Halfway through Blunt Talk’s first season, the show takes us back to the pilot to remind us of how far (or maybe how little) we’ve come. “The Queen of Hearts” shares plenty of parallels with the first episode, with slight twists on what we’ve already seen, but it’s not yet clear if the similarities and changes between the two episodes are examples of improvement or just a shift in Walter’s destructive choices.
For the first time since the pilot, Walter returns to his favorite bar, where Phil is on the piano and Gisele is waiting to meet him. Phil and Gisele are two characters that we also haven’t seen since the pilot and while neither of them feel essential, there is something to Walter’s interactions with them that shows slight change in who he is. When Walter last talked to Phil it was all about himself; he stood over Phil as he played the piano. But in “The Queen of Hearts,” both sit at the bar as equals and it’s Phil’s story that matters to Walter more than his own. Ever since his incident in the pilot, Walter has been more interested in others than in his personal problems, even though he still has a clear love for himself.
But Walter’s selfish tendencies are what bring him back to Gisele. According to his logs, he hasn’t had “proper intercourse” in seven months and meets up with Gisele again to maybe get a relationship started. In a matter of a few weeks, it seems like Gisele has done plenty of growing, getting out of prostitution and already in what sounds like a loving relationship. It’s not exactly what Walter wanted, but good for her.
Yet, the most important aspect of Walter going to the bar is that he doesn’t leave drunk. In fact, it’s been awhile since we’ve seen Walter get drunk or high in the same way he did in Blunt Talk’s first episodes. Even on that simplest level, Walter is clearly improving. That being said, because of his seven month dry spell, his goals seem to have shifted, which could be just as disastrous.
Walter’s attempt to save the world leads him to invite the zero-impact Adler family onto his show, but thanks to Rosalie’s gambling, Walter now has to bring Suzanne Mayview (Elisabeth Shue), a far right publicity whore, onto the show instead. Walter plans to publicly discredit Mayview in a way that Anderson Cooper wasn’t able to, but when she flatters him before the show, he gets soft and thinks that he could have potentially found the Mary Matalin to his James Carville.
While “The Queen of Hearts” is reminiscent of the premiere, it also highlights the moving parts that don’t work quite as well. Also like the first episode, this is the longest we see of the “Blunt Talk” show and while in that episode, Walter’s speech and his passing out were effective, here his discussion with Mayview isn’t as strong as everyone seems to think it is. For example, everyone on the show seems to think that when Walter stands up to Mayview, it’s some incredible mic drop. But really, he’s just pointing out what everyone else seems to think about her. We haven’t seen that much of the “Blunt Talk” show, and maybe that’s a good thing.
“The Queen of Hearts” also takes plenty of swings and misses with its comedy. The Adler family, led by Jason Schwartzman, is just a one-note joke. We get it—the Adlers are composting their poop and riding their bikes for hours to get to the studio. The Adlers come off as a really broad joke for this show, and one that’s been told for decades anyways. But much worse is Celia’s decision to start playing poker seriously after accidentally winning big at Rosalie’s game. Harry takes her to a shady news station-run game, where she inevitably has no idea what she’s doing and it ends with the two of them running away after she bets her pearls her magician boyfriend gave her, which, surprise surprise, turn out to be fake.
The bigger, broader, wilder jokes don’t quite work as well as those that occur when the group is together, and weird lines are just trickling through. Having Walter yell out passages that outrage him from Mayview’s book while everyone else is working is actually funny. Having a hippy Jason Schwartzman hurt himself doing yoga poses? Not so much. In this way, “The Queen of Hearts” is a great example of how well this show has already evolved with so few episode, but also shows us how going back to what this show started off with is holding it back.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.