Shining Vale 2×04 “Chapter 12: Smile” is another one of those episodes that has absolutely zero business working, yet does. And it also has about zero business being something we even attempt to review, given how much it covers in relatively little runtime, yet we’re going to. It seems, as usual, as if the natural place to begin is by saying this cast continues to prove how important having the right actors is to making even the most creative, and otherwise-impossible, concept a total success. Not that we really needed more evidence of that, and even if this cast (or any other) were terrible, we’d still say this next part…
It’s long past time for SAG-AFTRA to get the deal they deserve. How anyone can look at what Mira Sorvino is doing this season, as multiple, wildly-different
hauntings(?) manifestations(?) characters, and think, “meh. We don’t need to make sure this remains a way to earn a living so the next possible Sorvino (or Cox, or Birney, or Kinnear, or Gage, or…) has a chance to create art,” we’ll never know. But anyway. Time to get episode-specific for a bit.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: You’re a woman, and everyone tells you you’re hysterical. Or. You’re a woman, and everyone tells you you should smile more, regardless of what is causing you not to smile. (Hi. Some of us just have resting bitch face. Can confirm from personal experience.) Or! You’re depressed, after something traumatic, and everyone wants you to just…keep going on, living in this world, and pretending like everything’s fine. Like you’re “the happiest person [they] know.”
Shining Vale 2×04, if it is about nothing else, is about giving a giant “fuck you” to all of the above. And at the center of it all, whether she’s the “optimistic” Ruth Levin or the terrifying Nellie, is Mira Sorvino delivering just one chilling, heartbreaking, uplifting, mind-boggling performance after another. Do those descriptions appear to be at odds with one another? Yes. But that’s the real genius of it all, really. It’s the genius of what Sorvino and Courteney Cox do together in these scenes, as Cox (somehow) manages not to break — no, really. When do we get the bloopers — when a deranged Nellie tells her all about the “manipulator.” Or, in other moments, simply maintains that utterly depressed, detached air about her — only to break out of it with Pat’s occasional “WTF” reaction to Ruth’s story — while Sorvino just goes from that forced glee to…so much pain.
And that’s not even to start with the episode’s final moments.
You can not smile the depression away, and absurdly covering it up doesn’t work either. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Ruth, just trying to deny reality for as long as you can until you’re ready to face it, or more like Nellie and her circle of fellow “smile therapy” victims — all forced to literally cover their true expressions with paper smiles. And even if there’s good advice in there, somewhere between the horrors of that red-drowned gauzy smile circle and the assault very clearly committed against Nellie by the end. Doesn’t matter if, sure, sexual release is a good thing for endorphins — no, it’s not “hey, just get laid and you’ll be better” — either. The dismissal, the silencing, and constant pressure to “just get over it” are what make all these “treatments,” and all this “advice,” bullshit.
But mixing the nonsense with the grains of truth is what makes Pat’s journey part of a much bigger one. One that’s so timeless, multi-layered. And, of course, that’s exactly why Shining Vale continues to be so brilliant. Also, did we mention all of this important commentary and emotional…stuff happens in the middle of an absurd comedy? Yeah, people who don’t watch this series still have no idea what to make of it when we tell them all about it. You just have to be here — to see it — to believe it.
“You need to find your fake baby. And throw it! In the dumpster.”
With all of the above being said,
Rosemary Nellie Ruth’s advice to Pat, about getting rid of the things holding her back from healing — the fake babies, if you will — is actually not so terrible. In its own sort of way, at least. So now, the question is whether or not Pat’s marriage to Terry is the issue. Shining Vale 2×04 certainly makes the case for it being a place that needs some work, at the very least. Or, more to the point, it reminds us of the long-existing unaddressed problems, affairs and all, that we’ve known about since “Chapter 1.”
“Hey. Pat. Don’t you want to be happy?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been married for so long, I don’t even think about being happy anymore.”
Notably, though, Pat’s not the one who decides to throw the marriage in the metaphorical dumpster. (Where it may or may not belong.) That’s Terry, who gets his memory of the affair(s) restored to him in a pretty shitty way. He makes the choice to leave, and Pat’s the one begging him to stay because they “love each other.” But is that enough? The answer, so far, has clearly been no. Not only that, but. Well. Let’s let Terry explain this one.
“It sounds like you were sad and depressed…And I was your enabler…?”
