Avenue 5 Episode 9 Review: Eight Arms but No Hands

The Avenue 5 season finale pushes a race against time into overtime.

Avenue 5 Episode 9 on HBO
Photo: HBO

This Avenue 5 review contains spoilers.

Avenue 5 Episode 9

Avenue 5 strays way off course to bring in the season finale. This may be the last we’re going to see these people for a year, but they found a way to hang in there much longer. This, of course, goes against everything they’ve been trying to accomplish, but that’s what makes for comedies of errors. Last week’s episode ended on a cliffhanger. The season finale begins with a race against time.

The Avenue 5 crew is under a 60-minute deadline to load and dump all the non-essentials because that’s when the ship will hit the trajectory sweet spot to cut some time off the ship’s three-and-a-half-year stretch. Karen (Rebecca Front) and Iris (Suzy Nakamura) are spearheading the effort to dump as much extra weight as possible. This will both lighten the load and push the craft towards earth with more propulsion. “More ditching, less bitching” they encourage in their ruthless consignments of trash to space. One guitar out of seven, they ask a musician hired to play the ship’s lounge. Don’t forget to toss the pedals. One passenger tries to throw out her set of weight holders while keeping the weights, which turns the detail a little too literal.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t stop it from violently throwing itself out of an airlock. Last week, delusional self-important passengers took off through the air lock into the great beyond thinking they were on a reality show, and Matt (Zach Woods) feels guilty. He doesn’t seem used to feeling bad, or feeling anything. But the nihilistic passenger relations officer is thrown into such a depression over how he “nuanced” people to death, he does the next best thing to jumping ship: He informs the captain he’s changed the code so no one else can join the zombie cloud surrounding the ship and declares no one will see him again. The ship is leaking passengers and his legacy is a plug.

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When word gets out about Matt’s sacrifice the response is hysterical in both senses of the word. The all-seeing Iris misses nothing. While everyone else tries to console this lost soul via text saturation, Iris says what they’re all thinking. She and Billie McEvoy (Lenora Crichlow) are really the only authority on the ship, and Iris is the one people can count on to break things down to their cold objective center. Even her boss genuinely and sincerely considers her a coworker.  

Josh Gad sneaks an extremely quick but highly effective peak into the workings of Herman Judd. The man in charge of the trip comes to grip with the costs he’s incurred beyond finance. Judd is getting his head around how seven people could stupid themselves to death when Captain Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie) reminds him of the passengers who died before that. We see Judd processing the information. He takes his responsibility into his consciousness for the first time. In this scene, Gad goes so far into this realization and his character becomes human in a way he’s never shown the audience. It gets even funnier when we see what all the processing actually yields.

Judd can convince himself of any calculation and is the first to lay blame if one of his genius ideas goes wrong. He also thinks he can spot these gifts in others. He appreciates the “detective thing” the captain does with his words and regains his respect for the actor playing an astronaut. This is the hero Judd remembers from the headshot. Ryan is not quite as egotistical as an actor can be. Not only is he not clever, he is barely stupid. His beard gives him delusions of wisdom and he’d shave if it weren’t stipulated in his contract.

The only thing Captain Ryan can be sure about is that he knows nothing. No matter which voice he’s using, he’s a pigeon trapped in the library. Even his decision to make a quick decision is a bad decision. Laurie maintains an even comic keep as the faux captain but his best scene comes when he goes full-on Basil Fawlty, snapping like a 200-year-old breadstick in the cockpit of the shuttle. He is at his best when people, including him, are at their worst. This is why the guests identify with him. They know they can’t have faith in him and don’t look so bad next to him.

The search for Matt gives the show an opportunity to spend some leisurely time with the secondary characters. This doesn’t mean we like them more, but we know them better. Mia (Jessica St. Clair) reveals and Doug (Kyle Bornheimer) moisturizes his face with tears. Former astronaut Spike Martin (Ethan Phillips) is truly an adventurer. He probably first got into the space race for the fun and got hooked on the speed. He is confronting his own midlife, mid-air crisis. He thinks he’s a Punch and Judy man making balloon animals for brats. But he still turns the search for the man with the codes into a spy game. He even comes up with a code name for himself, Cobra.

The comedian Jordan Hatwal (Himesh Patel) finds beauty in the way the hands shatter in space. Can you cheer a grieving person with a joke, he asked at his baby’s funeral, and the only thing people find funny about it is how anyone would have a baby with him. Jordan opens up to Billie, saying he was going to play the smasher on a show called “The Smasher,” but says no one knows he smashes things until season four. Towards the end of the episode he breaks ranks in an effort to get back to earth before the show is history, but he is also the only person capable of making Judd look before he leaps. Why on earth would Judd go to earth? Everybody on earth hates him.

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Rav (Nikki Amuka-Bird) snowballs towards hot rage as she takes in all the witness testimony as she acquaints herself with the ship. She saves up all the answers about dead passengers, Bonnie fucking Rubble, and the floating excrement she’s blamed for on earth, and lets it all out on Judd’s face. She left an entire planet behind for him and all she wants is for Judd to say he’s sorry for surrounding the entire luxury cruise ship with shit and going off course.

There is always enough blame to go around on Armando Iannucci‘s shows. The ultimate screw-up for the season comes from the most entitled passenger. Not even a crew member. Remember when Frank (Andy Buckley) pressed the button? It’s got nothing on his wife’s miscalculation. The luxury cruise around the planets is now going to last longer than the Beatles were together. The final twist might give Captain Ryan the time to figure out how to dock the ship when it finally gets close to earth.

Avenue 5 keeps the tension growing throughout. Whether choreographing lover’s quarrels or dispatching someone to dismember corpses for handprint recognition, the show lets the humor grow in the dark recesses of comedy, like mold. Avenue 5 season 1 satirizes science fiction with a Darwinian expediency. It is a shame octopi have eight arms but no hands, but that’s what the science of evolution gave them. Human nature is immune to growth and the future will be as annoying as today.Avenue 5‘s “Eight Arms but No Hands” aired on March 15, on HBO.


4 out of 5