Popular: 1x20 We Are Family.
Sam: I think we are at a point, subconsciously, where our safety is at stake. And we can’t get to a point where we’re gonna kill each other. We have to stop this wedding. I have been thinking and I’ve come across an interesting plot.
The interesting and, arguably, frustrating fact about the final few episodes of the first season is that Brooke and Sam don’t even seem particularly hostile anymore. They share a house and nightmares about their future turning into Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, forced into a shared life by fate and incredibly destructive to each other, but their present doesn’t really point towards any of this. If anything, they’ve developed a precarious but functioning routine or domesticity. Brooke and Sam’s conflicts are what the show revolves around, but at this point, after all the back and forth on Sam admitting she judged Brooke too harshly and Brooke conceding that Sam’s point of view is valid too, I’m starting to get the impression that their war just needs to continue because the writers haven’t figured out yet what to do with their characters and stories if the neverending conflict indeed ends. Other episodes (especially the next one) frame their issues with the wedding as being caused by their unresolved traumas (Brooke’s abandonment issues, the death of Sam’s death) and I think this works much better than the idea that Brooke and Sam are too different to ever become a family.
Nicole’s opposition to the wedding is more understandable. She has just gotten a taste of what life would be like without Brooke giving her a context in the school’s hacking order, and the McPhersons and the McQueens merging would “upset the natural order”. Popularity is, after all, defined by drawing lines and excluding others. It exists because there is something to contrast it with – unpopularity. If Brooke and Sam ever reconciled, those clear-cut definitions would disappear, and so would Nicole’s power.
Nicole: Us ring leaders of both the popular and the unloved, alternate groups, a merging would muddy the lines, Causing both teen girls to wonder, ‘who am I? Where do I fit in?’ in short, ‘We are Family’ is a disco tune we ain’t gonna be singing at this school kids, got it? Let me be clear. […] In our society today, with parents who barely have time to raise us, your friends become our family. And this means that I have a right to choose our families and I don’t want Lily and Carmen to be my sisters, just as you, Brooke, don’t want Spam to be yours. It’s as simple as that.
More importantly, Nicole fears that if Brooke had alternatives, she wouldn’t be her friend anymore. The speech perfectly showcases her own abandonment issues: she is the one whose mother doesn’t have time to raise her, who relies on her circle of friends to provide the feeling of family she doesn’t get from home, and she will do anything to protect that family.
Sam and Brooke’s attempts to manipulate their respective parental unit fail terribly. They try to convince Jane that Mike is having an affair (Jane asks Mike if he has one, he says No, and that’s that). And it gets even worse: they find out that their respective non-parent intends to adopt them (I suppose this is necessary for the plot and to cause the intense reaction that follows it, but… well, for one they’d have to track down Brooke’s mum to get a signature, and it’s hard to believe that those two very sensitive adults would be so completely ignorant about what this does to their children).
So, while I don’t entirely buy this, I do appreciate the scenes that come from it. This is one of those episodes with a very serious main storyline and two completely over-the-top unserious ones – Carmen and Lily trying to get Mary Cherry to provide them with wigs too, Mary Cherry fighting her mother’s inevitable marriage to the actual Erik Estrada – and in the case of this episode, I would have preferred the subplots to be less distracting, but then, this is what Popular is, a precariously balanced show that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, and the admirable thing is when the emotional scenes in-between the cake fights and fantasy sequences still work – and they work because the actors take their roles and their conflicts seriously.
Brooke sees Jane despairing over which dress to choose for the wedding and realizes that the children aren’t the only one who are in a difficult position. Sam isn’t the only one who has to deal with the fact that a wedding, in a sense, means that her mother is moving on from the traumatic death of her dad. Jane is questioning this too. Brooke asks her if she loves Mike the same way she loved her husband, and Jane responds, “differently, but what I feel for Mike is just as powerful”. Brooke tells Jane that even though she hasn’t “always been a hundred percent supportive”, she still thinks that Jane is a good person, and she is slowly reconciling herself with the idea that Jane could become a mother to her.
It’s different for Sam. Sam wasn’t abandoned. She had a dad and he died. Now that Jane wants to adopt Brooke, she doesn’t just feel like Jane is replacing her husband – she fears that Jane is replacing a daughter too. Even worse, Brooke has switched sides.
