August 9th, 2010
After last week’s journey into slightly hokey territory, Huge returns to its roots with an episode that brings weight back to the forefront with the all-important weigh-in.
However, there’s a reason that it isn’t called “Weigh-in”: while “Poker Face” does return to each camper’s anxiety over their weight, it is more interested in how they respond than about how much weight they lost. Even with something this monumental, the show is still more about those small moments where campers confront the challenges which face them every day rather than those big moments where they stand on a scale.
The weigh-in itself is at the heart of this episode, and it has the most definitively necessary poker faces: George and Dr. Rand know that each weight they write on the card could create an intense emotional reaction, and so they simply offer a quick plaudit (“You’re doing a great job” was George’s go-to) and move on. Note that they never tell them their weight directly, allowing the card to do the talking: the only time they discuss their weight loss in any more detail is after the camper themselves reveals the information, and even then Dr. Rand tries to avoid discussing the number when assuring Amber that everyone loses weight differently. They don’t want it to be about the number on the card, but you can’t change the fact that you are going to exit that tent and run into a friend who wants to know how you did, both as a point of comparison and in an effort to make a connection.
When Ian exits the tent, he finds Alistair and they share a quiet little moment where Ian seems to have conquered the number (refusing to look at it), while Alistair is more affected by it than he expected to be. When Amber exits the tent, she is immediately met with an expectant gaze from Chloe, and so puts on her poker face and lies about her weight loss. Becca, meanwhile, exits the tent with good news but finds no one to share it with: Will, tuning out everything relating to the weigh-in, isn’t there for her when she needs a friend to share her anxiety or to help celebrate her personal victory. Becca calls her on it later, suggesting that her behaviour does not exist within a bubble, and could be taken as an indirect attack on those who did choose to be here, and who did choose to be a part of this cultural practice of losing weight. I’m with Becca on this one: Will becomes outright unlikeable for the first time since the pilot here, showing no sign of the growth of previous episodes and losing all connection to the Camp Victory experience. For Will, the weigh-in reminds her of why she doesn’t want to be here, and she’d probably be more successful if the weigh-in didn’t exist at all and she was able to simply enjoy her time at camp and make personal discoveries that have little to do with weight loss.
There’s the challenge you have at a camp like this one: since everyone responds to their weight differently, everyone will respond to a weigh-in differently, and it falls on the counselors and staff to ensure that each camper is able to have their own experience. “Poker Face” does a great job of capturing each individual camper’s experience, whether it’s allowing some people to run away crying while allowing others (like Piznarski) an honest moment of celebration. Some people don’t have poker faces, and thus they can’t even pretend to respond to the weigh-in any differently than they actually do, and so it felt “real” that we would see a diverse series of reactions. By returning to the question of weight, we return to the questions of each character’s personal reasons for coming: we see Chloe, the veteran, handle the weigh-in without incident, while Becca, the slightly more insecure veteran, still struggles; we see Amber, there for her own reasons and on her own dime, frustrated with her poor results while Will, forced to be there by her parents, rips them up entirely. The latter may (as mentioned) be a bit unpleasant, but it feels honest. There is something jarring about returning to heavily to the idea of weight loss, as the show has evolved a great deal since that point, but once you get used to the shift you can start to find the subtle changes, and see how characters like Trent have emerged from the background, and how much richer this world seems.
However, while the rest of the show seems to be evolving, George and Amber’s relationship seems to be fitting comfortably into the cliche. I still don’t know what they want us to take from the storyline: is their trip to second base at the end of the episode supposed to be creepy, or is it supposed to be naughty? George spent the entire episode feeling guilty about their kiss in the woods, and yet just as he makes this point clear with Amber she gives him the doe eyes and becomes all vulnerable and insecure and he just can’t help himself. There’s this sense that what he’s doing is positive, that by wanting Amber he is in some way validating her, but the power dynamics are so messed up that I can’t help but see this as a negative. I don’t mean to suggest that this is a black and white issue as presented by the show: it’s pretty clear that, the way the story is being written, we’re meant to question whether she is only doing this because of her lack of weight loss progress heightening her insecurities, and whether he’s only doing this because of his desire to help these kids mixing with his “other” desires. I think my concern is that by setting up their relationship as a secret which Will discovers, it falls even further into the cliche, and it seems as if each character’s individual perspective is being swallowed by the trope as opposed to being built into it. They’ve done a better job than I expected with George as a character, but I’m still wary of the storyline as a whole, especially since I would much rather be learning more about Amber’s complicated reasons for being here than exploring this particular cliche.
Similarly, there are times when Dorothy’s relationship with her father becomes a bit melodramatic, the tattoo and gambling issues coming a bit out of nowhere (even if the exposition helps explain her anxieties, and why she wouldn’t have thought Shay breaking up Macaroni poker was a bit ridiculous). Dorothy’s scene with Shay is much more effective: here are two people who simply don’t get along, who have never interacted with one another and who don’t plan on doing so any time soon. There was nothing subtle about Shay breaking Piznarski and then Piznarski watching as Shay being away from her daughter breaks her down in a similar fashion, but it seemed like it did a better job of bringing the adults into the main storyline than the melodrama did – the show is so much built around interpersonal relationships that Dorothy and Shay’s awkwardness seems very adolescent without seeming juvenile, and seeing more from Shay is yet another nice addition to the show’s world.
I think part of me wanted Robert L. Freedman’s script to spend a bit more time on the poker, as I do love a good poker-themed episode, but this was another example of how the series can have a big event like the weigh-in and manage to allow each character to have an individual, but not solitary, experience, so the series remains in good spirits heading into back half of the season.
- Like the subtle continuations of Trent and Ian’s one-sided bromance, especially the brief moment where Trent spots Ian jamming with Will and gets frustrated. Similarly, Piznarski’s growing jealousy of Trent’s relationship is a nice bit of shading for the character, and is nicely avoiding melodrama to this point.
- I might write more about this in time, but I continue to enjoy the influence of culture and media on the campers: the “Love Handles” clips are satire without going too far (they remind me of a more serious “MILF Island”), and the magazine pledge was actually similarly effective. These kinds aren’t living in seclusion, and so it’s nice to see that the same cultural factors which would influence them on the outside would both a) continue to influence them and b) not be entirely negative (Love Handles’ honest exercise inspiring Trent and Chloe to share weights, as an example).
- I’ve been trying to work out Huge will handle a second season: based on the pace at which things are moving, or at least what I could tell, we’ll go through the whole summer in this set of episodes, and so I’ll be curious to see how a second season would structure itself in terms of character turnover and the like. One easy prediction: George will no longer be employed.
- For more on the show, Todd VanDerWerff has picked up the show at The A.V. Club, which is a nice vote of confidence for its quality – it needs comments to live on, though, so do stop by.