I’m pretty sure someone at Starz lost their job over this episode of Boss, which featured only fleeting nudity, two relatively tasteful sex scenes, and not even a single quasi-Shakespearean soliloquy. How it got past the executives at Starz in such respectable condition, I’ll never know, but I am glad it did. “Slip” was, by a considerable margin, the best episode of Boss to date.
“Slip” has a lot going for it other than Zajac and Kitty’s decision to finally have sex in a semi-private space (though, come to think of it, I guess Emma picked up the slack in that department this week. Maybe Boss really does have a smutty-sex quota to fill?). This week the various storylines finally start coming together, and the series is starting to feel more cohesive and more mysterious at the same time. That's a good place to be.
Sam has a big breakthrough in his investigation of the O’Hare construction site, discovering a possible connection between contaminated ground water and a nearby cancer cluster. It’s a big scoop for our intrepid reporter. Unfortunately, though, Sam has the world’s worst editor, who punishes him for daring to ask for an extension on an enormous investigative piece by leaking the story to the Mayor. Worse than unethical, it’s plain-old bad business (plus the guy who plays Sam’s editor was Stew on Strangers With Candy, which makes it hard for me to take him seriously). Kane tries to mitigate the bad press by holding a press conference and pinning the blame on his predecessor and senile father-in-law, Mayor Rutledge, but an anonymous tipster sends Sam an envelope with a letter tying Kane to the waste water dump.
Meanwhile Kane awards a school-lunch contract to Scientia, his wife’s client, infuriating Frank Kohler—or so he thinks. During his meeting with Kohler, Kane suffers another mental lapse (paging Rick Perry) and starts babbling something about Java Script. Unbeknownst to Kane, he accidentally agrees to extend the original agreement, which makes things awkward when it comes time to make some deliveries. Cue freak-out from Meredith. Kane, who’s by now installed a video camera on his desk in order to remember his conversations (it’s easier than tattooing everything on his arm), plays back the tape and realizes—oops!—he did agree to extend the contract. Yes, it’s convoluted, but for some reason I’m intrigued by the Meredith supplot: I would like to know what she's really up to. Nobody’s that passionate about school reform.
I have a hunch there’s a connection between Meredith and the whole genetically modified seed thing. I mean, a company called Scientia? That’s about as sinister sounding as it gets. Zajac pays a campaign visit to a diner in a rural part of the state where he’s accosted by a self-described Joe-the-Plumber type . Zajac, political natural that he is, “goes off script” and visits the man’s farm, where he promises to do something about the “suicide seeds” that are driving local family farms out of business. Zajac even asks to turn off the cameras because he doesn’t want to exploit the moment. It’s a little hokey, sure, but I’m intrigued by Zajac’s combination of charisma and creepiness, sincerity and total duplicity. I also enjoyed the scene between Zajac and Cullen. Having never run for office, I don’t know how realistic their exchange was, but I like to think politicians have these sort of secret, man-to-man meetings. Cullen expresses his admiration for Zajac, but warns him of the dangers of being a political flash in the pan—and most of all, of being beholden to Kane.
The improvement is all very tenuous, of course, and there’s still plenty about the show that gives me pause. Last week a commenter suggested that the show’s main twist—Kane’s degenerative neurological disorder—is a totally unnecessary complication. I’ve been thinking about it and I tend to agree. Nearly all the plot developments associated with Kane’s illness have been absurd and illogical. First he drugged and then disappeared his neurologist, which doesn’t seem like a great idea for someone likely to need medical attention in the near future. And this week Kane sends his version of Mike from Breaking Bad to deal with his drug dealer, even though the cops are aware of his connection to Ezra Stone. I understand the intended dramatic irony of Kane’s mental decline, but it’s leading to some convoluted—not to mention highly implausible—narrative turns. As Kane continues to unravel, and undoubtedly more people learn about his condition, this will only become more of a problem.
And while there were no grandiloquent monologues this week, we did get Meredith’s improvised aside about pharaohs and handmaidens. It was a coded way for Meredith to tell Kitty she knows what’s going on between her and Zajac, a.k.a. the future pharaoh of Illinois, and that Kitty’s machinations are totally transparent. How convenient that she just so happens to the in a mummy room at the time, and that she is also, apparently, an amateur Egyptologist! As far as showy writing goes, this was a misdemeanor, rather than a felony offense like last week’s mayor/mare scene, but it was a false moment in an otherwise solid episode. Which is a long way of saying that Boss is always going to be a little heavy-handed and overwrought, but that's a flaw I can accept if it continues to deliver episodes like this one.