This week’s episode (written by Dana Fish and directed by Liesl Tommy) made me really really sad. I think it is a combination of Depression Season kicking in and the fact that Mrs. Fletcher S1E2 (“Free Sample”) is filled with a sense of deep loneliness and isolation for its characters. Eve (Kathryn Hahn) and Brendan (Jackson White) are off on their separate journeys, and things are going about how one would expect—except for Eve’s burgeoning porn addiction, of course. Eve is lost without Brendan, and Brendan is lost (albeit less so) at BSU. But the highlight of “Free Sample,” and the part that made me so incredibly sad, was the continuation of Roy Rafferty’s story.
Initially, I thought that Roy (played with incredible poignancy by Bill Raymond) and his incident with the porn in the community room was just a bit of a gag to introduce the porn theme of Mrs. Fletcher at the beginning of the premiere episode. This week, however, we see that there is more to Roy’s story. I have to say that Bill Raymond absolutely steals this episode, and to steal an episode from Kathryn Hahn on her own show is no small task.
Eve is at work at the Haddington Senior Center when she sees Roy wandering the hall in his bathing suit. It is clear now that Roy is slipping into the early stages of dementia. He is lost in a familiar place—the place where he lives and, presumably, has lived for quite some time—and unable to find the pool for water aerobics. Eve takes him there, and when he arrives he is filled with joy to be at his favorite class. The class instructor, Eve’s coworker Amanda Olney (Katie Kershaw), is quite enthusiastic and happy to see him. The scene illustrates one of Roy’s very few remaining pleasures in life (one that is much more wholesome than the porn), and it makes what comes later that much more painful.
But before we get to the parts of the episode that made me cry, let’s talk about Brendan and the first few days of his college experience. Brendan is adjusting to life at BSU and goes to meet with his advisor, Devin (Neil Casey). Anyone who has ever had a terrible college advisor can instantly recognize that this relationship is not going to bear any fruit. Surprisingly, this is not all Brendan’s fault, although he doesn’t really help by very clearly not wanting to be there. Devin asks the usual nebulous questions—why are you here and what do you want to get out of your college experience—but these are questions that your average college freshman is completely ill-equipped to answer.
While some young adults know what they want out of life early on, that is not the norm. Most people Brendan’s age have no clue who they are or what they want, and that’s okay. The undergraduate years are an ideal time to seek out the answers to those daunting questions. But instead of saying any of this, Devin is snotty about the fact that Brendan is interested in joining a fraternity. However one feels about Greek life on college campuses, you can’t fault someone for seeking out a sense of brotherhood (or sisterhood). Brendan’s desire to join a frat is completely unsurprising, since being a “cool kid” in high school would naturally lead to his wanting to join the “cool kids” at college, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here and say that part of it may be his need to be part of a group. As it stands, he is totally alone, and that is a difficult spot to be in after having had a large friend group.
Devin is blatantly anti-Greek and goes out of his way to point out that his alma mater, Vassar, did not have fraternities. This statement was not only completely unnecessary and condescending, it was counterproductive. There’s no way that Brendan will ever feel comfortable with Devin as an advisor after the attitude he displayed here, and I can’t blame him. Devin also gets in a dig, essentially calling Brendan a Momma’s boy, and that’s when Brendan decides their meeting is over. I think it’s time to find a new advisor, Brendan.
On his way out, Brendan meets Sanjay, who lives across the hall from him. Sanjay is friendly and outgoing but Brendan is not really receptive to it. You can tell that Brendan has instantly sized Sanjay up as a nerd who isn’t cool enough to be worth his time. Again, Mrs. Fletcher gives us a little bit of sympathy for Brendan and instantly snatches it away by showing us that he’s still that same “too cool for school” asshole. Brendan wants new friends; he wants to make connections, but he is not actually open to making connections with different types of people, which isn’t going to get him very far at BSU.
This becomes increasingly evident when Brendan and his roommate Zach (Cameron Boyce) attend the college activities fair. Brendan is unfamiliar with the term “Latinx” and, after Zach explains that it is a more inclusive term preferred by the community, Brendan responds with, “No thank you.” He never fails to disappoint when it comes to being a total jerk. After he is instantly rejected by the girl at the Vegan Club booth, he meets Chloe (Jasmine Cephas Jones), who is part of Autism Outreach Inc. Chloe was amused watching Brendan be shut down by the Vegan Club girl but she is more friendly to Brendan, especially after she finds out that he has an autistic brother. She sees him for who he is, just as the Vegan Club girl did, but she seems willing to give him a chance to not be a complete ass. For her sake, I hope he doesn’t disappoint, but I can’t say I have a lot of confidence there.
