If Baskets preaches any sort of truth, it’s that under the right circumstances a person can convince themselves of anything. It may be difficult to convincingly deceive others into believing a lie, but it’s much easier to deceive yourself. It’s how Chip keeps chugging along in his go-nowhere career as a rodeo clown. It’s why Martha accepts heap of verbal abuse from the world around her as the accepted norm. It’s why Christine lives a recklessly unhealthy life and pretends it’s fine. These ordinary delusions can provide meaning to our lives just as easily as they can entrap them; they give our actions consequence while highlighting their futility. A perceptive owl in a different dramatic yarn once said, “When you look at the world through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”
Though most of Baskets has led us to believe that Chip’s time in Paris was a depressing, alienating experience, “Picnic” takes us back to that time to show us that there were moments of profound joy amidst the drudgery. When his Observation Techniques teacher gives Chip a turtle to walk around on a leash, he pays less attention to the reptile in his care and more to the dynamic world around him; in fact, he’s so busy watching other people “perform” that he fails to see the car that runs over his turtle. However, this setback along with seeing other people positive receive a street mime gives Chip the courage to bring his talents directly to the people, but when the cops start hassling Chip for his lack of a permit, a group of Parisian street performers come to his aide and help him escape from the clutches of the cops. After that, they spend the night eating and drinking by the Seine, laughing and performing the night away. A wordless transcendent scene filled with palpable joy and starry-eyed beauty, it gives Chip a relatively brief moment of youthful experience and the kind of community of like-minded peers that he’s likely dreamed about.
However, it’s Chip serendipitous meeting with Penelope that sends his life down the road on which he’s currently stuck. In a large party space, Chip is drawn to the sounds of a lilting voice and a strumming guitar. There, he sees Penelope in the center of the room with every person at her feet, not just because she’s talented, but also because her father Jean Hebert (Ronald Guttman) is a famous singer, a fact that escape Chip entirely. Penelope only gives Chip the time of day because he has no idea who her family is, and only indulges his puppy love because it’s amusing and it irritates her father. (Well, there’s also the massive amount of glass Chip breaks at the reception for her father’s performance, something that first embarrasses Penelope but then amuses her.) While Penelope pretends to be a bohemian free spirit, in reality she’s “a tourist,” a rich girl who frequently runs back to the comforts of her home. But unbeknownst to her father, she’s looking for a way out.
From the very minute Chip proposes to her, Penelope doesn’t hide the fact that she’s using Chip to escape her own life, but what Penelope never realize is that Chip is also using her to escape from the banality of his own existence. Chip ignores the fact that Penelope openly doesn’t love him and that she’s only marrying him for a Green Card; all he can see is that this beautiful woman said yes to her proposal and that she made a picnic dinner for him after he could only afford a carrot for dinner at a fancy restaurant. Chip is the one person who’s used to pleasing others over himself. After all, he became a clown to get his mom to stop crying after her husband killed himself. He’s so used to bad beginnings that he doesn’t mind them anymore. His whole life is a bad beginning, and all he can do is make the best of it. “I’m going to disappoint you, Chip,” Penelope tells him with a smile. “This is good bread. This is really good bread,” he says with food in his mouth, ignoring the explicit truth in front of him.
While Penelope and Chip’s picnic is undoubtedly tragic in one sense, director Jonathan Krisel and writer Rebecca Drysdale argue that there’s a tender beauty to it as well. It’s the beginning of an emotional love affair, albeit one that only fully satisfies one party, but even though Chip doesn’t get the love he desires out of his marriage with Penelope, he gets to escape from the reality just a little bit. Krisel paints Paris with an oneiric brush, a dreamscape of possibilities in the middle of an indifferent city. Unlike Bakersfield, there is a community of artists that support and love one another, and there’s also a woman who allows a man to lie to himself about her love. We already know that Chip and Penelope don’t end well, but for one night, they’re talking to each other while talking past one another. There’s something special about that.
It’s definitely more special that Chip’s painful attempt to try to recreate that moment in his life in the present. Intercut with scenes of Penelope and Chip’s picnic, Chip sits alone on the side of the road munching on a six-foot hoagie, drinking wine out of a plastic cup, quietly realizing that he’s never getting that perfect moment back. And just when Martha offers him a low-key simulacrum of that moment with fries instead of goat cheese and bread, Chip’s mother requires immediate medical assistance. In short, sometimes it’s okay to wear rose-colored glasses, especially when the world you live in is devoid of all color.
- Chip routinely falling on the broken glass at the reception takes its rightful place as the funniest bit of slapstick the series has accomplished thus far.
- The entire scene at the sandwich shop is hilarious, especially Chip tasting the limited time yellow squirt sauce like it’s wine.
- Penelope putting a cigarette in Chip’s mouth as she leaves is one of the most purely romantic things in the episode.
- Two sweet moments that occur almost back to back: Penelope telling Chip it’s cute that he’s so happy, and Chip reassuring Penelope that the carrot he had for dinner is fine.
- “How many times are you urinating a day?” “Like 12 and a half.”
- “No, I won’t be licking your father’s buttocks.”
- “You’re like a little lion raised in a zoo. You can’t go in the jungle, you have no idea what’s out there. You’ll always run back to the zookeeper!”
- “I’m not allowed to take gifts from clients, and I already have two strikes.”
- “This is a mistake, you know?” “What do you mean? It’s just goat cheese and bread. It’s good.”