As Bob plans another wedding, family drama threatens to derail his double lives

By Darren Franich
Updated July 30, 2020 at 05:33 PM EDT
Lone Star Josh
Credit: Bill Matlock/Fox
S1 E2
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If Lone Star had never actually been greenlit, the pilot would still have become historic. It would’ve been taught in screenwriting courses, and developed a “What could have been?” cult of imagination, Heat Vision And Jack-style. But last night was Lone Star‘s second episode, and second episodes are hard. Especially if the show is trying to do something unique. (Remember: after the monumental two-hour premiere, Lost had a Kate episode. And not even one of the good Kate episodes.) There’s already a burgeoning show-cult around Lone Star, but after a series premiere that handily mashed together the classical American Dream with modern man’s search for identity, plus lots of family politicking and oodles of broadcast-TV sex, could a second episode possibly measure up?

Short answer: No. Long answer: Last night’s episode wasn’t as masterfully paced as the premiere, but it still brought us deeper into the hot-blooded, semi-mythic world of Bob/Robert Allen, his beloved daddy, and his two sets of in-laws. More importantly, it kept things dangerous. The episode started with Bob/Robert walking hand-in-hand with his new(est) wife, Lindsay. Lindsay ducked into the bathroom. A man recognized Bob, called him “Frank Colson,” and exclaimed that he was owed $25,000. A scuffle followed. This was not the smoothly paced double-life that Bob is used to. The set-up screamed soapy awkwardness – did Lindsay really have to be in the bathroom for the exact right amount of time to not hear anything? – but the implication was clear: Danger is all around Bob. The world is constantly threatening to close in on him.

Cue the limo sex! Cue also an angry tirade from Lindsay’s Sabrina mom, who can’t believe she missed her daughter’s wedding. Lindsay doesn’t care about eloping, though: as she told Bob, she liked their fast-paced wedding. “We live like we’ve got a plane to catch,” she said. Nominally, this should be exactly what Bob should want to hear. (Roughly translated in Con-speak: “Mysterious Husband, I have adjusted myself utterly to your barely explained absences!”) But Bob wants more for his new wife. He wants her to have the best day of her life. He wants her to feel like a queen. He wants her to be feel as happy as his other wife did on her wedding day.

The way Lone Star crosscut between those two scenes – Bob in bed with one wife, and Bob watching his wedding video with another wife – was darkly funny. It also reminded me of something: Bob is not a good guy. He believes frantically in the possibility of creating something true out of a foundation of lies, which sounds crazy but is more or less how every great American institution came to pass. (Read Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson if you have a couple years to spare. Possibly subtitle for the series: “How everything great about 20th century America was invented by bad people in Texas.”) He seems to make everyone around him incredibly happy. But he basically betrays everyone around him, all of the time.

NEXT: The exception to the rule.

Except his dad. In some was, this episode belonged to Papa John. Bob is a blank, a person bred from birth to have no real identity. John is the opposite. Decades of larceny color his face. He walks at his own pace. There was a great con-montage (if Lone Star lasts very long, I imagine we’re going to get a lot of con-montages) that just showed him selling lots of people the same bill of goods. In a neat visual joke, his red jacket matched the color of the booths in the restaurant. To get really heavy for a second, Bob is a non-person trying to be seen – “I’m a real boy!” – and John is a true personality in the constant act of fading from sight.

This makes him both more interesting than Bob and less complex. He wants money. He gets bored easily. The best parts of last night’s episode were the quiet little moments of John sitting in his little intern-cubicle, struggling with the telephone and playing with neon-colored post-it notes. Bob and John’s relationship was at the center of the episode, and I suspect that we’re meant to ask ourselves: Is John’s casual small-time larceny somehow less evil than Bob’s semi-existential life-swapping? When John expresses frantic disbelief that Bob has gone bigamist, you can’t help but side with Con Man the Elder.

Still, no one’s clean in Lone Star. We still don’t really know that much about Cat – she’s clearly less-involved with the family business than Brother Doofus and Brother Gallant – but she’s clearly her father’s daughter. We saw her negotiate Drew’s release on a DUI charge. (Drew blamed it on the European beers, which everyone knows are more alcoholic.) She didn’t recognize the cop who asked her out four times in high school, and didn’t feel much need to apologize. Mark her as an intriguing-character-in-waiting.

Everyone is guilty of something. A good con man doesn’t act clean – he lets the mark see just the right amount of dirt. So Step 2 of Bob’s 97-point plan for ruling Texas involved letting his father-in-law find out about the wind farms, and then turning it around as if Thatcher Inc. was holding him back. It was a bold move – especially when Step 3 involved pretending that Brother Doofus was the mastermind behind the whole thing. This led to a showdown on a wind farm, where Papa Thatcher agreed to let the boys take this whole hippie green energy idea and run with it. (Side note: Did anyone see Wall Street 2? When did “green energy” become the go-to subplot for stories about corporate subterfuge? Side note 2: When the camera shoots Jon Voight against the backdrop of the Texas sky, he looks like a national monument, like the missing fifth face from Mt. Everest Rushmore.)

NEXT: Grab a towel, it’s time to meet the crazy sister!

Writing staff, this episode isn’t overstuffed enough yet. Pull the Sibling Lever! Viewers, meet Gretchen, Lindsay’s bananas-crazy sister who doesn’t mind letting her new brother-in-law get a long look at her presumably fantastic naked body. (Blast you, puritanical broadcast TV censors!) In just a couple of scenes, Gretchen complicated Bob’s previously straightforward Midland existence. She likes snooping around just for the sake of snooping. She totally ruined Lindsay’s tenth birthday, and don’t even mention Church camp. She’s the kind of girl who’ll pick up a cell phone that’s not hers and dial the most recent number, because why not?

If you ask me, the best scene of the episode was the brief interlude in the playground. Bob actually talked to Gretchen – you got the sense that he was the first person to seem genuinely curious about her in awhile, since her family and friends hate her. She talked like a classic drama-addict. “There’s somebody like me in every family.” Perhaps I’m wrong, but Bob looked dangerously smitten. Or maybe just curious. Gretchen is a wild card, much less easier to pin down than either of his wives. By episode’s end, though, he had to recognize a threat. I loved how she repeated both of his lies back to him. “Son. Son. Come to Greenfield High School, son.”

There was a lot more in the episode, not all of it good. John’s anger over Bob’s “Bad Daddy” story seemed utterly out-of-character. (We’re supposed to believe that this veteran of a thousand cons gets upset when his son tells an effective origin story?) I get the sense that people who checked into Lone Star for the first time might have been disappointed. Fox really needed a big one to justify keeping this show around, and besides the limo sex, this was a quiet, moody hour of TV. Still, I’m with it to the end – no matter how soon that might be.

Viewers, what did you think of this second outing? Which sibling rivalry did you enjoy the most? Do you think we’ll ever learn more about exactly how Bob got together with Cat? Wasn’t it just pleasurable to see Jon Voight and David Keith – two old dudes who look like Peckinpah cowboys – share a brief elevator chat? Seriously, has Texas ever looked this cool?

Lone Star

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