Casual is a show that has a tendency to sneak up on you slowly. Just like any good Jason Reitman film (he’s one of the show’s executive producers), its particular hold on character and the eccentricities of those characters in a normal state of being, feels both comforting and entertaining. But it doesn’t move particularly fast. You have to wait for the more exciting moments to be doled out to you at the most perfect times. The Season 3 premiere is no exception to this, and while it does take some slower moments to bring you back into the story after a hiatus, a twist ending feels just right and sets up the story for the rest of the season.
When we left Alex, Val, and Laura last season, they were spending the final moments with their father/grandfather as they assisted him with his choice to end his life. It was a finale that was wrought with emotional turmoil and seemed to bring the trio closer together, without hindering Val from making the ultimate decision that her and Laura needed to move out and start over on their own. When we are reunited with these characters in Season 3, there is a riff between Alex and Val that is not just physical. However, that separation does not keep them from showing their codependency. We open on a moment that cuts back and forth between Val and Alex’s separate conversations about one another, each of them making it clear that they feel the other is the dependent pawn in their relationship. By the time we do finally get them in a room together, their relationship feels strained, each of them relying heavily on small talk to get through a cringe-worthy dinner.
Without being able to play their normal roles in each others lives as oddly close siblings, they take on surrogate individuals to fill in the gap. For Alex, that’s Hans, a German man who is renting out a room in his home as he “dabbles in hospitality” with Airbnb. Alex quickly becomes invasive in Hans’s personal space while he stays in Val’s old bedroom (at one point Hans exits the shower to find Alex loitering in his bedroom doorway as he would’ve done with Val). He even forces him into an awkward breakfast where he expounds his current mental state with little to no response from Hans (he doesn’t give him much time to talk). Alternatively, Val is left to deal with her new landlord Tina (Jamie Chung), who is taking a very lax approach to fixing Val’s broken sink – her handyman is currently out on a “soul searching expedition” and she doesn’t want to interrupt him unless it’s really important. And just as Val would’ve done with Alex, she continues to be pleasant and goes along with Tina’s laid-back attitude, despite the dishes piling up in her sink.
It isn’t until a conversation that Laura has with her Dad, Drew, that the core story of the episode is set into motion. When he asks her if she wants him to come to her grandfather’s memorial, she’s confused – what memorial? Cut to Val and Alex scrambling through his mail that has been piling up (he calls it a “lifestyle choice”). Buried in the mound they find the invite from their mother, with a note scrawled in her handwriting – “Please bring your father.” Alex and Val are rightfully offended that she wants him back after abandoning him in his final moments and agree that she will not get his ashes. But in true Alex fashion, by the time the memorial service rolls around, he shows up with his cremated father in hand (after a conversation with his therapist, Jennifer, he feels more closure with the situation, and is willing to give his mother the “memory” of her husband). His failure to consult Val about this newfound rightfulness causes the riff between them to deepen and finally implode – “Even when I’m gone, you manage to punish me.”
A moment of tentative reconciliation does come when the pair discusses their final conversations with their father. While he told Val, “Sorry we weren’t closer, but maybe it’s for the best,” he left Alex with the sentiment that “you have your sister and that’s a real love.” – Moments that end up being undeniable clues to a part of their relationship that they have yet to uncover. Then, just as Alex makes moves to steal their father’s ashes back, their mother (always the scene stealer) makes her speech to the guests. One that culminates with her dropping a bomb on everything Val knows about her personal identity, as she is not in fact her father’s daughter – “For him to take me in as a single pregnant woman and raise my daughter as his own, that speaks to his depth and his preponderance of character and for that our family will be eternally grateful.”
Ultimately, in the greatest (and final) moment of the episode, Laura breaks into hysterical laughter. Bringing us back to the tone and humor that this sweet and special show is best known for, before cutting to black.
Images via Hulu