We start with a man named Thomas “Patches” Pasternak (Todd Terry) having a deadly run in with a man in a horned mask. After interrupting a sparring session between Mary and John, Carlos reveals they have a case. He knows the vet, and following a quick morgue infiltration, the story splits into Carlos and John going undercover at the psych hospital where Patches died and Mary and Lata running down leads to find out what monster they are dealing with. Surprise, it’s a version of the Roman god of war: Mars (aka Nato aka Jimmy Mixon as played by James MacDonald)! John’s stunted emotional growth attracts the monster to him, and they fight. Luckily for John, his mother, Lata, and Mary find Nato’s Achilles’ heel and it turns the battle in his favor. But while the god is vanquished not all is well, where Mary, Lata, and Carlos find a road to peace, John is left suffering for his silence (though it does give us a nice moment between him and Millie).
It might seem that this episode is all about Carlos and John, but Mary, Latika, and even Millie aren’t left out in the cold either. Carlos gets the biggest boost of background information when we learn he’s a vet! It’s a good contrast to who he’s been so far, and it makes sense once he explains that the only reason he enlisted was to avoid jailtime (oh those kooky 60s!). Although, he is a Navy vet so…maybe not that far from who he is? Cue inappropriate seamen joke! Perhaps, the most interesting angle here is that despite being a reluctant recruit, his experience in Vietnam was just as traumatic as the most patriotic enlistee. His story about the lights of the Vietcong’s cigarettes paints an eerie picture and yet his being able to tell it reveals a catharsis he never thought was possible. Carlos had, up until now, adhered to the idea that if you don’t talk about it, it won’t bother you, but the group therapy that Dr. Zimpano (Paul Schackman) employs encourages the vets to express their trauma among a circle of peers. This detail of Carlos’ past provides him a nice depth through contradiction—here is an otherwise open individual hiding a very real, very painful part of himself.
To that end, John’s secret shame (his PTSD) lends him a darker air than his outgoing, optimistic puppy-dog enthusiasm might present. John’s darkness has been a subject since the beginning though, but this might be because while Carlos has the chance to move past his pain, John seems unlikely to. Much like his sons after him, John isn’t an emotionally healthy guy—this is a bad thing. I love how the episode doesn’t treat John’s toxic masculinity as a heroic thing. Yes, his use of it saves Carlos’ life but there’s a real consequence he has to face. The scene with him, fully clothed in a hot shower, crying is juxtaposed by scenes of his friends dealing with their traumas in a much healthier way and being better for it. Mary and Latika give Maggie’s postcard outlet a try, Carlos continues to go to the group meeting, but John gets no such light at the end of his dark tunnel. It’s interesting to note that Millie explains their family isn’t big on talk rather it’s their actions that matter, but they conveniently seem to ignore the fact that going to therapy is an action. Most troubling is probably how eager John was to give himself over as a soldier in Nato’s army against the Akrida, yet even that tracks. Fighting is the most obvious action one can take and while “fighting” can mean many things to many people, for John and his family I’m pretty sure it’s just the one definition they go by.
Mary’s journey is largely focused on dealing with her cousin Maggie’s death (I incorrectly referred to Maggie as Mary’s sister up until now, apologies) which is brought to the forefront when John accidentally mistakes her closed room for a bathroom. Like many grieving people, Mary and her family have chosen to shut off their pain in an incredibly obvious way: literally closing the door on it and keeping it closed. In this manner, Mary’s refusal to confront her grief is similar to John’s refusal to speak about his trauma. Avoidance is not healthy, though Mary’s doesn’t lead her to almost join a god’s army so she’s got that at least. Latika proves the Carlos to her John in attempting to help her deal with the loss, but where Carlos’ efforts fall on deaf ears, Latika’s has the advantage of being useful to their cause. See, Maggie was an excellent hunter, and like the rest of the monster club she tended to focus on the more unusual beasts. Under her bed not only houses an untold number of dust bunnies, but the also the key to their villain—a spooky book that Latika manages to turn to the exact page they need (holy convenience, Batman!). The scene that leads to this provides one of the few funny moments in this episode. Mary is ready to search the Men of Letters bunker for clues, but Latika wisely notes that old white men only worry about old white men problems and given the worldly nature of their enemies as of late, it’s unlikely they would be of any help. So true! But, as mentioned earlier, Mary’s storyline has a satisfying conclusion when she offers up Maggie’s room to Carlos for the night after he’s worried he won’t be sleeping easy.
