Lucky Hank S1E4 Recap: “The Goose Boxer” — Meaning for the World Where We Find It

Hank and President Pope discuss faculty cuts in Lucky Hank S1E4
Photo Credit: Sergei Bachlakov

The following recap contains spoilers for Lucky Hank S1E4, “The Goose Boxer” (written by Emma Barrie and directed by Dan Attias)

Through the first three episodes of Lucky Hank, just about the last words I would use to describe Hank Devereaux would be “capable leader.” But Episode 4, “The Goose Boxer,” puts Hank squarely into a position he neither wanted nor asked for. As we learned in one wildly popular prestige television show already, the seat of leadership is always an uncomfortable one. But after this episode, we are left to wonder whether Hank is going to try on the role of reluctant leader for a while.

This episode begins by introducing us to Chandler, a buildings and grounds worker at Railton College who starts a conversation with a curious undergraduate about the flight pattern of geese. Geese, it turns out, need a leader to guide the flock when they fly to their next destination, whether that is the next spot for food or the long trek south for the winter. But it can’t be just anyone. According to Chandler:

“It’s the hardest to lead because the leader gets all the wind resistance. But one goose will always bear the burden. Each bird, as it flaps its wings, is creating lift for its fellow birds. Except for the leader. It’s always harder on the leader.”

We pan down from the birds to see Hank walking into the office of President Dickie Pope (played dryly by Kyle MacLachlan), who is the perfect representation of a character who is a figurehead who simply has no head about him. Professor Devereaux, it turns out, is the only department chair who has not submitted a list of faculty members to cut, a request made by Dean Rose in Episode 3. But it’s not out of chivalry or solidarity that Hank has not made the list, it’s because he admits he “hasn’t given a thought about it,” and has no desire to put his colleagues on the chopping block. It’s a meaningless task that someone he disrespects has asked him to do and that is not something to get out of bed for in the morning.

Railton English faculty protest job cuts
Photo Credit: Sergei Bachlakov

To make matters worse, Railton College will be cutting faculty at the same time they are hosting a groundbreaking for the Jeffrey Epstein Technical Career Center on campus. No, not that Jeffrey Epstein. The large donor to Railton who made his fortunes through the sales of air fryers. Understanding the confusion and wanting to find a path around it, President Pope decided to add a “Q” middle initial to Epstein’s name on the building even though Epstein doesn’t have a middle name and “he doesn’t like the Q.”

One of the best things about the way Bob Odenkirk plays any of his characters, but in particular Hank Devereaux, is that you can read his feelings and emotions on his silvery-bearded face before he ever says a word. He dislikes, no, actually he hates President Dickie Pope. In Pope, he has found someone whom he despises even more than his English Department colleagues and their bickering about parking spots, class loads, and tenure. Pope, it turns out, is the first president of the college who is actually going to the state of Pennsylvania and asking for less money (which, having worked in higher ed almost 20 years, is the only thing you need to know to realize how satirical this show is).

Hank and President Pope don't agree on faculty cuts at Railton
Photo Credit: Sergei Bachlakov

President Pope promises Hank the chance to reshape the department around “faculty that you choose.” Once they make cuts and start hiring again in a few years. In the meantime, Railton will get the Epstein Technical Careers Center off the ground and start bringing in the bucks.

When Hank and his pal Tony (played by Diedrich Bader) run into donor Jeffrey Epstein by chance before the groundbreaking, they are both gobsmacked by just how disconnected and incompetent he seems for someone with so much money. But his millions weren’t quite enough to christen the Jeffrey Epstein Technical Careers Center. He was only able to donate $40 million to the $50 million project, and President Pope was about to come up with the other $10 million from “somewhere else.”

Even for someone as apathetic as Hank Devereaux, it doesn’t take him long to piece together the puzzle that President Pope isn’t actually asking for less money from the state legislature, but rather he is going to contribute the outstanding $10 million to the project by cutting faculty across the school.

This springs Hank into action. All along his colleagues have been planning to protest the faculty cuts at the media-covered ground-breaking ceremony. They want their collective voices heard that—while misguided and completely incoherent as a group—they won’t take faculty job loss lying down. Hank has wanted no part of that plan because: a) it would require a modicum of effort and planning; b) he actually confides to his friend Tony while they are at the gym that all of them (including himself) have flaws and should be on the chopping block; and c) he doesn’t particularly care about them.

But when it’s clear they are all being lied to, that’s a movement Hank can rally around. He figures the best way to put President Pope in a no-win situation and to avoid the scrutiny that will befall his English colleagues at the protest is to make a scene of his own. Fortunately, one of the geese that were looking for a leader at the beginning of the episode waddles up and starts pestering Hank. Seizing the opportunity, Hank does what any rational, clear-headed faculty member would do. He puts on his boxing gloves from the gym and threatens to fight the goose. This is the stuff local TV news was made for so they eat it up.

Hank threatens to box a goose if the faculty are cut
Photo Credit: Sergei Bachlakov

Hank gets on camera threatening to box one goose a day if the administration doesn’t go back on their decision to cut faculty. To the world, he looks like a lunatic in a tweed jacket, but to his colleagues, he finally looks like their leader.

It’s not a role Hank relishes and he tries to hide from them when he sees them at the bar that night, but he has become their savior, their knight in boxing glove armor that put the administration front and center for the decisions they have made. He finally joins them for a drink, taking his rightful place at the head of the table. For a moment it seems that Hank is beginning to understand that what these colleagues needed wasn’t necessarily a champion, but an ally. Someone to come to their defense and to know that there is an ounce of compassion and empathy in that tenured brain.

But we know what happens when Hank gets too happy. It’s a not a natural state for him and outside forces aren’t just going to let him rest in it. His wife, Lily, has been in New York for the day interviewing with the charter Arlyle School after the piss incident of Episode 3. An old flame, Tom (played by Chris Diamantopoulos) invites her out to a drink, and after some heavy flirting tries to kiss her. Lily rightly leaves immediately, but has a wry smile on her face when she calls Hank to tell him she will be home late. For once, her life did not exist in a bubble inside Railton, Pennsylvania, and while it may not have been the desired outcome, she felt alive for a few minutes.

Tom and Lily flirt in New York City after her interview
Photo Credit: Sergei Bachlakov

Can Hank offer that level of excitement? It seems all he can offer lately is that level of grumpiness.

And then we come full circle to Chandler. Chandler, who knows so much about geese and their leadership capabilities, overheard Hank saying he wanted to box them and confronts Hank at the bar about it. After a drunk scuffle, Hank—as Lily predicted at the beginning of the episode—ends up in jail with Tony. As Hank ponders his new life as an ally and a leader, Tony philosophizes to some of the stoners in the cell next to them, quoting Nietzsche, and saying:

“God is dead, and we have killed him. We have been liberated by that murder to do the essential task of all our lives—to make meaning for the world as we find it, not as we wish it to be.”

Well, Hank essentially murdered the plan of Railton’s Pope, and he seemingly feels liberated by it. But what comes with that victory is a leadership-sized suit. Hank still has a lot of work to do to determine whether or not he wants to keep that suit or return it. It comes with enemies inside. It comes with a life with Lily where she feels more and more distant from Hank. And it comes with the understanding that, opposed to what he said in Episode 1, their college can’t just be about mediocrity.

This is a fork in the road for Hank. Typically, Hank would rather just stand at the crossroads than decide about where to go, and eventually give up. But I, for one, can’t wait to see how spectacularly Hank can screw up this respect he has earned.

Written by Ryan Kirksey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *