Alpha House: Season 1, Episode 8

The 8th episode of Amazon's political dramedy Alpha House has a great deal to say about the phoney authenticity that is part of packaging a candidate

We begin with footage of Gil John trying to explain his ‘firing blanks’ comment to the press, pulling back to reveal that the footage is being watched by Digger Mancusi’s aide, Angie (Molly Kate Bernard), who is scouring the footage for gaffes. The battle between Biggs and Mancusi is heating up as Gil John hits the campaign trail in a typically ostentatious bus bearing the slogan: Now Giving 115% to North Carolina.

Maddie and Tammy are firmly in control of the campaign as Gil John and his bodyguard Hakeem (Bjorn Dupaty) forsake the comfort of the bus for a more down-home station wagon. It is only when Gil John and Hakeem are on the highway that Gil John reveals his intention to duck out of a meeting with the governor and go ‘off the grid’. Gil John and Hakeem head for Gil John’s hometown of Ruby Shoals, but this sentimental journey brings home some unpalatable truths and forces Gil John to reassess his priorities.

Back at the house, Laffer is spending his recuperation searching for a new housekeeper, putting the candidates through their paces with a series of uniquely Lafferian tests. Bettencourt meets with a pro-fracking group, and learns the dangers of this controversial drilling technique firsthand when he visits a family who have sold the land around their home for exploration. Guzman is still trying in vain to get sponsors for his unusual War on Terror Veterans’ Day bill, but receives some good news from Adriana: he has been chosen to deliver the party’s response to the State of the Union address.

This is a Gil John-centric episode, and as such it is both highly entertaining and not a little poignant, getting the show back on track after last week’s lethargic offering. John Goodman traces Gil John’s self-doubt and sadness without delving into mawkishness; striking a masterly balance that adds a fresh dimension to the character. Maddie and Tammy are becoming an effective double act, playing the responsible adults to Gil John’s errant child, while Dupaty skilfully evinces Hakeem’s in-built stoicism and discretion.

I was wrong in my assertion that Bettencourt’s drug usage would never crop up again; it seems this is now a regular facet of his character, a plot device that will be called upon to thrust him into trouble when it is convenient to do so. Which begs the question: why wasn’t this mentioned until episode seven? It is these little inconstancies that serve to undermine the credibility of the characters. Laffer’s housekeeper auditions are executed with supreme pedantry by Malloy, and Martinez is growing into the role of the newly empowered Adriana, wielding power over a helpless Guzman with sinister relish.

This episode has a great deal to say about the phoney authenticity that is part of packaging a candidate, while also skewering those conservatives who profess to be in favour of small government while lamenting the lack of subsidies coming their way – “Choking on their own hypocrisy,” as Gil John ruefully puts it. While some of the characterisation remains erratic from week to week, Goodman and Malloy remain eminently entertaining.

Best Line: “If it comes down to a choice between competent and smoking, it’s not really a choice.” Guzman advising Laffer on the criteria for selecting the new housekeeper.

Best Scene: Bettencourt blackening his beard with eyeliner at the kitchen table.

Best Political Reference: “Mine are flatter and wider.” Gil John’s response to a press question about Digger Mancusi’s proposed flat tax rate.

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