The following recap contains spoilers for Hello Tomorrow! S1E6, “The Numbers Behind the Numbers” (written by Amit Bhalla & Lucas Jansen and directed by Ryan McFaul)
Hello Tomorrow! S1E6 provides us with a lot of information about Jack’s past, both directly and indirectly. Let’s start by thinking through the opening flashback.
A title card informs us that it is “One Year Ago.” Jack (Billy Crudup) enters a meeting with Bill (Joel de la Fuente), whom we can infer was Jack’s boss at the time, and we can further gather that Jack worked in sales for APP for 30 years before being laid off in this scene (at least, he says as much; he could be exaggerating, but I don’t think he’s lying).
APP is something of a stand-in for Amazon in the world of Hello Tomorrow!, or at least that’s the company that most immediately comes to mind, if only due to the automated APP delivery vans we’ve seen since Episode 1. You’ll recall one of them ran over Marie (Annie McNamara), who one has to imagine will wake up at some point… but I digress.
Bill relays that it’s the “numbers behind the numbers” that have led to the decision to pull Jack from rotation permanently, and that he can’t argue with processor-assisted logic. So basically, he’s blaming the algorithm, and this provides a way of reframing Jack’s persistent optimism in general. He will ultimately decide (in the wake of the incident with the sink) to be on the side of hope, however groundless, and against the cold calculations of instrumental rationality.
Indeed, Jack will say as much to Joey (Nicholas Podany) as S1E6 comes to a close: that you have to believe in the dream first to make it real later. Maybe he’s a big fan of William James and has a point, or maybe he’s full of it. There’s almost no way to tell.
After Hank (Joel Marsh Garland) saves Jack from his suicide attempt, he notes as almost an aside that he lost his job for destruction of company property. Thus, in all of this, Hello Tomorrow! opens the door to a far more dystopian view of its world than it had previously. The darkness was there, sure, but “The Numbers Behind the Numbers” brings it bubbling up to the surface.
Jack’s suicide attempt is exemplary here, and I don’t just mean that in terms of how it occurs but everything about how it is presented. The retro-futuristic sink has spongey hand washers and talks to encourage you to use them. The colors are vibrant, the framing of the shot so beautiful you could hang it on your wall, and the music from Mark Mothersbaugh conveys a dark poignancy without moving away from the language of bleeps and blips.
If you enjoy black humor, the scene is also immensely funny, as Jack feeds his tie into this device that seems both plausible and totally ruled out by the parameters of the reality we inhabit, with its bright color and enticing moving sponge fingers.
But we need to note that prior to this, Jack rings up Shirley (Haneefah Wood), who at the time seems to have been working the phones at APP. So she and Jack have history. He recruited her along on his crazy venture without telling her what was really going on, and that deepens the dynamic as we cut back to the present.
Shirley’s up for keeping the game going! At least until they can refund the sales they’ve made; she’s not willing to go full Ponzi scheme on it. But it would seem that she is willing to rip off one rich woman to the tune of 143 sales in order to right things with everyone else. I’ll leave you to ponder the ethics of that.
We also learn in S1E6 that Jack’s father was working on going to the Moon and apparently died attempting to do so. The man we met at the end of last week’s episode is named Walt (Michael Paul Chan) and he worked with the elder Billings, though I can’t say I know what exactly he is still doing on the property where Hank and family found him, or a lot of other specific details.
It’s to the credit of Hello Tomorrow! that Walt and Jack talk to each other in a natural way, rather than artificially engaging in exposition dumps to let us know things that both of them already know and wouldn’t need to say to each other, but it does leave us with a few questions.
I’m inferring that Jack’s father actually did buy property on the Moon but failed to get there. Does this mean that Jack perhaps actually owns the land he’s been selling, and it’s just the homes that don’t exist? Is there a plausible version of the idea that he’s always intended to follow through eventually?
I think so, but I’m not sure that makes him less of a huckster. To paraphrase Herb (Dewshane Williams) when he finds out that Betty (Susan Heyward) isn’t actually pregnant, I’m pretty sure it technically still is lying even if Jack hoped to somehow make it true later.
Meanwhile, since Shirley knows that Brightside is a scam, she sells off the plot Ed (Hank Azaria) bought for them, turning a profit. In Ed’s reaction, we see Hello Tomorrow! again playing with the line between truth and fiction, or rather the value of each, as he cares about the dream, not the money. From his point of view, this is a betrayal, and Shirley might as well be saying she doesn’t love him.
He has a point! Absent the information that their dream is an illusion, Ed’s take makes perfect sense. Yet Shirley can’t really tell him the truth without risking massive fallout.
That fallout seems on its way anyway, however, given the other developments of S1E6. I’m thinking of Joey more than Myrtle (Alison Pill), but let’s recap what happens with her and Mr. Costopoulos (Matthew Maher) first. It’s delightful how smitten he is with her, as indicated by his failure to pronounce “apologize” correctly, but I don’t know if that is going anywhere. (I do hope it is; I am, as the kids say, “shipping” Myrtle and Lester at this point).
What’s more likely to go somewhere bad for Jack (and Shirley, since she’s decided to stick by him) is in Myrtle’s discovery of the Brightside headquarters—that precise rundown launching pad/factory place where we’ve gotten to know Walt. Whatever the legal repercussions might be, I think Myrtle is prepared to go tell the world about this.
But really it’s the falling out with Joey, after he learns that Stanley Jenkins is a turtle, that may be the death knell for Brightside. After all, if we’re thinking about Jack’s motivations, “The Numbers Behind the Numbers” suggests a centrality to his relationship with his son, even if he’s been a terrible father. In the flashback, he tells Shirley that he always imagined he’d return to his family with… something.
And then he went and pursued a crazy dream selling people on a tomorrow on the Moon until it brought him back to Joey with that very thing, which he’s been at pains to share with him. It may be perverse, but this is Jack loving his son. He can’t tell him he’s his father, but he can give him a job in sales and share his dream with him.
He tries to make amends by offering Joey a promotion, when, as the latter says, he could have just said he was sorry. Except he couldn’t, because that’s not Jack. He can’t face up to the truth, as he feels his only hope for survival is in his dreams, and if he can sell his son on those, then everything will be alright.
So when Joey tells Jack to “quit f*cking dreaming” as S1E6 comes to a close, I have to wonder if this is going to send Jack back in the direction of that spongey sink, figuratively speaking. Will he be able to pull it together to go make the big sale, or is this when everything begins to truly fall apart?
“The Number Behind the Numbers” delves into Jack’s psychology in a way that makes this whole story far more compelling than it was before (which was already pretty compelling, in my opinion). Comparisons to Mad Men would be fair, though I don’t ultimately think the show is of that caliber.
The difference is, you can watch the entirety of Mad Men from the perspective that Don Draper is an irredeemable asshole and it’s still a great series (I’ve done it). In contrast, I think we have to at some level be rooting for Jack for Hello Tomorrow! to work
It’s a delicate balance, when you think, for example, about how he’s deceived Hank, this sweet, sweet man who saved Jack’s life and lost his job for his trouble; who’s now destitute and homeless, and yet continues to believe in the dream of going to the Moon.
Of course it would be awful to burst his bubble now. But that’s the thing: the only way Jack could possibly make things right with Hank is to have never lied to him in the first place. It’s not possible.
You can’t unburn the casserole.