My dear non-US readers: As with so many of my recapped shows, this series does not seem to be viewable (via legal means, at any rate) for those of you residing outside of the United States. I am sorry, but you are on your own for finding a viewing option that works for you.
Folks are understandably reluctant to give this show a chance.
Certainly, people without an investment in body politics may be on the fence. As I recently noted on Fatcast, one of the common comments I’ve seen has been some variation on: “What is the point of this show?” As though a show with fat people in it who aren’t being worked to exhaustion, heaped with abuse, or drowned in self-deprecating humor cannot possibly have a purpose.
But I’m talking about fat-positive folks, here. My comrade in fatty arms Marianne has expressed concern that the show would let her down, and that is a very real possibility. I watch shows like this not so much with an expectation of greatness, but with an eye toward their greater cultural impact, good or bad. The fact is, this show — or any show, or any book, or song, or movie, or whatever bit of media — is also going to read differently by different people, depending on their perspective. Some things I find hilarious, others will find hurtful. Some aspects I see as complex portrayals of life as an outsider, others see as plainly demeaning or embarrassing. And that’s okay. There’s room for everyone. This show is disarmingly nuanced in its treatment of ideas that are generally agreed upon in popular culture, but it speaks its criticisms softly. It is the best kind of subversive media, hiding in plain sight amongst the chaff of ABC Family’s regular rotation. I keep having these moments where I almost can’t believe they’re putting this on television: I can hear it, but it’s likely that others can’t — because they don’t know how, or because they’re afraid to listen.
We open this episode with letters home from the campers. The most popular subject seems to be the food — mango “is amazing, way better than a regular fruit.” Hey hey now, let’s not start in with the fruit-bashing right away. And what the hell is wrong with the humble apple? Slice that bitch up with some blue Stilton and you’ve got a fantastic lunch.
This episode focuses a bit more on where these kids are coming from, and their relationships with their families. Amber has written something on the order of ten pages to her mom, because they’re “close”. Will is not writing to anyone, but is instead cutting up Chloe’s missing fashion magazine for collage purposes. Dr. Gina Torres is talking to her father in her private doctor-cabin. He wants to know if she’s mentioned his presence there to her mother. Dr. Gina lies and says yes, of course.
Back in the girls’ cabin, Poppy, their deranged-but-well-meaning counselor, has taken on the persona of the “mail fairy” to collect their letters home. This involves speaking in a whispery foofy voice. Becca clues Will to the fact that Chloe suspects her of stealing her magazine. Oh, the magazine she’s currently cutting to pieces? Will says it fell on her bed. Finders keepers! Also, Will says: ”When I see propaganda that I know is destroying girls’ brains, it is my duty as an angry feminist to destroy it.”
Yes, darlings, you read that aright: a seventeen-year-old character on TV just referred to herself as an angry feminist without using the phrase as self-deprecating humor or as an insult. This is a small thing but it makes me ridiculously happy. But here’s Amber and Chloe to confront Will. “I guess you can’t afford your own magazines,” says Chloe. I seriously cannot wait to see how this show tackles class. Amber attempts to defuse the situation by telling Chloe, “Don’t even talk to her.” “Yeah,” says Will. “Don’t even talk to me.” Will then pointedly takes off her shirt in front of Chloe and stands there in her bra. Y’all, I have never thought of Nikki Blonsky, as her own self, as hot. For one thing, she wears way more makeup than I generally care for. But in the character of Will, she is smoking hot. I mean:
Yowza. After Chloe walks away, Amber pauses to look at Will’s new bunk decor, which consists of cut-out images of classical art showing fleshy women. Will informs her, “It’s fatspiration.”
HAHA YOU GUYS I THINK I LOVE THIS SHOW.
Back in her cabin, Dr. Gina is trying to compose an email to her mom, but deletes it. I bet this turns into a theme for this episode.
The following day, Jillian Michaels 2.0 is leading the fatties on a brisk walk. Huh. That’s pretty reasonable. She makes a crack about them moving faster to catch the ice cream truck. Ugh. Then she says, “You’re thinking, oh, she’s such a bitch. Guess what? I don’t care.” All she wants is for them to push past their fear, etc. etc. Dudes, where does the prevailing idea that all fat people are afeared of activity come from? Certainly, there are some fat folks in the world who feel this way, but my experience has been that fear of activity is not universal. Indeed, some fat people aren’t afraid of exercise, but just hate it. Others love it. I suppose my point is that I am irritated by the whole “you’re just scaaaarreeedd” assumption; it feels reductive and dismissive.
