I struggled to watch this week’s Horace and Pete, not due to any deficiency in the content but rather because the Council are cutting the grass around our block and the motor-mowers have been roaring on for the best part of two hours and making it impossible to hear the quiet parts of the dialogue. Oh, Uncle Pete was as audible as can be, which on one level was a shame, because he’s a true monster, a true blue-collar, ignorant, prejudiced, hidebound, chauvinist monster. He’s a very real monster and he’s presented unashamedly, and the audience that I imagine Horace and Pete attracts, will see him for what he is, but in his gross reality, he is in many ways a distillation of the things I loathe, and to which I have been ultra-sensitive since the events of seven days ago.
In real life, I would avoid him like a highly avoidable thing. Alan Alda’s performance (is this really Hawkeye Pierce?) is astounding, which only adds to the queasiness I am beginning to experience whenever he opens his mouth, and I’m forcibly reminded of the late Johnny Speight’s Till Death us do Part, and warren Mitchell’s Alf Garnett: a figure of fun, the complete Sixties’ reactionary and bigot, a satirical figure that instead found an audience of people who decided that he was speaking for them in a way no other character on TV was allowed to do.
But I ended up stopping the show after about 14 minutes, and starting again during a lull, realising I’d missed dozens of lines without which I wasn’t getting the full idea (even in trivialities, every line in this show is vital). And even then i got to 22 minutes and had to pause for over another five before it was quiet enough to continue (the mowers are still blaring as I write).
Since the opening episode, the subsequent episodes have been growing shorter, until this one barely scraped over thirty minutes (it is, however, the shortest of the series). The theme this week was sex: there was a bar discussion about abortion to begin with, in which Uncle Pete’s opinion was the loudest and most vehement, and the only woman’s was the one nobody was interested in hearing.
And it ended with Uncle Pete’s violent rejection of oral sex (even when the man is receiving) as, well, dehumanising, and his presentation of the romantic ideal, the only true love as, well, the missionary position, only as if you were standing up. It was laughable, though not in a funny way, except that in describing what real, rare love is, Alan Alda gave the sense of someone insensitive revealing something deeply private and vulnerable about themselves. Disorienting.
In between, there was Horace. Horace was depressed. You may justifiably ask, when isn’t he, but this was depressed by Horace and Pete standards. Uncle Pete, with a crassness above and beyond the call of something I’d rather not think about, diagnosed it as a need to get laid and headed for the phone to call up an Asian girl to fuck Horace (he’s never had an Asian girl, which makes him a prejudiced m*therf*cker in Uncle Pete’s vocabulary, Asian girls being there to fuck and for no other purpose).
It’s plainly deeper and more complex than that but Horace decides to act on something he can act on, not to mention the superficial pleasure of getting laid, and text’s Maggie for a booty call.
Maggie, splendidly played by Nina Arianda, as a superficially attractive blonde barmaid type, with long skinny legs in unsexual hotpants, covered by patterned opaque tights, turns out to have been an ex-lover of Horace, a waitress at the bar until she left a year ago. Turns out she left because Horace was in love with her then.
They haven’t been in touch for a year until now, and she’s happy to come round for some casual sex, for which she brings a bottle of Russian bourbon so she can get herself a bit fucked-up in preparation. But though Maggie is perfectly down with being called up by an ex-lover for a one-night stand, Horace is a bit ashamed of himself for resorting to such a thing and wants to treat this as more of a date kind of thing, have a drink, catch-up, relate, and still fuck at the end of it.
Only Maggie’s had things happen to her. She’s gotten married, to a pilot who lives in Atlanta, whirlwind romance, gloriously happy, things are brilliant, week after the honeymoon, he dies of a heart attack in Montreal, she retrieves the body, buries him gets challenged over his estate by his sister, says fuck it, walks away, back in New York. And it’s all happened so fast, like a dream and nightmare, in a few weeks, that she’s left with no feelings about it.
Nor can she really get it on with Horace, because what she really dug about him was that he was fun. And he’s not fun now.
This was a compact, but far from bijou episode, Mostyn. I’d like to say this was another thread in a tapestry, but really it’s another patch in a patchwork quilt, only not one being sewn up by some sweet, white-haired old lady. Nor was the body of the episode what necessarily the impression I took away with me.
No, the episode ended with Uncle Pete, having taken bills from the cash register, putting a pistol in his coat packet before leaving. The camera followed him to the door, which he shut behind him. It stayed in place as his silhouette turned right, and it kept looking at the door. The credits ran in absolute silence, without the Paul Simon theme music.
Part of me says they won’t do that, that television logic says you don’t kill off a character like Uncle Pete, not when you’re not even halfway through the series. But this is not a television series governed by television logic. The gun, so casually introduced, opened up my imagination: if episode 5 should feature Uncle Pete having been killed in a mugging, I would not be shocked one little bit.
Hopefully, next week it’ll be as silent as it finally is now.