On Becoming a God in Central Florida: “Wham Bam Thank You FAM”

On Becoming a God episode 9 Julie Benz, Shari Headley, Sharon Lawrence & Kirsten Dunst (l to r) in On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Showtime)

Lines are drawn & alliances are tested as FAM celebrates their big day.

If you have friends who insist on getting involved in MLM scams, you might notice that some of their social media posts have a false sense of defiance to them. They’re going to build their empire in spite of their friends’ and families’ refusal to support them (i.e. buy their overpriced junk), and if they do it alone, then so be it, that’s what it means to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of big business. Like everything else about MLMs, it’s all scripted, meant to be both inspiring to those who are considering getting involved themselves, and guilt inducing for those who don’t fall for it. “You’re either with me, or against me” is an oddly aggressive tactic to take when it comes to selling, say, scented candles, but it’s one of the cornerstones of the MLM industry. “It’s war,” Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine) says, in the penultimate episode of On Becoming a God in Central Florida. “And war is heck.”

I said in last week’s recap that it didn’t seem possible that Krystal (Kirsten Dunst) would end up working for FAM, but she is. To no one’s surprise, employment at Paradise Cay means long hours of cheap labor, and constantly being reminded that she needs to “pay her dues” before moving up in the ranks, while Carol (Julie Benz), who’s apparently been brought into Louise’s (Sharon Lawrence) inner circle, smirks at her in derision. It’s a steady paycheck, though, and as most of us know, eating shit so you can pay your bills and take care of your kids is the American Way.

Cody’s (Theodore Pellerin) job isn’t much better, though, as he gets stuck spraying down Obie’s nude body with self-tanner. He gets a slightly better assignment, however, when he’s tasked with watching over the orphaned children who are supposed to be benefit from the “Wham Bam Thank You FAM 37th Anniversary Jam,” an event that’s half-telethon and half-tribute to FAM. Curiously, Obie is co-hosting the event with sworn nemesis and business rival Buck Bridges (David Paymer), whose name, mea culpa, I misheard as Bud Bridges up until this point. Despite their seething with hatred for each other off-camera, on camera they’re schmoozy pals, even performing a FAM-flavored take on “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” The rubes watching in the audience eat it up, and it’s for a good cause, raising money for orphans who need adoptive families, and if you believe Obie gives one single damn about orphans, I have a case of FAM-branded extra fluffy toilet paper to sell you.

I don’t doubt that whatever side he ultimately aligns himself with will result in a bad end for him, because neither Obie or Krystal really care about him, and there’s an unexpected tragedy in that.

Not even Cody really seems to buy that, but he’s already confused enough as it is, torn between his loyalty to FAM, and his feelings for Krystal. The trajectory of Cody as a character is fascinating – while he’s still absolutely loathsome (as exhibited when he insists that the orphans should be forced to wear makeup before going on camera), the cracks in his surface are revealing a weak, profoundly naive child. I don’t doubt that whatever side he ultimately aligns himself with will result in a bad end for him, because neither Obie or Krystal really care about him, and there’s an unexpected tragedy in that. Sure, the kid’s a smug, spineless creep, but even he doesn’t deserve to be so deeply in love with and needy of approval from two people who only view him as a means to an end.

Things are quickly spiraling for Ernie (Mel Rodriguez) and Bets (Beth Ditto), as Ernie misses a promised counseling appointment with Bets and their pastor. Ernie, struggling more than ever with the trauma of the pizza restaurant shooting, is disturbingly finding more comfort in Obie’s blathering nonsense than in his faith, and his refusal to talk about the incident with Bets is driving their marriage off the rails. It’s unclear if Ernie is delusional at this point about what role FAM can play in his life or has simply given into it because, like Krystal agreeing to work for Louise, he has no other choices. Sweetly naive Bets, in refusing to appear on the telethon with Ernie and their son as a “FAM success story,” is still able to admit out loud what he can’t: they’re not a “FAM success story.” There’s no such thing.

Krystal has an unexpected meeting with Buck, who offers to pay her $10,000 to bring him a recording from over a decade earlier that Obie would find “very damaging.” She blows him off, but when Louise sends her on an errand to Paradise Cay on the night of the telethon, she reconsiders. Krystal doesn’t find the recording, but does have another spooky encounter with Judd (John Earl Jelks), who really does seem to have been brainwashed in some way. As it turns out, it’s nothing quite that lurid. After escaping from Paradise Cay by hiding in the trunk of Krystal’s car, Judd tells her that he was “excommunicated” from FAM and estranged from his family for the mere act of breaking off to start his own business. He’s been working his back into Obie’s good graces, by doing the same sort of menial labor that Krystal’s been doing for Louise, while his wife, Harmony (Shari Headley), is still employed there as well, albeit at a higher level and separated from him.

Judd agrees to record his story to be used in Mirna’s (Melissa De Sousa) expos√© , if Krystal can get his young daughter on camera at the telethon long enough for him to see her. Krystal is forced to make a mad dash back to the telethon, but is spotted by Cody, who, both alarmed that she might do something to ruin Obie’s big night, and concerned for her safety, follows her. He’s stopped, however, by Patrick (Josh Fadem), the victim of Roger’s ambush last episode, and he’s no longer interested in talking business. It’s unclear what’s more of a gripping cliffhanger, that, or the look of hollow devastation in Ernie’s eyes, when he’s forced to go on camera with a fake family in place of the real family he’s about to lose.

Random Thoughts:

  • Man, Obie comes off as such a clown in this episode, whether it’s while having his face covered in plaster for a bronze casting “in the event of my assassination,” or getting into a bitchy old man dick waving fight (not literally, but close enough) with Buck. How anyone takes this guy seriously as an authority on anything, let alone wealth and success, is a mystery, and yet…look around us right now.
  • Did anyone else catch a panicked Louise saying “There’s no one there who can leave,” when Krystal asks if someone from Paradise Cay can run an errand for her? Because that’s not super ominous or anything.
  • Krystal getting her ex-boss Stan (Usman Ally) to grudgingly admit that she would have been a good park manager if he hadn’t sold Rebel Rapids was a surprisingly touching moment. It’s also one of the funniest moments: “You’re no Ernie, you don’t like to work.” “Well, who likes to work?” “Ernie, I just said that.”
  • Ernie and Bets’ son (Cooper Jack Rubin) is kind of a little creepy, isn’t he? I wonder if anything’s going to come of that next season.
  • Krystal is twice reminded in this episode that she’s been a neglectful friend, too wrapped up in FAM business to be aware of anyone but herself. This is becoming a fascinating “when you look into the abyss” scenario, as everything she hated about Travis’ involvement in FAM is coming to pass for her, whether she likes it or not. It’s just that insidious.
  • This episode’s music cue: Mirna, while killing time in rehab, attempting to play “Tom’s Diner” on a recorder.
  • I gotta wonder if Cody spending extra time adjusting the amount of self-tanner on Obie’s nipples is a callback to Ted Levine’s iconic “would you fuck me?” scene in Silence of the Lambs.
  • One more episode to go! I can’t imagine everything is going to be all wrapped up next week, but what would you like to see resolved? What plotline do you think needs more time to cook? Talk to me here, or at The Spool’s Facebook or Twitter pages!
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