Usually, an episode of Popular has a serious major plot and a less serious B-plot that sometimes, when things go well, leads to unexpected moments of emotional truth, and sometimes, when they don’t, overshadows the seriousness of whatever issue the episode tackles. Citizen Shame doesn’t really fit into this. The main story has Brooke dealing with an irresponsible adult and coming to the conclusion that she needs reliable grown-ups in her life – an insight that she already has at the end of the last episode, when she finally realized that her biological mother hadn’t changed all that much and still believed that running away from your problems, even if it means leaving behind people who depend on you, was a good solution. But this wouldn’t be Popular if you didn’t occasionally have to overlook inconsistencies and focus on the acting.
The comical secondary plot succeeds in creating a surprisingly genuine moment: Bobbi’s rich uncle from Australia comes along and in order to coax some money out of him, she pretends to be married and “with child” – and Nicole, ever the opportunist, jumps at the chance, offering to become a mini-Claw in exchange for a profit. Lily also tries to get the job to get money for Carmen’s future apartment, but Nicole beats her to it: at least until she shows up at the supposed family dinner as the estranged son who lives in a shelter. It’s hilarious, costumes and all, but the uplifting moment comes when Uncle Tippy tells Bobbi that she is worthless for not being married and not having any children and Nicole, out of nowhere, stands up for her because she understands things about families and how biological ones sometimes aren’t sufficient and you need to find other people to support you.
Nicole: Easy, Crocodile Dundee. She may not be your idea of success but where does it say you’re subhuman if you don’t spend your weekends stepping on legos.
Bobbi: Miss Julian, freeze.
Nicole: No, thank you, I won’t. I don’t know what planet you hail from but down here people’s worth is not measured by their child birthing hips. And besides, if you like it so much why don’t you have one of your own?
Uncle Tippy: That is none of your business.
Lily: And what Claw does with her life is none of your business.
Tippy: This doesn’t concern you, stranger.
Lily: I may be a stranger to you but she is no stranger to me. I see more of Miss Glass than I do my own parent.
Nicole: Hell yes. Now she may be as tedious as a bad pedicure but if it weren’t for her lecture on STDs then I’d still think safe sex meant locking the door.
Lily: There are other kinds of families, Mister Glass. Maybe you’re spending too much time with your ostriches.
Nicole: Touché. Time to pull your head out of the sand, Tippy.
Tippy: Nice to see you’ve kept busy corrupting America’s youth.
Bobbi: It’s been a pleasure.
I know that other writers on the show have contradictory conceptions of Bobbi Glass’ character, and that often gets in the way of character development, but it’s this dynamic, this version of her that I find more interesting than the stereotypical villain or the even more frustrating one-note-joke.
The theme that connects the storylines is… adults that are shockingly infantile and incapable of dealing with their own problems, scarring their own (or other people’s) children in the process? There are several disturbing moments throughout the episode, not just in Mrs Ferrara’s behaviour, but also during the scenes between Brooke and the SAT-advisor who takes Brooke out for drinks, encourages her to go home with a much older man and then passes out. I suppose the point was that Brooke is looking for a new female role model now that her mother has returned to San Francisco and Jane has moved out (with Mike unwilling to ask her back) – and she chooses the worst possible person for the job, someone who is still stuck in her own adolescence, with an unfocused anger towards her mother. Brooke is vulnerable, impressionable, and more than ready to soak up any truth a female adult might offer, even if it’s completely ridiculous advice, and she slowly starts to realize that this isn’t a reliable source when she literally starts to fall apart (and eventually lands her in prison). Nicole argues that in some cases, the families that are best for us are the one that we find for ourselves – Jane is a better mother to Brooke than her own biological mother.
And yet, the actual story, the narrative that will have consequences and define the future course of a character, happens entirely in the background. This is Carmen’s episode, and yet Carmen remains mostly unseen - she moves into Sam and Jane’s motel room, inconveniencing Jane (who has recently found out that she is pregnant), and because everybody is too distracted by their own problems, nobody notices that she never takes off her jacket, that her mother isn’t just upset about her dad leaving but seriously unable and unwilling to take care of her, that Carmen literally has nowhere else to go. She can’t even tell her closest friends (who think that this is just a phase, nothing serious) that her mother is abusive.
Carmen: I don’t expect you to apologise, I don’t want an apology, I‘m sure that you only hit me cause I was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time or whatever, but I don’t wanna fight anymore, I just really wanna come home. Did you hear me?
Mrs Ferrara: I heard you.
Carmen: So what do you think?
Mrs Ferrara: Don’t bother.
Carmen is in desperate need of a reliable, non-dysfunctional family, but she doesn’t know how to ask for help yet, and even worse: in their respective pre-occupations, nobody notices that something is wrong. Her friends don’t, Jane doesn’t (she tells her that she can’t be a mother to someone else at the moment). While Sam, Brooke and Jane are looking forward to having their own new family restored, Carmen has absolutely nothing.
Brooke: Every time I turn around someone in this family is upset, or they’re angry, or they feel betrayed. Well, I’m feeling totally lost. Maybe you could draw me a map.
Calvin Krupps, or as I like to call him, Gunther, asks Bobbi how she “expects to live with herself” if she continues to perpetuate the lie of having a family: apparently, she expects to win the Dinah Shore tournament and shower in money. “Very comfortably”.
This didn’t really fit in anywhere else but Sammy finds out that she wasn’t planned either when she argues against Jane having the child because “there is no place”.
Sam: It’s an accident, although we’re not supposed to use that word now.
Brooke: Why not?
Sam: Probably because they’d rather till the baby is sixteen so that when they say it it really hurts.
When she tells Brooke about it, she assures her that Mike isn’t going to think of the baby as an accident, and there is this tiny little moment of adorableness when Sam realizes that this could be a good thing because Brooke does, too. (“Why, isn’t it just more family you’ll have to move away from.” / “Maybe. Maybe not.”)
Nicole (in full glorious Bobbi-costume) on uncle’s Ostrich salami: “I’d rather just rub it and see if it grows”. Heh.
Lily/Lyle: Momma said I don’t have to decide whether to be a man or not until I’m eighteen. STILL DEBATING.
“She wanted to see him explode in mid-flight AND HE DID.”
The theme of the episode, as summed up by the police officer: “I can’t release a minor to anyone but an adult, and clearly, there ain’t one here.”
Obscure pop cultural reference:
“Unfortunately, the SAT doesn’t consider Baywatch a literary reference.”
Obligatory movie reference:
It Was His Sled!