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

The Brink: “Just a Little Crazy Talk”

Image for article titled The Brink: “Just a Little Crazy Talk”

By the end of “Just a Little Crazy Talk,” the penultimate episode of The Brink’s first season, we know exactly what endgame the series has been setting up for the past eight weeks. The last five minutes of the episode tie together the three still-mostly disparate subplots via impending nuclear war (incidentally, exactly where the series began). Though the three principal characters are still separated by geography, they’re all brought into the fold for the first time since the pilot, with some neat structural parallelism to boot. It’s then that you see The Brink has achieved exactly what it set out to do: Tell a season-long narrative with a single-minded focus that holds together structurally and functions like a discrete unit.

But, dare I ask, to what end? If you’re solely interested in the technical nature of The Brink’s macro-storytelling, then sure, the series has been mostly a success, with pretty much every piece of the series’ far-reaching plot coming together in this episode to lead into next week’s finale. But as that old maxim says, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” The Brink has privileged its plot over its characters (and its humor) every single week, with “Just a Little Crazy Talk” being no exception, and thus robbed almost every narrative turn of its emotional potency, or even just the barest of thematic significance. Simply put, there’s a reason why plot is a function of character in traditional storytelling. Strong protagonists with specific characterizations can weather almost any batshit-crazy plot development because they’re tied to someone in whom we’re invested. When Talbot sends Larsen the proof necessary for him to call off Operation Infinite Wisdom, or when the President orders Zeke and Glenn to stop a nuclear missile headed to Israel (while they’re hammered off Blue Curacao and mouthwash, no less), do we care because it’s happening to them or are we asked to care because they’re our lead characters and we have no other choice? For me, it’s the latter, plain and simple, and it’s because the Benabib’s and co. have still made no effort to flesh out any of these characters beyond their initial sketches, nor have they made any effort for them to exist outside of the series’ rigid plot.

So what exactly happens in “Just a Little Crazy Talk”? General Ahmed Ali (David Diaan) attempts to take over the American embassy, but just in the nick of time, Larsen steps in to cut a deal with him. Larsen provides him with Zaman’s psychological profile, courtesy of Rafiq’s uncle, as evidence to convince the other generals to back his coup, and almost the exact same deal he was planning to give Raja (plus a couple giraffes). However, as a Plan B, Larsen has instructed Talbot to personally kill Zaman if Ali is unable to assume control. Fortunately, this isn’t necessary, as Ali successfully convinces the other generals of Zaman’s insanity through his own psychosexual secrets. Meanwhile, Zeke and Glenn have been grounded from Operation Infinite Wisdom because they were just technically POWs (in the words of Glenn, “We were?”) and need to complete a barrage of tests. When Zeke appeals to the Admiral to let him fly, the Admiral basically tells him his naval career is over. So, Zeke and Glenn drown their sorrows in Blue Curacao that Glenn has stashed away in a Listerine bottle, and plan the next stage of their lives (mainly, selling the Boner Dude statue and flying to Zanzibar with a stolen mail plane). But just when they’re about to book it, the Admiral tells them, “their country needs them,” as Zaman has tasked a fighter pilot to drop a nuclear missile on Israel just before being arrested.

For the record, there are some funny scenes in “Just a Little Crazy Talk” and all of them feature the two comedic duos in The Brink: Talbot and Rafiq and Zeke and Glenn. Talbot’s nervousness over potentially shooting Zaman works well because it relies on Jack Black’s manic energy, and forces Aasif Mandvi into the “straight man” role where he excels. But the scenes of Zeke and Glenn getting absolutely trashed are my favorite simply because Pablo Schreiber and Eric Laden are never better than when they’re on the exact same crazy wavelength. The scene when they’re planning their escape to Zanzibar may be in the running for the funniest in the series, especially when they decide to leave the mail but steal the mail plane, because stealing mail is a federal offense. (“Nobody goes to jail!” Glenn exclaims.) Though The Brink hasn’t really developed any of its characters, it found and solidified the rhythm between its two comedy duos.

But a few shining moments of comedy can’t exactly rewrite an episode filled with predictable plot developments, all devoid of even manufactured tension. Of course, Talbot and Rafiq weren’t in any real danger at the end of “Who’s Grover Cleveland?” Of course, Larsen found a way to save the day once again, using his amazing powers of diplomatic negotiation and spousal persuasion (oh yeah, Carla Gugino is in this episode to do nothing but serve Tim Robbins’ character). Of course, Zeke and Glenn are being pulled back into their cockpits. Every move The Brink has made this season told me those things were going to happen in advance. It’s not that The Brink needs to have surprising plot twists, it’s that it went to the same basic narrative wells over and over again this season, and it doesn’t have interesting enough characters or consistent enough comedy to justify the needless repetition.

But next week, Talbot has to convince Zaman to recall the fighter pilot heading to Israel “by any means necessary,” or Zeke and Glenn have to stop the pilot mid-air while fucked up on blue liquor and blue mouthwash. Though I can’t be 100 percent sure, I’m fairly confident they will stop the missile. This is The Brink, after all, where our heroes win because they’re our heroes, and because the plot demands it. And in The Brink, character is a function of plot.


Stray Observations

  • Classic Rock Song of the Week: “Bad Moon Rising” by Credence Clearwater Revival.
  • Larsen and Pierce are friends again! Because they stopped the carpet-bombing of Pakistan in the nick of time! Success!
  • Apparently, Zaman watches his wife have sex with young men, who he then tortures and executes, but not before eating their genitalia in order to make himself more virile. Yeah, I dunno. Your guess is as good as mine.
  • I absolutely cannot get over the fact that Carla Gugino was in this episode just so she can get Pierce out of the situation room. Seriously. That’s all she actually does in the episode, besides filling time half-heartedly arguing with Larsen.
  • But I will repeat that I cannot say enough nice things about the scenes between drunk Zeke and Glenn. “We can make it to Zanzibar.” “There’s nothing in Zanzibar.” “There’s women in Zanzibar.” “Women?”