I’ll give this much to House Of Lies: it’s giving all of its different tonal possibilities a good workout. The overall mix is still baffling at times, but the potentially good aspects of the show are seeming stronger. On the other hand, so are the awful components.
Let’s start with the good, which is always more pleasant. Greg Norbert, Marty’s rival from the pilot episode, shows up for a surprising foray into serialization. Marty’s Gallweather team did such a good job for MetroCapital in that episode that the bigger company is interested in acquiring their very own management team, preferably Gallweather. Norbert is excited about that. Nobody else is, which seems to make him even happier – especially when it involves getting revenge on Marty.
And buying Gallweather is a perfectly plausible explanation. Marty’s boss Skip, acknowledged this, saying simple that MetroCapital is a much bigger company. Greg, of course, wants to fire Marty and make it as hard as possible for him to land on his feet. Marty asks Skip for help at the end of the episode, but Skip says the business is about relationships as much as profits, and he’s tired of dealing with all the problems Marty causes in pursuit of a successful score. It’s just business, Marty says, not personal. Skip’s response: “It’s personal, to me, and that’s kind of what matters, now, isn’t it?”
The episode does a good job of showing exactly how Marty does that, as well. Hired to help a floundering beverage company, Marty gives his advice, which is quickly rejected, and then turns around and tells a Pepsi-like larger company to buy up the struggling one and hire Gallweather to tell them how the place should be run. It’s successful, yes, but it’s also shocking and unethical. Here House Of Lies effectively portrays the problem with chasing short-term profits over long-term stability. Instead of simply celebrating Marty’s successes, we see the consequences, But it’s not done polemically, it’s done through the characters.
As much as that may work, that’s largely the beginning and end of the episode. What’s in-between is a little bit less interesting. The consultancy of the week storyline relies far too much on the wacky sexual adventures of Jeannie and Marty dealing with the soda company’s CFO and his wife’s kinks – she loves black men, he loves feet. It’s slightly uncomfortable and slightly amusing, but the latter isn’t powerful enough to really give it much impact. I suppose House Of Lies is going to use weird, two-dimensional characters like this on a week-to-week basis and it’s worth getting used to, but I’d prefer it if they used these situations for comedy instead of faux-edginess.
I’m also pretty ambivalent about the dimestore psychology of Marty being obsessed with his mother’s suicide. Certainly this is something that’s important to his character, but it’s being treated in an especially ham-handed fashion – Marty has dreams about her on the anniversary of her death and snaps at his dad, then behaves self-destructively at the end of the episode when he gets stressed out. I’m not really a fan of the way that fictional characters have their behavior simplified into “this one thing happened, so that’s why I do everything I do”, but I do want shows to give their characters depth. We’ll see how this goes.
And then there’s the ugly part of the episode: Clyde’s attacks on Doug for possibly hooking up with a “tranny”. This is pretty much textbook transphobia – the idea that sneaky transsexuals are tricking normal dudes into sleeping with them, and that any true man should be able to get through that. On one hand, this is somewhat expected within the context of the world the characters inhabit – they’re supposed to be assholes who compete with one another to score the hottest chicks. And it’s not that I feel the show should know better. It’s that the show does know better. Its portrayal of Roscoe’s gender exploration is sympathetic and remarkable.
Clyde’s needling of Doug, then, could open a door for examination of Marty’s character and how he wants to discuss his son publicly. But Marty isn’t involved in the conversation much at all. He joins in the initial teasing a bit, but when Clyde starts going overboard? We don’t see any of his reactions. The show seems to be delighted to let Clyde be a total asshole.
And again, this could even be tolerable if it were funny, but it’s not at all. It’s just Clyde berating Doug for veering outside conventional sexual norms for multiple scenes. This was House Of Lies at its ugliest, happening right with House Of Lies at its best so far. Baffling.