Popular: 2x05 Joe Loves Mary Cherry.
Nicole: I think it’s obvious that relationships are about free will. We base our attractions on what gives us power, status and control.
This is one of my favourite episodes of the show so far. It came as a surprise to me too, because I didn’t even remember ever having seen it before (maybe I didn’t – TV schedules used to be a bit sketchy in the olden days). Let’s start with the title, because why not. So Joe Loves Mary Cherry is an episode in which Brooke and Josh finally break up, the foundations for some of the relationships in the future are laid, Brooke proves how much she has grown over the past year when she supports Sam… and yet, the title refers to something else. Considering that this entire show is built around Sam and Brooke’s relationship, and this episode changes their dynamic, in a way, or rather, portrays how much they have change since the first episode, it’s rather marvellous that the title would draw our attention to what appears to be merely the comical subplot of the episode. In order to get back at Mary Cherry (for existing, essentially), Nicole blackmails Harrison not only to break up Brooke and Josh and ensure that Brooke will start dating George, the “more popular” option, but he also asks him to pretend that he has feelings for Mary Cherry. Harrison complies, since Nicole is holding his most embarrassing diary entries hostage (the ever-lasting fear of those unhappily in love with their best friend.) He does so, and ends up with terrifying nightmares… except when he is in the back of a limousine, on the way to a fundraiser (to raise money for the separation of Siamese twins – may Ryan Murphy never ever again attempt to tackle disabilities…), Mary Cherry reveals that she is well-aware of the fact that all of this is merely a façade, a game, that his affections are not true. More than that, she admits that she assumed that they would never stand a chance, so she created a fictional version of him in her head, because it is all that she could do to be with him.
Mary Cherry: I guess what I’m trying to say is that I know your name isn’t Joe.
Harrison: Then why do you call me that?
Mary Cherry: I don’t know. You just seem to be special. Not fake like the other boys. And I guess I thought the only way I could get at least a little piece of you was to make you up completely. Thus Joe. So, thank you. Harrison.
I love this. It’s one of my favourite things ever happening on the show, and it ranks pretty highly compared to other shows. This is an episode dedicated to the question of why people are attracted to each other: power, mutual interests, a shared social circle, the differences that keep them on their feet. But Mary Cherry recognizes a different aspect of love: turning someone into a fictional character in your head, into someone else, more affectionate, more fitting, to overcome insurmountable differences. I think this happens more often than people realize, and the fact that Mary Cherry is conscious of it; that she is well-aware of it, and ready to explain it to Harrison, perfectly showcases how complex her character is. She could not reveal any of this to Nicole, because while she suffers from how others perceive her, this is also the only way she will ever be popular (and popularity, after all, is the most important thing). In the private setting of the limousine, with nobody but Harrison as her audience, she can afford to reveal that she is well-aware of her public persona and how it differs from who she really is. There’s an interesting parallel to Nicole, at the end of the episode, when Brooke calls her out on always pretending, always faking, always playing games, because Nicole would never let her guard down to anyone, not even her best friends. Nobody will ever witness her taking off her make-up, crying to herself. Harrison recognizes Mary Cherry’s bravery, and he understands her position, because he is desperately and hopelessly in love with Sam, but he also knows that affection and attraction can’t be forced: they are either there, or they are not, so all that he will ever have is her friendship (and he realizes how important that is at the very same time, it’s a bittersweet moment when she kisses him on the head and trusts him to guard her insecurities).
The events are set into motion by a class assignment: Bobbi Glass argues that attraction is fuelled by chemistry, that it can be reduced to a simple formula, predicted by data. She asks her students to pair up and figure out how they relate to each other, and Nicole, with an agenda to break up Josh and Brooke (and I love how her intentions are always two-sided: on the one hand, it’s all about popularity, on the other, she probably knows that they are mostly staying together for convenience, and sowing discontent also comes to her naturally), messes up the pairings, which creates interesting outcomes. George and Brooke realize that they have a lot in common, which freaks out Sam, forever the secretly least self-secure character. Josh and Lily find that they have things in common when Josh is the first to truly listen to Lily and take her seriously, and ends up liberating a monkey with her.
