The compounding of identity filters into this week’s episode of “American Dad”. Episode 10 entitled “American Data” has Stan’s son Steve and some of his friends wanting to get calf implants because they think this will make them look cool at school. The story of the episode devolves into Roger as an arcane professor conducting experiments on the notion of prisoner and guard psychology through a test lab at Steve’s school. When his initial tests go awry, he brings in real convicts to up the stakes. It just turns out Steve is a follower at heart. He makes the inmates food and sings songs. Yet he could be in “Goodfellas”…he adjusts his behavior to what his captors want to see. When he finally gets out, his friends finally see his true colors. Meanwhile Stan is going into catatonia over the loss of a colleague per se that he reflects in the tone of a leaf blower. As with some episodes, the more esoteric imagery tends to have a bigger metaphor masked in its grotesque outlay. Roger in his own alien way keeps talking about binders like it is the end of the world though both he and Steve have their own safe rooms that exist inside their heads. The question ultimately is what does Steve want versus Roger? Acceptance. Love. Life? Steve is the true trooper here and yet his final resolution places him in the same space he was before. And if he has learned anything, he has learned nothing.
The intention of the second season of “Harley Quinn” was trying to reveal the true colors of many of the characters. As much as the series is a fun romp, the existential progression of what these people are going through reflects the adult themes that track in the messiness of life. While the idea of what Poison Ivy is going through is understandable in terms of expectation, the truth of Harley’s better nature is what fuels the episode and the season. The aspect of who is good and who is bad is obviously circumspect. The villains are villains more often than not when it serves the needs of the story so the whole archetypal aspect is slightly a kilter in terms of motivation. The adjusted “Thelma & Louise” structure and motif actually plays out quite well and the ending of the episode, without giving anything away, is undeniably cinematic and inventive using different angles and technology not seen in most of the season.
Unlike the big battle sequences which sometimes can be vague, the conclusion here uses exactly what is being seen to push the story and, as a result, gives the ending a much more emotional push. Granted many of the textures are soapy to a point. Clayman’s integration into it is quite telling and funny but it too plays to a trope of what it is. Truth and consequence is a paradoxical progression in this series and especially within this final episode: “The Runaway Bridesmaid” because Harley always leaps before she looks which is something that Ivy has to embrace but is reluctant to do so. Many of the other characters are trying to find their center. Jim Gordon begins a path to more of the dark side but again the stories sometimes shift so much that besides Ivy and Harley and maybe Joker in the last few episodes, the texture of the endgame is unclear. This, of course, doesn’t make the characterizations any less entertaining in their necessity and layers. It is just with understanding where the story needs to end, it is has to have plot connectivity. The season does, for the most part end, strongly but there are jagged spots in an overall view. A bit of control permeates the chaos.
The inherent buffoonery of Stan Smith knows no bounds. That is why the slightly differently structured episode “Game Night” brings into perspective an idea of the subconscious inside Stan’s head: lost but with instincts that overcome his ignorance. While there are elements of “The Game” but also the undeniable hark to “Labyrinth” with Patrick Stewart’s CIA Chief as Bowie, the idea is metaphorical in many ways but inherent in why Stan is the way he is. His family lets him win game night over and over again because he become mean and violent when he doesn’t win. But like when he is nursed back to health by Francine in an earlier episode, it is all black and white with Stan, no gray. He therapy leads his family into a huge maze his boss created filled with beasts and puzzles of which he has no clue how to solve. Without giving away the progression of the plot, the different rooms can represent a breakdown of Stan’s walls of perception but instead of that, it becomes a creature feeding on itself. The side story with Roger trying to unlock the secrets of making foie grae with his geese friends perfectly mirrors this. “Game Night” as an episode of “American Dad” is a story of gluttony that destroys an empire from inside. Stan ultimately sees somewhat the errors of his ways but it is locked inside his mind. He can’t see the writing on the wall even when it is read to him.
The evolving path of Harley Quinn requires a little bit of understanding in her ability to commit. Once she does no one can stop her. What is interesting in the evolution of the character throughout Season 2 is her ability to actually be seen as somewhat of a caring individual. It is hard to say if that is cohesive with other elements in the DC canon but this series like some before it (like “Batman Beyond”) color outside the lines in a very specific way in an attempt to access some greater truth, whether it be fanboy driven or not. With Episode 12: “Lovers Quarrel”, the progression is based off of Poison Ivy targeting Harley Quinn at the request of Darkseid through Mr. Psycho. it sounds complicated in a small way but it is really not in the better perception of the path being followed. Again Kite Man gets the shaft no matter what.
What is interesting is a throwback homage to Max Headroom in a way which points to a necessary MacGuffin to make the ending of the story work. It is a pretty weak connection and ploy but again having the Justice League stuck in a book for a while seems sort of out there as well. The issue, like with the Darkseid side story, is that when they (the real superheroes) come into play, the series tends to revert back to old tropes in certain ways. The big diversion though is the sardonic banter between the Superfriends is even more out there (because the censorship angle is not as much of a problem on streaming). One particular interlude between Batman and Wonder Woman is definitely interesting and speaks back to Justice League (the movie) in many ways. Harley again is at the center of this melee but there is a sense of brokenness in her.
What is great is that everyone seems to have an opinion. Watching Joker try to order dinner for his girlfriend while understanding Harley’s duality is interesting. It culminates in the final scene, which is both soapy, funny, almost too much fan service but also groundbreaking in certain ways. Again the normal progression is that the series is more meta than it has a right to be. With only one episode left in the season, the path has been forged both for an idea of something new but also a more intimate setting in a bigger world. Now if the creatives can find the balance between the two…though, in all reality, it is that off kilter approach that keeps each of the episodes interesting.