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Stumptown - At All Costs: The Conrad Costas Chronicles - Roundtable: Family Ties

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Dex (Cobie Smulders)'s latest case takes her to Los Angeles and into the movie-making world. However, the real story of this episode is the family issues that face both Dex and Grey (Jake Johnson), who has accompanied her there. Our Spoiler TV Stumptown Roundtable Review team including Ellys C., Alison M., Laura W., and Marko P. join me to share their thoughts about At All Costs: The Conrad Costas Chronicles. What were your thoughts on the episode? Share them with us in the comments below and don't forget to submit your questions to be included in the next Roundtable.

What was the impact of Grey's storyline involving his father? Did you feel this episode meaningfully contributed to the character's development?

DC: The story of Grey searching for a car that gave him a good memory which ultimately led to a reunion with his estranged father was as nicely told. While it did show another layer to his character and his background, I'm still not 100% on the Grey bandwagon. I think the true purpose of his storyline was a parallel to lay the groundwork to Dex's movement toward finding her parents. That said the storyline was necessary in that we'd already had family stories of most of the other characters. I do wonder if we might get a similar story for Sue Lynn (Tantoo Cardinal) sometime soon.

EC: Sometimes a show gives you something, and you realize, "I didn't know I needed this." This was not my reaction to exploring Grey's past. For me, this story came out of nowhere, a reaction which may be a symptom of my growing disinterest in the character. We already had Hoffman's family conflict and Dex's family mystery. Finding out that Grey has a very basic chapter of his backstory that involves being neglected by his father who has grown up since and turned his life around...I felt nothing. I'm glad he got a cool car out of it. Maybe the show will get him out of Bad Alibi more often now.
AD: I'm happy he bought the car. It's linked to a happy memory and he deserves some of that. Revealing Grey's past gives the character added depth. He was already a well-developed character, but now we have a better understanding of his insecurities and possibly the root of his possessiveness. I expect to see dad and his new family again in the future. I'm not sure what the circumstances will be, but I'm sure the stakes will be high.

LW: Absolutely! While Grey has been developed as his own character, his life still almost solely revolves around Dex and Ansel, so it was wonderful to see more about him and where he comes from. I think his father will be back for sure, whether for good or bad, I'm not sure

MP: It gave Grey a sort of closure. When you are left by any family member you always think part of it is your fault. Grey realizing his father is just trash, finally gave him closure. He realized that his father chose the easier way and that he wasn`t a completely bad child, rather his father wasn`t equipped to stick around at that point in his life, but that changed and it means life can change for Grey, as well.

Do you agree or disagree that the best version of Dex and Grey is them as friends? Explain.

DC: I understand that romantic relationships add complexity to characters, but just don't think it is necessary for every show, especially between the lead of a show and a supporting character. That said, Dex and Grey are infinitely better off as friends and occasionally case-solving partners. Dex needs a close friend and someone to vent to. These are two damaged characters as is, each carrying a significant among of baggage. I think putting them in a romantic relationship is too soon, if ever and especially not now.

EC: Ever since the midseason cliffhanger with Grey deciding he wanted to try a relationship with Dex, their scenes together have been tainted. I need these two to definitively friend zone each other as soon as possible. I love it when they are just being buddies, sitting on the couch or the beach talking over their problems and cracking jokes.

AD: I love them as friends. The final scene on the beach felt so good without the currently dormant love triangle looming. They are two messy people who love, care for, and push one another. What they have is complicated enough with throwing romance into the mix. Platonic friendships don't get enough attention on television, so many of them are tainted by a will they or won't they vibe, and I'd like to see Stumptown continue steering away from what's expected.

LW: I may be biased as a shipper, but I disagree. They bounce off each other so well, and I think honestly not much would even change were they to become more than friends.

MP: I can't really see them as a couple. A hook up yes, but he seems way too rough around the edges for Dex. Hoffman looks like a better man and able to handle Dex's messy nature. Grey seems just too complicated and uneven for any type of relationship. On the other hand, their interactions this episode flowed so naturally and worked so well in the context of the episode, that I am not completely sold on them being only friends. But we do need to see them do more team-ups. I loved the fire scene.

This episode revealed much more about the disappearance of Dex and Ansel (Cole Sibus)'s parents. There is a chance now that they didn't want to or didn't freely choose to abandon their children. And yet Dex didn't feel the need to look for them until now. Ansel got a brief look at Dex's letter from Maribel (Judy Jean Burns). Do you think he's going to find out about it fully at some point, or will he be kept in the dark until his parents show up? How has this episode impacted your Parios parents theories?

DC: What we had been led to believe about the Parios parents until now in no way fits the scenario we learned about in this episode. That's been one of the things I've enjoyed so much about Stumptown, just when we think they're going to do the expected, they put their own unique twist on a story. Whatever happened was painful for Dex, she is putting aside her pains to begin a new search, not because she needs to know, but for her brother who is asking questions. I think she will be as honest as she can with Ansel up until the point that it causes him pain she believes he can't handle.

