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TV Rewind: Felicity, “The Slump” & “Truth or Consequences”

3 Jul

Felicity, Episodes 2.12 & 2.13
“The Slump” & “Truth or Consequences”
Original Air Dates: Feb. 6 & 13, 2000

Felicity 2.12Emma: Welcome to two Very Special Episodes of Felicity that deal with matters so broad and narrow as to include divorce, therapy (including the magical question we’ve been asking for some time now with “Who is Ben Covington?”), consequences of drunken breaking into swimming pool actions, unwanted pregnancy, the teen TV taboo of abortion and sexual advances from skeezball A&R dudes. There is so much plinky plonk piano music that had me longing for the classical soundtrack that Ben deemed was elevator music. Ben, if you want to hear elevator music listen to the soundtrack from episode 13.

So with so much going on it’s hard to know where to start, I guess I’m going to go with my new favorite character and that’s the chain smoking counselor and qualified doctor Dr Toni Pavone. Pavone is played by an actress who I know predominantly from ER so all my notes say Dr Coburn (also as the long suffering Mrs Schweiber in Freaks and Geeks) and she’s playing the no BS mentor. This is a particular trope when it comes to college movies (I’m thinking Good Will Hunting as I haven’t seen Dead Poet’s Society, but I’m guessing the latter features this) or TV shows (it does also extend to high school) and it’s normally a character who thinks they know best that gets treated to the no BS mentor. Felicity is an interesting case as she professes to knowing nothing; she doesn’t know why she came to New York (other than Ben of course) and she doesn’t know who she is. Pavone provokes Felicity into acknowledging the shitty position her parents have put her in and to reject the good little girl hat she wears when talking about her family.

The act of rebellion that lands Felicity in therapy is something she blames on finding out that her parents are divorcing. She also claims that if this had happened when she was younger, she would have obsessed over it. Obviously she is obsessing over it now, as this is Felicity and over thinking things is what she does, though Ben is the rare exception here – she does have a habit of obsessing over Ben after the fact, but she is definitely more in the moment when it comes to him. Felicity keeps telling people that her parents splitting up isn’t a big deal and no one is really fooled by this. As an adult I guess she feels embarrassed to be feeling this much loss at the end of her parents marriage and yet it is a big deal. The foundation of her whole existence gets rocked in this episode as she finds out that her mom quit college as she was pregnant. Now this is a huge burden for anyone and for Felicity it is devastating (and it quite neatly links in with the Noel and Ruby story), as she recalls a story from her childhood that pretty much sums up who she is as someone who never wants to rock the boat.

When Felicity was younger she went to ballet camp, which she hated, and so she came home early. She found out that her mom had been sleeping in the guest room; and even though everyone in the house knew that the other one had seen this, it was not acknowledged at all and Felicity went to ballet camp for the next four summers. This is such WASPy behavior and it’s not surprising that Felicity is so introspective and repressed if that is the house she grew up in. On the surface everything was great, from the visit we saw at Thanksgiving to Christmas at home and it’s one of those occasions where we realize that a) our parents are people and b) there is so much going on beyond us as their kids. Felicity isn’t the reason they split, in fact she’s the reason they probably stuck it out for as long as they did, and I’m glad Dr Pavone makes her realize this through getting her to open up about who she is and why she thinks the way she does.

Ben, on the other hand, is another tale and he spends most of time in “The Slump” avoiding his counseling sessions and floating the idea of dropping out and going to Prague to live out his Before Sunrise fantasies, because of course he does. Ben is the flakiest of the flakey and while he has a ridiculously charming smile he also doesn’t have much else at the moment other than these flights of fancy. So it might sound strange when I say that I am coming around to Team Ben in spite of his chameleon personality and while I probably would like to see more of Felicity and her lady friends (briefly seen before Felicity’s dad rudely interrupted), the chemistry between Ben and Felicity is just really fun to watch and it’s much needed in an episode that is this angsty.

The Ben self-discovery doesn’t happen until the following episode so before I open that big ol’ can of worms I want to hand over to you and find out what you think of Felicity’s big parental related misery. Do you like what Dr. Pavone brings to the show or is this one college trope you would prefer to see avoided?

