Written by Alan Ball
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
So the two questions that are probably on everyone's lips, following the opening scenes of "Perfect Circles", are - "Is Nate dead?", followed by "What the hell is going on here?". Well, for the first, I'm willing to bet the answer is no, despite some evidence to the contrary. And as for the second...
Well, it seems that throughout the episode, Nate takes a guided tour (with his Dad - who else?) of various alternate realities, some more bizarre than others. In one, Nate and Brenda (who has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it type appearance here) are married with son, in another; his family are attending his funeral, while another sees Nate SR with a different family. The "reality" however is that he's married to Lisa. It soon becomes apparent that he has survived his operation (despite a nasty setback) and is now playing the role of dutiful husband and father to both Lisa and Maya for the past seven months.
Yes, you can suspend your disbelief as even Nate's family (in a slightly subtle way) and Lisa's friend, Dana can't help, but raise their cynicism of the couple's speedy marriage, despite Lisa's protests of them being together for the past eight years, on and off. Yes, it does feel a tad unbelievable, but I'm sure as the season unravels we'll learn the real reason why the two are together. And while I’d prefer Nate with Brenda any day, the chemistry that Krause and Lili Taylor (who's a regular despite being billed as "Guest Star") have, mostly at the episode's denouement is at least pleasant.
Nate's not the only one whose sudden developments are worth noting. On a lesser note, we have Federico, who is now officially a partner and is doing his hardest to ensure this fact to Nate and David ("no fucking way, I’m not your fucking gopher", for example). Although they still get one up on him when the get Claire to do deliveries at the crematorium. I like the fact that Federico is now a partner, especially if it gives him some character growth, but that seem too unlikely here. Also it's out with Fisher & Sons and in with Fisher & Diaz.
Speaking of the crematorium, Claire meets a new beau in the shape of rock musician, Phil (yes he was in the previous ep), who soon has her playing hooky from LAC Arts, which judging by her response of drawing a "perfect circle", isn't turning out as great as she'd hoped. Still, can't be as dire as high school and at least you get to draw naked guys which seemed to briefly enthuse...
David - who is having a less fun time with Keith as the pair have decided to undergo couples therapy, which helps get a few things off their chest ("Keith has anger issues which he inherited from his Dad and I have doormat issues, which I inherited from Mom"). The first therapy session is intriguing to watch as both lovers raise some good points, thus making it harder to choose a side between the pair.
Some slight progress is made later in the episode when the pair open up during making a stir fry and David attempts to balance his life outside work and relationships by joining the gay men chorus, giving Michael C. Hall a great opportunity to stretch his vocal chords.
However, out of all of the main players, Ruth is given the least to really do and her attempts to play the role of perfect grandmother (a role in which we really hope that Frances Conroy isn't relegated to this season) is almost knocked out of her, when Lisa castigates her for giving Maya peanut butter. And then there is her admission to Maya that Nate wasn't planned, which slightly bugs him.
Also in "Perfect Circles"
Real Deaths Of The Week - Claire took B. Folger's remains to the crematorium and there was a Mr Bennett as well.
Nate: "Can you hurry up? I don't want to be late for my own funeral."
Nathaniel: “Relax; you've got plenty of time. Hell, you've got nothing but time which doesn't exist anyway."
Anyone else kinda felt that Rachel Griffiths' appearance in this episode was a little out of sync? Maybe it was just me.
Frank (re David):"Now Keith, what did you hear?"
Keith: “A lot of whining."
Brenda: "I swear if your mother tells me again how you were a gassy baby, I’ll scream."
Nate: "And I’ll start farting."
Brenda: “Thank God we got high before we got here."
Fabulous slapstick moment in where David gets spruced up to have sex with Keith, only for Keith to be asleep when he came back. Quite funny.
Ruth (re Carol):"She's energetic."
Nate: "She's a lunatic."
Nate: "And how come any of you two haven't been to visit recently?"
Claire: “Because being a father has turned you into a dithering idiot."
The chronology in the real world is January 2003.
Keith: “Are we having sex?"
David: “Okay, just let me take a shower first."
Liked Dana and Todd (the couple who Nate and Lisa have a barbeque with) and what about Lisa's boss, Carol? Besides Nate's accurate assessment of her ("she's a lunatic"), the bigger question would be - what's up with that wig? Or more accurately - what small animal had to die to be an ornament for her head?
Phil: “You wanna play hooky?"
Standout music: Coldplay were brilliantly used in this episode as we had the wonderful "A Rush Of Blood To The Head" as well as "Little Miss More Or Less" by Magnet.
Overall verdict? Despite the utter confusion, this was a bloody brilliant way to open Season Three, even if the show steeps into fantasy territory more than Ball and co may be willing to admit (although they do acknowledge that unlike their Emmy rivals, they have a "cult" appeal) and this foreshadows the inevitable darker than usual tone this season is set to take.
Rating: 9 out of 10.