Magic – as in magic tricks – are mostly about distracting the audience, drawing their attention away from the other hand, creating a fiction, cheating. Miracles are about seeing connections and basically, finding an easy explanation for things that are unlikely and improbably (the opening song of the episode repeats the line “When the stars align”). Gambling is about surrendering and believing that unseen forces can align and come to your help, that somehow, fortunes favours you more than whoever you’re up against. Stories – and in part I enjoyed this episode so much because of the many parallels to the previous one – can provide meaning, but they can also trap you.
Alex has a stack of cards, and on each there are six options. He surrenders to a dice, and in a way, this both forces him to act and relieves him of the responsibility to choose. His grandmother lives vivaciously through the real story of her husband, a sailor, lost at sea, but the ending of that tale was written fifty years ago. I think in a way, both of them, grandmother and grandson, have escaped into their respective ways of dealing with reality by creating a fiction because Alex’ father makes all the decision for them. He’s decided to put his mother in a home. He’s decided to make Alex his unwilling accomplice. He calls the shots, mostly from far away through the phone, and he is completely uninvolved in the emotional repercussions. Disinterested in Alex’ own life, he leaves the fall-out and the messy details for his son to sort out. So what else is there to do but re-tell the tale of the lost sailor through his post cards and diary entries and let the dice decide?
As hard as it sometimes is to deal with the consequences of questionable decisions and mistakes, life is at its worst when it deals you blows you had no part in. Grace’s death has left the group in shock – and they aren’t even necessarily torn apart by it as much as unable to process it as a group. There is a palatable lack of communication that Alex immediately notices when he is thrown, or rather throws himself fist-first, into it. Grace’s shrine looms over the cafeteria, Mini seems to be inevitably drawn to Liv but never says a word; the others sit around each other silently grieving. When Alex comes crashing into it, Liv is immediately fascinated by him. She sees the potential in introducing somebody new to the group because Liv never just sits around lets things happen – she’d rather drink a bottle of vodka to try and save a failing friendship than remain passive, or invite Franky into her relationship rather than wait for it to fall apart – and how could it possibly get worse than this?
So after knocking out Alo, he throws the dice again and ends up kissing her, which earns him a slap and her full attention. Liv’s run off with a stranger before, but this is different. With Matty, it was about running away from something, now it’s the opposite: by bringing in Alex, she thinks she can fix something that is broken.
Alex: It’s funny what you see and what you don’t see. Like you and your friends not speaking to each other.
Alex: And why you’re pouring a quarter of whiskey into your coffee before moon
Liv: I’m an alkie.
Alex: And I’m a psycho.
Liv: With a magic dice?
Alex: Everything about me is magic. Yeah, you should try it. Keep things buzzy.
Liv: You reckon?
Alex: What was the name of your friend that died?
Alex: You want to meet the wicked witch?
The wicked witch in the wardrobe is his grandmother, who immediately charms Liv, but the underlying conflict in Alex’ life is also quickly revealed. He takes care of his grandmother, but she also blames him for helping his father to send her to a home. She also tells Liv about her husband, who also liked to leave his life to be decided by fate (although the episode later reveals that throwing a coin doesn’t necessarily mean surrendering because there is always a way to get the result you want).
The first light's kissed my eyes
It's time to breathe.
The shearing wind that strips the flesh from me,
so grab your weathered skins and boots and go.
Is it the hell I fear or is it the sea?
Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Is it the Sea?
Liv hopes that Alex will change something, but at his first introduction to the group at their pub, he only manages to make Mini jealous (“You got a new friend, then? We don’t need any new friends.”). Nick tells him that he thinks he’s “cool” but tells him not to mention Grace – but Alex senses that this all goes back to Grace. It’s one of the first things he asked Liv about (“I guess you guys are a little on edge.”). The episode is about finding a way to address that grief instead of allowing it to grow into something more destructive.
For now, Alex can’t fix them. Instead, he takes Liv on a distracting adventure that involves card playing and running away from the consequences of cheating. The other thing that she wants from him that she thinks might help, he can’t offer. We see her expecting something of him – more than just a kiss on the cheek, at least – but instead he puts her in a taxi and goes off to fuck a stranger. She is furious when he finally tells her that he’s gay.
Liv: Stop it. Stop fucking with my head.
Alex: I thought maybe you knew.
Liv: You didn’t think that.
Alex: I was gonna tell you.
Liv: Spineless little shit. Can’t stand up to your dad, can’t deal with your own life. You used me.
Alex: I’ve just never had a proper mate before.
Liv: Who said I was your mate, you twat.
Mini: Who the fuck are you anyway? We don’t know you. We don’t need you.
Mini: Bit stupid.
Liv: Leave me alone.
The mandated memorial service is, in a way, also an example of characters being confronted with decisions that are being made for them. They haven’t yet found a way to deal with their grief in their own way, and now strangers – people who knew Grace so little that they actually call her “Grace Blood” – are organising the most tedious, clichéd, awful ceremony possible, co-opting their grief (“These are bloody difficult times, but if we talk about it, we’ll get through it, as a community. Together.”) with scented candles from IKEA and the worst music choice to commemorate the passing of someone who actually cared deeply about music. And, it turns out, perhaps one way of tackling grief is to at least express dissent over all of this – Franky beats up the guy (“He fucking hated you, you moron”), Liv smashes up his keyboard and flashes her tits (“What the fuck is wrong with all of you. What the fuck. You wanna remember something? You want some fond memories to wank over, well remember this! Fucking wankers.”)
Franky: I think Grace would like that.
Mini: Oh yeah. Liv’s always had top tits.
