At the end of last week’s episode, Jenna Hamilton bared her soul. The blog that has been present throughout the show’s two seasons—offering Jenna a space to reflect on her tumultuous existence and giving the show a justification for its voiceover narration—became part of the story as Jenna tried to smooth things over with Jake by revealing it to everyone. That strategy proved unsuccessful, with any clarification offset by the embarrassment that both Jake and Matty felt when their lives became public.
It wasn’t clear at the end of that episode where exactly the show was heading, but “Pick Me, Choose Me, Love Me” wastes no time clarifying that everyone in the school is reading Jenna’s blog. The episode turns the high school into a proxy for the viewers at home, with the various students drafting into either Team Jake or Team Matty and picking up Tamara’s slang. Lauren Iungerich’s script has some fun with this parallel, mapping the audience’s engagement with the series onto the kids in the high school, and it allows both Jenna and Tamara to experience a brush with fame. Jenna becomes almost like a reality television star, someone famous for being herself and someone who becomes a tastemaker based solely on her good spelling and her complicated, compelling existence.
To be honest, there were moments where the celebrity culture satire became a bit much, particularly as Matty and Jake have a showdown with Jenna in the hallway. There’s certainly the potential for a high school culture to become obsessed with particular circumstances, but it all happens too quickly here, and it occasionally manifests in weird staging and awkward interactions with random students. It turns the entire high school storyline over to Jenna’s relationship with Matty and Jake, to the point where every background character is part of an “audience.” It pushes the bounds of the show’s reality, offering some charmingly tongue-in-cheek humor but also risking removing what makes the show real, and grounded.
Where “Pick Me, Choose Me, Love Me” rescues itself, and then some, is in its choice to pair this with the most comprehensive glimpse into Jenna’s relationship with her parents in the wake of their separation. While Jenna becomes a celebrity, Lacey becomes a pariah, shunned by students and parents alike for writing the letter. While Jenna’s choice between Matty and Jake has the entire school talking, it’s also just a relationship: Whom she picks might matter a lot to the gossip-hungry students, or to audiences, but this episode—despite the centrality of the love triangle—argues that it’s trivial compared to her choice to reconcile with her mother.
This side of the episode is a tremendous collection of scenes. Surprisingly, Valerie has a brief moment of real emotion (with some eccentricities thrown in, of course) in which she criticizes Lacey for being cruel to her daughter, reflecting on her own relationship with her mother in the process. Building on that, Lacey gets a chance later on to return to the question of her own mother that many of us had identified as a likely source behind the letter last season, with Nikki DeLoach absolutely nailing her tearful explanation to Jenna. The idea that Lacey gives Jenna a choice to love her, freeing her from the bounds of familial relationship, is heartbreaking, and offers real consequences to the blog’s publication that ultimately overshadow Matty and Jake’s jostling for position.
The past few weeks have started to toss some wrenches into Kevin and Lacey’s past to help contextualize their relationship, and here, it works to rehabilitate Lacey. Kevin argues she allowed him to become the good parent in order to keep his absences from affecting his relationship with Jenna. It’s conveniently timed, of course, but it rings true: When you’re a child there are things that are kept from you, things that you will only realize in hindsight. Once Jenna gains this perspective, she realizes the “choice” she needs to make is not the one that has people in teams, but rather the one that reaffirms her love for her mother. It’s not forgiveness, necessarily, so much as an understanding, here shared through a beautiful lullaby as the camera slowly pulls back. For every part of the school storyline that felt unmoored from the show’s reality, the home material offered a highlight for the season, and its impact was perhaps greater, given the contrast with the spectacle on display at the school.
What became clear over the last few weeks was that Jenna’s life is “real.” Her actions have consequences, and just because she makes a grand gesture doesn’t mean that everything is going to be okay. Releasing the blog was a mistake for Jenna, and there were some fleeting moments early in “Pick Me, Choose Me, Love Me” where it also felt like a mistake for the show. However, as much as the spread of Tamara’s slang could potentially turn into an epidemic infesting the entire student body, it only served to remind us that high school can be wacky, and ridiculous, and obsessed with dissecting people’s lives, but it doesn’t mean that the people who are part of this aren’t still individuals. While the entire school may be picking sides and waiting for Jenna’s decision, the episode also allowed Matty and Jake to reconcile on their own terms, with Jules And Jim offering the proper context for them to realize they were letting this situation ruin a friendship that means something to them. There may be a gaggle of onlookers during the love triangle scenes, but it still comes down to Jenna asserting her agency and walking away. The fan cultures around the relationship may have invaded the story world, but they haven’t dictated how the characters act, which remains solely based on their own personal decisions.
“Pick Me, Choose Me, Love Me” walks a delicate tightrope between clever and contrived, at times overemphasizing the show’s occasionally cartoonish moments within the broader framework of the narrative. However, by the end of the episode, it doesn’t feel like their presence has dramatically changed how the characters plan on acting. When the episode ends, it’s just Jenna and Lacey singing one another a lullaby, and the chorus of commenters is left to engage from afar. It’s a sign that however public or rampant the love triangle might become, it’s never going to invade the parts of the show that provide it with emotional depth, depth that reaches a season high point in this episode.
- I will admit I am not as up on my French cinema as my colleagues in the film department, so I was really convinced that Jules And Jim was something the writers made up to tie in with the love triangle. Turns out I was wrong, and need to brush up on my “Deadly Love Triangle” cinema. For those with Hulu Plus accounts, you can watch it here.
- Sadie’s brief herpes scare wasn’t particularly substantive, but I liked how her insecurity about her portrayal on the blog manifested itself. Jenna’s blog didn’t only affect her, and for someone like Sadie, it’s far from a flattering portrait. I would like to have seen that manifested a bit more seriously, but some fun Lissa/Sadie banter is a fine consolation prize.
- Speaking of Sadie, I’m with her on Tamara’s language spreading throughout the entire school: “Don’t make me puke with that side stooge’s lingo.” Given that said lingo is actually based on Iungerich’s own slang, it was nice of her to include some self-critique within the narrative.
- Valerie has a memoir entitled Val-ues and makes crème fraîche jokes? I approve.
- Why, this wasn’t meta at all!: “You’re like a small cable show. You may not have a budget or marketing, but you’re interesting and you’re catching on with the right peeps, peeps that get you and care what you think!”
- Huge thanks to Kevin McFarland for filling in over the past couple of weeks—it was great to get another perspective, and to also get a chance to sit down and watch the show without having to take notes.