If there’s one major problem with “Chapter VII: Love’s Tender Rampage,” it’s that the central premise has been done to death. It’s a sitcom staple as old as time: The resident loser lies about having a girlfriend to avoid feeling embarrassed in front of his friends only to feel more embarrassed, yet humbled, when the truth is eventually revealed. The story beats are so telegraphed that you can set your watch to them. The sentimental ending feels transposed from a dozen previous copies. It’s working within a tried-and-true formula and doing nothing new with it, except that the fake girlfriend in question is a literal giant.
I can’t quite overlook the hackneyed nature of the episode’s story, but beyond that, “Chapter VII” is pretty fun. When the trio land in the plague pit after drinking too much and passing out in the street, Elfo accidentally misreads the (potentially) scary moment and makes a pass at Bean. After they successfully extricate themselves from the situation, Elfo concocts a poorly crafted lie about an enormous girlfriend whom he met on a family vacation. Naturally, neither Bean nor Luci believe him, but after Bean has an intense drug experience, she becomes convinced that Elfo is telling the truth. She sends a team of knights to retrieve Elfo’s girlfriend, and much to Elfo’s horror, they soon return with a redheaded giant who speaks only in growls.
If there’s any “twist” to the situation, it’s that the giant doesn’t turn out to be a monster, but a sensitive, thoughtful grad student named Tess, who couldn’t speak in words because she had a horse and saddle stuck in her throat. Tess’ characterization is easily the episode’s best quality: She’s appalled by her treatment in Dreamland, shackled in chains and stored in the cheese cave; she’s horrified that everyone assumes that she’s ready to rampage at a moment’s notice; and she’s appropriately disgusted by Elfo’s behavior. Though she initially storms off, Elfo begs her to stay until the Royal Ball and he’ll replace her missing eye.
Unfortunately, Elfo can only scrounge up a crystal ball, which doesn’t help Tess to see, but it does help her to see the truth and read everyone’s inner thoughts. She identifies that Merkimer was once a prince, that Bunty has hidden rage beneath her veneer of kindness (it’s why she can’t keep a dog alive), and that Bean has a “pretty sad life.” Her newfound powers force Elfo’s hand and he confesses that he doesn’t have a girlfriend, even though Tess would have kept his secret. I do wish that “Chapter VII” had done more with this potent idea: A gentle giant who can read people’s truest selves and has no interest in using it for ill. Unfortunately, it’s only used to facilitate Elfo’s confession, and then Turbish the knight, believing Tess had killed his horse, shoots a flaming arrow at her head, causing a castle fire that everyone blames on the giant in their midst. Tess’ frantic behavior reaffirms the bigotry of Dreamland’s aristocratic class, and soon she’s cast out into an ultimately more forgiving world once again.
But the episode can’t end without a heartfelt acknowledgment of Elfo’s mistakes. He admits he was insecure about admitting that he wanted to kiss Bean, but promises that he won’t do it again. Bean then kisses Elfo in response, but is it because she wants to or is it because she’s under the influence of Bliss, a powerful hallucinogenic drug that prompted her initial vision of Elfo and Tess? It’s definitely the latter, but it will inevitably fuel pro forma will-they-won’t-they tension for as long as Disenchantment needs to draw it out. I don’t buy the ending, mostly because I’m skeptical of the potential romantic pairing between Elfo and Bean, but I also don’t think the series wants its audience to put much stock in the scene anyway. It’s just what the premise and its tried-and-true formula dictate.
- On Disenchantment Signage: “Plague Pit: Kids Dumped Free With Parents”
- The episode’s B-plot involves the return of Merkimer the Pig who asks Luci for help getting a date for the ball. Obviously, Luci screws him over, but Merkimer asks Tess to take him with you back to her home. She obliges, but throws him back into Dreamland when he asks her, “What were you before you turned hideous?”
- Funny sight gag: A group of dogs playing poker while Bean, Elfo, and Luci walk the Black Light District.
- Tess continues to express rage at being stereotyped: “Giants haven’t been on a rampage since the ‘80s, and even then it was just one guy. It was just Bob. Maybe if you got to know us, you’d find out that we’re all about peace and love and goddamn body positivity!”
- “Come on, Dad. You can’t stand in the way of true love. He’s an elf, she’s a giant, it’s gotta be so hard for them already. I mean, think about it…”
- “You know if you think about it, we’re both imprisoned. You, like a wild animal. Me, in a complex web of lies.
- “Make room on the dance floor because I’m full of shrimp and I need to lie down.”
- “You were lying? But my mystical vision! I crawled through the hole, and the giant lady popped out of the flower, and you were there, and…oh, drugs are bad.”
- “I haven’t lived long enough to give up on my dreams yet!”
- The full lyrics to the musical interlude that scores the knights’ search for Elfo’s girlfriend: “We’re going on a mission / To help our friend Elfo / We’re pretty sure he’s lying / But we still have to go / Fpund out how the Valley of Scorpions got its name / I got the stinger on my dinger / And now it’s all inflamed / Sing a little softer / We’re in avalanche terrain / You got it!”