‘Palm Royale’ Recap, Episode 5: ‘Maxine Shakes the Tree’ – Vulture

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Palm Royale

Maxine Shakes the Tree

Season 1

Episode 5

Editor’s Rating

3 stars

Photo: Apple TV+

Early in the show, it seemed like Palm Royale might have been able to book Carol Burnett under the promise that her scenes could be shot in roughly two days and she’d be playing unconscious in all of them. And while that sounds like a dream job for anybody, it would have been a nightmare for the audience. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. Norma Dellacorte is bouncing back more and more each week, and the show is better off for it. This week, she’s up out of bed, being rolled around in a wheelchair by Maxine, and even engaging in full conversations — albeit ones consisting entirely of intelligible moans and groans. But that silliness is where Burnett thrives, and her awakening drastically helps to clarify the show’s zany sensibility. It would be rudderless without Burnett’s presence setting the tone — which is feeling more and more like a cross between an extended Carol Burnett Show sketch and her stints on All My Children.

One of the first “conversations” Norma has in this episode is with a distraught Maxine, who just discovered that Douglas had once been engaged to her new friend Linda. “They” decide that the best course of action is to confront him head-on about it. In fact, that’s how Maxine handles this situation with just about all involved, which makes for a very straightforward episode. Almost too straightforward. This kind of reasonable communication feels out of place on a show fueled by mess and secrets. Thus far, Maxine handles each new problem that arises so poorly that she essentially solves it by creating two new problems, and so forth. But now, suddenly, she’s an expert at conflict resolution? Maybe she’s learned from her mistakes!

When she confronts Douglas on the golf course, searching for answers, he tells her that he never brought it up because he wanted to forget the whole thing. He says that on the day they were supposed to be married, Linda shot her father and is adamant that she’s crazy. While we already know that a shot did ring out that day, the thought of Linda shooting Skeet seems far-fetched, even to Maxine. Plus, concealing this information for 20 years has made Maxine lose her trust in him. She no longer knows what to believe when it comes to Douglas, so she’s off to question the other name on that invitation to get to the bottom of everything.

But when she storms, and Norma rolls into Our Body Our Shelves, Linda is hidden away in her office, where she’s dramatically burning her card from the Rolodex. How long is it going to take her to destroy this Rolodex? I feel like she stole it forever ago, and we keep walking in on her just as she’s about to do it. Give me a Rolodex that needs to be destroyed, and I’ll have the job done in no time. Shredding! Composting! Flush it down the toilet! Hell, Linda could have finished the job the second she stole it by dropping it into the Dellacorte pool. But no, she has to be theatrical!

So since Maxine doesn’t get to confront Linda at the bookstore, she heads to where she goes for all of her information in Palm Beach: The Shiny Sheet. But for a Shiny Sheet from 20 years ago, she has to make a trip to their offices to peruse the archive, where their editor Ann (Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie on The Facts of Life) has some follow-up questions about Maxine’s supposed pageant titles. Maxine brushes her off and tears through (literally) the old newspapers until she finds what she’s looking for. “A gunshot rang out, but no one could say for sure just where it came from,” the article about that day read, going on to confirm that Skeet was, in fact, shot and the weapon was never recovered. That last part made Maxine remember the gun stashed away with the wedding invitation in Norma’s safety deposit box — a valuable part of the puzzle. “The only people that will ever really know what happened are the people who were in that room,” the article finished, spurring Maxine to go question Skeet himself.

But before she reaches his room, she runs into Evelyn, who she realizes was also there that day. She settles for hearing her side of the story, skipping out on a classic Bruce Dern fist bump for now. She confirms that it was Linda who shot her father, but according to Evelyn, that bullet was actually meant for her. Once again, this show is reminding me of Legally Blonde! Accidentally shooting your father while trying to shoot his gold-digging girlfriend? Somebody call Linda Cardellini! But we also find out that she was shooting through a door, which means this situation may not be so black and white. Evelyn explains that Norma, being the fixer she is, was able to clean this whole mess up. It’s simply her way! In return for keeping everyone’s secrets, they show their appreciation financially by funding her Beach Ball. Blackmailing Palm Beach’s elite in order to make increasingly extravagant party entrances? Maybe Norma is the protagonist of this story …

But unfortunately for her costume budget, she no longer is in possession of that tea-filled Rolodex — Linda is. She was convinced by Virginia (Amber Chardae Robinson) not to throw away such valuable information but rather use it against the upper echelon to help their own causes, starting with Nixon’s ambassador and Douglas’s BFF, Perry. This feels like a natural way to keep these two very separate groups intertwined, but Linda previously seemed very intent on destroying the Rolodex, so it’s unclear how long this plan will last.

