July 24th, 2012
The concluding scene in “Movie Truck” is offered without any context, a coda in which Sasha performs a dance routine to a They Might Be Giants rendition of “Istanbul.” While the episode has a number of key revelations for Sasha as a character, none of them particular tie into that song, or that performance, and even the co-writer of the episode (Beth Schacter) admitted on Twitter that it was, well, “weird” (in addition to other adjectives).
However, it was a bit of weirdness earned by an episode that did a lot of things right, perhaps because of the fact that the show was finally allowed to breathe without Fanny there to suck the air out of things. When Kelly Bishop was only listed as a guest star in the early going, it felt like a death knell for the series, making it that much easier to jettison the mother-/daughter-in-law storyline in favor of the young teens closer to ABC Family’s target demographic. And yet while I continue to like Kelly Bishop’s performance, the show’s rhythms felt much stronger when she was off vacationing than when she was largely serving as an obstacle for Michelle to overcome.
This becomes a thematic point for Michelle, who spends her first episode actually trying to get a feel for what it’s like to live in Paradise. This is largely because it’s the first episode where she’s been forced to come to terms with the fact that she lives there: With the final cheque from her old job comes that sense that she’s moving on, and being forced into the role of teacher by Fanny’s departure only extends that feeling. The character remains hostile to Paradise, but “Movie Truck” does a nice job using Truly as a gateway to embracing at least part of the small town’s charm. While Michelle’s exciting birthday adventure still requires a trip to Los Angeles to find a Cupcake ATM, it’s the sober backwasher Truly who is able to drive them there. Stacey Oristano, so good on Friday Night Lights, is up to the task of the character’s expanded role, and the notion of Michelle and Truly as friends suggests a strong path forward for the future.
More importantly, though, this felt like the most well-developed storyline yet for the younger generation on the show. The tight focus on Sasha and Boo remains, with Ginny and Mel largely tangential, but the dynamic between the four characters is growing on me, and the development for Boo and Sasha feels well-earned. In the case of Boo, her crush on Charlie could have been slapstick, but outside of the unevenly tweezed eyebrows Boo largely overcomes some broad comedy like the baby to have a reasonable interaction that could be romantic if he weren’t so fixated on other people. Charlie remains a broadly drawn character, but his antagonistic relationship with Melanie was the most enjoyable I’ve found her character, and I’m a bit of a sucker for the unrequited trifle of teen romance.
Things are obviously more serious with Sasha, whose parents’ inattentiveness expands to a new level as her mother finally—seemingly—confronts her husband about his alleged homosexuality. This development worked precisely because it really doesn’t change anything: Sasha has already decided that her parents basically ignore her at every turn, and so it’s no shock that her father shows no reaction to her proclamation regarding wrecking her mother’s car. However, the numbness Sasha experiences is clearly identified as a defense mechanism, and that it continues even after what seems to be a far more real fight, something that truly could reshape their family dynamic, is something she doesn’t know how to process. When she walks into the house she knows something is different, that her father isn’t supposed to be sitting awake in the living room, but her response is to let the numbness persist and run upstairs to avoid confronting it.
Perhaps therein lies the meaning behind the “Istanbul” dance sequence, as I suppose we could consider the song a treatise on life’s fluidity. Places change names, for some reason or another, but it’s not our job to ask why. Sasha isn’t someone who asks questions, or who confronts her parents’ relationship in any direct way: she just takes for granted that whatever their relationship has become is what she has to deal with (or not deal with as the case might be). The performance becomes a reflection of her independence from her parents, which is why none of her friends appear with her in the number: this is her—likely subconscious—statement to those around her about her approach to a life that is complicated but something she has learned to live with over time.
I don’t know if I entirely buy that thematic analysis of what certainly felt like a non sequitor coda when it first aired, but I do think it has a deeper meaning than fulfilling a dance sequence quota. At the very least, it’s meaningful that Sasha now shares the dance studio as a subconscious dream space with Michelle, linking the two characters’ arcs. Even in “Movie Truck,” we see the potential: while Michelle begins to come to terms with a different life in Paradise than the one she imagined, we see a character who has long ago chosen to learn how to cope with her own troubles in paradise by shutting herself off and taking every chance to escape. As Michelle’s night with Truly and Talia pulls her closer to Paradise without going so far as to join the book club, Sasha’s evening—despite being shared with friends—only reminds her why she wants to escape.
It’s the show’s most successfully generational parallel yet, and caps off an episode that feels cohesive and built some important momentum for the episodes to come. While I still think Michelle’s relationship with Fanny is the most interesting one on the show, the execution has been spotty enough that its absence here was a nice change, and I’m intrigued to see how the show’s other relationships are allowed to grow in her absence (which seems like it will last at least a few episodes).
- Am I crazy, or were they choreographing Ginny’s boyfriend to end up a closet case? Between his introduction in the middle of the discussion about Sasha’s dad, to the line about him being a girl, to the nature of the “girls’ night” bags, the signs were less than subtle.
- Between the characters MST3King “Mountain of Arms” and the quaintness of the movie truck in general, this was definitely the kind of slightly altered Stars Hollow scenario the show is likely to rely on.
- Wikipedia helpfully reminds me of the last time I remember “Istanbul” entering into my television viewing: it was the song that made Maw Maw unbeatable at Jenga on Raising Hope.