The snappy premiere and the miniseries length might have given me unreasonable hopes for Cucumber, but by “Episode 2” we’ve already hit upon an episode whose main organizing principle is “And what happened next is this.” Granted, some TV episodes don’t even do that much. Some lack a performance as weasely as Vincent Franklin’s or as bright as Fisayo Akinade’s. And it’s not just about plot, either. “Episode 2” explores the questions left in the wake of Henry’s decision to move in with lusty millennials Freddie and Dean as well as Lance’s decision to strike up a friendship with the mercurial beefcake Daniel. It chews through some of the show’s meat. But it lacks the comic panache of the cucumber-banana-tofu interruptions, the rich moodswings of Henry’s lot in life, the careful structuring of each scene as a showcase. It has its moments, but so did Glee.
In fact, “Episode 2” is kind of a data dump. We get the nitty gritty about Henry’s alleged virginity: He doesn’t do anal and never has, but he acts like he would, probably to feel normal. Dean introduces us to a bunch of characters who may or may not become important at some later point. As of this episode they just sit around telling us information and expecting us to remember their names later on. There’s some headway on the zoning and financial status of the flat—it’s supposed to be turned into offices but that hasn’t been approved quite yet, or something—but I couldn’t tell you what that means for our characters. It’s primarily an hour of set-up.
The episode does somewhat enrich the premiere by digging a little deeper into Henry. Sunil killed himself between episodes, and “Episode 2” mines comic gold out of Henry’s refusal to take any responsibility for his actions. People keep jokingly calling him a killer, and eventually he rationalizes that murdering Sunil would be better than suicide for him in the Hindu afterlife. “Frankly, I’m still waiting for someone to say thank you.” At work, Katrina says they’ll have to apologize to Sunil’s widow, and the camera swoops in on Henry, one of the only flourishes in the episode, drawing our attention to this crystallizing moment, as he says, “We’re not apologizing. What for?”
Unfortunately, the meeting with Sunil’s widow goes very poorly, because Sunil told her that Henry was a frothing racist out for his job. Once she gets all of Sunil’s lies on the record—“Mr. Best accused my husband of being an ugly, retarded breeder”—Henry gets immediately suspended without pay. If only he could see the karma in it. Sunil was just venting to his wife, not expecting any of it to get back to Henry, just trying to let himself off the hook for a dumb mistake (or a bunch of them, by the sounds of it), but instead his thoughtlessness snowballs to the point where he’s denying Henry his livelihood, which is pretty much what Henry did to Sunil in the first place.
So now Henry’s not making any money in an episode all about him paying his way into the company of millennials. He pays off both of his sister’s children at different points, Adam to keep his mouth shut and Molly just for being his niece. (See what I mean about introducing us to people who may or may not be full-fledged characters at some point but are right now just names?) He pays Scotty to fix his windows in the freezing flat. And he outfits the place with a TV, several lamps, an aisle of booze, and more groceries than they can feasibly keep fresh. This on top of the sweat equity he puts into figuring out the housing situation. So by the end, when he’s had a shitty day and goes out with Lance, it’s a joke and not a joke when he double-checks that Lance is the one paying for their hotel suite for the night.
Not that they end up using it. The scene is mostly a clarification, but it’s also designed to balance the blame. In the premiere, it’s all on Henry. Henry’s the one who doesn’t want to have anal sex. Henry’s the one who won’t marry Lance, and who rejects his partner of nine years so callously. Henry’s the one who won’t even let Lance finally get laid in a mutually beneficial threeway. But that’s not the full story. The hotel scene starts with that premise though, as Lance finally says out loud what they’re both thinking: “You keep hoping someone better might come along.” This sets Henry off on a speech about “one more cock,” which culminates in a reason for Henry’s refusal to settle down: “You will wait.” Henry knows he can do whatever—hell, he feels encouraged to—because he knows Lance will still be there, letting him. So Lance is fed up with Henry’s shame, as he calls it, and Henry is fed up with Lance’s passivity. And now we know the rest of the story.
