“Friends With Benefits” digs into some of the show’s essential relationships while also examining and questioning cultural norms.
This 9-1-1: Lone Star season 2, episode 4 recap for the episode titled “Friends With Benefits” contains spoilers.
In a nice change of pace, especially after a string of deeply traumatic cases including volcanoes and, most recently, wildfires, “Friends With Benefits” pumps the brakes on environmental calamities to instead hone in on some of its core characters and their relationships. Some of this is development of stuff we’ve seen before, such as Owen and his complicated situation with his ex-wife Gwyneth, and T.K. and Carlos, but there’s a surprise thrown into the mix when it turns out Marjan is engaged and has been since she was 12. As she says, half of the world’s marriages are still arranged, which is a striking stat and worth digging into a little bit.
Let’s start there, then. The bonus of a Marjan-centric subplot is that it also ropes in her best buds Paul and Mateo, who immediately spot that she has a rather bug-eyed fan at the roller derby. But that fan turns out to be Salim, Marjan’s long-time fiancé, who she very much isn’t in love with but plans to marry anyway since that’s just how things work in their culture. I like the detail of Mateo, a person of color, and Paul, a person of color and a trans man, still being somewhat unable to get their heads around the idea of arranged marriage and how supportive of it Marjan was despite the prospect of having to give up her beloved firefighter career in Austin to move to Miami with a man she doesn’t care for. It’s a reminder that simply being a minority yourself doesn’t give you privileged access to and understanding of every culture and tradition; people are complicated, after all.
And “Friends With Benefits” makes this point by not characterizing arranged marriages as entirely negative. Marjan and Salim have known each other since childhood, their families are close, and both agree, even by the end, that they’re a “good match”. They’ve been engaged since they were pre-teens but neither has acted on it since then – both have been allowed to forge their own paths, discover who they are, and develop individual lives before they choose to tie the knot. Salim’s sudden appearance is implied to be him getting sick of waiting and arriving to “claim” his wife, but that isn’t the case. As it happens, he’s actually in Austin to call their wedding off, since despite how much he loves Marjan, he doesn’t want to marry someone who clearly doesn’t love him the same way in return.
This seems like a neat way to close off the subplot and give audiences a little more insight into how arranged marriages work, but 9-1-1: Lone Star season 2, episode 4 takes it a step further. When Salim reveals he has met someone else, Marjan realizes that she is in love with him after all; she spent so long waiting for her feelings to emerge that she didn’t realize they were already there. But when she goes to tell him this, she realizes that he is too lapsed as a Muslim for her to commit to. He was willing to dine without a chaperone so he could drink alcohol, and he’s willing to abandon his relationship with a woman who is clearly a side piece in order to be with Marjan. No sooner has she realized she loves Salim than she has also realized she can’t be with someone who is so cavalier about his commitments.
Also complicated in “Friends With Benefits” is the relationship between Carlos and T.K., at least when they run into the former’s parents at a farmer’s market and he introduces T.K. as his “friend”. It’s a blow for T.K., but it also calls back to something from the season premiere. It isn’t that Carlos isn’t out to his parents, but that since he came out, the matter has never been brought up again. They’re deliberately avoiding the issue, presumably hoping it somehow goes away, and because of this Carlos sees introducing his boyfriend to them as, in his words, “rubbing their noses in it.”
T.K. is kind of appalled by this, but it exposes a stark imbalance in their relationship. He has never had anything less than complete support from his open-minded parents. Coming out in a Texan Latinx family is different. I mean, his father is literally a Texas Ranger – there is no broader, more obvious metaphor for buttoned-up traditionalist machismo. On some level, Carlos is just grateful that his parents accepted him as gay, and doesn’t want to really dig into the fact that without any openness their acceptance is merely tokenistic. They’re happy for him to be who he is only if they don’t have to see or hear anything about it. That doesn’t mean they aren’t otherwise good people, or that they don’t love their son, but it makes being out and proud considerably harder for Carlos than it does for T.K., who despite having valid feelings, eventually realized the distinction. They both came out the other end stronger as a couple, and with a better understanding of each other.
Finally, 9-1-1: Lone Star season 1, episode 4 hones in on Owen and Gwyn, being careful to show how well they know each other without also implying that everything is happy and simple now they’re ostensibly back together. They can whoop other couples in parlor games, but Owen is still reluctant to label their new dynamic since, as he explains to Judd, any time he puts a label on something it turns into an expiration date. That’s a good line since it gets right into Owen’s headspace as a take-charge man with endless principles and values and beliefs but a childlike inability to communicate how he actually feels.
The smart thing he does is talk to Judd since Judd and Grace are just the best. He’s quick to remind Owen that Gwyn is the one who abandoned everything to stay in Austin with him. It’s not unreasonable for her to want some security in their relationship, to feel like she’s safe giving up a completely separate life to be with him. Naturally, Owen being Owen, he took this advice way too far and decided to replicate their wedding night for a proposal, but that isn’t what Gwyn wanted. She just wanted simple assurance. But the reason she wanted it serves as a pretty major cliffhanger – she’s pregnant.
An honorable mention in “Friends With Benefits”, though, must go to Grace. With so few of the usual emergencies to deal with, her obligatory call was a clear highlight, and it’s impressive how much the show continues to get out of these scenarios. Here, a submissive in a dominatrix’s dungeon called 911 because his Dom had gone into anaphylaxis after being stung by bees emerging from a hive hidden in the walls. He was tied up and unable to help without dislocating his own shoulder to free himself and administer the Dom’s EpiPen, which of course he was reluctant to do. That’s until, of course, Grace embraced her inner dominatrix and shamed him into doing the deed as her colleagues crowded around her in amusement. 50 Shades of Grace, indeed. Her adaptability continues to be impressive.