Is this what you’d call a bottle episode?
This week, House of Lies decides to play chess in a contained episode with very few characters outside of the main cast. We left off last week with Marty and Dre agreeing they’re both in for good on their plan to screw Lukas out of DollaHyde, but this episode also put focus on the pod’s dynamics and what makes them work so well. In another attempt to merge old and new, the show is integrating both of Marty’s pod through giving us more character insight into Will and Caitlin which, in turn, sets up competition for Clyde.
The episode begins- and entirely takes place- in a night club, complete with a dance floor aligned with people dressed as chess pieces. All right, I guess.
And at the club, Lukas, Dre and Marty toast to the soon launch of the Soldier Sneaker- the brand that will take DollaHyde to the next level.
Time out! Time freezes as Marty smells the aroma of the exquisite B.S. throughout. All of this fancy partying for a shoe line that will never even exist. This is all a DollaHyde Trojan horse party meant to distract Lukas while he cedes complete control of the company. Is it duplicitous? Of course. Morally questionable? Well, maybe, but Marty is convinced that Lukas is just a corporate cancer, so may as well dump him.
Elsewhere in the club, Caitlin tries to make nice with Jeannie by pointing out that the Soldier Sneaker’s design is similar to that of another shoe. As a reward for doing her homework, Jeannie gives Caitlin a nice pat on the head, which is more of a dick move than anything else, really. But Jeannie does admit that her playfulness can come across as mean spirited. And how.
Doug approaches with his gift for Lukas: chocolates. Not champagne, because that would insinuate that Doug gets all of his information about Black people from rap videos. But apparently Black people don’t like chocolates, according to Jeannie, anyway. And dark chocolates are just out of the question.
Will serves the pod a drink he calls an Attica 1971 because after drinking it, chaos and riots will ensue. Clyde is sticking to water, though, but he does have reason to perk up and talk when Jeannie refers to Will by his nickname: “20.” Turns out that in college, Will attended a party where the guys would try to shoot for a 10. Soon enough, the girls came to the party and Will had a threesome with two perfect 10s! Sounds so amazing that Clyde does not believe it at all and tries to downplay Will’s confident strut, but to no effect.
In the bathroom, Marty, whose been trying around a prototype of the sneaker, gets confronted by one of Lukas’ “bodyguards,” Slim Walter, played by Omar Miller. Slim tells Marty that Lukas is wise to what’s going on. He knows that the sneaker line is total bull and that he’s being pushed out. Marty plays defense until Slim reveals that he’s just screwing with Marty. There it is again. But Lukas has a proposition that will pay much more than whatever Dre is offering.
Outside, Caitlin complains to Doug about her inability to connect with Jeannie. Doug would use this as an opportunity to flirt, if not for Caitlin’s cigarette and Lukas’ bodyguard bringing out the body of a dog.
Whoops. Doug does indeed find that his box of chocolates that he stashed has been eaten, but he disposes of the evidence. No harm done, right?
Marty confronts Dre about Slim Walter. Turns out Dre just wanted to test Marty to see if he’d sell him out and if he was only in it for the money. Marty is convinced that he could have destroyed Dre if he wanted to, but Dre is just convinced in getting the job done, so quit whining and get to work.
Elsewhere in the club, Jeannie meets up with Clyde, whose just taking sips of water and notes how tedious parties can be when you’re sober. Very true. He makes a wager with Jeannie: he will bet $50 that Will strikes out with a Bishop woman he’s talking to. Because that will turn out well. Clyde switches to his recent turn of events and how hard it’s been after going against everything. He has to fight with all he’s got just to earn a bit of Marty’s trust. Jeannie concurs that going to Monica was a terrible idea, but says it was a good idea of him to not put all of his eggs in the Marty Kaan basket.
Later, Marty meets with Jeannie and tells her that they may be switching sides. The idea is to expose the double cross to Lukas in order to see if they can leverage it to their advantage. Dre is just too unpredictable. Lukas is at least a manageable asshole. Jeannie doesn’t see the advantage, but Marty does, so he wants her to do intel on Lukas: find out if they can keep his emotions in check after revealing the double cross.
