Part of what made last night’s pirate-themed episode of Cougar Town so excellent is that the pirates were only incidental to what was going on. “The Trip to Pirate’s Cove” saw the entire Gulfhaven area going through a touristy pirate exploitation week, and while it was fun seeing the regalia all around the city, this was the rare show where the theme didn’t overwhelm the characters or their stories. It was just kind of something that happened, which isn’t to say it was a bad presence either—pirates make a fun backdrop for almost anything, especially when they’re ridiculously unmotivated.
Instead, Cougar Town focused on the sort of behavior compartmentalization that’s ubiquitous in life but infrequently commented upon. Everyone in Cougar Town’s little cul-de-sac gang knows their place in the group, but those aren’t the only roles they have to play, and in “Cove” the tension between those comes to the fore. The only one of these that has much at all to do with the titular pirates was Andy and Bobby’s brief issue of friendship and trust. Andy needed to support the city as mayor and encourage tourism, even when his best friend claims that there’s a giant squid in Gulfhaven’s waters threatening the beaches. This is also the most conventional and least interesting of the stories, as it’s an Andy/Bobby story we’ve essentially seen in the past, just with more eyepatches, and its conclusion came as absolutely no surprise.
While there wasn’t any depth in the episode’s A-story, it made up for this with the uncharacteristically interesting supporting plots. The more major of these featured Ellie sucking up to Gulfhaven’s society-women in order to support her husband, thus creating the strange new personality known as “Chellie.” The problem is that, for all of her good parts, Chellie is also fundamentally a lie. Ellie, on the other hand, may be unpleasant, but she is honest and loyal and has integrity, whereas Chellie is willing to do or say anything to make people keep feeling good. Jules’ realization that no one should have to put on that mask all the time was interesting, and while she claimed it was Chellie speaking with her at the end of the episode, really she’s just mistaking the way Ellie treats her opposed to the rest of the world. Ellie always loved Jules; she didn’t need to put on a mask to be nice to her, and better yet, she’s willing to criticize her friend when she needs it too.
The last story centered around Laurie’s troubles with her bakery. In order to bolster sales, she begins selling dirty cakes, and her business grows exponentially (in reality, a move similar to this saved my hometown’s local candy store from going out of business). Laurie has no problem being dirty, of course, but that’s not what her cake-baking was about. It was always the one place where she could be pure, and while she appreciated the increased business, losing that part of things meant she lost her reason for baking cakes in the first place. I was disappointed she didn’t find a compromise in the same way Ellie did (or may have), but this choice was understandable as well. Dirty Laurie simply doesn’t have a place inside that business, so it had to go, Tom and all.
Admittedly, Cougar Town didn’t have anything particularly grand to say about this compartmentalization, but all of the dramatizations of this were entertaining and intelligent. And that’s as it should be, too—these weren’t supposed to be revelations, even in the case of Ellie. Having glimpses into the varied lives all these people offers depth and realism to the cast, despite the fact that it’s surrounded by dirty cakes and fake parrots. Maybe we don’t know why it’s so important to Laurie that her business remains, fundamentally, for children, but the very fact of that changes her, and as such this was an occasionally moving episode below all the usual ridiculousness.