“Vanessa’s in town!”
– Alex, to Walt

“Mom” gives Jeffrey Tambor’s Walt a chance to shine by playing opposite his ex-wife Vanessa (Marcia Gay Harden). But it’s also a showcase for David Walton’s Pete, who spends a large portion of this episode wrestling with his inner demons.

Tambor is especially skilled at playing desperate characters deludedly trying to hold on to past greatness. It’s a talent he displayed as George Sr. on Arrested Development, and there are shades of that character in his performance in “Mom.”  Walt is somewhat of a tragic figure, desperately grasping at his dreams when the universe is telling him to give up. His nighttime dalliance with Vanessa reignites the false hope that he may one day win her back.

Unfortunately, Walt is self-centred, and he fails to see the effects that this dalliance has on his son. Here’s where the real meat of the episode lies. The resultant chaos drives Pete to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. This confirms something I wrote in my write-up on the second episode:

Thus, we get a sense of what might have driven Pete to gambling in the first place. With the chaotic elements of his life spiralling out of control, gambling was something he thought he had power over, at least until it consumed him. It was a coping mechanism; a devil-may-care attitude can take one only so far.

Gambling was Pete’s method of reasserting control. When he finally hit rock bottom, he realized that it couldn’t work forever, and that’s what brought him to Gamblers Anonymous.

That’s why he didn’t want Alex to tell Walt that Vanessa was in town. He knew that Walt would be able to recover from the emotional pain of seeing his ex-wife leave him yet again. What he was really worried about was returning to gambling.

Pete also realizes that there are parallels with his continued flirting with Alex and his gambling. Both are “games,” so to speak, and both could end with severely negative consequences should things go awry. So he tells Alex that he’s cutting the games out, asserting that they’re just friends. Gambling is no longer for Pete, regardless of whether it involves money or feelings.

For more information on the Bent rewatch project, please click here.