“You just tested positive for rudeness!”
Held with family and a few friends in their sunny backyard, binding themselves together with their Icelandic ribbon to the accompaniment of a three-man band of Icelandic drummers and Larissa’s harp, Maria and Scott’s wedding is simple, tranquil, and joyful. It’s sweet, and more importantly, it suits them.
It’s tranquil and sweet, that is, until Marilyn realizes what’s just happened. Shrieking “I wore pants to my daughter’s wedding?” she manages to make an important event in their lives all about her. Contrast that with Dagmar’s remark, which at least acknowledges the happy couple as the central players in this event: “What the fucking fuck? I would’ve been paying more attention!”
“The one time I try to do things my own way,” Maria complains to Bruce, “everybody jumps down my throat.” She doesn’t know that a few scenes later, she’d feel lucky if Marilyn were just trying to jump down her throat. But for the moment, Maria’s biggest gripe, after her mother’s wrath, is her griping stomach pains.
“She’s experiencing a lot of symptoms of C. difficile, or C. diff,” Dr. Runningstream (Chum Ehelepola) tells Marilyn —but not Maria— as he jokes, “you can say it either way, no diff.” (Comedy fans otherwise unfamiliar with C. diff might recall it from Tig Notaro’s experiences, as dramatized in One Mississippi.) If Maria has C. diff, he continues, there’s only one cure: an infusion of good bacteria “from a trusting, caring, loving family member with a healthy gut.”
Call it a “fecal transplant” or “eating my mother’s shit.” Either way it feels pretty symbolic to a grown daughter who feels like she’s taken quite enough of her mother’s… guff… for now. But there’s more to come. All the good will Mary Kay Place has banked for Marilyn as a no-nonsense Midwestern mom pays off here, but her matter-of-fact delivery just makes her rancor more biting
Maybe Marilyn still disapproves of Scott despite her heel-turn after his proposal. Maybe she really believes Maria (whom she “never ever thought would get married, ever”) is certain to alienate her husband. Or maybe—most likely—she’s using the possibility of their divorce, and the threat of Scott taking Marie’s childhood home, as a cudgel, the same way she paints painfully vivid pictures of Maria’s possible future breakdowns to create emotional leverage. Whichever one is true, it’s a lot of shit, and Maria isn’t eating it.
If only the present were the only place Maria’s being told to eat shit! In Duluth in 1987, Walter Mondale High School teacher Miss Cookie Wolf (Fred Armisen, as another of his middle-aged frizzy-wigged eccentric ladies) gives Maria’s “My Dream Wedding” report a C-. Not because it was badly written, not because it was slapdash, but because it was simple and tranquil and joyful, not traditional.
Teenaged Maria’s dream wedding has a lot in common with Maria and Scott’s actual wedding. Instead of a canoe, it’s their cheerful back yard. Instead of “a crippled goat,” there are two pugs in Wagnerian viking costumes. And instead of Taco Bell, there’s a taco bar. Scott’s even wearing the same shirt as in her drawing!
A C-isn’t as gut-griping as a case of C. diff, but to a kid pouring out her heart, there’s no big diff. And when her mother (“and best friend,” Marilyn introduces herself) seems ready to stand up for her daughter’s imaginative, honest essay, instead Marilyn undermines it, and her.
The future’s even worse. On Space Nuts, Maria’s demoted from star, executive producer, and driving force behind her own show to an “and the rest” co-star, billed below a robot and two pugs. Two episodes ago, she was bragging that she was able to summon staff for a Diet Coke tallboy and a Starkist tuna pouch any time she wanted; now she’s scurrying to fetch Susan’s LaCroix. On-screen, she lies silent on the margins as a comatose (I’m sorry, space-comatose) tertiary character, while Susan plays Maria’s role from a pivotal scene of her early relationship with Scott.
It’s bad enough that Susan and Karen Grisham belittle and bully Maria, but when Bruce erupts in a tirade of abuse, it’s shocking. Bruce has blown up at Maria before, but only under terrible stress, and with good reason and immediately contrition. Not here. In “Apache Justice,” Bruce is dripping with scorn and loathing, scoffing at her marriage and poking fun at her past mental-health crises.
Everything about this future is as flimsy and fake as Bruce’s (really “Bruce”’s) on-set office. The disorienting editing effects continue, and coupled with the ferocity of rejection Maria experiences on every front, they suggest that this isn’t just a destabilizing ordeal, but an unreal one. Things on the set of Space Nuts are bad, but maybe not conspiracy-of-colleagues bad. Maybe future Maria is suffering delusions of persecution.
Future Maria, exhausted from overwork and emotional strain, and constrained by contract to her animated, vacuous Diane Winterbottom Monte persona, doesn’t have the energy to fight the disasters piling on. “I’m just going to lay down and open my mouth and let the whole wide world squat over me and poop,” she tells Susan, and the rich, phony jauntiness of her put-on voice gives the admission of defeat a jarring ring of confidence.
In her present timeline, Maria’s realization—“I want to be my own person, but that doesn’t mean I always have to have my own way!”—comes on the set of Apache Justice, where she’s guest starring as Miss Prudence, “middle-aged lady litigatrix” and “wonderful white hero.” A spin-off from Apache Med, the “period drama improv procedural” gives her the dramatic leeway to realize that, just like Scott told her, she’s fighting the wrong battle with her mother. I think we can all agree that sentence was justifies the following screenshot of Peter Coyote, who plays a hawk on the show.
It does seem like there’s another lesson here, one Maria isn’t picking up. There’s picking your battles and then there’s complete surrender.
Marilyn and, to a lesser extent, Joel (hey, Ed Begley Jr., is back!) bungle everything about revealing they’ve put the Duluth house in Maria’s name, hurting her feelings and tarnishing the joy of her wedding. But that’s not a good reason for her to refuse their paperwork. Maria didn’t know she was the legal owner and she doesn’t want to be. Scott has no problem with the post-nup. And deciding to sign it eliminates Maria’s gut pain. Signing the papers makes practical and emotional sense.
Telling Marilyn she and Scott will throw the big traditional wedding of her dreams—Marilyn’s, not Maria’s—doesn’t. That’s not Maria recognizing she was wrong and changing her mind. That’s complete capitulation. “I don’t understand what happened to change your mind,” Marilyn exults, “but I did understand the part about the big wedding, and I guess that’s all that matters to me!” It sounds like Maria’s going to be taking some shit from her mother, one way or another.
- “Yes! Okay! Launch the dog!”
- No follow-up on Susan’s attack on Scott, and even though I’m now convinced future events are seen through a reality-distorting lens of paranoia and dread, I am legitimately anxious about him
- “Number one, Mom, mania can happen at any time, even when you’re on your meds. Number two, I have bipolar II, which does not have the florid signs of psychosis as in bipolar I. If I did have those, I would be rediagnosed, and at that point, I would just deserve a cup of kindness and a drive to the hospital! So you are not only inaccurate, but INSENSITIVE!”
- I appreciate Lady Dynamite explicitly undercutting the trope that any time a female character is sick, she’s pregnant.
- “I won’t, under any circumstances, on principle.” “Joel, she’s standing on principle again!”
- “What kind of upside-down world am I living in? Is this season two of Stranger Things?” [extremely Diane Winterbottom Monte voice] You can read my A.V. Club coverage of Stranger Things right here. [extremely Diane Winterbottom Monte wink]