Episode 1: The Mill ended with Chief Del Harris (Jeff Daniels) finding the body of ex-officer Pete Novick in an abandoned steel mill. In Happy Returns, Del investigates the circumstances of Pete’s death while most of Buell celebrates the marriage of Jimbo Connelly and Katie Danek.
Now Isaac has left town with his dad’s money, his sister Lee (Julia Mayorga) heads home to Buell to take care of their father for a few days. She leaves her jewellery in her car in the garage. The house is a mess, but her dad is pleased to see her.
Del has an interesting approach to handling crime scene evidence; first he hid a jacket he found near the body in the mill, and now it looks like he’s adding drugs found at the scene to his own collection.
Del evasively answers questions from Sue Herlitz (Emily Davis) about his reasons for firing Pete Novick six months earlier until Sheriff Frank Deluca (Namir Smallwood) steps in to explain:
Pete Novick was a disaster. Everybody from here to Pittsburgh knew he had a drug problem, not to mention the fact that he hit his wife and ignored his kids. He was a total fuckup. Del doesn’t want to shit on his own, and I respect that.
Sue puts Frank in charge of the murder investigation, “I’m taking this murder very seriously, gentlemen. I want that crime scene on total lockdown until every molecule of evidence is collected.”
She is also interested in finding out who made an anonymous call to the tip line and asks if there is any evidence it’s drug-related. Frank tells Sue there was nothing at the scene while Del quietly glances at Frank. Del knows more than he’s letting on.
Billy (Alex Neustaedter) and Del are both lurking near the mill. Billy has a lame excuse for being there, ‘just going for a jog’. After asking about his probation and shoe size, Del gives Billy the money to buy himself a new pair of shoes — a size up and a different brand.
It looks like Del suspects Billy of killing Pete Novick and is covering up for him. Del’s dishonesty doesn’t make him look good. Last episode, Del was sitting in his car watching Grace (Maura Tierney), and he spends a lot of time turning a blind eye to protect her son and her home. It’s a little creepy.
Grace bumps into Del at the gas station — it sounds like they haven’t talked for a while.
“Aren’t you gonna ask me what I’m all dressed up for?”
Neither sounds enthusiastic about the wedding — a ‘shotgun special’ according to Del. Grace is going because she worked on Katie’s dress, and Del says he might show up after Grace suggests he ‘swings by’.
Things aren’t good at the English house where Lee is getting ready to take Henry (Bill Camp) to the wedding reception. Henry is bitter about Isaac leaving, ‘couldn’t even bother to close the fucking door when he left,’ and Lee calls Isaac to find out what’s going on with him.
The mood is a little brighter at the wedding reception, where Virgil (Mark Pellegrino) shows up and wants to know what’s up with Billy.
I’m sure seeing his dad with Shonie (Emily Peachy) made Billy feel much better.
Virgil has already had a run-in with the mother of the bride and has some advice for his son: ‘whatever you do, do not write “many happy returns”.’
Apparently, it’s bad luck to say it at a wedding. You’re only supposed to say it at birthdays and New Year’s and shit. Phyllis Danek just bit my head off. Fat-ass walrus!
Virgil has such a way with words — and look at that cheeky smile!
Virgil seems to be enjoying Shonie’s company, and Shonie looks happy to meet Billy. Virgil might not be the only one with wandering eyes in that couple.
Grace puts Virgil in his place when they talk, but it doesn’t look like she’s over him.
“Can she say words, or does she just string together a series of vowels?”
What does Grace see in Virgil? Oh, wait… never mind…
Billy isn’t quite as much of a sweet-talker as his dad, but he didn’t waste any time seeking out Lee, ‘you look beautiful.’ Grace doesn’t look impressed.
The wedding continued with partying, awkward speeches and lively dancing. Nice touch on the cake.
There may be progress in the homicide investigation as the officers find CCTV on the phone used to call in the anonymous tip.
Virgil might have brought Shonie to the wedding, but he’s still got his eye on Grace. And he has something new he wants to show her…
Virgil: Yeah, see, I got this new thing I learned how to do.
Grace: Oh, is that right?
Virgil: When it comes to extracurriculars, you might say this is about the most important thing I’ve ever learned.
Grace: I’m sure it is.
Virgil: I got you curious. You’re wondering, aren’t you? You’re wondering, is it mental? Is it physical?
Grace: Can it help pay our mortgage? Cos if it can’t do that, I’m not interested.
Virgil: Might help you forget all about that shit.
Grace: I don’t care if you can make me cum a river of gold coins with a fuckin’ card trick, Virgil. You’re not stoppin’ by. And besides, I’m not messin’ with you again until you get yourself checked out.
Virgil: I wear condoms. Except when I’m with you, of course.
Grace: Not happening!
Virgil: Okay! Suit yourself. It’s your loss…
That’s much less of a ‘no’ than Virgil deserves!
There’s an interesting contrast between Virgil with his umbrella drink and Grace with her practical bottle of beer.
The PD found footage of Pete Novick with an unidentified man who could be the caller — or the killer.
Back at the wedding, Virgil asks Grace to dance, then punches a guy who’s hitting on Shonie.
He walks away, taking back the money he gave Billy earlier. Classy.
Billy is still dancing with Lee — Grace cuts in and reminds him Lee’s married. Billy leaves the bar to use the bathroom — and bumps into Isaac. Isaac is upset.
He tells Billy he thinks they should get their story straight, turn themselves in, and ask Chief Harris for help. Was Del right about Billy having something to do with the murder?
Billy tells Isaac to leave town, go to school, and let his sister know he’s okay. Why is Billy staying in town and telling Isaac to leave? Curious.
Del turns up to the wedding; then later, Grace turns up at the PD.
Billy and Lee flirt and then kiss. Has Lee forgotten about her husband?
Isaac comes back and sees them together on the porch.
The following morning, Isaac tells Lee he’s fine and not to call him again. After the call, he throws his phone into the river.
Billy heads into the woods and burns his old sneakers along with some other clothes. The episode ends with Billy swimming in the lake and Isaac standing in the middle of railway tracks, watching a train go by.
I thought this was a great episode and it feels like the pace of the story is picking up. Billy and Isaac are involved in something. We don’t know yet if it’s the murder of Pete Novick, but it’s starting to look that way, and Isaac looks to be leaving town for real this time. Del is caught up in it too, now he’s hidden evidence and given Billy money to cover his tracks.
Virgil was very funny again in this episode. He and Grace have a strange marriage. They haven’t lived together for a year, but they’re still hooking up; he’s seeing other women — and not hiding that from Grace — and she’s got something going on with Del. It’s definitely complicated!