The Big Door Prize S1E9: Deerfest Part 1

It hasn’t always been clear what kind of show The Big Door Prize wants to be, as it can whiplash between very silly shenanigans and deep philosophical drama. But this penultimate episode really nails the tone, as several characters have important revelations and their storylines come to a head, while still being quite funny. The episode doesn’t have the jokey sitcom-type storylines past episodes have, and that’s to its credit. The show’s very winning when it keeps its humor low-key, and secondary to the plot.

We start that plot with another Morpho reveal. Mr. Johnson is a bit melancholy because last week’s magic show won over the audience, but mostly despite his skill as a magician and not because of it. He’s starting to question Morpho, when he’s joined by Xander, Jacob’s stoner friend who got “gum” as his potential. He uses gum to fix the theremin Dusty threw away. He inexplicably believes the theremin and Morpho are part of a set. Except he’s not wrong. The theremin has a blue butterfly logo inside its wooden case.

Dusty’s still upset about how Cass’ mother treated her after the magic show, and is about ready to cut his mother-in-law out of his life. “It would be a great sacrifice but I’d be willing to try.” But he and Cass also finally have the heart-to-heart they’ve been putting off all season. Dusty opens up about his revelation last week that the “whistler” in his “Teacher/Whistler” Morpho card might refer to the Whistler ski resort he worked at before getting married. He’s not naive enough to think he should literally go back there, but he realizes that feeling of hurtling downhill and not being in complete control has been entirely absent from his content, predictable life.

Cass admits that her card, “Royalty,” despite also not having an obvious literal meaning, made her feel valued and seen, which she manages to do without suggesting that Dusty didn’t make her feel that way. That they’re both ready to be shaken out of their comfortable rut doesn’t necessarily mean either of them hated the rut. But they finally acknowledge that they’re both ready for a change.

Trina joins the conversation and immediately blurts out what she’s been holding in all season. Morpho gave her “Liar,” and she’s been lying about that, and cheated on Kolton with Jacob before he died, and is still seeing Jacob, and has been lying to everyone about all of it. “But if you’ve got a different interpretation of what ‘liar’ could mean I’d be happy to hear it.”

Dusty, always one to put a sardonic one-liner ahead of being a good father, deadpans, “I would have to have a think about that.” But Cass immediately comforts her daughter, saying she’s sorry Trina had to keep this all to herself, and that her parents weren’t there for her.

It’s a warm resolution to the not-entirely-healthy family dynamic that’s been hanging over all three characters all season. But we still need a storyline as we head to the final episode, so Izzy backtracks on last week’s announcement that she’d step down as mayor, citing the need for a post-Morpho ‘return to normalcy’, and not the obvious explanation, that her ego won’t let her step out of the spotlight for even a second. She’s at work planning the down’s annual Deerfest, which no one’s looking forward to, but everyone’s planning on attending.

Giorgio has moved on from trying to win over Dusty’s wife to adopting Cary, Dusty’s retiree-turned-model dad, as a father figure. His advice to Giorgio, to face his fears, accidentally reveals some of his own fears (namely that his wife will meet another man and not return from her adventure in Europe). But more relevant to the story, he also inspires Trina to face hers head-on. She hijacks the school morning announcements, and tells the whole school she’s been dating Jacob, and she doesn’t want to be a liar any more.

Trouble is, as was the case when she told Jacob’s dad and her own parents, she didn’t discuss any of this with Jacob beforehand. So now he’s on the spot, and upset that everything happens on her terms. Which leads to he, Trina, and Dusty each spilling secrets in front of Dusty’s increasingly appalled homeroom. But Dusty manages to turn the awkward moment into a teachable moment. He gives an affirming speech about how it’s good to make mistakes if we learn from them and grow. He admits he wishes he had made more mistakes in his youth instead of only making safe choices. And people’s post-Morpho changes in careers and marriages and lifestyles show that it’s not too late to change and try and undo some of life’s mistakes.

Dusty realizes that the Morpho card isn’t an unshakeable prediction about the future, and it’s not a shining goal to strive for. It provides a turning point, by telling the bearer exactly what they need to hear. Trina needed to get “Liar” to start telling the truth. Jacob gets “Hero” to confront the fears that he’ll never live up to his sainted brother. It’s essentially a thesis statement for the whole series, whose biggest mystery hasn’t been where Morpho came from or whether Cass and Dusty’s marriage will survive being shaken out of the doldrums. It’s what the lesson to be taken from all of this is. And our Teacher/Whistler finally gives us a pretty good one.

On the heels of that, Jacob has a heart-to-heart with his father, and Beau finally shows some decency and warmth. They make semi-serious plans to move out of Deerfield and leave the town’s painful memories behind, but not before Beau admits that he also likes Trina, after everything. The two of them visit the Hubbards, where Jacob forgives Trina and asks her to accompany him (and their parents) to Deerfest on their first official date.

And we get some foreshadowing, as Urie, the “Sole Survivor” from last week, warns Izzy that there’s a storm brewing. She, naturally, plays the Jaws Mayor, and insists on pressing on with the festival. But we suspect we’ll see that storm in part two, and it probably won’t be a metaphor for anything at all.

Stray potential:
• It feels like we get more meaningful time with Trina here than we did in her own episode, and while there are better-known and more-experienced actors on the show, Djouliet Amara is really a standout. She plays that television rarity, a believable teeanger. She moves effortlessly between sarcastic, cynical, earnest, angry, mischievous, and lovestruck, and has terrific chemistry with the also-excellent Sammy Fourlas as Jacob, whose laid-back charm is struggling to mask a deep well of anxiety. Those seeming contradictions can be hard to play, and they’re what make for great characters.

• “They’ll call you the twin brother of the dead basketball star who cheated with his girlfriend. Or, I don’t know, they’ll come up with something catchier and more hurtful, probably.”

• “Your mom is way more fucked up than my mom” is what ever mother wants to hear from her daughter.