Money is the concern that animates Hung. It's a good concern to animate the show. Having money problems is the sort of thing that rarely happens to TV characters, and when it does, they're usually overcome by the end of the episode. But being poor or lower middle-class and not knowing just how long you can stretch that next paycheck for is one of those essential dramas of everyday life that TV would pretty much rather not dramatize. It tends to really change a person, to make them more willing to take drastic measures to make ends meet, and one of the things that has mostly remained consistent about Hung is the way that it has depicted recession-era Detroit as a place that has seeped into all of the characters' bones. Even people who will be fine with just a little belt-tightening - like Ronnie and Jessica - seem more than a little desperate. Being in a city that's constantly teetering on the edge of a black hole will do that to you.
For all of the inconsistent and muddled story development from Hung this season, this is the episode where most everything comes to a head, and it's not bad. I still think it's kind of hard to care about any of this because the path here was so torturous, but Tanya's financial implosion and beatdown of Horny Patty and Jessica and Ronnie's marriage splintering, only for her to run into the arms of Ray, are two developments that have been coming for a long time. Factor in Mike confronting Ray about what was going on with Frances, Lenore finding out about the Frances arrangement between Tanya and Ray, and any number of other things, and you had an episode that was pretty plot-heavy, as Hung goes, even if it frequently took pit-stops for weird scenes like that one where Darby asked Jessica whether she still liked her daughter, even though said daughter was fat. It was a weird episode, but it was one that mostly hung together.
Again, though, I keep returning to money concerns. When money concerns are front and center, Hung is often a pretty serviceable little bit of TV fluff. It rarely hits the heights it aspires to, but it more or less has a center, and it feels like a show that isn't a waste of time. I prefer the episodes that make the clients front and center, but the show has mostly forgotten how to write these kinds of episodes in the second season, reducing too many women with sexual hang-ups to puzzles in a graphic adventure game. So the money troubles, which have always been prominent in the show's mind, are a good place to turn. That's the reason this episode worked, I think. It all came back to the money: Who has it, and who doesn't have it, and who has a plan to get it.
It's a hard thing to do a show about people who were in dire economic straits and find themselves with plenty of cash, because most shows realize that people like this will often seem suspicious. Breaking Bad has built three entire seasons around Walter White's slow accumulation of wealth and is only just now getting around to showing how he might figure out a way to flaunt that wealth but not have it appear to be too suspicious. Hung, because it believes itself to be a comedy, is less concerned with this - particularly on the part of Tanya, who says she's a pimp in front of all of her co-workers tonight - but that's probably OK. I think the whole "Let's hide the fact that Ray's a prostitute" plotline has felt sort of clumsy throughout the show, not because it wouldn't happen (indeed, it's pretty realistic), but because virtually every other show on cable TV has a plot structure that could be summarized as "Ordinary man or woman leads a secret life as X and tries to make sure no one finds out about it." It's a limiting premise, and the secret life aspect limits it even further, creating unnecessarily constrained worlds when television shows thrive when they have worlds that are full and open and vibrant.
Hung, tonight, is pretty bald-faced about just what the pursuit of money makes people do. It's always been fairly obvious that Jessica left Ray because he didn't have any money (well, I believe the show came out and said this in a flashback in the pilot), but this season has been building up all of the ways that Ronnie doesn't satisfy her as well. I kind of hate the Ronnie character, simply because the show has done nothing to make him anything but an obstacle between Ray and Jessica reviving their love. He's a loathsome individual, who does loathsome things solely because the plot requires it of him, and the series hasn't bothered to figure out just why he might act the way he does. He's simply a plot catalyst much of the time, and, worse, he's a plot catalyst who almost exclusively whines.
But, anyway, Jessica runs away from Ronnie's acceptance of some sort of dermatology award, and she heads to Ray's burned-out little house, ready to rekindle her relationship with him. The two go swimming in the lake - and, to be fair, it's hard to begrudge Ray this moment because Anne Heche looked pretty fantastic in that dress - where they kiss, and it's clearly supposed to have us in suspense for the season finale. The problem here is that the show has given us no reason to be suspenseful. Ronnie is not exactly a prize to run back to, while Ray has become some sort of virtuous saintly prostitute. If Jessica goes back to Ronnie - whom she's developed a rash to, for God's sake - it's clearly just because she wants his cash. The show has set up no alternate scenarios for any of this, and that gives all of this a depressing sense of game pieces moving around a board.
Good Lord, I was going to be more complimentary of this episode. That's worked out well so far. Let's see. I did like the scenes with Tanya and Ray, particularly that one in the former Tigers Stadium, and I feel like the fallout of Mike discovering the bulk of Ray's secret was well-handled. Lenore had some funny lines, and I smirked at quite a few bits of business in the episode. Furthermore, the scene where Tanya smacked around Horny Patty was so long in coming that it would have felt anticlimactic four or five weeks ago, but Jane Adams still really sold it. And, most of all, the show regrounded itself in a sense of desperate people, who will do anything for a little cash. It wasn't a great episode of Hung, but it was one that suggested the show has some idea of where it's heading in its season finale in two weeks' time.
- Hung is taking next week off because HBO takes off Labor Day weekend, for whatever reason. Honestly, it would be vaguely appropriate to air a new Hung on Labor Day weekend, but I'd guess the network doesn't want to separate it from True Blood.
- "You're bold, and you're brave, and I like that. But you're fuckin' crazy."
- "Have you ever read The Sociopath Next Door? It's a book. I've read it." (For some reason, Lenore's delivery of this line killed me.)
- "You've been getting fat off my love."