“Lying Pig” (season one, episode ten, unaired)
“I think I might love him. Uhh. See that, it hurt.”—Jaye Tyler, “Lying Pig”
Looking back over the previous nine episodes of Wonderfalls, something that’s struck me is that for the most part the show is largely devoid of antagonists. While Jaye’s regularly placed in conflict with other people as she’s set on seemingly random tasks by the muses, few of them are set up as overt villains, even the ones who seem like we should be rooting against them (like Millie Marcus or Peter Johnson). The show takes pains to give all of these characters shading, depicting them as merely misguided in their ways or having legitimate reasons to be annoyed with this sarcastic young woman meddling in their business. And more to the point, everyone gets a reasonably happy ending out of the story—Gretchen’s neglectful ex-husband, for instance, survived a car crash and went on to marry the woman of his Orthodox dreams. The real conflict of the show is, as Eric alluded to back in “Lovesick Ass,” is Jaye fighting with herself and the person she might want to be if she was capable of admitting it.
That said, there is one person who could potentially serve as a legitimate antagonist for the show, and that’s Eric’s ex-wife Heidi Gotts. She triggered his downward spiral by finding a new definition for “room service” on their honeymoon, and has hung over the series as a distant threat since the beginning. Eric’s weighed catching a train back to sort things out, he’s thrown his phone over the falls to avoid her, and Jaye’s set off fireworks in his eyeballs by intercepting a call and telling Heidi that Eric was busy pleasing her instead. As Jaye and Eric have grown closer over the course of the series, Heidi’s remained an elephant in the room, and in “Lying Pig” that elephant stomps its feet and makes its presence known, to hilarious and heartbreaking effect.
“Lying Pig” continues Wonderfalls’ welcome increased sense of serialization by picking up immediately from the dramatic twist of “Safety Canary,” where a despondent Eric was surprised late at night by his wife’s arrival at the Barrel. Heidi’s a woman with a mission, returning to Niagara Falls to beg forgiveness and reclaim her wayward husband, and she’s the opposite of pleased to see her husband’s “ex… something” showing up. Stakes are established immediately as Heidi says she’s not leaving without him, and the mounted fish seems to be on her side by ordering Jaye to “mend what is broken.” The scene is designed to disrupt the status quo of the show, and it succeeds both narratively and tonally, using the deserted set of the Barrel to an almost spooky degree and making Heidi seem legitimately threatening as an interloper.
It should be easy to hate Heidi given the impression we’ve gotten from Eric and Jaye’s natural hostility to the other woman. Yet as we spend more time with her, that’s increasingly not the case. Part of that goes to the previously mentioned tendency of the show to avoid overt villains, but the large part of the credit there is goes to the actress playing Heidi: Jewel Staite. Staite invests Heidi with the best traits of her most identifiable roles—mixing the earnestness of Firefly’s Kaylee with the ambitions of The L.A. Complex’s Raquel—and does so in a way where you’re rooting against her but understand her point of view. Her apologies to Eric and desire to make it right feel genuine, as if she’s a woman who’s made a legitimate mistake and wants to put things back together. She’s so sincere that after a stray television conks her on the side of the head and she apparently loses her memory, her open affection is so genuine you almost believe that it’s true and this is the complication that’s going to break Eric’s already shaky resolve. And once the truth comes out—courtesy of the bellhop returning to the room for an extra tip—Staite flips the switch seamlessly and threatens Jaye with bodily harm.
Heidi not being a terrible person at first glance is all the more maddening to Jaye, who’s teetering on the edge of sanity. The emotional tumult of the last few weeks has pushed Jaye to new levels of desperation, so much so that she finally confides in Aaron the full story of the muses and begs him to take away the inanimate menagerie decorating her trailer. We’ve seen Jaye resigned to her fate and frightened of it, but there’s a raw panic to Caroline Dhavernas’ portrayal as she spills the beans to Aaron, one that goes beyond the emotions previously on display. It gets even worse: Though she gives her brother the entire collection, voices are piping up everywhere—the cartoon pig in a bacon commercial, the cobra on Eric’s shirt—and throwing ambiguity out the window by barking orders at her: “Mend it!” “Check out!” “Stay!” Small wonder she’s hurling TVs out of windows.
The reveal that Heidi is faking is a gift from heaven for Jaye, who tears into the other woman in one of the show’s best scenes to date. The two in the hotel room going from commiseration to rage is nothing short of delightful, as they trade ever nastier barbs with each other over Heidi’s infidelities. (I’ll leave it to you in the comments to fill in the blanks. My personal favorite is, Jaye: “The bellman, lady, on your honeymoon! Between the two of us, you win the skanky ho contest!”) The confrontational aspect is helped considerably by the directing choices, opting not to shoot Dhavernas and Staite in the same frame together and instead alternating between the two, giving the feeling of duelists circling each other to strike and retreat. It’s such a wholly satisfying scene that it makes me wish Heidi had shown up earlier in the series’ run, and the romance angle had been supplanted by her turning into Jaye’s unwilling co-conspirator.
