At the end of “The Campaign Fail,” Jenna reflects back on what truly was a campaign: From the moment Jenna is invited back into her parents’ home following her night on the patio furniture, she starts making breakfast, volunteering to help support Tamara’s campaign, offering Matty advice on his Devon problems, and hugging Tamara in a moment where it seemed like they could both use a hug. What she realizes, of course, is that she was launching a campaign without filing the necessary paperwork: Before you can relaunch as “Jenna 2.0: She’s Not An Asshole Anymore,” you have to actually apologize to the people you’ve hurt.
Television characters are always slow to apologize, because it wouldn’t be very dramatic otherwise. If Jenna had apologized to her parents, her friends, and Matty as soon as she first came in contact with them, her storyline would have had no tension, as each of those groups would have accepted her apology given their previous statements and actions. Everyone wants to forgive Jenna, but they also want her to ask for their forgiveness. It’s unclear if it’s Jenna’s pride or the lingering selfishness that keeps her from apologizing, but she skips the most important step until the very end, when her mother comforts her while Jenna lets slip about five different takes on “I’m Sorry” in her first moment of true clarity in perhaps the entire season.
Jenna’s stumbling toward this clarity is the main thrust of “The Campaign Fail,” with her showdown with Collin—who is the second television character in the last week who has totally lived down to my initial, violently negative impression—giving her some righteous anger and her efforts to protect Valerie creating a not-so-innocent, but nonetheless regrettable, victim. However, the episode is at its more interesting when it’s exploring the other storyline, one that offers complications not dissimilar to those in Jenna’s. While some episodes this season have allowed Jenna’s fall to pull the rest of the storylines into her orbit, Jake and Tamara’s showdown for Student Council president has virtually nothing to do with Jenna. It wasn’t something that happened because of her, it’s not something she participated in (with Tamara rebuffing her efforts to engage beyond wearing a button), and it’s something that became dramatic without needing to be about the season’s central drama. Instead, it was about a messy relationship funneled through a messy situation, resulting in a breakup that happened because of characters and not circumstances.
Jake Rosati has never been much of a character. Now, don’t get me wrong: he has always been amiable, and occasionally funny, and a good utility player for the series to work with. However, once they funneled him into the love triangle and then into his relationship with Tamara, Jake’s actual personality was swallowed up by the story. Whereas Matty was always battling an identity crisis and struggling to come to terms with who he was, Jake started out confident in himself, then continued to be fairly confident with himself, and then became maybe slightly less confident in himself. What does Jake want? What are Jake’s interests? What does Jake care about? Those are questions the show has largely reserved for other characters, and so it was nice to see a storyline where Jake’s apathy toward his student council election is addressed as an actual character flaw. Jake cares about student council because it’s the only thing he has to define him, but he doesn’t perform that because he doesn’t want people to know his level of insecurity. It returns us to Jake pre-triangle, the affable student leader who cares enough to do his job well but—like many high school students—fears caring too much and admitting his tenuous grasp on social standing.
These elements have not been consistently present with Jake’s character, but “The Campaign Fail” effectively used Tamara’s counter-campaign as an impetus to explore Jake. This is only affirming everything we know about Tamara: she’s tenacious, she loves glitter pens, and she’s someone who needs to prove a point. She did it when she told Jenna she wrote the letter, she’s doing it when she gives Jenna the cold shoulder, and she’s doing it when she launches an aggressive, play-on-words-driven campaign against Jake. She doesn’t realize that she’s threatening the one thing he feels defines him, and when she wins it signals the end in their relationship and what I found to be a surprising end to that storyline.
It would have been an easy choice for Jake to win. Tamara running had tested their relationship in and of itself, their impromptu debate getting at the core of their relationship and her efforts to change—and threaten—who he is. Jake winning the election would have still allowed Tamara to claim victory (as she had pushed him to work for his position), and it would have left the door for either a similar breakup or a reconciliation as Jake comes to understand the value of working for what you want. However, things don’t work out that easily on Awkward. this season: Tamara wins, Jake loses what defines him, and their breakup is ugly and punctuated with a “take care” with a not inconsiderable malice attached to it.
The parallel with Jenna’s storyline is unavoidable: in its final voiceover moral about words resonating beyond actions, “The Campaign Fail” is talking about Jake and Tamara as much as it’s talking about Jenna, as they made the mistake of working out some serious issues in their relationship through an election campaign instead of through a conversation. Tamara was careless regarding Jake’s insecurities, while Jake was needlessly cruel in taking the campaign negative when he found that Tamara was threatening to win the electorate over. It functions as a microcosm of what happened with Jenna, a complicated situation revealing complications that may have never risen to the surface otherwise, and sides of people that they would rather not have to confront.
The remainder of Awkward.’s third season has to confront them. Jenna spends “The Campaign Fail” feigning self-awareness, but it’s not until she’s apologized that she’s regained real perspective. Having now opened its eyes to the state of things, the show is in a position to use that awareness to fuel the inverse of messy complication: messy resolution.
- The character assassination of Collin shouldn’t bother me. I always thought he was terrible! I wrote what felt like dozens of paragraphs where I railed into his smug face and sleazy body language! And yet I still found myself struggling to think that he would be entirely unaware that Jenna thought theirs was an exclusive relationship. Perhaps it’s a case of the show’s version of Collin before last week being filtered exclusively through Jenna’s rose-colored glasses, but the debonair to douchebag transition felt rushed even if I agreed with the final verdict.
- You know, if that Myles McAlmond hadn’t been running against Jake, Tamara never would have had to run against him to prove a point and they might still be in a relationship where they weren’t being honest with each other, so I think McAlmond totally did them a favor. And the poor guy didn’t even get to give his speech! I cry foul.
- And yes: I feel it’s safe to say that “Myles McAlmond” was a gesture in my—or really our, I would say—direction. I wish he had punched Collin in his smug face, but he didn’t look the punching type.
- “The Sun Will Come Out Tamara!”—Can’t you just imagine Tamara breaking out into Annie?
- Ming’s falling out with the Asian Mafia isn’t surprising, but it’s definitely being doled out slowly—it’s likely we’ll see her grip loosening until the finale.
- I’ll be curious to see if Lacey as school nurse was meant to function as a last piece of evidence in Valerie’s incompetence or if we’ll actually be seeing Lacey around Palos Hills High in subsequent episodes.
- Another week, another mention of Sadie tweeting in the episode without any tweets appearing on the Twitter account she mentioned in last week’s episodes. Shame, MTV. Shame.