After a week of freaking out about an event and attending said event, another week of horrible depression, and a laptop implosion, I’m back! This was the most low-key episode of the season, which means it was both the most bearable and the hardest to eviscerate. I have done my worst.
Episode 4: The Not-So-Great Escape
Another morning in the kitchen. Baby Tommy keeps looking up at the ceiling, tricking Stephanie into following his gaze only to see that there’s nothing there. Steph, you’re my favorite. Please don’t let a baby mindfuck you. It’s only been a few months since he gained sufficient muscle control to look up in the first place. (This gag will keep coming up throughout the episode for little good reason. I have a feeling the writers needed some padding.)
Kimmy is still calling Stephanie “sister-wife.” “It’s your destiny to spend your life with me,” she tells her, with a smooch on the cheek. The scene that launched a thousand fanfics.
We get a glimpse into DJ and Kimmy’s different parenting styles. DJ packs turkey wraps for lunch. Kimmy packs $20 bills. She tells DJ (and us, by proxy) that she feels guilty for all the upheaval she’s put Ramona through lately. DJ rightly points out that bribery isn’t the best way to deal with your kids. Except if you’re bribing them with milkshakes and chocolate cake, that is.
Jackson comes downstairs with science project in hands, talking about how he spent all night “erupting his volcano.” Steph’s reaction says it all. Did… did we seriously just get a jack-off joke? I’m both horrified and kind of impressed.
Ramona begs Kimmy not to make her go to school, where she’s having trouble making friends:
“It’s worse than the time you left me at the ball pit at McDonald’s.”
“I didn’t leave you. I forgot you.”
ICE COLD, GIBBLER. Between this and constantly being ditched for San Francisco’s lamest nightclub, I have to say that Ramona is remarkably well-adjusted.
DJ reminds Ramona that she has a friend in Jackson. Sort of. Their reaction is lukewarm, to say the least.
DJ and Kimmy both have to get to work. Stephanie’s on Tommy duty because, as Kimmy cheerfully informs her, “you have no life.” “I resent that. Just because I don’t have a boyfriend or a job or any money…”
Okay. So. Here’s the thing. Stephanie HAD a job and a life, which she abandoned wholesale to move in and help out. Judging by Ramona only having been at the new school for five days, there’s no way it’s been more than two weeks since episode 2. That episode, in turn, can’t have been more than a couple of days after episode 1; Jesse apparently came right back for his lucky guitar, and the same plate of leftover chicken features prominently in both episodes. This is a horrifying level of overthought I’ve put into making the point that maybe it’s a little soon to be implying that Steph’s a loser.
Max is choosing one of Comet Jr. Jr.’s puppies today, and he is freaking out. He’s wearing a tiny little suit and everything, which seems like a suboptimal choice for playing with puppies. Kimmy asks why he’s dressed up like a boy preacher, which actually got a laugh out of me. Am I… am I dying? (Also, I guess this means it’s been more than two weeks after all, if the puppies are ready to be separated from their mother after being born in the first episode. How long was Ramona out of school?)
At school, Ramona and Jackson try to greet Jackson’s crush Lola in the hallway, with minimal success. Ramona complains about wanting to be with her real friends and wishes she could get out of school. Jackson promises to help her escape. This will certainly end without consequences!
DJ and Max arrive at the pet clinic before Max has to go to school. He wipes himself with a piece of bologna and goes in to meet the pups, who are definitely more than two weeks old. CATCHPHRASE ALERT: “Holy chalupas,” introduced just last episode and already going the way of “fetch.” But, seriously, these puppies are adorable and the kid is adorable and I can’t complain as much as usual.
Meanwhile in the lobby, DJ is introduced to her boss’s exceedingly handsome son Matt, who has just arrived to help with the practice while his father is on vacation. He is all grown up from the supposedly awkward years we glimpse in photos. We get some awkward flirtation that culminates in Matt offering to let DJ scratch his belly and immediately dying of embarrassment. (It makes sense in context, but only marginally, so why bother?)
When she goes back to check on Max, he is in the X-pen with the puppies, probably covered in dog fur. Hope that suit isn’t dry clean only. She urges him to hurry up and choose, but before he does, the receptionist Janet enters and informs DJ that she has to leave to take her dog to the vet because she can’t afford the prices here. I feel like there’s probably commentary to be made about the implications of a POC in San Francisco being priced out of services by tech bubble inflation, but then DJ reminds her she’d get an employee discount and she refuses on grounds that she would never take her dog to a “discount vet” and I wonder why anything matters at all, what kind of alcohol they have in the writers’ room, and how I can acquire it.
Stephanie is at the coffee shop with Tommy. The guy behind her in line, Darren, is apparently really into the single-mom thing, and Stephanie is all too happy to play into the fantasy and pretend to be Tommy’s mother. She orders two pastries and a latte that somehow come to $18.50; again, fuck RIGHT off, San Francisco. As her gift cards are failing to meet the total and I’m questioning my earlier impassioned defense of her, she gets a call from DJ to come help out at the clinic and get paid. Darren says goodbye and also notices that Tommy keeps looking up at the ceiling. This is as much payoff as we’re getting for this running gag.