Latika’s story is fairly thin here—she’s been largely connected to Maggie and we get some progress in this area for her. Mary’s willingness to go into Maggie’s room (at Latika’s behest) allows Latika to discover something new about her dead friend. There are postcards that were never mailed but contain two positive details about the hunt she was on, and Mary posits that this might be how Maggie dealt with the rigors of hunting life. Later we see Latika come to Mary with a postcard and they both decide to try Maggie’s trick. Otherwise, Latika’s growth continues to focus mainly on her ability to assert herself in instances where either the group (i.e. Mary) won’t listen or perhaps have no better ideas. In this case, it’s opening Mary’s eyes to the reality of a myopic white view.
So, before I get to Millie I’d like to break for a moment to point out a slightly troubling pattern I’m seeing in this series. The “magical” minority trope is heavy-handed here. For the most part when the gang finds themselves up shit’s creek it’s mostly Carlos, Latika, and Ada who are holding the rescue paddles. In the pilot the three are responsible for saving John and Mary from both a rugaru, and a demon, in the second and third episodes it’s Latika who correctly identifies the enemies, and in this episode it’s Carlos and Latika who have to pull therapy duties on their respective white partners. Granted, this series also has more minorities in starring roles than the previous one which means it could just be a matter of perspective. The idea that John and Mary approach the world from a white privilege stance and get corrected by their minority friends isn’t exactly Earth-shattering all things considered, in fact, it could be the point. This is, by all accounts, an extremely progressive spinoff for what was a staunchly old-school show. Two emotionally stunted straight white males on a never-ending road trip is a huge difference from four (sometimes five) physically and sexually diverse coeds in a van…down by the river (I had to!). While I enjoy the new route, I would caution against creating a “white = wrong” mindset to every adventure, but we’re only four episodes in so let me stop doom-spiraling.
Millie! Millie is a very aside character, much like Ada—I get the feeling they will rotate in and out of that “fifth” place I mentioned earlier. Generally, Millie, like most parents in shows of this nature, is left behind, but this episode gives her an opportunity to shine. She’s a hard woman, as some might say, just as emotionally ill as her son and late husband, but she’s comfortable in this way. Whereas John is tortured by his emotional suppression, Millie just comes off as “cool”, hell, even cold at times. She does get to prove that she isn’t all ice though, especially when it comes to her son. While Millie isn’t about to advise John to go to therapy or talk it out, she is willing to sit in a hot shower and hug her fully dressed crying son. And that’s not the only time we see her fight for John, even if it is the most passive—when she goes to the hospital to help Mary and Latika rescue John from the god, she is not shy about threatening the doctor with public exposure in order to get her way. The weirdest part she plays in this episode is right before the shower scene, when her and John meet up after the god has been vanquished. As Carlos, Latika, and Mary have a heartfelt reunion that leads to Mary’s main growth, John seems downright offended by his mother’s presence. He isn’t happy to see her at all, and is possibly resentful, although this could be residual anger from his very recent agro moment. After all, when she climbs into the tub to hug him, John doesn’t shrug her off or reject her.
Overall, I liked this episode a lot. A solid A here for multiple character growth moments, excellent social commentary about both veterans’ treatment and the diverse nature of veteran experiences, and the given benefits of embracing diversity. With respect to the acting no one went overboard, which can be tempting with this subject matter, and I appreciated each actor’s understated performance in the face of these highly dramatic situations. I do wish Khurshid would break out more, her Latika is boarding on zero personality save for what we’re told she thinks and feels, but there’s time. Let’s see if she can give us a real person.