This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 15 Episode 6
“I have treasure buried all across the United States. Are you reverse-o’s BAD enough to BREAK my clues?”
Now this is the sort of bullshit pop culture-drenched storyline that I wake up for in the morning. Admittedly, in the 14th/15th season of a show, there are bound to be some unconventional, bottom of the barrel storylines (remember when Stan became an American Picker last season?). However, sometimes these garbage stories have a surprising amount of impact to them because their pointless plots cause the writers to work even harder on the jokes.
“The Smith family watches the show Breaking Bad in reverse and discover the show is hiding a scavenger hunt,” should absolutely not work, but it ends up being the bonkers sort of storyline that pleads the case for why people need to still watch American Dad! 14/15 seasons in.
“(You Gotta) Strike For Your Right” is mostly interested in telling a story about equality in the workplace between employers and employees, but let’s forget that for now and indulge this Breaking Bad business. Roger and Steve have started a trend where they’re doing everything backwards, which has also slowly led them to television. The two share the opinion that Breaking Bad in reverse order would actually stop being so dark and tell the uplifting story of a murderous meth dealer who gives up his trade to be a high school teacher who doesn’t have cancer. This idea is so absurd that it’s hard to not find it hilarious.
They act as if their experiment is akin to syncing up The Wizard of Oz to “Dark Side of the Moon” and this enthusiasm ropes Francine and Klaus into this unusual plan, too. The gang even begins to pity those that watched the show in chronological order and received such a depressing story. Clearly it’s the “reverse-o’s” that know how to truly appreciate a program like Breaking Bad, which has such a rich story and characters.
When the plan to watch the series in reverse order proves to be underwhelming, it seems like this bizarre storyline is about to end before it really even gets started. It’s at this point that the family figures out the proper way to reverse-o the show and the results are such insanity. The way in which the universe opens up to them once they start to go on this quest is so much fun and the perfect tone for all of this.
It’s hard not to laugh at Francine driving down an Albuquerque highway backwards as she shouts, “Nobody knows the mind of Vince Gillibrand better than me!” In fact, Francine’s fearless attitude towards her “connection” with “Vince Pelican” is definitely the best part of the story. Unhinged Francine is the best Francine. It’s worth pointing out that Vince Gilligan is an extremely good sport for lending his voice to all of this stupidity. The guy hasn’t exactly done a lot of guest roles in shows, which is something that makes his appearance here all the more special.
But beyond all of this reverse Breaking Bad madness, there’s an even larger story that develops through this installment. There have been a considerable amount of episodes this season that explore Stan and Hayley’s frayed relationship and extreme character dynamics. So while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the main story that drives “(You Gotta) Strike For Your Right” forward, it does feel a little repetitive simply because the past few weeks have highlighted similar stories.
That being said, this episode’s conflict between Stan and Hayley is a lot smoother than what goes down in “The Mural of the Story,” so the season’s episode order shouldn’t get to negatively impact this installment. In syndication it won’t make a difference anyway.
The episode finds plenty of material from how it juxtaposes Hayley and Stan’s opinions on what a job should look like. Hayley fosters a cooperative attitude towards a job where employment can be an evolving conversation, which happens to completely clash with Stan’s more old-fashioned outlook where a job is an unmovable boulder. A job should be full of things that you don’t enjoy, as far as Stan’s concerned. That’s why it’s a job. This conflict of workplace values turns into a solid foundation for the episode that also helps Stan and Hayley learn a few things in the process.
While Hayley works her new sandwich delivery gig (which apparently is her dream job and a primo source of the shiniest ham in town), her moral compass and social justice sense go into overdrive when she sees the squalor that Stan and his co-workers have to put up with in the CIA. No air conditioning and office supplies that double for medical tools are small potatoes, but it’s the loose genetically modified wolverines that are beginning to put people out. It also doesn’t help that Bullock lives like a king and finds countless privileges to abuse while everyone else must suffer.
Ever the pig, Stan couldn’t care less about his workplace conditions and these “socialist” concerns. When everyone else jumps ship to fight for a better setup, Stan finds himself as the one lone agent who hasn’t gone on strike. Stan’s loyalty and stubborn nature eventually make matters even worse for him when Hayley’s strike negotiations lead to Stan doing everyone’s jobs on his own. If Stan wasn’t overwhelmed enough, Bullock’s carefree attitude towards all of this only compounds Stan’s job stress and leads to his dismissal. Not only that, but Bullock is so impressed with Hayley’s negotiation skills that he gives her Stan’s job and kicks the scab to the curb in what’s an extraordinary way to rub salt in the wound.
This development is problematic on a few levels, mainly that Hayley is grossly underqualified for Stan’s position, but the episode at least has enough common sense to address that by having Hayley immediately get kidnapped and put into danger. There’s some great misdirection towards the end of this where it looks like Jeff will be Hayley’s Sub Hub replacement and perhaps a key to fixing this mess.
Not only is he just trying on costumes for Halloween, but when Stan informs him as to what’s going on, he can’t exit the frame in a more disinterested manner. It’s glorious. With Jeff out of the picture, the story beautifully comes full circle when Stan is able to infiltrate the hostiles because they’re also frustrated over unfair working conditions. It’s a solution that allows Stan to rescue his daughter, disband a community of rebels, and also actually learn something about workplace equality in the end.
“(You Gotta) Strike For Your Right” succeeds in telling two full stories that are able to both grow at a comfortable pace. There are definitely episodes of the series that cram more into them, but there’s something to be said for entries that don’t need to constantly re-invent themselves or do a U-turn to gain story. Stan and Hayley’s plot covers a surprising amount of ground when it comes to employee strikes. The scavenger hunt that the rest of the Smiths find themselves in has fun in a clever way with the sect of fandom that overanalyzes and dissects the minutiae of a television program (something that the episode’s writer, Tim Saccardo, should understand well coming from Community).
Breaking Bad is a program where viewers were so obsessed that they’d break the show down and even look for secret codes in the episodes’ titles (and they’d find them, too). I can totally believe that a poorly executed stunt of a similar nature could ultimately lead to Vince Gilligan’s death. The stories and the enthusiasm of the characters are what to get excited about this week, but there’s still plenty of weirdness that sticks out too, like the never-stopping wall-crawling ham or the out of place Home Alone riff where Bullock fills the Kevin McCallister role. Episodes like this make it clear that much like the shiny ham from Sub Hub, American Dad! isn’t even close to slowing down.
Oh, and if you watch this episode in reverse order you’ll get some spoilers for the final season of The Americans as well as coordinates for gold bullion.