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Stumptown Review Roundtable - Episode 1x07: November Surprise - Happy Friendsgiving

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Before beginning our roundtable discussion of Episode 1x07, November Surprise, we at the Stumptown Review Roundtable want to congratulate series star Cobie Smulders on being named SpoilerTV Staff Choice Performer of the Month for October. It was a well-deserved honor for an outstanding performance. The fact that a performer from a relatively new show earned the honor just adds to our belief that this is a very special show. Read her Staff Choice POTM for October article here.

This roundtable is for the latest original episode that aired, November Surprise. In it, Dex is faced with a challenging case that forces her to decide between a big paycheck and her principles. She meets a new ally we hope sticks around and does all this while preparing to host the oddest Friendsgiving in Portland. Remember too, if you have any questions you would like the Review Roundtable to address in future roundtables post them in the comments below. NOTE: There will not be a Stumptown Review Roundtable next week due to the Thanksgiving holiday airing schedule.

To earn the big paycheck promised by her new client Dex goes undercover at his opponent’s political campaign headquarters to less than stellar results. Is undercover work Dex’s strong suit?

DC - Dex and undercover work seem to go together like oil and water. Purposely deceiving people seems to go against her grain, even for a worthy cause like a paycheck. No matter the circumstances, Dex is barely comfortable in her own skin, let alone pretending to be someone else.

EC - Dex couldn’t have acted any stiffer. We’ve seen her at a disadvantage in these situations before, such as when she went into Tapper’s office. She is one of those people who is barely just comfortable in her own skin. Taking on other roles doesn’t come easily to her. She seems to get the best results when she just directly asks people for information, and she is bound to run out of eager people with loose lips. Of course, private investigators often rely more on their research and endurance as much as, if not more so, going undercover. After all, Dex can’t offer up Grey’s bar to keep her mark busy every time she has a case.

Grey (Jake Johnson) and Liz (Monica Barbaro)’s relationship seems to be racing forward at a breakneck pace. Do you think this is a long-lasting relationship? Do you trust Liz? Is she a plant for a darker purpose?

DC - I’ve not trusted Liz from the beginning. From the first time she came into the bar, her radar sent her directly to Grey. I find that just a little too convenient and her backstory seems to be filled with holes that I suspect Dex will find should she decide to look. My feeling is she is a plant of some sort, the question is for whom and who is her real target. Someone from Grey’s past? Or, is it someone with a grudge against Dex and thought this the best way to keep an eye on her, by planting someone in her inner circle?

EC - Liz’s backstory which she never confirmed was a joke or not! Even after re-watching the episode twice, I’m not sure how much truth was in the story of being falsely imprisoned in Europe for months because of something her boyfriend did, the same boyfriend who eventually went back to his ex who was apparently stalking them in Europe, leaving Liz with major relationship anxiety forever afterward. It certainly struck me as far too many details were being given for this backstory to not be revisited. Liz could have been downplaying the actual extent of what happened to her, although I could have sworn there was a discussion about how Googling her hadn’t turned anything up. (Or maybe Grey had chosen not to search for her past.) Any relationship moving this quickly on TV is headed for a brick wall; either she has nefarious motives, or her relationship baggage will send her packing.

There is still tension between Dex and Grey. Are they handling things right or are they still making mistakes with one another?

DC – These two will always make mistakes with one another, theirs is just that kind of odd friendship. And I believe it should remain a friendship. Right now, it’s a strained friendship but they’re trying. They’ve even admitted they tried the romantic route and found they were better for one another as friends. Neither has a great track record in being totally honest with people. Dex isn’t the type to forgive easily, especially when it comes to someone who has hurt or put Ansel (Cole Sibus) in danger. He is her Achilles heel. She may forgive other things, but when it comes to her brother that’s the one thing in her life that is clear, and she looks at anything involving him as straight black or white. Grey may have feelings for Dex but I don’t think they’ll go there again.

EC - The two of them are in a better place with each other, although Dex announcing he was a convicted felon seemed a bit rude. Liz appears to be right that Grey still has some deeper feelings for Dex, but I sincerely hope they just stay friends for now.

Stumptown is filled with so many interesting characters. In this episode, Dex crosses paths and cases with Carol (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), another Portland, P.I. What did you think of her? Do you think she and Dex would work well together? Will she pop in from time to time to mentor Dex?