Brooke: The truth of the matter is, Sam, the biggest stumbling block that we have is that we’re a lot alike. I mean that’s the thing that we hate the most and we won’t admit, isn’t it?
Sam: Fine, fine, whatever, we’re still neglecting a big point here. We are old enough to have a say in what our family is, I am sixteen, I am not five, if I’m gonna be adopted, I want a say, and I say I don’t want that.
Brooke: Well I do want that, I’ve really come to love Jane, she’s sort of filled a hole that I’ve always had in my heart and I don’t think of this wedding or this adoption as getting a mother forced on me because I think that she’s become one, naturally, just by being who she is. So, Jane… I would like very much for you to be my mother.
Jane: I would love that, Brooke.
Sam: I never should have trusted you.
Brooke: You’re just jealous.
Sam: Jealous? You’re trying to steal my mother. You’re the one who’s jealous.
Brooke: You know what, I’m not freaking out about my father wanting to adopt you.
Sam: That’s because I won’t let him adopt me. As I keep pointing out Brooke, I already have a father, thank you very much, and you have a mother, so leave mine alone.
Brooke: Your father didn’t walk out on you, Sam. I’m sorry that he died. But god, at least you know that he loved you. How would you feel if just one day your mom was gone, she’d just left without even saying goodbye and you woke up to find out that you were no longer loved, that maybe she never loved you. That’s me, Sam. And you’re wrong. I really don’t have a mother.
Sometimes, with a couple of episodes, I get so incredibly frustrated with this show – and then there’s moments like this one, well-written (there is no way that this conflict can be solved, and it’s not even that Sam and Brooke dislike each other – it’s that their respective fears and issues just clash horribly). The scene doesn’t end with them hitting or screaming at each other, it ends with both of them crying, and Carly Pope and Leslie Bibb’s acting is just stunning.
While Brooke helps Jane with the planning of the wedding, Sam tries to find a way to stop it. She explains her feelings (admitting that they might be irrational) to Harrison.
Sam: If Brooke’s mom hadn’t been such a freak and left her own daughter at eight this whole thing wouldn’t be happening. There’s gotta be a way to stop this marriage.
Harrison: Why are you so afraid of that actually happening?
Sam: Are you kidding? I’ve already lost a father, now I’ve gotta lose a mother too?
Harrison: Come on, Sammy. You see this wrong, you’re not losing anything.
Sam: We used to be this great team, us against the world, even when my dad died. She never cried once during that whole time, even at the funeral. You know why she never cried?
Sam: Cause she said I was her rock. We used to spend time together and now we don’t, now she’s always with Mike or Brooke. Just, I feel like I lost my best friend and I want her back.
Harrison: Sam. Look. It’s not like your mom’s gonna let herself be stolen away by Brooke.
Sam: She will. She already has. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m such a drag. I can’t help the way I feel, even if I am overreacting.
In her desperation, Sam turns to Nicole. She feeds into her fears by explaining that Jane doesn’t like her, and when the two families merge, Brooke is no longer going to be her friend. “You won’t be sisters if she becomes mine” – and Nicole is so afraid to lose her. Sam adds that “the less time you spend with Brooke, the lower your rep goes” – but I think that’s just part of Nicole’s fears. Nicole promises to help… but, and Sam should have seen this coming, Nicole finds a way to both solve her own problem and finally get payback for everything she feels Sammy has done to her this past year. She reveals Sam’s plan to manipulate the wedding to everybody. She turns herself into the hero who saved the day, to prove that isn’t a bad influence, to make sure that she will still have a place in Brooke’s life even if Jane adopts her. Sam, exposed, frustrated, horrified, leaves, because “This isn’t my family. My family is you and me. At least it used to be.” Brooke finds a letter the next morning:
I hope everyone can forgive me still I cannot participate in something I know in my heart isn’t the right choice. Have a nice wedding and have a nice life, Sam.
Continuity: hair’s still gone, but the episode provides a deus ex machina (crines ex machina?) via Mary Cherry’s wigmaker.
Sam: I said I wanted to implicate Mike in a grand theft auto scheme, you said that would be too unbelievable.
Brooke: God. Stalk much?
Nicole: So why come to me?
Sam: Because you’re evil.
Nicole: Flattery will get you everywhere. Go on.