In a lot of ways, Terry’s right to leave. Maybe, even, he should have done so sooner to avoid…well. Everything we’ve seen so far. Not only that, but Terry leaving means Terry getting to let loose — and Greg Kinnear having the chance to do the same for some pretty unhinged scenes. How Kinnear gets through so much dialogue, so fast, without taking a single breath as a coked-up Terry remains a mystery. But, despite the mutual heartbreak that gets the character to this point, the performance is comedic gold. And it’s very, very necessary to have for balancing everything else that happens in “Chapter 12.”
But, even amidst the chaos of Terry’s night of partying with Kathryn and the pain of watching Pat try to hold onto a marriage that isn’t working, there’s wisdom here, too. Love doesn’t always bring happiness, and leaving a toxic relationship behind (at least for now?) doesn’t magically fix things either. Because emotions are messy, and complicated, and…fucked up, really. Sometimes, we love people who aren’t right for us. And we have to know the difference between them and the ones who may occasionally cause us pain but whose place in our life is still worth saving.
…enter the Phelps kids.
“Jake just asked for help, and Gaynor called me Mom! I’m putting this in my gratitude journal!”
From the outside looking in, Gaynor and Jake aren’t great for Pat. In Shining Vale 2×04 alone, there’s their bickering with each other that interrupts Pat’s heart to heart with Ruth. And that’s because of several bigger problems, like Jake getting in trouble at school for tackling the opposing team’s mascot and Gaynor still basically being Jake’s mother figure. Pat feels like the worst mom ever when she gets to the school too late to help. (Bonus: In the midst of all this, she even gets roped into that ridiculous situation with the principal trying to butter her up about what a genius she is…just to pawn her manuscript off on her.)
That’s to say nothing of their involvement in one of Pat’s late-night wanderings, or Gaynor’s (as yet undisclosed) own haunting, or any number of other things. But Pat’s just thrilled by some of the small wins with Jake and Gaynor. Sure, they’re both more worried about their dad (and Roxy) during the big “talk.” And yeah, Gaynor and Pat’s relationship is as…combative, shall we say…as ever. But Jake wants his mom to take him to school. And Gaynor is, as disclosed through the truth hiding behind all the mutual sarcasm, exactly what Pat wanted. Hell, even though neither of them will ever admit it, Pat and her “bitchy, ungrateful teenager” are the same in fun ways — not just traumatic ones! — too. Case in point: They have practically the exact same conversation with the school principal.
Not to mention, Gaynor’s kind of a genius — great for bragging rights — and even into some under-appreciated literary greats. So, being “Mom” is a big deal for Pat. Honestly, the way she is so utterly thrilled by a normal (for them) interaction and something as little as being referred to as a parent, not by her first name, again…those are the small indicators that there is a chance for Pat. That she does have her good moments, could have good days even. Not forced smiles or denying reality. No. Finding those places for gratitude and celebrating them when we can, finding the things worth holding onto and holding on for.
More on Shining Vale 2×04
- This isn’t…necessarily specific to “Chapter 12,” but I would just like to apologize to myself, fandom-rotted brains everywhere — and to the icon Gale Weathers herself — for making so many references to The Morning Show when Pat has been on Good Morning Shining Vale, yet somehow, ignoring the very obvious connection to Ms. Weathers’ morning program from the most recent installments of the Scream franchise. Always here for a multi-layered “so meta” situation, between poking fun at Aniston in the original trilogy more than once (“the Rachel,” for one), then bringing that same energy here. Very sorry.
- Anyway. Back at it.
- That cold open was one of my absolute favorite horror moments in ages. Creepy AF with the…unknown woman down the hall. And the “creepy ghost movement like that thing in The Grudge,” for lack of a better descriptor, from Cox before Pat burst out from behind her messy hair was stellar. Plus, we’re always here for the jump scare.
- “What the…fuck you?!” Dead.
- “What the hell, everyone? “If I don’t get my full eight hours, I’m not going to be human tomorrow!!!” Interesting choice of words in a series like this.
- This entire exchange. Just…everything about it: “Hey! Last night was amazing.” “What part? My screaming, my night terrors, orrrrrr my sleep-walking?” “The fornication. It cured my limp.” “Honey, please don’t call it the fornication.” “I’m sorry. The penetration.”“You’re getting colder.” “Well, we don’t have to give it a name. I just…love being deep inside you.”
- Can I get a happy face pancake, or do I have to go through all the hauntings first?
