02nd Oct2015

‘Review 2×10: Conspiracy Theory’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“I survived on garbage in the middle of the ocean! I scratched my way out of a grave! You think you can kill me? Nothing can kill me!”

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“Jesus (bleep)ing Christ, holy (bleep)ing Jesus, Jesus (bleep)ing Christ. It’s a conspiracy,” Forrest hisses to himself in his empty office, staring at crumpled photographs of his many(11) near-death experiences. ‘Conspiracy Theory’ posits a single idea, one as comforting as it is chilling: Grant wants Forrest dead. Asked to report on what believing in conspiracy theories is like, Forrest at first offers a compassionate dismissal. The people nodding in agreement with Matt Besser’s conspiracy nut author as he lectures on the Fourth Reich of the Illuminati and the perils of interdimensional Bigfoot are desperate for a monomyth to codify the world’s random cruelties into something they can analyze and fight, even if that something is paranoid drivel.

As so often happens with Forrest, it’s the addition of a personal element that turns the benign malignant. Forrest decides to dig for a reason behind his own suffering in order to more fully invest in his review. This brings him to the realization that he’s been at the verge of death an absurd number of times. Tina’s bored suggestion that perhaps someone is trying to kill him is waved off, but not before it gets its claws into his impressionable mind. The idea that there might be a solution to his problems, an enemy to face, proves too seductive, and Forrest becomes convinced that Grant is trying to kill him. What’s more, the staff are in on it. “I could no longer sleep in my office as there was glass everywhere and I believed my coworkers were conspiring to kill me on national television,” he narrates as he flees to a seedy motel where in true conspiracy nut fashion he creates a sea of photographs and clippings to secure the tenuous knots of his theory.

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Forrest first seeks out Suzanne after putting together a version of the truth just strong enough to offer a comforting delusion. He hopes that by presenting a version of the last year in which he is the victim of an elaborate plot he can effect a return to normalcy, something which to us is obviously and painfully impossible. Suzanne lets him into her mother’s home with exasperated gentleness, rolling her eyes at the camera crew and letting Forrest talk himself out before she drops the first bomb of the episode’s protracted campaign of bombardment. “You signed on to an insane television show,” she tells him, “and then you constantly put that show above your needs and the people that you love.” Forrest, disheveled and nervous, scuttles away with promises to return once he’s assembled the rest of his case.

Seeking affirmation, he goes to confront the object of his enmity. “This should be good,” Grant says after Forrest sneeringly refers to him as “Gretchen” in reference to a woman who once harbored a crush on Suzanne and now, crazed by love and living as Grant, seeks to destroy her and her loved ones. In this sad fantasy Forrest is still the love of Suzanne’s life. Its roots in their college romance betray his desire to recede into the past and his sad fixation on the idea that he could somehow twist his disastrous tenure on Review into a moment as Suzanne’s champion. What Grant tells him is much, much worse. None of his evidence makes sense or amounts to anything. His smoking gun is misinterpreted, the rest of it willfully manipulated. The truth is not that Grant selects dangerous reviews but that Forrest’s viewers, knowing what it is to lead regular lives, want to see him live in hell.

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The man behind the curtain isn’t Grant. It’s Josh, or Tina, or Lucille. It’s Review itself, a malevolent wraith feeding off of Forrest’s misery and pain. It is, by extension, us. We are the audience tuning in week after week to see what new horror will befall our intrepid host. We are the people delighting at his grievous losses, cringe-snickering at his failures. We don’t want to see him do something easy. We don’t want his trip in a rowboat to be delightful. We want to see him suffer, and the gestalt of our will warps the fiction in which he exists until nothing but pain can befall him. It’s a truth so hateful that Forrest flees it at the first opportunity, retreating into his conspiracy theory by seizing on a viewer’s sharing a hometown with Grant(the delightfully named Sandwich, MA) as evidence of its validity. The review’s subject doesn’t help. “Hey Forrest,” the caller says blandly. “What’s it like to be hunted?”

When Lucille says Grant instructed her to hire a Navy SEAL to hunt Forrest down, he snaps. His broken, confused departure from the show’s set after hearing the review’s subject becomes the manic scramble of a consummate survivor as he steals Lucille’s car and flees. He even stops a cameraman from riding along, slamming the door on his constant companion. The show’s bones start to show, unedited footage presenting a stealthy preview of what’s waiting for us on the bridge where Grant waylays Forrest after correctly guessing his route. His dismissal of Forrest’s terror as he waits in the center of the bridge is as snakelike as ever. He refers to the other man’s breakdown as a “little crisis of faith” and smugly assures the camera they can talk it out.

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Andy Daly has made Forrest an iconic protagonist, an onion of anxiety and cheerful neuroses. His apoplectic fury on the bridge(a great callback to his confusion of the flash card “Bridge” for “Conspiracy” in the season premiere) shows not the man he was but the man he’s become, someone more scar tissue than skin. He knows he’s survived more than anyone he’s ever met. He’s been lost at sea, shot, stabbed, buried alive, divorced, mauled by a jaguar, and by God he once ate 30 fucking pancakes. The knowledge that he and Grant have nourished together the leech currently suckling at his soul has driven him to a place of panicked fatalism. The tension as the SEAL pulls up behind his car and steps out onto the bridge, just out of focus, is almost too much to bear. Review‘s camera does incredible work making the cinematic believably candid as Forrest, seeing his hunter approach, seizes Grant in a bear hug and declares that if he’s dying, so is his tormentor.

“It’s a paintball gun,” Grant shouts, and Forrest’s confused, “It’s a what?” in the moment before they go over the railing together is pure agony. That dizzying plunge, captured by the cameraman Grant thoughtfully set by the roadside to telegraph his presence to Forrest, is beautifully breathless. When A.J.(in the midst of pettily jabbing a skewer into Forrest’s entire worldview by awarding six stars to the experience of being hunted) tells us that both Forrest and Grant are still missing, the “presumed dead” doesn’t need to be said aloud. Self-annihilation is a logical endgame for Reviewat once bleakly bold and totally at home within the show’s established format. Another season is a nebulous prospect at best, but even were it assured, would it be the right decision? Even if Forrest survived, would he give himself again to the monster he let devour his life?

Reviewing Review‘s second season has been an enormously enjoyable challenge. Thanks to everyone who tuned in with me every week!

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