Josh’s development in the episode is really interesting. I think that his arc in the show as a whole is about breaking out of a stereotype: he’s the jock, the star, but once his social position becomes precarious, apart from having to cope he also realizes that there are different things, and people, in the world that interest him, that relate to him. He is truly interested in Lily’s causes, and fascinated by her passion, which none of her friends have ever been (I’m kind of sad that her friendship with Carmen isn’t explicitly mentioned, but, oh well). I like that Popular shows these characters who have, in a way, cornered (or have been cornered) themselves into one specific stereotype, trying to break out of the confines, realizing that they have new interests, new issues, new people to relate to. It’s not just Josh in the episode: Sam has to figure out what it means to be attracted to someone who is completely different to her, who doesn’t exactly share her interests. She is intrigued by George’s confidence, fascinated by his ability to call her out when she screws up, but it still requires her to reposition herself and figure out what it means that she wants to be with him.
Brooke and Sam’s relationship is the core of the show. There is no way to deny this, regardless of how much I love all the other characters and enjoy their development. Brooke has grown incredibly over the past few months, and this is the first episode to truly recognize her development. Sam feel insecure; George obviously has more things in common with Brooke, Brooke has always been the potential antagonist, so Sam feels threatened: but Brooke comes in when Sam is at her worst, and reassures her that she has no interest in George, is in a happy relationship with Josh (that is currently, quietly, falling apart).
Brooke: I stopped worrying about whether or not we’re compatible or not, just accepted that we click. You need to do the same thing, Sam. Accept the fact that you have something to offer.
Sam: I usually do. Just, he intimates me.
Brooke: Sam. You’re the most intelligent girl I know, and you look great, especially when you take the time to brush your hair. Just use the confidence you already have.
They have this conversation while Brooke reapplies Sam’s make-up, trying to restore her confidence. Only a couple of scenes later, she’ll break up with Josh, admitting to him and herself that their relationship was broken up in actuality a long time ago, and still she never saw the actually break-up coming. George offers to cheer her up and she needs someone in her life to do this for her, with friends like Nicole, but still, her first thought is how Sam would perceive this if she knew.
So, by the end of the episode, we have all, along with Harrison, realized the depth Mary Cherry possesses, seen Josh realize that there is more to him than he ever suspected (“We’re better together than alone”), and Brooke calls out Nicole… not on her scheming, not on her manipulating, but on her instinct to always hide who she truly is because she fears what people would think of her if she was ever honest. “If you only tried Nic, You might find a way to like yourself, and then maybe other people would like you too.” Nicole Julian, the free radical, entirely alone, removes her make-up an cries to herself in the mirror, while everybody else’s life moves on.
A dated reference:
“A Tom Cruise smile”.
Yes, there once was a time when that did not imply what it means now.
Josh tries to look like Lenny Kravitz; buys leather pants.
Dangerous Liasons. Maybe I’m alone in this but I’ve only seen Cruel Intentions (which was, presumably, the movie more likely on the minds of the writer). Nicole as Kathryn is pretty fucking perfect though (while Harrison isn’t exactly Sebastian material).
Remember Ace of Base?
It’s been quite a long time since the last review but I really enjoyed the episode; it’s a good example of why I enjoy this show, and would insist that it’s still relevant today.
Why do Leslie Grossman and Tammy Lynn Michaels not have a brilliant career. Forever a mystery.
Bobbi: While simultaneously grading your exams and laughing about your college prospects, a light bulb appeared above my head.
Sam: He’s quick, he calls me on my stuff.
If I weren’t so invested in Brooke/Sam, that line alone would make me an ardent George/Sam shipper.
Harrison: I realized what a sweet and generous person you really are. You are neither callow, nor retarded. And I’d like to know if you’ll have this first couples’ dance with me.
Sam and George kiss.
Sam’s mum, lovely as ever, tells Mike that they are expecting a baby.
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