“Cocktail Bunny” (season one, episode 11, unaired)
“Tell me why. Why make me make the man I love re-marry his hussy bride? How is that helpful? Who does that benefit besides the hussy, ’cause I'm not in the business of benefitting hussies. Tell me there’s a reason. ... Get me to turn a few tricks for the universe, break my heart and then ship me off to the crazy house?! Why me?! Tell me! Tell me why you talk to me!” — Jaye Tyler, “Cocktail Bunny”
“Because... you listen.”
Three words uttered by Dr. Ron’s brass monkey. Three simple words presented at the climax of “Cocktail Bunny” as an answer to a Jaye who’s at the end of her rope, who’s been heartbroken and arrested and electrocuted as a result of following muse directions for three months. It’s an answer that doesn’t give her any closure—if anything it seems to break her already frayed spirit—but to the Wonderfalls audience, it’s a moment that stuns you into silence. It’s a line that goes into my pantheon of emotionally resonant single moments in television: Sam sliding the beer away from him in “Endless Slumper,” Janice ending her engagement to Richie in “The Knight In White Satin Armor,” Betty calling Don out on his shoebox in “The Gypsy And The Hobo.”
Why does it work so well? Simply put, it’s the answer to the show’s central question, and it’s entirely the right answer. An explanation for the muses hasn’t been forthcoming—as I said back in “Wound-Up Penguin” the show treats them as an accepted part of life rather than a mystery to solve—and the question that’s been left unanswered all these episodes is why supernatural forces would pick a jaded retail clerk to do their bidding. This answer implies for the first time that it’s a two-way street, and Jaye may have far more agency and responsibility in this whole mess than she ever thought. Not so much the universe’s puppet or plaything, but rather its unwitting co-conspirator.
In true Wonderfalls fashion, it’s also an answer that winds up asking far more questions than it answers. Had Jaye brushed off her first “sode” as a random occurrence and stopped reacting, is it possible the muses would have given up and left her to her rut? Does the fact that she’s been hanging onto all of the muses—even reclaiming them from her brother at one point this episode—imply that on some level she wants them to talk to her? And most importantly, does her willingness to listen to them imply a deeper level of empathy, that she’s not only open but eager to listen to and help other people as well? The statement leaves all that and more on the table, and I’m sure in the comments I’ll get many more interpretations I missed.
And the best part of that line is that it’s only one part of what is the strongest installment of Wonderfalls yet. “Cocktail Bunny” is an near-perfect episode of the show, a masterfully executed mix of the show’s flavor of humor and emotion. Written by Bryan Fuller and directed by Todd Holland—the first time the two men have helmed an episode together since “Wax Lion”—it reflects just how far the show has come under their creative direction, going from a promising first episode to a roller coaster of thematic shifts and unexpected reveals. After this installment “Totem Mole” and “Caged Bird” are going to have some serious work to do if they want to be named best episode of the series, because after this the title is all but awarded.
What makes “Cocktail Bunny” work so well isn’t just the monkey’s cryptic/honest answer, it’s all the emotional buildup that comes prior to the answer. Having been put through the wringer in the last few weeks by the muses—and even having to be the witness at Eric’s renewal of vows in “Lying Pig”—Jaye’s declared war on the muses, melting wax lions on the office coffee burner and selling Barrel Bears and Lovesick Asses at half-price. Jaye’s managed to keep her emotions and her secrets close to the vest over the course of the show, with only Aaron and occasionally Mahandra serving as her confidant, and now those carefully constructed walls are down. She’s smashing taunting lions in full view of Karen and Alec, giving Dr. Ron a full breakdown of events (“Then your monkey broke my heart. Oh wait, that was the fish.”) and sobbing into Mahandra’s arms. So much of the season has seen Jaye gradually taking charge of her life, even finding satisfaction in what she did, and now that’s all gone in favor of rapid cycling through stages of grief—and the transition is fairly devastating to watch.
