Before sitting down with this week’s Awkward.—which MTV released in advance—I caught a section of an all-day marathon of the series, something I’ve stumbled upon a few times since the second season began. I’ve seen most of the first season episodes multiple times, but I still usually end up rewatching an episode or two out of habit, and often notice things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. For example, there is a scene in “Queen Bee-atches” where Lacey, pitching Jenna on the value of the Knick-Knackers, notes that it’s better Tamara won’t be there so she can spread her wings (citing Sadie as a new friend prospect). While pitched as a social-climbing delusion initially, the scene now reads as a reflection of Lacey’s desire for Jenna to improve her friend group, which was one of the items on the letter. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and it’s possible that the line wasn’t even intended as a piece of foreshadowing: However, that’s how hindsight works, and it definitely made me see the scene and the episode differently.
Jake Rosati has a similar experience at the end of “Another One Bites The Dust”—just, you know, with his life instead of a television show. One could argue that the fact Jake hadn’t figured out about Matty and Jenna before this point is damning to his character’s intelligence, but I think his blindness comes from a logical place. He doesn’t believe Matty would ever love someone, for one thing, and I also don’t think he would peg Jenna as the kind of person who would date someone like Matty. Whereas Sadie noticed because Matty looks at Jenna like she wanted him to look at her (and as Ricky looks at her now), Jake was positioned such that long glances, awkward interruptions, and cryptic lines of questioning were never going to connect the dots that we had connected for us when the series began. But once Jake’s given reason to put the pieces together by a vindictive Sadie, he mentally unlocks the truth he missed the first time around, and the season’s arc reaches its logical turning point (and a “To Be Continued” cliffhanger).
I have some reservations about how “Another One Bites The Dust” gets to that point, but the disruptive force captured in that moment resolved many of them. There are a few moments in the episode that feel too cute, working too hard to turn the wedding into a pivotal moment for Jenna as opposed to a broader story event for the other characters (with Ally’s husband left unseen, Lacey and Ally’s relationship marginalized, and Lacey’s first love Ben—played by Life Unexpected’s Kristoffer Polaha—transitioned into a parallel for Matty and otherwise underdeveloped). However, Jake’s heartbreak in that moment is a reminder that although the show isn’t always subtle in how it tells stories, it never uses those structures to resolve those storylines in a clean fashion. Jenna thinks she’s absorbed the events of the wedding and earned a romantic phone call with Jake where she says “I love you” and means it, but she isn’t aware that Sadie has disrupted Jake’s side of the story, and her message becomes a tragic reversal of what she imagined.
As mentioned, though, I do think the thematic side of “Another One Bites The Dust” ends up feeling too one-note, struggling under the weight of a growing pile of romantic entanglements. We’re officially up to three love triangles—Jake/Jenna/Matty, Lacey/Kevin/Ben, Tamara/Ricky/Sadie—at this point, and Ally’s wedding provides another parallel when Lacey asks her if she’s marrying for the wrong reasons (reflecting on whether characters like Sadie and Jenna are with their current partners for the right ones). While the central love triangle is a key part of this season, and I continue to like where that storyline has taken the characters involved, there comes a point where an entire show transforming into a love-triangle daisy chain—not that type of daisy chain—becomes overwhelming. There’s no space for the episode to breathe, a purposeful thematic gesture but one that kept the show from exploring other themes. Without demeaning love as a theme, and understanding how it frames and reframes characters like Sadie and Ally relative to their harsher incarnations, I think there’s a threshold at which love loses its luster, a threshold reached in this episode.
That this theme is then subverted by Jake’s heartbreak is meaningful, and allows the episode to pay off, but the first two acts still lag. Jenna’s flip-flop on attending the wedding feels rushed, Tamara becoming the wedding assistant and Valerie becoming the bridesmaid both feel contrived, and the introduction of Ben comes with a generic backstory and a lack of any characterization beyond a lot of intertextual baggage from Life Unexpected and some fun but slight 1990s nostalgia. I expect Polaha will stick around and get fleshed out, but his introduction is lost in the midst of the myriad storylines (and Ally going all bridezilla). There are still moments that work—the “Flower Bitch” payoff was fun—and the episode is ultimately solid, but this seemed like a case where the “event” part of the event episode overshadowed the ongoing characterizations and the season’s arc as a whole rather than servicing it.
Perhaps this is why my favorite moment in the episode—excluding the conclusion—is the one where things are slowed down. Jenna’s conversation with Matty outside the wedding venue could be seen as providing closure, as they both say what they’re supposed to say: Matty tells Jenna she and Jake look good together, Jenna asks how things are going with Courtney, and they both admit that what happened last season still stings a little. Closure is not the same as erasure, and the feelings still linger between them, but in that moment they reach an understanding that their time has passed. While I felt Ben’s phone conversation was way too on-the-nose about how his past with Lacey is somewhat similar, and the parallel becomes too convoluted when it becomes about who’s Matty and who’s Jake, the scene nonetheless allows for a moment of reflection that demonstrates Matty’s growing maturity—which, if realized sooner, could have avoided this whole mess—and Jenna’s resolved state of mind, both of which could be shattered when Jake’s discovery becomes known next week.
“Another One Bites The Dust” is the first half of a two-parter, which means that’s there’s plenty of judgment to reserve when it comes to new characters, new revelations, and overall plot arcs. However I might have felt about the love logjam of it all, though, Jake’s revelation is what the entire season has been building to, and provides plenty of momentum heading into the remaining episodes.
- The final moment of the episode is strong on a number of levels, but I think my favorite part is how Jenna’s narration remains so hopeful despite what we know. It’s a nice reminder of the show’s interiority complex.
- I’m still not sure if Ricky has legitimate feelings for Sadie. Rewatching “Queen Bee-Atches,” which is the episode where we learn more about Sadie’s struggles with her weight, you can see why Ricky has won her over, but it just seems difficult to imagine him with pure motives. I know there was some discussion of this in the comments last week, but I think it’s still up for debate.
- Barret Swatek, who plays Ally, reminded me a lot of a possessed Sutton Foster in this episode. Which is a compliment.
- The decision to have Polaha, Swatek, and Nikki DeLoach play the teenage versions of their characters would seem to take flashbacks off the table for the future, which is logical but I would argue Kevin and Lacey’s origin—here told through Ally’s bitterness with Jenna—is something the show has largely taken for granted.
- I will admit it took me a while to figure out what precisely Sadie was criticizing Jenna for with her “Big Love hair” comment. I’m still not sure I’m following.
- While there has been evidence to suggest that Jake is somewhat of a dork—see: the dancing in last season’s finale—in the past, Brett Davern’s delivery of “Hilarious!” as Matty teases him for being unadventurous may have officially gone “full dork.” Which is a dangerous game.