Alpha House: Season 1, Episode 5

John Goodman and Julie White have effortless chemistry in this episode of Alpha House, while Bettencourt takes centre stage at the ethics committee

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the previous review I bemoaned the lack of character progression for Bettencourt, and I’m glad to report that this is the episode in which the congressional ethics committee gets into full swing. For all the apparent foreshadowing of Bettencourt’s relationship with the private security contractor Carthage Systems, it seems the complaint against him is that he received gifts in exchange for his vote in favour of a mohair subsidy; that he’s ‘in the pocket of big goat’ as Biggs derisively describes it while sitting on the committee.

Laffer is still recovering from his injuries while Melman sits in constant vigil at the foot of his hospital bed. Melman explains that he is ‘micro-blogging’; much to the consternation of Laffer’s wife, Louise, who is growing weary of the journalist’s constant presence. Mrs. Biggs (Julie White) arrives in town and is horrified by her husband’s ‘RINO’ – Republican in Name Only – positions during the mock debate ahead of his forthcoming primary. Guzman is beginning to prepare for his presidential run, but is rebuffed by Graydon Talbot (Richard Cox), ace campaign manager and ‘Washington’s biggest scumbag’.

This is an episode in which we get a sense of the main characters’ wider lives, and the peripheral characters are brought into sharper focus. White is a perfect fit for the formidable Mrs. Biggs; her chemistry with John Goodman feels effortless and their back-and-forth in the debate scene is marvellously played; there is a genuine sense of over-familiarity and history between them. Watching Gil John try to control his temper as his wife belittles him in front of his entire staff is both cringe-worthy and compelling, without slipping into the usual ‘bickering couple’ clichés. Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon also looks like she is going to be a worthy adversary for Biggs as the chair of the congressional ethics committee.

We didn’t get to see much of the Laffers this week, but Amy Sedaris further establishes the pious, priggish Louise in the brief moments she is called upon here, hinting at the hilarity to come. Adriana’s spoilt brat routine is starting to take on a new dimension since we learned she has powerful family connections: her decision to move out of the house may signal trouble for Guzman, especially considering that he ends the show trying to woo another woman. The budding relationship between Tammy and Aaron – Biggs’ and Bettencourt’s Chiefs of Staff – is developing into an interesting little subplot, playing on the disparity between hillbilly-made-good Tammy and uptight African-American Aaron.

But what this episode really gets right is redressing the lack of focus on Bettencourt over the previous two episodes. A particularly telling scene is Bettencourt’s exchange with Randall, an African-American janitor who works in his office. The scene is illustrative of how Bettencourt is perceived by his community, that he is a black man trying to appeal to a predominantly white base, and underscores Bettencourt’s misgivings about his place within a party that doesn’t have a history of welcoming minorities with open arms.

Best Line: “I’m being fucked by my own petard.” Biggs sums up his chances in the upcoming primary.

Best Scene: Tammy describing how she used to shoot squirrels for food to a horrified Aaron.

Best Political Reference: “You’re doing what you’ve got to do; which is to go all Clarence Thomas on us.” Randall’s response to Bettencourt’s TV ad

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