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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Web Therapy: “Electile Dysfunction”

Illustration for article titled Web Therapy: “Electile Dysfunction”

If I weren’t already sad about Web Therapy ending another season, I’d definitely be sad now. The previous two episodes boldly declared themselves to be masterful, meaningful works of television. “The Insanity Offense” is a symphonic cycle where the tension builds, and the themes resonate from scene to scene. It’s the best of Web Therapy. “Stalk Therapy” is brilliant in the opposite way: It is so unlike Web Therapy as to be radical. This is a show about rapid banter, quick digs, and interruption, and that is an episode about pauses and silence. It hurts. Who knew? The final arc concludes with “Electile Dysfunction,” which doesn’t break new ground. It slowly deflates the past two seasons. It’s an anticlimax.

As I mentioned last week, a clear appraisal of Fiona’s empty life is a profoundly mature way to send her off for a year. This isn’t a show about enjoying misfortune. The great hope of therapy is eventual self-discovery. Fiona has done almost nothing to understand herself, her emotions, or her behavior, but to strip her of everything and chase her into the town square would contradict the show’s animating spirit. Web Therapy loves making fun of pretension, from aloof snobbery to everyday fakeness. But that’s because the show believes people tend to sink themselves.

So after two years of talking her way into micro-celebrity, Fiona’s various manipulations converge to seal her up in that cold bedroom. The only thing that happens on-screen in “Electile Dysfunction” is that Fiona fires Robin. The rest is dominoes. It’s not crystal clear why Fiona finally fires Robin, but it’s fascinating to unpack. Why is Fiona so sure she won’t be sorry? Robin gives Fiona a chance to reconsider, and Fiona still goes through with it. Fiona’s too smart not to know what this means for Kip’s campaign, so why now? It certainly isn’t to protect Richard’s honor, though the timing of it is suggestive.

Before Richard gets thrown under the bus, though, Robin tells Fiona she has nanny-cam footage of Kip and Ben “taking a spin class.” First, Fiona staunchly declares that Kip is not gay, which is the party line. Still, I thought Fiona, Kip, and Ben were all on the same page here, but it turns out they’re not. Only Ben accepts the relationship for what it is. Even Kip, in the same breath he announces that he’s going to Santa Fe with Ben, denies that he’s gay. Doesn’t he see the dissonance? The best part of “Electile Dysfunction” is that it’s still revealing new sides of the characters, but there isn’t any more time to unify the characters. I’m willing to buy Kip’s refusal to confront his own behavior, which is familiar territory for the regulars, but his state of mind at the end has not been sufficiently explained within the show itself.

The same is true of Jerome, which is probably the natural fallout of having to tie up all the narrative strands, at least for now. “Electile Dysfunction” reveals Jerome to be more self-aware than he’s let on. He’s been documenting Fiona’s bad-boss behavior in his journal all year, and Lifetime is interested in a treatment (My Husband, Her Slave). But then he gets a Peggy Olson moment, with Putsy offering better pay and health care benefits at Net Therapy, and he declines all because Fiona tells him to? There’s meat there in the disconnect between recognizing a problem in your life and finding the strength, motivation, and strategy to address it. Again, the main characters on Web Therapy are the most static. But the episode doesn’t explain the disconnect in Jerome’s understanding because it doesn’t really have enough time.

For all these questions of character, the most revealing might be more thematic: Is it bad that Robin outs Kip? In a way, that outing is the insurmountable obstacle that ultimately drops both Wallices back down to zero. But their desires, political power and attendant fame, are empty. Thwarting them might be more healthy. And how does Web Therapy see the downfall? From an editing standpoint, there’s no gravity at all. The entire scandal takes place between scenes. The politics is not what really matters on this show. Wellness is. And now, free from political chains, the Wallices should be free to be who they are. There’s a striking sadness, like we’re seeing Fiona without make-up, in the scene where Kip tells her he’s leaving. She doesn’t even know he’s in their house until he Skypes her. He does mean something to her. It’s not a happy scene, but it may be a healthy one, even if neither can remember a happy point in the marriage (“I’ve had good times, I’m just trying to remember if you were there”), a lovely callback to the series premiere, where they realize their honeymoon was the last time they were happy.


But neither Wallice is ready to be face him or herself just yet. The power of the episode comes from how Fiona and Kip have done this to themselves, all their choices from the very start leading to this fall from grace. It’s a karmic universe. Kip leaves the season without seeming too optimistic but on a positive trajectory nonetheless. Putsy is all set up with Net Therapy, thanks to Jerome. Hayley has a deal with Lifetime and some New-Age self-help progress involving “shackling your racket” and “popping.” Robin gets her revenge and retreats into the darkness. Richard is free of Robin but likely stuck on Fiona again. Jerome is maybe an inch closer to self-esteem. Gina finds herself a sugar daddy and a great job. Austen still has everything he could ever want (and more). And Fiona is all alone except for Jerome. “Electile Dysfunction” so seriously deflates the past two seasons that Fiona’s back at the beginning, with a fake marriage, a startup venture, an ex-coworker with a crush on her, and a whipped assistant.

“Electile Dysfunction” doesn’t expand on the show’s themes, though it does continue to riff on the established ideas of miscommunication, privacy, and physical detachment (all at once in the Robin scene). Instead it goes where it has to go—Robin’s damaging intel and Austen’s affair with Gina—making the episode an exercise in inevitability. The overwhelming feeling is one of sadness, but not the heightened, electric awareness of approaching misfortune that pervades “Stalk Therapy.” Instead, “Electile Dysfunction” is about the slow release. All that effort, and Fiona’s back where she started. Doesn’t that say it all?


Stray observations:

  • Needless to say, I hope “Electile Dysfunction” is not the series finale, if only so Web Therapy can go out with an A. But if so, that shot of Fiona watching Austen  (“This is not how it looks”)  and Gina (“How does it look?”), Fiona's revenge backfiring on cue, is a great final moment.
  • Did Fiona really go on Conan? How did that go? Fiona’s relative fame is integral to the show, yet it’s been two episodes and we have no idea how popular Web Therapy is at this point.
  • Fiona deals with the Newell problem in a great opening scene by referring him to Shevaun and framing her for the “father-fucker” incident. It makes just enough sense to convince him, and it’s beautifully characteristic for Fiona to seem to be helping only to be sabotaging him in reality.
  • Newell’s surprised to see Fiona. “It’s like magic.” “Well, it’s Skype.”
  • Fiona is just full of good advice: “I think it would be a good move for you at this point. You know, she is married, but for you to get involved with someone who’s not available is a good step.”
  • Robin’s philosophy on surveillance: “You say illegal, I say crafty.” And not that we didn’t know the real Robin already, but she lets loose in her break-up with Richard. For example, she uses the fact that she’s dating way below her level to prove she’s nice.
  • Poor Richard. He answers Fiona’s “You’re welcome” with, “I love you, too.”
  • Kip’s statement to the press is dead-on satire. “I’m not gay, as far as I know.”
  • Why is it so hard for TV to get scroll-bars on YouTube right? The “He’s a top, I’m a bottom” song keeps going for a while, as the credits prove, but when Fiona stops it, the scroll is almost at the end.
  • More details on the airport incident with Hayley: “I’m sorry that I threw a coin-tray at your face.” “You have very good aim.” “Thank you.”
  • Subtle but loaded moment: Hayley thinks she and Fiona should forgive each other, and without even thinking about what that means, Fiona just says, “I forgive you.” Talk about empty gestures.
  • One last time, Fiona: “No one wants to watch anyone in a state of victimhood.” “Yes, they do.” “Well, I’m saying no, they don’t.”