There I was, slowly warming to this episode of Boss, feeling my reservations about the show’s ponderous, heavy-handed style fade away, finding myself invested in the slowly unraveling storylines, when, all of a sudden, Boss spontaneously combusted into a Skinemax movie. I suppose I shouldn’t have been that surprised by the moment when the insurgent gubernatorial candidate, fresh off a triumphant press conference, shoved his sexy, bespectacled adviser against a column in a hotel lobby, had about seven seconds of extremely uncomfortable looking sex, then ripped her blouse open for good measure. Sure, the scene had nice lighting and artsy directing, but otherwise it was straight out of Penthouse Forum, right down to Kitty’s conveniently bra-less breasts. The whole thing was nothing but a ridiculous lapse into prurient male-fantasy land, masquerading as serious adult drama. Basically the exact same thing happened last week, but that's exactly why I thought it couldn't happen again this time around. Two hilariously gratuitous sex scenes in as many weeks? Nobody would be stupid enough to do that. Alas, I was wrong.
It’s a shame because up until Public Fuckfest 2: Party in the Hotel Lobby, Boss and I were getting along pretty well. The episode had some nice narrative momentum to it, as Kitty and Kane tried to round up enough votes for whatever that trash bill was all about. Meanwhile, Kane continues to meddle with Cullen for no apparent reason, though surely one will eventually emerage. His plot to derail the Cullen campaign is suspiciously elaborate, and who knows how Kane procured that surveillance footage of Cullen at the Miami airport, but these are the kinds of questions I’m willing to ignore under the right circumstances. (In a very Good Wife-ish move, Cullen’s encounter with the young man at the airport was an obvious take on George Rekers).
In “Reflex” we also saw the first signs of Kane’s incipient mental decay during a press conference about the O’Hare building project. Speaking of which, Miller, the idealistic, muck-racking reporter, pays a visit to the construction site where two Hispanic workers tell him that the night crew does most of the work, and that mysterious piles of dirt keep appearing from nowhere. Color me intrigued. (I also like how they messed with the gringo by feeding him a taco loaded with habaneros.) Emma’s storyline didn’t work as well—Hannah Ware is possibly too good at delivering a wooden sermon—but the sexual tension between her and Darius is at least intriguing enough to keep me vaguely interested.
There’s plenty of good, if not exactly groundbreaking, stuff going on in Boss, but I’ve never before seen a show with such poor impulse control. There’s talent here, but precious little self-restraint. Boss can’t decide whether to be oblique or totally heavy-handed; occasionally it pulls off the difficult feat of being both at the same time.
The tension between these two forces is present in virtually every moment of the show, and a single scene can go from nuanced to completely hammy on the turn of a dime. Kane goes to a funeral to try to strong-arm Alderman Alverson into voting with him (shades of the Mad Men episode when Pete and Don go to a funeral to try to woo clients). Kane appeals to his ego, telling him “Sometimes it’s good to proclaim your independence.” It was a great moment, a glimpse at what makes him a successful politician, and it was done in an understated way. Cut to outside the funeral home, where Alderman Ross, a pallbearer at the funeral, delivers one of the inexplicable monologues that have already become this show’s trademark. “Never seen no chickens follow a turkey,” he says at full volume while carrying a dead person in a coffin.
While I’m on the subject: what’s the deal with all the stagy asides and lengthy monologues on this show, anyway? Boss is obviously trying to be “Shakespearean”—Kelsey Grammer can’t seem to help speaking in iambic pentameter—so maybe that’s what it’s all about? In any case, the scene where Kane stops by the Children’s Hospital to talk to Meredith had potential, but like so much on Boss, it quickly got too showy for its own good. Instead of waiting for five minutes until she’d finished reading “My Pet Goat” (or whatever), Kane decides to plop down on the stool next to her and tell her he’s reconnected with their estranged daughter—as one does while reading to a room full of sick children. It was unnecessarily dramatic: can’t anyone on this show interact like normal people? There are too many stunts in Boss, and not enough convincing human encounters.
The episode ends ominously, as Kane goes to meet the ailing Mayor Rutledge who, like Tio Salamanca, is mute and immobile yet still maintains a forbidding aura. It's unclear what their relationship is, or who Rutledge's daughter is (Meredith?), but it was an effective and pleasantly creepy way to show what's on his mind. (Namely, death.)
As for a grade, I'm torn. If it hadn’t been for the porn interlude, "Reflex" might have earned a B- or even a B. I’m going to give it a C+ to acknowledge the moderate improvement in the rest of the show, and because no one received any mutilated body parts in the mail. Baby steps, people.