In “Part One,” Ryan spends a day alone and faces some harsh words. “Part One” sets up the conclusion for Season One, and leaves the audience on a terrible cliffhanger… what will happen next week??
Episode 8 of Anytown focuses on Ryan and the conflicting thoughts he’s been having lately. The previous few episodes have set up Ryan’s internal struggle as he attempts to discover who he is and what he wants. In “Part One,” he won’t come to that conclusion… but he’s definitely on his way.
The Beginning of the End
“Part One” begins with a (sort of?) cliffhanger in and of itself. Ryan and Molly are hugging in the kitchen. The atmosphere is tense. Lacey comes in, covered in blood and distraught. “PART ONE” flashes on the screen to ominous music.
Ostensibly, the plot of “Part One” is a day in the life of Ryan. Molly is spending the day with Jake, and Lacey is off doing her own thang. Molly expresses concerns that Ryan will not be okay on his own, but he’s pleased to have some time to himself. That is until he actually has time to himself. This time is interrupted by a “gender-fluid hetero-normative” individual. This person, Martin, wants Ryan to sign his petition requiring his college to use trigger warnings in classes.
Ryan, who is attempting to find peace and quiet, is initially okay with Martin. Martin (and a cast of off-screen people) applaud Ryan for his seeming progressivism. When Ryan admits that he has a “Korean wife, a Mexican daughter, and a son that [he’s] at least half-black,” the invisible crowd applauds and gives him roses. However, when Ryan asks Martin what his petition is for, Ryan seems flabbergasted by Martin’s requests.
Ryan asserts that trigger warnings are a form of censorship and that we can’t put limitations on what other people say. He goes with typical responses like “free speech!” When Ryan says that no one is harmed by words like “rape,” the crowd hisses and boos. Ryan seems unable to grasp why Martin (or anyone) would want to enforce trigger warnings.
(White) Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin (whose full name is, yes, Martin Luther King, Jr., and yes, he is white) won’t take no for an answer. Declaring that he needs to educate Ryan, he follows him around and pesters him with random information. Martin explains his identification as “gender-fluid hetero-normative” to an unreceptive Ryan. Despite Ryan’s obvious disinterest bordering on hostility, Martin continues to pester him.
Eventually, Ryan has had enough. He attempts to explain his point of view — people fought in wars for freedom of speech — but Martin shuts him down. Martin explains that Ryan’s response is “a primitive way of thinking from a close-minded, homophobic, possibly xenophobic old man with underlying misogynistic tendencies.” He punctuates this with a snap and blows glitter in Ryan’s face. Ryan is beyond done.
The next thing we see is Ryan stashing Martin’s dead body in his SUV. He contemplates texting Lacey, but you can see the gears turning in his mind. He has just told Martin that we cannot stop people from doing what they want and saying what they want. Maybe this means he needs to let Lacey go. This point is underscored by Ryan explicitly. When Molly asks Ryan where he was, he explains he was getting his “weekly life lesson,” something about letting Lacey go.
They quip about dramatic reveals being less important than honest character development and dialogue. Unfortunately, immediately after this is a dramatic cliffhanger — someone has seen Ryan stash Martin’s body! What will happen next? Tune in for Part Two!
Some parts of this episode are good. While cliffhangers are, by their very existence, incredibly frustrating, “Part One” sets up a good one. Two cliffhangers in one seven-minute episode are impressive. You get hooked real quick. Why is Lacey crying and covered in blood? Last we’d seen her, she appeared to be turning away from the family’s habits. What happened to bring her back into the murder-fold?
And what’s happening at the end? Ryan receives some sort of notification, and then we see him watching a video of himself. We don’t know where the video came from. How was it taken? Who took it? What does this mean? Something dramatic, we can be assured of that. But to find out what, we’ll have to watch “Part Two” and “Part Three.”
There were some funny moments in this episode, too. Ryan constantly assures himself that he’s not going to murder anyone… only for Martin to immediately show up. Martin makes a great zinger when he tells Ryan that “if [they] could afford any extras, they would all be staring at [Ryan] uncomfortabl[y].” Anytown has shown a willingness to break the fourth wall, and this is a well placed moment.
I also liked the extra-ness of the episode’s cliffhangers. The loud, ominous music is reminiscent of Inception, where loud bass notes would loom over everything. And having Ryan whip off glasses for the final reveal is funny. They’re playing up tropes in a good way here.
That being said, I am one of those people viewing uncomfortably. Trigger warnings are something I feel pretty strongly about. I’ve even advocated for trigger warnings at a different website I write for. I am someone with mental illness which can be triggered. So, to see trigger warnings treated so condescendingly is upsetting. Yes, it’s mentioned that Ryan maybe doesn’t have the best tendencies, character-wise. But we are clearly supposed to view Martin as a fool.
And Martin is a fool. He seems to be one of those people who co-opt progressive ideas to make himself seem better when in reality he has no idea what he’s talking about. For example, “heteronormative” doesn’t mean the same thing as “heterosexual.” Heteronormative means subscribing to and upholding ideals that are patriarchal and hetero-focused, generally to the detriment of progressive ideals. Therefore, to be both “gender-fluid” and “heteronormative” is oxymoronically stupid.
“Part One” further underscores how silly trigger warnings are supposed to be by having Ryan read off a list of nonapproved words like “fat,” “short,” and “lesbian.” This undermines real triggering situations. For example, I’m easily triggered when a material deals with suicidal tendencies. When people make jokes about trigger warnings being for “special snowflakes,” it disregards people like me who have real problems with certain words and situations.
But the whole point of this episode seems to be that Ryan learns from his conversation with Martin. He doesn’t learn to be more respectful of other people and their needs, no. He learns that he is of course right. You shouldn’t tell other people what to do. This is extended to his daughter. So Ryan learns how to better parent Lacey by being a douche? Seems strange.
I’m going to give two verdicts here. On the one hand, I did enjoy this episode. It was funny and well-developed. Ryan took his shirt off at one point, so I appreciate that. And I’m excited to see how “Part One” develops further in the final two episodes.
On the other hand, I was severely uncomfortable with the discussion of trigger warnings. I felt disregarded and like the show was not meant for me. I’ve been watching this show and reviewing it for weeks, so I’m pretty involved now. To have a character I like so completely disregard something that is important to me makes me feel suddenly unwelcome. I’m hoping that the next two parts override my discomfort by providing a good plot and well-thought-out ideas.
Watch more Anytown, USA on their website. There are ten episodes available to watch. We will be reviewing all ten within the next coming weeks, so look forward to our reviews!