Friday 15 February 2013

Popular - Why are we fighting?

Popular: 2x20 You Don't Tug On Superman's Cape...

This is the penultimate episode of Popular, and the sad thing isn’t just that the show is ended so abruptly that the writers had no time to come up with a proper ending, it’s also that these two final episodes aren’t the strongest of the season. TV shows are peculiar that way: what other work of art suffers the constant danger of being cancelled pre-maturely, before the final page is written or halfway through a full-length film, or before the painter has time to fill out the blanks on the canvas? 
I’m also now going to make an assumption about Popular that I’ve never made this directly before: I don’t think that there was a very clear or strict outline of all the storylines and the characters for the whole season. I think a lot of it just happened as the show progressed, and the consistency (on and off consistency, occasional excellent, occasional missing consistency) comes from the actors more than the scripts, or specific writers having a better grasp of a particular character. None of this is criticism of the show, it’s a valid choice, but it leads to a pace that is sometimes peculiar: characters don’t seem to grow and change subtly with every episode, but more in leaps whenever an episode is focused on them, and then sometimes the show turns elsewhere and loses its grasp on someone, I’ve always felt. There is a certain danger in it, but on the other hand, there wouldn’t be outstanding episodes like Fall on Your Knees. 

You Don’t Tug on Superman’s Cape starts off where the previous episode left: with Brooke and Sam going through their nightly routine (it’s ultimately always the place they can’t escape, their shared bathroom) after the reveal that Harrison and Brooke had sex over Spring break. As much as I dislike this storyline, there’s something to be said for the way the episode tackles their initial confrontation. Brooke goes into it apologizing, but Sam is furious. 
Brooke: Would you please think about my feelings?
Sam: Why? You didn’t think about mine.
Brooke: You don’t own him, Sam. You were with George.
Sam: Brooke, Harrison and I were best friends. You knew things between us were complicated.
Brooke: I also knew that you had rejected him. Besides, clearly he had moved on.
Sam: Yeah, to me, clearly he had to get rid of the bad aftertaste. 
It speaks volumes about their relationship and how much it has changed since the beginning of the show that Brooke doesn’t just leave after the flurry of insults Sam throws at her. For me, there is only one way that storylines about two friends fighting over the same person can work without dismissing the characters or the importance of friendship: when it’s more about either of the two feeling angry and sad over not having their feelings acknowledged and taken seriously by someone they care about – when it’s not about the jealousy or the idea of “fighting” over someone as it is about some kind of mutual trust that was broken. This is what this conversation is: Brooke explains she didn’t understand that she was being disloyal, Sam still clings to the strange possessiveness she feels for Harrison because he declared his love for her and they used to be best friends. 
Brooke: I really thought he liked me. I didn’t do anything wrong.
Sam: Neither did I. He lied to me Brooke, I had no idea he had just been with you.
Brooke: You’re right.
Sam: I am. God, and so are you.
Brooke: So if neither one of us have done anything wrong…
Sam: Then why are we fighting?
Both: Harrison. God.  
This is where all is still well. They come to the conclusion that Harrison’s lack of honesty, the reason for why they both didn’t have the full picture, is the reason for their fight. And they decide to get back at him. 

You Don’t Tug on Superman’s Cape is an episode about trust – it’s an exercise Bobbi Glass makes them do in chem glass that reveals how nobody trusts Harrison John, and nobody (but especially not Mary Cherry) should trust Nicole Julian. But maybe, Brooke and Sam, more than trying to trust each other, also have to learn to trust themselves, because as their little game with Harrison progresses, both realize that they have too many genuine emotions to be playing any game at all. Brooke’s plan is to lead Harrison on and then to “dump him in the most gut-wrenching way possible”. At the same time, Sam tells Harrison that she is no longer with George and “can’t imagine being with anyone but” him, and tells him to ask her out – which he does. 
Sam and Brooke both play a game, but that doesn’t really work when your feelings are genuine. In retrospect, the show did a fairly good job at establishing the connection between Brooke and Harrison. They have all that history together (not that their childhood friendship is ever referenced again, it seems important in this context that they were friends first), and they had all these shared experiences in the hospital. Sam is more complicated. Part of this is still how they began, Sam and Brooke, months ago: they’ve grown together, but Sam still has deep-rooted fears about constantly losing things to Brooke McQueen (a fear based on an idea of Brooke that doesn’t even exist in reality, because the one consistent thing this show has ever done is Brooke’s struggle against being simplified and stereotyped). 
Obviously, Brooke and Sam both show up for the date, and have a massive public food fight. Harrison leaves because “I don’t think either one of you likes me. I just think you dislike each other”, but Harrison couldn’t be more wrong. They wouldn’t be this fierce, this angry, if the entire conflict wasn’t more about their hurt feelings for each other, their lost trust, their respective lack of self-esteem, than about their feelings for him. 
This is what Jane tells them, that they need to be able to trust each other for her to be able to trust them with her baby - A new sibling that is literally just about to be born. 

Meanwhile, Josh and Lily are off on their entirely unrelated tangent. Josh’s mum is offered a good position after months of joblessness, but it’s in Minnesota. Moving in with his father would come with soul-crushing ground rules reversing every bit of freedom Josh has fought so hard for (“Your social life needs to be monitored”, he says, and clearly means Lily). Lily tells him that she “isn’t worth compromising yourself for. Nobody is.” – which seems like a line that is also applicable to the other main storyline of the episode, because both Sam and Brooke are coming dangerously close to compromise both their own integrity and their friendship for Harrison. The solution they come up with is to marry. Instead of asking Harrison to compromise himself for her or have him move away thousands of miles, they decide to elope. 
Josh: All we’ve had is tests, but we’ve survived them all. What got me the most is that my happiness was more important to you than your own. If that’s true, Lily, then I can’t move away, I can’t leave that kind of love.
Lily, you’re the type of person that pushes for change in this world, and the thing you’ve changed most is me, and I love you for that. So since we’re gonna make the biggest change of all, I wanna do it right. Lily, will you be my wife?
This shouldn’t work, but for a moment, it does – at least until the institutionalization of human relationships takes out all the romance, and the real world catches them unprepared. 

Random notes: 

I think the next line in that song is “don’t spit in the wind”, which makes a bit more sense (Karma IS a bitch).

Today in “Carmen who?”, a lovely scene in the beginning reminds us of new alliances forged when Mary Cherry drives her to school. Sadly, Carmen, apart from one very small conversation with Lily that doesn’t really impact the episode, is then no longer seen. And I mean no longer seen as in “is completely missing from the final episode”, even though she’s Lily’s BEST FRIEND. 

Other offences the episode commits is Big Bertha just as a whole (it’s always hard to accept that a show so concerned about deconstructing stereotypes relies on stereotypes for comic relief SO MUCH) and Sam’s slut-shaming, mostly because I always felt like Sam would be the kind of person very conscious of the anti-feminists implications of using that word. 

Mary Cherry crashes the car of the terrifying Big Bertha and spends the episode trying to elude a fight / recruit an army. And that line about nobody trusting Nic is of course a lie – Nic saved a life recently – so she’s the one who stands up for Mary Cherry in the end, and makes Big Bertha go away – because “NOBODY GETS TO PUSH YOU AROUND, ASIDE FROM ME”. Of all the characters, I’m pretty sure I miss these two the most.

Also, Mary Cherry picks out a coffin for herself to Marche funèbre, as you should. 
Big Bertha: Do you enjoy pain?
Nicole: Not in this context.

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