DC - From the first time they met, Carol gave Dex no quarter. Finding out she was a P.I. was a bonus. The seasoned P.I. perspective is just the influence Dex needs in her detective career. Dex may be so focused on succeeding she may take a case that isn’t good for her. Carol would be a great mentor she can turn to from time to time to show Dex which cases she needs to walk away from. Smulders and Gregory had a nice bantering rhythm between them and I would like to see Carol return.

EC - The one element the show is missing is someone with more maturity and experience for Dex to lean on now and then. Hoffman (Michael Ealy) has a person like that in Cosgrove (Camryn Manheim). With Dex’s PTSD and with her just starting out in this new field, she could use that guidance. However, you get the sense that Dex is not in a place where she will admit to needing help. Multiple times, in this case, Dex’s instincts were telling her to back off, but she overruled them. She doesn’t trust her own gut either; our girl needs that listening ear and helping hand to collect advice from.

Dex and Ansel share a few family memories as they prepare for Friendsgiving? We learn they are living in their parent’s house; do you think we’ll get a visit from Uncle Mark this season? At Friendsgiving, everyone shares what they are thankful for. What things about Stumptown are you thankful for?

DC – Eventually we are going to get an episode that relates directly to Dex and Ansel’s mysterious past that they keep mentioning. A past, which may or may not involve a visit from Uncle Mark. I’m thankful for the sharp, skillful writers of this show, who, each week do such a great job in their layered storytelling. Thanks also to the producers who have brought together such a great company of actors who bring these intriguing characters to life, headed by a stellar lead in Cobie Smulders.

EC - I’m grateful that each character on Stumptown is well-crafted with their own individual sparkle and tragedy. No one is just here for the sake of filling a quota or cornering a love triangle. Each character is a regular person dealing with everyday battles to stay sane and make a living.

Who was the MVP of this episode? What were your overall thoughts on this episode?

DC - Overall the episode seemed to slow things down a bit which I oddly do not mind. With t
his group of performers who get to shine each week, it’s hard to single one out. Let’s look at it this way, for me, the character in this episode I’d want to see more of and make a return as a recurring cast member or a guest star is Carol. I loved Gregory’s style and take on the character and again her honest back and forth with Smulders was a highlight of the episode for me.

EC - The case itself was mundane, as I’ve seen countless “politician being blackmailed” episodes of TV. Watching the episode, any weaknesses in the story didn’t stand out, because I have grown to love all the characters. The plot might have been predictable, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing Dex have to deal with more personal fallout from taking down the politician all her friends were rooting for. No one performer or character caught my eye, although I did enjoy Eliza Coupe’s comically ruthless performance as Vanessa.

Out of all the cases we've seen Dex handle so far, which is your favorite? Also, Dex seems to do her best work when she has a personal connection to the case. Could this pattern spell trouble for Dex's future as a P.I?

DC - With the exception of the case with her ex, there’s one other thing all of Dex’s cases have had in common and that’s kids – Sue Lynn’s granddaughter, the illegitimate child custody case, Grey putting Ansel in danger, and in this episode a hidden child and I think that’s why she throws herself into them so deeply and at times recklessly. And, if you look at it closely enough even her case with her ex ended up reminding her that she was not a lost child of sorts anymore and she was doing a good job growing up. Could her soft heart when it comes to kids get her in trouble as a P.I.? Absolutely. I think no matter what type of case comes down the life she is going to find some way it connects to her whether it be literally or figuratively. That’s why having someone with experience, like Carol, as a sounding board would be good. She needs someone to help her pace herself and not give too much of herself to her cases and burn out too fast.

EC - Before this case, we haven’t seen Dex working mostly solo (she got help from Grey to identify the girl, but I’m still counting it as a solo) for a stranger. She’s rescued the daughter of her deceased boyfriend, protected her former lover, and helped save her best friend from certain death. Even helping Candace was a case that she came across out of the necessity of getting internship hours. Dex has a business to set up and a reputation to grow. While Hoffman will be able to send some cases her way (and it appears that Grey’s former criminal connections will also bring in more work), Dex will have to learn how to market her services to strangers. I do wonder if she needs a personal stake in a case to motivate her. How will she handle a case that none of her friends can help her with? She could be quite overwhelmed. I do believe the show needs to give Dex a more challenging case, even if for no other reason than Smulders has earned juicier material to sink her teeth into.

What were your thoughts on November Surprise? Share them in the comments below. And don’t forget to add any questions you would like us to address in future Review Roundtables.

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