On Becoming a God in Central Florida: “Go Getters Gonna Go Getcha”

On Becoming a God in Central Florida Kirsten Dunst & Theodore Pellerin in On Becoming a God in Central Florida

One character’s ending results in some unexpected new beginnings as the season comes to a close.

We come to the end of the first season of On Becoming a God in Central Florida, the best little show not enough people are watching (but enough that it got a second season, so hooray us), and backbones are suddenly sprouting up like weeds. Several characters seem to snap out of their respective FAM-related fog almost instantaneously and turn their lives in the right direction, in an episode that feels a little rushed, but is ultimately as satisfying as the rest of the season overall.

If you were looking forward to the epic battle between Cody (Theodore Pellerin) and Pat (Josh Fadem) that was promised in last week’s episode, you’ll be disappointed. After some pushing and shoving, and a brief display of firearms (one of which turns out to be a water pistol), Cody gives up and walks away, muttering “What happened to us?” Our boy is looking a little pale and nauseous, well aware that the time where he’ll be forced to choose once and all between FAM and Krystal (Kirsten Dunst)  is close at hand.

What was supposed to be a brief moment for Judd (John Earl Jelks) to see his daughter turns into his fleeing with her. This desperate action finally compels Krystal to leave FAM completely behind her, quitting her job and breaking up with Cody. She’s back home barely ten minutes, however, before she decides, against all good advice, to blackmail Obie (Ted Levine) with Judd’s tape. “I didn’t do all this bullshit to not get paid,” she snaps, and while that’s a reasonable point, one wonders (a) why, despite knowing what’s on the tape, Krystal thinks that Obie will simply agree to be blackmailed without repercussions, or (b) why she does it for such a piddling amount as $20,000, which is probably the amount Obie pays for year to maintain his hairpiece. 

One minor criticism for the show is that it occasionally requires Krystal to be either as savvy or naive as the plot needs her to be, and that changes from one episode to the next. Here, knowing full well what kind of person Obie is, and what he’s capable of, she sticks her head deep inside the lion’s mouth, even agreeing to let Roger (Kevin J. O’Connor) come to her house, where her child is. It seems like a wildly reckless, dumb move for someone who up to this point greeted every situation with wariness and distrust. On the other hand, to someone like Krystal, $20,000 is probably a hell of a lot of money, and worth the risk.

Meanwhile, down the street, Bets (Beth Ditto) isn’t playing around, locking Ernie (Mel Rodriguez) out of their house and refusing to hear his pleas for forgiveness. Her sweet, passive nature that made her a non-entity during the first half of the season was, we learn, largely an act put on for Ernie’s sake, knowing that he was so deeply troubled. Nevertheless, Ernie being so deep in the weeds with FAM that he passed off another family as his own has torn it for her. “What do you want me to do, Bets?” Ernie asks. “I don’t know,” she says. “Why don’t you consult your goddamn upline?” 

In other unexpected developments, Roger shows up at Krystal’s house with the money, but doesn’t intend to do her harm, or even take Judd’s tape. In fact, he too is quitting FAM, mostly because Obie has lost sight of his original intention with FAM and is quickly flying off the rails.  Ever elliptical, he tells her “I want rational actors to pursue their interests vigorously and without apology.” When Krystal protests that she doesn’t know what that means, Roger admits that he admires her strength and determination, and wants to help her, because “You stand to benefit from Mr. Garbeau’s erosion…steady yourself.”

After that, the two of them join together and take down FAM and Obie Garbeau from the inside, resulting in wealth beyond their imagination.

I’m sorry, I mean Cody shows up and accidentally kills Roger.

Now, let’s be fair for a moment. Cody has made his choice, and after overhearing Obie order Roger to kill Krystal, shows up to rescue her. As opposed to very nearly everything else Cody has done up to this point, it was well-intentioned. On the other hand, he is an idiot, who shouldn’t have been given a potato gun, let alone a handgun with live ammunition in it. Accident or not, Roger is now dead, and it’s up to Cody and Krystal to get rid of the body, burying it and covering the site, all too appropriately, in FAM merchandise boxes. 

Disposing of a corpse offers the weirdest, most unlikely TV couple of 2019 the opportunity to be as vulnerable with each other as they’ve ever been. Opting to both leave FAM and stick together, Cody admits that he has nothing, no money, no family, no friends, no real job prospects, while Krystal admits that while she doesn’t love Cody, she needs him, and “If you let me, I’ll treat you like someone I need.” It seems unlikely that a relationship that started rooted in little more than deception and manipulation could work out for the long term, but having a little something together is probably better than nothing alone.

