By Michaela Watkins
Updated August 16, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Greg Lewis/Hulu
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Every week the cast and crew of Hulu’s dark comedy Casual will be taking EW behind the scenes: For each episode, one member will be recapping and sharing their thoughts on what went down, in addition to walking us through the ins-and-outs of the show. This week, Michaela Watkins takes us through the second-to-last episode, “40.”

If you’re reading this at all it’s because either you’re an EW junkie (understandably) or like me, you’re so intrigued by the realistic dysfunction unfolding before our very eyes on Casual, that you gotta talk and read about it. I love that we get to experience these people from such a safe distance. While they all feel like people I know personally, even embody at times, it is comforting to know, for example, that Alex will never call me at 1 a.m. and demand I discuss his eyebrows.

There’s so much ground one could cover in season 2’s penultimate episode, so here are just some stray observations that I think deserve mention.

Episode 12 was superbly executed by showrunner/script goddess, Liz Tigelaar, and directed by midas-touched, returning champion Michael Weaver — who, with cinematographer John Guleserian, has never met a face he couldn’t light like an angel. While I could go on and on about the deft writing and great performances of our core cast, this episode is a splendid homage to the fabulous guest stars who have so deeply impacted Val’s season 2 journey.

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Guest stars (gush alert):

Drew is back! Let’s take a moment to acknowledge Zak Orth for his remarkable talent. Zak has never breathed a word on the show that doesn’t ring true. Casual couldn’t get luckier than landing a genuine American Treasure. (Well — I guess luck may be owed to our casting directors, John Papsidera and Deanna Brigidi.) Ya got Jennifer, played so naturally and gracefully by Katie Aselton, you’ll need to hug your TV. Ya got our show’s secret weapon, Leah, played by comedy ninja Julie Berman. As someone who gets tons of screen time with Julie, I want you to know she’s never done a take where she hasn’t absolutely slayed. Then there’s Leon, a.k.a. Nyasha Hatendi, who is probably the most rooted-for character in all of television history. I believe our patient, witty writers are playing the long game with Leon’s character, and I have no doubt we will be pleased to see where his character goes. Kyle Bornheimer burst on scene this season and utterly crushed (both me physically and) the role of Jack. It was such a pleasure to see Kyle play the sexy guy — a type we haven’t seen enough of from this talented actor. This pro knew his way around Jack like my 17-year-old cat knows her way around a litterbox. Kyle just popped in, squatted, and laid waste. Speaking of waste, working with this lot has made me feel like a pig in s—. I bow to them. Even Sheri (Diana Gitelman) returns. We only met her in episode 4 at Game Night, but it should be noted that from the first word she uttered in rehearsal, she had us all on the floor.

But why assemble this crew? For a party ,of course…not so fast. Quite simply, other than Drew, Val’s brother Alex has systematically co-opted every single last one of them from Val. Did he do it consciously? Probably not. I mean — did he? Can he not see the forest through the trees? Is it because of his eyebrows? Kidding. What eyebrows? LoveyouTommybestfriends. Anyway, perhaps the expression should be, “If you can’t have the one you love, love the ones they’re near.” Even more unsettling is how they all seem to love him back. Val’s world, usurped by Alex, seems to almost make more sense in this new model. It’s rather infuriating isn’t it? In fact, the scenes with Jack and Alex ‘bro’-ing out over BBQ are so real and dude-like — in the immortal words of my dear, funny friend Erin Hayes, they “make my vagina cough sand.” The guys bonded effortlessly over charred meat. In truth, I don’t know how much they were acting. Words like “spatch” and phrases like “what’s your setup?” and “coming through with the Boston butt” rolled so easily off their tongues it made me want to go vegan faster than a Hampshire College student on an Esalen retreat.

Meanwhile, the only part of Val’s life she can call her own at the delicious age of 40 is her marriage to Drew. For better or worse, Drew knows the quiet Val quirks that only he can share with her, like her love of deeply fried foods that only exist in chain restaurants. Because of their (**spoiler alert**) tryst, Val understands what it’s like to be the ‘other woman’ coveted by her admittedly piss-weak husband. Is it revenge? Is it some kind of reunification? Either way, a satisfying story arc for me to play.

Dying romance:

Laura (Tara Lynn Barr) and Spencer (Rhenzy Feliz) continue to dazzle, pop and explode into a most romantic teen storyline. FYI, this is Rhenzy’s maybe first gig and can we just say a collective “Holy crap”? He has one of the hardest roles on the show and he makes it look simple. That is some talent right there. I don’t want to give anything away… but when Laura gets the phone call? Goosebumps.

The birthday party:

Much as we did in season 1’s Thanksgiving episode, we get to watch Alex outdo himself preparing for an ill-advised get-together while Valerie has a mini mental break at din din, and wise little Laura hovers from a distance as the only sensible adult in the room. They should just put a moratorium on dinners for more than 3 people in that house. They never end well.

Leah recites a poem:

Julie memorized all the verses of Derek Walcott’s Love After Love. #Goals. When Leon says a heartfelt “thank you,” it might be the nicest anyone has been to Leah to date. Let’s hear it for decency!

I want to write so much more about what turning 40 means to a single woman, but I should probably wrap it up here. So I’ll just ask this: How many people hoped the hottie EMT at the end was a birthday stripper-gram? Just me? OK. Whatever. Go away.


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