One of my favorite parts of Mrs. Fletcher S1E2 is the student workshop on consent. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Brendan is not taking it seriously. There are a lot of giggles in the audience, which is to be expected from kids at this age. Talking openly and honestly about sexual consent in public, among your peers, can bring out some nervous laughter that doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual mindset of the person laughing. But for Brendan, it’s all a big joke. When he tries to force Zach into being a volunteer for the role-play, the leader of the workshop calls him out on it and makes him come up on stage.
What I like the most about this role-play exercise is the fact that the leader chose Brendan as the one who did not want to have sex and the female volunteer, Farrah (Gabrielle Hespe), as the one trying to pressure him into it. While during the actual role-play, Farrah is pretending to be a guy and Brendan the girl, the visual presents us with a guy not renewing consent. It’s important not only to talk about consent but also to demonstrate that it’s not just women who can be assaulted. There is so much focus (and rightly so) on women being harassed and assaulted, but it does go both ways. It is important for the students to see that the stereotypes that guys just want to have sex all the time and that consent is implicit with men is not actually true.
Of course, Brendan would happily consent to sex with Farrah, and things get a bit hot and heavy during their role-play exercise. Farrah is especially extra during this and chooses to turn the whole thing into an overly dramatic joke, so it’s no wonder that she and Brendan get along instantly. Mrs. Fletcher S1E2 does not present Farrah in the greatest light, but she does serve a purpose. There is nothing wrong with being sex-positive, but Farrah represents the type of young woman whose ideas about sex and what is sexy have been shaped by porn (or by previous sexual partners influenced by porn).
Later on, at an alcohol-soaked dorm room party, Brendan looks completely isolated even though he is in a room full of people (including his roommate). He finally returns a text from Eve, telling her that college is great when it’s clear he’s feeling like it’s anything but at that moment. Farrah approaches him and it breaks him out of his funk, and when they have (enthusiastically consensual) sex, it’s porno-style. They both use porn language (she calls him the always cringe-worthy “Daddy”) and it’s yet another example—like Brendan’s going-away blowjob last week—of how pornography influences the sex lives of young adults. I hope that, going forward, Mrs. Fletcher continues to address this issue and that Brendan experiences some type of maturation and growth in the sex department.
Eve’s loneliness takes a different form than Brendan’s. She is still struggling inside her empty nest but her escalating interest in porn is having an…interesting effect on her daily life. In Mrs. Fletcher S1E2, we see that Eve has moved on from MILFs to girl-on-girl action: an interesting choice for her, but one that demonstrates that she’s open to new things—at least when it comes to her choice of porn category. In her actual life, she is completely stagnant and unwilling to open herself up to the idea of a new relationship. When her friends Jane (Casey Wilson) and Emily (Sheila Tapia) try to set her up with a guy, she is uninterested. At the moment, Eve prefers the company of her laptop and her internal fantasy life.
In “Free Sample,” we see Eve having a fantasy about making out with the woman handing out samples in the grocery store. Eve’s private exploration of lesbian pornography has bled into her real-life thoughts and she finds herself having an incredibly graphic fantasy in public. This left me with the question: has Eve ever had a same-sex attraction, or is she so completely lost as to who she is and what she wants that her porn habits are dictating what she finds attractive in her real life? Both would be interesting to explore but, given the theme of the show thus far, I tend to think it’s the latter. This leaves me wondering whether Mrs. Fletcher will give us a “Flavor of the Week,” so to speak, where Eve tries out a new category of porn and finds herself fantasizing about whatever that week’s flavor is.
Regardless of what’s to come, Eve’s little fantasy leaves her pretty shook, and when she bumps into Emily right after, she agrees to go on the blind date she had rejected earlier. Eve seems to have a bit of self-awareness here where she realizes that her recent thoughts and behaviors are not normal and that the “normal” thing to do would be to go on a date with an actual human man and see what happens. She knows she’s in a rut and needs to put herself out there if anything is going to change for her, so she has Emily give him her number and they set a dinner date.
