Critics like to argue whether or not a character’s epiphany or growth was “earned,” which is kind of a hifalutin way of asking if we bought it, if we saw enough stuff to warrant a change. There are three moments of realization or growth in “Halloween,” and after some initial skepticism, I’m buying all of them.
The A.J. thread follows Russ and Jess as they try to wrangle A.J. into rehab, which proves increasingly tough after he hops out his bedroom window and leads them all over town; first to a café (“I had to say goodbye to my favorite barista… That guy makes the best mochas”), then to his office, where—upon hearing that his peers are holding a partners meeting without him—he explodes in a bearded blaze of nudity and violence.
A.J. has been a pill-popping mess all season—dude was due for a meltdown. (Favorite/most disturbing accessories of the episode: A.J.’s pitchfork and matching grin at the costume store.) What I didn’t buy at first was why he finally yields to Russ and Jess and agrees to rehab: It’s not losing his high-powered job or being bounced from the office he helped found, but learning that he slept with his assistant Gillian while blacked out—twice—and that the poor girl’s in love with him.
I found this hard to swallow because A.J. hasn’t been a paragon of empathy this season—remember, at one point Shep had to coax a 19-year-old one-night-stand named April from A.J.’s bathroom. (Not to mention, last week A.J. crashed a shivah.) But this isn’t someone A.J. met at a bar; this is a person he’s worked with closely for a long time. April was livid, rightfully so, but she wasn’t in love with him. The look in Gillian’s eyes is so pained and the look in A.J.’s so vacant that I am buying this exchange as the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the stick that prods A.J. into rehab. Getting fired tosses your life into the air, but I’m not sure it prompts the kind of merciless self-analysis that breaking someone’s heart does.
While Russ tries to get a hold on A.J., Lina meets with her “best friend” Eva, a supremely busy person who’s just in town for the night. The chemistry between these two is DOA—especially compared to Russ and Jess, whose “Halloween” car scene has just the tiniest whiff of romantic tension. I’m not sure why the writers saddled Lina with a best friend we’ll likely never see again. Her relationship with Lina feels professional or clinical; if I didn’t know they were pals, I’d have thought Eva was a therapist or marriage counselor. Then again, these two never see each other, and Lina has some venting to do about Russ. “We’ve been better,” she says, almost by way of introduction.
One thing I like about this episode is that there’s nothing specifically or glaringly wrong with Russ and Lina; they just resent each other for some nebulous reason (Russ especially, because Russ remains a pretty crappy husband/father), then compound the problem by feeding off of and into each other’s moods in a sort of bitterness feedback loop. They can’t even agree on who hates whom lately, meaning (a.) they’re not communicating; (b.) nobody hates anybody. This strikes one admittedly moody critic as a refreshingly authentic problem for a TV couple to have.
I don’t know if Lina earns the epiphany that finds her returning to her family a more patient and forgiving wife, or that Eva’s little pep talk would have had such a profound effect on her. But I do believe that with a relatively small problem like this, Lina might just have needed to talk about it, blow off some steam and laugh with her best friend.
Like Lina, Jess passes up a night out to trick-or-treat with her family, and given her preference for nose candy over more traditional sweets, this might be a more surprising shift than either A.J.’s surrender or Lina’s return. But it’s easy to see how hunting down an immature addict like A.J. all day could renew one’s appreciation for the mellow, steady, ever-present Shep.
When Jess steps out of the car in a slutty pirate costume—her daddy issues on display for the whole neighborhood—Shep realizes with the rest of us just how lucky and unlucky he is.
Evan Allgood is deputy editor of Trop. He lives in Brooklyn. Follow and maybe later unfollow him on Twitter.