House of Lies Season 3 Review “Middlegame”

Episode 306

House of Lies returns this week with “Middlegame”, an appropriately named episode that marks the fourth season’s halfway point.

It was an enjoyable enough episode, though overall it lacked the same sense of momentum that has so energetically propelled most of this season. For an episode set entirely during a party it was very subdued and proceeded at a slower pace that kept me interested, but not necessarily engaged.

Marty discovered that his new friend isn’t all he seemed, as Dre (Mekhi Phifer) put him through a ringer designed to see if he’s trustworthy enough to proceed with their plan to push Lukas out of DollaHyde (a name that makes me laugh whenever I say it). Don Cheadle perfectly captured the hurt Marty felt at being treated like a pawn by someone he genuinely liked and admired (now he knows how Clyde felt last season). Marty’s been making real progress being comfortable with his vulnerability this season. Watching him retreat back into retributive Marty mode, hiding his emotionally driven decisions behind the mask of a business shark, was sad. If anyone needs a friend who won’t stab him in the back, it’s Marty.

The high point of the episode came from the pairing of Jeannie (Kristen Bell) and Lukas (T.I.), who in a well staged and purposefully lit scene together showed a surprisingly potent amount of chemistry. It was unexpected, but the two pulled it off far better than I would have guessed. Their burgeoning relationship creates an interesting new dynamic and a possible wrench in the works for Marty’s plan over the rest of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing the show play with this some more. There’s potential there.

Though I think that Doug (Josh Lawson) took a step backward in terms of character development this week, I couldn’t help but laugh at his misadventures this week. Watching him try desperately to figure a way out of confessing to his accidental murder of Lukas’ dog by way of racist chocolates was absolutely hilarious and extremely entertaining. I do worry about Doug becoming completely marginalized as a character, especially as he’s used more and more strictly for comic relief. The wackier he gets the more incompetent he looks, and you begin to question why the team would keep him around. Surely there are others who can crunch a few numbers (I wouldn’t mind catching up with Benita Spire again).

This has been made even more obvious with the additions of Caitlin (Genevieve Angelson) and Will (Ryan Gaul). The two are well acted, and seeing Caitlin scramble up the shoe at the end of this episode was one of the highlights for me, but they caused this episode to be spread a little too thin. Their inclusion took time and attention away from the core group of characters we’ve watched for the past three years.

I don’t care about Will’s sexual escapades or Caitlin’s hero worship of Jeannie. The two of them feel like backwards steps for a show that’s shown some very impressive growth this season. I’d have rather seen more of Clyde (Ben Schwartz) trying to patch things up with Marty. Their scenes together have been really special recently, and in light of Dre hurting Marty and Marty’s subsequent betrayal of him, I think not having more Clyde and Marty time here was a missed opportunity.

While “Middlegame” wasn’t my favorite episode, it’s probably the most important of the season thus far. It ably completed its task of pushing relationships between characters in new directions and putting some crucial pieces in place for the episodes to come. If the show can just get back to having a little bit more fun with all of them, we’re in for a great second half of season four.

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