It’s a process not improved by the fact that Heidi’s still in town, a decided spring to her step with the end of her “honeymoon purgatory.” If I have a gripe with the episode, it’s that a victorious Heidi loses some of the shading she received in “Lying Pig,” becoming more cocky and one-dimensional as she gloats over her victory. Thankfully Fuller and Jewel Staite take pains to keep it from cartoonish villainy as they paint Heidi as on the defensive, still terrified that Jaye will try to sabotage her victory—a justifiable concern given Eric’s keeping his two weeks’ notice, a move that horrifies her but’s entirely in keeping with the principles he’s demonstrated all series. She threatens Jaye with bodily harm should the other woman get involved, a threat Jaye brushes off until she sees a box of maraschino cherries right over Heidi’s right shoulder with a cheerful cartoon mascot. At this point Wonderfalls has conditioned me to see these things right away, and once it’s glimpsed it’s only a matter of time before the bell tolls for Jaye, which it does in the chipper instruction “Save him from her!”
Jaye’s understandably suspicious given the rocky ground she’s currently on with the muses, but she’s also intrigued by a possible advantage—depicted in a terrifically shot scene, Holland panning the camera behind the menagerie on her bed as she goes through a variety of expressions. It’s a twist on previous episodes, as she’s shown such reluctance to follow the muses’ instructions previously, and now desperately wants to believe what they’re saying. Her passion for life returns and does so with disturbing intensity, tracking down leads of Heidi’s vengeful streak and spying on the “happy couple” to the aggravation of both members. At one point, while taking photos of Heidi from her car she channels the opening of “Karma Chameleon,” an amusing role reversal of her doppel-Jäye-ger from earlier in the series: Bianca was desperate to become Jaye, and now Jaye’s taking on aspects of Bianca.
And as Jaye’s quest becomes crazier and crazier, you can see the tone of the direction escalating along with it, Holland guiding the show into shades of conspiracy thriller and murder mystery. The fact that the muses keep warning Jaye that “she’s going to kill him” drives her to further acts of desperation that go beyond the simpler stakes established in earlier episodes. The line is crossed over and over—witness the terror on Dr. Ron’s face as she breaks into his office to speak with the monkey, the fact that she loses her mind and tackles Heidi in the middle of the store, or that she breaks out of the Wonderfalls office when she’s locked up for police questioning. (The latter move also sees the return of Detective Mike from “Crime Dog,” adding some of the noir-ish aspects of that episode.) And just off to the side a black-gloved figure is adding truth to the paranoia, snooping on Dr. Ron’s schedule and palming Jaye’s therapy session tapes from his office.
Jaye doesn’t see the mystery figure, though once she learns about the break-in a frame job courtesy of Heidi is the first thing to come to mind. It’s a conclusion the episode goes for by ramping up the murder mystery aspect, Heidi slips a pill into Eric’s daily vitamins and is shot like a Hitchcock murderer. Once again we get a great scene as Dhavernas and Staite circle each other like wolves, Jaye playing her trump card by calling the other woman a murderer—only to deflate once Heidi explains that she’s only trying to get a lackluster Eric’s libido working again by slipping him a male enhancement drug. (Bryan Fuller thankfully not above a dick joke, as Eric’s reaction to the pill adds some levity to a decidedly tense scene.) In an episode asking how much of a free agent Jaye is, it’s all the more crushing to see her as the architect of her own destruction here, alienating the one person she wanted to help.
Losing Heidi as her target only means that Jaye gets even wilder as she heads to Dr. Ron’s office to scream at the monkey, who adds injury to insult by telling her to “lick the light switch” before giving her any answers. And that’s only part of the episode’s climax, as all the players congregate on Dr. Ron’s office, a building going for full-on horror movie mode as it’s a dark and stormy night in Niagara Falls. Once again, Wonderfalls demonstrates it’s learned things are better the more of its cast it involves, and everyone’s on deck here. Dr. Ron’s once again reduced to a terrified state by Jaye, Sharon’s sprinting up the stairs in heels (pausing for smoke breaks) to apprehend her sister, and Karen appears to be attending a late-night therapy session, riding up the elevator with a woman we saw in the Wonderfalls gift shop earlier that day—a woman with distinctive black gloves.
