“At World’s End”
June 15th, 2009
To signal the end of the world, there are various signs of the apocalypse, things which let you know that doom is imminent. To signal the end of a season of Greek, though, you know that Casey and Cappie are about to become intertwined, Rusty will face some sort of crisis, and some sort of major fraternity/sorority event will take place.
However, what always impresses me about Greek is how the various parts all come together in such a way that feels far more organic than it has any right to, and with greater meaning than one would expect the show to aspire to. Sure, the episode had its comic subplot (Rusty and Dale’s altered purity pledge), but for the most part it tackles the fates of the siblings Cartwright with just the right amount of interconnectivity, and with perhaps the show’s most focused lens yet in terms of sidelining supporting players.
Combined with tying up a few loose ends, “At World’s End” isn’t the end for this show by a long shot, but it takes the episode’s theme and runs with it to the point of really encapsulating where these characters sit within the world of Cyprus-Rhodes university. And although there aren’t too many “critics” covering the show on a regular basis, it also proves how a combination of cultural relevance and self-awareness have made this without question the strongest teen-focused dramedy on the air.
The episode is essentially a take on the whole desert island scenario: if you were trapped on a desert island, or at the end of the world, who would you want to be there with you? For Casey, this question has her pondering between Cappie and Max, while for Rusty it has him choosing between an admittedly sudden academic struggle and spending time with Jordan. Even Ashley gets into the act, as backed up against the wall and facing expulsion she is forced to fight for her life against Frannie, who similarly finds herself facing the realization that she’s recreated the end of the world beyond the walls of the IKI house. Throw in the aptly themed “End of the World” party, all influenced by the opening Art History lecture, and we have ourselves a theme.
I’m not always one for theming episodes like this, but it’s smart in an ensemble quite this large and this proved to be an effective one. On the smaller level, for Frannie and Ashley, it was about advances for their characters: Ashley got to show she has a backbone without Casey (which shouldn’t have even been in question since Casey is far more indecisive, but I’ll let the show continue to pretend that’s how this relationship works), while Frannie realizes she was living a dream if she thought IKI was actually a legitimate sorority, and pretty well waves the white flag with Casey and acknowledges that she has officially outgrown Cyprus Rhodes. It’s not quite as big an exit as Frannie needs, but it was a starkly human one and in line with what we’ve seen of the character so far. I never quite despised Frannie, as I could understand much of her motivation, and in these moments where she steps down from the extremes she reveals herself to be someone capable of both rational observation and, more importantly, moving beyond the catty world of sororities.
It shows that the series itself is capable of doing the same – yes, a large portion of the episode takes place at a giant fraternity rager, but the show is intelligent about when it lets the parties be the focus and when it lets the parties turn into a setting for something larger. On some levels, the party here was just an excuse to bring everyone to one place to have things explode (Max wanting to attend to actively debate the end of the world was particularly contrived in this fashion, and Dale bringing Sheila made no sense whatsoever, but I’ll let them cheat in a few instances), but there were also more subtle impacts that resulted from it. Despite evoking the apocalypse, the show did a pretty good job of making the various decisions feel nuanced and human, which is what the show ultimately does best.
The episode was ultimately most impressive at convincing me to give Cappie and Casey a shot. It’s not that they needed to really do anything with Cappie: his self-deprecatory stance here was not a huge surprise considering his past behaviour, as his inner humanity has never really been in question to anyone who has seen his interactions with Rusty, or Dale, or Evan, or Casey, or Rebecca, or pretty well anyone. However, for Casey, I really have no patience for her romantic back and forth – I’ve said many times before that I don’t like this character, and that the show hasn’t really given me any reason to like her. However, the finale addressed this as far as the show is willing to go: by having Ashley call her out on her bouncing around (and even calling her the dreaded “F-Word,” Felicity), the show acknowledges that Casey isn’t a saint, and that her road to romantic love has not been a particularly enjoyable one for those sitting on the sidelines having to see it all happen.
That it hasn’t overwhelmed the show is impressive, but not surprising, as even here it was handled in a way that felt, if a bit accelerated, like a mature response to the situation. Sure, television cliche would have had Casey pulling an “I choose me,” or having their simultaneously exit from a KT closet cause Max to turn into a jerk and break up with her, but forcing Casey to (after Cappie plays the “I’m just a punk, don’t throw away a decent guy for me” card) make the decision to break up with Max herself, simply because she knows that she can’t hurt him. Yes, Casey should have known this months ago, and she really should have made that call as soon as she found out he gave up grad school for her, but her finally coming to her senses did feel deserved, and Grammer and Rady were strong enough to overcome my personal feelings on Casey and the storyline in general to get pretty caught up in it all.
The result was the right place to leave us on a cliffhanger: built up anticipation about Cappie visiting Casey (they weren’t very subtle pretending that was Cappie at the door instead of Frannie), then have him sitting on a roof pondering what he’d do at the end of the world, just as Casey had realized that it wasn’t Max who she’s want to be with. It’s a good moment for them to build from starting in August (honestly, weirdest season structure ever?), as it places the onus on Cappie, the character we actually care about, as opposed to generally inactive and floaty Casey. I’m not capable of being a “shipper” (however much I can get caught up in romances on other shows against my better judgment) for any of Casey’s relationships, but I want Cappie to be happy, and he certainly is in a position to do so whatever he chooses – he’s resolved his issues with Evan (who appears only twice here but seems in better spirits), and now he just has to deal with his own self-image issues, which I find far more compelling than what most love triangles or the like boil down to.
