Three major things happen in episode 7 of Season One of Red Oaks. The first is a breakthrough and the other two are breakdowns. We are about to jump into the only episode of Red Oaks to indulge in magical realism and I hated this episode the first time I saw it. It just felt so foreign to me, all until I started viewing David’s story within the context of the Hero’s Journey. An essential step in this Journey is when supernatural aid sweeps in to provide hidden knowledge to the Hero so they may progress.
Consider Campbell’s words about this:
“For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.” —Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Page 69—
The episode kicks off in a Japanese restaurant and the Meyers are having a nice meal to celebrate Sam’s birthday until Sam starts in on David’s future by bringing out the class schedule and demands he makes his choices and send them in. This puts David in a defensive position that doesn’t improve the tone of the conversation. They seem to be at an impasse, unable to understand where the other is coming from, as teenagers and their parents always find themselves working from at one time or another in everyone’s life. If we are lucky, we get to eventually stand in both places. But what if those experiences could be brought much closer together, like maybe over the course of a day or at least the length of a shared dream?
David challenges his father’s assertion that his goal is to be married to Karen and raising Sam and Judy’s grandchildren. This sets Sam off into another angry tirade. Enter the help of the supernatural in the form of an elderly Asian man dressed as a chef and carrying an ornate bottle of liquor with a whale on the bottle and which he says is made of Humpback. Sam and David do shot after shot after shot and everything goes a little woozy. Sam’s face morphs into David’s and the night is over.
“To a long life and good fortune.” —Supernatural Chef
When David wakes in the morning, his mother is speaking to him about his behavior the night before and David is shocked when she enters the room and stands naked before him. Sam, on the other hand, wakes up feeling wonderful, the aches and pains of the last 20 years suddenly lifted from his shoulders like a curse removed. They have swapped bodies and now they have to deal with it.
Both quickly understand that it was the chef with the Whale liquor that caused them to switch places and commit to finding him and switching back. One of the rules is that both see their real face in the mirror. Craig Roberts and Richard Kind are having a ball in this episode, each embellishing the best parts of their actor partner and the comedy creates itself in this episode.
David has to attend marriage therapy with his mother in his father’s place and his father has to go work for him at the club, which will force him to navigate the invisible rocks of Getty, Karen, and Skye, who are each jagged rocks that his father will squarely run into one by one. They go to the Asian restaurant and the manager doesn’t know the chef or the liquor they are talking about.
“Try and be cool, okay, at the club? And don’t say more than is absolutely necessary, especially to a girl named Skye.” —David’s instructions to his father about working at the club in his body
Sam is so awkward in David’s body but he easily passes the stoned guardians led by Wheeler.
Nash gets another lesson in investing by Getty, who is amused at his fretting over losing $4,000 of profit after gaining $6,000.
“I’m disappointed in you, Nassar. I thought you were more of a gambler. But by all means, if you want to cash out, cash out. Listen, not everyone is meant to be at the blackjack table with the big boys. Some people are meant to play the penny slots. Hold this while I piss.” —Getty to Nash
Steve begs Misty for another chance and she isn’t hearing it. Sam walks by Barry and introduces himself. Barry thinks he’s nuts.
Sam is running like a madman, cleaning the court. Nash looks at his watch and asks how many cups of coffee he’s had this morning. None! Getty arrives to interrupt the story about last night’s sushi.
David is mortified to hear what his mother and father have been dealing with and how his mother feels. He makes the suggestion (his suggestion) that David be allowed to move out and get a place in the city. This shocks Judy because Sam is the one demanding David be pragmatic and stay at home to commute to NYU to save money. Judy expresses worry that Sam wants David around because he’s afraid to be alone with her.
Getty wants to work on his serve but Sam doesn’t deliver the goods and Getty threatens David’s bonus if he doesn’t get his shit together.
David learns that an H&R Block has opened across the street from his father’s tax firm and that he is likely going out of business. He also learns that his mother is profoundly sad. Take away the comedy and this is actually a very sad moment for David and for each of us who have learned of our parents’ flaws and start seeing past them to their humanity. If you have ever had compassion for a parent in spite of their surface flaws, then you can understand David’s position here as he starts to understand what we will know by the end of this season, that Sam and Judy’s relationship is already over. What’s happening now are the ripples turning to waves as the waterfall of time draws their marriage towards it with gravity and inertia to the rocks and the land below, where they will grow new lives after walking away from their craft which lay destroyed on the rocks below the Falls and behind them in Seasons 2 and 3.