The scenes between Jaye and Heidi are so much fun to watch it’s almost possible to forget about everything else going on in the show. Yet there’s a lot more worth seeing, as “Lying Pig” continues the trend of engaging the show’s entire cast. Heidi’s arrival is only the first major development from last week, the second being Aaron and Mahandra falling into bed. We get to see the awkward morning after, with Mahandra saying what happened didn’t happen and then spending the whole day freaking out about sleeping with a member of the family she’s been close with for years—to the point that she’s confusing Eric constantly by referring to him as “like a brother” to Jaye or Heidi. After seeing Mahandra regularly much more self-possessed than Jaye—weird fangirl moments aside—it’s fun to see her so flummoxed, particularly since she can’t confide in Jaye and Aaron seems more amused by this than anything else. (Lee Pace’s pleased, “So I make love like a black man?” wins the award for funniest delivery this week—a highly competitive week in that category.)
Relationship problems aren’t limited to the younger cast members, either. Darrin and Karen, after missing the events of “Safety Canary,” are back from a medical conference where the latter is miffed her husband spent his off-hours playing cards with the boys. As such, she’s in a prime position for someone to pay attention to her, as happens when a handsome Irish doctor helps her clean gum off her shoe (gum spit out by Jaye at the behest of the muses, proof they’re entities capable of multitasking). He also praises her books and invites her to dinner.
It’s a subplot that demonstrates the strengths of Diana Scarwid and William Sadler’s performances in a limited amount of time. Scarwid could have portrayed Karen as an uptight blue-blood matriarch, but there’s a sense of humor to her bearing that defies the usual stereotypes. And Sadler plays his absent-mindedness for laughs successfully every time, first as he’s brushing off the threat of an increasingly apoplectic Sharon’s objections and then as he is brought to panic once he sees what his wife’s wearing.
“Lying Pig” builds all of this activity to a fantastic climax at the Barrel, as Karen’s date, Aaron’s muse-hunting, and Jaye’s efforts to tell Eric the truth all cause the bar to blow up marvelously. Aaron comes by to claim the fish on his muse scavenger hunt, but gets pulled into a backroom by Mahandra for her to firmly tell him nothing is happening, right up until the point something happens and she jumps his bones again. Darrin and Sharon spy on Karen’s date from the room, Darrin’s driven to defend his claim once Chambers gets too forward—channeling his youngest daughter from her own relationship brawl—and his wife swoons back into his arms. And keeping with the episode’s desire to kick Jaye’s emotions around, Aaron not grabbing the fish right away means that it’s there telling Jaye to “shut it” at the exact moment when she bursts into the Barrel, meaning it’s Heidi who gets to break the truth and beg forgiveness as Jaye’s forced into silence.
All this romance swirling around Eric leads him to decide that he needs to fight for something, and mending his vows seems the most logical course of action in the moment. (A moment hilariously greeted by a series of “Awwww”s from a previously unseen bar clientele.) Jaye’s forced to watch every minute of it, even having to attend the chapel where the wedding takes place—to keep Mahandra from sabotaging it—and in the end she’s forced to be a witness. If the rest of the episode seems like the muses are being cruel to Jaye, this is torture. Perhaps Sister Katrina’s theory on their demonic nature has a glint of truth to it.
At least it seems that way to Jaye, who misses the true spirit of their instructions. Eric mentions that all of this conflict has been tearing him up inside, and to finally face it head-on and realize he can’t just walk away leaves him feeling free. His choice of words—“Not honoring them was literally breaking me in half”—reveals the tilted focus of the muses in a classic Wonderfalls twist, but for once the resolution is far from bringing our protagonist peace. Her heart’s broken, and by the end of “Lying Pig” the Wonderfalls writers have done a fine job of doing that to the viewers too.
- Out of curiosity I went back to “Wax Lion” and confirmed that Jewel Staite did not appear in the pilot as Heidi in Eric’s initial flashback—that cameo is performed by an actress named Corry Carpf . The bellhop, however, was played by Morgan Drmaj in both appearances.
- Casting trivia, part one: Staite’s a card-carrying member of the Fullerverse, as in addition to her appearance here she also played a goth girl in the first season finale of Dead Like Me. Since Staite also cut her teeth on serial-killer TV with her stint on The Killing this summer, I hope Fuller finds a part for her on Hannibal next year, preferably in an Alana Bloom-centric episode.
- Casting trivia, part two: I missed this when reviewing “Pink Flamingos,” but I should have mentioned that The L.A. Complex contained a mini-Wonderfalls reunion, because Chelan Simmons was a regular on that show in its first season.
- Aaron’s muse collection ends with a little shrine in his room where he asks them to talk, adding a mildly desperate “Please?” at the end of the sentence. Nice to see his crisis of faith remains in consideration.
- Favorite moment of Darrin’s fight: the quick removal of his glasses and handing them to Sharon without breaking a sweat.
- Best Caroline Dhavernas expression this week: The steely “Don’t mess with me, bitch” look on her face when Heidi grabs her arm.
- Okay, maybe one other memorable fight scene moment. “Fine, I’m the crazy one… But I had the snake!” “Well, it’s my snake and I want it back!” [Beat.] “The snake… That’s a penis reference, right?” “No, God! With a mind that works like that no wonder you cheated on your honeymoon.”
- Karen on Dublin: “As I recall, a man vomited on my shoe as I stepped out of the taxi. And then again as I went out for breakfast the following morning.”
- Mahandra: “You just let him walk out of here with the Heidi ho?” Jaye: “I wish I’d said that.”
- “You’re not that guy.” “No, I’m not.” “And that’s why I’m crazy about you.”
Next week: Jaye’s dread over letting Eric go back to Heidi only grows worse in “Cocktail Bunny” when she thinks the other woman is going to murder her husband. If Wonderfalls had been made a decade later, this episode would have been the prime spot for a Hannibal crossover.