A Look at House of Lies- Season 5, Episode 8: “Tragedy of the Commons”

Have you ever wondered about the internal strife that often plagues boy bands and threatens to tear them apart until the inevitable reunion tour?  Me neither, but perhaps Marty and the pod will see what it’s like as they take on a hot tween sensation group to make sure both sides end up with the most money possible.  This is “Tragedy of the Commons.”

Tragedy of the Commons- Marty and Ron discuss D'Ream Out Loud

The episode begins with Ron and Marty discussing the boy band called D’ream Out Loud (not a typo)- the biggest band since One Direction.  Celestial Music Group is having a hard time getting the group to resign, so Ron pitched K&A as closers.  It helps that they have the Dushkin twins deal under their belt.

Marty is skeptical about babysitting the Backstreet Boys, despite the promise of endless afterwork.  However, Ron points out that Monica is racking up media properties, but K&A is media-lite.

Tragedy of the Commons- Jeannie at a photo op with Seth

At Logan’s Diner, Seth has Jeannie pose with him in photo-ops, but she’s got to get to work.  They’ll meet up this evening for a fundraiser.  Jeannie is just…not ecstatic about this.

Tragedy of the Commons- Doug tells Clyde about his new Twitter followers

Back at K&A, Doug reads some Tweets from his new TED Talk fans, some of whom call him an inspiration.  Just to clarify, prior to this Talk, Doug had 125 followers.  Now, he has 136.  Doug tells Clyde that it’s about quality, not quantity.  Not to mention some of the fans are women that show some cleavage.  The pressures of fame are many.

Apparently, Tess understands that Doug is a lot of women’s hall passes, even though there was no reason for him to remove his shirt.  But it doesn’t help that Tess and Doug haven’t had much time to talk since the TED Talk.

Jeannie enters and tells the two that the meet and greet went well.  Clyde was still nervous, but he’s fine now.  After all, the electorate has responded well to Jeannie at these campaign events.

Tragedy of the Commons- Marty and JR brief the pod on D'Ream Out Loud

The three enter Marty’s office, where our fearless leader briefs them on their boy band assignment.  JR plays a bit from one of the group’s songs.  Clyde knows the lyrics.  The video itself is as generic as you’d expect from a boy band, but I imagine that’s the point.  And I don’t even know that much about boy bands.

JR continues: D’Ream Out Loud has racked up $50 million in record sales, plenty of #1 records, and a shit ton of revenue in concert sales.  The star of the group is Conner Sanders- the shinier version of Harry Styles.  That’s One Direction, right?  The group’s new contracts have been sitting on their lawyer’s desk for two months.

Why?  The group is sitting out their current deal so they can be free to do whatever the hell they want.  D’Ream Out Loud may literally and figuratively sound like bullshit, Marty figures, but the pod will go after them like any other client.  Jeannie then slips into a fourth grade memory when someone ripped down her poster of Jordan Knight.

Tragedy of the Commons- Girls mob boy band D'Ream Out Loud

We cut to Dave & Buster’s, where the group is greeted by denizens of teenage girls…until Conner steps out and the majority of the girls flock to him.  Thus, leaving the remaining three members with next to no one.  For Marty, though, if you take down the alpha, the rest shall follow.

Tragedy of the Commons- Marty speaks with Conner, played by Rhys Wakefield, about his future with or without the band

Inside, Marty speaks privately with Conner, who confirms that he plans to go solo. Conner wants to skip the consulting bullshit, so Marty doesn’t talk business.  After all, sounds like Conner has made up his mind, so Marty toasts to Conner’s last two weeks of financial security.  You see, Marty looked at Conner’s financials.  Despite that, he says that Conner is fine.

Tragedy of the Commons- Doug and Clyde play air hockey with two band members

Back to the pod and remaining three members.  While Sam gets Jeannie a necklace, Doug and Clyde play air hockey with Ryder and Hunter about taking such a big risk. There are internal problems, though: Conner gets paid more when there should be equal pay.

Tragedy of the Commons- Conner tells Marty that he'll be fine, according to his business manager

Conner tells Marty that he has nothing to worry about, according to his business manager, Joel, even if he never sells a single solo album.  Conner figures that Marty is trying to scare him, like he’s a boogeyman.  So what does the boogeyman see?  A kid who spends $650,000 a month on expenses.  Wow.

So maybe Conner should ask Joel about his private, offshore account and how it keeps growing.  Marty’s guess is that Joel isn’t paying Conner’s taxes.  Also, if Conner doesn’t resign, he has a six month non-compete clause.  Teenage girls probably won’t wait that long.  Btu hey, nothing scares Conner, right?  Except maybe Marty.

