This is a recap of Good Trouble episode 316: “Opening Statements.”
After last week’s episode of Good Trouble, I was excited. It feels like we throw around the word “groundbreaking” too capriciously these days but with this burgeoning queer love triangle between Ruby, Alice and Sumi, it felt appropriate. Television doesn’t tell the stories of queer Asian characters nearly enough and to have three in one storyline — each one side of this love triangle — it felt like Good Trouble was truly breaking new ground. As a critic, that excites me.
As a fan of the show, I tried to sit down and imagine who’d be the better match for Alice. I have, admittedly, been a fan of Ruby’s since she sauntered onto our screens. There was something about her swagger and confidence…and how she’s locked in on Alice from the very beginning, both personally and professionally. Long before agents and talent deals were at stake, Ruby recognized Alice’s talent as a comedian and pushed her to try out for the CBTV workshop. She failed Alice when it came to the workshop and, as Alice herself pointed out, it’s hard to rebound from that sort of betrayal.
That said, it might be slightly easier than rebounding from Sumi’s betrayal which involved cheating on Alice, especially since their Lunar New Year kiss proves that she’s still not above kissing someone who isn’t their partner. Still, though, Alice and Sumi have a history — she’s Alice’s first love — and it’s hard to compete with that. There’s an effortlessness to their chemistry, the kind that’s honed by years of connection. I’m still uncertain about her on-screen personality transplant but, for now, she’s loving and supportive of Alice in exactly the way that Alice needs.
I don’t know who Alice should choose and, as a fan of the show, that excites me.
But then came “Opening Statements,” which disappointed me so much, both as a critic and a fan, that it squashed most of my enthusiasm for this love triangle. Clearly, I was tempting the wrath of the TV Gods by being so excited about a romantic storyline; I jinxed us all. That said, as is Good Trouble‘s wont, when the show disappoints in one area, it gives me something else to latch on to…and in this case, it’s my favorite “something else:” more queer women.
This week, Alice walks into the workshop’s auditorium and immediately runs into Lindsay. She’s flustered — memories of her kiss with Sumi (AKA Lindsay’s girlfriend) flash in her head — and doesn’t hide it well. Thankfully, Scott arrives and saves Alice from herself. He shares the list of sketches for the CBTV showcase. Cuts were made, Scott announces, and much to her surprise, Alice’s sketch wasn’t among the casualties. She celebrates with the other comedians but not everyone’s happy: Derek’s sketch got cut and, instead of working with the others to bolster his role in their sketches, he sulks out of the auditorium.
The next day, Scott returns to the workshop with good news. He’s secured five extra minutes for the showcase so Derek’s sketch gets added back. But the celebration is short-lived: Scott and the writers have re-written the sketches to be “woke” and “inoffensive.” Translation: Scott strips the unique perspective offered by the comedians from underrepresented communities and makes it as bland and generic as possible. He and the writers are amused by the results. Ruby, Alice and the other comedians? Notsomuch.
“Scott took all of the substance out of our sketches,” Magda laments.
“And all of the funny,” Lindsay adds.
“A week ago, he thought racism was hilarious, now we can’t even mention anything cultural,” Shaun notes.
“We can do these jokes because they’re our experiences and our risk to take,” Stacey points out, before directing her comment at Alice. “No offense but you told us to give him another chance and for what?”
After Sanjana announces her desire to quit, Alice rallies the group. Scott said he was willing to have the tough conversations so Alice suggests they take him up on his offer. Lindsay’s skeptical that it’ll help anything but Alice presses on. Derek suggests that everyone just performs the sketches as written and just be satisfied with the exposure which Alice’s dismisses outright. They’ve been through too much, Alice points out, not to fight to do the showcase that they want to do. The other comics, begrudgingly, agree to have a conversation with Scott about preserving their sketches as they wrote them.
Admittedly, I’m unsure why Alice is defending Scott and the workshop so much: it’s entirely predictable that Scott won’t yield to the comedians’ pushback. If the suggestion is that Alice is preserving this for Ruby — based on the earlier suggestion that her job’s at stake — it’s not made clear in “Opening Statements.” Ruby is silent through most of the back-and-forth between the comedians, chiming in only to invite CBTV’s HR Director to the sit-down with Scott. How is she, the program’s co-director, not more active in this conversation? If she’s pressuring Alice to keep the program afloat, where’s that interaction? It feels like a missing piece of this storyline.
The meeting with Scott goes exactly as I expected. Alice calmly lays out the comedians objections — “with…all of your rewrites, you took out the social and cultural commentary that made the sketches funny to begin with” — and Scott defends his efforts to curate an inclusive showcase. He points out this what Alice said she wanted but she insists that he’s overcorrected. Shaun and Stacey both chime in that as a cis white man, he’s not in the best position to judge what they would find offensive. He ponders their criticism for a moment and then lashes out: no matter what he does, he can’t win. He throws a tantrum and leaves the “lunatics to run the asylum.”