The story that Alex is telling his grandmother is nearing its end. His grandfather’s ship is filling with water – and we’ve already seen the headline from then, “lost at sea” – and the day of the inevitable move to the home is approaching. He finds her in her bed, with an empty bottle of pills on the nightstand and the final postcard of her husband.
Alex doesn’t share the group’s particular grief – he hasn’t lost Grace – but he thinks that he can help them deal with theirs if he involves them in his own way of commemorating his grandmother’s death. He rents a sailboat and takes them out to sea.
Alex: I think you all need it.
Liv: Why do you care? You didn’t even know her.
Alex: I know you. And I need a friend right now.
He asks them to help him with his grandmother – to give her the funeral she would have wanted – and they accept.
Alex: My gran didn’t wanna go where she was told. She wanted to go somewhere else instead. That’s it.
Alo: That’s it. What a relief.
Alex: You said you weren’t allowed to go to Gracie’s funeral.
Mini: You don’t get to say her name, Gay boy. This isn’t her.
Alex: Will you help me?
Alo: You gotta be kidding me.
Alex: I’m asking, okay. I’m asking for a bit of help.
Franky: Let’s do it.
Liv: Just help him, you idiots.
So they do. In the end, he throws the dice once again – six is always run away – so he and Liv jump into the water and Liv finally throws it away, because you can’t always leave your choices to chance.
Special segment: Mini.
I feel like I should have talked more about Mini but I don’t really have a working theory on what she is currently going through. The “don't come any closer / that's good enough / don't go away / I can't stand the thought” thing that is going on between her and Liv is incredibly interesting, but what exactly did Liv do to earn Mini’s resentment? Her flinch when Liv tried to console her at the pub was painful to watch. And yet there are all these little moments when Mini almost instinctively tries to help her friends – trying to calm down Liv at the ceremony, running over to help Franky.
Liv: Being angry with me isn’t… it isn’t going to change anything.
Liv: So talk to me.
Mini: I don’t want to. Or even if I did, I can’t. Not without her here.
I guess the argument here is that they managed to work through their difficulties (that began way before the fifth season) with Grace’s help, that Grace almost worked like a facilitator for them, and now that she’s gone, they can’t make their relationship work – but that’s not really what I got from the season finale and the first episode? I don’t know. Maybe there’s something more profoundly wrong with Mini that will be revealed in her own episode, for now, it remains a mystery.
“I have to take the odds whatever they are, life’s a gamble, honey chuck, you win and you lose. but I know you’ll wait for me, until I round Cape Horn and sail into the tide to hold you tight. Always yours, William.”
Franky: If you see our friend, Tell her we miss her.
Loved the music. The cinematography was great as well. I especially enjoyed how well the distance between the characters was portrayed – that shot of Franky and Liv, sitting on opposite ends in the pub, not talking…
Doug tells Alex to “Give them a chink of light and they’ll take you to the cleaners, Boyo.” I guess that’s exactly what he does? Also his command to the rest of the troops: “Take him to your bosoms and show him a thundering good time.”
I don’t care how often you tell me to check out twitter and facebook, e4, I WILL NOT REGARD IT AS CANON UNLESS IT APPEARS ON SCREEN. I’m an old-fashioned kinda gal. I don’t know where Rich was. I assume he was invited to Grace’s funeral while everybody else was disinvited or something.
Nick’s path to success in school, and advice for Alo: “just get Franky to do it for you, everyone else does.”
Liv: She does exist, right?
Alex: I’m pretty sure she does.
Nick: Fuck it, come and gay me. You’re dancing, or what?
Alex: I don’t suppose you know kung fu?
Awesome throwback to Liv’s “You’re tiny and I know karate” when she meets Matty.
Re: not sure if the whole "significance of dancing" thing is still actually a thing: Mini goes off to dance with random strangers, Alex' gran tells Liv that "It’s no fun dancing on your own.", and the whole "Mini doesn't have a lighter" sequence felt like it intentionally referenced the "come and dance" scene, because she looked at Franky, dancing with Alo and Nick, maybe remembering when Franky asked HER for a lighter and how the distance between them now would make something like that impossible. But. I don't know.
The entire scene with the random stranger revealed a side to Alex that the rest of the episode didn’t show – how he treats people he doesn’t really care about.
Alex: You need to update your profile pic.
Guy: It was a little while back.
Alex: In a galaxy far far away, yeah.
Oh, and you need to see someone about your dental hygiene problem. I’m not telling you this to be cruel, I’m telling you because it’s true.
He also makes the mistake of offering him money, mistaking Alex for a rent boy (“You’re missing the point mate. Just for a moment, everything was meaningless.”), and Alex tears the note apart (he told Nick previously he likes the feel of cash in his hand – but not like this). The scene is brilliantly mirrored later when his dad gives him money that he doesn’t want because it’s for something he doesn’t want to do (“Look, if you’re gonna get emotional over this, I’m not discussing it with you.” / “You’re not discussing it with me anyway. “)
Alex’ way of approaching life isn’t for Nick: one, hang myself, two, get into heroin. (and this is mostly played for laughs in the episode, also the sequence on the boat, his reaction to Alex' helicopter line, the captain's hat - but Nick seems well fucked up, more than everyone else but Franky).
Alex: I’m sorry.
Liv: You fucking should be.
Alex: I know. I really am. I just get in over my head sometimes.
Liv: Oh really. I practically had my tongue down your throat.
Alex: Yeah, and that was a nice thought.
Franky calls Matty and tells him to never come back.
Alex: How do we know what it said?
Liv: It said swim, sucker.
Special shout-out to Sam Jackson, Laya Lewis and Laya Lewis’ laugh, a character of its own.
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