On Becoming a God in Central Florida Recap: “Many Masters”

On Becoming a God Ep. 5 Kirsten Dunst & Ted Levine in On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Showtime)

Masks slip & things are weirder than ever as Krystal gets an audience with the man himself.

Given the sad state of current affairs, it’s difficult to not look at every piece of art and seek out even the most subtle references and allegories. Though snake oil salesmen and economic anxiety are eternal, it’s at the fifth episode of On Becoming a God in Central Florida, despite it taking place in 1992, where the parallels between FAM and Trump supporters can’t be denied. There’s the focus on accumulating wealth at the expense of integrity, the phony emphasis on “family values,” the deluded devotion to its leader. And, of course, the leader himself, an empty suit whose half-bragging/half-philosophical/all incoherent blathering is treated like scripture by his followers.

We finally get to spend some time with Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine), the man behind FAM, who invites his “Washington Silver” level salespeople to Paradise Cay, his luxurious yet sterile compound. Though Cody (Theodore Pellerin), after just one sexual encounter, has caught feelings for Krystal (Kirsten Dunst), she’s only coming along with him for one reason: to convince Obie, with the help of a carefully crafted scrapbook, to keep letting her do the Splashercise class. Sticking out like a sore thumb in her acid wash denim outfit, Krystal is immediately ill at ease at the compound, and for good reason — it’s a spooky place, where visitors are expected to walk on egg shells with slightly queasy smiles on their faces, lest they displease the great man.

Krystal’s not the only one who’s uneasy. Cody, having finally reached the moment he’s been working so hard for, suddenly seems to be doubting himself, although that has to do at least as much with his feelings for Krystal as it does with his dedication to Obie and the Garbeau System. We also learn that the loathsome Carol and Carroll (Julie Benz and Eric Allan Kramer) are struggling financially, albeit not at the same level that Travis and Krystal were, but enough that Carroll is finding himself disillusioned with FAM.

It’s a good call to make characters that were on the verge of becoming cartoonish antagonists at least slightly sympathetic, and emphasizes what a genuine tragedy it is when people give everything they have — time, money, even their souls — to a con artist. Every aspect of FAM is designed to appeal directly to insecure people who are desperate for approval, whether it’s from absent parents or wealthier peers. Much of what Obie says seems like utter bullshit that no one should fall for, and yet there’s an impressive sort of evil genius behind it.

Despite their doubts, Cody and Carol/Carroll dig into their dinner of “FAMburger Helper,” which is some sort of brown slop with rice, with phony gusto. Krystal looks at it with dismay, and soon figures out that this is one of several tiny but undeniable humiliations Obie enjoys inflicting on his disciples. She also notes that Obie himself refuses to eat his own dinner of steamed vegetables, storming away from the table. Following dinner, Krystal has a bizarre encounter with Judd (John Earl Jelks), who seems to have exchanged telling the truth about FAM for working for them instead. His rictus of a fake grin as he orders Krystal to never speak to him again is a particularly eerie moment in TV show that seems to be becoming at least as much psychological horror as dark comedy.

Every aspect of FAM is designed to appeal directly to insecure people who are desperate for approval, whether it’s from absent parents or wealthier peers.

Krystal doesn’t have much time to think about what might have happened to Judd, because she and Cody are forced to rise in the middle of the night and compete with the other couples visiting the compound to win a private audience with Obie. The competition is equal parts confessional (“I was addicted to marijuana,” one member admits, “I smoked it sometimes two or three times a week”) and bragging about the wealth they’ve supposedly accumulated thanks to the Garbeau System. The whole thing smells of forced laughter and flop sweat, and Carroll almost blows his and Carol’s chance when he accidentally admits that his life was happier before FAM, but he pulls it together at the last minute by lifting Carol over his head like a human barbell.

This impresses Obie more than Cody’s fake public marriage proposal to Krystal, and Carol and Carroll win the competition. The prize is a whole five minutes in Obie’s office, where, after Carroll expresses his frustration at his mounting financial problems, Obie’s wise, insightful advice is, you guessed it, he just needs to work even harder than the sixty-plus hours a week he’s already putting into FAM. Carol and Carroll naturally take this not terribly groundbreaking advice like a pearl of wisdom cast down from the heavens, and are soon scrubbing down the front walkway of Paradise Cay at Obie’s command, not unlike Scientology’s requirement that its members do hard physical labor before they can move up within the ranks.

Eventually almost all the visiting FAM members find themselves out there, except for Krystal, who simply does what makes the most sense — she approaches Obie when he’s alone, having a late night snack of a burnt to hell Hot Pocket. Despite all the drama and mystery behind who gets to be in Obie’s presence, he’s neither surprised nor particularly put out when Krystal presents her scrapbook and gives him her Splashercise spiel. He turns her down, telling her she shouldn’t be so desperate, but all things considered it could have gone worse.

Obie, we soon learn, for all his “when I wake up in one of my several homes” bluster, is suffering from health problems, both of a physical and mental nature. He’s paranoid, delusional, and, like everyone else on the show (with the possible exception of baby Destinee) deeply, pathologically insecure and anxious. Resentful of the restrictive diet he’s on to control a heart problem, he also refuses surgery to install a pacemaker, against the advice of his doctor, his wife (guest star Sharon Lawrence), and Roger (Kevin J. O’Connor), who, despite coming off like a vampire henchman, seems to actually care about Obie.

Just when Obie seems to be on the brink of a breakdown, Cody shows up knocking at his door. Distraught at discovering his feelings for Krystal are decidedly not reciprocated, he’s taken Obie’s nonsensical motivational speech about pelicans literally, capturing and killing a real pelican and presenting it to Obie as a tribute. Obie is so moved by this show of faith that he immediately hires Cody as part of his “elite security force,” even presenting him with a gold handgun — spray painted, of course, because everything in the world of FAM is cheap and phony.

“You do know how to shoot, right?” Roger asks, with naked distaste in his voice. “Seems pretty intuitive,” Cody says, while spinning it around his finger. Clearly this is going to end well.

Random Thoughts:

  • It might be a weird thing to point out, but it was pleasantly surprising for the episode to open with Ernie (Mel Rodriguez) and Bets (Beth Ditto), characters played by two plus-size actors, making tender, happy love. Alas, this is a largely Ernie-free episode. I miss you, Ernie, please come back next week.
  • “She’s my lady. Uh, my partner. My lady partner.”
  • Is there any connection between the weird substance Krystal spots on a statue outside Paradise Cay, and Judd now working as one of Obie’s minions? What are we dealing with here, brainwashing? Something even stranger?
  • Note that Cody’s last name is misspelled as “Boner” on his personalized handgun.
  • Considering the nasty argument Cody and Krystal have before he stalks off to kill a pelican, I’m dubious of his claim that, now that he’s part of the fabled inner circle, he’s going to try to convince Obie to reconsider the Splashercise class. This episode may have given him dimension, but he’s still an untrustworthy snake in the grass.
  • How is it possible that Ted Levine doesn’t have a side gig recording audiobooks? All I want is an ASMR channel of him reading classic literature with a fireplace crackling in the background.
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