Felicity 2.13 counselingJulie: I am 100% with you on the new counselor, played by the always welcome Amy Aquino. This character seems to have taken the place of Sally in some ways, offering us real advice and calling Felicity on her bullshit, rather than just relaying stories from her own boring past (sorry, Sally). I love how fully-formed this character seems to be after only one episode. J.J. Abrams, who wrote the first episode, must have loved developing this character. Also, she definitely calls Ben on his social-chameleonism, so yay for that.

Because Ben is pissing me off. I know you’re coming around to Team Ben, but I’m so annoyed with him at the moment. Yes, he has the nice smile, but he’s also an emotional idiot. He never wants to deal with anything difficult. I’m thinking this is because Ben has never really had to deal with anything difficult. Yes, we got the whole story about his parents and how awful his dad was, but still. The kid was a popular athlete. He gets in trouble and gets out of it easily. He floats through life. And then he wants to drag Felicity, a girl who’s trying to get her shit together, to follow him to Europe where he’ll probably end up flaking out on her as soon as things get rough. He’ll take up with some Czech girl and they’ll live happily ever after until she dies of a heroin overdose and he highjacks it back to New York to further mess up Felicity’s life. And she’ll totally let him do it. That’s Ben in a nutshell.

So, I am definitely glad about the existence of Dr. Toni Pavone and her classical music. She’s the first one really questioning Ben about what he wants and who he wants to be. I’m looking forward to a new, more focused Benjamin Covington. I’m looking forward to a Ben whose entire existence doesn’t revolve around either girls or swimming.

As far as the Felicity stuff goes, it was very special. I really felt for her regarding the anger she felt for her parents. That was a great revelation. Felicity is so bottled up (WASPy) and it’s nice to see her get mad. Her parents deserve all the crap she’s about to throw at them.

We also got some stuff with Julie and Noel this episode. What did you think about Eric and Ruby?

Felicity 2.13 laughingEmma: I am far too easily swung by a good smile and Ben’s Europe plan really was ridiculous. He would totally screw it up.

First I’ll deal with Eric as there’s a lot more to say about the Ruby predicament. Eric continued to be everything Sean said he would be and that really sucks for Julie as even though she only has one song she was very excited about recording a record.  In a scene that mirrored what happened with Zach last year (so much so that she called Eric Zach) Julie invited Eric in and then changed her mind. And then she blamed herself. None of this is Julie’s fault of course and it sucks that her character is going through this again. Thankfully Eric took the hint and with it he took all those promises of a record. Him and his curly mop of hair are the worst. Sean is great when he comforts her reminding Julie that she doesn’t owe Eric a thing.

Now Ruby and after more TA/Noel conflict – she wrote “hi Noel” on what was meant to be an anonymous paper, but wouldn’t he recognize her handwriting anyway? – that continues to be not very interesting, Ruby drops a clanger that her period is 5 days late. And she’s never late (of course). Now I have to admit that I expected this to be another teen TV pregnancy scare, especially as this show has been so good to point out various safe sex methods. Instead Felicity is showing that contraceptive is not always 100% effective and unwanted pregnancies do happen.

While I don’t want to sound cavalier and I have a feeling this might come across as flippant after being surprised by the initial pregnancy test result – in the form of color, not the usual lines – I was half expecting Ruby to go through with the abortion. Then I remembered this show was on the WB and abortion is still a HUGE taboo subject on network TV.

A character could have had an abortion as long as it was long ago (a la Kirsten on The OC) and off screen with the most recent teen related showing actually going through with this procedure on network being Friday Night Lights (it aired first on Direct TV so it might be why they could show it). Other characters can talk about their abortion experiences so Ben is fine talking to Noel about what happened on high school, well not completely fine because this is a huge breach if confidentiality even if his heart was in the right place. Ben you are so dumb and yet so pretty.

