We're (re-)watching Wonderfalls as part of the TV.com Summer of (Re-)Discovery Club. You'll find links to past installments at the bottom of this story.
Last week we looked at a pair of episodes ("Safety Canary" and "Lying Pig") that were kindred spirits. They were practically the start and the finish of a two-part episode, the ending of the first bleeding into the beginning of the second and carrying the same desperate, sad tone between them. That was not the case this week with "Cocktail Bunny" and "Totem Mole," back-to-back episodes that don't even appear to be part of the same show. In fact, I wouldn't kick you out the door if you thought "Cocktail Bunny" represented the best Wonderfalls has offered to date and "Totem Pole" was the worst.
"Cocktail Bunny" continued the fantastic three-episode arc of the previous two installments, burying the stake deeper into our hearts as Eric's ex-wife AND current-wife won the Battle of the Bartender's Heart, defeating Jaye to the soundtrack of sad chick music. "Totem Mole" went really far off the reservation by visiting an Indian reservation and appeared to intentionally take a massive detour from the series' biggest storyline to prepare us for the finale. Was it necessary? Ehh... I'll go with no. In fact, "Totem Mole" probably would have been better served if it'd been pushed up in the first season toward the middle, though we won't know for sure until after we watch the finale next week.
But first let's continue to dive deeper into the destiny of Jaye in Episode 11, the thrilling conclusion to the three-part Heidi-Eric-Jaye love triangle. We've seen Jaye steer toward the edge of sanity before, but when the blue-eyed beauty smashed a pride of wax lions at work in plain view ("You'll never get rid of us!" they taunted), it was clear that the effect these little guys were having on Jaye's head had reached an all-time high. And that makes for good television.
"Cocktail Bunny" was a straight-up mystery episode with the highest stakes the series had seen all season. No nuns lost their way, no mail-order brides were duped by horny teens, and no fat guys were lurching around trailer parks. This time, someone was trying to murder someone else! And Jaye had to had to stop it. But first, she had to figure out who the someones were.
There wasn't anything too far off from the standard Wonderfalls formula here. Jaye misinterpreted a message from the animals ("Save him from her" "She's going to kill him") and confused it with her own ordeals, but serendipitously ended up saving the day. The difference was in how far the episode pushed everything: the stakes, Jaye's state of mind, Jaye's relationship with Eric... it was all full throttle to the point where we weren't always on board with Jaye's actions. Yet we could also understand where she was coming from because of the massive heartbreak she had been suffering in the previous two episodes. It added another wrinkle to the "Is Jaye crazy?" question by addressing the angle of "Is Jaye being driven to insanity?" instead of just asking whether she was or not. Let's face it, up until now she's been handling things pretty well. And this all smartly unfolded right before Dr. Ron's eyes, adding the voice of a licensed therapist to the conversation.
But it was the emotional manipulation of the audience and the sweet redemption of Jaye that really shone in "Cocktail Bunny." In the episode's crescendo, Dr. Ron's glassy-eyed former patient Angie was on her way to kill him with a can of gasoline and a Wonderfalls lighter (she was the "she" and Dr. Ron was the "him" in the animals' warning), and Dr. Ron's brass monkey told Jaye to lick the light switch and promised to tell Jaye why the animals talked to her after she did it. Jaye got to licking, shorted out the electrical system (thus stopping the elevator that carried Angie), and—with her hair frizzed out from the jolt—pressed the monkey for answers.
Jaye: "You better tell me... tell me why you talk to me!"
Monkey: "Because... you listen."
Bam! The seemingly innocuous answer was our first real proof that Jaye is a conduit of destiny and these animals are the Fates, course-correcting the world through their reluctant vessel. It was the most momentous event for the series thus far, and wonderfully accentuated with Jaye's cray hair and eyes and lightning crashes and a TALKING MONKEY BOOKEND. Is this show great, or what?
Further helping Jaye's cause was Dr. Ron, who was able to decipher the message of "Save him from her" with Jaye. Dr. Ron couldn't deny that Jaye's circuitous and circuit-ous actions saved his life, and he couldn't help but tie in the message to what just happened. It was a point for Jaye for the second time in Wonderfalls short run, as someone else other than brother Aaron finally realized that Jaye is special.
But Jaye doesn't want to be special, nor is she the only one out there who is special. At least that's what I think we got out of "Totem Mole," the penultimate episode in Wonderfalls' life. This was not a great episode. This was not a good episode. This was, by Wonderfalls standards, a bad episode. But now that I think about it, it may have served more purpose had the series continued.
We'll start at the end. When Deanna Littlefoot emerged from the sauna as the voice of her people, it was, as I said above, an indication that Jaye isn't alone in her abilities. "Totem Mole" may have wanted to lay this down before it got into Season 2 as an indication of where the series could be headed. In the DVD commentary, Bryan Fuller and Todd Holland discussed future plotlines for the show, and among them was the idea of having Jaye committed to a mental institution. There, I'm guessing she might have run into others who had similar abilities, or others who thought they had her abilities. It would've set up a fun situation where her new co-stars would eventually prove themselves to be crazy or sane while we still wondered about Jaye.
But that's about all of the importance I could squeeze out of "Totem Mole," which was a big disappointment. The short story is this: Jaye, Mahandra, and Sharon visited a Native American reservation to get Mahandra her tribal card, and Jaye ended up talking to a dead grandmother who happened to be the spirit leader of the tribe. From there, Jaye was tasked with helping grandson Bill—now a stuffy accountant—fulfill his destiny of becoming the new spiritual leader of the tribe. Meanwhile, Sharon's nemesis from law school, Deanna, was the tribe's legal counsel and was dead set on making sure Sharon didn't take advantage of reservation cigarette laws. That escalated into a competition between the two, a match-up in which Sharon got repeatedly thumped.
After many failed attempts to prove that Bill was the stick-shaker (and much proof that Jaye was actually the successor), the Sharon-Deanna storyline nicely melded into Jaye's when Deanna was revealed to be the true successor to grandma. Great, right? But what got me, and got me BAD, was the newly spiritual Deanna's grand plan to help the tribe get back on its feet. After a sweat-induced visit from the apparition that was grandma's ghost, Deanna decided that, to save the tribe's pride, they should build... a casino!
It was already a meandering episode that ran in place for 20 minutes, but that payoff came after we *makes barfing sound* endured repeated scenes of Bill not being a spirit guide and Sharon being jealous of the bitchy Deanna. Wonderfalls is a much smarter show than "Totem Mole." And hey! Where was the mole?
"Totem Mole" was an odd choice for a second-to-last episode, as it departed from the compelling Jaye-Eric storyline as much as it could, but "Cocktail Bunny" was arguably the best episode of the season, so we'll consider it an off day. One episode left, guys. And it's a good one.
– Katie Finneran as Sharon had some great moments, especially smoking a cigarette while hoofing it up the stairs. It's hard to believe this is the same woman who starred in the atrocious I Hate My Teenage Daughter.
– I really like the direction the series was going with theology student Aaron getting more interested in Jaye as a prophet. If that story had continued in Season 2, it would have been amazing!
– How do you think "Totem Mole" handled Native American culture? And why is it that episodes/shows that involve dominant Native American storylines always seem to suck?
– Wonderfalls Episodes 9-10: A Whole Lotta Love / The Skanky Ho Contest
– Wonderfalls Episodes 7-8: Finally!
– Wonderfalls Episodes 5-6: Family and Fat People
– Wonderfalls Episodes 3-4: Stalk It Out / Nun of Your Business
– Wonderfalls Episodes 1-2: More Timely Now Than Ever
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom