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

Boss: “Mania”

Illustration for article titled Boss: “Mania”

The Kitty O’Neill Takedown is a beautiful thing.

“Mania” is a solid episode of Boss. It takes on everything that the series is good at and spins a satisfying, well-structured plot—the climax of which is the gubernatorial debate between Martha Walsh and Ben Zajac. If I was going to point an interested viewer to just one episode of this season, it would be this one. Not only is it Boss at its strongest, it’s also a good capsule of the season’s many plot threads. Of course, it still has its issues, but I’ll come to those in a moment.

The big reveal in this episode is Kitty’s revenge plot against her former lover Ben Zajac. Right as the debate between the two candidates begins, she leaks the same photos that set off a tailspin last season—the photos of Zajac having sex with Alderman Ross’ wife. Last week we thought Kitty lost ground against Maggie Zajac. This week it’s obvious that Kitty was back in the game all along, playing Maggie to her advantage. It says a lot about Kitty that despite her emotional investment in Ben Zajac, she kept those photos of Mrs. Alderman Ross and Zajac en flagrante for further use.

But her actions raise questions, too. Who, exactly, is Kitty going after? Ben? Maggie? Kane, obscurely? Or is this a pure power play, ruthless just because Kitty knows how to be ruthless? In some ways, the obscure nature of her motivations reminds me of Tom Kane Lite: Exercising power because it’s fun to exercise power. I am way too invested in Team Kitty to give up on her now, but the ambiguity in her character makes her fun to watch. She’s a character who’s constantly adapting—forced to make a new set of values of herself because her old one (that Kane was a demigod, essentially) came crashing down. I’d say for that reason alone she’s the show’s most watchable character, easy to care about even when she’s wrong.

It’s also interesting to see her backslide into some of the behavior that brought her so much grief the first time around. The show’s writers are not-so-subtly informing us that Kitty’s sense of empowerment goes hand-in-hand with a certain kind of sexual recklessness. She tries it on Sam Miller, hoping he’ll come to the restaurant bathroom and ravish her in exchange for the photos. He politely declines. I’d be more upset on her behalf if it didn’t seem like she was kind of happy about it. Kitty has dark expectations for what most men are capable of. Even though she gleefully engaged with Ben Zajac’s worst impulses, she was also grimly satisfied when he turned out to be nothing more than what she expected. Somehow even though it’s a type of rejection, she’s happy that he’s turned out to be better than she expected. It’s a new and kind of interesting dynamic.

(And yeah, I’m going down with the Sam/Kitty ship. Whatever.)

Regardless of what Kitty’s intentions are, her actions breaks up the Zajac marriage. Maggie either can’t stand public knowledge of her husband’s infidelity (including her sons’ knowledge) or is hurt all over again by his philandering. I’m curious how this is going to play out. It’s unlikely we’re going to lose Jeff Hephner and Nicole Forester, which suggests that there is still more to this story. Chiefly, I think that Martha Walsh is going to get hit with a lesbian sex “scandal”—there’s a suggestiveness in the camera work around her relationship with her aide. With any other show, I’d hesitate to put forward my bizarre theories about what a quick camera shot might mean, but with Boss, it seems that most of our sexy drama gets signaled beforehand.


Case in point: Ian Todd’s totally creepy sex scene with a judge whom the mayor’s office needs. Ian’s character keeps going in new and strange directions; almost all of those directions lead to “desperate.” It was an upsetting scene.

Elsewhere, Kane’s hallucinations are getting worse, chiefly in the form of Ezra Stone hanging out with him at all times, offering glib commentary on his day-to-day proceedings. This ranges from moralizing to groping Mona Fredricks, depending on what time of day it is. It provides for an amazing amount of crazy in just one episode. Though I like Martin Donovan’s Stone, in this episode the hallucinations are merely an opportunity to be salacious, rather than a meaningful service to the storytelling. I’m willing to accept weird power-sex if it’s going to indicate something about character or story. I’m not sure that Kane eyeing Mona hungrily in “Mania” builds anything at all that wasn’t already obvious in “Redemption.”


But the high point of his hallucinations is Kane’s mania about a pothole on an intersection he drives down. When he drives by it again the next day, he gets out of the car to yell at it and curse the names of the subordinates who don’t listen to him. Then he realizes the pothole has been fixed and he’s been yelling at nothing. So he gets in a car and starts driving, far, with hallucinated Ezra Stone in the passenger seat, asking innocently, “So, where are we going?”

Stray observations:

  • It’s taken me this long to realize that the finale of this season will be the gubernatorial election. This mid-season climactic episode was a mid-election climax, as well—the debate is naturally the most suspenseful moment before election day.
  • A few of you have been wondering about my gratuitous sex ratings—if in fact, I hate sex because I dislike it so much on the show. It’s more that I find it valuable to distinguish between sex scenes that exist merely to be sex scenes on TV and sex scenes that function in the plot. Starz leans on nudity to grab viewers, and I find it my critical duty to point that out. This week gets a “C.” Personally, I think those naked drug packagers are just ridiculously over-the-top.
  • Obviously, though, as Starz is exploiting the titillating nature of sexual misconduct on screen, it also judges mainstream media for publishing sex scandals. The irony!
  • Emma Kane: Who cares, amiright? It was nice to see Darius doing something again, though. He is a legitimately good character, even if he has to hang out with needlessly naked drug packagers all day. To her credit, Hannah Ware plays junkie better than I thought she would.
  • Over/under on how long before Tom Kane gets his revenge? And where do you think he’s driving to? My guess is Toronto to find that alternative medicine for his disease.