Before he walks out, though he lobs one last bomb into the program: “FYI, your fearless leader, Alice, is only in this program because she was banging the casting director and still is.”
Dismayed, Sanjana asks if Scott’s revelation is true and Ruby’s driven to tears. Alice admits to the relationship but assures the group that they were only casual. Derek chimes in with his two cents: Alice encouraged the group to talk to Scott only in an effort to save her girlfriend’s job. The revelation, Derek surmises, erodes all the trust that all the comedians had in Alice…and while she sits silently, accepting their disapproval, I’m at home, screaming “WHAT?!” at my television. None of this makes sense!
Alice’s entire story arc on Good Trouble has been about building up her confidence and learning how to stand up for herself and it feels like a total regression that she doesn’t do that here. It’s particularly unfathomable that neither she nor Ruby would defend themselves in this situation because the allegation just isn’t true. Yes, they hooked up but Alice hasn’t been banging Ruby this entire time — much to my chagrin — and Ruby isn’t the reason that she got into the program. Alice earned her spot in the program thanks to the unanimous approval of the judging panel.
If the show’s staying true to the history, the mere suggestion that she didn’t earn her spot should’ve drawn Alice’s ire. But if the show’s crafting a new narrative, contrary to what’s played out on screen, it should, at the very least, be addressed between Alice and Ruby (and yet it isn’t) and, at worst, it should lead to some serious self-doubt from Alice (it doesn’t).
But also? Alice walked out of the program. She stood up for herself and the other comedians when they were too afraid to do so. It was her bravery that inspired Margaret Cho to speak out about the program. If Ruby’s job was such a concern to Alice, why would she have walked out in the first place? None of it makes sense…none of it reflects the characters we’ve come to know…and, worst of all, it derails my enthusiasm for this entire storyline.
Alice returns to the Coterie and finds Lindsay there with Sumi. She questions whether they were the one who told Scott about her relationship with Ruby — clearly, it was Derek! — and Lindsay’s taken aback by the allegation. Alice guesses that they’re motived by jealousy…but, instead of confessing to her Lunar New Year kiss with Sumi — much to Sumi’s relief — she recalls that Lindsay never wanted her in the program in the first place. But Lindsay sees through Alice’s weak cover-up. They respond, “well, our talk with Scott — the one you thought was going to be such a great idea — derailed the program so that’s not going to be an issue anymore. And I’m pretty sure whatever is going on between you and Sumi just derailed our relationship too.”
After Lindsay walks out, Alice asks Sumi what happened and Sumi admits that they just broke up. It wasn’t because of their kiss, Sumi assures her, it was because things between her and Lindsay weren’t working out. She confesses that she lost respect for Lindsay when they didn’t have Alice’s back during the walkout. Sumi tries to initiate a conversation about their kiss but before the exes can address it, Ruby walks in and asks Alice to talk.
Alone, Ruby reveals that she’s been asked to resign — “WHAT?!” I yell at my television — and that the showcase will likely be cancelled this year. There’s no mention of Scott’s allegation at all or the other comedians’ reaction to it….which, again, is bizarre if we’re suppose to believe that Ruby masterminded Alice’s admittance into the program for a relationship that she, at the time, said she didn’t want. Ruby apologizes that things are ending this way but hopes that things aren’t ending for them. She admits that she didn’t like the person the CBTV job turned her into and expresses regret for not having Alice’s back all along. She asks for Alice’s forgiveness and for another chance at a relationship.
We don’t get to hear Alice’s answer this week…and, after this mess of an episode, I’m not sure I even care.
+ Good Trouble newest queer character? Angelica, Malika’s brand new colleague at Douro. She doesn’t come right out and announce it, of course, but the way she flirts with Malika — including buying her a rose to cheer her up after she doesn’t secure a grant for her campaign to help incarcerated mothers — is unmistakable. Until now, Malika’s only expressed an interest in men but perhaps her foray into polyamory has opened her up to all other possibilities. She has to, right? I mean, no one, not even Dyonte, could ignore the sparks between the two co-workers.
+ Perhaps the most relatable moment of this episode: Mariana running into her ex-boyfriend, Raj, with his new girlfriend and Mariana’s former business partner, Claire. Everyone’s polite — well, except the way Raj immediately drops Claire’s hand, that’s cold! — but when they ask the other what they’re up to now, everyone lies. You can’t have your ex (boyfriend or business partner) believing you’re not better off without them so, of course, they spin fantastical tales: everything at Bulk Beauty is great and Mariana is indispensable in her new role at the law firm. Somehow, though, Mariana assumes that’s Claire’s being honest — c’mon Mariana, that’s not how it works! — and laments that Bulk Beauty is better off without her.
+ Tommy’s trial gets underway this week and Callie gets very upset at her ex-boyfriend, Jamie, for the sin of…um….*checks notes*…doing his job. Her accusations about ethical violations ring especially hollow when you recall that the only reason Jamie has this job is because of Callie’s ethical violations which she’s never been held accountable for.