Speaking of Lukas, he makes a second attempt to hit on Caitlin after she proves her expertise of shoes by knowing what shoes he’s wearing. But then Lukas makes another play- he wants someone with a real respect for shoes to be in charge of consulting the entire Soldier Sneaker line.
Before Caitlin can consider this, in comes Dre on a motorcycle. Why? Because people just randomly give their friends a motorcycle, I guess. But it’s a gift for Lukas putting in all his hard work for Soldier Sneaker.
When Lukas rides off to a room by himself, he’s followed by Jeannie. Soon enough, they’re both on the motorcycle as he shows her the proper grip and such. He then asks why she thinks Dre gave him the motorcycle.
Jeannie believes that Dre does respect him, but off come the gloves as Lukas tells Jeannie that she should be better at selling bull if she’s in management consulting. They share a quick kiss before Lukas tells her a tale: before Dre got married, he had a rotation of women that he slept with. Each one got a piece of jewelry. The longer they were in, the more expensive the piece. But after that, it was over. So the bike, the party, and shoes are all just parting gifts, right?
Marty eagerly awaits Jeannie’s return, but he’s intercepted by Clyde, who has good news. He’s been in touch with Marissa, and he’s close to a major hedge fund guy in New York. He’ll be in the area in a few weeks, so Clyde will try and get a meeting set up. Until then, however, Marty isn’t interested.
Jeannie explains that Lukas knew about the double cross before it had been addressed. If the pod wants to make a move to win him over, now is the time.
Dre enters the scene and lets Marty know that it’s just business. It didn’t have to be, but someone like Marty must know what that’s about. Dre does trust Marty, but it isn’t easy to just put his future in the hands of someone he just met. Meanwhile, there’s still the problem of Lukas.
So the pod’s story winds up as such: Will drinks a bit too much and makes a mess all over Jeannie’s feet, Caitlin realizes she screwed up big time and Doug, after one shot too many, decides to apologize to Lukas about the dog.
Initially, Lukas doesn’t believe the news at all, but when none of the bodyguards are able to account for the dog’s whereabouts, Lukas begins to crack. The situation is worsened when Doug tries to apologize for his first gift because Black people are offended by receiving chocolates as gifts. Not doing yourself any favors, Doug.
But Lukas focuses on something in the distance: Marty and Dre talking and laughing together. Putting the pieces together, Lukas rushes over and clocks Dre, ending the episode in a good old fashioned club brawl.
At least no one threw a chair.
After last week’s relatively harmless episode, “Middlegame” has characters exploding left and right. In my opinion, the episode benefits from being confined because we’re able to follow each storyline without randomly switching to new locations without explanation. As has happened before on House of Lies, the lines between personal and professional continue to blur, but for Marty in particular, they don’t mesh as well as he’d like because he got too close too early. The actions of Dre and Lukas put the pod on the defensive and exposed their armor, the same way Jeannie did to Marty. Like last week, however, there were just as many laughs as there were tense moments.
It’s worth noting how little Marty seemed to do his homework on Lukas and just judged him on appearance. Sure, Marty did homework on DollaHyde, but his primary focus was on Dre without considering how smart Lukas turned out to be, as he’s able to piece together Marty and Dre’s plan to screw him over.
I like how direct Lukas is when spelling out the entire plan to Jeannie without her having to admit anything. It shows how deep of a bond Lukas has with Dre that he’s able to realize when he’s being played. This goes against Marty’s expectations. Marty wouldn’t expect a thuggish looking man who loves pot and guns to be all that smart, yet he one-ups the pod because his connection with Dre is much deeper than anyone else’s. When he reveals that he knows what’s up to Jeannie, he’s not bragging or showing off…I mean, yes he is when he’s hitting on Jeannie, but when he talks about Dre’s past girlfriends and their jewelry, he’s much more calculating than Marty gives him credit for.
This week felt like more of an opportunity to mesh both the old and new pods, with Doug continuing to try and become closer friends with Caitlin, as well as Clyde now seeing Will as competition.
And Will has a point about Clyde. He’s been at Kaan & Associates much longer than Clyde and it’s clear that Marty isn’t interested, for the moment, at restoring broken bonds. As far as Will is concerned, Clyde is the real outsider and Will is part of the group. And I can’t hate on Will for this, either.
