Poor Walt. All he wants is a little acknowledgment of his own presence in everyone’s lives, but even his own episode isn’t named after him. And if anyone’s true personalities are revealed here, it’s Xavier and Aniq’s.
Xavier has so far floated around the edges of the show, popping up periodically to showcase some pretty standard obnoxious famous guy behavior. But with a look back at the fateful St. Patrick’s Day party, the truth about why a couple people in particular hate him becomes abundantly clear. In one single night, he brutally humiliates Aniq, flippantly punctures his chances of going to Stanford, and spreads an absolutely horrendous rumor about Chelsea that ruins all of her high school friendships. The first happens because he’s heartbroken after Yasper implies Aniq advised him to break up his band, and the second happens for no reason beyond the fact that it’s convenient, and he’s desperate for approval. It’s profoundly toxic behavior, a prioritization of his own temporary emotional satisfaction without even a moment of thought for the potential repercussions for the people he’s affecting. But the show stops short of condemning the people who aid him in this behavior, without much introspection about the huge quantity of people who see him walking a stumbling drunk Chelsea down the hall, assume the worst, and do nothing to stop him. Nor do they listen to Chelsea when she tells them he’s making everything up, even though everything we’ve learned about these characters up to this point suggests that Chelsea is a much more reliable narrator than him.
All of which, unfortunately, tracks for what happens in situations like that. But it’s mildly frustrating that the show goes so far as to make Xavier’s two victims a Black man and a woman here, and then doesn’t quite take the next step to hammer home why he was specifically able to target those two people with zero consequences, and very soon thereafter went on to fame and fortune. There’s even an odd color blindness to the interaction he and Aniq have with the police, which suggests that the reason Xavier gets released is because his father is wealthy and well-known. And that’s obviously part of what’s happening there, but there’s a strange hesitance to address the racial dynamic occurring in that moment. Some of that can be attributed to this being told from Walt’s perspective, but for as much as Walt’s supposed to be a cipher, the absence of something is just as telling as its presence. Are we supposed to believe that Walt is himself oblivious about the subtext here? It’s not that we need the point hammered home or something (the depressing reality here is bad enough), but it’s frustrating that the show doesn’t do anything with it. At least, not yet.
And while he’s certainly nowhere near as repulsive as Xavier, Aniq hardly comes out smelling like a rose. His fixation on crafting the perfect moment to ask out Zoe suggests that he’s not mature enough to be with her, but also that on some level, he doesn’t actually want to be. Is he crafting a rom com moment for himself, or is he trying to date the person he’s interested in? Brett isn’t exactly a prize, but he’s already ahead of Aniq as a suitor because he at least made it clear to Zoe that he liked her. You can’t count Aniq as a rival if he doesn’t show up in the first place. Plus, just as he has in the modern day afterparty, Aniq shows more interest in getting revenge on Xavier than he does in making his case to Zoe. Sure, being soaking wet when he asks out Zoe isn’t part of the plan, but he’s already hours late to the party (enough to make any girl think he’s not interested) and all he has to do is tell her what happened. But he won’t, because he’s more invested in the story he wants to tell about himself than he is in the real person. And while Xavier is wealthy enough that pressing charges against Aniq is clearly spite, Aniq did still wreck the car, and then get in a fistfight with Xavier, solely because Xavier dunked him in a pool at a high school party.
Everything Aniq does more or less fits in to standard rom com behavior. But there’s a sour aftertaste to it, which makes a certain amount of sense, because often the behavior treated as romantic in movies like that isn’t romantic, or loving, once you think about it. It’s possessive, insecure, and controlling. And it will be very, very interesting to see how Zoe has felt about all of this in the next episode.
- I’m not sure the genre worked for me here? The hideous wigs and music queues suggested an early aughts teen movie, but as someone who saw a lot of that type of thing in that era, the colors felt oddly muted, and the jokes not quite broad enough. But I did think this was some of the most effective storytelling the show has done.
- Walt was in the car with them?! And, notably, also seems to have heard “I’ll kill all of ya” from Brett.
- “Pop is just a fad. Ska is forever.” Legitimately cannot tell if the writers think ska was still popular in 2006 (a year in which Reel Big Fish, possibly the biggest pop ska band, was dropped from its record label) or if the point is that Xavier and Yasper were just bizarrely behind the times.
- There’s a ton of toxic male behavior on display in this episode, but one part that I really liked but ran out of room to get into above is the fact that while Aniq is fighting because he thinks Xavier ruined his chance with Zoe, Xavier is fighting him over Yasper. And Aniq genuinely has no idea, because despite his self-image as a shy nice guy, he’s actually confident and cool enough to be Yasper’s friend, unlike Xavier, and he’s oblivious to the notion that he blew up that friendship.
- OK, also, by 2006, people had iPods. Unless, like me, you were driving a 1995 Honda Civic, in which case you were still carting around a book of mix CDs.
- Is this the only time Ben Schwartz has ever been seen without his hair poofed up to full volume?