Tragedy of the Commons- Sam, played by Noah Reid, talks with Jeannie

Outside, Sam manages to get Jeannie a necklace that he won on his 15th try.  A personal best.  Sam claims that it’s not about the money.  He never even wanted to be part of the band until Conner convinced him to join.

But then, Conner went full-asshole.  Jeannie tells Sam that he’d be walking away from a lot of money, but Sam wonders what the point of money is if he’s not happy.  That’s oddly profound for someone in a boy band.  She then watches a new segment about Seth, who mentions that he’s dating a single mother, Jeannie, who works hard to provide for her daughter.

Sort of a dick move, since now, Jeannie is the poster child for single motherhood.  Sam sympathizes with Jeannie, as he knows what it’s like to be a part of a story you didn’t write.  Sam would treat Jeannie like a queen. She responds with a kiss, but no tongue. Then Doug shows up and tells Jeannie that Marty wants to talk.

Tragedy of the Commons- Pod meets in the women's restroom to discuss the band

The pod meets in the women’s restroom so the band members can’t get follow them.  I get the logic, but still an odd choice.  Marty feels that he’s got Conner, but he needs a push. Hunter and Ryder want parity, but Sam feels that Conner is an asshole and is dead set on leaving.

Jeannie suggests getting Conner to agree to parity, which should be good for CMG, but no.  The hell with that.  So Marty goes to Conner and advises him to listen.

Tragedy of the Commons- Clyde tells Jeannie to talk with Seth

Since Jeannie won’t answer Seth’s calls, Seth calls Clyde instead.  When Clyde hands over his phone, Jeannie dips it into his glass of beer.  Apparently, Jeannie is ghosting Seth: breaking up with someone by never talking to them again.  I thought that was just breaking up, but whatever.

Doug asks how long you go without talking to someone before it’s ghosting, and that’s maybe five or six days.  It’s been eight days since he and Tess talked.

Tragedy of the Commons- Band reunites

Marty and Conner arrive, with Conner telling the band that yes, he’s been an asshole.  He wants to get things back to the way things were.  The band is back together.

Tragedy of the Commons- Jeannie smells the bullshit

Sounds like all is well in boy band land, but Jeannie sniffs the bullshit.  The pod is just screwing over the backup dancers.  Since Jeannie is being a contrarian, Doug and Clyde bring up her kiss with Sam.

Tragedy of the Commons- Seth catches up with Jeannie

The next day, Seth catches up with Jeannie and asks why she hasn’t returned his calls. Okay, I’m no relationship expert, but if a conversation starts out like this, it’s bound to end badly. Obviously, Jeannie is still miffed about Seth’s words and has every reason to be, so she elects to break up with Seth.  She just doesn’t like Seth enough.

Seth thinks that Jeannie doesn’t know how she feels, and that leads her to head inside. The boy band arrives and Sam, like an idiot, brings up his kiss with Jeannie.  This leads to a fight that the paparazzi are lucky enough to capture.

Tragedy of the Commons- Tess tells Doug that she wants to be dungeon master

Upstairs, Doug finds a pissed Tess waiting for him.  She lays into Doug, saying he was a jerk at the TED Talk, despite all the support she gave him leading up to the talk.  Tess breaks up with Doug, which sucks, but Doug is more concerned with whether K&A still has her business.  She’ll keep doing business, but only if Doug makes her Dungeon Master.

Tragedy of the Commons- Doug tells pod that they have lost Tess' business

Smash cut to Doug telling Clyde, Marty, and Jeannie that K&A is no longer doing business with Tess.  No explanation why, though.  There will be time to destroy Doug later.  Right now, focus on the boy band.

Tragedy of the Commons- Pod presents five year plan to band

The two groups meet, with CMG’s exec congratulating the boy band for resigning for five years.  Clyde kicks off a presentation showing the baseline pro forma if the band continues.  This could lead to $120 million. Dope, but Marty wants to do better.

First, Conner will announce that he’s leaving the band.  Then, the band will announce that it’s doing a ‘Goodbye Conner’ tour, which would raise Year 1 NPV to $170 million.  Conner will then record a solo album, featuring a duet with Katy Perry, and a tour.  After a year of great revenue, Conner will realize that he misses the band.

As such, there will be a reunion tour that will be a global event with premium tier pricing. The group is looking at a mid-range five year of $320 million, three times the baseline.  Sam feels that Conner’s nice words were bullshit, but then Marty mentions that the remaining group members will have parity. In other words, equal pay.

Tragedy of the Commons- Band reacts to potential new deal

Conner will have a separate solo contract, but the group is still equal. Everyone is happy about this arrangement except for Sam, who feels that Jeannie played him.  Also, Marty calls Doug into his office.

