Recap and review of Camp – Season 1 Episode 2 – Capture the Flag:
It’s kind of nice to have a show that really is a summer diversion. Camp doesn’t have the narrative meat of a Breaking Bad or The Bridge, or even the intrigue of something like Twisted, as far as summer shows go.
The episode centers on (what else?) a game of Capture the Flag, and the game is used as pretext for exploring the various relationships at the heart of the show. Front-and-center is the dynamic between Mack (Rachel Griffiths) and her son, Buzz (Charles Grounds), along with the similar bond between Buzz and his father, Steve (Jonathan LaPaglia). Buzz and Steve are on the same team, and though father and son share a clear, obvious bond, Steve has skewed priorities. He makes a move on Mack after she confronts him over his plans to have Buzz stay with him every other week, only to then reconcile with his hot young Russian girlfriend. When said girlfriend needs room for pilates equipment or some other ridiculous thing, Steve suddenly has no more room for his son, leaving it to Mack to be the one to break the news to a heartbroken Buzz. Griffiths continues to be terrific in the role, particularly when she recognizes just how badly Steve has hurt her son, and decides she won’t tolerate any of it anymore. She comes to the conclusion that she wants a regular, old-fashioned “nasty” divorce; no more leeway in letting Steve store all his old junk in her camp, no more dual credit card accounts, etc. It’s a moment of liberation that Griffiths plays excellently, and it’s a moment that completely reversed me on my stance last week that maybe it would be better if Mack’s role had been reduced. It’s apparent now that Griffiths is the show’s biggest asset.
But some of the campers themselves offer interesting story material, and performances to go with them. If Griffiths is the show’s best asset, Thom Green is second-in-command, as Kip continues to be one of the most relatable characters in the show. His story this week mostly centers on his developing feelings for Marina (Lily Sullivan), who develops feelings for another guy and arouses jealousy in Kip. To make matters worse, a girl named Chloe (Natasha Bassett) is blackmailing Kip, threatening to reveal that he has leukemia to the entire camp. Once again, the game of Capture the Flag is used as a pretext to explore these character dynamics, as Chloe takes Kip “prisoner” and forces him to talk with her about his leukemia, and the 90% chance of his death if the illness should come back. Kip tries to pass it off as if he doesn’t care, but he admits to worrying about his sickness returning every day. Chloe continues to be obnoxious about blackmailing him, but there’s a clear reason for why she does it. When Kip tells her he no longer cares if she tells the whole camp about his illness, she moves in for the most awkward kiss on network television this year. It’s hilarious, but also sweet in how Chloe had been too awkward to communicate her crush to Kip in any other way. And Kip understands — of course, much of this is compelled by the fact that Chloe is a gorgeous girl who’s suddenly into him. But I still found it to be one of the more resonant plotlines of the episode.
Less resonant was the story of Robbie (Tim Pocock) and his gambling addict mother (Kat Stewart). He has to keep abandoning the Capture the Flag game to meet with her on different pretexts: the first is his mother needing to be picked up from a nearby casino. Once he gets there, it becomes immediately apparent that Robbie’s mother isn’t actually trying to leave the casino, she just needs a quick cash infusion to keep playing. And so Robbie hits up Roger Shepard (Rodger Corser), the director of the wealthy Ridgefield camp, for a loan to bail his mother out. Robbie remains upset with his mother even after helping her, because she doesn’t appear to support him in his decision to go to law school. He basically just gives her the money and drops her off, with no real intention of returning. However, when Robbie’s mother calls him again the next day with an emergency, Robbie rushes home to discover that his mother has spent the $700 he loaned her the day before, and gambled with it: winning $7000. She now wants to celebrate, but Robbie is in no mood. “What if you’d lost?” he shouts at his mother, realizing that she’s never going to change. “I can’t live like this.” He bails on his mother, who tries to give him a gift in return for having helped her, and it isn’t until he gets back to the camp that he realizes the gift is a Mont Blanc pen — the kind lawyers use. Inside is a note talking about how proud she is of her son, and wishing him luck with law school. It’s a sweet moment, but the solution seems too easy, as Robbie’s mother easily could have sent the family to ruin had her fortunes gone the other way. But I do like that complexity, the feeling that you can’t really choose your family. Even when she does him wrong, Robbie’s mother is still his mother, not unlike Mack will always be Buzz’s mother, and Steve will always be his father, for better or worse.
I liked last week’s premiere better than “Capture the Flag,” but I still found a lot to like here. I certainly feel like the show has its heart in the right place, and it’s far more entertaining than not. It’s the perfect little low-stakes summer diversion.