EC: My theories are all jumbled now. The memories Dex shared of her parents don't quite fit into the villain board I've been mentally pinning clues to. However, if their disappearance wasn't somewhat in line with their character, wouldn't she have looked for them sooner? Or was she too wasted at the time? The only conclusion I can draw is that she just chose to not discuss the negative memories. That doesn't change the fact that this episode confirmed the parents felt they literally needed to hide. Surely, they are on the run from someone. But who? To leave their son behind in a facility and desert their freshly traumatized adult daughter, they must have been involved in some deep, dark stuff or owed someone a good deal of money. Could it be the same mysterious crime boss that Violet was working for?

AD: I don't know that I had a theory before now; I think I was just along for the ride. I wondered what happened but wasn't deeply curious because there is so much going on from episode to episode. Now that I know they had to leave; I'm wondering if Sue Lynn was involved. Not necessarily in a nefarious way, but I do wonder if she was somehow involved in getting them to safety or currently involved in keeping them hidden.

LW: Dex didn't know that they might not have had a choice in leaving, so I think she had to deal with what she knew or thought she knew, and from what happened, all she could conclude was that they left them. If Ansel finds out more about the letter, it could be good drama show-wise, but bad relationship-wise for him and Dex, so I almost hope he just completely forgets about it. Honestly, this episode doesn't change my theories much. I hope I'm wrong, but I do still think they just up and left Ansel because they didn't want to care for him anymore.

MP: I don't buy they couldn't contact them at all even while being on a run thing. There certainly is a reason why they bailed but not a good enough one to not get back to Dex and Ansel in over 5 years. I just hope the writers don't overdo it story-wise. I dig a mystery but they shouldn't push the story too much just to make them redeemable. Ansel starting to ask questions may push Dex in a different direction. She will try to protect Ansel at any cost and if she smells any danger she might go in a completely different direction. But it does seem inevitable at this point.

Dex and Grey agree there's no such thing as a Hollywood ending, and each character on the show has some obstacle preventing their complete happiness. What are your predictions for how we might see these obstacles affect the show going forward?

DC: Obviously, the reasons the Parios parents are on the run will become a bigger and bigger obstacle for Dex, and in turn Ansel, through the end of the first season and I don't foresee a happy ending. I think the others are working through their obstacles except for Sue Lynn. I'm hoping we at least learn the truth about Benny's death by season end and can hopefully explore those repercussions for Sue Lynn and Dex in Season 2. Finding his father the way he did will throw Grey off-kilter and the father is likely to come to see him and need his help. Hoffman and his father issues have been ongoing for years, perhaps they're in a better place now but in a weird way, I wonder if the two relish their battles. The show has done an exceptional job of laying out the lives of these characters in such a way to make us care for each and every one.

EC: Everyone on this show needs something, and one of the most effective ways the show has endeared the characters to the audience is by slowly revealing everyone's need. Ansel needs to know why his parents left. Tookie needs freedom, both in his culinary arts and most likely in his personal life as well. Dex needs to forgive herself. And so on. The way the show is progressing, I believe the writers are setting it up that each character is going to be shown the path to what they need and that another character will show them. Dex is going to find Ansel the answers about their parents. Sue Lynn is going to give Dex the space to reveal the truth and set her burdens down. Grey or perhaps Lt. Cosgrove is going to help Tookie exit his suffocating relationship. These connections among the characters form the best version of the show, the small town where everyone knows everyone else and looks out for them.

AD: They are all disasters, and while I don't think they'll get Hollywood endings, I do think they'll all eventually get enough happy moments strung together to be happy humans.
For Dex, forgiving herself for Benny's death is going to be a big lift. She's on the road, but before she can fully grieve him, she must release herself from the responsibility of what were his choices not hers. She'll struggle to trust herself and forge meaningful connections with people. Her heart, for now, will stay locked uptight.
Ansel moving out and establishing his independence was an amazing step forward, but I think the mystery of why his parents abandoned him is going to weigh heavily, and I don't think solving the mystery is going to bring him immediate peace. It might even bring a lot more pain.
Grey seems to have almost as many demons as Dex, and I doubt we've seen them all. He likely has a host of old acquaintances with bad ideas and worse intentions. His old life despite the new one he's making hasn't fully let go.
Hoffman will likely have to confront his father again. His mother made excuses in order to mend her family, but all those former employees couldn't have simply had an agenda. Although I think a showdown with his dad is likely, I wouldn't be surprised to see Hoffman rescue his father from the repercussions of his questionable dealings.
Tookie has big dreams. I wonder if he'll be able to get Grey on board with all his plans. I'm worried about his marriage, but when it comes to this cast of misfits, Tookie seems to carry the fewest burdens—until he doesn't.