The last scene is one of the few where the filmmaking tells the story. Henry’s slumped in a chair in the living room. Freddie, the star of Henry’s very own Death In Venice, saunters out of his room in white briefs, igniting both parts of Henry’s imagination. Last Henry knew, Freddie was lying in bed with Henry’s cohort Cliff, the two shamelessly flirting and refusing to be cock-blocked by Henry on his way out the door. It’s not that middle-aged men are off-limits for Freddie; it’s just that Henry is. Freddie’s white briefs, meanwhile, are the same underwear Henry fantasizes about earlier in the episode. So in Henry’s mind this is the ultimate erotic dream and/or the ultimate example of the personally unattainable. The stage is so deep that Freddie walks to Henry like he’s on a runway. It’s a reenactment of an earlier scene where Henry’s sitting in the chair and Freddie walks over to him with a rant apparently about how he doesn’t want Henry to masturbate with Freddie in mind but nevertheless awfully concerned with the specifics—too concerned, if you ask me—for that to be true. Now he is a masturbation fantasy, slowing walking over to Henry in his skimpy attire and no sense of agency. Except he wasn’t coming to see Henry. He was just getting a cigarette. In fact, Freddie stresses, “It’s never gonna happen.” Henry knows that, but he can’t help clinging to the faintest possibility. “You’ve got to admit, it’s possible, isn’t it?” Freddie concedes, or doesn’t care, or just wants to end the conversation, and walks off. As soon as he’s gone Henry silently cheers to himself, and that’s our comic smash cut away. But after an episode like this, we can see right through the comedy. Because what would Henry even do if he got the chance? How comfortable for him to keep chasing the impossible dream knowing that he’ll almost certainly never have to act on it.
- The Henry Test: If you think you’re in a happy relationship, trade phones with your partner and read the last 20 texts. He’s looking at the camera and he’s telling “you” to do it. I wish we had some data on how many fights Cucumber started in the UK.
- The Logo Version: Originally, Lance is jamming to Kaiser Chiefs’ “Na Na Na Na Naa,” and on the way to work Dean and Henry dance to Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” Which explains why they were so much bouncier than the music.
- More money: The millennials’ hours have been cut, apparently to the point where Scotty works four jobs (although Banana will soon muddy her reasons), while Henry makes 50,000 pounds a year. Well, made.
- Speaking of which, does Henry have no employee protections? Where is his Human Resources advisor?
- Henry grieves for Sunil: “He’s gone. I get left with all the guilt. I’m like another victim.”
- Daniel gets off on homoeroticism, but as soon as he gets called on it, he freaks out. He’s kind of like Henry and Henry’s conception of Freddie: Look, but don’t touch. Except Henry and Daniel are the ones who seems afraid. Freddie just has better flings to do.
Banana, “Episode 2”: Scotty
Since Banana is an anthology series, it’s no surprise that its “Episode 2” holds together better than Cucumber’s next chunk of the story. This time it’s the story of Scotty, the young maintenance woman who’s friends with Dean and Freddie. Yes, it turns out Freddie is capable of friendship, benefits of which include but are not limited to pity sex and expired pudding! Scotty, as we learn in Cucumber, is working four jobs in total, because she has to support her ailing mother? No. Well, maybe, but it turns out Scotty has almost 7,000 pounds in a cookie jar. She’s not making Henry money, but she could afford Dean’s rent, no sweat, and that’s on top of her own. Why does she work so much then? Why does she feel so obligated?
The answer might have something to do with the story of her new crush. Scotty is in love with a middle-aged woman she saw at the supermarket. So she begins stalking her, which it turns out is a pattern with her. After visiting her ailing mother to bathe her and put her in bed, the scene’s over, but Mom has one more thing to say. “Viv?” (Scotty’s full name is Vivienne Scott.) “Don’t get daft with her, okay? Just ask her out and be nice, and if she says no, move on. Don’t get all silly this time.” But she does get silly, so to speak. She looks through her crush’s car window, tracks her down from a list of Y. Burgesses in the greater Manchester area thanks to her telemarketing job, sits in a van outside her house and calls her, always too chicken to say anything. Naturally, Yvonne Burgess and her husband Gary get fed up. When they confront Scotty, they eventually buy Scotty’s intentions. But Gary explains his position. “From our point of view, we’re in our own house being stalked. And it has to be said it’s not our fault, and you can shoot me if you like, but we’re being stalked by a black kid.” He sort of laughs at the obviousness of the optics problem from his perspective. Yvonne gives him a look but then lowers her eyes, letting him speak for them both.
