[This is a review of Blunt Talk season 1, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]
Every now and then, a series will air an episode that has an agenda all its own, so much so that it stands out because of it. Usually, these are bottle episodes, which generally focus on matters at the micro level, rather than the macro – or in relation to the overarching story of the entire season. As Blunt Talk rounds the corner on the end of its first trip round the track (with just two episodes remaining in season 1), it uses ‘Who Kisses So Early in the Morning?’ as a bridge of sorts between what’s been going on in the rest of the series, and what will likely be the season’s end game – if it even has one.
To be fair, that question exists because Blunt Talk has demonstrated only the faintest hints of an overarching plotline, which is neither good nor bad. Walter’s continued desire to get his “message” out to the people seems to be the driving force behind most of his actions, as well as being a solid recurring joke that gets funnier as the season progresses. While it seems as though Walter is accomplishing nothing in terms of making the world a better place, he remains confident he will be able to, if only he would be given the chance. This makes things like issues with a public toilet or, as we see here, being accused of plagiarizing David Foster Wallace, in an unfortunate encounter that snowballs out of control, part of a larger joke of the character’s seeming inability to take a step without tripping, let alone compel the world to take action.
That makes the disparate events of the episode both a little strange and oddly appealing. And while ‘Who Kisses So Early in the Morning?’ comes as close to being a bottle episode as the series has so far managed (without quite being one), you still get the feeling that this particular installment works better outside the framework of the season overall. For the most part, the narrative is equally concerned with Walter’s ongoing image problems, as it is the issues being faced by the supporting characters. Again, this gives the episode a nice sense of balance, hinting that the series is starting to understand who these characters are, as it becomes more successful in blending the two sides of them into the half-hour storyline.
So while Walter’s public image is flogged once again, his attempts to undo the negative press only makes things worse – as is seen in his exchange with this week’s guest, John Hodgman. While Hodgman’s appearance really only serves as a demonstration of Walter’s ongoing ineptitude, it’s worth mentioning that he might be the only actor who can take a mustache-and-soul-patch combination and use it to make his character seem haughty or creepy. Here, Hodgman looks no different than his character Bernie in Married, and yet his facial hair exudes a completely different quality. If there were an award for best performance by a crumb catcher, Hodgman’s fur-covered upper lip would be the hands down favorite.
Still, despite an inability to spread an important “message” to the good people of the world, Walter is, unbeknownst to him, actually having an impact – though it is mostly on the lives of his co-workers; namely, Jim, Celia, and, after last week’s touching search for Teddy, Rosalie. The show is so stealthily about these characters’ inner-lives and foibles, and the importance of their connection with Walter that even odd episodes like this manage to have a special appeal.
This ability to take the macro desire of its protagonist and make it functional on the micro level is really the key to what makes Blunt Talk work. If Walter does in fact have a character arc this season, it would likely be in his inadvertent role as father figure to his staff, and, of course, Rafe and young Bertie – who, despite nearly being exposed to the films of Kurosawa at too early of an age, still benefits from his father’s affection. The same goes for Jim and Celia, who have seen their fair share of ups and downs this season, but have also made strides forward, thanks to Walter.
Although the episode feels truncated, ending on Walter and Celia quickly making amends, even though she quit the show, following her blunder with his speech, the episode makes up for what feels like a slight lack of narrative closure by focusing instead on sentiment. This may be as close to cloying as a show like Blunt Talk gets, seeing Jim and Harry trying to reassemble the electric piano Walter had purchased as an apology to Celia, but it works because it is still surprising to see the show put that particular face forward. It may be a largely inconsequential episode in the grand scheme of things, but in making the series a strangely charming and comforting hangout show, this episode definitely works.
Blunt Talk continues next Saturday with ‘I Brought a Petting Goat!’ at 9pm on Starz.