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.
We've officially reached the halfway point (and then some) of our Wonderfalls re-watch! Just a few more weeks and you can officially get your badge and be one step closer to having watched everything that's aired on television ever. This week we'll look at "Barrel Bear," written by Tim Minear and series co-creator Bryan Fuller, and "Lovesick Ass," considered by some to be a highlight of the series.
The mid-point of a series can lead to a few different results. Writers are often very clear on their beginning and end, but the middle can be a saggy midsection that's treading water. However, big plot points are sometimes crafted specifically for the middle of a season, to give the series a kick in the ass and provide momentum going into the finale. Wonderfalls does both, in a way, comfortable in its procedural-style case-of-the-week episodes but also turning up the heat on a big step for the show: Eric and Jaye's inevitable relationship. I mean come on, he's throwing himself at her and she's all winky eyes and dimples at him. This is a slam dunk, guys, get yourself a Luther Vandross CD and a 12-pack of quality domestic beer and lock the door. Sheesh.
But before we get there, Jaye has a bit of life-fixing to do. "Barrel Bear" is the lowest-rated episode of Wonderfalls on our site (with an 8.3), and I can see why. It's easy to get the sense with Wonderfalls of Fuller and Minear trying to do too much and tie several threads together to forcefully, and when it worked, it was great, but there just wasn't enough time to make it all work. In my opinion, this was very close to being a fantastic episode because it was ambitious, it had very strong themes, and there was a bittersweet ending that helped everyone out about 80 percent, instead of the fairy-tale 10,000,000 percent. I have to respect that. For a show so whimsical, it sometimes does real life a lot more correct than other "normal" shows.
"Barrel Bear" focused on the feud between two older women, Millie (guest star Rue McClanahan) and Vivian, a dispute that was reignited when Millie returned to Niagara Falls to reclaim some fame as the first woman to go over the falls in a barrel. Buuuuuut, she never went over the falls, and it turned out that Vivian was the actual daredevil but was on the wrong end of a switcheroo for the sake of show business. Millie was a stunner; let's just say Vivian didn't have men or horny dogs lining up for her. After that truth came out, the fight trickled down to Jaye and Mahandra. Jaye believed that the truth about Vivian should come out (obviously), and star-struck Mahandra was concerned with keeping the story intact—even if it was a lie—and "preserving the legend for future generations." Mahandra, you so crazy. That's one of the problems this episode had. How can anyone in their right mind defend Mahandra's actions? Millie took all the credit for something she didn't do, and Vivian was stuck in a life of obscurity.
Eventually—and here's where the typical happy ending gets twisted—Millie came around and understood the errors in her ways, and just as she was about to tell the world, she croaked. Heart attack. So Jaye cleverly suggested that Vivian take over Millie's life and be the one showered with praise, even though she'd be called by Millie's name. It was a win-win situation, except that no one completely won, and the plan will probably crumble once Vivian gets sick of signing someone else's name on black-and-white 8x10s. I foresee Vivian cracking at an appearance and then the legend will be doomed forever. Way to go, Jaye!
One other big step the show made was to have Jaye confess what was going on with her to Mahandra. But of course, Mahandra didn't believe her and that was that.
I suppose if there was one other thing about "Barrel Bear" that didn't totally work, it was the way the problem was solved. I've said before that we like to see Jaye at the center of fixing things, but she felt more like an accessory in this episode, and nothing she did really influenced fate, which is what this show is about. There's a feeling that Vivian and Millie would have worked out their problems without Jaye anyway, which takes a bit of the magic out of the show.
Themes were all over the place, however. Jaye was dealing with accusations of being stuck in Niagara Falls and not jumpstarting her career (whatever it may be), and that concept directly related to Vivian's life. Eric said he was a new Eric, but couldn't sever ties with his old life, represented by his phone that was blowing up with calls from his mom and his ex. Millie had a similar problem of holding onto a life that was no longer hers. There's nothing like a final scene where a character throws something in a body of water to show finality, and Eric did just that when he chucked his phone into the falls, finally opening the door for him and Jaye to get it on.
But Jaye is one stubborn donkey, as we confirmed in "Lovesick Ass," one of the best episodes of the series. This episode was all about the L-word as told through the story of an abandoned Russian mail-order bride. Jaye and Eric tried to help her out, but really used the opportunity to openly debate their future. There was love all around, it just took a while to get there.
Eight episodes in, there was no more skirting around the Eric-Jaye thing. Some could say that their flirtiness had gone on too long, but Jaye had a serious Great Wall of China built around her heart, and Eric's Mongol horde just couldn't get through it. Eric had issues of his own, psycho-ex-slut-whore-wife and all, but he was at least open to the idea of starting anew. But what made their back-and-forth so effective was the fact that we shared Eric's feelings. Watching the two of them eye-bang each other for several hours was incredibly frustrating, and finally Eric just threw everything out in the open and called Jaye out. She's scared. She needs to get over it.
Their flirtations had largely been in third person, talking about "him" and "her" instead of "you" and "me," but Jaye had no wiggle room when Eric finally said we should go out on a date. Defenses down and still hot from seeing him shirtless on top of her trailer, Jaye swooped in for the kiss FINALLY and now we're official!
The rest of the episode had its share of pleasant surprises and twists, most notably making mail-order bride Katya's groom-to-be an internet-savvy 13-year-old boy named Peter. Young kids acting like adults and falling in love is always funny, it's a fact. But it ended up being more than just a sight gag when we learned the truth about why Peter was acting this way. His mother had died, and he was eager to find a new female in his life that he could protect. As his crush bounced from Katya to Jaye, it was followed by jealousy toward Eric, the man he perceived to have Jaye in the sack. And this little guy was determined, planning to beat Eric over the head with a baseball bat and successfully lighting his car on fire.
Peter would later get exactly what he needed, which was a new mom and a reunited family, thanks to the largely telegraphed but still sweet coupling of Katya and Peter's dad Dick. But the real story here is the names used. Peter and Dick Johnson? What's with all the penis names in the family, Wonderfalls?
Now we head into the final episodes of Wonderfalls with Jaye and Eric headed toward coupledom, but I'm guessing that will be put to the test by Jaye's other calling: doing the bidding of fake animals.