Friday, July 3, 2015

My Name Is Earl: "Quit Smoking" Review

            Episode Two of My Name Is Earl is called, “Quit Smoking,” and it introduces Donny Jones (Silas Weir Mitchell), a former friend of Earl’s during his days as a petty criminal. The episode also begins with an narration of Earl describing how he found karma and wants to become a better person before title-dropping the show. All of Season One’s episodes have this narration. The narration is shortened to just the title drop from Season Two on.

            You know the kind of guy who does nothing but bad things and then wonders why his life sucks? Well, that was me. Every time something good happened to me, something bad was always waiting around the corner. Karma. That’s when I realized I had to change. So I made a list of all the bad things I’ve ever done and one by one I’m going to make up for all my mistakes. I’m just trying to be a better person. My name is Earl.

            Synopsis: At the motel, Earl is having a difficult time deciding which list item he should tackle. He considers making up for number 86, “stole a car from a one-legged girl” (a flash back shows a panicking Earl in said car, hauling ass from a one-legged girl wielding a double-barrel shotgun), but then considers making up for one of his many transgressions involving Joy. Over at the trailer park, Joy is fuming that Earl didn’t give her half the lottery money that he won right after she divorced him. It looks like Earl isn’t the only person karma has a bone to pick with.

            As Earl mulls over the list, Randy and Catalina come up to him and give him a “quit smoking” tape to help him…take a wild guess. Randy had accompanied Catalina to the yard sell where he got the tape. He’s had a crush on her ever since he first saw her and called dibs. Earl lets Catalina pick an item on the list; number 112, “let Donny Jones serve prison time for a crime I committed.” Earl and Randy both look scared at the mention of Donny’s name.

            In a flashback, Earl explains how he robbed a donut shop. He caught a cold, and had to run without his loot when a sneeze revealed that the gun he wasn’t a real gun, but a water pistol. At least Earl was smart enough to put a bag over his head, although we can still see the outline of his mustache. The security camera revealed that Earl was “borrowing” one of Donny’s shirts. Donny had a criminal record and he had caught Earl’s cold, so when he was called to the police station to stand in the suspect line, he was screwed. He was found guilty and served two years in prison.

            Back in the present, Earl decides that he’s not doing Donny Jones. Instead he’ll quit smoking. He does this by lighting up a cigarette, taking one puff, and then throwing it in the trash. Everyone who’s ever had trouble with a cigarette addiction, you’re doing it wrong. Randy knows Earl is scared of Donny Jones and the flashback that follows reveals it’s not hard to see why. Donny was apparently bipolar and once beat the shit out of a paperboy for tossing a newspaper at his beer can.

            Earl tries to quit smoking. However, he finds out that this is stressful. This leads him to continue smoking. Catalina and Randy wonder if Earl needs a “push” to overcome his fear of Donny Jones, but Earl denies it.

            At the trailer, Joy stumbles upon a video tape labeled “Earl’s Video Will.”  She and Darnell decide to watch it. It was of a drunken Earl proclaiming that he wants Joy to have everything he owns if he ever dies. This gives Joy an idea. She goes to a weapons shop to buy a gun, but is informed of a three-day waiting period. Undeterred, she buys the next deadliest thing in the shop—a crossbow.

            Earl tries to quit smoking by listening to his guidance tape. He’s not listening very hard, because he continues to smoke while doing so. He also doesn’t notice two crossbow darts strike the fence on either side of his head. Luckily for him, Randy and Catalina call him over to the car before Joy can send a properly aimed dart straight through his forehead.

              Randy and Catalina claim to be taking Earl to the slushy place. In reality, they take him to Donny Jones’ house. Earl’s protests result in Catalina honking the horn in order to get Donny’s attention. When they finally do, she and Randy speed off and leave Earl alone with Donny.

            As Earl sits down with Donny, we both hear in the narration and see in the scene, that Donny has “crazy eyes.” As his mother knits in the background, Donny explains that Randy and Catalina had come by earlier and told them that the reason Earl was coming over was to talk with him about his list. Earl explains that his list is about every bad thing he’s ever done and that he is trying to make up for them. Donny thinks Earl had an awakening like he did when he was in prison. It turns out that Donny had found Jesus and gave up his criminal life. He’s got a big tattoo of Jesus on his test to prove it. He also has Moses parting the red sea on his…erm…derriere, but it’s not shown.

            We see a flashback of Donny reading the Bible in prison (and not joining in on a prison riot), followed by him explaining to Earl that, “forgiveness is the way to salvation,” by showing him a comically oversized Bible, written in size 72 font. This belonged to Donny’s mother, who has lost her eyesight but refuses to get reading glasses.

            After hearing all of this, Earl decides to gather up his courage. He confesses to Donny that he was the one who robbed the donut store. Donny glares at him while, in the background, his mother stops knitting and turns her head. Earl is unnerved, and we get another flashback (in which Donny steals a cop’s gun out of its holster and taunts him) to remind us that Donny used to be crazy. Earl asks Donny what Jesus would do. A fuming Donny looks into his shirt and asks his Jesus tattoo what he would do. After a long pause, Donny calms down and forgives Earl, reasoning that even if he hadn’t robbed that store, Donny would still have ended up in prison any way at some point.

