“Coq Au Vin” opens with Josh and Arnold awake way too early on a Tuesday morning, hours after Alan drove them home from the hospital, confronted with the evidence that Adele is a rooster. It’s a symbolic rooster—for starters, Arnold doesn’t want to deal with the rooster or the monogamy talk yet—but it’s also a real chicken that they’re going to have to kill now. Pretty much everyone has misgivings about it. Josh is the one pushing this bill through the committee, and even he ultimately chickens out. But there’s a joke running through all the Adele scenes. Nobody really wants to kill Adele, but everyone’s ultimately prepared to eat her. It’s like Ella says. They’re not really making the world a better place by somewhat half-heartedly standing up against killing the rooster. They’re just trying to feel like good people.
When Josh can’t cut the chicken’s head off after three tries, Claire grabs the knife and does the job, which brings me to the happy news that Claire’s back! And she has some news of her own: She’s pregnant. Just as the headless chicken can’t feel anything, she’s adamant the zygote in her body is just tissue. “I have to get an abortion obviously. I refuse to feel bad about it because they are just cells, and every time they decide to multiply they are making a horrible decision, and they need to be stopped.” Still doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful. She can’t help but cry after beheading Adele.
It’s a lazy episode, mostly about Josh, Arnold, Tom, Ella, and Claire hanging around the house, but a lot of what happens has to do with facing up to distastefulness like a grown-up. Claire has to get an abortion, Josh and Arnold talk about an open relationship, Ella and Hannah deal with people talking about them. And Tom struggles with the acute misery of putting on a shirt with a wrist cast.
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There’s a hint that something else is up when Tom says Claire has been moody since coming back, but I took it for jealousy. Occam’s razor strikes again. No, it’s not just that she’s annoyed her ex is with someone. She’s also feeling like a failure for coming back home. “How was moving to Europe to work a bad plan? It’s a good plan. It’s a plan that interesting people make.” She tells Josh she felt so lonely that a polite endearment from a grocery store cashier made her a zealous customer, but then gets sidetracked by his snark. Eventually—and I mean the conversation ends and she starts running off in another direction before she remembers she actually had a point and she can’t put it off—she gets back to the whole reason she told him how lonely she is: “I need someone to go to the clinic with, and you’re the best that I have.” It could be worse. Her best friend in Germany was a cashier.
It’s Thursday morning when Arnold’s ready to deal with Adele, I mean, the talk. “Remember when we were high on MDMA and Ella asked us about monogamy?” Arnold thinks monogamy is impossible and overblown. Which seems to be an increasingly common viewpoint, but what’s so great is to get there, Arnold brings up something you never hear about in gay stories: that moment in every little gay person’s life when they realize they’re not going to have the life they’re “supposed” to have according to their family and the media and whatever other conservative institutions don’t take homosexuality into account. “You know how when you were a kid, and you thought you had to grow up and marry a girl and have kids, and how you wanted that? And then you slowly realize that was impossible and everything you’d imagined for your future just fell away? Well now we get to make our own rules.” Arnold already has a plan sketched out. They’ll only have sex with other boys when they’re not together, they’ll never pick another boy over each other, and they’ll always be safe.
Josh asks if Arnold’s just preparing for his upcoming math camp. “Is this a pre-math summit chat?” Josh doesn’t want him to meet a math genius and replace him. When pushed, Josh sums up his thoughts nicely. “Uh, I think this sounds like a shit deal for me.” But he eventually accepts Arnold’s logic and goes for it, even though he’s not sure about it. Arnold says the risks of breaking up due to meeting other people are the same either way, which I’m not sure I buy. Doesn’t sex tend to increase your attraction to someone? Doesn’t getting someone to have sex with you, doesn’t whatever amount of courtship that takes increase your attraction to someone? Still, he faces the future like an adult. “If I find someone better than you, then that’s just tough.” Josh’s big grown-up decision, on the other hand, is passive—accepting Arnold’s proposition—and he chickens out on the chicken. Given the last line of the episode, however humorous the delivery, I still feel nervous for these two.
The episode doesn’t take sides, not on monogamy, not on the rooster, not even on how to react when you’re being talked about, although one way works out a lot better. Everyone’s just trying to do what they think they should. But there is some point to the comparison between Ella’s situation and Hannah’s. Claire asking why Ella’s always around brings out the fact that Hannah must be annoyed with Stewart always being around this week. He tries to tell her how to raise her orchid, Michael, and she never asked for help. He finally goes too far when he says it’s too bad she doesn’t want kids given her hips. That’s, like, three negs in one. Since she doesn’t want kids, she’s a waste of a woman. As a lesbian, she’s a waste of nature. And she has big fat hips to boot. In response Hannah dresses him down, tells Rose to stay out of it, and underlines exactly the part that needs to be emphasized. Her choices and body are none of Stewart’s business.
By contrast, when Ella hears Claire badmouthing her to Josh (“It’s like trying to watch a Disney princess try and make it in the modern world”), Ella says it’s okay and tries to shrug it off. She even sort of apologizes for overhearing it in the first place, as if she needed to explain herself. “I can hear you. I wasn’t really trying to. It’s just that there aren’t any doors between where you are and where I was, and I have ears.” Eventually Claire calls her to invite her to the eating of Adele, and she sounds pretty and apologetic, so Ella takes her up on it. Which would be fine if she were genuinely forgiving or forgetting the incident. Instead it eats away at her. Ella spends a day hating Claire, stalking her Facebook, trying to distract herself with real problems in the world like slavery. “Do you care?” she asks Tom. “Yeah, I buy fair-trade chocolate.” Hannah stands up for herself and feels like the issue is resolved. Ella tries to be a good person and winds up obsessed with the tension. And to bring it up again after saying it’s fine just exacerbates things.
On Sunday night the kids all wind up at the table, ready to eat Adele as long as they don’t have to think about her and remember that she was actually a rooster they’d all grown attached to. Josh tries to say thanks for Adele, but that reminds them that there’s a reason to say thanks. Ella tries to say something nice about Adele, but that reminds them that Adele didn’t deserve this. Finally Tom starts singing. “I heard that you settled down.” Gradually they all join in and sing “Someone Like You” until the end of the first chorus. It’s funny and sweet and just right. The season’s on a roll. But I still can’t shake the last lines of the episode. “Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.” Thanks a lot, Adele.
- “Coq Au Vin” is written by Josh Thomas and directed by Matthew Saville.
- Claire storms in ranting about a taxi driver who kept calling her Princess, which is only okay when German cashiers do it, and singing Aladdin to her. “It’s not a whole new world is it? It’s the same world.”
- Tom asks if they can’t just get Adele desexed. Josh: “No, that’s not a thing.” Please Like Me gets great comic mileage out of whether or not things are things.
- Tom: “Sometimes I fantasize about being a hero in a plane crash or a fire, but then that seems like a selfish dream, because it means people that have to get hurt just so I can feel tough.” Ella: “Okay, I’ll just write, ‘Be masculine.’”
- Ella: “Why do they only sell yogurt to women? Like, men eat yogurt. My dad, he loves yogurt.”
- If you love when TV characters do impressions of one another like I do, “Coq Au Vin” is a treat, offering both Claire’s impression of Ella and Hannah’s impression of Stewart. Tom’s been great this year, but I’d love a good Tom impression.