Connecting corporate America with Hell isn't exactly a new idea; basic rule of thumb is, don't trust a guy in a suit. Too many pockets. But just because an idea is familiar doesn't mean it can't enjoyable, if it's done well. "Business Casualty," the second to last episode of this season of Reaper, has Sam taking a job at what amounts to Evil, Inc., and it's one of the best episodes we've had this season; generally funny, inventive, and sometimes even suspenseful. It's not perfect, but it's good enough that you don't mind that it's not.
And hey, how about that cold open? Sam is tracking down a soul in an asylum while Sock and Ben grab lunch outside. The soul gets the drop on Sam, strapping him to an old hospital bed; the Devil shows up, helps Sam just enough for him to win the day, and then transports him to a high-rise in the middle of town to offer him a job. I'm not sure if this is the first time we've started an ep with Sam already hunting down a soul, but it's used to great effect here. There's no SotW in the main plot, and by starting with what usually takes us an entire hour to get through, it throws everything off in a promising way. First you create a structure; then you screw with it. So points for good screwing.
Sam signs on with big business, getting a free suit and making enemies as he goes. Another point in "Casualty"'s favor; we get more appearances from Ray Wise than usual, including an absolutely hilarious conversation with Sam where he mourns over the death of his tailor. Reaper has a history of rambling, discussion style humor, with jokes that don't have punchlines so much as a series of light backslaps--it's a kind of comedy that can be very hit or miss. But Wise is a professional, and that chat in the elevator about killed me.
They're on their way up to the 75th floor, where the Devil shows Sam the real purpose of the place he's working for: sin. Everybody on the lower floor claws to get their way up to 75, and once they're there, they belong to Satan. And it's all about tempting and driving others to commit one of the big Seven.
I'm a sucker for anything even remotely approaching show mythology, and getting another look at the Devil's operation was swell. Admittedly, the satire here is largely toothless; Sam manages to get the boss's favor when he admits to having nothing prepared for his first big meeting ("Maybe that's what this project needs!"), and when another employee tries to attack Sam for humiliating him, the guy ends up falling out a window to his death. Sam gets the credit for the kill from Randall, the boss, and a big promotion follows. It's all fairly predictable, but it moves quickly, and though I know I should be getting sick of Sam's constant amazement at every situation he ends up in, it's grown on me.
The episode's weakest slot was reserved for Sock's antics. While the store mascot stuff from last week worked well, this week's arc about Nina setting him up on a blind date with another demon didn't really click. I liked the jokes about Ben and Sock's friendship at the beginning (the whole thing kicks off because Sock is jealous to see Nina cutting Ben's hair), the blind date routine, with Sock being disappointed by Maggie, the demon, and then finding out she can make herself look like any woman she wants to, was pretty flat. Sock comes off as even more of a dick than usual (probably shouldn't have him criticizing another character for her looks in the same ep where he goes shirtless); he spends a five minute period taking pictures to construct his "perfect woman," and it's just sad. (Hell, all he really needed to do was find a photo of Kelly LeBrock.) And the final "twist," that Maggie had no intentions of changing? Lame.
But enough of that. While Sam tries to figure out what's expected of him at work, he gets a text message from his dad in Hell; Dad says he's found what Sam needs to get out of his contract with the Devil, but somebody's going to have to go into Hell to get it. Sam has to find a portal to do that--Tony suggests an active volcano ("they're like pimples on the netherworld's ass"), but conveniently enough, the 75th floor of Sam's new job, the one where everybody's screwing each other over to get to, has just such a portal. Humans can't go through it, of course, as they'd get roasted. A demon can, though; and with a minimum of persuasion, Sam convinces Nina to do the job.
Of course there's a snag. After Nina goes through, Randall finds out that Sam didn't really kill Phil after all; so Sam is fired, and bye-bye access to the 75th floor. The guys track Randall down to his gym, where they steal his keycard while Sock stalls him in the sauna. They arrive at the portal in time to meet Nina, who comes through with a blank piece of paper from Sam's dad. (He stayed behind because there was "something he had to do." Hmmm.) The three of them then escape from a very-pissed off Randall-in-demon form, so happy endings all around. Heck, in the final moments, we even find that the blank paper was only blank because it was away from hellfire; one quick toss on the barbecue and it's covered in ancient demon script. Sam just has to get it translated, and then he's home free.
Or is he? I've got moderate expectations for the season finale next week. I don't think Sam is going to get out of his contract; or if he does, I don't think getting the Devil out of his life is going to be quite as easy as beating him in a game. "Casualty" definitely has some of Reaper's usual faults--the biggest one being that the climax of each story always goes out with a shrug. But it was solid overall, and enjoyable. Here's hoping that the finale takes things to the next level. Even if we never get a third season of the show, I'd rather it go out with a scream.
- The actress playing Maggie was definitely "TV ugly." That always bugs me.
- Another example of the longform joke: Nina and Ben's discussion on just how they want to wash themselves when she gets back. It's so cute that it manages to go right past annoying and come back to cute again.
- The conversation between Sock and the hottie at the bar kind of made me want to hit him.