Debts—financial and personal—are a constant worry for the guys of MOCA.
Paying the bills: so mundane, so universal. Buy something on credit, and you’ll sooner or later have to pay the thing down. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s a sign of adulthood that we own up to our obligations. But the debts aren’t always monetary, and we can’t always pay them back immediately. The protagonists of Men of a Certain Age have been slowly accruing debts over the course of the show, paying for their lives on credit like so many of us do. The collectors start arriving on this week’s episode.
The tension between the service and sales staff at Thoreau Chevrolet has been building steadily since the beginning of the season. Jesse and his band of portly thuggish types have been harassing the salesmen (including the delightfully hapless Lawrence) for being too demanding with their service requests, and Marcus and co. think the mechanics are dragging their feet. Terry, in an odd moment of articulate insight, diagnoses the problem: conflicting motivations. The salespeople want to turn around customers as quickly as possible to get the biggest commissions, but the service guys don’t see any extra money for extra effort. What’s a new boss to do?
Joe, meanwhile, finds a new hair on his face. Yeah, there’s more to his plotline than that, but I thought starting things off with one of Joe’s employees studying his face for a stray hair was a stroke of non-sequitur genius, so I had to mention it. As Joe stares off into the middle distance while his face is being scrutinized, he notices what would best be described as an old crone (or, as Carlos puts it, “a witch”) staring at him. When she quickly shuffles out of the store after she sees Joe looking back at her, the staff starts to suspect she’s an old-lady shoplifter (“It’s so sad when old people steal”). Joe knows something’s off, but he’s not buying the shoplifter angle.
Outwardly, Terry seems to have it the best this week. He just got a fat commission check from the dealership, things seem to be working out splendidly with the always fetching Erin, and he’s going to see his systems-analyst brother for the first time in a while. The two have a nice conversation at Mark’s son’s birthday party, and Terry gets a quality “aww” moment with his adorable nephew. Mark’s proud of Terry’s success at the dealership, but he’s not entirely sure his actor brother will stick with the responsible-guy thing for very long. And in what must be an ambivalent moment for Terry, Mark refuses to let his brother pay him back for a Jeep Mark got for him when Terry’s acting career was in the dumps. Terry persists, but Mark just walks away and tells him to keep the check in case he needs the money someday.
In essence, Terry’s been trading his reputation for momentary success for his whole life. Sure, he had a few minor acting gigs and got to maintain his lothario lifestyle in a comfortable Los Angeles apartment, but at what cost? He’s just now entering into an adult relationship, and clearly everyone around him thinks he’s a fuckup. It’s a sign of his maturity that he’s finally realizing the havoc his flakiness has wreaked on his personal life. “You know when you’ve been one guy for so long, you sometimes wonder if you’ll be that guy forever,” Terry says to Erin on the stoop of his apartment. It’s a startlingly simple revelation and a fear we can all sympathize with. Sure, we’d like to be better men, but what if we just aren’t?
Owen solves his service-sales problem by expanding the garage to enable them to do body work and giving the salespeople incentives for bringing in additional work for the service guys. Both parties pop champagne as a new truck arrives for the garage, but Owen Sr. soon informs his son that he’s accrued a sizeable off-book obligation in the form of a property he bought before the recession and now can’t sell for a decent price. Jr. has to return the truck and inform the mechanics that they won’t get their new body shop any time soon.
It turns out that the old crone was neither a thief nor a witch. She’s the mother of Manfro, Joe’s erstwhile bookie who he’s been avoiding while he tries to kick the gambling addiction. She convinces him to visit her son with news that he’s got colon cancer and, maybe worse, no friends. The scene in Manfro’s apartment as the two enjoy a beer and a football game is heartwarming and tense in equal parts. Manfro confides in Joe his hesitancy to undergo chemo, and Joe tries to convince him that a bump from a 69 percent chance to live to a 75 percent shot is worth the pain of the treatments. It’s nice to see Joe comforting his friend, but that the whole conversation is couched in gambling metaphors muddies the waters. A sick asshole is still an asshole, and Manfro eggs Joe on to bet on the game even though it’s clear Joe has a problem.
Whether financial or personal, debts are a constant worry for the guys of Men of a Certain Age. Terry, Owen, and Joe want to make big changes in their lives, but they have pasts that they’re finding increasingly difficult to escape. Owen has to reckon with his father’s bad business choices, Joe with the relationships he made in a life he’d rather leave behind, and Terry with his own reputation. If the guys want new lives, they might have to pay up.