The Spool / TV
On Becoming a God in Central Florida Recap: Everybody Into the Pool in “A Positive Spin!”
Krystal levels several playing fields in an uneven third episode.
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Krystal levels several playing fields in an uneven third episode.

One thing I had hoped for from On Becoming a God in Central Florida is that it would explore exactly what kind of person buys into a spiel on how putting out thousands of dollars of your own money to sell nonsense like scented “anti-stress tincture” and repackaged skin cream will somehow, eventually, make you rich. “A gullible person” seems too simple an explanation — it’s a complicated question that ties into the extremely American notion of “it’s not enough to succeed, you must do better than everyone else.” It’s unclear if we’re going to get that far, but new characters are introduced and a mystery is afoot in “A Positive Spin!,” an episode that seems to be trying on a few different outfits to see which one fits best.

Thanks to local alligator poaching laws, Krystal (Kirsten Dunst) is more in debt than ever before, and has lost her house. Stuck sleeping with baby Destiny at Rebel Rapids, she’s working double shifts and teaching water aerobics to a dwindling, uninterested customer base. The lies and deception Travis was maintaining continue to pile up, as both Cody (Theodore Pellerin) and Carol (Julie Benz) imply, for reasons that are unclear as of yet, that he was cheating on Krystal with one of his FAM clients, Mimi Waldenstock. Mimi (Lois Smith) turns out to be a disabled senior citizen, who tells Krystal that she stored thousands of FAM products Travis bought but was unable to resell, as a kindness to him.

Speaking of kind, the sweet, beleaguered Ernie (Mel Rodriguez), already concerned about what son Harold (Cooper Jack Rubin) may be up to in the privacy of his own bedroom (it turns out he’s dancing) and confused about his feelings for Krystal, faces job stress as well. Stan (Usman Ally), Rapid Rivers’ detestable owner, forces Ernie to participate in a “suburban outreach program,” giving out season passes to the park to drum up business. He wants to see “less Benetton and more Ralph Lauren,” meaning an increase in white customers. You can all but hear the sound of Ernie’s shoulders slumping as he wanders around an aquarium handing out passes to white bystanders, while non-whites look puzzled that he’s not offering any to them.

One thing On Becoming a God in Central Florida has done particularly well so far (albeit only three episodes in) is illustrate the many hierarchies we both knowingly and unknowingly participate in during our everyday lives. No matter where you work, or how much money you earn, there’s always someone who’s doing better than you, and they are more than happy to let you know it. Ernie desperately just wants to feel loved and secure, but the world seems intent on reminding him that he’s constantly doing something wrong.

No matter where you work, or how much money you earn, there’s always someone who’s doing better than you, and they are more than happy to let you know it.

We learn a little more about FAM itself when former motivational speaker Judd Waltrip (John Earl Jelks) interrupts a news broadcast to accuse FAM of stealing his family away from him. Reporter Mirta Herrera (Melissa De Sousa) has a vague interest in his story and FAM’s bizarre intimidation tactics with the media (including threatening to mail a journalist a turkey sandwich every day if he doesn’t pull an article about them). She ends up being more fascinated by Krystal, however, when she hijacks Cody’s chance of recording his own “Garbeau tape” at a rally to give her own speech. Krystal’s speech initially seems to be telling the truth about FAM, and all the myriad ways it ruined her life until she abruptly changes course and turns it into boilerplate “bootstraps” talk that the FAM members seem to eat up like delicious candy.

This turns out to be a clever ploy to move some of those water park season passes for Ernie, and it’s a smashing success. Krystal is a smashing success, much to her surprise and Cody’s greedy delight. With the glib, fast-moving talk of a televangelist, Krystal seems like she was born to serve up bullshit, and her status as the “alligator widow” makes her a fascinating subject for Mirta.

Mirta should be more interested in Judd’s story, however — particularly after someone firebombs his house.

Krystal and Ernie are such rich, believable characters that I’m not sure how much of On Becoming a God in Central Florida I want to be taken away from them to devote to a mysterious barefoot man running around wreaking havoc and threatening lives. Obviously, all signs point to FAM having something far more insidious going on behind the scenes than just selling hand lotion (and if something happens to Ernie so help me there’ll be hell to pay), but the vibe changing from merely “weird” to “dangerous” feels a little too soon. We know something’s going on with these people, let it percolate a little longer before things start really going off the rails.

Random Thoughts:

  • We learn that Cody’s father is in prison, and refuses to see him, but for what is not revealed as of yet. However, Cody is such a sniveling worm that I can’t bring myself to care with so little information.
  • Carol refers to her husband as a “stallion,” and insists that he would never cheat on her because “He’s got an all you can eat hay buffet at home.” Krystal’s grimace at that speaks for the audience.
  • Cody and Carol are so insufferably smug and phony that I have no idea how either of them manages to sell so much as a single roll of paper towels.
  • “Okay…Stan’s a poet.” Stan’s also a bit of a secret pervert, as it turns out, which Krystal discovers and uses as leverage to get him to finally agree to sell FAM products at the water park.
  • “A Positive Spin!”‘s winning musical cue: Judd’s house blowing up to the tune of Michael Bolton’s “How Can We Be Lovers.” But there’s also the infectious song sung at the FAM rally, which just seems to consist of the words “ding dong” repeated ad infinitum, and is still stuck in my head as I write this.
  • Krystal’s reaction when Ernie tells her he wants to be part of FAM (Ernie, nooooooo) is a wonderful mix of surprise, relief, resignation, and guilt. Man, Dunst is just killing it here.
  • There’s a Murderer’s Row of guest appearances coming up on On Becoming a God in Central Florida, including Sharon Lawrence, Kevin J. O’Connor, and Mary Steenburgen. I also look forward to the inevitable reappearance of Ted Levine as the god-like Obie Garbeau II, still far more talked about and heard than seen.