Awkward. takes a huge risk whenever its likeable protagonist makes a colossally stupid decision—this week, it’s Jenna’s insistent semantic argument that she didn’t really cheat on Jake and is thus not in the wrong—even if characters this young are supposed to make these kinds of mistakes because they don’t have the experience to know better. It’s even more risky to put multiple characters on their heels, defending them while standing in the wrong. But “Homewrecker Hamilton” does just that, and comes out with a much more compelling episode than the past two weeks' outings now that everything is on the table.
Jake isn’t speaking to Jenna two days after their breakup at the wedding, and when Jenna pushes to initiate a conversation about why that happened, he sends a picture message of her and Matty making out on her bed, taken when he was outside her room attempting to reconcile. Sadie’s gossip confirmed, the love triangle morphs into something quite different. Every person involved is in the wrong. As much as I like and want to root for every point of the triangle, none of them come out of this situation unscathed. Jenna wasn’t honest about her past with Jake in part because Matty selfishly made her feel guilty for potentially ruining his friendship with Jake. Matty sought Jake’s advice, and talked about Jenna to Jake without ever revealing their past or his feelings, either to protect himself or his chances with Jenna down the road. And Jake, retreating into silent rage, boils into a vengeful rage and has a meltdown at lunch, berating Jenna onstage and punching his best friend.
Actually, parsing it out that way, it makes Matty look pretty fucking bad, but he does go out of his way to defend Jake’s actions with respect to Lissa in Valerie’s office. He’s not a terrible friend, but in this instance, he certainly isn’t a very good one either. Of course, Sadie doesn’t look good at all in this situation either, but she doesn’t care. Jake acted impulsively, as teenagers (and many adults) are wont to do, turning multiple chances for sensible conversation into an overblown revenge ploy, calling Jenna a slut, and punching Matty in the face three times before Matty finally decks Jake back and yells “I fucked your girlfriend.” After such a petulant and immature display—even if it’s age appropriate—Jake deserved to have his lights knocked out, and they both deserve to suffer through Valerie’s rambling speech that covers her fantasy of two men fighting over her, and some petty scorekeeping. That ploy reveals the point of the whole ordeal: there are no winners in this situation. Everyone did something wrong, and no amount of bickering or turd polishing is going to change it.
That epiphany never dawns on Jenna, as she desperately tries to remedy things with Jake. This aspect of her character is the most frustrating accurate teenage trait on the show. At the end of last week’s episode, her narration reveled in the possibility that it might finally be the “right time” for Matty, but she does a complete turnaround, and after the boys walk out of Valerie’s office, she walks right past Matty to talk to Jake. She doesn’t know what she wants week to week, and the rampant indecision—except Jake, who has been very clear about his feelings ever since breaking up with Lissa—makes a lot of plot movement feel like retracing steps. But the quick movement that add up to a slower pace in overall progress feels authentic to the high school experience, and that foundation helps ground much of the outlandish action elsewhere on the show.
Awkward. does an admirable job nesting smaller plots within its larger episodic narratives. While it moves the love triangle plot quickly along, Ming’s crush on Fred takes about one step forward. The Queen of the Asian Mafia is out to get Ming for moving in on her ex, and unlike “white bitches” who loudly foreshadow their rage, an “Asian bitch” is like a ninja. The idea of different tactics for revenge is necessary and helpful to the episode, but conflating “Asian bitch” and “ninja” isn’t just reductive, it’s an easy stereotype to fall back on.
The tiny C-Plot takes up two short scenes. The episode opens with Jenna at her father’s apartment, where he gives her a used station wagon as a gift. Tamara previously warned Jenna that a grand gesture is nothing more than a giant red flag, so while she’s happy to have the vehicle, it adds onto the voicemail from a mysterious Hannah to create doubt in her parents’ future. When Jenna’s mom learns about the car after the Wheel of Pep debacle, Lacey is completely oblivious to Jenna’s problems, focusing on Kevin buying their daughter a car without consulting her—and one with “SLUT” spray-painted on the door at that. Jenna is understandably fed up by this, and bluntly tells her mom what she thinks the car means for her parents’ relationship: imminent divorce. Either Tamara is right in predicting a big gesture signals a permanent split—and the show has never set her up to be a paragon of truth, despite her little psychic run tonight—or Jenna has once again jumped the gun on judgment and is taking out her frustrations out on her mother.
The anonymous blog commenter functions as the same quasi-misguided McGuffin that the letter did last season. The identity is a mystery, but instead of being a static document, this is someone interacting with Jenna and subtly coercing her into making her blog public for the world to see. That puts the truth of the whole situation out there, but like a foolhardy teenager, Jenna doesn’t think the whole process through. Yes, the semantics of her hookups with Matty and relationship with Jake technically exonerates her, but now every intricate detail is out there for scrutiny, which only makes things worse. At this point, I feel the same mistrust for the blog commenter that I did for the letter in the first season, but that twist was executed perfectly, so Awkward. has the benefit of the doubt this time around on that one.
It reminds me of the second season premiere of Scrubs, and not just because I greatly respect Myles’ TV Club Classic reviews of that show. In that episode, JD attempts to make things right after Jordan reveals every little secret to Turk, Carla, Eliot, Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso. But as JD learns, some problems can’t be solved by incessant poking and prodding; at a certain point, maybe all you need is time to heal the wounds. But this is high school, where every little event goes under a microscope inside a pressure cooker. And from the look of next week’s episode, Jenna won’t get any room to breathe, just a smaller corner to back herself into, with the spotlight shining blindingly bright once again after accidentally stepping in front of a car, where Sadie takes full advantage to bring up suicide once again.
- Hey people who wanted to see more of Ming and Lissa—there you go. Lissa only gets a few throwaway lines, which is only a disappointment because there are interesting parallels between how Jake reacts to Jenna’s alleged cheating and his own questionable infidelity while with Lissa.
- As I mentioned last week, I really enjoy the scenes between Jake and Matty, as I find their friendship refreshingly honest, at least compared to my own high school friendships. Whenever they can let the cacophony of drama drop out, they have a lot of interesting conversations. Their dialogue in Valerie’s office is so sensible in comparison to the adult reverting back to an immature scorekeeper.
- Right at the opening of the episode, Jenna says something about moving on if Jake thinks the relationship is past its prime, and that didn’t well with me. Didn’t she wait for Matty forever last season for nothing official to come of it? This is why the week-to-week redefinition of life principles is so frustrating to me. It sets a new standard for behavior each week that doesn’t carry over.
- I watched most of the series on MTV’s website, so I only just noticed that the network overtly pushes the soundtrack artists. I found it distracting, but I do like most of the music on the show as background noise.
- Thanks to Myles for letting me sub in for a couple weeks on a show I find fascinating. He’ll be back next week to take things through the home stretch.