I'm getting really, really, really, really fed up with the Kristina runs for mayor plot. It's just. Not. Good. Okay? And since that plot did take up a lot of the episode, you would think that the episode would be a flop. Well... no. All of the other plots were actually quite interesting, and as always the acting in this show is excellent across the board. Let's take it plot by plot, starting with the dreaded campaign for mayor.
Bob Little leaks information about Adam to the press - he once punched a man for calling Max retarded. Kristina is horrified that Bob would sink so low. The episode involves her struggling to figure out whether she should come forward with the information she has on Bob: the incident with Amber would be the perfect thing to combat negativity with negativity. Even with Amber's permission, Kristina finds she cannot go through with it. She doesn't stoop to Bob's level, but in the process she drops several points in the polls.
So, what's wrong with this plot line? Well, Kristina running for mayor is still really stupid. There's nothing about this idea that I can really get behind. And now, we've turned to yet another cliche - Bob Little is "evil." Really? I thought he was a much more interesting character when he was a generally good guy who just felt sort of hurt that Kristina would run against him. Now, he's just supposed to be unambiguously hated within the narrative, and it's really pissing me off. At the beginning of the episode, we find that Kristina has gained quite a bit in the polls, being only two points behind Bob. At the end, we learn she's dropped six points because of all the negative press surrounding Adam's actions. On the one hand, I liked the fact that her principled stand lost her support, since that felt realistic. But it's hard to be complementary to good details within a bad premise.
Let's move on. Amber's plot thread was very small. She's self conscious about how big the ring is, and after talking to Kristina about it, she decides to tell Ryan that she wants something smaller. At first he tells her that he wants her to have it, but Amber says that since it's their money, maybe they might want something smaller so they can use the rest of the money to start their lives together. Ryan says that's fine, and he returns the ring. However, he's obviously pouting about it.
Now, this is obviously foreshadowing future problems in their relationship. Ryan and Amber don't seem to be able to communicate very well, and it's obviously going to blow up in their faces. I liked this one okay mostly because of the great acting, but I also think it's interesting where they're going with these two.
Jabbar has started ballet lessons, and Crosby is struggling to figure out how to relate to it, since he wanted Jabbar to play basketball. Not much really happens in this plot, beyond Crosby feeling uneasy, and then coming to one of the ballet classes and learning to accept it.
Despite the fact that not much is going on, I really liked this one. It was such a simple story, about what to do if your kids don't share your interests. My father loves football and beer, and he has three daughters who love musical theatre and nerd culture. There's nothing wrong or even unusual about this. It's just a matter of adjusting expectations. I liked this plot because it addressed that very well, and Crosby never went too far in showing Jabbar how he felt about ballet.
Julia and Joel's plot has really started going. They learn that Victor is indeed being held back, but they still disagree about what to do. Joel says they will tell the school no, while Julia wishes they had just made the call a lot earlier. Eventually, after much fighting, they tell Victor that he's going back to the fourth grade. Predictably, Victor is upset. We also see a bit more of Ed and Julia's interactions, as Julia leans on Ed for support over Victor's situation, instead of going to her husband. Sydney has even started picking up on all of her parents' fighting.
If I'm going to be totally honest, there's a tiny bit of a pacing issue here. It's not major or anything, but I think a lot of the Julia and Joel stuff just showed up this season and started bulldozing its way through conflict after conflict. I'm not entirely sure what would make this better, but I wish things could be slowed down a bit. Maybe it's just that there's too much going on. Victor is being held back, Julia and Ed's thing, and even Joel and Peet... there's an issue of clutter. That being said, I think in this individual episode, everything was awesome. The acting was spot on. I think the two most poignant moments came from the kids. When Sydney asked why her parents had been fighting so much, it really pulled at my heartstrings. Also, that kid who plays Victor really stepped it up with his tearful reaction that he was being held back. Seriously, the crying scene was very impressive! I'm still really curious about where this plot thread is going to take us. I would love it if we could see Julia as the bad guy here, and Joel as the one in the right. It would be interesting to see how the rest of the family would react if Julia really did have an affair.
Then, there's Zeek. Since Camille has left to go to Italy, he's had the house to himself. He's been living the life - watching sports, eating junk food, smoking cigars, etc. But things aren't as fun as they initially appear. Sarah comes over and the two eat real food together and watch football, but Zeek then convinces Sarah to go to a party and start getting out there. Then, Zeek tries to Skype Camille. The two of them talk, but she's on her way out the door, so it's a brief conversation.
I really felt for Zeek, here. It may have been a bit predictable what they were going to do - showing him enjoying his "freedom" at first, but then realizing how much he missed his wife. But it was well done, and the acting was great. The Skype scene really pulled at my heartstrings actually. It was so sweet and sad to see how much fun Camille was having, but at the same time how hard this separation is on Zeek. It was a well done little thread that kept me very captivated.
Lastly, there's Sarah. Her plot coincides with Zeek's a bit. Her weird neighbor guy asks her to a party, but she doesn't really want to go. After hanging out with her father, she realizes she should get out there more and meet people. So, she goes to the party and ends up getting introduced to people and chatting with them, having an all around good time.
On the one hand, I'm glad to see that Sarah's branching out and finding her footing in her new life, but on the other hand I'm at a total loss to what they're doing with her character this season. There seems to be a lot of different mini plot threads. There's her discomfort over Amber and Ryan, and this weird leftover business with Hank, and her weird neighbor, and her photography career... I'm just not sure if we're going to get any solidity and unity here, and I'd like to see that.
Over all, what did I think of this episode? Well, it's a bit hard to give it high marks when the biggest plot thread is an extreme annoyance. But in terms of acting, everyone gets top scores as usual, and most of the subplots were good if not great.