This Avenue 5 review contains spoilers.
Avenue 5 Episode 6
Things get downright claustrophobic in the vast domain of space on Avenue 5, episode 6, “Was It Your Ears?.” The underlying paranoia of the ship’s guests comes to the surface exposing deeper fears, more horrifying realities and inappropriate laughs.
Iris (Suzy Nakamura) steals this episode outright. The new danger the ship faces comes in the form of a warning beep, and every time Iris hears this beep, she laughs. As the episode progresses, her laughs grow bigger. The way she builds this is acrobatic art swinging between denial and the building of a fortress around the avalanche to come. Iris is bottling up so much icy bile at the beginning of proceedings it’s a wonder she ever can keep a straight face from slipping off.
The episode opens on a note of hope. Herman Judd (Josh Gad) is executive producing Avenue 5’s first birth. It will be done by vacuum extraction. “We’re gonna suck a person out of a person,” Judd gushes. He even gets to cut the string. While Iris does get the satisfaction of telling her boss he’s cutting the cord, she loses the chance to announce the news to the guests to Karen (Rebecca Front), the self-important, self-appointed liaison between crew and passengers. She might as well be cargo, Iris’ eyes tell us, and then the giggles start.
No one knows what’s causing the beeping. Not even engineer Billie McEvoy (Lenora Crichlow), though she’s sure it’s generally not a good thing. She really does know everything in, on and under the ship. During her first appearance tonight, she’s already fixing the door on Captain Ryan Clark’s quarters. He thought he could do it himself, but he realized it was just an act. Hugh Laurie is fun to watch, as the Captain always appears to be newly discovering things he already knew. He’s not surprised to hand the job over, but he didn’t see it coming. He never really thinks about breathing until he thinks about his last breath and lets all the air out of the room.
Former astronaut Spike Martin (Ethan Phillips) comes up with the most logical explanation for the beeping. He doesn’t want to start a panic, but he’s pretty sure it’s an oxygen leak. That’s not a pretty way to go, it’s like drowning on sand, not to mention the boils and the organ failure. Just like Iris’ laughs, the details of death by oxygen deprivation snowball into a subtle running joke. Like drowning with a tractor on your chest, it rises in time with the danger everyone on ship faces. But more importantly, the gallows humor consistently drops down on the solutions.
Judd is so amazingly self-centered. Not only can’t he lose a popularity competition to the very baby he delivered. He will make that newborn wish he was never born. The sequences between him and Matt (Zach Woods) discussing an actual strategy to balance the likability scale is deep-level bad behavior done gleefully. On the one hand “babies are like New Zealanders. Everybody loves them and they’re funny when they talk.” But if the passengers prefer the baby to Judd, he will “destroy that baby before he can get past the first month.” And then talks about one shot to the soft spot. It’s funny because it’s psychotic.
It is beyond psychotic to tell Karen the ship is running out of oxygen. She is the specific person who should have been kept out of the loop and Iris, the barrier reef protecting Judd, blurts it out, and laughs. At least Judd would have an excuse. His thoughts connect directly to his mouth. This saves time. He is also immune to self-reflection. Getting life coached by Matt is like being tortured. The captain comes in looking to be hooked up with sedatives and he gets a passive aggressive bullying reminiscent of a bad breakup on Seinfeld. Matt makes Captain Clark think his ears are too big, encourages the banality of the ship’s comedian, and brings a Zen-like clarity to his boss. Judd comes up with the perfect distraction, lasers. He plans a spectacular light show that will transform the all-too-depressing shit show which surrounds the ship, both figuratively and literally. With all the menace he’s facing on board, he decides to shoot glitter and sequins at the miasmal fog and zap them with fairy lights. He could have thought of that in his sleep.
The sequence where Captain Clark is trying to get to sleep amidst the incessant beeping is very funny. Laurie gets to be downright silly in this sequence, as he does later on when he’s suffering from sleep deprivation. The ordeal drags on long enough that Billie, Karen and the Captain can barely finish sentences out of fatigue. It builds to a scene which is reminiscent of the classic TV comedy of Get Smart where they are trying to slip the captain a mickey when they’d each prefer to pop the pill themselves. They begin the scene incoherently, and stumble towards nonverbal miscommunication.
We have no explanation why yet, but there’s more than one president the future Avenue 5 is set. The “Other” president doesn’t like to be disturbed unless it’s absolutely necessary, and essential have apparently run out. The future is cut-throat. The government agrees to the Judd Corporation $4.23 trillion bailout, but it’s at the expense of National Child Welfare. Oh, there’s a little matter of 500 non-essential personnel who should be parsed for stellar ejaculation. The federal ethics committee suggests clandestine nocturnal emissions of half the passengers. Here Avenue 5 opens the nightmare of a meritocratic corporate future. The real dystopia the Avenue 5 incident will savage is the ultimate political sellout. Earth may be darker than space.
“You keep greeting people in triplicate, and we will be dead by Tuesday.” The first passenger/crew liaison meeting is hot. Everything which can escalate comes head to head with everyone who can exacerbate it and they don’t disappoint. Karen demands Judd apologize for trying to fire her husband out of the ship. He says he never says he’s sorry because Gandhi never said he was sorry. Iris laughs.
Mia (Jessica St. Clair) promises to keep herself under control, which lasts about half a sentence before she panics in her best scene so far. Nobody wants to die, and they really don’t want to do it by running out of air, and she sells that. Luckily, Judd has given this matter some serious introspection and concludes there will be no more running, people shouldn’t use stairs and if you have to be passive aggressive do it only with your eyes. He also proposes imposing a 257 pound limit imposed on people who are allowed to move about the ship. This escalates among the council until they come up with the most ridiculous rules of air conservation. Except the rule of no talking, which is roundly ignored in deafening whispers.
When the rumors leak, the crew and guests go for each other’s throats. The panic of survival takes hold and the passengers are on the verge of mutiny and mass executions. They know they’re going to be sacrificed and they’re not going out without a fight. Everyone is out for themselves. Even the embattled couple makes a truce not to add each other to the list in an act of self-preservation. They were prepared so shoot Frank Kelly (Andy Buckley) out to space last week for pushing a brown button and Judd’s head will look good next to the skulls of the Beatles.
The situation is diffused, this time, at the last minute by Billie, who again doesn’t get any credit, though she puts it out there. She figures out what’s making the ship beep and everyone can gasp sighs of relief. Judd steals the spotlight with the light show because there’s nothing as enchanting or disgusting as turning a ring of human excrement into a kaleidoscope of butter truffles. Judd knows his shit, and he knows his audience. The baby’s name is announced as Kaden. Judd doesn’t even have to bring up the jaundice.
Armando Iannucci continues to find venomous humor in the most self-serving of people on their worst days. In the 1984 science fiction classic Starman, the alien played by Jeff Bridges makes a pleasant observation on humanity. “You know what I like most about you people is that when things are at their worst, you are at your best,” he says. On Avenue 5, everyone is on a race to the bottom. It’s easier to breathe there.