Michael Rady, of course, was always going to be leaving, so it’s no surprise that Max is going to ride off into the sunset. Chances are the very busy Rady would have left even if he hadn’t landed an apartment at Melrose Place, and the character was just too far ahead of the game for the show to move up to his pace. In his time, he served as an interesting counterpoint to Cappie both romantically and as a mentor for Rusty, and while it was never a realistic romantic pairing it was certainly amongst the most tolerable of the show’s short term romantic guest stars.
I’d say that Jordan is a pretty good addition to the cast as well right now, but the show interestingly isn’t so sure, as the episode pitted Rusty’s burgeoning social life against his academic performance. I was very glad to see the return of Dan Castellaneta (who’s always fun as the stodgy academic advisor/professor), and interested to see them dredging up this Season One storyline in an effort to put some jeopardy into Rusty’s happiness. I like the decision in the end: so many shows would have tried to create yet another romantic diversion for the two of them, but it was smart to have it be a bit more isolated to Rusty, and to never actually create that moment where the far too comfortable couple (combined name? No.) exploded or anything else. It was just about planting the seeds of doubt, and whether or not Rusty will get burned like Max did in choosing his end of the world companion, and whether he’ll get burned deciding to live today like it’s the end of the world and he has all of eternity to figure out how to turn his D into a B (If Lisa Simpson taught me anything, it’s that a D turns into a B so easily).
Considering the show comes back in just two months, it wasn’t looking to line up a huge cliffhanger or put everyone in jeopardy: Ashley was safe from expulsion once Frannie dropped the complaint, Rusty’s grade won’t completely sink him as long as he’s willing to work on it, and the KT’s two week suspension was ignored entirely. But there was just enough doubt placed about everything to leave most characters considering their position, and getting ready to act when the show returns in August. That’s a smart decision, but at the same time you want to be able to offer a little bit of closure.
Closing off the IKI side of things was one way to accomplish this, ending the major “conflict” amongst the greek system that formed the back half of this season, but the other way was through the episode’s comic diversion, which featured Dale and Calvin making an altered purity pledge to keep them from falling into temptation. I’ve always liked this combination, as I like most combinations the show puts together: it’s a very versatile cast, and Calvin and Dale are such polar opposites that they work well together on paper, and in practice work even better thanks to Clark Duke’s brilliant way of portraying Dale’s reaction to Calvin’s homosexuality. It’s that proper combination of his ability to spout the jargon without really applying it to Calvin as a person, combined with the ignorance displayed when he has convinced himself his former purity pledge brothers are sharing a bed on Fire Island to save money in this economic climate.
Here, you knew where things were going: Grant wasn’t introduced just to not become a romantic interest (although so much for his homosexuality being on the down-lo considering they’re making out at a giant rager), and Dale’s failure to keep himself in check with Sheila continues a storyline that has been fun for some one-liners if being a bit lifted directly from Duke’s bomb of a sex comedy Sex Drive (which I randomly watched last week, and is fun if too predictable). Similarly, you knew that Dale pretending to be Calvin’s boyfriend wasn’t going to last for very long (although, the fact that Grant believed it made me question his intelligence). Either way, it made for some nice comedy, and with only really positive consequences (unless we value Dale’s purity pledge, which I think isn’t really the point of his character) it kept the entire episode from getting bogged down. Calvin gets the guy, Dale makes out on the couch, and the episode wasn’t just one big crescendo without an ending.
Does Cappie go to Casey? I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care. At this point, the show has won enough of my respect for me to just let it do its thing. It’s the kind of show that will have fans who are desperate to know whether Cappie goes to see her, and who will be waiting in anticipation for that moment to happen, which is totally justified. At the same time, though, I am legitimately curious to see how the show situates itself in the year ahead, and how it takes these various storylines beyond cliffhangers or moments and keeps turning them into a really entertaining and smart dramedy. When the dialogue is clicking like it has been all season, and when the show seems to be getting more and more comfortable with its universe with each passing episode, it’s becoming a show that should have fans amongst the ABC Family audience of teen girls and amongst hardened critics alike.
It may not be the show I’d take with me to the end of the world, but it’s certainly something I’m glad to have in a non-apocalyptic one.
- Chances are I could list some favourite lines for days, but Ashley’s escalating comparison of Casey to Meredith Grey, Joey Potter and Felicity ends up getting beaten by the too clever for his own good “I LIKE the English tudor style!” from Cappie when Frannie attacks him for having it out for her house.
- I enjoyed the contrast of the Frannie-like female head of the IFC and the male who explains that 40% of the panel thought that their prank was totally rad – even authority is fun in Greek land.
- I didn’t mention it above since, again, I don’t like to dwell on my negativity towards Casey, but her manhole stunt was a simple shortcut to making her consider the end of the world/her life that was a bit too cheap but was worth it for the paramedic who treated her, who played the Janitor’s wife, Lady, on Scrubs.
- Admittedly, enjoy Dan Castellaneta on a bad day, but he was great here as he says that Rusty will get nowhere with buttering him up but then totally falls for Rusty’s logic of his biggest mistake. Smart kid (outside of Organic Chemistry) that one is.
- I’m with Frannie: Ashley’s hat/outfit was ridiculous. I always wonder whether they start at the script level with “Ashley is wearing a ridiculous hat” or whether their wardrobe team is just really uneven and they’re forced to adjust on the fly.
- I’ve put in a question to my Chem major friend Alex about whether or not Organic Chem is actually this hard, but he’s a bit of a genius so he probably got an A like Dale did.
- Not one to miss making a classic reference that 80% of its audience won’t get, Sheila/Dale get the classic Mrs. Robinson moment from The Graduate here.
- Just to be clear: Greek “At World’s End” is superior to the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel of the same name.