This episode centers on bullies and being bullied, with Bill and Libby’s son’s exploits at school serving as the framing device for everything else that takes place in the show. But the epidemic that has plagued childhoods since the start of time is clearly not limited to youths. Virginia feels bullied by her mother’s endless judgments and conventional expectations; Margaret has been bullied into a new, radical relationship that is way out of her comfort zone while she takes the heat for Barton’s inability to tell the truth; and Bill’s visceral response to his son’s bullying illustrates that our childhood traumas never really heal, even if redemption comes our way. All in all it was a very complex episode with a lot to unpack. Let’s get going…
Virginia’s parents show up as an unexpected surprise—well, a surprise to Virginia but not to her vindictive daughter Tessa who is so angry with her mother she is willing to sabotage her at every turn, most profoundly by inviting her judgmental grandmother into town to bust Virginia for her unconventional life choices. Tessa’s plan goes swimmingly of course, with Virginia’s mom ready to throw shade on every aspect of her life: from her sham of a marriage to George, to her career (“Going off to do your sex work”), which she blatantly disregards. Lovely Tessa takes her sabotage to the next level by purchasing a bowtie very similar to the one Bill would wear and shoving it into the wash for the dutiful Grandma to find.
The caricature of the pushy mother wears a bit thin here as it feels like something we’ve seen before. The one interesting scene that defies that convention is between Virginia’s father and Virginia when he takes a moment to point out Virginia’s revisionist history of her childhood. In fact, it wasn’t her mother that forced her to enter beauty pageants at the age of 8, but Virginia herself who found the ad in the paper, begged her mother to go and then her mother finally acquiesced. It’s a nice moment for a character we are ready to dislike to have a moment of vindication—and a few more dimensions—than we are used to seeing with this kind of archetype.
But that doesn’t mean that Virginia’s mother is now a saint. You’ve got to love that Grandma ends her time in Virginia’s world praising her, finally, not for her career achievements, not for raising children on her own. No, she praises Virginia for what she thinks is Virginia’s long, manipulative con game to steal Bill away from Libby and claim him as her own. As if! That one bit of encouragement could be the very thing that sends Virginia in the other direction. In fact she quickly asks perfume tycoon Dan Logan (Josh Charles) to take her out to dinner. Pretty sure that won’t go anywhere but his communication skills serve as a stark contrast to struggling Bill—and boy did he struggle this episode.
Bill’s kid is being bullied just like Bill was bullied by his father when he was a child. Bill’s wounds may refuse to heal but that doesn’t mean he has any sage advice for his bruised progeny. No, he decides the best way to fix the problem is to do his own bullying, using his doctor moniker as a weapon. This happens as Bill also gets the chance to get back at the bullying academics at Washington University that forced him out after 15 years of service. On that side of the equation, the redemption was justified. For poor Dennis Daughtry, the chunky 13-year old boy they pulled from central casting, not so much. When Bill finds the kid walking home from school he grabs him, knocks his ball out of his hand and then insults him, his plumber father, and the likely future he predicts for him: shoveling others’ shit. And to top it off, he throws in the “Dr.” reference for a good ending: “If a Dr. threatens you, no one can protect you.”
NEXT: The highs and lows of adult bullying…