This post contains spoilers for the January 22 episode of House of Lies.
To me, this episode exemplified what are becoming the clear best and worst of House of Lies. There’s the absolute ridiculousness of Marty and Jeannie’s visit to the Winters’ house, which is really just an excuse for the writers to stick phrases like “micro-phallus” and “that black dick” into the script. But there’s also the return of Greg Norbert, who is clearly going to be this season’s super-villain, setting up an arc that will explore how much you can focus purely on profit and selfishness and still stay in business. And as always, Marty’s home life continues to be wonderful.
Starting with that, I appreciate how the show juxtaposes Roscoe’s naturalness with Marty’s attempt to feign it. “What do you do if you like a girl, and you like a boy?” Roscoe asks his father, shortly after Marty awakens from a bad dream of his mother on the anniversary of her suicide. “I don’t know, Roscoe,” Marty stumbles, only to have his son blithely tell him, “I’m open to whatever.” That challenge between appreciating Roscoe’s openness to the world and protecting him from the people who will be resistant to it or fail to understand it is clearly an enormous one for Marty. But it’s also obvious that when Marty lets himself see the world as Roscoe does, say, in the moment when he relaxes and tells his son, “Yeah, man. Teach me how to Dougie,” that he can experience joy he can’t feel anywhere else. So much of Marty’s life is artifice that his home feels like more of an oasis than usual.
All of which makes it tense when it’s breached. Clearly, his life was going to be upended when Greg Norbert strolls into Galweather Stern to announce that after Marty’s team left, “We felt sad. No, not really. We had all this bailout money.” It turns out, he’s going to have MetroCapital buy Galweather Stern so they can have their own in-house consulting firm. “You will be ours,” he says cheerfully before warning Marty “I’m going to smash your head in. Then I’m going to personally fuck your bashed-in eye socket. Metaphorically.” Marty’s only response is to hit below the belt, and not metaphorically, asking, “how’s your beautiful wife? I heard she tastes like Pinkberry.” But as with much of Marty’s maneuvering, it’s a move that doesn’t account for the long game. Skip shows up at his house at the end of the episode to warn Marty that Greg’s animosity for him isn’t a joke, and to explain that he has no particular intention of sticking his neck out for a man who’s never bothered to forge a personal relationship with him and who leaves huge amounts of emotional damage in his wake. “Why the fuck would I do that?” he wants to know when Marty assumes Skip will protect him. “It’s a relationship business…Other people do what you do without leaving a swath of destruction behind them…I am the one left behind spending half my time making nice with people whose lives you’ve carved up and gutted.”
It’s enough to get Marty scared, but not enough to get him to stop. Just as he let Janelle see his blackness instead of him in Indiana, Marty does the same thing after going out with Clyde (clearly the devil sitting on Marty’s shoulder). When a rich club patron assumes Marty’s the valet, Marty lets him, only to drive off at breakneck speed in the man’s very nice car. It’s a wildly self-destructive move, and an unnerving one. The line between an aggressive playboy and businessman and a person who’s totally out of control appears to be all too fine.