Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Avenue 5 faces some truly dire consequences for its lack of competent leadership

Illustration for article titled Avenue 5 faces some truly dire consequences for its lack of competent leadership
Photo: HBO

If you were wondering whether it would eventually become a problem that no one knows what they’re doing on Avenue 5 and the people trying to keep things running are immature and egomaniacal, tonight’s episode answers that question with a resounding yes. Everyone’s worst instincts come raging to the forefront, with Judd’s insecurity and Ryan’s impatience combining to create a leadership vacuum. The end result is seven dead people, who then ricochet off the shuttle bringing much-needed supplies (and Rav).


For a show that is perpetually heading right up to the brink of utter hopelessness, it’s an incredibly bleak turn, especially with the development that Mike and Barbara, the recently introduced parents with a son in a coma back on earth, are both among the passengers who die. The show has a balancing act to accomplish, in that we must believe that the small crew of people keeping things running are always beleaguered and under assault from an ungrateful group of contempt-worthy passengers, but we have to stay invested in the survival of that same group of people. This episode features possibly the wildest swings on that pendulum yet, with the passengers so convinced the whole operation is fake that they rush into the airlock even after the apparent evidence that people are dying in it.

And yet…they have been lied to, and it is hard to tell what’s real, from their perspective. They’re in a really scary reality, utterly dependent on a blundering corporation to take care of them, and there have been repeated scares along the way ever since the ship first went off track. Is it any wonder they’re ready to believe the whole thing is fake? That said, it would have been nice if the show itself demonstrated a touch more empathy for its passengers, who immediately rush, lemming-like, to an airlock, on the authority of one woman saying she’s a VFX expert. There’s a sustained tension in the airlock scene that matched previous battles between the sane and ridiculous characters that the show has had, but with the added horror that people are going to die if Ryan and Billie can’t stop the tragedy. There are multiple points in the scene where it’s easy to assume the show will back down from the cliff, and the fact that it goes right over three separate times is one of the most genuinely shocking things that’s happened on Avenue 5 yet.

The scene also has some presumably unintended tension around who dives into the “fake” narrative. The specifics around who knows what have gotten completely baffling at this point—at the point that Spike and Matt showed up in the engine room, I couldn’t remember what parts Matt was supposed to know about. Mia knew the captain was British, but not that he was fake? Judd knew that the captain was fake, but not the bridge crew? All of this is part of what makes the show funny, but it created some unnecessary uncertainty around the mob panic that occurred by the airlock. It was hard to remember why Mia would be one of the people convinced their danger is fake.

And what will become of Matt? His cheerful nihilism has kept him moving through the various and sundry catastrophes afflicting the ship thus far, but he’s now largely responsible for people’s actual deaths. It’s hard to know what to make of him at this point—a person who cheerfully handed out the passcode for the airlock, but is also shattered by the results of his actions. If he was capable of being shocked and appalled by the result, why did he give out the number in the first place?

It all ends sort of quietly, with people drifting away from the scene of the disaster, and Karen giving Matt a reassuring pat on the knee for what was a horrific lapse in judgment. Will the show actually grapple with the tragic deaths of multiple people? The way Ryan hands off responsibility for dealing with Mike and Barbara’s son suggests it might reset to its status quo. It would be on par with this show’s general tone, but it’s also an indifference to human suffering that is hard to rein back in. In a show that generally traffics in hopelessness, is there such a thing as too far?


Stray observations

  • Karen and Frank: a good love story, or a bad love story?
  • The “will they actually go through the airlock” tension reminded me of the old Office episode where Michael’s GPS gives him directions to drive into a lake, and then he drives into the lake. It’s one of those moments where either it seemed like the logical conclusion of his buffoonery, or an instance of the show taking its own satire too far. The line felt similarly blurred here.
  • The first half of this episode is a lot of the usual Avenue 5 stuff. Billie and Ryan argue about a chair, Karen lords over other passengers, etc. It’s a really abrupt shift to mass panic and death.
  • So did Greta Gerwig murder someone, or get murdered? Guess we’ll need to listen to that true crime podcast to find out.
  • I’m really going to miss Sarah.
  • I understand why Doug had brought his golf clubs on the cruise, but why had that child brought a live rabbit?
  • Thanks to Liz Shannon Miller for letting me step in on tonight’s episode. She’ll be back to deal with all the fallout next week!

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Lisa is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.