Graphic: Jace Downs (NBC)

“Borderline” would arguably be the best episode of Good Girls so far—kind of like it’s arguably the best Madonna song—if it were better able its marry its lead trio’s crime antics and their individual suburbia storylines. For the latter, that’s especially in the cases of the Annie and Ruby storylines, as Beth’s home life informs the crime shenanigans in a way that neither her sister nor her best friend could possibly understand right now. (The show could also stand to be better about showing Beth and Ruby’s best friendship, as Annie and Ruby actually have the best interactions.)

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Because while those suburbia storylines—especially on Ruby’s end, as even shooting a man doesn’t remove her straight man perspective—expand the “normal” life world of the show’s main trio, this episode doesn’t quite balance them as well. Once we get past the Canadian border, even though the show provides a great scene in which Ruby confides in Annie about another plot in the episode (her situation with Sheila, the church… jezebel?), it’s like mental whiplash to actually move back to that plot. The same with the Annie/Sadie/custody plot, to be fair. And this is where the true lead trio situation will have roadblocks: The series does so well to have the women work and be together for their crime stories that it feels wrong to separate them into these specific stories, even though they potentially help their “life” plots work better.

Simply put, the key to Good Girls might be—and stop me if you’ve heard this one before—“How do you balance work and family?”

Because I’m a person with little inside, my answer is of course, “Choose work.” But Good Girls is a little more complex than that, which is a positive but also something that leads to a necessary (not always sustainable) balancing act. And while it is a struggle—as we see here with Annie’s situation—you have a character like Beth whose surprising coldness allows her to be able to scarily compartmentalize the two. Beth is also lucky enough that Dean is such a doofus that he won’t eventually battle her for custody the way Gregg is doing for Annie. And if he ever did, she would either crush him or allow him to have the kids… so she can focus more on crime.

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As for the friendships, while the relationship as a whole is technically a strength of the show, I’m torn between classifying the dynamic between Whitman and Retta (as little sister and big sister’s best friend) as a weakness (as Hendricks/Retta haven’t really gotten a chance to have the best friend dynamic) or strength (as annoying little sister and childhood best friend technically would have a relationship). For the latter, I’m reminded of the time I got my little sister in a short film my friends and I did for one of our classes in high school. She got to kick one of my best friend in the shin, and that best describes the Annie/Ruby relationship.

This episode also proves that to say Ruby’s the straight man of the group would be somewhat of a disservice to her, especially since she herself is a great source of comedy. (And it would be slightly insane to make Retta the straight man out of the three leads, to be perfectly honest.) But she is the one who’s most grounded, which is why she’s the one who has to “[shoot] a man” and has to react to that fact. We’re three episodes in, but it feels safe to say that Annie would be able to at least come up with excuses had she been the one to shoot a man, and when it comes to Beth, I’ve already written quite a bit about her ends justify the means, typical anti-hero characterization slowly creeping through. Ruby coming back to that fact though, twice during this episode, makes a lot of sense.

Speaking of Beth, this episode hits those anti-hero buttons very hard. “Borderline” really tries to “have it all,” and while it technically does everything well, these things don’t all work well together. Here, let me throw in just one more cliche that can work with this story and series: “I don’t know how she does it.”

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Except in the case of Beth, who we know—as this episode hits on that so hard—does it because she doesn’t quite want to go back to “normal.” She loves her kids and it’s not like she wants to neglect them, but the important part is that “normal” for her means being a wife to an idiot (he is) without any stake in their financial situation or anything outside of their household. There must be more than this provincial life, you know? But instead of just reading a bunch of books, she latches onto the beast in the form of Rio and his criminal life.

By the way, the episode begins literally with us “in it,” so to speak, as Beth explains what Rio expects of the ladies. It’s nice to see, for eventually binge-watching purposes, but that’s also the way of the serialized procedural, AKA a form of television we really should have a better name for. Especially since it’s kind of become the norm for network shows—especially dramas—outside of CBS. (The Good Wife, Limitless and Person Of Interest tried to do the same, and they died for their beautiful sins on CBS. The CW has been a different beast and ahead of the curve for years now.)

