The following contains spoilers for Kevin Can F**k Himself S2E2, “The Way We Were” (written by Valerie Armstrong & Craig DiGregorio and directed by Anna Dokoza)
I said last week that I kind of wanted to be watching the version of the show where Neil died, and that remains true insofar as I have this desire to see Kevin Can F**k Himself get darker and darker, but with S2E2 I definitely see the value in keeping the character around. Probably Valerie Armstrong et al. are smarter than me on this one, because I am realizing they have opened something really interesting.
Neil had always been living in the charmed existence represented by the Everybody Loves Kevin sitcom, even if he was the daft sidekick. The end of the Season 1 finale (prior to the assault) makes clear that this halo hung on him even when Kevin wasn’t around. Bad things may have happened in his life, sure, but the ontological framework he inhabited was secure—until his sister bashed him on the head.
“The Way We Were” brings home how this event functions as a trauma for Neil. He’s back in the sitcom when Kevin is around (as is everyone) but thrown into stark single-cam reality when Kevin isn’t. And even in those sitcom scenes, something is different now. Neil experiences how the Kevin-effect stifles his attempts to get real. His trauma has no place in the sitcom and his friend does not want to hear it, or can’t.
This suggests that the object of critique in Kevin Can F**k Himself isn’t anything so simple as masculinity, broadly speaking. It’s probably better approached in terms of narcissism. But it’s easy to criticize the egomaniac who takes himself to be the center of the universe. What makes the series compelling lies in how it’s interrogating how others get sucked into that reality and/or give the guy a pass because he seems like a harmless buffoon.
Neil’s trauma lies in no longer getting that free pass, but rather than allowing us to feel a sense of justice from this, Kevin Can F**k Himself is forcing us to grapple with the pain and disorientation that comes with it. Of course, Neil was physically assaulted and that’s bad (though we could quibble about this, even, since he was choking Allison at the time), but is it bad that his world has been shattered when that world embodied a certain kind of white male privilege?
In the abstract, one might be prone to celebrate, and if Neil had died perhaps it would have been too easy to. Instead, we have to deal with the emotions evoked through his flashbacks, and it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for the man as we see him rather broken in S2E2.
The straw that broke the camel’s back on that, though, was I think in the episode’s opening scene. Patty and Allison visit Neil in the hospital and lay out how they’ll frame him for conspiring with Nick to kill Kevin if he says anything about what he knows. Whether he believes they could successfully do so or not, this punctures the faith he’d been holding onto: that by telling Kevin what he knows, he’d get back to the way things were.
And when he tries to tell Kevin, he is simply unheard. Such a truth does not have a place in the sitcom reality of Kevin’s life, and we should thus ponder how social structures in the real world push trauma to the margins, or spin it in the direction of something uplifting.
All of the stories about mental health are about people overcoming, or persevering in light of their struggles. Can you tell the story about how you are just not OK and maybe never will be? Even friends and family can have a tendency to want to spin the conversation towards something positive.
I think this is what the sitcom reality represents, beyond Kevin’s narcissism—the potentially suffocating force of positivity.
So Allison’s plan is to fake her own death. It is to pursue the negative—to simply escape from the world Kevin represents. But of course you can’t do that. It’s not that simple because it’s not just Kevin. Allison will have to realize that to have any hope of a happy ending.
I’m not sure what that would look like, so I’m excited to see where Season 2 takes us. Perhaps the ending won’t be a happy one for Allison, but if it manages to be truly earned I want it to be.
Meanwhile, Patty is hitting bumps in the road with Tammy but then tries to smooth them out. She’s in her own thicket of difficulties and Tammy’s ongoing curiosity about Nick’s drugs is maybe more of a threat to her than to Allison.
It seems pretty clear to me that Allison’s plan won’t work when it comes down to it. Billy the private investigator strikes me as more smarmy than competent.
But I can’t wait to see how this scheme fails, what the fallout will be, and where we end up as the series concludes. I have faith that the creators of Kevin Can F**k Himself know what they’re doing.
See you next week.