Tragedy of the Commons- Marty and Jeannie talk

Later, Jeannie tells Marty that they made a shitty move.  Besides, Marty reminds Jeannie that they all have done much worse than this.  Jeannie knows that they screw people over all the time.  When it’s to build the business up, that’s fine, but if they’re handing over K&A to Skip Galweather, what’s the point?  As Marty puts it, the point is money.

Jeannie, remembering Sam’s words, says that more money won’t make them happy. True as that may be, winning will make him happy.  Then Clyde enters and shows footage of Seth’s fight with the band.

Tragedy of the Commons- Marty and Ron talk about how to win over Skip

That evening, Ron congratulates Marty on his work.  They got CMG, but Skip told Ron that he and the Kohl brothers are going with Monica, so in the end, they lost.  Marty still sees a play.  Until the paperwork is signed, there’s time to bring something huge to the Kohl brothers.  And not by signing a company.  What about a country?

After all, Ron still has connections in Cuba.  If Cuba isn’t ready for the Kohl brothers, it’s time to change that.

Truly, money is the root of all evil.  Whether intentional or by accident, “Tragedy of the Commons” presented the pod with an interesting client: itself.  What I mean is that the band members, with their goals, aspirations, and problems with the group as a whole, mirror what the pod has endured and has become vocal about in the past two seasons.

Tragedy of the Commons- Conner and Sam

Conner is the leader who gets most of the glory, Sam is outspoken and is more concerned with the leader’s decisions to the point that he’s willing to walk away, while Hunter and Ryder are just along for the ride, but feel they deserve equal representation for their work.

Tragedy of the Commons- Band learns how much money they'll make in five years

Much like “Above Board Metrics,” it’s a good way to draw attention to the pod’s interpersonal and internal turmoil, but through the perspective of another group that’s on the verge of breaking apart.  And while the pod isn’t about to split again, they still don’t always see on one accord.

Tragedy of the Commons- Jeannie reacts to Sam blowing her off

Jeannie is the biggest outlier in the pod.  Throughout the season, we’ve seen her struggle with becoming a better person and responsible mother, despite her flaws.  Even though she’s done her fair share of bad things, Sam’s words do strike a chord, even if I find this to be a bit blatant.  He already seems to already believe that money doesn’t equal happiness.

Tragedy of the Commons- Jeannie with Sam as he talks about money and happiness

It’s like Jeannie had this sudden epiphany that, I feel, she could have figured out on her own.  Or maybe I’m looking into this too deeply and Jeannie is thinking more about happiness because Marty is about to sell the company.  She’s all for serving her own interests if it betters the company, but she doesn’t see the need to make underhanded deals if she’s not happy or doesn’t have the same authority she has now.

Tragedy of the Commons- Jeannie wonders what good money is if she's not happy

I imagine part of the reason Jeannie is so outspoken is because she’s not trying to let the company or someone else define who she is.  She doesn’t want to be portrayed as another slimy consultant.  And she also won’t let Seth define her as a struggling, single mother.  In essence, Jeannie doesn’t want to be seen as a prop.

Tragedy of the Commons- Marty tells Jeannie that the point is money

She’s more like Marty’s moral compass since, unlike Jeannie, Marty is more concerned not just with money, but winning.  If he’s about to hand over the reins of K&A to Skip, he may as well end on a high note.  And so far, he’s done well with the Dushkin twins, D’Ream Out Loud, got big tobacco to sign with Kush Vista, and he has Tess’ business.  Well, unsure about that last one right now.  But his goal is to defeat Monica.

Tragedy of the Commons- Marty talks with Conner

He can’t do that by always thinking about the ethical implications of his decisions, so he plays the businessman role by showing his client which option will bring them the most money.  And he’s dealing with young pop stars who are all about fame and fortune, if real life is any indication, so of course they’ll latch onto a deal that will garner them more money in the long run.

Tragedy of the Commons- Ron and Marty formulate a plan for Cuba

And despite Skip seeming to have chosen Monica, Marty still has a backup plan involving Ron and Cuba, which pays off reports from earlier this year that House of Lies would be the first scripted American program to film in Cuba since the United States restored diplomatic relations with the nation.  So this should be a fun trip.

“Tragedy of the Commons” showed the pod doing what they do best: smooth talking and ensuring their client gets the best deal possible so they get the best payoff possible.  With Skip set to pick Monica over him, Marty doesn’t have much time to put his backup plan into play, and now that Doug has lost Tess’ business, I expect this to come back up and bite both him and the pod in the ass very soon.

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