Sam gorges himself on fried and fatty clubhouse restaurant food. And who should so happen to be sitting across from him in wonder, but Skye Getty. David and Skye recently shared a naked moment of visual passion as they stared at each other across the night but illuminated perfectly under the colored popping glow and the deafening bangs on the Fourth of July fireworks. Something was born that night and she sits here now in contemplation of what it might become. But it’s David who smiles and talks first, offering her an onion ring and drawing her out of her introverted silence. This flowering of Skye Getty is the purpose of her journey with David. She stops just growing inwardly and starts growing outwardly as well. Skye and David will not be together long but their time together will change both of their lives forever and I ask for nothing more from my fictional love affairs.
She is amused by his indulgence in his food and makes fun of him for over-ordering. Sam reveals to her that his father had a heart attack and that the family has been suffering under his mother’s low-sodium war campaign. Skye is taken aback by this news about his father’s heart attack. She says that she’s sorry.
David and his mother have homework, to sleep with his mother and make sure to take care of her needs first. Time is running out before permanent damage is done.
Sam invites this nice young lady over to his table to share his lunch. She accepts and now he is lecturing Skye on the importance of double entry bookkeeping to Western Civilization. He also tells her that he wants to join his father’s tax firm, which is contradictory to what David told Skye in the swimming pool in Episode 3 “The Wedding.” Skye remarks how jealous she is over his relationship with his father. She acknowledges that her relationship with her father is terrible and she looks regretful and trapped as she says this. They share cute and flirty small talk until Karen spots them and has a near meltdown but still holds it together. She pretty much marks her territory all over Skye and David. Here’s another boat heading for that waterfall and this little event isn’t helping it one bit. Skye is shocked at Karen’s behavior. She probably doesn’t usually have to directly interact with their girlfriends like this. David arrives to inform his father of the bad news about Judy waiting at home to have sex with them.
Watch how Richard and Craig are posturing and walking as they walk into the club together; it’s masterful physical comedy. They are approached by the Blums, who call him Spielberg. No time to explain to Dad about that porno he directed for them, David quickly changes the subject and inserts a platitude into his father’s mouth, well into his mouth but into his father’s mind which is controlling his mouth. You get it.
Getty is pissed that someone left their Volvo blocking his car in the parking lot. It was David. The boys continue their quest to find the whale liquor while Judy puts on lingerie, does her makeup and her hair and prepares to commit to what’s left of her marriage.
The boys sit at a deli table and discuss the aches and pains that David is starting to feel and catalog in his father’s body. Sam troubleshoots the pain with him and David has a moment of sheer panic when he considers that he may never see his 20s, 30s or 40s and have to live with his father’s pain every day forward. Stop a moment and consider how many of our parents’ pains we do carry with us? This is how racism and ignorance are passed down from generation to generation, not because the parents lay these burdens on the shoulders of their progeny, but because that progeny too often picks those burdens up and carries them as their own.
Sam tells his son that he’ll get to see his kids grow up and that makes up for the aches and pains and he expresses a faith to David about their future that resolves the tension of the situation, if only briefly. They both seem to come to a resolution where they clearly understand the position of the other and the wall that was insurmountable at the beginning of this episode, the canyon-sized distance between them, has been made whole again and they have achieved a mutual understanding and compassion for the suffering the other is going through.
David acknowledges that he’s sorry his Dad and Mom are going through all this heavy stuff and that H&R Block is moving in across the street from his business. Sam is sorry that David had to hear all of that stuff, mostly because as a parent we try to protect our children from the horrors of the world as much as we possibly can. The problem with this is that human civilization is a made up construct, a bubble of disbelief, in the middle of a jungle, bent on consumption and eventually our children may just have to run for their lives or run for the lives of others. Sam learned this in Korea but David, [insert deity here] willing, will have to learn that lesson a different way than by going to war. David is going to learn it through art, but it will be every bit as tough a journey for him as going through war, just not as deadly. And just like magical sparkle he arrives with, the Supernatural Chef is back with his bottle of whale liquor. And the son becomes the father, while the father becomes the son, just like in Superman The Movie.
Sam wakes up in the morning and asks what happened. Judy is pissed because nothing happened, an indicator that the body swap actually did take place since if it were after the night of the first round of Humpback Whale shots, she would not have been expecting sex and in that same negligee. But Sam is completely ignorant of this as he catalogs the familiar aches and pains which have all returned. David is licking the envelope of his class registration and they both agree they feel like the dog’s dinner. Neither remembers anything but both of them have retained that mutual respect. They wish each other nice days and part as loving father and son. David mails the letter and rides away to Television’s Marquee Moon.”
What were we drinking last night? —Sam to David
David and his father have broken through in their relationship with one another. Sam and Judy are heading for dissolution. Karen and David are also about to schism. The movement between David and Skye was closer together but not further along their journey. Like all things, these events will happen through time and the remaining episodes of Red Oaks.