Synopsis for
"The Cleaner" Back to One (2008)

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William gently removes a postcard of Los Angeles from a bulletin board, and contemplates it.

"L.A. City of Angels. Fallen or otherwise," he says in a fatigued voiceover, his conversation with God. " You know more people believe in angels than in evolution? The thing about those angels is, did you really send them down here to watch over us? Or is our believing in them enough?"

"You know, faith, faith is a funny thing," William continues. "A fuel for some, a poison to others. Your man Dr. King said that faith is taking the first step without seeing the rest of the staircase. I'm not sure you ever see the rest of the staircase."

We see a montage of an attractive woman putting on her makeup, reciting her lines before an audition, then glumly pacing her living room as she listens to a voicemail message from a casting director, telling her she didn't get the part.

But, the director adds, at least she has her work as an extra! If only the struggling actress had a Ricky Gervais character in her life to serve as someone to vent to.

When she's down, however, it's not friendship that she turns to.

"The faith here in L.A. is blind," William's voice tells us (and God). "It's the only way you can really die from encouragement." As he says this, the actress pops up from behind a cop car, drawing her gun and holding it on someone until she hears, "Cut...All right, everybody, back to one!" She ambles back to her spot, staring down at the ground.

Later the actress, who we find out is named Lisa, calls her dad from her apartment, telling him she got a line on a TV show called "Justice Road." While she has a cheery conversation with Pops about the coup, a split screen view shows us how she got that line: A guy is standing in a doorway, his head rolling back in pleasure as her hand rests on his chest. This is followed by a view of her rinsing her mouth out with water in the bathroom, appraising herself sadly in the mirror.

Lisa tells her dad when the episode is going to be on, and as it turns out, it's due to air while her brother Joey is visiting! Cut to Lisa, Joey and a friend watching the episode. Lisa shushes them up when she's supposed to deliver her line - only to discover that it has been cut.

"Did I miss it?" Joey asks as his sister turns off the TV and storms into the bathroom...and the solace of a line of coke.

Joey's wonders why it's taking his sister so long to splash her face with water. A friend opens his eyes to the problem: "She's doing coke. All the time...It's all day, every day."

Joey insists that Lisa can barely handle a beer, but the pal tells him his sister is not the girl he used to know. She goes out on the street to screw strangers for drugs. He doesn't want to hear it, but the friend insists.

Lisa needs help, the friend says. "None of us can help her, but...there's this guy."

You got that right, sister. We call him..."The Cleaner."

Too bad William is headed for a double shift -- Arnie fell off the wagon a few episodes ago. Arnie calls William and makes up a lame excuse about why he won't be showing up for work when, in fact, he has two real reasons for his sick day. One is he's smoked a buttload of meth, and the other is rolling around in bed with him. "Did you miss me?" the naughty girl purrs.

Later, William is sitting in his kitchen as Melissa gripes about the plumber coming to visit. He tries to smooth talk her onto his lap, and she pulls away. He jokes that he knows better than to put the moves on her when she's so uptight.

"All right, busted," Melissa says. She opens a kitchen drawer and shows William the results of her real estate exam, finally coming clean about her attempts to start a new career.

"What does this mean?" William asks.

"It means I get my license and it means I'm giving my notice to Dr. Medbury," she says. It happens sometime this week. Melissa tries to sell William on it, saying that if it works out, it'll also mean more money for them. And she's met a guy who is successfully navigating the market. William doesn't seem so jazzed by the idea. But he asks if this is what she wants, and she says yes -- and more to the point, that she can't keep doing what she's doing anymore.

That settles it. "I want to be on your team," he says, and Melissa smiles happily.

Joey chats with The Cleaner, explaining that Lisa's family has been worried about her for a while, ever since her weekly calls dwindled to monthly. He's had other things going on -- school, saving for a trip to Japan. Joey promised his family he'd check in on sis to find out what the deal is and, well, now he knows. William asks how long she's been using, and Joey reports that it's been about a year, according to her only friend. In a split screen shot, Lisa cuts coke and snorts it as Joey reminisces about declaring himself president of her fan club at age 10.

