Horace and Pete: episode 6

I was prey to mixed feelings during this latest episode, which was Steve Buscemi/Pete-centric in a way that, at first, struck me as a little too self-conscious. Let me explain.

We’ll accept as a given that Horace and Pete is theatre as opposed to television, being played on television with very few compromises to the medium it’s exploiting. Episode 3’s stunning fifteen minute monologue from Laurie Metcalf was not merely an uncompromising demonstration of that fundamental difference, but also, in its way, a defiant blazoning of such difference.

In shorter, but no less defiant manner, episode 6’s initial three minute solo by Steve Buscemi – silent, undemonstrative, coming out of the bath in a towel, slowly, shufflingly, preparing himself for what we would discover was a date – came from the same impulse. It was theatre, shouting at its audience that this is radically different from tv, and flaunting its refusal to go native.

It was also a conspicuous elevation of form over story. What we saw could have been presented in a televisual manner without undermining what was happening. Louis CK was being a bit too blatant for my liking at that point about being not-television, to the point where it pushed past what Steve Buscemi was doing.

But that’s in the essence of the show, and to complain about it would be like complaining that the sun comes up in the morning. Nevertheless, I think it a valid point to make: I have seen enough experiment for the sake of experiment by now, and prefer my art to be about its subject, rather than it’s own cleverness, which has so often been used to conceal a certain shortfall in that substance.

Not that you can make that accusation about Horace and Pete. The remainder of the first half was set in a nice-looking restaurant and was a two-hander between Buscemi and guest star Hannah Dunne as his date, Jenny.

The two had paired up on-line and were having their first IRL meeting. And it didn’t start well, because one of them hadn’t been honest. Not Pete: he’d told the truth about his age, had used a contemporary picture, had expressed a preference for women his age, 45. It was Jenny who had lied, who’d claimed to be 45 when in reality she was 26, and simply preferred older men, for their greater depth of personality, their decency, their emotional intelligence (the scene was all the better for such terms being scrupulously avoided.)

Naturally, Pete started off aggressive and hostile, automatically assuming that Jenny was disappointed in him because he was exactly what he’d stated himself to be,and needed to be convinced – without making Jenny out to be some weirdo or fetishist – that she had chosen him consciously. The gradual melting of that hostility, to the point where Pete gains the confidence to be wholly complementary (without once straying into cliche) towards Jenny, was a masterpiece of writing and performance.

But, of course, you now it’s aaaaaallllll going to go wrong. The third scene/second act took place above the bar, initially with Horace setting plates for a meal, for four. Enter Sylvie, in headscarf, now living here (this development was not unexpected: after last week’s quasi-cliffhanger over her decision, when googling an image of Edie Falco to illustrate the post, I was exposed to scenes of her behind the bar, with the scarf covering her presumed bald head).

The fourth plate is for Jenny. We know it’s going to end badly, partly because we have watched five episodes to date but, in continuity, Horace picks an unnecessary fight with Pete, seeking to undermine his efforts to lay on something nice for Jenny, and Sylvie turns back his thanks to her for cooking by denigrating what she is doing in a way that, by implication, damns it as worthless from the start.

And once Jenny arrives, the pair completely and utterly fuck Pete over.

Initially, the awkwardness is so palpable, you could break it off in lumps and use it for door stops. Both are taken back, and  Sylvie the more so, that Pete is seeing a woman half his age, and a not unattractive one at that. I couldn’t help but recall the comment I’d seen when researching episode 3, about how the underlying theme of the series being the inability to communicate.

But sometimes the characters find it all too easy to communicate. Sylvie is pissed off, and she is the first to kick the avalanche into motion, out of spite, rejecting Pete’s reference to her and Horace as his brother and sister, with a determined recitation of Pete’s true parentage, forcing Pete to tell Jenny things he hasn’t yet disclosed, stealing his right to say such things in his own time and his own way.

That’s bad enough, though Jenny looks able to ride it, especially as, in striking back at Sylvie (who is basking in the self-righteousness of her ‘honesty’) he lets slip that he loves Jenny, something he’s obviously not said to her face, that she notices but does not have the time to react to, because Pete is still going on at the uncaring Sylvie, being the bitch to the hilt.

And Jenny doesn’t get to react, because Horace, in his passive-aggressive manner, without any seeming motivation to do so, drops the absolute fucking bomb when he flatly tells Jenny about Pete’s mental issues, his complete history in institutionalisation and his dependancy on his medication.

It stops Pete in his tracks. He can’t answer. It’s the complete no-way-back moment and it breaks him. It’s one of the cruelest, most vicious, least-justifiable or forgivable things I have ever read or seen, and at least I know that this series will not sweep it under the carpet.

Jenny leaves. Before she goes, she gives Horace and Sylvie both barrels over their treatment of Pete. Heartbreakingly, she is still prepared to leave a door open for Pete, if he will move, if he will speak, but he has lost the ability, and she turns and leaves. Hannah Dunne has been beautiful in this role.

And I have been answered in my concerns about the overt theatricality of this show, its experiments in formalism at the expense of naturalism, because nowhere outside of theatre could you present this, could you create this excluding bubble, where characters act so determinedly in the lines set for them by their natures. It just can’t work any other way.

So Pete rages, brokenly, at the family that has so right royally shafted him. Sylvie he berates in half-sentences. If you had loved me. If you had ever shown to me any sign of love. The rest we have to conjure into being, but it is after saying that in some other world where the past had gone differently, what has just happened might somehow have been justifiable.

Sylvie’s unconcerned. The world is shit, and her own personal satisfaction is such that she is not merely unconcerned but content, even proud of herself, that she has made it even shittier. Sylvie is a monster who has given up on life and who will tear down everything she is within reach of, to bring it to the level of entropy that her own life has become.

And Horace? Horace, our hapless, indecisive man in the centre, trying to do the feeblest right thing he can get away with? He might just be the biggest monster of them all.

I await the next episode.

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