Welcome back gumshoes! Last episode wrapped up Dex and Grey’s undercover hijinks with a (somehow) thrilling conclusion, but now it’s time to settle back into business as usual. Dex has a new case, Hoffman has an inability to do the right thing, and Grey has commitment issues. Same old, same old.
Here’s five thoughts on Stumptown’s “Til Dex Do Us Part,” spoilers below.
1. Brawl at the Altar
We start off in media res at a lovely wedding, which Dex is doing her darn best to disrupt with a fistfight. She manages to reach the altar with only a few bruises, but before we get any specifics on how we got to this point, we flashback to one week prior. The cold open is often the best scene in the episode–and it is a strong start for this episode–but Stumptown has rebounded as of late to be a compelling journey from start to finish.
From here we jump around through three plots, all of which work well–Dex digging into the history of a suspicious fiancé, Grey and Tookie embarking on a tenuous partnership, and Hoffman squaring off against his own high-powered lawyer of a father. Each has their pluses and minuses, and at first glance they seem to be not related at all, but they all come back to what seems like the show’s central thesis: nothing can heal you more than human connection.
2. The Truth Will Set You Free
In the most successful segment of the show–as the segments involving Cobie Smulders often are–Dex is approached by Claire (Christine Woods), a rich heiress who needs someone to dig into the past of Zack Knight (Eoin Macken), the new fiancé of her sister Jenna (Troian Bellisario). The two have had a whirlwind romance leading up to a rushed green card marriage for which Jenna refuses to sign a pre-nup, and Claire is worried her sister is being taken for a fool. Dex very quickly clears Zack of any shady business, and they develop a rapport around their shared trauma: Zack blames himself for the death of his first wife, who was killed in a hit and run after she left their house following a shouting match.
We’ve been dancing around the edges of Dex’s PTSD for most of the season, and this storyline offers us another glimpse at the trauma that Smulders plays excellently. Zack’s confession of his own trauma spurs Dex to release some of the anguish that she keeps bottled up inside. It’s heartbreaking and raw, but you can feel the power that the confession has on her.
3. Bad Alibi Shenanigans
The next most successful segment follows Grey and Tookie in their haphazard partnership–though Grey would rather you don’t call it that. Tookie is looking for a place to build a more respectable, established kitchen, and given that Grey has recently lost his cook it seems like a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, Tookie has a lot of ideas for how to fix up Grey’s routines, and Grey can’t handle the invasion of privacy.
There are some annoying bits in this portion of the episode that lean a bit too much on Ansel not understanding what’s going on. Too often this show has Ansel’s mental capabilities be just as high or low as is dramatically interesting, rather than letting Ansel be a consistent and real character. That said, the stakes for Grey are interesting, and clarify his arc through the season thus far. He’s struggling with normalcy, and he feels like committing to take his business seriously is too much to handle. He likes the feeling that he could run at any moment, dropping his responsibilities and riding off into the sunset.
Ansel, Tookie, and mostly Dex are able to shake him out of that, and he’s able to realize that his friends and new family can help keep him both stable and happy. He sets things right, and brings Tookie officially into the Bad Alibi fold. It’s a charming moment, one that sets Tookie up to be less tangentially involved and more of a core player in the cast. If only the show could come up with a way of incorporating fellow main cast members Camryn Manheim and Tantoo Cardinal into the plotting, there might actually be a functioning main cast in Stumptown’s future.Continued below
4. The High Ground
Finally, the least successful storyline belongs to, sigh, Hoffman. Oh, Hoffman. The cop shenanigans on this show are never as interesting as they could or should be, and more often than not they’re infuriating rather than compelling. In this episode’s misadventures, Hoffman finds out that his father has decided to represent a criminal Hoffman arrested. They clash over right and wrong, as well as whether the client/criminal deserves a second chance. It all culminates in Hoffman’s mother storming in and tearing him a new one.
Mrs. Hoffman isn’t upset that Hoffman did something underhanded to hurt his father, nor is she upset that Hoffman’s father is playing dirty tricks to get his obviously guilty client off. She’s more upset that their fighting has upset their family dynamic and might have hurt Mr. Hoffman’s livelihood. It’s a bonkers argument, but it’s nice to know that Hoffman’s entire family has the same shaky grasp on morality that Hoffman has proven to have in previous episodes. I’m choosing to read their dynamic of indicative of the corruption that can creep into supposedly respectable institutions, and not sloppy characterization that assumes it can lean on a wise black lady to make its shaky moral relativism stick.
There’s probably an interesting grey area version of this plot that’s possible, but something is always missing in this character that makes his difficulty to figure out how to do the right thing frustrating. Maybe it’s tough in 2020 to sympathize with a cop who can’t grasp simple concepts of right and wrong. It feels too much what we see in the headlines.
5. Brawl at the Altar, Pt. Deux
After deciding to trust Zack, Dex realizes that something doesn’t add up in Jenna’s story. After a bit of digging, she exposes the truth: Jenna was the drunk driver who killed Zack’s ex wife. I say this in just about every review, but Stumptown always excels at grabbing skilled guest stars. Troian Bellisario and Eoin Macken are no exception. Bellisario sells the hell out of her emotional breakdown when her full story is revealed, and Macken has been so charming up until he has his heart broken that you feel the seismic shift in him when the shoe drops.
There’s the suggestion that there might be something there between Dex and Zack, as they have excellent chemistry–though really, who doesn’t have chemistry with Cobie Smulders. I’d be happy to see him return in the future, though Stumptown’s list of guest stars I’m longing to see reprise their roles is already impressively long. Also, not for nothing, Macken is, *ahem*, scrumptious. Those tattoos, man, what a hunk.
It’s key that the episode ends on Dex, Ansel, Grey, and Tookie sharing a toast at the bar in celebration. The throughline that their bonds as people is helping them grow and change–and, for some of them, recover–is compelling and emotional, and doubling down on those connections is what’s taking Stumptown from being a simple procedural to something far more special.