Fantasmas S1E2 Recap: Empty Bottles, Influencers, and Valued Customers

Julio sits in Urgent Care in Fantasmas S1E2, "Valued Customer"
Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for Fantasmas S1E2, “Valued Customer” (written and directed by Julio Torres)

Fantasmas S1E2 opens with Vanesja (Martine Gutierrez) telling us about how she used to go to restaurants and pretend she’d been stood up. They’d comp her meal and then she’d go home, until one night when she was so taken by the waiter she hooked up with him. When she awoke in his dorm room, she found an empty Gatorade bottle, and as she proceeded to hook up with various young men from various dorm rooms, she came to find that they all had empty Gatorade bottles. She became transfixed on the question of their significance, as they were clearly not “whatever,” but she couldn’t get an answer.

The vignette ends with Vanesja spilling a glass of wine on her table at a restaurant and then, when the waiter goes to get a rag to clean it up, she leaves an empty Gatorade bottle on the table. We’re left to read his face as he picks it up, but I take this event to signify that Vanesja has given up on the mystery. She’s accepted that it’s not for her to know, but also there will be, for her, no more young men, no more dorm rooms, and no more empty Gatorade bottles.

Having been a young man myself, I, of course, know the esoteric meaning of the empty Gatorade bottle, but it’s not the kind of thing you tell people.

Vanesja in a white jacket and skirt
Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

As for Julio (Julio Torres), he’s still obsessing over the birthmark on his neck, which he claims is growing. It was the exact same size as the earring he bought in last week’s episode, but he lost that earring at the club so he doesn’t have it for comparison when he goes to Urgent Care. They insist it’s not a mole but a birthmark, and Julio quickly runs out of time in the session, as announced by a big clock on the wall and an automated voice.

Of course, Julio himself knows that the thing on his neck is a birthmark (and not a mole). He said as much the first time it came up in S1E1, but it would seem that he’s fixating on the fake problem of it growing rather than confronting the real problem that he’s going to lose his apartment.

Julio does not want to get a Proof of Existence, and says he doesn’t believe in the idea of it. In principle, I’m with him on this. I think it’s wrong that you have to have a document that proves you exist, but that is the world we already live in. Good luck if you want to try to get by without an ID.

It is possible that the Proof of Existence within the world of Fantasmas, or the requirements for getting one, will go beyond what is required to get an official ID in the real world, but we haven’t had any indication as of yet that this is the case. Indeed, Vanesja makes the process seem to be as simple as filling out an online form, but Julio resists.

Convinced that the biggest problem in his life is actually the birthmark on his neck, Julio searches for his lost earring. He lands on the idea that it was kissed off his ear by an influencer he was dancing with at the club, Skyler (Jaboukie Young-White). But when Julio takes Skyler to Urgent Care, they confirm that there are no diamonds in Skyler’s stomach. Nor are there any indications that he’d swallowed a diamond. So Julio’s search for the earring comes up short.

Skyler in front of a circular thing, recording a video
Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

We follow Skyler and get a glimpse into his life as an influencer. He records a video shilling for Clorox, which he calls a gender-inclusive germ killer, but then his phone dies as he’s watching it back. Gina (Greta Titelman) is crying in the other room of Skyler’s apartment, so when he goes to borrow her charger, he has to hear about her problems. Her boyfriend, Charles, has dumped her, leaving her with nowhere to live, and she perceives her attractiveness to be fading.

Ultimately, Gina draws a parallel between her prospects as a woman in her 30s and Skyler’s career as an influencer. He’ll get older, and so will his fans. They’ll move on, and he’ll be replaced by the next new thing. This freaks Skyler out, so he tries to create a profile on the new app that middle schoolers are using, but that seems to conjure the Algorithm (Dominique Jackson), who chastises him for being insufficiently grateful and then ends him.

The Algorithm grabs Skyler by the throat
Photograph by Atsushi Nishijima/HBO

As Fantasmas S1E2 comes to a close, Julio discovers an app called Incorporeal, which offers the promise of a life without a body. I have to admit that that sounds fairly appealing insofar as bodies can be annoying in various ways, but I feel like I hardly need to spell out the dystopian possibilities we may be on the cusp of with this idea.

“Valued Customer”

The title of Fantasmas S1E2, “Valued Customer,” refers to an extended sequence in the episode that features Alexa Demie as Becca, an insurance rep whom Julio calls from Urgent Care. Becca loves her job, viewing herself as a sword for Assembly Plan Insurance, and she takes pleasure in enforcing the rules of the company, denying claims, telling people there’s nothing she can do, and then signing off by assuring them that they are a valued customer.

The whole vignette frames this in a way that is sexually charged, but that really comes to a head when Becca, upset that the company president’s daughter (Kaija Matiss) has been promoted over her, books a flight that she then wants to cancel. She was rebellious for a moment, but now she’s thought better of it. Unfortunately, the cancellation button on the website she was using won’t work, so she calls the company.

Becca in a suit at her desk
Photograph by Monica Lek/HBO

The customer service rep on the other end of the line (Ziwe) plays the very game that Becca has told us she loves playing. The lines of dialogue are standard stuff about how there’s nothing she can do, Becca booked through a third-party site, and so on, but it’s all presented in a way that makes it clear that this rep is taking pleasure in asserting her dominance over Becca, and Becca may be taking pleasure from the interaction as well.

It’s not my kink, but the scene is hot!

Is it fair to imagine that customer service reps secretly derive excitement from agitated customers? Is there a jouissance that can come from adhering to bureaucratic rules even when they flout reason? I think there certainly is. But, again, this is not my thing, and I don’t think people like this should be employed in customer service. I generally don’t believe in kink-shaming, but, like, go work as a dom with consenting subs, for goodness sake.

Dodo on the stand at trial in Fantasmas S1E2, "Valued Customer"
Photograph by Monica Lek/HBO

In other news, Dodo (Bowen Yang) is suing Santa for unpaid labor, and we see some scenes from the trial on the TV in Chester’s (Tomas Matos) car. Chester is, of course, completely on Dodo’s side, and Julio agrees. We might note the implication that elves and Santa are completely real within the world of Fantasmas. Make of that what you will. Since we don’t see a resolution of the case, I expect this might be a running thing moving forward.

Julio is going to lose his apartment, but he’s been focused on the mole on his neck instead of dealing with that problem. Now, it looks like he might glom onto the Incorporeal app to avoid getting a Proof of Existence. I do hope things work out for him.

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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