‘House of Lies’ Open Thread: Medusas and Mormons

This post contains spoilers through the February 5 episode of House of Lies.

At the end of last night’s episode of House of Lies, Jeannie may just have been talking about Marty when she told him “I might possibly be the only person on the planet who has known you longer than five minutes and actually likes you. And all you do is shit on me. So fuck you.” But to a certain extent, she could have been talking about the show’s attitude towards women. Like Marty, House of Lies may not be aware that what it’s doing to its female characters is bad. But it is, to the point that I’m considering walking away from what I once saw as a promising show.

First, let’s talk about Marty’s “Medusa black-hole ex.” From day one, it’s been a huge problem for the show that Monica is supposed to be both a pill-popping, irresponsible sex maniac who also happens to be completely fantastic at her job and together when it comes to her professional life. There’s a bridge to be drawn here about how the skills that you need to be an excellent management consultant could make you a toxic person in personal relationships. But there’s a difference between treating people instrumentally and getting yourself so blotto you can’t be roused, a state that doesn’t tend to discriminate between days when you have to be at work early and days you don’t. And the show has never really explained that fundamental contradiction, or explained who Monica is as a person at all (much less what drew Marty to her in the first place).

She’s nothing but a vile shrew, telling Jeremiah that he hates her not because, as he puts it “you’re toying with my son, you ignore yours, and you are the perfect poster girl for narcissism, but “because you want to fuck me.” She shows up to care for Roscoe not because she actually cares but because her married lover reneged on a promise to take her to Fiji. And are we supposed to believe for a minute that Jeremiah would leave Roscoe with her when push came to shove given what comes next doesn’t seem totally out of left field? “I arranged an internship for his fat as fuck daughter. I even let him…do you know what a golden shower is?” Monica rants, before dragging Roscoe along with her to burgal her lover’s house for what she thinks she’s owed: “We are talking about roughly $16,000, and that is a conservative monetization.” They bond briefly over how great she looks in a couture dress (I do wish the show hadn’t fallen back on the gay/gender-questioning kid=fashion maven trope), and then Monica decides to steal a painting. “It’s kind of creepy,” Roscoe tells her of the Egon Schiele. And of course it’s all about Monica, again: “There’s still some beauty in there, isn’t there?” she needs to know. Ultimately, Roscoe gets himself to school and out of her way, but it’s frightening to think what a less-resourceful kid might have been dragged into.

All of this is not to say that female characters can’t be loathesome. But if we’re supposed to believe that she and Marty are deeply entangled, and by something other than just sex, that she’s very good at her job, there has to be something else going on here, and we need to be made to see and understand it. We got at least some of that last week, with Jeannie’s on-the-road affair, though again, it would have been nice if we knew more about her engagement before we saw her reacting badly to it. And I barely even want to get into Clyde and his corn-eating Mormon, a nakedly gross-out tactic that continues to confine Clyde to a distasteful combination of infantile and frat boy.

The one thing I thought worked well about this episode was the way it handled race and ethnicity. As soon as it became clear, as Marty put it that “Brant Butterfield: racist? He’s not going to want to hear a word out of my mouth except for the best way to shine a shoe or the optimal way to load luggage into a Pullman car,” the show could have done something corny about race and reconciliation. Instead, Marty went into killer mode, taking advantage of the situation to set up a test for Jeannie while getting himself out of responsibility for a situation that was doomed to awkwardness. And he first bonded with the secretly-Jewish CFO, then warning him in Jeannie’s presentation that he’d be only too happy to sell him out, saying “You should check and make sure that number is…kosher.” Sometimes, it’s satisfying to see bigots learn. And sometimes, it’s satisfying to see Marty say “I’m sorry for interrupting, Mr. Butterfield. Sometimes I just don’t know my place,” all while putting Butterfield in his.