'On Becoming a God in Central Florida' episode 4 review: Krystal fights back as the FAM threatens to ruin her plans
Despite its detour into surreal territory, the fourth episode of 'On Becoming a God in Central Florida' pushes the plot forward as Krystal encounters FAM's fascist underbelly and fights back by flipping the upline-downline FAM power dynamic.
It had to happen, I suppose, given the 'Florida' in the series' title. Just like you could imagine Krystal Stubb's (Kirsten Dunst) alligator hunting as a 'weird Florida' headline (' Florida woman shoots gator to avenge husband's death'), this episode 'Manifest Destinee' starts of with dead pink flamingos in the water park that Ernie (Mel Rodriguez) has to fish out.
Keeping with the show's record of naming episodes well, the week's episode 'Manifest Destinee' (a pun on Krystal's daughter's name) is a commentary on what happens when myth-making meets real-life needs (like providing for your baby). The myth FAM sells that the destiny of FAM-ers is to mint millions off the 'hard work' exploiting the downline- is a riff on 'Manifest Destiny'. It is the doctrine that made early white settlers in America believe that it was their destiny (and moral right) to 'civilize' the native population and conquer the 'Wild West'. This riff becomes even more pronounced when Ernie, in complete earnestness, recruits poor, newly arrived immigrants and sells them the 'American Dream' while Cody (Théodore Pellerin) and Krystal bicker in the next room about who will reap the benefits of this next round of FAM exploitation.
But we get ahead of ourselves. The dead pink flamingos come first to signify that horror is about to invade Krystal's life. It comes in the form of Roger Penland (Kevin J. O'Connor), a shady barefooted FAM henchman. Penland is who we saw walk away in 'A Positive Spin' after he committed arson to kill Judd Waltrip (John Earl Jelks), the man who threatened to reveal FAM's dirty secrets. And just like the flamingos, Penland is an unwelcome surprise. Krystal is in front of her 'Splash-ercise' class, full of new FAM recruitees, who are also earning her $2 per head. As she stands in front of her 'resource pool', Penland comes up from behind and disconnects the music. Then he lectures her about upsetting "the natural order of things" by using her 'Splash-ercise' class to distort the Garbeau-system, the friendly neighborhood fascist cult.
Krystal is dismayed as the FAM-ers leave the pool in droves. Within a few moments of the episode's opening, Krystal slides back to square one with no pliable 'Splash-ercise' clients to recruit as her downline. Meanwhile, Cody gets a pre-recorded message from Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine) to "recruit more" so that he can become a 'silver Washington' and attend the next FAM convention meant only for more with a certain number of 'downliners'. When Krystal barges in, wanting to talk to "Obie Garbeau", Cody in a laughably transparent attempt to manipulate her, tells her if she can recruit 50 more people, he will talk to Obie on her behalf.
But when he realizes that THE Roger Penland had stopped her Splash-ercise class, he panics and runs to his upline, Carole Wilkes (Julie Benz). He hands her and her husband, a self-serving letter, addressed to Obie Garbeau, distancing himself from Krystal's waywardness. The Wilkes shoot this down saying that any weakness in the downline reflects poorly on the upline. Carole emphasizes the need to control the downline because without the "worker bees", there is "more work and no honey".
Meanwhile, Krystal and her baby, hit with the bird virus, visits a free clinic and she tries to recruit while she waits. Judd Waltrip, who is seated near her, stops her spiel before telling her that Obie Garbeau is a "killer". He doesn't know that their interaction is being watched by creepy Penland. Krystal walks away, protective mama-bear instincts raised to the ten, ignoring his warnings.
The next day, she realizes that Ernie is hopeless at recruiting. After screaming at him, she goes out in the hot, sweaty Florida sun, despite feeling delirious, to visit leads that Travis had left in his notebook. She ends up in a suburban settlement that looks like a ghost town. This is where the episode goes into surreal territory. I imagine the creators wanted to incorporate some of that Florida weirdness - where else do you find a man composing death songs for strangers or people scrubbing themselves raw to protect themselves from whatever is poisoning the skies and a feral child shooting a nail gun at random. With Krystal's wooziness (with forced wobbly cinematography to underline this), this sequence doesn't quite work. Her expression rather than the visuals convince us that she is becoming increasingly unmoored as she gets deeper into the FAM territory. When her borrowed car breaks down, Penland sweeps in as the unlikely knight.
Krystal is for the first time in the series truly scared as Penland plays her "death soundtrack" gifted to her by the man in the ghost town. Foreshadowing future nastiness, Penland puts the fear of Garbeau in her before dropping her home. When she goes to Ernie and Bet's house where Cody has gone with Baby Destinee, she sees Ernie and the Spanish-speaking immigrants and Cody with dollar signs in his eyes. You see, Ernie, after being verbally bashed by Krystal, goes on a do-good mission to help his church's priest talk to Spanish-speaking immigrants. When their troubles come pouring out, mostly money-related, Ernie feels God has been guiding him. He knows he has been brought there to lead these poor immigrants to FAM and prosperity.
Then comes the scene that makes this episode's meandering detour into surreality worth it. As Cody tries to 'upline' talk Krystal, Krystal hits back. Literally. Slaps him once and then again and smiles. Cody leans in for a kiss. She strangle-chokes him and pushes him down to giving her some oral. And the episode ends with that scene - Krystal with her 'upline' under her skirt, mounting the FAM peak, one man at a time. With that one scene, the power dynamic between her and Cody is forever changed and a strange new partnership is formed with Krystal and Cody joining their 'business'.
'On Becoming a God in Central Florida' airs Sundays on Showtime at 10 pm ET.