Breeders continues to be one of the best and most underrated shows on television in a two-part season premiere that’s as funny as it is honest, sad, and terrifying.
This recap of Breeders season 3, episodes 1 & 2, “No Direction Home” & “No Worries”, contains spoilers.
“He’s the best thing that ever happened to me” are the last words of almost all parents. Not the real last words, obviously, not the last before death, but the last of an older and much less confusing life. Paul, one of the most well-observed and blisteringly truthful comedy characters in recent memory, puts it best when he says that he would die for both of his kids but spends most of his time wanting to kill them. That’s parenting in a nutshell, and not the saccharine, made-for-TV kind. It’s the real kind, the kind where nobody has a clue what they’re doing and just stumbles, often angrily, through one baffling predicament after another.
Breeders season 3, episode 1 recap
“No Direction Home”, Breeders’ third season premiere, opens with one of those baffling predicaments. After Paul’s unchecked temper and Luke’s unaddressed internal strife led to the son bopping his father on the nose, Paul is living at Ally’s mum Leah’s house while she’s honeymooning. The idea is that in his father’s absence Luke will have time to think and learn about himself and his issues, but what it really amounts to is Paul being resigned to watching family games of Head’s Up on the home security system while it seems very much like the kids are having a better time without him.
Paul’s parents, Jackie and Jim, who would benefit from a spin-off just about them, think the whole situation is bizarre. So does Paul too, honestly, but these are the sacrifices we make for our kids, even if they’re difficult for others. The problem is that Paul’s absence is most difficult for Ava, who implores him to come home through the security camera and text messages, mostly as a reminder of how capably Breeders can whip between being hysterical and crushingly sad.
But this was a long time coming. “No Direction Home” is interspersed with flashbacks to Paul trying to navigate the peculiar whims of a much younger Luke, who forces him into pulling over during a long car journey so that he can evacuate his bowels — which apparently requires Paul to sing Gregory Isaac’s “Night Nurse” through a cubicle door in a public toilet deliberately stuffed with geezers. In these sequences, Breeders even pivots to new territory, which is terror, as Ally loses Ava at a service station. There’s no wonder these two are stressed.
But how do you navigate that stress? How much of it are your children expected to write off as parents being parents, and how long do we allow children to be children before we start expecting them not to be? Luke is 13, has complex feelings that deserve to be considered, but has also essentially seized power of the household. When Ally suggests Paul comes over to his own house for dinner, she has to clear it with Luke first. Paul has to politely request if he can spend the night. And then Luke rather arbitrarily rescinds the offer midway through the evening. Rather than have Luke sleep at a friend’s, Paul leaves again, much to the detriment of Ava.
It becomes obvious pretty quickly that this is the point of the flashbacks, too. Ava is eventually discovered trying to stow away on what looks like a school trip being shepherded by Grace Long, the lady who did that brilliant skit about how Northerners give bad news. Paul, overwhelmingly frustrated by the whole endeavor, angrily berates Ava for sneaking off, despite the entire stop having really been Luke’s responsibility. History repeats itself.
northerners giving bad news pic.twitter.com/oD0Jemd6H2
— Grace Long (@gdiddlydog) February 13, 2021
Luckily, Paul finds a way to kill time when he meets Gabby (Sally Phillips), one of Leah’s neighbors who invites him for lunch with her sister after catering for too many. There’s a smart juxtaposition in Paul enjoying his time with Gabby while Ally, Ava, and Luke all silently and miserably eat dinner, none of them willing to address the obvious point. Well, except Ava, who finally opens up only to have her feelings predictably minimized. When Paul eventually returns home to drop the car keys off — he and Ally are still sharing one car despite staying in different houses — Luke tries to smugly confront Paul about how unbearable his rage has made him to live with. He refers back specifically to the time when Ava disappeared at a service station and Paul screamed at her, conveniently forgetting why they stopped there in the first place.
As Paul leaves, he sings “Night Nurse” as a reminder.
Breeders season 3, episode 2 recap
“No Worries” continues the juxtapositions as Paul settles into life at Leah’s. Only this time, things seem to be going in his favor. While Ally burns toast and almost pulls her hair out trying to get the kids ready for school, Paul makes himself a lovely breakfast to classical music and decides to go to work an hour late. As Ally “secretly” meets Darren to be told her job might be at risk, Paul casually nips out for lunch. And who does he happen to encounter while he’s out and about? Yes, of course, Gabby.
While Paul enjoys a sit-down lunch and a cinema trip with Gabby, things go from bad to worse for Ally. Still faced with the prospect of losing her job, her connection to Ava, and potentially her mind, she gets a call from Luke’s school informing her that he isn’t there. Instead, he just… stayed home, he claims after a panic attack that Ally was “rushing” too much to take notice of. Having called Darren to the house to try and figure out a way to save their livelihoods, Ally has to call Paul to get to the bottom of what’s causing Luke’s anxiety this time — interrupting his lovely day off in the process!
In the meantime, Ava continues to struggle, and everybody continues not to notice. She doesn’t go to the science museum after school because she “felt funny”, which is all she’s willing to say in front of an oblivious Darren, and Ally barely has the time to take her to a church group. On the way, Ally has to pick up some replacement estrogen gel, and is told a global shortage means that she’ll be waiting a minimum of ten months — unless she can get some from the Dark Web, which is apparently the place to be for, “Bitcoin, machetes, and really horrible porn.” She flips out at the pharmacists, and then at Ava, who she’s paying so little attention to she doesn’t notice filling her backpack with stuff from the shelves. The joke — and the point — is clear. Ally is very swiftly turning into Paul.
Speaking of Paul, he takes Luke to an art gallery — where he regales him with a spot-on assessment of Salvador Dali’s eccentricities (“Yeah, he had an anteater. He used to walk it around Paris, the t**t.”) — and discovers his anxiety is rooted in an upcoming presentation about the evacuation of Saigon, which his hip alternative friend Jacob wants to present as a bizarre American-accented beat poem. Things aren’t going all that well for Ava, either, who has started her period and was stealing sanitary products from the pharmacy. Luckily, the vicar at her church group, Susi (Andi Osho), has things covered, even if her solving the problem means that Ava doesn’t even bother to tell Ally about it. The stressed parents watching — and there are many of us, I’m sure — must have all wondered how many milestone moments we missed because we didn’t have time to listen.
But the moral of “No Worries” is that sometimes us parents really do know best. Paul saves Luke from his presentation moments before it happens by faking the imminent death of a made-up family friend, and Luke recognizes immediately that even though he thought he was making the right decision by standing by his friend, he was really making the wrong decision for himself. It’s enough that Luke wants Paul to come back home, just as Gabby wants him to take her on another date to the cinemas. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, of course, but you can never quite tell unless you have a peek over the fence.
You can stream Breeders season 3, episodes 1 & 2, “No Direction Home” & “No Worries”, exclusively on FX on Hulu.