William agrees to take the case and to avoid confrontation with her as much as possible. "We don't fight," Joey tells him.

William responds with, "I'm just saying, be prepared." Joey hands an envelope full of money to William.

"Japan?" William asks. Joey nods saying, "She's my sister."

On a set the next day Lisa is screaming at Carter, the production assistant with whom she struck an oral agreement, for nixing her line. He protests, saying he got her a line, so he held up his end of the deal. If she wants the line to stay in the show, he adds, she should have gotten on her knees for an editor. She comforts herself with another kind of line, and shares some with Carter, who agrees to introduce her to someone higher up.

Back at the Surf Shop, Akani and Darnell go over the numbers and realize that Lisa can't afford a coke habit on her meager $18,000 a year salary. They formulate theories as to how she's making ends meet until William interrupts them, saying he needs them to run surveillance. Darnell asks where Arnie is, and he relates their stumbling colleague's lame-o excuse about going home to help his grandmother, who has taken a spill. Akani wears a "yeah, right" look as William tells her she'll be going undercover on the set of the TV show as a stunt person, "so bring your kneepads."

"That's for stunt work, not extra work," she says dismissively, adding "besides, I don't do extra work."

"You do now," William replies, and Darnell starts laughing.

Meanwhile, Arnie's on top of his girl but rolls off her suddenly, leading her to protest she didn't finish. Sorry, honey -- daddy needs his fix. He lights a flame under a glass pipe.

Akani and Darnell camp out on the set, noticing Lisa has two bags. "Divide and conquer," Darnell says, and approaches Lisa, playing the neophyte extra. She cheerily agrees to take him under her wing.

At Lisa's place, Joey gives William the tour. William finds a stack of mail, most of which isn't addressed to her. He says he's not quite sure what it means. Under the sink he finds some acetone. Joey wonders why she'd have that. William also find a tennis ball that has been sliced open. (You can put yer weed in it...or, yer coke!)

Darnell persuades Lisa to escort him to craft services while Akani snoops around in one of Lisa's bags. To distract her, he asks how she's able to keep up the whole "hurry up and wait" lifestyle of being an extra, and Lisa tells him a touching story about being an extra on a kid's movie, and the thrill of having a tourist take her picture. Being in a costume on a lot made her someone, she says, and she still gets that feeling when she walks on a lot. That she's someone, that she's a part of something. Darnell catches a look from Akani, who shakes her head -- the goods aren't in the bag she left on the chair. Must be in the one she keeps with her. "We've gotta get in that bag," Akani says.

William calls to check in and tells them they're looking for a tennis ball. Darnell pretends it's his wife on the phone, calling him Boo. In the course of the conversation, he mouths "tennis ball?" to Akani, and she shakes her head in a "no." William tells him to keep looking, and hangs up as Darnell starts yelling into the phone, apparently in an argument with his "Boo."

Akani jumps in on the ruse, escalating the argument into a full-on shouting match that leads Darnell to kick over the chair that has Lisa's other bag on it, and a tennis ball comes rolling out. Darnell apologizes profusely and tries to help her pick up her things, but Lisa won't let him. It's fine, she says, grabbing her bag and tennis ball and scampering away. As soon as she's out of earshot, Darnell commends Akani on her acting. "You're good!" he says.

"That's why I don't do extra work," she playfully huffs.

At Lisa's apartment, Joey lies to their dad on the phone, telling him Lisa is fine. Later, William runs down the results of his surveillance: Lisa has a $5000 a month habit, financed by a check washing scheme. She steals mail, then removes the signatures of any checks she finds using a combination of tape and acetone. Then she makes out the checks to cash. He explains that the coke comes in tennis balls, so that the dealer and the buyer can just toss the money and the drugs back and forth to one another, never having to make contact. William offers to go after the dealer but advises against that, since she'll just find someone else.

"So what happens next?" Joey asks.

"Now...we peel her," William says.

William calls Arnie to try to bring him in on the case, saying he needs his help. "Hate to pull you away from your grandma..."William says.

