After Jenna Hamilton turns her world upside down by walking into a surprise party making out with Collin, she shuts down. She won’t talk to her mother, she won’t return her friends’ calls, and she only emerges from her room to sneak cereal when she thinks her mother is out of the house. No one knows what Jenna is really thinking, or the real state of her relationship with Matty, and it’s driving everyone—particularly Lacey—crazy.
I, for one, welcome the chance to get out of Jenna’s head. In a rare case of an episode devoid of any voiceover from our protagonist, “And Then What Happened” shifts the narrative perspective to the series’ other characters, reconstructing the immediate aftermath of the surprise party debacle through their collective—and scattered—memories. Their desperate search for meaning lacks the simple clarity of Jenna’s declarative blog posts, fitting for a circumstance that lacks anything approaching clarity for all parties involved. Eventually, all of the chaos fades away and leaves us with Matty and Jenna baring their feelings, but up until that point, it’s a bunch of people scrambling for what all this means.
One of the issues I have with the episode is alleviated by how this scrambling concludes. “And Then What Happened” channels the audience’s uncertainty regarding Jenna and Matty’s future through the show’s characters: Lacey and Valerie talk in hushed tones over the phone, Jake seeks out Ming at school to get more details, and then just about every recurring character on the show ends up contributing his or her side of the story. The more characters that emerged, the more the myth of Matty and Jenna’s relationship exited the world of the characters and entered the world of the television show Awkward.; as much as I liked the conceit of needing multiple characters to add up to a clear narrative of what would have been simple to show us from Jenna’s perspective, it began to feel less like an organic collection of character beats and more like a narrative conceit by the time Clark and Lissa were telling their increasingly silly sides of the story.
These concerns were lessened, though, when the storyline ended without a resolution for the characters in question. The lunch table debate never finds out the answer to whether or not Matty and Jenna are still together, but the characters don’t go desperately searching for one: Instead, Tamara insists they change the topic of conversation, and they go on to talking about how a liquor store stopped checking IDs. It’s an acknowledgment that they had become swept up in a mystery that was never really their own, and also an acknowledgment that their lives will go on to be about things other than Jenna and Matty in the future. It recognizes the surprise party as a substantial event within the characters’ social circle, teeters on the edge of allowing it to define their own lives, and then pulls back before they lose themselves in the plot. They don’t stop caring, necessarily, but they stop trying to tell a story that isn’t theirs, and “And Then What Happened” can finally focus on the people whose story they were trying to tell.
This is really Matty’s story, though. It’s not simply that Jenna is less likeable for what she did, or that I found Ashley Rickards’ performance of Jenna’s fragile emotional state to be a little less convincing than Beau Mirchoff’s (particularly in the first scene in the closet); throughout the episode, it’s Matty’s emotional state that remains unclear. Jenna may be harboring some complicated feelings, and we might not be inside her head as we usually are, but we quickly learn she’s desperate to talk to Matty and has been trying to get in touch with him. It’s Matty’s emotions that we learn about through the supporting characters’ collective memories, and it’s a portrait of a heartbroken kid who has no idea how to confront this situation. That he spends his weekend struggling to understand why this would happen but nonetheless goes to Jenna and offers to try to patch things up seems unwise, but we’re talking about someone who once lost Jenna for being unwilling to see their relationship from her perspective. He doesn’t want to own his own feelings of betrayal because he is committed to making this work, and committed to looking past a complicated history because it’s what she did to be with him in the first place.
What Jenna does to Matty is incredibly cruel, perhaps more cruel than hooking up with Collin—who, thankfully, doesn’t appear except in flashbacks—in the first place. Jenna doesn’t simply break up with Matty: She argues to him that they’re breaking up with each other, framing it as a mutual decision. Her argument is that this is all happening for a reason, but to make them equally culpable for the situation that brought them here ignores the fact that it was her who chose to cheat. Matty and Jenna’s relationship was ultimately threatened by a breakdown in communication, and we can certainly say that both were responsible for that. However, Jenna isn’t in a position to define responsibility for their breakup given what she did with Collin, and yet she does so as Matty is doing everything in his power to save the relationship. Just as Matty can’t live with the idea of losing the relationship, Jenna can’t live with the idea of staying in the relationship with her guilt hanging over her, and breaks his heart all over again to keep from having to look herself in the mirror.
That I could spend two paragraphs breaking down the psychology of Jenna and Matty’s breakup would suggest my skepticism regarding their drama taking over the lives of the supporting characters is unwarranted. While at times unpleasant, Jenna and Matty’s breakup taps into the series’ sense of history, and the weight of that seriality is particularly felt in Mirchoff’s vulnerable performance. It’s telling that we don’t follow Jenna into the house following the breakup, instead remaining with Matty in his truck: In an episode that veered away from her perspective and foregrounded the point-of-view of other characters, we end with an emphasis on the character whose point-of-view Jenna has most neglected, and that the show seems most interested in.
Although indulging in some non-linear storytelling to reconstruct its sequence of events, “And Then What Happened” eventually ends with the breakup most could have predicted. The clean break may not have been clean for either Jenna or Matty, but the idea of the clean break provides clarity for how Awkward. intends to move forward for the rest of its third season. It becomes the story about people trying to move on from something they weren’t really ready to move on from, giving the appearance of stability and leaving the door open for more chaos to come in the weeks ahead.
- I had figured out that it was Tamara who punched Collin before she announced the fact, but actually seeing it was still incredibly, incredibly satisfying. The image accompanying this review is going to be how I cheer myself up if I’m feeling down.
- Between “Height plus weight minus ignorance” and “I’m not good under pressure and I’m moderately dyslexic,” Fred Wu really came into his own during that retelling of his piñata experience with Valerie in the backyard.
- Of the various glimpses we got of the mayhem following the surprise party, I liked the quick glimpse of a distraught Lacey being slapped into shape by Valerie (even if I didn’t necessarily like the more overtly racist than usual Valerie overall).
- “Everyone’s hand is as big as a potato”—I always enjoy when other characters note when the somewhat ridiculous things Tamara says are ridiculous, as it almost always vocalizes thoughts I was having myself.
- Snippets from Myles’ Notes: “Beau Mirchoff, emotions.” Also, “OH MY GOODNESS BEAU MIRCHOFF SAD FACE.” A theme, I sense.