Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Popular - Behind this smile is this desperate person who doesn’t think she deserves any happiness.

Popular: 2x08 Misery Loathes Company.

I’ve tried to remember how I felt about these episodes of the show when I originally watched them, years ago. I know that there was a moment in time when my cousin had cancer when I remembered Harrison’s rage and despair over the mere unfairness of fucking cancer and the way it can hit people under 20, easily, because I was fifteen and the worse thing I’d imagined that could happen was realize you were gay and in love with the wrong person. Popular was my reference point for awful things happening to people way too early in their lives until… until, probably, The Body. Like that particular episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’ve never felt I was prepared to go back. 
So Harrison is at the clinic, raging, raging against the unfairness of having cancer, raging against his Jesusfreak roommate who’s just trying to provide as much comfort as he can, but inevitably doing all the wrong things, raging against his friends who have their normal lives to get back to once they leave the hospital. Eventually, Sugar ends up there too, battling against his eating disorder, surrounded by (several Ashleys) people who see in him what they fear to see in the mirror; and then, Brooke joins them. I feel awful admitting this but I’ve probably never truly appreciated Leslie Bibb’s acting before this episode; I think the way she is when she’s at the clinic, angry at her father for re-admitting her against her will, angry at the world for being fucked up enough to not allow her to be better, is the most terrifying Brooke McQueen has ever been. There’s a reason why the show puts so much effort into keeping everybody else away from her (Sam’s literally tied up, writing Mary Cherry’s autobiography at the Novak, and Carmen joins her). 
Harrison, in his state of telling the truth about everyone constantly (and truly, what a terrifying prospect in a teen show!), calls Brooke out about only visiting him to feel like she’s a good person, after the horrible campaign. It’s unfair, because I don’t think Brooke still needs to prove that particular point, and each and every character on this show has acted selfishly before, there’s a selfish act to all their tiny acts of heroism, but only Brooke is the one forced to justify it. But it’s enough to make her look in the mirror and see someone else; to feel bloated after nibbling on a piece of cereal, to throw up after dinner, to be re-admitted to the clinic. They crack her, and then they put her back together. She tries to help Sugar score a date with somebody as broken as he is, while pretending that she isn’t, that she isn’t just as desperate and lonely as everybody else (“you are the loneliest person I know”, says Harrison, while Sam is tied up, typing away on Mary Cherry’s biography, and Jane and Mike are expecting their baby).  
It’s no longer about likes and dislikes, defining yourself over what you’re not; 
It’s about that terrifying moment when somebody gets wheeled out on a hospital bed and maybe they won’t come back alive. 

Random notes: 

Nothing really fits into this category for the episode. Kudos to Leslie Grossman for pulling off the comic relief for the episode. Mary Cherry’s furious at her mother but doesn’t realize it, and Sam tells her that she should talk to her mum directly rather than communicating with her via autobiography. Nicole randomly accompanies Brooke to Harrison (because she’s absolutely terrified to go there alone) – which I think is one of the most understated gestures of truly caring about her friend Nicole has ever shown, but alas, it remains understated. You know, all the Hanna/Mona stuff in PLL? Sometimes I feel like Popular is more directly related to PLL than it is to Glee. All of this is just a long-winded way to say, FUCKING HOSPITALS. 

“How long until you run out of people you have to pay to listen to you”. This episode really does deliver its blows. 


Emma said...

Yay! Your reviews are back!! I've been checking on and off for a while, and I admit I thought you might have forgotten about them!

Anyway, I fully agree with what you've written here (and with the other new posts). I think this is probably one of the most realistic and fearless depictions of a person going through something as devastating as cancer. I think people like to imagine cancer sufferers as brave, heroic figures who keep the faith even in moments of darkness, but the truth is that there are others who deal with the pain and horror differently. I think they did a good thing in showing this alternative reality.

That being said, I also felt like the introduction of this story line into the series marked a change in tone that it never quite recovered from. I mean, how can you go back to being a comedy-drama when you've got someone in remission from cancer? Don't get me wrong, I still loved the show, but a part of me felt like it lost some of the whimsy that I loved so much in the first season.

cathy leaves said...

I definitely didn't forget, I just had a couple of crazy months and writing in general has been a bit of a struggle lately. But I'm so glad that I'm back - I'm genuinely looking forward to the rest of the season.

About the change of tone - yeah, you're right. Even with the less serious storylines (like the ghost writer one in this episode), it feels like there's a more serious tone to it. I was worried initially that the secondary storylines would seem out of place compared to Harrison's. I think the balance still works - but there's definitely a shift.
And about Harrison - they are doing such a great job portraying his aimless anger, because nobody's to blame for his condition, so he can't direct it towards anyone or anything specific. And Harrison has always had the tendency to passive-aggressively lash out, it's probably one of the things I secretly identify with.
My favourite thing this season so far, and it's hard to put into words, is how all the stories are connected. Harrison's illness triggers and Lily's relationship with Josh trigger the return of Brooke's eating disorder. The fact that Lily and Sam are so busy figuring out how they feel about Josh and George creates this interesting disconnect within the group because they are all trying to figure out who they are under these new conditions AND dealing with Harrison's horrible situation. It all just comes together really neatly, and interestingly, and the complexity of it is something that I find really engaging, because the world never stops just because something awful happens.
That being said, I don't remember the episodes coming up very well, so it's almost like I'm watching the show for the first time.