Grandma. Sure. "Grandma," who is wearing thong underwear, moans for him to come back to bed as Arnie spins up a story. William tells him not to worry about it, that he'll make it work. "I owe you one," says Arnie.

"Yeah, you do," William replies, and hangs up on him. Akani has her eyes downcast, pretending not to know anything when William says, "Something ain't right." He tells her to get back to the trailer. "Gimme a call when you got eyes on Swenton," he says. She starts to tell him something, but changes her mind and heads out instead.

Joey is painting a landscape scene of coastal pines at Lisa's apartment, and Lisa asks him when his plane leaves. He waffles a bit, saying his ticket is open. Lisa insists that he needs to go, that he needs to be able to see the pines in order to paint them, and she goes to call airline reservations. He moves to stop her and they get into a small tussle, leading her to spill all over his painting. "Why do you have to ruin everything," he mutters.

"What's wrong with you?" she says. "With me?" he says, before he catches himself. Lisa blows him off, saying she needs to get ready for work.

While she's on the set, Joey and William scour her apartment. Brother finds the acetone, Cleaner finds the tennis ball with a baggie inside. On the set, Carter dismisses most of the extras, telling Lisa to stay for a moment. He tells Lisa he got her a shot at a speaking role, since the original actress got hives and had to drop out. He directs her to go to casting in an hour, and if she gets the part, it'll be shooting that night. Lisa hugs Carter and thanks him.

Lisa heads back to the apartment to bump up, and when she can't find her blow, accuses Joey of taking it. He plays innocent and tells her he doesn't know what she's talking about. Lisa lays into him, accusing him of being judgmental and telling him he's pathetic for not following his dreams, ripping him for painting the same tree over and over again. Joey leaves the apartment, crushed, as Lisa falls to the floor and turns her nose into a Dyson, attempting to snort granules of coke out of the carpet.

Joey calls William about Lisa's craziness, and William tells him to wait until Lisa leaves, then go back inside and sit tight. William tells her that after he finishes the peel, she'll be at her lowest point. Joey's upset that it's going to get worse.

Arnie wakes up and find his girl on the floor. She doesn't respond, and her breath is shallow and too quick. Arnie tosses her in the tub and has her take something to revive. Fortunately she comes back.

We might not be able to say the same of Lisa's career. She goes to her usual spot to score some coke, but a man steps up to her car and steals the drugs from her at gunpoint, telling her to drive off. As she pulls away, we see that it's William. "The peel is done," he tells someone on the phone. Cut to Lisa's audition, where she's frantically explaining to the casting directors that she was mugged. But apparently being wired and skittish makes her play the part of a cop's grieving wife perfectly, because she aces the audition.

Lisa heads home to share the news with Joey (and apologize) and is surprised to find Darnell, her extra buddy, waiting for her. With William.

"My name is William Banks," he says, "and I think I can help you."

Lisa can't believe her luck. "Ohmigod! Are you an agent?"

No...not quite. Joey admits that he knows about the drugs, and William reads Lisa her file. Lisa asks Joey where he got the money to hire William, then realizes that he traded in his trip. Joey begs Lisa to get help, and she agrees. William tells her that she's lucky, that detoxing from coke is nothing in comparison to booze or heroin. She'll be up and running in a few days. Oh, 'fraid that won't work. She got the part! It shoots tonight! She agrees to get clean, right after she shoots this scene. Joey and Lisa argue back and forth while William gets a text. It's Akani, telling him to meet her at the Surf Shop. A second text says "Swenton, 911." This is not good.

"Look," William tells her, "I don't bargain with addicts."

Lisa weepily swears she wants to get clean, but begs William not to take her first talking role away from her. As it turns out, Arnie's misbehavior is her gain. William tells Darnell to sit on her and get her to detox as soon as she's done filming, and leaves. Joey hugs his sister.

