk season 1, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
Walter Blunt is a pristine organism – or so he claims after his manservant Harry spends the opening moments of ‘The Queen of Hearts’ battering Walter’s midsection with a cricket bat. But what good is being a pristine organism if he can’t “put it to good use, erotically?” Walter asks. And so, with that simple, straightforward question, Blunt Talk once again ventures into the turbulent waters of Walter’s romantic life.
At first glance, bringing up the issue of loneliness and these characters’ desire for love and companionship feels like a retread of ‘All My Relationships End in Pain‘ – which, thematically speaking, was a high point for the series so far. But rather than go over the emptiness in the lives of, say, Tim, Celia, Rosalie, and Martin, the episode takes the idea of desire and twists it just a little so that an emotional craving or yearning for a human connection becomes abject neediness teetering on the brink of pitiful.
Blunt Talk has been unsurprisingly upfront with the often-lusty yearnings of its protagonist. After all, the audience’s introduction to Walter included his drunken solicitation of a prostitute, the aftermath of which nearly brought ruin to his name. In other words, Walter has been, from the get-go, a man frequently at odds with his baser needs and desires. And, to a certain degree, the show itself seems to be addressing the battle between base needs and the idea of sublimation in nearly every episode. Last week, it was Walter’s recent discovery that alcohol can make feelings of sadness more pronounced, and thereby vowed to moderate what is presumably a fairly rigorous drinking regimen.
This conflict between the id and the ego plays directly into the show’s obsession with Freudian psychoanalysis – hence the too infrequent appearances of Richard Lewis’ Dr. Weiss, who manages to uncover a great deal about Tim’s issues with hoarding as well as some clarification on his women’s shoe fetish. Here, though, the episode’s primary goal is to do a deep dive into the concept of desire by making an exploration of Walter’s lamentable love life the A-plot, while using the notion of pleasure and gratification to tie Celia and Harry’s gambling B-plot into the narrative’s thematic structure. And, as it has done in nearly every episode this season, despite a sense that the characters are all polluted in some way or another, there’s still a certain amount of pathos that cuts through all the grime.
Walter is lonely, obviously, and according to Harry’s logbook, it’s been quite a while since he’s put his self-maintenance to good use in bed. Apparently, the two don’t count the misfire with Sharon Lawrence’s philandering sex addict, so Walter’s last “official” romantic encounter is rendered off limits, after it reportedly ended in tears and the discovery of some antipsychotics. Not that this deters Walter from leaving an ill-advised voicemail on the woman’s phone, but that just serves to underline the extent his desire has gone from want to neediness. And so, the ‘The Queen of Hearts’ introduces Elisabeth Shue, as “the Ann Coulter of the death penalty,” Suzanne Mayview, a.k.a. “Snax,” the political and ideological antithesis of Walter – especially now that he’s doubling down on his idealistic desire to save the planet.
There is a kind of admirable obviousness to the way the episode approaches its own premise and aims to achieve its comedic goals. Walter’s libidinousness more or less sets up Shue’s appearance in the most conspicuous manner possible, seemingly making the joke the ease with which the episode allows its own conceit play out. The only real sense of conflict stems from the supposed ideological incompatibility of Snax and Walter, which is where much of the humor comes from as well. The idea that Walter’s base needs would overwhelm his reform and social crusade was a foregone conclusion, so Jason Schwartzman’s appearance as the patriarch of a zero-footprint family works less in terms of Walter choosing to bump the family in favor of Suzanne, and more in the subtle hint of regret Schwartzman manages to work into his brief cameo.
Walter’s softball interview questions, so as not to hurt his chances with Suzanne, offer Rosalie and the underused Martin and Shelly a chance to be a part of the action, but even then their contribution is mostly to serve the secret relationship going on in the office. There’s a nice moment when Martin’s own neediness is brought to the forefront and even called out as such by Rosalie, so it’s great that the show knows how to use Karan Soni to get some laughs; it would just be nice to see the latter half of the season do so with greater frequency.
To say that Martin and Shelly are mostly underserved at this point in the season won’t come as much of a surprise. To its credit, though, Blunt Talk has shown a penchant for exploring story threads by letting them play out gradually. This has been seen with how Tim’s thread is being handled. Even though he is relegated to a C or even D-plot this time around, the fact that the episode addressed his hoarding and his previously established weaknesses via a short but very funny session with Dr. Weiss is promising for the hope that Martin and Shelly’s threads will eventually develop into something more significant.
For this to happen, the show might have to jettison B-plots like Celia and Harry’s adventures into illegal poker matches. Despite the thematic through-line of the pursuit of gratification trumping common sense and maybe even dignity, Celia’s discovery of the pleasures of gambling felt as superficial as most everything else in the episode. It was charming – thanks largely to the fact that Dolly Wells can apparently play opposite anyone and come across as a simply delightful human being – but rushed in a way that made the supposed payoff of both Walter and Celia’s gambles either too convenient or oddly muted.
In a sense, the episode feels a lot like the “gentle path” of Brent Spiner’s piano-playing Phil: No germs, no hurt feelings. In other words, no real risk. Maybe next time Blunt Talk will be better served by walking a less amiable route.
Blunt Talk continues next Saturday with ‘Goodnight, My Someone’ @9:30pm on Starz.