Meanwhile, Jackson explains the escape plan to Ramona. She’s going to climb out the window while he creates a diversion. “That’s it?” Damn, Ramona, you’re talking to a seventh grader, not Ethan Hunt. As Lola presents the volcano that her mom – she means, she – spent all night making, Jackson sets off a chemical reaction that triggers the smoke alarm. While the sprinklers go off and all the volcanoes start erupting at the influx of water (literally not how science works, unless those pipes are full of acid), Ramona makes a break for it. Unfortunately, the teacher saw Jackson’s stunt and stops him at the door. Security ushers Ramona back through the window a moment later; as it turns out, the place where the students line up in case of fire is… right outside the classroom window. Jackson adds insult to the injury of having forgotten this by pretending he doesn’t know Ramona. Not as if they don’t have your shared home address on record, kid.
Steph shows up to work at the clinic right before Kimmy comes to pick up Tommy. “I’m triple-parked, and I got a tub of mayonnaise, three dozen oysters, and a robot costume in the back seat,” Kimmy tells the others. But here’s the kicker: they’re not for the event she’s working on! ~sOoOo random~
DJ and Kimmy get obviously coincidental calls to pick up their suspended kids, and Steph is left to hold down the fort. Darren from the coffee shop turns up. He bought her the coffee and sweets from earlier, because lying about your reproductive status works, damn it. Doubling down on this strategy, she pretends Max is her kid too, then shoves Tommy off in the side room with him before he can protest. Darren, clearly sprung by this ambivalent display of parenting, asks her out to dinner.
Max finally chooses a puppy, using the final criterion “The best licker wins!” Just like I always say, you guys. Wait, what?
Some guy comes in saying his aunt found a stray pet in the alley and asking if they can bring it in. Steph says of course they can. The “pet” turns out to be a skunk, which the aforementioned aunt drops and runs. Are these trolls, aliens, or both? None of this makes sense as standard human behavior. Anyway, DJ comes back to two kiddie pools full of puppies and two barrels full of sister/kids, all bathing in tomato soup. (It’s juice, Steph, not soup. And it hardly works anyway.) CATCHPHRASE ALERT: This mess gets us DJ’s first “Oh Mylanta!” of the new series. Of course, she has to post the whole debacle to Facebook. HAVE WE MENTIONED THIS IS 2016 YET
Back at home, Lola is over! She thought Ramona’s escape was cool but is mad at Jackson for the ruined volcano that her mom will have to rebuild. Kimmy, for her part, “couldn’t be prouder” about Ramona’s escape and being walked to the office by security, telling her daughter that she knew things would get better for her. A mark on her permanent record, being sold out by the boy she lives with, and tentative friendship with a girl who started opportunistically calling the nerds “future millionaire of Silicon Valley” after a self-esteem assembly? Everything’s coming up Milhouse!
Punishments are meted out for the suspension shenanigans. Jackson gets his video game privileges revoked and a long list of chores to tackle, including “sync your mom’s iPhone to her iPad.” WE ARE MODERN CONSUMERS. Ramona, on the other hand, will be taken to her old school to see her old friends, with a mani-pedi date on the way there. Needless to say, Jackson doesn’t take this well, and DJ drags Kimmy into the kitchen for a lecture:
“Your bad parenting is undermining my good parenting.” Weeeeell… for certain values of “good.”
“You’re just jealous ‘cause my kid likes me.” Sort of?
DJ points out that Jackson’s upset because Ramona is being rewarded for the incident. Kimmy knows, and gets emotional about not feeling like she can punish Ramona because she feels guilty about uprooting her. “I just want Ramona to be happy.” DJ emphasizes the value of boundaries, because if anyone knows about healthy boundaries, it’s this family, am I right?
Kimmy goes back out and, with DJ supporting her wagging pointer finger, cancels spa day and tells Ramona she’ll be helping Jackson with his chores. (He gleefully tears numbers 16-44 off the bottom of the list and hands them to her. Thanks, bro.) Ramona gets mad at DJ, but Kimmy tells her the punishment was her own idea, kind of. During all this talk of fairness, Ramona fesses up that the only reason Jackson set off the fire alarm was to help her escape. Jackson seizes on his heroic narrative: “Setting off a dangerous explosion without any regard for my own safety. Or anyone else’s. Like a true American hero.” DJ tears a couple chores off the list for that. Ramona calms down quickly and understands why Kimmy did what she did, because she’s more rational and mature than many 12-year-olds and pretty much all of these characters. Hugs! After Ramona does her time, she’ll still get to see her friends.
Max comes in with little puppy Cosmo in his arms and introduces him to the family. Steph sweeps into the room after him, ready for her date with Darren, who is surprised to see yet more kids. Steph introduces Jackson and Ramona as “the twins” and Kimmy and DJ as “my housekeeper and au pair.” They all smile and nod like good wingpeople, then return to fussing over the puppy when she’s gone.
Like I said, this episode was bearable, even – dare I say it? – kind of charming. It felt less contrived for the most part, and the lack of constant self-referential winks really did a lot for it. Of course, the next one’s a total clusterfuck because we can’t have nice things.
Stay tuned! Make my pain worth it.
Next: Episode 5: Mad Max
Previous: Episode 3: Funner House