At the Surf Shop, Akani breaks it down to William: Arnie's slipped. His grandmother hasn't heard from him in some time, and he recently bought a whole bunch of meth. He's been hanging out with a skanky ex, Charlene, and Akani was hoping to corner them at his place, but they weren't there. William tells her that breaking him up from Charlene was the toughest part of cleaning Arnie up. He breaks out Arnie's file. Akani says she has something else to tell him, but he brushes her off, saying he can't think about anything else right now. Which is precisely when the phone rings -- it's Melissa. She happily tells him that she's quit her job, but William can't talk right now. Melissa chastises him for failing to give her sufficient support, and William snaps, saying he's been thinking about everyone else's well-being all day long, and nobody could be a straight shooter with him.

Melissa asks William what's wrong, and he hangs up on her. Akani has the name he's looking for: Charlene Davis. She offers to have the police run it down.

"William," Akani insists, "there is something I really need to tell you."

Back on the set, Darnell is on top of it -- sticking right by Lisa as she gets her makeup done, checking every movement. As she heads out to shoot the scene, Carter calls her over and gives her a deep kiss, the kind someone might use to slip something to another person. Darnell checks her again, and Lisa smiles, telling him to wish her luck. "I thought it was 'break a leg,'" Darnell replies. Lisa smiles brightly. Joey looks on proudly as Lisa nails her scene. Afterward, Joey is sitting in her trailer sharing happy memories about her acting experiences when they were children. She goes to the bathroom, and Joey keeps talking. But after a point, Joey notices his sister is not responding..and hears a thud. He struggles to open the bathroom door, then yells for help. Darnell, waiting outside, mutters, "Oh no, no, no, no, no!"

Akani comes clean about Arnie's relapse. "I'm sorry. I should have told you sooner." Akani said Arnie told her that it was only that one time, when he was undercover and didn't want to blow it. William yells at her about trust, then picks up a call: Charlene's credit card placed her over in Pico. William gets up to follow the lead, and the phone rings again. It's Darnell. "If this isn't a life or death situation, hang up now," William snarls.

Sadly, it is. Darnell advises William to get over to the set ,as we see Joey holding his sister in his arms. Her eyes are wide open in a dead woman's stare, and there's blood pouring out of her nose. Darnell says she must have gotten hold of a bad batch, likely cut with crystal meth.

In the next scene, the paramedics wheel Lisa away in a body bag. Joey talks about how freaked out the family was when she left St. Louis, and that L.A. had a reputation of being about nothing but sex and drugs. "Drugs don't care where you are," William tells him. "It's about who you are."

(Best. After-school special line. Ever.)

Joey takes a little solace in knowing Lisa was happy that night, because she had the balls to go after what she wanted. William hands Joey his money and tell him to take the trip to Japan, because that's what his sister would have wanted.

In a seedy apartment in Pico, Arnie is passed out in bed, and Charlene tells him she's heading out because they're out of dope.

On the lot, Darnell is beating himself up. How could he have missed it? he wonders aloud, and William says, "you should know by now, if they want to get high, they're going to find a way to get high. Our mistake is that we treated her like an actress instead of an addict, which is what she was."

William, in a voiceover, has another conversation with God. "...How much pressure can we handle before we crack? What will it take to piece us back together?" The ambulance pulls away with Joey in the cab. "Because whether you've sent us angels or not, the only real hope we have is each other."

Darnell sees Carter and realizes that the drug exchange was in the kiss. He violently lunges at the production assistant, and Akani pulls him off and away from the scene.

William continues."We get lost or afraid. And you know what it's like for the lost and the frightened. They lose faith in you, in themselves, in each other. So maybe you sent us those angels...or... "

Joey sits in Lisa's apartment and gets a phone call -- it's their dad. "Listen," he says gently. "Something terrible has happened here in California."

"...maybe you just need us to believe in them," William's voiceover goes on, and we see him barge into Charlene's apartment to pull an unresponsive, glassy-eyed Arnie out of bed, lifting him up in his arms and carrying him out the door.

William finishes his conversation with the man upstairs by saying that even if He has sent angels, "They're not enough. They're not enough. Not this time. So please, please, help me -- and don't let this ever happen again."

Back at the Banks' household, Melissa comes into the living room and sees William sitting with Arnie, who lays across the couch.

William looks up at her and says, "Arnie's going to be staying with us for a while." Melissa goes to him, and sits at his feet, laying her head in his lap.

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