Back in Eve’s personal essay class, the instructor Margo (Jen Richards) asks the class what they are afraid of. The exercise is designed to help the students explore who they are and what they want—something that Eve desperately needs to figure out. By identifying their fears, they can determine what they should write about. Going around the room, we learn that Julian (Owen Teague) fears that his anti-depressants will stop working. In this moment, he “outs” himself as someone who suffers from depression and takes medication. This is something that is very hard for many people. Even though we as a society are getting better at openly discussing mental health, there is still a very real and damaging stigma attached to it. It is very brave of Julian, who is still so young, to be open about his illness with a group of strangers. And as far as Julian’s fear goes, it is a very real one (and one that I, personally, understand and share with him).
When we get to Eve, she’s unable to pinpoint exactly what her fear is but she likens it to that “left the oven on” feeling, which she’s been feeling often since Brendan went away to college. She acknowledges that she doesn’t know what the real root of her fear is, and that is what scares her the most. If I had to guess, I would say that Eve’s real fear is that she will never truly find herself. She’s lost and alone, her identity as “Brendan’s mom” has been shattered by his leaving the nest, and now she’s found herself in this uncomfortable state of limbo. The “left the oven on when you know you didn’t” feeling could also be about Eve feeling as if she neglected to do something that has left her or her loved ones in danger. In this case, perhaps she feels that she neglected to fully prepare Brendan for the real world, leaving him in a vulnerable position.
Speaking of vulnerable positions, it’s time to talk about the most gut-wrenching part of this episode. After Roy has another incident (this time publicly masturbating during a movie screening), Eve has to make an incredibly difficult choice. Though she feels for Roy, who is clearly deteriorating mentally, their facility simply doesn’t have the resources to care for residents with dementia, and she has to call his son, George (Domenick Lombardozzi) and tell him that his father can no longer stay there.
The entire scene of Roy having to leave the facility absolutely breaks my heart and I can’t watch it without sobbing. Dementia is one of life’s most cruel realities. It can turn an adult—one’s parent—into essentially their child. They can no longer take care of themselves and they need constant care and supervision. George is not financially capable of hiring someone to help, and so he is left to deal with it on his own. As for Roy, he has to leave a place that he loves, and he doesn’t entirely understand how it got to this point. Part of him does know, and he apologizes to Eve just before George pulls away, but the sick part of his mind doesn’t allow him to control the actions he knows are wrong. It’s horrible for all parties involved, and Eve is incredibly affected by it. It makes me wonder whether she is considering her own possible future, and what would happen if Brendan was the one left to care for her if she couldn’t care for herself. Given what we’ve seen of Brendan so far, that’s a chilling thought.
But this isn’t the last we see of Roy. There is a brief scene later that night where he is sitting by himself outside of George’s house (his new residence, at least for the moment). George wants him to come in and watch the game and have some ice cream, presumably activities that the father and son have shared many times over the years, but Roy just wants to be alone. George tells him, “No one is mad at you,” and it breaks my heart all over again because while that is true, Roy likely doesn’t believe it. Even if he does believe it, it doesn’t change the profound sadness and loss that he feels.
Now, I have to say that I have incredibly mixed feelings about the end of this episode. After her very brief and disastrous blind date with Peter (Chris Henry Coffey), Eve heads to the senior center, takes all her clothes off, and jumps in the pool. I would be incredibly happy to never again see a distraught woman jump into a pool (Skyler White already did it better than anyone ever will). What I will say is that I was happy that Eve’s naked body was in no way sexualized during her little skinny dip. The twist ending to this whole scene, and what saves it, is the fact that Roy has made his way to the pool—the site of his favorite activity. Though Eve is completely naked, he doesn’t look at her body. He just says, with a sad little smile, “I like it here.” She is initially self-conscious about her nudity but that fades as she approaches Roy and gives him a big hug. They are equally vulnerable in this moment, though for entirely different reasons, and the emotional impact of the final moments of Mrs. Fletcher S1E2 allows me to forgive the bit that came before (and to ignore the fact that Roy all-too-conveniently showed up there).
Bill Raymond was absolutely the MVP of “Free Sample.” His portrayal of Roy was so incredibly raw and real that, even though everything about Roy is heartbreaking, I really want to see his story continue. I know the show is about Eve and Brendan’s journeys—his coming of age and her coming of middle age—but to add Roy’s coming of old age story to the mix would add so much to the series.
Join me next week for a look at the third episode of Mrs. Fletcher, “Care Package.”