Cucumber and Banana are incredibly democratic that way. Every character has his own perspective, and they’re all understandable and none spotless. Of course Henry never meant for Sunil to kill himself, but we understand how Sunil could feel like he had no other choice that night. And even if Henry’s view is blinkered by privilege, Sunil is still a fraud. Now Scotty’s just playing out a harmless little crush in her eyes, but it’s not harmless at all in Yvonne and Gary’s. And even if Gary’s view is informed by racism, Scotty is the one stalking them. So what’s the fair thing to do about Scotty? A stern talking to and an amateur restraining order make a compassionate compromise.
However, Yvonne violates the restraining order. We’re only two episodes in, but what goes around always comes around on these shows; both Yvonne and Gary will have to wind up tracking Scotty down before the episode is through. Rosie Cavaliero’s performance as Yvonne is a perfect example of what I called democracy above, the open-minded humanity of opposing perspectives. She and Letitia Wright’s Scotty are in two totally different places in the same scene. Scotty’s getting a secret date with her love, but Yvonne’s an older woman both responding to Scotty’s energy and advising her like a mother. It’s overwhelming how complex Yvonne is in this scene. She came to tell Scotty thanks, because when Scotty told her she’s the most beautiful woman Scotty’d ever seen, it’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to her. Notice the adolescent hyperbole. But then Yvonne slips that she’s leaving her husband, and once it’s out, she likes the sound of it, the decisiveness, and goes with it, spilling her guts to this girl she probably shouldn’t, because it encourages the obsession. Yvonne wants to run away to Toulouse—like Henry, she has that option, i.e. she has money and no obligations—so Scotty offers her the cookie jar money. And Yvonne takes her hand, hands on hands being a recurring symbol of Scotty’s mother’s love in this episode, and tells her not to give that money away for anyone, least of all the next awful girl Scotty falls for. Yvonne tells her to think of her in this moment, and Yvonne will protect her. If Scotty doesn’t have the self-esteem to help herself, she can rely on Yvonne, this woman who wants the best for her in this moment, forever. “Promise me with all your heart,” she says, and Scotty does. What Scotty has done for Yvonne, Yvonne has now done for Scotty. What goes around always comes around, but for once that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
The episode does cheat in a way that the trials of Henry don’t. Yvonne’s “who, me?” self-image is very theatrical for something she’s supposed to be somewhat ashamed about, for instance. The script is similarly telegraphed. When Yvonne asks Scotty if she has any friends, Scotty says, “I’ve got you.” I get that she’s obsessively infatuated at this point (and at all others in the episode, from her opening confession of love at first sight to the closing fantasy digitally wandering the streets of her love’s new city), but she also has a supportive mother and a gaggle of diverse friends. So skipping a step just to embarrass her isn’t fair. Similarly the ending goes on for ages. What do you imagine Gary does once Scotty puts on the red hat, smiles, and goes back to her computer? Just continues standing there shouting the same things?
That’s a nagging thought about an otherwise fantastic finale. It’s a rebuke to that moment where Scotty implies she has nobody, or ignores her support system, or maybe doesn’t think she’s worth it. Here she puts on the red cap and lets all her coworkers stand up for her instead. And maybe that’s all Banana can do in its short time. Dean can’t get over his internal blocks just because he needs money, and Scotty can’t get past her obsessive nature with an object of her infatuation telling her to want more for herself. But as she races through the streets of Toulouse on Google Maps, Scotty isn’t just indulging a fantasy. Gary’s there shouting at her, and after Sunil and Henry, we expect her to be fired. In a way Scotty’s doing exactly what Yvonne said: When they come for your money, think of me. And it works, not because Scotty has Yvonne, but because she does have a strong support system after all.
- For those playing along at home, Meatballs, introduced at the party in Cucumber, “Episode 2,” apparently works at the insurance place, too.
- Scotty: “I didn’t expect anything. I just liked being a little bit close. It was nice.” Poor Scotty. She’s way too young to be a Henry already.