Kevin Can F**k Himself S2E3: “Ghost” Gives Us a Look at the Past

Allison and Patty stand side by side wearing coats and winter caps
Robert Clark/Stalwart Productions/AMC

The following contains spoilers for Kevin Can F**k Himself S2E3, “Ghost” (written by Valerie Armstrong and directed by Anna Dokoza)

“Ghost” seems to want to be a Halloween episode, and it has a spooky title card to match that conceit, but I can’t say it manages to land as such. Kevin is celebrating “Pal-o-ween” but says they do that on the 31st of every month, which is a funny enough gag, though it does make it less than clear what month it currently is. Meanwhile, Patty and Allison’s visit to the mortuary is more signposted as creepy than actually creepy. And perhaps all of that is fine. I want to talk about what I think Kevin Can F**k Himself S2E3 wants to be, but to be honest I just have to note at the top that I don’t quite think it manages to be that.

The most significant elements of “Ghost” relate to its employment of flashback sequences, which is a first for the series (though we might have expected some in “The Way We Were” given its title). Most notably, when Allison’s mother enters the room at her father’s wake, things shift from the single cam reality to the sitcom form.

Allison stands with hands folded as she talked to her mother, who is seated, in front of a table with food on it, at Allison's father's wake in Kevin Can F**k Himself S2E3
Robert Clark/Stalwart Productions/AMC

This would be the first instance of the sitcom reality being carried by a woman, and though that jibes with what I said last week about the sitcom connoting not so much something about masculinity but broader social pressures, it still strikes me as significant. Perhaps we could think this through in terms of narcissism, as that seems to fit fairly well with how Allison’s mother gives no space for competing views of reality, but I’m also hung up on her line about not being “ham people”—it serves to shut down the legitimacy of Allison’s desires.

The problem isn’t the ham, it’s that she thinks they’re ham people, and the underlying message is clearly that Allison should know her place and accept her lot in life, as defined by others. The whole scene shows that Allison has never been given the space to figure out who she is or who she wants to be. It’s not that she wants to be a ham person; it’s that she’s never felt free to determine what she values for herself at all.

When Allison tells Patty that it wasn’t her father’s wake that made this the worst day of her life, was she alluding to this exchange with her mother or to how she’d meet Kevin for the first time later at the bar? How do these two events resonate with one another? Are we perhaps to read Allison’s life trajectory as one of exiting her mother’s sitcom only to enter Kevin’s?

It seems clear that “Ghost” wants to explore how Allison is haunted by her past and the choices she’s made, with her hesitance to take the name Gertrude Fronch (even though she’s a perfect candidate for an assumed identity) indicating that Allison isn’t so sure about going through with the plan to fake her own death. Symbolically, this is about erasing herself, but if the flashbacks that populate S2E3 are meant to show us the point where Allison gave up on her dreams, or made the important decisions that led to her married life with Kevin—in short, if the idea is that it was this day when she chose to live in the sitcom—they fail to fully land. Instead, it seems that Allison was already floundering and without direction in 2005, without real dreams of her own and all too willing to be sucked into someone else’s.

But perhaps this is meant to be the point, not that Allison had a bright future ahead of her but for the fateful decision to date and ultimately marry Kevin, but that her future was radically uncertain. 2005 Allison is painfully normal and unsure of what she wants in life, without the strength to resist the social pressures around her.

That’s a lot of us, at one time or another in our lives at least, and I want to laud Kevin Can F**k Himself for making clear that what Allison is facing in light of her plan is an equally uncertain future. It won’t be determined by whether or not her name is Gertrude Fronch, but insofar as it’s wide open this is all that Allison’s imagination has to work with.

The plan is to simply escape the sitcom, and whether that is even possible is sincerely thrown into question once we acknowledge that this isn’t just about Kevin. Further, I think S2E3 makes clear that there is absolutely no guarantee that Allison’s life will get better even if she succeeds.

Allison and Patty stand in the entryway of the mortuary, talking to Billy in Kevin Can F**k Himself S2E3
Robert Clark/Stalwart Productions/AMC

As for Kevin, the running gag in “Ghost” centers on how he, Neil, and Pete get really scared watching horror movies, with this being Kevin’s excuse for ultimately kicking the front door into Allison’s head as she tries to enter her own home. It’s brutal and disgusting, and it actually doesn’t work as a sitcom (or at least it didn’t for me). Kevin’s whole demeanor is oppressive in this scene, and it’s even harder to bear with Tammy present as a witness to the whole thing.

Tammy is a cop! And yet she just laughs the (accidental?) assault off, unwilling or unable to intervene on Allison’s behalf or to truly call Kevin out for what he’s done. She’s in the sitcom, too, at least at that point, and sucked into its delusion as much as anyone else.

Neil breaks into Patty’s in the middle of the night and tries to spin his attempted theft in terms of medical reimbursement, so he’s still basically the same Neil, and even if it’s clear in S2E3 that he’s continuing to grapple with his trauma, the episode doesn’t do much to explore the issue. He says he wants nothing more than to pretend the whole thing never happened, which I’m sure is true, but he can’t (because it doesn’t work like that and that’s part of what makes it trauma).

There is a fakeout moment in “Ghost” where we’re led to wonder if he’s called Tammy 13 times to spill the beans to the cops in an attempt at catharsis (which might be helpful to him, honestly), but it turns out it’s because he got really freaked out at Kevin’s watching horror movies, leading to Tammy serving as the mother figure for the scared little (adult) boys since Allison wasn’t around.

Tammy looks to the side at another woman while playing Rummikub in Kevin Can F**k Himself S2E3
Robert Clark/Stalwart Productions/AMC

Overall, I feel like I can sketch how this is all supposed to hang together, but when it comes down to it S2E3 feels rather muddled, with neither the sitcom scenes nor the dramatic scenes finding the right tone.

Also, is someone actually murdering women in Worchester? Tammy mentions something about the sense of failure trickling down to her even though she isn’t in homicide, so there are indications that the murders are a real thing, but it’s not ultimately clear. Which is kind of weird!

Somewhat similarly, at least in terms of style, Doug feels a bit shoehorned into the flashback of when Allison and Kevin met, and if there’s meant to be a joke there I don’t quite see it. Am I missing something, or is it as I suspect, that the writers have thrown in things that don’t quite fit, trying to play on the style of Halloween episodes past?

I’m speculating that the idea of this being a play on the Halloween episode muddied the waters. “Ghost” is one of those unfortunate episodes of TV that almost feels better in retrospect than it did when you were watching it. It does some important work for the overarching narrative of Kevin Can F**k Himself, but I’m hoping the series will regain its incisive voice moving forward.

See you next week.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

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