All too appropriately, two of the best things in media this year, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, and this show right here, focus predominantly on class rage, and how wealth is often acquired on the backs and in the sweat of the poor.

Though he manages to hold it together long enough to give one more corny, jingoistic speech at the telethon (“We are America, land of the free and home of the millionaires”), Obie is quickly unraveling, and faced with the news of Roger’s death, spirals into a panic attack and passes out. When he comes to, he discovers that Krystal, the nemesis he refers to as “Elly Mae Clampett,” has a new partner in making his life difficult: Cody, his former most trusted right-hand man. Krystal makes a demand of him that, like the original $20,000, won’t hit Obie much financially, but might make an irreparable dent in his pride — she wants ownership of the water park, ruining Obie’s dream of turning FAM into a competitor for Disney. 

Now, for Obie, owning the water park means making other people, the people whose names he can’t be bothered to remember, do all the work while he rakes in all the cash. But Krystal, she wants to work, she wants the satisfaction of earning money for her own efforts. So the show, and the season, ends with her now in the manager’s seat of the park newly named for her, drinking a nice big serving of victory out of a FAM-branded mug.

Though the entire show could have easily ended here, there’s a brief coda that suggests that Obie’s revenge, such as it is, will involve Krystal’s family, of whom we’ve seen or heard nothing, other than a brief flashback in which her mother forces her to kill her sick dog. It can be assumed that having them come back into her life will bring nothing but embarrassment and grief, and while the “awful family” trope has really been played out, both for comic and tragic effect, I’m willing to see where it goes here.

All too appropriately, two of the best things in media this year, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, and this show right here, focus predominantly on class rage, and how wealth is often acquired on the backs and in the sweat of the poor. Granted, Bong’s film goes into significantly weirder places than On Becoming a God in Central Florida does, but there are similar elements — the condescension of the rich towards the poor, the repressed hostility poor people experience, lest they get fewer crumbs thrown at them, and above everything else, the relentless unfairness of it all.

Most millionaires are millionaires because they’re lucky, and not because they work hard. The great lie that’s been sold to us is that if you’re not rich, it’s because you’re simply not trying hard enough. It killed Travis in the first episode, and it kills a lot of people in real life too. The rich don’t want you to succeed, because it might mean taking a few dollars out of their vacation account. It is, admittedly, exhilarating to see the tables turn, both in Parasite, and here. Whether or not On Becoming a God in Central Florida stumbles in the second season, this was still one of the most relevant, compelling, funny, and unsettling seasons of television this year.

Random Thoughts:

  • Note how Judd’s daughter, who begged him to take her with him, looks at someone wearing a FAM cap at a diner with discomfort. I was hoping this season would go a little further into the cult-like aspects of FAM, particularly what goes on at Paradise Cay, but perhaps that’ll be saved for next season.
  • Good thing I didn’t bet actual folding money that Cody wouldn’t make it to the end of the season, huh? Because, man, I was certain that he was toast.
  • We learn that Rhonda the Repo Lady (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) raises hermit crabs, coming up with dramatic stories for them and even putting tiny wigs on them, in a bit of quirkiness that’s been missing in the last few episodes.
  • Think of how many times Roger in other episodes looked at Cody’s gun with an expression that seemed like distaste, but now, in retrospect, may have been more like concern, as if he foresaw his own doom.
  • On that note, I guess we’ll never find out why Roger doesn’t wear shoes. R.I.P., Roger, you fascinating weirdo.
  • Krystal and Bets share a touching moment (albeit while Bets is TP’ing Krystal’s house in anger for getting Ernie tied up with FAM) when Bets admits “I just want my husband back,” and Krystal states that she does, too. Preoccupied with FAM and making sure the bills are getting paid, Krystal doesn’t seem to have had proper time to mourn Travis, and presumably (hopefully) this will be something that’s addressed next season.
  • Ernie finally gets Bets that peacock she’s been wanting, but will it be enough to save their marriage? Guess we’ll find out.
  • And that’s it! Thank you for joining me on this thoroughly entertaining journey, and hopefully you’ll think about it the next time you get a Facebook message from an old high school classmate who just wants to sell you some weight loss shakes.
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