Beth is also quickest to trust Rio, at least in the form (at first) of not immediately assuming he’s making them smuggle drugs. So it’s no surprise she’s the one to go to him at the end of the episode to keep the jig up. In fact, the episode works hard to set up her final scenes. That last Beth/Dean scene is the best scene of their relationship so far and the one scene where Dean feels like someone Beth should give another chance… until he says the reason they should get back together is because it’s easier. He admits in the same scene that he only says that because he’s trying to play cool: He doesn’t want to just say it’s because she’s “the love of [his] life,” But he really should. The more scenes we have between these two, the more it’s apparent they need couples counseling. But at the same time, the question becomes one of if that will actually prove they should be together or not. While Dean tries to be cool in his last scene—and admitting that gives him extra points—their original scene here speaks volumes:

Beth: “You look so skinny.”
Dean: “I was.” — note: He was. See Scream, despite them not being a picture from that — “You look so happy.”
Beth: “I was.”

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Dean, for all his faults, really does want to reconcile. But Beth is slowly realizing she doesn’t. Not only does she just give him a shallow compliment (compared to his more substantial one), but the conversation in that scene is him being subtly patronizing towards her and her lack of credit and employment. No, it’s not problematic to say she hasn’t had a job since the Dairy Queen in high school, but it is when you start that argument with something akin to “I’d totally give you credit… but here’s why you’re not good for it.” He does it in such a patronizing way that you can conclude that’s been their 20 years of marriage. Beth is so down for getting out of this “normal” life, that even though Dean is doing his best to be a good dude to get her back, you can see the cracks. I compared their argument to Divorce in the pilot, and this episode best explains that. Even if the two were to reconcile, the way Beth is now—with an acknowledgment of her worth and ability to exist outside of Dean—it still wouldn’t be a happy marriage.

But let’s go back to Ruby and Annie for a moment...

Going back to the quick Ruby/Annie discussion about Sheila, even Annie acknowledges that Stan is such a good husband he wouldn’t step out on Ruby. And the audience believes it, both because of Dean already existing and because there has to be one fully good guy on the show. Stan has his lesser moments, where he calls Ruby “crazy” for how she’s reacting to the Sheila situation. But at the same times, those moments are very much fueled by the fact he has no reason to believe anyone else donated to their GoFundMe page for Sara. This plot is really only fueled by the fact the audience knows it was Ruby who provided the money, but Stan doesn’t know that we know, etc. It’s one of those plots we’re supposed to feel for because of the original crime of the grocery store heist, but it unfortunately does not work in that way. The strongest parts of the plot are Ruby getting back at Sheila (and getting free Whole Foods out of it) as a result of going through all of her stressing about it and the unsettling realization that Sara’s almost out of her month of meds; but those are also at the end of the episode, after the fun Canadian crime parts.

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The Annie storyline has a little more weight to it, because of how much Sadie works to make sure Annie gets an upper hand in the custody battle, but it also brings forth the biggest problem of that: With neither Zach Gilford or Sally Pressman as series regulars, there’s no real back and forth in this custody battle. We know Sadie (who is played by an actual series regular) wants to stay with her mom. We don’t actually know her relationship with her father though; we’ve actually seen more Sadie/Nancy so far in this series than Sadie/Gregg. So while we get the terrible social worker situation and Sadie needing to be rushed to the ER (eventually providing the great scene when Sadie questions what her mother actually values), is there really belief Annie will lose her daughter? Again, Annie/Sadie’s relationship is a highlight of the series, but it’s also a relationship that exists, unlike Sadie/Gregg. Also, just speaking as a child of divorce, should the fact that Sadie very much wants to live with her mother—who, as far as anyone knows, is just poor and not bad—instead of her pico de gallo-loving dad factor into things?

