Alpha House: Season 1, Episode 6

Episode 6 of Alpha House strikes out more than it hits home, but there are still signs that the season will find its focus in its second half

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his episode centres on the build-up to and aftermath of the big primary debate between Biggs and his opponent: the young, slick Digger Mancusi (Frederick Weller). The night before the debate, Guzman and Bettencourt provide Biggs with a few ‘zingers’ he can use; then privately conclude that ‘he’s fucked’. Gil John looks about ready to explode as the debate looms; and his mood isn’t improved one bit when Tammy informs him that the debate has been changed to a town hall meeting, an open forum where, as Gil John describes it, ‘a bunch of yahoos can ask any random dumbass questions they want.’

Laffer’s mood has taken a turn for the worse; his story is slipping from the public eye as he languishes in his hospital bed. Even Melman is deserting him, but the journalist promises the senator that he is merely ‘pivoting to his background’, which seems to fill Laffer with a sense of dread. Guzman is caught on camera sharing a car with an unknown woman, much to the incomprehension of his embattled Chief of Staff, Katherine (Natalie Gold). Graydon Talbot informs Guzman that Adriana is a ‘major player in south Florida’; Guzman is forced to concede that he didn’t know this going in. With the debate going badly, a desperate Gil is forced to fall back on one of his ‘zingers’, with disastrous results.

Biggs is falling into a familiar pattern of losing his temper at inopportune moments; it is a device that could well become tired as the series progresses, but thus far John Goodman’s skill in foreshadowing and executing these outbursts has kept the conceit fresh. Bettencourt comes more to the fore here as Biggs’ debate coach, providing us with a fuller picture of him as the canny political strategist we always suspected him to be. Gold is growing into her role as Guzman’s snide, world-weary Chief of Staff: her comportment is filled with the awful realisation that her senator is one indiscretion away from political oblivion, and the battle of wits between her and the crass, cocksure Talbot promises to be spectacular in its unmitigated viciousness.

The town hall is presented with a cinematic grandeur that serves to comically underscore the fact it is taking place in a high school gymnasium; it is a rare example of a stylistic gag in a series built around the sharpness of its dialogue. The town hall scenes strive to make some pertinent points about the vacuity of the popular discourse, where everything is seen through the prism of athletic competition and must be couched in sporting analogies to be digestible, but they fail to fully exploit its comic possibilities. Weller is effective as the glib yet unequipped Mancusi and the payoff of Biggs’ ‘zinger’ is deftly executed, but the representation of the questioners feels reductive and there is an over-reliance on Goodman’s talent for histrionics.

Episode six ends on a cliff-hanger that could have major ramifications for Guzman’s political hopes; it is an unexpected end to an episode that errs more on the side of broad satire than incisive political commentary. To adopt the sporting analogies so beloved by condescending ‘populists’, this episode of Alpha House strikes out more than it hits home, but there are still signs that the season will find its focus in its second half.

Best Line: “You read about people setting themselves on fire, but you never expect to see it in your own lifetime.” Graydon Talbot’s judgement of Biggs’ performance in the town hall.

Best Scene: The Laffers discussing whether or not Jesus counts as a real friend.

Best Political Reference: “If Gil blows it, this time next year he’ll be selling reverse mortgages.” Maddie outlining the consequences of failure for Gil John.

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