A brilliantly funny episode also manages to find real pathos in a clever concept that sets the stakes for the finale.
This recap of Avenue 5 season 2, episode 7, “I Love Judging People”, contains spoilers.
First, a couple of quick reminders. One, as of Episode 6, the Avenue 5 is about to be destroyed by a missile. And two, since Ryan was “democratically” elected as the ship’s resident dictator in Episode 5, it’s his responsibility to decide how to divide the passengers among the two halves that Judd reveals the ship can separate into. He tries to argue that it isn’t the dictator’s responsibility to decide who lives and who dies, but quickly realizes that… yes, it kind of is the dictator’s job to decide that.
Avenue 5 season 2, episode 7 recap
The whole two-halves thing is an obvious a*s-pull plot device, but “I Love Judging People” does a good job of justifying it by explaining it was Judd’s idea to get himself a tax break. Another sudden, hitherto unmentioned element is an onboard AI that has been extensively analyzing each passenger and is able to represent their perceived worth to the vessel as a simple number. The theory is simple: Low-ranking passengers are to be shuffled to the back of the ship, which is the most likely to earn the ire of the missile since it’s where the engines are.
The fatal flaw to this plan is that Ryan tells the passengers about it — although, crucially, not what the ranking will ultimately decide — and the passengers all get to monitor their rank via wristbands which offer a tinkly chime for an upvote or a sour buzz for a downvote. Pretty quickly everyone begins to figure out how to game the system — Iris walks around posing for the cameras, telling the truth is beneficial but lying isn’t, cold decision-making is rewarded, and so on, and so forth. It makes for some funny beats such as Elena and Charles both having to confess their love for Ryan after they figure out, thanks to the wristbands, what he’s hiding.
But then there’s Karen. Using a Ryan mask to fool the AI, she tries to access the logs of all the times that Ryan has spoken about her… and is successful. This means she gets to hear all the horrible things Ryan has said about her, so she sets about trashing the ship, still wearing his mask, sending his ranking absolutely plummeting.
Elsewhere, Billie sees she’s ranked second out of the whole ship, which is a good position, but she instantly begins obsessing about who might be above her.
This is all funny. But “I Love Judging People” uses the concept in a ton of smart ways to mine real drama and pathos out of many of these relationships. When it comes down to the wire, Ryan swaps wristbands with Elena, since he’s in the top 3000 and she isn’t, thus saving her life. Or so he thinks, at least. At the last minute, Judd, who was also consigned to the back of the ship, leads a charge of people rushing to the front to save themselves from the missile, inadvertently weighing down the front, making it a more viable target.
By the end of the episode, we don’t know which side of the ship the missile will hit, or even if it’ll hit any at all, but either way, it was a ballsy strategy to separate half the core cast like this, and it’ll be interesting to see where the idea goes.
You can catch Avenue 5 season 2, episode 7 exclusively on HBO.