Clyde has a massive ego problem and his fall from grace after working for Monica has shown just how screwed up his situation is. When he has a chance to make friendly with the new pod, which Clyde would never actually do, he reverts back to his braggart self. Problem is that it backfires and Will really does have a way with the ladies that Clyde doubted. I like the idea of Clyde having to compete to regain Marty’s trust, but I do hope that the writers don’t just turn Will into a sudden bad guy or give the audience a reason to hate him.
When it’s all said and done, Will has proven to be probably the most competent new member of the pod. And Marty has more reason to keep him around because he used to work for Monica and has valuable intel. With Clyde, Marty just knows that he got stabbed in the back. Though, in a nice moment of solidarity, I did like the moment where Doug came to Clyde’s defense after Will called Clyde the new guy.
I also enjoyed seeing Will have a bit of fun this week with the random women he hooked up with in the club. Given that we’ve never learned much about Will, I didn’t know what to make of his character, other than that he was a hard worker. Now we learn he was a bit of a playboy in his university days and still has that confidence. It really helps flesh out his character and keeps him from just being a new guy made up to create trouble for the pod. I mean, aside from throwing up on Jeannie.
And on Jeannie, by the way, I do appreciate how she’s now the main go-to person for Clyde since she’s the only one who will hear him out. I mean, Doug would obviously hear Clyde as well, but that’s assuming Clyde is even in the mood to listen to Doug. But anyway, she did make a connection with Clyde in pointing out that putting all your faith and trust in Marty is probably not the best idea. Jeannie knows this. She had a chance for a close, emotional attachment with Marty, but he blew her off. She’s not looking to have one of her friends go down that same path, though I’d argue that Clyde was the engineer of his own undoing. Even though Jeannie accepted Clyde’s choice to not put all her faith in Marty, she did agree that going to Monica was not a smart idea.
As far as Jeannie’s connection with Caitlin goes, it looks like Jeannie has a hard time being cordial and constantly being professional. It may take more time. Jeannie wasn’t all that friendly with Benita until their last- as of now- conversation and she knows that Caitlin has potential for greatness, so she’s not going to cut her any slack. That said, the pat on the head like Caitlin was an animal was pretty cheap, even for Jeannie. That’s something I’d expect from Marty, but since Jeannie barely knows Caitlin compared to the way she knows her old pod, it’s easy to see how Caitlin would interpret Jeannie’s playfulness as rude.
Yet I would think Doug knew Jeannie well enough to know he’s being played. His subplot with the chocolates was as funny as it was awkward as he tried to explain his way out of a potential beat down by Lukas. I got a good laugh when he talked about not buying certain gifts for fear of perpetuating Black stereotypes, yet he felt something as innocent as chocolate would make Lukas blow his top. At least we learned something new about Doug: not only is he a huge dog lover, but he donates to the ASPCA every year. Good to know where some of his money goes.
Marty is really finding himself backed into a corner each week. He thinks Lukas for a fool and when called out on it, he’s ready for a fight. While Marty has normally been able to keep up a good poker face, if he can be called out on a bluff, he’s lost even more of his luster than we know. It’s like the idea of him not being completely in charge has affected his job performance. When he tells Jeannie, point blank, that he liked things better when he was her boss, you can tell that he means it. He’s not used to having someone operate on his level, most of all one of his closest friends.
This episode had a big payoff for something Jeannie told Marty: he was getting too close to Dre to the point that they may as well have been dating. And now Dre tells Marty that he’s just not into handing over the keys to his future to someone that he just met as part of a business arrangement. Marty may be savvy, but he’s still a businessman and a consultant. For him, it’s about the money, even if he doesn’t say it. His priority was making sure Dre was happy, which is also what Jeannie wanted, as she told Caitlin that when it comes to dealing with partners, the idea is to keep the alpha happy. Problem is that the pod gave the not-alpha less credit than he deserved and has a huge mess on their hands.
I did enjoy the club atmosphere this week. The production was bright and lively, and the living chess set, while not exactly on the subtle side as far as the pod and DollaHyde engaged in a game of chess throughout the episode, was a nice motif that helped the episode stand out. This was a fun episode that provided payoffs, but also set up another confrontation that I hope to see next week.