Thursday 1 November 2012

Popular - Promise that it's actually you and not someone else.

Popular: 2x12 The Shocking Possession of Harrison John.
Nicole: All the money in the world can’t buy what nature gave me. An identity such as mine can only be inherited.
This is basically Friendships!! The Episode, which is a good thing because the show is at its best when it focuses on the relationships between the characters, and The Shocking Possession of Harrison John finally deals with the fact that since this season started, many established friendships have been struggling under the weight of newly formed alliances and romances. 
It’s also an episode about identity (and a nice reminder of how the show started – with Brooke proclaiming that she was trying to be more than one thing, and the nice way Popular has always played with expectations and stereotypes), and about choice, because Nicole’s statement at the beginning of the episode will be taken apart entirely at the end of it. 
I’d also argue that it’s first and foremost about Nicole Julian, who sort of appears in the title if you really think about it. It’s not that Harrison’s storyline doesn’t eventually turn a corner and become serious and moving towards the end, but the punch to the gut is delivered elsewhere, and it’s a rare thing for a show that (self-) identifies as a comedy to end on such a dire, hopeless note, and it speaks volumes about how far Nicole has come as a character (and Tammy Lynn Michaels’ acting) how powerful and draining that particular ending is. 
But it starts with Harrison’s shocking change from Mary Cherry’s beloved Joe to someone quite quickly proclaimed as a male version of Nicole Julian. He’s styled. He’s mean. He argues that honesty is kindness and destroys Bobbi Glass and April Tuna with a focused destructiveness that hints at all the things the old version of Harrison always thought but never dared to say (because if we’re being honest, Harrison has resorted to meanness before, and it’s interesting that nobody remembers). Awesomely, the person who picks up on it the most is Mary Cherry (not that Carmen and Sam don’t notice, but Mary Cherry is the first to take the initiative). This is great in the context of this season, because in Mary Cherry’s conception of Joe, he isn’t supposed to be mean to others. She already has a friend with these qualities, and her entire world would fall apart if Joe ended up being a copy of Nicole. She doesn’t need two Nicoles.
Nicole, meanwhile, gets a present from Brooke that is the cause of everything else that happens later on: since they haven’t spent a lot of time together, Brooke decides to give her old best friend a chart reading (because “a good chart reading can lead you to the person you were born to become” – which is such a great line, considering what happens next). Nicole needs the date and place of her birth for it and approaches her mother, who immediately blocks every attempt. Nicole steals her birth certificate and finds the inevitable – she was adopted. The whole structure of the episode is fantastic because Nicole starts out projecting all her confidence about her background (money and power), except once we see her interact with her mother, it becomes clear that they have a terrible relationship, one that entirely lacks love and comfort, so finding out about being adopted is on the one hand a shock to Nicole, but there is also a very real sense of hope there. Brooke plays into it as well, sharing her own experience with reconnecting with her mother, and Nicole starts to imagine how it would be if her birth mother weren’t as cold and distant as her adoptive one is. While Harrison tries to copy Nicole because “she gets results”, we see the reason for Nicole’s unforgiving hardness. 
So the theory that Nicole’s dominant DNA infiltrated Harrison’s body is wacky and fun for a bit, but the whole thing also plays out while we, the audience, find out that Nicole was adopted, that it’s really all nurture, that it’s the relationships that shape characters, not biology. While Mary Cherry gets Sam and Carmen to perform an exorcism of Nicole’s evil spirit, Brooke decides to fully support Nicole’s attempts to find her biological mother. 

Nicole: Spam, I’m warning you. I’m not in the mood for one of your whiny crusade-of-the-week diatribes.
Sam: Chill, venomous one. Your recent good deed threw you up a notch or two on my ladder of respect. I just need another favour.
Nicole: So sucking the literal marrow out of my bones wasn’t enough.
Sam: He’s acting like, like…
Nicole: Pretend I’m George, Spam. Spit it out.
Sam: He’s acting like you, Nicole.
Nicole: And just what exactly does that mean?
Sam: It means he hasn’t been himself, he’s been yourself.
Nicole: Enlighten me Spam, describe myself. Tell me what I am. A fabulous dresser with a pension for putdowns. A social Machiavelli with great skin? A cold-hearted bitch. Come on, who am I, Spam, tell me. Can’t do it, can you, you wanna know why? Cause you don’t know exactly who I am. Nobody does. Including me.
Apart from the fact that every conversation between Sam and Nicole is gold, this is also great because it’s a grand reminder of the fact that Sammy has never even bothered to get to know Nicole, that all her assumptions about her come from a prejudiced idea of who she is – and she’s never seen the side of Nicole that is the reason for why Brooke likes her, the very thing that sometimes makes her act kinder than any other character on the show (and honesty can be kindness, it just takes a lot of practice to do it well). Watching Popular for a second time now has been a really interesting experience because I never cared about Nicole when I was still in school, but now I do. 