            Earl is relieved as he crosses Donny off his list. As he turns to leave, however, Donny’s mother smacks him in the head with her Bible.

            Mrs. Jones is angry and demands the Earl put her on his list. She wants him to give her the two years she was without her son back. Earl doesn’t know how to at first, but after she finishes hitting him with the Bible, she goes back into the house to smoke. As Earl watches, he gets an idea.

            In the next scene, we are back at the Motel and Earl has bound and gagged Mrs. Jones, as well as duct taped her to a chair. Apparently, she refused to come on her own. Darnell comes in with some cookies, but tells Earl not to eat them because they’re poisoned. He tells Earl about the video will that Joy found and about how she is planning on killing him for his lottery money. Earl thanks him, and he leaves. At no point does he acknowledge the old woman duct taped to a chair.

            Randy and Catalina come in and unlike Darnell, they notice Mrs. Jones. Earl explains that he has to help her quit smoking in order to ensure that she live longer. This will make up for the two years with Donny that he took away from her. Earl also pledges to quit smoking along with her. He takes the gag out of her mouth. Mrs. Jones tries to call for help, but keeps falling into coughing fits. After her fifth attempt, she agrees to join Earl in quitting smoking.

            We see a montage of Earl and Mrs. Jones attempting to break their addiction. They try the anti-smoking tapes. They try nicotine patches. They try carrots in place of cigarettes but are unable to get them to light. Eventually, after three days and several burnt carrots, they successfully quit smoking.

            Earl drives Mrs. Jones back to Donny’s house and reflects on his actions. As he crosses Donny’s mother off his list, Joy shows up behind the car with a gun. Too bad for her, because Earl had also made a new will during the three days he spent with Donny’s mom. Joy no longer gets anything for killing him.

            Best Quotes

            Joy: “I still can’t believe that son of a bitch won the lottery right after I divorced him!”

            Randy: (to an old man speaking with an electro-larynx) “Say Luke I am your father.”
            Old Man: (electronic voice) “Luke, I am your father.”
            Randy: -grins gleefully-

            Earl: “I don’t want to do Donny Jones, I don’t even know where he lives.”
            Randy: “Oh, they got big yellow books to figure that stuff out, Earl!”

            Catalina: “When someone’s scared of something, they need a friend to push them to overcome that fear.”
            Randy: “Yeah, like throwing someone in the ocean who’s afraid to swim, or putting a snake in a young girl’s bed!”

            Joy: “I’ll take this.”
            Gun shop owner: “There’s a three-day waiting period for guns.”
            Joy: “’Land of the free,’ my ass. Fine, what can I walk out of here today with that will kill somebody?”
            Gun shop owner: “Anything on isle four.”

            Randy: “It’s for your own good, Earl. This is your snake in the bed.”
            Earl: “I don’t want a snake in my bed!”

            Donny’s car has a bumper sticker that reads, “Jesus is my airbag.”

            Randy: “Earl, how come you got Donny’s mom tied to a chair? (sees cookies) Ooh, cookies!”
Earl: “Randy, those are poisoned!”
Randy: (disappointed) “Oh, okay.”
(less than thirty seconds later)
Earl: “Randy!”
(Randy has picked up the cookies and is about to eat one)
Earl: “Those are poisoned!”
Randy: (looks at cookie, then at Earl) “How poisoned?”
Earl: (beyond exasperated) “Put it down!”

Catalina: “This is the sweetest, most justified kidnapping I’ve ever seen.”
Randy: “How many have you seen?”
Catalina: “Five or so.”

Earl (voiceover): “Quitting smoking is a lot like prison—if you can make it through the first three days, you’ve got a fighting chance.”

Additional Notes:

-This episode is the first to hint at Catalina’s troubled past; she mentions that’s she’s witnessed five kidnappings.

-The three-day waiting period on the gun that Joy purchases indirectly saves Earl’s life. If she had been able to purchase it immediately, Earl would probably have been killed while listening to his anti-smoking tape.

-Earl’s video will was recorded over a family video on the camera that Earl stole. The video starts with a family celebrating over their elderly Aunt Millie walking again before a rough cut to Joy yelling at Earl to remember to steal the instruction manual the next time he steals a camera. Earl’s will was probably never legally valid, but if it was, it shows how broken Camden County’s legal system is.

Observation: Despite being a big part of Earl’s past, Donny Jones is not seen in many episodes. This is a shame, as he’s always been good in every episode he’s been in. Not only that, but he’s trying to redeem himself, much like Earl is. I imagine the reason Donny was underused was because his actor, Silas Weir Mitchell, had a more major part on Prison Break around the same time as My Name Is Earl was on the air.

            Conclusion: This episode is the first to reveal that it will be more difficult for Earl to cross people of the list than he thought. Donny wasn’t the only person negatively affected by Earl robbing the donut store. Donny’s mother suffered as well. Throughout the series, Earl will learn that his misdeeds harmed more than just the people he put on the list. They harmed the families and friends of his victims as well. The knowledge of this helps Earl develop more empathy for people as the show goes on.


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