Back in season one, Jenna Hamilton thought Matty McKibbon was ashamed of her. That he didn’t acknowledge her at school was somewhat telling, but even gestures that were sincere and romantic—like taking Jenna to his favorite dinner spot so she could become a part of his world—were read as signs of his shame. At the time, I wrote about how that didn’t make sense to me: Jenna has shown herself to be both intelligent and observant, so how is it she can’t discern between Matty being nervous and insecure and Matty being a dick?
“That Girl Strikes Again” unearths these insecurities and continues to clarify the fact that drove that insecurity both then and now: Jenna Hamilton is an inherently insecure person. From an external, logical, objective perspective, her insecurity doesn’t always make sense: she’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s talented, and she isn’t the head case people make her out to be. But as the show continues its third season, we see the event that started the series—and is brought back to the forefront in this episode—was never about the event itself, but rather how it affected Jenna’s worldview. Between the letter and the reports of a suicide attempt, Jenna’s life was put under a microscope, and its impact on Jenna has been incredibly complicated, more complicated than we as outside observers sometimes realize.
In another solid episode, “That Girl Strikes Again” ups the magnification level compared to the show’s second season, where the love triangle resisted deeper investigations into Jenna’s psyche. During the second season, Jenna was unquestionably “wanted” in a way that was indisputable: she was almost always in a relationship, often with another suitor on the outside looking in, and she was even making strides in improving her relationship with her mother. While Jenna spent the first season battling a letter that broke down her faults, and a relationship with a partner who was distant from her, she spent the second season making choices rather than wondering if she had any. Here, however, her anxiety over Matty’s position on the “Hot List” and her position on the “Not List” following the Halloween costume contest brings the first season’s insecurities back to the surface in a big way.
Where “That Girl Strikes Again” succeeds is that Jenna both does and does not triumph over those insecurities. On some level, her ability to use her suicide to connect with the private school kids at Colin’s girlfriend’s party is a sign she is able to own her complicated past. We could argue that her blog going public was the first sign that Jenna was capable of reconciling her non-suicide with her identity, but that was sort of an accident; here she purposefully lays her past bare in much the way that Mr. Hart’s creative writing class—absent here but omnipresent given Colin’s presence—has been pushing her to. The scene is Jenna realizing that while you might not be able to take the outcast out of the girl back at Palos Hills, you can take the outcast out of Palos Hills, and potentially discover a space where her past is a curiosity rather than a punchline.
However, that’s how Jenna would read the situation. As an outside observer, Jenna’s decision to effectively pimp out her suicide made me as uncomfortable as it made Matty. In Jenna’s defense, she agreed to give a confession in part to take the heat off Matty, who discovered that his own messy history—specifically his having molested his grandparents’ special ed neighbor—was mundane to this high-class crowd. That said, whatever nobility existed at the beginning of Jenna’s confession was lost when she effectively sold herself out. The episode does a nice job of vilifying Angelique by making her Sadie’s nemesis, such that when Jenna starts to befriend her we can ask ourselves the question: “Why?” Why does she want to be friends with these people? Why should she allow herself to be treated as a curiosity to these pompous dicks, ignoring the fact that her boyfriend feels just as isolated in this environment as she feels isolated within “his?” Why are your insecurities more important than Matty’s, which just last week were at the heart of the storyline as he struggled to reconcile with his parents?
These are frustrating questions, but they’re also productive ones. Awkward. has never shied away from having Jenna make mistakes in her search for the best version of herself, but it’s also forced through the series’ voiceover to give us a self-centered view of the character. The point at which we as viewers learn to accept Jenna’s self-centeredness is the point where the show can start using it, telling stories like this one which explore Jenna in ways that often indict her. They also reinforce that if this story were told from Matty’s perspective, we’d see many of the same insecurities that drive Jenna’s self-centeredness, insecurities Jenna often can’t see because she’s too convinced they are something only she experiences. This doesn’t make her a terrible person, but rather a normal person, a teenager whose world often feels smaller than we as viewers can understand given our vantage point. “That Girl Strikes Again,” therefore, can be read in two different ways: either Jenna’s past is coming back to haunt her, or rather Jenna’s embodiment of “That Girl” damages her relationship with Matty. What’s consistent across both readings, though, is some nice steps forward for the two characters.
The episode mostly focuses on that relationship, at least as far as central storylines go. The episode brings along Tamara, Jake, and Sadie to the party, but they’re mostly there to carry the “high school party cliché” burden. And while Jake accidentally getting high and Tamara getting a girl’s nose piercing stuck in her sweater were pretty slight as far as storylines go, I liked Sadie’s petty theft meet cute with Angelique’s brother. Sure, it was identifiable as a meet cute as soon as the light turned on and the person in the room was both male and on the right side of attractive, but Sadie’s feud with Angelique was a nice channeling of the character’s inner rage, and the oxygen mask was a quick but effective way to give Austin’s charming ask-out at episode’s end a sense of triumph for both characters and not just our series regular. Awkward. might be focused on asking some big questions about its characters here, but it’s pretty good at filling out the rest with some light but engaging teen comedy to keep things moving.
Where things are moving is an interesting question. One has to presume that Jenna and Matty’s episode-ending conversation doesn’t bode well for their relationship, given that Jenna’s inner monologue could barely get past Matty’s abs in describing the reasons she liked him (“Abs, teeth, abs, hair, abs”), but the show hasn’t necessarily rushed into turning Colin into a competing love interest. “That Girl Strikes Again” works because it derives tension from a fairly normal, everyday occurrence: high school kids going to a party and trying to fit in. It’s there, and not in the grand plans of love triangles, that our true identities often emerge.
- As much as I find it fairly uninteresting, Tamara and Jake as a couple does give the show some good options comically, like the quick transition from Jake seeing Jenna crying to Tamara knowing everything about it.
- Tamara’s simple rule of relationships: S.H.A.R.E. (Sexual Chemistry, Heart, Aroma, Remote Control, Excitement).
- As I expected based on previous conversations with creator Lauren Iungerich, Thadwick is indeed a play on a real private school in Palos Verdes, Chadwick.
- Sure, I wasn’t entirely buying the value of Jake getting high, but I did like how it converged with the other storylines, his dive into the coffee table enabling Sadie to steal the golden horseshoe and interrupting Jenna’s dance session with the prep kids. Nicely structured.
- “We were best friends until 9-11” —phrasing, Sadie. Phrasing.
- That being said, I might need to steal “Something in this area is making me nauseous.” I hope the other person responds with “You just gestured at all of me.”
- Anyone know who we call to put Ming’s picture on a milk carton?