- “When you see your smile, your depression goes away.” God, if only.
- “…writing a book about how asylums abuse women.” And then, what’s in her book at the end. Ouch.
- “Jake’s always been a good student. Aside from the pornography. And the human skull…and his grades.” Eh, close enough.
- “My house is just kind of a…stuff show right now.” First, she awkwardly tries to be both adult figure for Jake and a teenager at the school. Then, this. If your heart doesn’t ache for Gaynor, do you have one?
- The bit where Gaynor’s almost optimistic about, maybe, going back to school and seems to feel thrilled to be back in the environment…only to hear everyone gossiping about her is stunning, too. From Gus Birney’s everything to the visuals, it’s just excellent.
- But! She’ll be ok. Teen slashers are big on having that one scene where everyone talks shit on the Final Girl. And guess who gets the last laugh? Spoiler: It ain’t the bullies. (See also: The bathroom thing in original Scream, the bullshit theories and the people bullying Sam outside the frat party in Scream VI…)
- “By across the street, I mean my office. And by margaritas, I mean cocaine.” Harvey Specter did this kind of thing better. Just saying.
- “I didn’t get my uterus ripped out just to have another period.” This nurse is legit.
- “Holy fuck! What do poor people do when they go crazy?” Suffer. Wind up on the street. Get called criminals, mocked, killed by police…
- “I mean, even the worst therapist would see that it’s transference.” Where are my fellow Suits fans at? Let’s just absolutely scream over this line…for reasons.
- Also, the scene with Shitty Therapist…I can’t explain it, but everything about the way Cox lays on that couch, then eventually sits on it, is so me coded.
- “Most women. Would benefit. From smiling more.” Immediate reaction: FUCK YOU.
- “Then, I am obligated to post a series of essays about how your fuckups almost killed my family! How does that sound, asshole?” The way Cox times her movement and builds in intensity until Pat winds up right in this worthless, scared quack’s face is everything.
- “Your use of the F word is…poetic. It’s like the Ulysses of dirty words.” Iconic.
- “I wanted to say congratulations. You accomplished your dream! You must be so happy.” “I must be!” …and her smile doesn’t even meet her eyes. Ouch.
- “I was what they call a hysterical woman. Or, as my doctor said, a woman.”
- Would like to point out that Mira Sorvino, recently robbed on DWTS, absolutely knows how to tell a story via movement. See also: Smashing those piano keys, the throwing motions…iconic.
- “And that is the optimistic part.” As in, healing is possible (assuming you consider her healed, or at least in a positive place for now). Optimistic indeed.
- So much emotion from Sorvino in that piano scene. The faraway look in her eyes when she’s remembering this very painful thing and how she tried very hard to just…get through it and see the bright side, somehow. The big release of emotion where she talks about tossing the baby…all of it.
- “I’ve been tortured for so long with the dull, dull misery of Nothingness…I long unspeakably for Happiness. And so I await the Devil’s coming.” “Yeah. She gets it.” Cheer up, emo kid.
- Shoutout to Shining Vale for getting me to look up Mary MacLane, though.
- “You can’t leave.” Absolutely going to set myself on fire over this line delivery.
- “This and student loan debt are the only things I got in the divorce.” Kathryn’s real for this.
- “I can’t say fuck off because I’m working…” I am in this photo and I do not like it.
- “…but I didn’t kill my boyfriend, I’m not a slut, and I’m sure I’m smarter than you.” That long pause… “Also, fuck off.” Love. Her.
- “No, I’m Gaynor. That means…Gaynor.”
- Creepy ass mist and streetlight? Cool, cool, cool…
- Courteney Cox, dancing to Debbie Gibson…yes. Everything. Yes. 10/10.
- ”They didn’t want me to tell the story. And then, they did something monstrous.” This woman’s pain…she does not need to say what the “something monstrous” was…
I’M A PRISONER
WE ARE PRISONERS
- …written in her own blood. Holy fuck, this show.
- “HIS SEED IS IN YOU” Uh…are they gonna pull a Dana Scully/Jean Milburn but, like, with devil spawn? FML.
- “You’re fucking kidding me.” That part.
- If anyone can explain how they manage to get all of these seemingly at-odds elements into such short episodes and make it work, hit us up. For real.
Thoughts on Shining Vale 2×04 “Chapter 12: Smile”? Leave us a comment!
New episodes of Shining Vale release weekly on Starz.