It's nice to laugh again.
After getting an emotional smackdown in two back-to-back soul rockers, the kids are back at VGHS, facing their challenges head-on...ish.
After Ted's monumental confrontation with loss and the harsh reality of his relationship with his father he seems genuinely rejuvenated. However, war is brewing amongst the racers and Ted isn't sure of his place among them anymore. Meanwhile, despite a slight bridging of the gap during the dark days at the Swan house, Jenny and Brian haven't healed their breakup and continue to be on uncomfortable terms. Ki seems to be the furthest spun out of the gang, experimenting with a newfound nihilism and a vaguely gothy new fashion style. Meanwhile, a storm is brewing. A Barnstorm...er. Damn, I thought I had that one made.
Also, noticeable lack of Law. Painfully noticeable.
If I didn't know how they'd transition out of Episode Three's fallout I definitely couldn't figure out how they'd segue out of the literal tears for a loveless childhood that we ended Episode Four on. Well, they transitioned. I wouldn't say it's always graceful, but with two episodes left it was going to be hard to rev things back up for the conclusion to...well...the whole show. Frankly, it feels more like a season premiere than a penultimate episode, but it did its job admirably, and in some places even wonderfully.
And like I said, it's nice after all the pain to laugh again. This was a funny episode, with a lot of big laughs and a generally lighter tone. Even the more serious moments are treated with a bit more humor, letting characters feel and be vulnerable in front of each other without trying to challenge the previous two episodes depths.
The tonal shift isn't perfect, and feels kind of like a splashing cold water in the audience's face to shake them out of the funk of sad; effective but not comfortable. Ted's subplot with the Drift Racers was probably the weakest element. While I like the Drift characters, I've never been fully engaged by that part of 'VGHS's world. Their rivalries and power struggles always felt extremely B-plot to the other more interesting stories. This episode is no exception, exacerbated by the darkness of the previous episode and the absence of a transition between where we ended and how we find Ted now. I sort of get Ted's conflict with the Drift King is akin to confronting the same kind of thoughtless asshole his father was, but only picked up on it by retroactively examining the story rather then reading that in the heat of the moment. Also, of all of the action sequences in the show I've never cared for how Rocket Jump films the driving segments, and watching them tends to be a pretty passive experience for me. Furthermore, Ted's pre-mourning arc still seems unaddressed. He was an asshole who hurt some people and is kind of absent for Ki again here. It's understandable if it isn't brought up again due to time, but a bit of a sticky point for me in the episode.
The other characters fare better. Jenny and Brian are broken up but are also still in love, so we need a whole episode for them to figure this out and realize what they mean to each other. I don't mean this in a condescending way, because it results in much of the episode's best stuff. Teenage angst requires parental figures be consulted. Jenny has to open up to her emotionally estranged mom, who knows how to coach but is adorably broken at affection. I've never been a big fan of Cynthia Watros as Mary Matrix (even though the familial likeness has always been extremely striking) but she has one of her best moments of the show here, a well written scene that helps wrap up her arc nicely. Apparently no teenager has healthy parental relationships, so Brian has to play son with Dean Calhoun. Said it before, I'll say it again: the show could just be them. Dean Calhoun and Brian: Teen Janitor, Thursdays at 8. The scene is great, meaningful, and hilarious. Does anyone have Harley Morenstein's home address so I can send him a thank-you sandwich? Or you know, a gift card for a sandwich. Whatever works.
Ki's transformation is probably the most appropriate and actually follows through with her season's arc. Shane Pizza crushed her faith and the gang's recent brush with mortality didn't help her feel any more secure. It's fun to watch Porterfield play against Ki's chipper Stepford Bureaucrat in favor of some indulgent pessimism and black eyeliner. Ki's picture of what public displays of meaninglessness look like is some of the funniest stuff in the episode and results in not only a conclusion to a part of her arc but also a pretty touching tribute to what video games can represent to the people who play them.
While not the strongest episode this year, it really only suffers in comparison to everything else that has been done in a season I don't think any of us were expecting. I laughed a lot, and our Big Bads finally get to flex their Bigness and Badness, setting us up for a conclusion that I can't really say I can predict the shape of. It's all very exciting.
All I know is there'd better be some Law in it.