19th Sep2015

‘Review 2×08: Murder, Magic 8 Ball, Procrastination’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“Are you certain you wish to veto this review?”

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Avoiding responsibility for his own actions is perhaps Forrest’s most readily identifiable hallmark. Here’s a man who burned his own marriage to the ground on what amounts to a whim and now resents his ex-wife for having broken his heart, a man incapable of recognizing himself for the agent of chaos and terror he has become. What better tool to show his essential moral bankruptcy than the magic 8 ball, that great deferrer of responsibility? The vetoes fulfill much the same function, showing us that Forrest’s moral convictions wither and collapse without the support of the rules he clings to in order to give his life meaning.

Will Forrest MacNeil commit cold-blooded murder? It feels like this question has been hanging over the show from the get-go until ‘Murder, Magic 8 Ball, Procrastination’ pulled it out of a scarred sea chest, blew dust from it, and put it to work. It doesn’t disappoint. Forrest is certainly no stranger to leaving corpses in his wake, but he’s never had his finger on the trigger. Those deaths were accidents, improbably frequent, often grotesque, but accidents nonetheless, and the prospect of consciously taking a human life is too much for Forrest to bear. He vetoes the review with the same absurd ceremony he later repeats to fatefully veto ‘Procrastination.’

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In ‘Magic 8 Ball’ Forrest, having dodged the literal and figurative bullets of killing another person, submits to the will of the cosmos by putting all his decisions into that perennial artifact of idle amusement and its murky, non-toxic interior. At first the stakes are preposterously low. He knocks a coworker’s papers out of his arms and then rushes onward without helping. He has to wait before asking to cross the street a second time. He is denied a hot dog. Then the dread starts building. The ball makes him deny Suzanne an apology. It leaves him stranded in a bad part of town. Staring down at his fanny pack, to all appearances a chronic public masturbator, he tells a lie that leads a drug dealer to beat a hapless junkie(fatally, we later learn). Then, worst of all, the ball won’t let him leave the scene of the crime. It denies his wish to help the authorities by identifying the dealer who delivered the beating. Or at least, this is all how Forrest sees it. His fear is the fear of the helpless, his ability to morph into a world devoid of personal responsibility so complete that he feels distress and misery but not one whit of guilt as he lets the assailant walk free.

“If I crash my ship into the rocks of life, I want it to be because I steered it there myself,” he comments somberly at the review’s conclusion. And that’s when it happens. The woman who requested that Forrest kill a man does so again, believing that her original message wasn’t sent. “Oh my God,” Forrest husks. He begs with A.J. to grandfather the request in under his first veto then abandons this line of inquiry when she offhandedly remarks that in a technical sense it counts as a new request. The rules, to which Forrest has given himself in a binding and bizarrely selective union, are the rules. The time has come to see if Forrest dares do all that may become a man.

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The sit-down with Grant and Review‘s legal counsel is the 8 ball segment writ small, a chance for the odious Grant to shed responsibility for Forrest’s possible crimes while also clearly exhorting him to take a human life. “Who was that guy back in the day?” he mocks Forrest, invoking the specter of future obscurity. “Frosty McNell? He had a show where he barfed up pancakes.” That he uses the same grueling ordeal he once held up as a possible lifetime achievement to ridicule Forrest(into killing someone no less) is almost too much to bear. All the anguish of ‘Divorce, Pancakes, Divorce’ was just a stepping stone to Grant, a chance to push Forrest toward this moment and this decision. It pays off.

“I’ve just come from Wal-Mart where I purchased a gun,” Forrest narrates as, after realizing he can’t smother the coma patient in his sickbed, he pulls up outside the assailant’s apartment. He goes on to list the impulse buys he made while shopping at the big box store, linking the commercialism that has made his time and actions into publicly traded commodities directly to the crime he’s about to commit. It’s smart, ugly writing and it doesn’t get any prettier when the thug greets Forrest with an overjoyed embrace, proclaiming that Forrest’s bizarre act of kindness in not ratting him out has led him to consider turning over a new leaf and becoming a better person. Forrest can’t do it. His victim is humanized now, but then the other man finds the wire for Forrest’s mic and assumes the worst. The two scuffle on the mezzanine, Forrest returning to his default ankle-biting, before the thug drags Forrest inside and a single gunshot cracks. The man collapses back into frame.

Forrest flees the scene, whimpering “There should have been a third veto, there should have been a third veto” like it was never his decision whether that man lived or died. It’s all the show, the demonic show that Forrest uses to possess himself like some kind of recursive demon which can only do evil when it has taken choice out of its own claws. There isn’t one, of course. A demon. There’s just a sad, cracked man who can’t resist a good deal on lawn chairs.

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