Things take a rather dark turn for Beatrice, Lillian, Frederick and their servants Garfield and Blanche in the penultimate episode of Another Period’s first season. The show (which was just renewed for a second season) undoubtedly has a dark side, but its black comedy usually emerges through a purposeful framework. Rape, incest and even domestic abuse—the topics which always raise questions when it comes to comedy and crossing lines—all have a part in the show, but most often in the service of commentary. Whether that commentary aims at the twenty-first century or the early twentieth century differs, but the show clearly enjoys pushing boundaries in order to make a point.
With “Rejects Beach,” however, Another Period shifts its tone. The dark humor woven into the show’s sillier elements instead takes center stage, dropping any pretense about commentary and instead propelling things forward to the finale. While the episode includes several funny moments, it seems more like filler to get viewers to the season’s end than an episode unto itself.
Chair finally takes a monumental step forward plot-wise. Coming off Mad Men, Christina Hendricks’ comedic turn as the straight man in a house full of dimwits, both upstairs and downstairs, has been building to an explosive end. Even though she’s been relegated to smaller scenes this season, “Rejects Beach” reveals Chair’s devious ways and even more devious plans.
This week, she slowly sets off the bombs she’s been planting (or plotting) since she first stepped foot in the Bellacourts’ mansion. What began last week by having Garfield fired continues this week with Blanche. Writing as the Triangle Shirtwaist Company (they of such tragic repute), Chair sends Blanche an invitation to interview for a job, a thrilling prospect for one who has served her entire life. But it’s all short lived. Chair’s trickery leads Mr. Peepers to suspect Blanche has relapsed into hysteria, so he commits her once again to the local mental institution. Remember, he is her legal guardian after her last stint there.
When it comes to the downstairs portion of the show’s upstairs/downstairs dynamic, Another Period has focused much of its time on Mr. Peepers and Garfield. From the pilot, though, Blanche seemed ripe to serve both as comedic foil to the female lunacy existent upstairs, and as sharp commentary about medical treatments available to women at the time. It’s nice to see her finally fleshed out a bit, but it comes late in a season that could have done far more with her character and with Beth Dover’s sharp comedic instincts.
Chair doesn’t stop with her fellow servants. Along with Hamish’s help, she sells Beatrice to Thomas Edison (Stephen Tobolowsky), who uses her for his “forbidden experiments.” Deep into her childhood regression, which began after she learned her twin brother/lover Frederick would soon marry, Beatrice aka “Baby B” takes her clothes off in Edison’s silent film “The Wizard of Ahhhs!” In reality, Edison’s studio did shoot the 1896 short film “The Kiss,” which publicized a long-private act and created a sensation. In Another Period’s version, things get much raunchier and include the budding actor Charlie Chaplin (Josh Fadem), who wants to break into film. What could have been great fun with a historical figure—a trope the show has executed well in previous episodes—instead becomes a minor storyline, serving only to move things along towards the finale.
In the episode’s biggest twist, Lillian wins a long-awaited invitation to the Clambake Club, an accomplishment that makes her burst into a song bridging the cheesy inner monologue of a musical with the special effects of a Disney cartoon. Coming out of nowhere, it fits in well with the show’s overall ridiculous style and lightens an at-times clunky episode. Still, this brief win for Lillian doesn’t last long. Clambake Club president, and Frederick’s fiancée, Celery Savoy (Missi Pyle) used to bully Lillian and apparently hasn’t outgrown her childish behavior. As a huge social joke, she dumps Lillian on Rejects Beach, where all the poor people sunbathe. Lillian’s hyperbolic, slow-motion reactions to Rejects Beach all play wonderfully into Natasha Leggero’s physical comedy skills. It’s one of the episode’s sparkling moments.
As for Lillian and Celery’s “friendship,” it’s hard not to draw parallels to Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian’s brief friendship, which helped, in part, launch Kim into the national spotlight. Of course, Kim’s sex tape took care of the rest. If Lillian is the wannabe Kardashian to Celery’s established Hilton then next week’s season finale could set the stage for an interesting and hilarious storyline about climbing the ladder of early 1900’s society.
Amanda Wicks is a writer specializing in comedy and music. She has also written for Consequence of Sound and The New York Observer. Follow her on Twitter @aawicks.