At the center of “My Love Is A Black Heart” is a fairly simple setup: Jenna and Jake show up at a restaurant for their romantic Valentine’s Day dinner and discover that Matty and his new paramour Courtney are already there. It’s a fairly typical comic setup for Jenna, as she balances trying to focus on her date with Jake while also paying close attention to whether Courtney—who she views as her replacement—is enjoying herself. Jenna drops her menu, bangs her head on the table, and gradually realizes that the feeling she refused to believe was jealousy early in the episode was, in fact, the “green-eyed monster.”
Of course, it’s not so simple when you remember that Jake doesn’t know why Jenna is having a terrible date, which means he begins to cast aspersions on himself despite the fact that he planned the perfect date before it went off the rails. Meanwhile, Matty’s motivations remain perfectly calibrated to simultaneously signal that he’s moving on from Jenna and offer her plenty of evidence to suggest he’s still trying to mess with her head. Ashley Rickards’ voiceover is forced to do a lot of work in the sequence, but it’s only natural given that she’s the only person who fully understands the complex web of relationships and interactions that turned this into a fittingly awkward scenario.
“My Love Is A Black Heart” takes advantage of how an event like Valentine’s Day can mess with your head, leading to a scenario where both Jenna and Tamara both end up obsessing over their exes as opposed to moving forward. What I enjoyed about the episode, though, was that they are really in two different situations despite the attempts to draw a parallel between them: While Tamara is the girl who can’t move on, who can’t even find a random mark to dry hump at the Black Hearts Party, Jenna has a boyfriend who loves her and yet she’s still overcome with jealousy. While the general odiousness of Ricky Schwartz and Tamara’s fairly self-centered behavior don’t make her a sympathetic lovestruck loner, she seems more entitled to her feelings of jealousy when she doesn’t have someone like Jake in her life. It’s natural to be jealous when an ex moves on, but is that jealous equally valid when you moved on first, as Jenna did just hours after she broke things off with Matty?
I guess that’s a nice way of segueing into the discussion of how unsympathetic I found Jenna in this episode, and I say that as a compliment. As much as I understand where she’s coming from, and consider it a human response to her situation, she shows a lack of self-awareness similar to her date with Matty back in “No Doubt.” There, though, we could frame that a case of insecurity based on Matty’s unwillingness to take their relationship public, whereas here I consider it a case of hubris: she feels she is entitled to Matty, and in the process largely ignores Jake. When Jake tells her he loves her, and she responds with “awesome,” that isn’t a character stumbling for words or struggling to say it back: that’s a character celebrating a victory, having successfully—in her mind—overcome her jealousy and won over Jake in spite of herself.
It’s remarkably self-centered, in my eyes, which is why I find it so fascinating. That Jenna is flawed makes the storyline more palpable, as it keeps any one character from being turned into a saint for the sake of simplification. Even Jake, who does in fact intuit the perfect date Jenna had imagined (and which she communicated to Matty thinking he was fishing for information for Jake), nonetheless gets caught up in a conversation about football with Matty at dinner, failing to read the signs that Jenna’s desire for some privacy was going unfulfilled. Similarly, while Matty seems to want to move on and avoid making the same mistakes with Courtney that he made with Jenna, it still seems a little cruel to ask an ex-girlfriend for romantic advice even if a truce was recently declared, to the point where it might just be another part of his long haul strategy to win her back.
The message of “My Love Is A Black Heart” fits its title better than Awkward.’s generic trappings would suggest, as I’m not convinced any “love” emerges from the episode seeming romantic. I was a bit surprised to see Kevin return for such a brief appearance, but it allows his cold relationship with Lacey to prove unthawed by the occasion, while also providing some clear parallels between Kevin and Jake that go one more step toward “Jenna is basically dating her father.” I had expected Kevin to just disappear for a large chunk of the season, but reopening Lacey’s wounds lets them explore her fairly hostile relationship with Jenna a bit more, although not enough to turn it into a substantial thread in the episode.
That honor is reserved for Tamara and Ming, who splinter off to the Black Hearts Party and take two different approaches to wallowing in their singlehood. Tamara gets the most screen time, eventually peeing her pants after discovering that Ricky Schwartz has fallen under Sadie’s spell (presumably after her impromptu kiss in the premiere), but it’s Ming’s storyline that brings us the closest we get to real romance in the episode. Sure, Fred Wu is the definition of a generic love interest whose only notable characteristic is that he is also Asian, but the idea of Ming stumbling into a makeout session is a nice step forward for the character, and a reminder that she’s probably the most stable individual in the entire cast. I expect that Tamara’s burgeoning feud with Sadie will be the more substantial narrative to emerge from this storyline, but I hope we get to see more of Fred as well lest Ming’s romantic success be stamped out by the romantic foibles of the rest of the cast.
After last week’s episode took the love triangle out of the equation by shipping Jenna away, “My Love Is A Black Heart” makes the case that it isn’t so easy to escape something as insidious as high school jealousy, especially not when it’s February 14th. While I found last week’s episode more enjoyable in the traditional sense, free of the emotional burdens of love and all that comes with it, I appreciated the complexity of that burden as rendered throughout this week’s installment. It doesn’t show the characters in the best light, and allows them to occasionally appear insensitive or petty or just plain jealous, but that it all seems human is a testament to the show’s commitment to allowing characters to be complicated creatures.
- As I was writing this review, I found myself making blanket statements about teen romance that I have no business claiming any authority over. So if you want to challenge any of my “Things I Learned From Watching Television” claims, please do so in the comments.
- While I hope Ming’s stint with the Asian Mafia will continue to recur more prominently, I like the way the writers are keeping it alive by having her draw intel from them (in this case that Ricky Schwartz was smitten with someone).
- Another episode with no blog entries to speak of—I don’t exactly miss the device, and it means that the recurring mystery commenter doesn’t turn into another “story” every episode has to deal with.
- Ming with an interesting philosophical question: “Who wants to eat their own face?”
- This week in the Awkward. Lexicon: PTExD.
- I always feel bad for perfectly innocent characters that unknowingly stumble into a complicated mess of a television storyline, so I’m starting “Team Courtney.” Let me know if you want a t-shirt.
- As you might have seen, Awkward.—unsurprisingly—earned a third season order, which is for twenty episodes this time around. If I had to guess, I’d say that we’ll be seeing that stretched over two ten-week periods separated by at least a few months, but it does mean plenty more Awkward. in 2013.