Okay, what the hell did I just watch? Where do I even start with this one?Â Perhaps the best way to recap and review the insanity of “Year of the Horse” is to just go in order.
The episode picks up from where the last one left off, and afterÂ swallowing Happy and barfing him up, Very Bad Santa runs off, leaving behind a coughed up fortune cookie message, the first real lead that Nick and Happy have.
They follow the origin of the fortune to the manufacturer of all fortune cookies in the tristate area. The head of this distribution claims she can find where the fortune came from while spouting her thoughts on the nature and order of the universe, a notion that Nick is quick to push aside with cynical skepticism. Nick’s cynicism is proven wrong by the fact that the origin of the fortune can indeed be traced and now they have a lead, where the Very Bad Santa orders Chinese food from.
This sets up a bit of a theme for the episode, believing in the unbelievable and all the ways this can be worded. This is, of course, the larger theme of the series as a whole, and the very nature of Happy as a character, but it’s put under a microscope in “Year of the Horse.” Ideas and notions are introduced for Nick to refute, only for him to be proven wrong in a situation vaguely beneficial to him. It’s a great concept, and it plays with the grizzled, gritty cop in a cruel world satire that is Nick’s character in the way that he isn’t proven right around every corner, as his type of character often is.
But, Nick isn’t the only one who experiences this theme of unbelievable things happening. Both the side characters and we as the audience are faced with this notion quite a bit throughout the episode.
One of my favorite moments of the episode is when it suddenly changes to a clip from aÂ Real Housewives-type show called “Secrets of My Sussex” that is supposably about mob wives, featuring Isabella Scaramucci, the mother of the four Scaramucci brothers that Nick killed in the first episode.
Turns out this show is real, and not a fantasy sequence. This is both hilarious and continues to build the theme of a false reality. The reality show is mostly staged, a false cover for actual reality, mirroring the concept of not believing in only what you can see. It’s a smart, interesting, and layered approach to the episode’s theme.
Mr. Blue ends up on this show, a fact that doesn’t roll over well with his superior, Mr. Bug. Who’s Mr. Bug you ask? OnlyÂ the most insane part of the episode. Mr. Bug is dissatisfied with Blue and questions if he can do his job correctly, revealing the mob’s connection to Very Bad Santa and “the cargo” in the process.
So, what makes Mr. Bug such an insane character? Well, to start, Mr. Blue is, up until this point, treated like the top dog of the entire “get Nick Sax” operation, showing no weakness, like he is in charge of everybody. But then, we learn that he is under the orders of someone, or shall we say something else, a reveal that both makes Blue a more interesting character (finally) and breaks the audience’s sense of “reality” within the show.
However, the main reason that Mr. Bug is the craziest part of the episode (perhaps even the series) is that he’s a giant f***ing bug. Like, an actual bug. A walking, talking giant beetle-like insect with a haunted, distorted voice and a dark, looming presence.
I was speechless at this reveal, both because it was COMPLETELY out of nowhere and because the interaction between Blue and Bug is genuinely frightening. I was creeped out by this insect creature subtly threatening Blue like a seasoned enforcer, making disgusting skittering sounds around the room.
There’s nothing like this on any other show and, if Mr. Bug is what I think he is, it’s a great way to expand the world of the comics. That’s the key word there, “expand.”Â Happy! doesn’t spread four issue into a thin story lasting eight episodes, it adds to it with elements appropriate to the initial concept. Mr. Bug is one of the greatest, and most insane examples of this, throwing a monkey wrench into our concept of the rules of this world, and the workings of Blue Scaramucci’s operation.
Nick continues to have his cynical view of the world challenged as he is once again saved by a fortune cookie, his unpleasant view of Chinatown is questioned when it saves his ass from a Triad looking to capture him, and he and Happy find Very Bad Santa’s hideout with “the power of hope.” All of these are interesting character moments, perhaps foreshadowing some dynamic changes in coming episodes – that hope may very well return to his heart, thanks in no small part to Happy and his child-like optimism.
Merry and Amanda also experience a Christmas miracle of their own, not expecting to find the person who delivers Very Bad Santa’s calling card, and then finding him at the house of another set of parents they are questioning. This scene fits with the theme, but the two continue to be rather uninteresting characters in the series.
The interaction between a woman and the detective who broke up her family is interesting, but can only be taken so far. Furthermore, the interviewing of parents for the case of the missing children has become FAR less powerful after last episode, making their storyline feel unnecessary. The episode tries to make their quest more interesting by adding a VERY out-of-character interrogation scene wherein Amanda volunteers to endanger a piano player’s fingers with motorcycle spokes. The scene feels, in a word, off, and I felt most moments involving Meredith and Amanda could have been cut from the episode.
Isabella Scaramucci returns for one final scene to learn from a spiritual medium that one of her sons is still alive. Once again this contributes to the theme of the episode, both because a ghost whisperer is correct and because Blue is lying to her about one of her sons.
If all this wasn’t enough, the end of the episode pulls the reality rug out from under the characters (and the audience) once more. Nick and Merry both arrive at Very Bad Santa’s hideout, confirmed to be the place by Happy, but the kids aren’t there. Their conception that they would save the kids once they found them is shattered, and “Year of the Horse” ends with Very Bad Santa transporting the kids somewhere else.
There was a lot to love in this episode, it’s easily my favorite thus far, butÂ Happy! continues to struggle a bit in fully utilize its side characters and subplots. It’s definitely getting better, and Meredith and Amanda’s scenes don’t weigh down the episode too harshly, but I hope to see better in the latter half of the season.
When it’s all said and done, “Year of the Horse” was a bonkers episode of detective work and conception-nreaking that firmly establishesÂ Happy! as the most unique and insane show on TV.
Happy! is taking a break next week, but returns on January 10th. Keep an eye out for our review of the next episode!
Happy! Season 1 Episode 4 Review: "Year of the Horse"
The world of Happy! is expanded in the most insane way possible as Nick and Happy follow a trail of clues.