All episode, Robert has been desperately trying to check in on Norma, asking Maxine about who’s taking care of her and if she’s getting the correct medicine. But Maxine keeps trying to shake him off, even accusing him of giving Norma her embolism in the first place by playing the trumpet … into her, taking some creative liberties with the rumors she’s heard. She doesn’t seem to understand what his whole deal is. In this town where everybody is using everyone for something, she assumes the same of Robert, who she continually butts heads with, albeit in an almost playful way. When he asks why she’s only rude to him, for example, she responds, “Me? Rude? Fuck you.” Okay, maybe that isn’t the most playful, but at least it’s funny.

Her little enemies-to-lovers crush on Robert is also bolstered by her new gripe with Douglas and by Dinah encouraging her to follow her lead and get a boy toy of her own. But naturally, when she drunkenly kisses him and proclaims that they can finally be together (while requesting he get his trumpet and play “Edelweiss” into her), it doesn’t go well. It goes well for the audience because watching Kristen Wiig hornily flail on the ground is so funny that even Ricky Martin appears to break, but it doesn’t go well for Maxine when he (being gay) rejects her advances. Instead, he’s there to check on Norma.

So what is Robert’s deal? Last week, he referenced Norma protecting everyone, including himself, but as we learned this week, Norma’s idea of “protection” is blackmail. Sure, Norma is probably keeping the secret that Robert is gay, but surely not in the transactional way she keeps everyone else’s secrets. Especially considering that Robert isn’t in a position to fund the Beach Ball. So what’s his motivation for taking such care of her? Could it be that there actually is one genuine character in this story whose actions aren’t part of some self-serving chess game? That appears to be our answer, which Maxine finally recognizes as she watches him lovingly care for her. “Something real,” she says as she watches the two of them.

Later that night, Linda arrives to finally come clean, admitting that she did shoot her father but was actually trying to shoot Douglas, who she was convinced was cheating on her. In a flashback, we watch as Norma cleans the mess up, which involves allowing Douglas to run away to Chattanooga to be with his “gutter slut.” “I’m the gutter slut?” a shocked Maxine says. But girl, didn’t that wedding invitation have a date? We should have been able to figure this out much earlier just by comparing timelines. In any case, she assures Linda that she didn’t know, and in turn, Linda thanks her for saving her from what would have been a terrible marriage.

As the episode ends, “Our Day Will Come” by Julie London begins to play, and if you’re reading this recap, you might recognize it from the season four promo for Sex and the City. While the song plays, Linda takes the Rolodex out of her bag, showing it to Norma and telling her, “This is over.” Finally, after lugging this thing all over town, she sits down to actually destroy it, throwing the address cards into the fire as Norma watches in horror, growling and moaning as all of her years of bone collecting are thrown away. It’s one thing to destroy it, but doing it right in front of her is cold-blooded. Not only is the Rolodex now finally gone, but Maxine takes the gun and throws it into the ocean — closing the chapter on this secret. Everybody is free. So what now?

It seems like too neat of a little bow for episode five out of ten, doesn’t it? I guess our primary remaining loose thread is Ann down at the Shiny Sheet poking around about the discrepancies in Maxine’s past. Or perhaps Robert will nurse Norma back to health enough for her to avenge her rolodex. In any case, the neat bow shouldn’t stay neat for long.

• Douglas and Perry seem way too close, right? Every time the pair of them come up, it’s always overly emphasized how buddy-buddy they are. But surely there won’t be any more gay revelations in this show? Unless …

• I hope the CGI alligator that Maxine came face to face with on the golf course gets promoted to recurring. Invite him to the next charity gala!

• I also appreciated the tiny detail of the cat statue that Maxine broke now having a little bow around its neck to hide where it was glued back together. Very Girl With the Green Ribbon.

• Surely there’s a more sensual song than “Edelweiss” that Maxine could have requested?

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