LW: The interesting thing about Dex's parents coming back is that it would affect both her and Ansel, so that makes them both set up for either a complete resolution and finding out what happened, or even more questions. I think we're going to get more questions before answers when it comes to Dex's parents. I also think we're going to see rough roads ahead for Tookie when it comes to his wife, and Grey when it comes to his father, and the law. Hoffman seems fairly simple between him and his father -- they must somehow find a compromise in what they do. I don't think they will this season, though.

MP: The internal struggle and fears these characters carry with them are maybe obstacles they can't surpass that easily. Evolution is a tricky process and has to start from within. These characters are at different stages of their life need to accept their issues first. While it seems to be an easier ride for Grey and Hoffman to prevail in their struggle, Dex is still not really accepting her issues and needs to find it within her first, if she does that the Hollywood Hills might not be that far.

Is the strain in Tookie (Adrian Martinez) and Laura (Patricia De Leon)'s relationship what it appears to be or is there more to the story?

DC: The strain between the two was palpable, but something tells me since this is Stumptown there is always more to the story. I love how with all the family connections this week, the featured characters' vision of the relationships in their lives are vastly different than the reality.

EC: We met Tookie's wife at long last! Something tells me we won't be seeing much of her. Whether Laura was really on her way to book club with the girls on full display or not, the cracks in this marriage were exposed when Tookie questioned where she was going. He doesn't trust her. She either doesn't care that he doesn't trust her, or she thinks he's too daft to see the obvious. (How dare you, Laura!). If one of Dex's future cases isn't extracting Laura from some jar of pickles the latter gets herself into, I will be shocked.

AD: I certainly hope there is more to the story because I'd rather not see Stumptown travel the obvious road. Laura having an affair is the obvious answer, but the show does a good job of keeping us guessing, and I hope that's the case here.

LW: There's more there! The way he talks about his wife compared to how dismissive Laura was at the bar shows that there's definitely more, though I'm not sure how deep it's going to get for them. I hope we see more between them!

MP: Not a fan of the pairing, but with what we know of Stumptown so far there is always more to the story.

What was the standout scene of the episode? What made it so?

DC: Smulders' phenomenal work as Dex with her Aunt Maribel brought me to tears. The way she transitioned from righteous indignation at first to the slow realization of her aunt's confusion was beautiful work. Dex quickly recognized there was a problem and schooled her face into not reacting even though what the woman was telling her had to have sent her reeling.

EC: For the first time in forever, Stumptown failed to serve up that homespun goodness. There isn't a scene that I am still thinking about or a noteworthy performance. It was fun to see Matt Craven playing Grey's dad, although utilizing Craven for just one scene was a mistake.

AD: Seeing Dex with her aunt was emotionally wrenching. I knew from the start of the conversation that Maribel was mistaking Dex for her mom, but when the dementia was confirmed it still hurt, not simply because Dex lost her "final" clue in solving the mystery of her parents, but because she's losing family. It was a deeply empathetic moment and beautifully acted.

LW: For me, the scene between Grey and his father. Compared to other shows with "father redemption" arcs, this one handled it so maturely and gracefully, and I loved seeing Grey be angry at his father while coming to an understanding with his own closure and realizing that means more.

MP: Dramatically the confrontation between Grey and his dad was top notch. But Tookie calling Grey to confess the gun is gone made me roll on the floor. So freaking perfect. As Miles starred Tookie down while his face was changing rainbow colors, I was just crawling on my couch.

What was your overall opinion of the episode? What were its strengths? Its weaknesses?

DC:I'm on the fence about this episode. The case wasn't overly compelling though it was fun watching Dex easily fit into the film world and handle negotiations for her client like a pro. The strongest elements about this week were focused on the overriding theme of the series, family ties, the most powerful of which was the revelations about Dex's missing parents.

EC: Stumptown treated us to a gourmet meal with the most recent set of episodes. A first-time viewer tuning in to this episode probably wouldn't come back for seconds. The story was scattered here and there and yonder. Far too much of the time was taken up by characters sitting down to have conversations that didn't move either plot or individual development forward. I would dismiss most of it as filler to meet an episode count. Based on what we've seen from the show up to this point, I am confident this (and possibly next week's) installment is a fluke, and the show we love will return to us shortly.

AD: I love that this episode expanded on the show's mythology and took us deeper into the character's lives. I wasn't crazy about the case of the week. It felt like a throwaway, but that's to be expected with shows that have a procedural aspect to them. In the end, it didn't take away from the episode; it just didn't enhance it either.

LW: This is probably one of my favorite episodes of the season. The scenes with Dex and Grey felt like they meant more, and that was the biggest strength to me. It was more than the back and forth banter they usually do, and I'm so glad we got to see it. The case, of course at this point, is the weakness for me. In an episode like this, these characters came to a turning point, and I think the case was a weak one because it was supposed to be. It was just a means to get Dex and Grey to Hollywood, and I think it was meant to fade into the background as it did.

MP: After the recent strong outings, this episode fades a bit in comparison. The main story wasn`t that captivating and engaging while the side stories were definitely strong enough.

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