It’s Sharon’s mystery companion who allows “Cocktail Bunny” to set the Wonderfalls universe right again, thanks to another of the show’s trademark unexpected twists. One of the advantages to having Fuller and Holland team up again is that they know more about the show’s mythology than anyone else, and they’re able to take one throwaway line from the pilot and spin a resolution. More specifically, a throwaway line about how one of Dr. Ron’s patients had stabbed herself right in front of him. It turns out that patient, Angie Olson (or “Angie Something Else” as she identifies herself to Sharon) hasn’t forgiven Dr. Ron for not giving her the attention she felt she needed, and she’s projecting her feelings of inadequacy onto his new “favorite” patient. The reveal leads us to the show’s most cheerfully macabre scene to date, a a flash forward delightfully rendered by Holland of Angie singing The Facts Of Life theme song as she commits murder with gasoline and a backpack full of Wonderfalls souvenirs.
From there, things wrap up in satisfying fashion, as Jaye’s light-switch licking causes a power surge that keeps Angie from carrying out her heinous crime. Trapped in the same elevator Karen’s able to take all the mothering she’s been repressing from Jaye and pours it into Angie—a terrific sequence for Diana Scarwid—and the younger woman admits her crimes before Detective Mike drags her off in handcuffs. Jaye has her quiet moment of realization, for the first time in company as Dr. Ron whispers the cryptic instruction of the muse along with her, and a moment of understanding passes as he gives her back the monkey. And in that realization, Jaye seems to take a lesson from what the monkey told her. She listens to what they say, but there’s a big difference between listening and comprehending, and failing to heed that gap may have cost her Eric for good.
A roller coaster of emotions, witticisms and innovative direction from start to finish. To borrow a phrase from my colleague Rowan Kaiser’s Babylon 5 reviews, what can I say? Episodes like “Cocktail Bunny” are why I watch television.
- Aaron and Mahandra’s relationship is almost an afterthought to the whirlwind of Jaye’s lunatic conspiracy theories, but “Cocktail Bunny” confirms the two are still hooking up. Mahandra’s still keeping it a secret both because of the implied weirdness and to preserve Jaye’s feelings (“I can’t be happy when she’s sad, there are rules”) and Aaron remains endearingly smug about it (“Are you saying I make you happy?”). Lee Pace and Tracie Thoms enjoy an easy chemistry, and it’s fun to see them enjoying a comparatively sane relationship in the wake of Jaye’s catastrophes. (And thinking back to the original pilot, I wonder how it would have developed had Adam Scott and Kerry Washington remained in those roles.)
- On that note, a round of applause for Tracie Thoms in that scene in Aaron’s bedroom, darting to the closet as Jaye enters and going through a parabolic curve of emotions: terrified at being discovered, sad at Jaye’s apparent disapproval, rapidly building confusion as Jaye focuses on the muses, indignation when she bolts out to defend Jaye from Aaron, and then back to terror when she thinks Jaye may have found them out.
- For a show produced a decade ago, Wonderfalls has aged remarkably well, though Jaye’s Tangerine iBook Clamshell screams early 2000s. (And, in a nice bit of continuity, is the same computer she wrote Bianca’s Gen-Y article on back in “Karma Chameleon.”)
- Best Caroline Dhavernas expression this week: An endless list of choices this week. I’m torn between her intrigued face when trying to clarify things with the muses and her shellshocked look when the monkey gives her the answer.
- “I don’t even like cocktail cherries!” For some reason I can’t stop laughing at this line.
- Heidi tries for diplomacy early on. “We’re both reasonable women.” “Hah!” “We’re both capable of reason.”
- Detective Mike offers the prime charge against Dr. Ron’s burglar: “Left a number two in his desk drawer. And I’m not talking about the pencil.”
- Karen Tyler, concerned therapist and mother: “She’d be right to talk to me about stabbing a person. I don’t see how that could be anything but disconcerting.”
- “I have an apology and an explanation. Which do you want first?”
Next week: After a week like this, it’s no surprise that Jaye needs a break, heading to an Indian reservation in “Totem Mole.” Perhaps her logic is that with three-plus animal faces on totem poles, they’ll be too busy arguing with each other to give her a hard time.