After Harrison pulls out the whole arsenal of pretending to be someone he’s not because he is so desperate to make a radical change after seeing his life slip away, Sam is the one who stays and calls him out on his bullshit. The parts that lead up to it were enjoyable enough and clearly a lot of fun, acting-wise, but the conclusion really saved this storyline from being absolutely ridiculous. It reminded me of how it sometimes felt after summer break, coming back after months of being away from everyone else for the most part, discovering things for myself and with new people, and then trying to integrate it with my old social circle. It’s always a bit precarious, that, but it must be even more difficult after the life-changing experience of surviving cancer. 
Sam: Either this ends right now or consider the bond we have broken. Goodbye Harrison, I hope the Novak enjoys your performance.
Harrison: Sam, wait. I’m sorry. You’re right, I don’t speak Latin or any demon tongue for that matter.
Sam: I know you have been through a whole lot and your head is probably a bit messed up, but this?
Harrison: I just gave you the show you wanted. Hey, you guys were the ones convinced I was possessed.
Sam: Only because you started acting like a male Nicole.
Harrison: Sam, people noticed Nicole. You may not realize this, but ever since I got back from the hospital this is the first time anyone’s paid me any real attention.
Sam: I’m sorry, I guess we all thought what would be best would be to treat you the same
Harrison: Yeah, you’d think that. But the truth is, I’m not the same. This whole battling for my life experience changed me
Sam: It did all of us.
Harrison: Don’t get wrong, I’m glad I’m better, I just don’t wanna go back to the way I was before. Scared, afraid to act, insignificant.
Sam: So… How was being nasty and hurtful the answer?
Harrison: It wasn’t. And believe me, I’m sorry. Sammy, I’m sorry. Just try to be patient with me while I try to figure out who I am, okay.
Sam: That can be arranged.
Part of the teenage angst, this feeling that it’s always all or nothing, regardless of how tiny the matter really is, is the constant feeling that your experiences will change you (or people you love) beyond recognition and your friends will leave you behind, or worse, you them. It’s always a complicated balance, becoming yourself, or maybe just pretending to be someone else because it may be easier that way, and the best thing that can happen in any case is being surrounded by people who care enough to stick around, and interfere when things get out of hand. 

Nicole is stunned when she realizes that Brooke will be there for her throughout the experience of figuring all of this out. It’s a heart-breaking moment because it seems like she never even considered that she might have actual, real friends, friends who stick with her even through difficult things. And she believes Brooke – the importance (and more than that, the possibility) of closure, so she decides to search for her biological mother, and being Nicole Julian, of course she’s successful – she has to be, because her relationship with her adoptive mother is broken beyond repair, there seems to be nothing to salvage there. 
Nicole: I can forgive you for making me feel inadequate and ugly, for making me feel like I’m not worthy to be loved, but I can never forgive you for not telling me who I am or where I come from.
Mrs Julian: He was gonna leave me if I didn’t.
Nicole: He left you anyway. […]I want her name.
Mrs Julian: Why? So you can leave me too? How could you be so ungrateful? I know you, you think that I don’t love you but I do.
Nicole: I need to know.
Mrs Julian: Shaggy Louise Graff.
It’s an episode about friendships, not about mothers. Brooke and Nicole find the trailer in which Shaggy is supposed to live; Nicole is shocked, and hesitant to explore this further, but Brooke tells her to go on. 
Nicole: I’ve got my spectacular white trash closure, my mom’s Roseanne.
Brooke: This is not closure; it’s just one of a thousand details.
Nicole: Right, but don’t you think this is quite enough? Why disrupt my life even further.
Brooke: This place is not your mother.
Nicole: I know. You can do it. You have to.
Brooke: But what if I don’t like my answers?
Nicole: What if you do?
They sit on the porch of the trailer for a while, quietly, until someone comes outside, the worst possible person, from Nicole’s perspective, except then things get even more terrible when she is told that her mother died, that she will never get the closure Brooke had, because for some awful reason, things always go wrong for Nicole Julian, and there’s nothing left to say, nothing that would console or help with the pain. 
Nicole: My mother’s dead. She’s dead and I never got to meet her. Some closure.
Brooke: I’m sorry. I feel like no matter what would have happened here today, you still would have had so many more questions. Sometimes closure doesn’t mean you get all the answers.
Nicole: I know. But at least you got some of them. I didn’t even get to meet my mother. You know who you are.
Brooke: Honey… I’m so sorry.
Random notes: 

JFC Tammy Lynn Michaels.

Just a btw, the writers of the episode are also responsible for a couple of episodes of Lost (and more recently, Once Upon a Time – and some other more surprising things). 


Mary Cherry, about something she also considered as Nicole’s birthday present: “I tried the presidency and unfortunately you need a brother who’s a governor!” January 2001, guys. 

The actual comic relief part of the episode isn’t actually Harrison, it’s Carmen and especially Sugar struggling with Lily time, the couple-ness of Josh and Lily that is eating away at their most beloved best friends. The episode addresses my major issue with the season so far directly (the lack of Carmen and Lily, mainly), and it’s something that worries the characters as well. Josh and Sugar “break up”, and Sugar ventures out to recruit a new best friend, and finds one in George Austin (because Sam’s forcing him to make some friends on his own because she doesn’t want to be his only context). George starts to worry once Sugar decides to go with mixtapes and friendship collages, and explains to him that he can’t be defined by only one thing, only one relationship (which is sort of the moral of the story I guess? Maybe?). Then Josh serenades Sugar (with a ghetto blaster and his dorky hair) and they make up. Friendships!!

Also, if I were thirty and in a high school cafeteria, I’d be awkward too, George Austin. 

“How to Win Guy Friends & Influence Guy People”

Also, Knight Rider lunch boxes. The whole storyline was so adorbs and cute, because it’s ABOUT THE FRIENDSHIPS!! 

This episode was also a friendly reminder that Sam found Brooke’s mum, and if the tone in Brooke’s voice when she told Nicole didn’t make your heart skip a beat, then you’re probably in league with Mrs Julian. 


Julipy said...

This is awesome. I don't know how you do it, but everytime you write a review of one of those episodes that I didn't really like... I end up wanting to give it another try to enjoy all the details. I find it so cute when you write about Popular's friendships ^^

cathy leaves said...

Thank you, that is such a lovely compliment!! The friendships were the main reason why I picked the show for a re-watch! (and I'm not a big fan of the exorcism extravaganza but Mary Cherry's involvement sort of makes it okay?)