There’s a lot of sad starring out of windows and it’s super cheesy, and when they’re on their way to the clinic of course a baby’s leg grazes Ruby’s arm. Obviously if this character doesn’t want to have an abortion, she shouldn’t have to and that’s the point it’s her choice, I just wish teen TV didn’t have to follow the same pattern because abortion is such a controversial topic. I also really wish someone with more range could be tackling such a strong array of emotions as I don’t think Amy Smart is quite up to the task. The scene in the bathroom with Felicity reminded me of the scene between Hannah and Felicity in the bathroom (my fav locale) and how great Jennifer Garner was as a supporting player. Keri Russell shines throughout as she struggles to address the weight of the situation as this goes way beyond her expertise.

So what did you think about the surprise pregnancy story?

Felicity 2.13 sad windowsJulie: I echo everything you said about Eric and Julie and it being a bit of a repeat from her situation with Zach. Yawn. It’s horrible that I’m saying “yawn” about attempted rape, but yawn. Julie needs a new storyline, and better taste in men.

Moving from near-rape to near-abortion (seriously these episodes have IT ALL). I was happy that the writers actually made Ruby pregnant. The pregnancy scare copout is done too frequently and the Noel/Ruby storyline does echo what’s going on in Felicity’s life, so it’s all very poignant. While I agree that Amy Smart is not usually up to the acting task, I thought her reaction to the positive test was really on point. There were a lot of tears. And Noel just kind of sat there, not sure what to do, whether or not to comfort her, which kind of reveals all I need to know about where his head is at in this relationship. Something tells me that if Felicity were knocked up, Noel would be right there holding her and consoling her.

I was annoyed with the fact that Ruby didn’t go through with the abortion, for a few reasons. 1) It’s so cheap that we can’t allow a female character to make that choice on primetime TV, even still. 2) Ruby’s reasoning for keeping the baby is as ridiculous as she is. This baby is all of a sudden, out of nowhere, her purpose. Maybe she should wind up with Ben because the two of them are delusional soul mates.

Ben coming to Noel after looking at Ruby’s chart is shady and a little convenient. I feel like Ben is the Dylan McKay of this show, i.e. the character that has had All the Experiences. You name it, Ben’s done it. He’s a sheltered 19-year-old, but he’s lived hard like a 40-year-old Hell’s Angel. Of course Ben knocked up a girl and took her to her abortion appointment. Of course that happened to him.

I am really ragging on Ben this week.

Which other TV characters have had abortions, either on screen or off. Kelly Taylor did on 90210, but I think that was pre-show.

Felicity 2.13 Ben and NoelEmma: So Noel reeeeeeeeeeealy doesn’t want to be a dad, huh?! And that’s a spot on assessment with his reaction, if it was Felicity or even Hannah I think he would be very different. The panic and fear makes sense as this really wasn’t part of his plan and like you I find Ruby’s “it’s my purpose” speech to be completely out of the nowhere. I sense this is not going to bring Ruby and Noel closer together and this relationship has never felt particularly solid. On this occasion I really want Ruby to go to Meghan for some advice. Everyone should always ask Meghan.

Felicity followed Dr. Pavone’s advice about not making it about herself, even though she could quite easily after her recent discovery about her mom. Instead she mentions to Ruby that she knows someone who went through this without elaborating and with Noel she lets him talk. Good job, Felicity.

Quick question regarding their community service – would they really be allowed to work in a health center that caters for the university? Surely there are confidentiality issues to consider. In fact, Ben shows how dumb this is and Noel’s “Are you fucking kidding me?” reaction is spot on.

It really has all happened to Ben and I think this is in part to make up for some of the lack of charecterization and hopefully now that he’s been provoked into some introspection he will become more than just a collection of “it happened to me” with an adorable smile (yeah I’m still stuck on that). I am glad we got a real life Ben and Noel interaction (rather than a Twilight Zone one) and I think that’s the first time they’ve shared a scene since the argument in the bar in episode 1/2 this season.

One other Ben related thing I really liked was the Felicity/Ben rooftop chat that echoes the one when they first talked (I wanna say in the pilot) about snow in New York. It’s good to have Ben acknowledge a real reason why he is drawn to Felicity, rather than the sudden about turn and it’s because she cares about things. Ben has always coasted and now he has to actually look deeper. I am clearly the pro Ben of our discussion this week.  I am also pro Ben and Felicity role reversal as he’s now the one very much following her. I also want them to kiss already.