I also don’t think it’s been said yet, so please allow me to say it: Good Girls works best as a hangout sitcom that just so happens to be an hour-long show about crime. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t appreciate its darker elements—again, while the entire Boomer/Annie plot in the pilot went extremely far, the show deserves praise for not messing around when it comes to that, which it did extremely well—but when it comes to Christina Hendricks, Retta, and Mae Whitman (especially bouncing off Retta) just riffing against each other, not only does the series feel at its most comfortable, it’s at its most entertaining. That’s actually what the crimes-of-the-week provide. Sure, you have Beth trying to get her girls to get her to turn around at the border—with them unaware that not stopping her now will obviously provide a problem later—but once they don’t and they pass that border, it’s quips on quips on quips. Indigo Girls. Beth’s bluntness—toward a Canadian dirt-bag known as “Big Mike,” which is surprisingly relevant for professional wrestling fans—not working. Annie’s niceness—to Big Mike, almost sounding like a threat to his sisters but surprisingly not going there—also not working. Ruby accidentally shooting Big Mike. It’s the comedy you expect of Good Girls, and it’s truly the show at its consistent best.

But also they have very young kids and families, so who the hell even knows where this show is going at this point?

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Stray observations

  • The best “sister” moment of the episode is Annie saying “kilo” and Beth’s reply of “Don’t say ‘kilo’.” There are plenty reasons for these characters to shut Annie down, but Beth provides the one that’s truly the most big sisterly. I honestly feel like they’ll have either a slap or an “I’m not touching you” fight sometime this season, so this should be considered set-up.
  • Boomer insulting the upcoming LADIES “version” of Ocean’s 11 (Ocean’s 8) is more proof he’s garbage, because how dare he insult Sandra Bullock (patron saint of somehow being the best part of garbage, which that movie won’t be) that way? Again: They should have killed him.
  • Annie finally using the marker to check for counterfeit money (which is Rio’s bread and butter)! I really hope the ladies at least get their counterfeit on this season, because again, they all need the damn money. This episode reminds us of that.
  • Just relating this back to suburban lifestyle, I spent most of my high school years (in the least rich part of Atlanta’s Buckhead area for sophomore year, then also the least rich part of the Greater Tampa Area’s Pinellas County for junior through senior year) in the suburbs, though it wasn’t until I went to college—and my family moved into a subdivision—that I truly understood the sameness of suburbia. The way I always describe the house my family moved into is this: There was a mansion estate across the street. It was originally built for Tom Cruise (because of Scientology).
  • I’m going to give the series props for using a real Gin Wigmore song (“Written In Water”), because it’s so easy to use some Gin Wigmore soundalike. Because there are just so many Gin Wigmore soundalikes.
  • It was with this episode that I realized I am very much Annie. First with the “Closer To Fine” scene and then with the border/dog scene. The former, because I can’t resist a “Closer To Fire” sing-along (again, thanks, Happy Endings) or any appreciation for Lilith Fair—as I was too young to actually attend what would have been my favorite musical festival. The latter, because that’s how I react to all dogs, especially German Shepherds—as I tend to tell my half-German Shepherd dog Chewy, “that’s your dad”.
  • Stan taking off his clip-on tie as he attempts to bone down with Ruby is somehow both adorable and sexy.
  • I can’t believe it took me until this episode to point it out, but especially in the scene post-ER when she tries to make good with Sadie and apologizes for sucking, Annie’s serving up some early Lorelai Gilmore (meaning, pre-Gilmore Girls) realness. Mae Whitman really is committed to cementing Jason Katims’ legacy (whether it be Landry Clarke’s Crucifictorious or technically Lorelai Gilmore herself, Lauren Graham playing her mother on Parenthood). I’m still wondering how she feels about Roswell though…
  • I feel like something to note is the alcohol intake of the good girls. Last week, Beth had a sippy cup of booze, but for the most part, the women have all been on the same level—drinking when they’re all together. This week, Beth slowly offers her crew something to drink and then Annie accepts, while Ruby lets us know she’s “cutting back.” That changes with the celebratory margaritas, of course. (I assume they’re better than Veronica Lodge’s jalapeno margaritas.) Them saying their god of a waitress (who very much hates them) hates them (again, she does) while Beth says she loves them (she does not) is classic Happy Endings though.
  • I’ve made the Nancy Botwin comparisons in the past two episodes, and I truly want to get away from the superficial Weeds (and especially Breaking Bad) comparisons, but… Beth’s totally going to hook up with Rio, right? If no one’s going to hook up with Rio, then someone needs to tell Manny Montana to stop with the bedroom eyes in nearly every scene. I remember being very annoyed with him and his romantic stuff in the last season of Graceland, so I know for a fact it is possible for him to turn it off.

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