A broken-down elevator is a perfect metaphor for “Whitney Houston, We Have A Problem.” It’s stuck in place, an inconvenience that the audience has to endure to get to an episode where things actually happen.
Tandy in a T-Rex costume is the most memorable part of this episode, but it’s a hollow gag. This show loves to mess with Tandy’s appearance to create comedy (shaving off half of his hair, giving him giant fake eyebrows), but Tandy-Rex is a funny look solely for the purpose of a funny look. The script explains Tandy’s appearance by having him say, “You catch crazy with crazy,” but that’s a flimsy justification for why he’s in such an impractical get-up. Yes, Tandy is the kind of person that does random shit like that and it’s easy to see him saving that costume for a day when the group really needs its spirits lifted, but Tandy’s behavior plays best when the script provides some sort of rationale, however twisted. Acting “crazy” is the opposite of rationale, and the visual gag of the T-Rex costume doesn’t work as well when it doesn’t have a clear character motivation behind it.
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Gail and Melissa’s absences drive the plot this week, and both threads are unsatisfying. The episode shows what Gail is doing while the group searches for Melissa, who doesn’t appear until the end, and the recurring bit of Gail shooting her gun at the least opportune moments becomes more frustrating each time it happens. That frustration might be exactly what writers Tim McAuliffe and David Noel want to evoke in the viewer, but there’s no relief. When everyone finally hears the gunshots, they get distracted by Melissa and leave Gail behind, and the next time Gail shoots, the gang has already gone inside the other building.
Tandy is suspicious of where the shots came from, but Gail is still stuck in the elevator at the end of the episode, her situation barely changed from where she was at the start. It’s a static storyline, and not even Mary Steenburgen’s talent can make it feel dynamic. There’s a glimmer of a more interesting story when Gail starts to scream about how this situation coincides with her generally horrible luck in life, and the preview for next week’s midseason finale suggests that Gail will be slipping into a more introspective mode as her elevator imprisonment continues. It would have been nice to have some of that this week, because her time in the elevator doesn’t reveal anything more substantial about her character.
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The Melissa plot is more active, but there’s still not much happening there. Carol’s concern over Gail’s disappearance puts her in conflict with Todd, who is panicking over Melissa’s current state and doesn’t take Carol’s worries seriously, and the emotional meat of this episode comes from their clash and reconciliation. Mel Rodriguez has done strong work capturing Todd’s increasing anxiety over Melissa’s mental heath this season, and that anxiety turns into desperate fear when Melissa disappears. Rodriguez’s frenzied performance gives the impression that Todd has run through every worst-case scenario in his mind, and although he doesn’t say it, you get the sense that he’s pushing himself because he’s afraid Melissa has killed herself.
Tandy’s useless (but very funny) investigation of Melissa’s goodbye letter is especially infuriating because this is a time-sensitive matter, and if that’s a suicide note, they need to act fast and find Melissa. Gail didn’t leave a note. She just left, as she’s wont to do, and Carol’s daughterly intuition isn’t concrete evidence that Gail is missing. In his exhaustion, Todd lashes out at Carol and tells her that Gail left because of her, and these words cut deep because Carol knows that they’re true. She doesn’t want them to be, but holding on to the selfish idea that she’s not responsible for Gail’s exit is getting in the way of more pressing matters. The irony is that Carol’s intuition is actually right and Gail does need to be rescued, but accepting her responsibility and offering to help Todd find Melissa still represents a moment of growth for Carol.
The search for Melissa goes around in a circle, and she reappears at the home complex at the end of the episode. Her disappearance convinces the rest of the group that she needs some serious help, but it ultimately feels unnecessary given her dangerous instability throughout the season. Clearly something is wrong with Melissa, and taking her off the board for an episode delays a much-needed intervention. “Whitney Houston, We Have A Problem” could be cut from the season and it wouldn’t make much of a difference, which is disappointing because every other episode in season 3 has brought something interesting and entertaining to the table.
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Stray observationsThe Gail storyline is bland, but there are some strong visuals connected to it: the repeated shot of the building where she’s trapped, completely dark and looming ominously over the parking lot, and the very first shot of her in the elevator, a cramped image that immediately creates a claustrophobic environment. I wonder when penis compliments became something Tandy used to cheer up other men. I can’t imagine it working any better than it does with Todd. Anyone else really nervous about the resolution of the Melissa plot? There’s a lot to deal with there, and I hope the writers have a satisfying pay-off planned. “Don’t worry about laughin’. I know you’re tired.” “Fart on a stick!” “They can both be in trouble. Ever hear of double trouble?”