So I was trying to think of some other TV abortions and I found this very useful site that documents the history of abortion on screen and generally on recent network shows abortions are considered but they either keep it or have a miscarriage. That isn’t always the case as the entry for Third Watch shows (and I do remember that episode). Felicity gets a mention and I stopped reading as it looks like it might go further than where we are up to. With cable they’re not hampered by the same parameters of course and so they have far more freedom to show a variety of resolutions.

Elena has a new love interest and it’s Donald Faison! I’m pretty sure both he and Paul Rudd must have made some deal when they shot Clueless as neither of them have really aged. Is Elena about to get her own story?

Felicity 2.12 ElenaJulie: You are completely right about Ruby going to Meghan for advice when it comes to boys and pregnancy. Heck, Noel should probably go talk to her as well. I’d love to see Meghan in a room with Dr. Pavone. But then my TV screen would probably melt.

The community service thing seems like a setup. I don’t know what a community service job like that usually entails, but I always pictured, like, working in a soup kitchen or picking up litter along a highway. Working in a medical center seems kind of cushy, and also like there are probably other kids on campus (who are not in trouble) and would love to have one of those jobs. This is not really a punishment, and it also may serve to reignite Felicity’s love affair with medicine? Second season and this show is already running out of new shit to deal with.

Ugh. Reading those abortion story rundowns are depressing, especially after the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby ruling yesterday. We need to stop with this whole “having a baby will make your life perfect” narrative. It’s very damaging. Babies are hard. They’re great, but they’re hard. Also, the TV abortion list missed the other Grey’s Anatomy storyline. Cristina Yang actually does have an abortion in a later season after she gets pregnant via her husband Dr. Hunt. (Yang is a very good doctor, but she’s horrible at birth control.) She actually does have the abortion. She doesn’t regret doing it, but it colors her relationship with Hunt for the rest of her time on the show. I’m actually proud of Grey’s for how they handled this. Maybe this storyline was a response to the chicken shit “It’s an ectopic pregnancy!” copout.

On to a happier topic — Donald Faison! He really does not age, right? Those Clueless folks and their lack of aging. I don’t remember what happens in his storyline with Elena, but at least she’s got some man candy now?

Here’s my question for you, person who has never seen the show: How do you think the Ruby storyline shaking out? We know Noel isn’t too happy about the baby, how does he get out of it? Does he get out of it?

Felicity 2.13 roofEmma: The forever Felicity quandary between medicine and art isn’t going to go away it would seem and of course she’s wanted to volunteer in the medical office (though they were also very helpful with Julie last season so I think Felicity is the kind of person who would want to give back in this way, so it’s contrived but it also doesn’t feel out of character). I’d quite like to see her take on both medicine and art rather than an either/or situation. Ben is not in it for the experience and his blagging skills are top notch even if he can’t follow through with the actual work. Oh and hey those colorful Mac monitors have got a whole lot thinner. It must be the 2000s.

Shonda is the one network person that I could see getting to use an actual abortion story rather than a loophole and that sounds like a good way to deal with it. Sometimes having a child is not the right thing to do and as you said these persistent storylines can be damaging.

My prediction for this Noel/Ruby storyline is that she’s going to have a miscarriage as I can’t see them sticking Noel with a child when he is meant to be part of this love triangle. Not that Felicity would mind, I just can’t see them going for it. It will be sad and devastating for Ruby, but Noel will be grateful. Ruby will end up leaving college/transferring somewhere else as the memories will be too much for her. Or she’ll tell Noel she lost it and leave, but will secretly have the baby. The latter guess might be a bit too soapy, but hey it could happen.

Julie Hammerle is, according to Klout, an expert in the areas of both Morgan Freeman and glasses. Her writing can be found at chicagonow.com/hammervision and you can holler at her on Twitter as well.

 

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One Response to “TV Rewind: Felicity, “The Slump” & “Truth or Consequences””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. TV Rewind: Felicity, “Your Money or Your Wife” & “Miss Conception” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - February 5, 2015

    […] when Noel and Ben barely spoke they bonded over unwanted pregnancy stories when Noel first thought Ruby’s baby was his and she was going to have an abortion. This is […]

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