[This is a review of Blunt Talk season 1, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
Walter Blunt has not been a good father to his children. The character has admitted as much, and that was before Blunt Talk introduced the audience to either one of his sons, the first being five-year-old Bertie in ‘A Beaver That’s Lost Its Mind‘. So when the series brings in his eldest son, Rafe (played by Stewart’s real-life son Daniel Stewart), there is an opportunity to understand what Walter’s deficiencies as a father mean, as the child in question is a now-grown man with, presumably, an identity of his own.
That may be one of the more overt aspects of the episode that spends a great deal of its time exploring what makes a person who they are. In a sense, that whole question of identity is an offshoot of Celia’s time in Dr. Weiss’ chair, as she expresses the feeling that she’s not a real person, or that she’s walking around inside a costume. Celia’s sentiment of being a human being, but feeling as though she’s only succeeding in presenting herself as an approximation of one is played off by Weiss as normal – and who knows, maybe he’s right. But for the second week in a row, Blunt Talk has taken a discussion between a member of Walter’s staff and Dr. Weiss and built a thematic structure around it.
Beyond the way Celia’s discussion sparks aspects of the story, there’s something worth mentioning about Dr. Weiss and his near ubiquitous presence in the office. The way Weiss has slowly begun to treat everyone on Walter’s staff has become what might qualify as this show’s version of a running joke. So often in workplace comedies, shows go to extreme lengths to present the staff as a group of lunatics, who have somehow managed to make their professional lives together the most functional part of themselves. In Jonathan Ames’ world, the question of functionality has to be asked of everyone on Walter’s staff in a layered way, and it’s through their time in Weiss’ chair that they develop as characters – both for the audience and for one another – as evidenced by Jim listening in, while still dealing with his hoarding problem.
But characters like Celia and Jim are more interesting and defined by more than simply their jobs or their foibles – well, okay, maybe in Jim’s case, the sheer number of foibles and conditions he’s struggling with are actually his defining characteristic – which is why the show has found so much success with its characterizations so far, especially when they are taken outside of the office. Or, in this case, when someone from the outside is brought in. And here, Rafe tends to underline the idea of what defines a person, since, to paraphrase Harry, he never quite got out from under Walter’s shadow.
There’s a bit of art imitating life there, as Walter’s concerns over his son’s wellbeing, his future, and, of course, their unresolved past is given a certain authenticity by the fact they actually are father and son. An interview with Daniel a few years ago in Metro reads like supplemental material for the episode, as the actor discusses life as Patrick Stewart’s child. But the joke here is as it has always been on Blunt Talk: That Walter doesn’t really know his sons or even himself very well, and there are questions as to whether or not his attempts to rectify that disconnect is actually making things worse.
Once again, Ames brings Walter’s ignorance about certain personal matters to the forefront, as Walter’s troubles in public restrooms leads to yet another professional snafu. Having Dexter‘s C.S. Lee appear as an expert on genital mutilation opens up a potentially humiliating exchange in which Walter learns a painful truth about circumcisions. Stewart’s comedy is on point, as he tosses Lee’s Emanuel looks of disdain while getting up from the desk to seek confirmation from Rosalie – because of course she would be the person he goes to for such information.
Interestingly, the show doesn’t go outside the studio to explore the impact of Walter’s on-air outing as an uncircumcised man, but rather chooses to keep it within the main circle of characters. This is in keeping with the underlying theme of family that the episode manages to explore in its own surprisingly effective way.
There are several tender moments that underline Walter’s shortcomings as a father, and yet don’t require the episode to sacrifice its sense of humor. Rafe’s confession to Celia that, around his dad, he feels like he’s a clown, an idiot, and a loser – or that he’s “stuck playing a role” – and how that leads to outbursts like the one he had at dinner, inevitably leads to them falling in bed with one another. And Blunt Talk waits for the right time to reveal the room they had sex in is lined with posters of Walter. Later, the joke turns out to be Walter’s disapproval of Rafe sleeping with Celia, with her defending it by reminding him she’s a senior producer.
The episode even subverts certain storytelling tropes, with Rafe seemingly refusing to take a dive in the second round (as he was paid to do), so that he doesn’t disappoint his father – only for Walter to later point out that Rafe ended up losing anyway, but in the third round. But what it succeeds at most is painting a clearer picture of Walter Blunt, by giving the audience an idea of who the people that ostensibly define him are, and what they mean to him. For example, Jim has been having a rough go of it lately, and Walter’s inclusion of him on the son list was another example of however ridiculous this show is in its humor sometimes, it also has a lot more heart than it’s given credit for.
Blunt Talk continues next Saturday with ‘Meth or No Meth, You Still Gotta Floss’ @9pm on Starz.