As they trot along, Ian is telling Will about how he thinks Amber was smiling at him earlier… or at least smiling near him. Will interrupts to ask what he actually likes about her: “I mean, I know she’s pretty, but–” Ian interjects, “Dude, she’s not just pretty, she’s beautiful.”
Dude, Ian just called you dude. That is not good for your romantic prospects.
Back in the empty cabin, a new camper has arrived to take Caitlin’s place. The New Girl and her family are wearing matching yellow shirts that say “The Dodsons”, but their name is not Dodson. There is a ridiculous story behind this that is funny only to them, which is sort of charming in a wackadoodle way. Dr. Gina is showing them around the cabin when her eyes fall on a large sign beside Will’s bunk that says “Screw body fascism.” I seriously love this show. Dr. Gina gently tries to tell New Girl’s parents they should leave and let her get acclimated, but they offer only genial and vague promises to leave once she’s settled.
The other girls turn up and are introduced to New Girl, whose name is Dani. Everyone except the ebullient Poppy raises an eyebrow at the family’s goofy antics. As her family slips out, Dani’s mom assures her they’re not leaving yet, and when Dani mentions a headache, her mother gives her aspirin with a level of concern out of proportion with the issue. It remains to be seen whether these are just overprotective helicopter parents, or whether there’s more involved here. I expect we’ll find out by the end of the episode, though! Poppy asks the other girls to work extra hard to include Dani, since she’s just arrived and doesn’t know anyone.
Dr. Gina tells Will that she’s received an email from her parents, who would really love to hear from her. Maybe Will could find time to write them a letter? Will shrugs noncommittally. As Dani unpacks, Chloe descends upon her, asking why she is starting camp so late. But when she spies a copy of a book entitled “Phantasma” her entire demeanor changes, and Chloe and Dani instantly bond over their shared love of this book series, which is clearly a Twilight send-up involving ghosts instead of vampires. Hilar. Amber hasn’t read them, and instead she watches the littlest Dodson, Dani’s younger sister, assessing her stomach in the bathroom mirror. Amber has the good sense to appear disturbed by this.
Outside, Dr. Gina is trying to convince Dani’s parents to leave now, but they aren’t hearing it. They mention that Dani has anxiety issues, so they’d prefer to hang out until they’re sure she’s okay. They seem legitimately concerned, and Dr. Gina buckles, again. Oh, they’ll be around this whole episode, won’t they.
At lunch with Becca and Ian, Will expresses her amazement that Dani doesn’t seem embarrassed by her nutty family, who are lunching across the room at a table with several other campers, and who Will says seem as though they’re “from a whimsical children’s book”. It is pretty amazing. Will notes that the best thing about being at camp is being away from her parents, and Ian agrees. When Becca asks him why, Ian says his parents “are both really unhappy people who fight constantly.” Will wants to know if he thinks they still have sex, and Ian hopes not. Turns out Will’s parents do! Loudly! Aw man.
Dr. Gina turns up and announces to the lunchroom that they will have to choose their weekend activities on the lawn. The conversation at Will’s table turns to their shared hatred of team sports. Will says sports are responsible for “the four worst moments of my life”, and when Ian asks how many worst moments she’s had, Will begins rattling them off. In a cute nod to Hairspray, she mentions being hit in the face with a dodgeball, on two separate occasions. Also included is “getting my period during rope climbing” and I adore that she states this so matter-of-factly in front of Ian. Ian eventually jumps in to note his most hated sports moments, once of which is “being called queer because you hate sports.” He pauses and then says to Will, “No offense”.
UH OH. Ian thinks Will is a gay!
Elsewhere, Chloe is picking up a care package from the mailroom, and seems unexpectedly anxious when they mail-room-lady needs to open it to check for “edibles”. Adding to the confusion is Alistair, a dude camper of whom we’ve seen little thus far (a commenter on my prior recap referred to him as Ian’s “turtley” friend, which is so appropriate and made me laugh really hard), who seems to be showing an unseemly interest in Chloe’s package. The two of them share meaningful looks as Chloe walks away with her edible-free mail. What’s that about?
On the lawn, during the aforementioned weekend-activity-choosing, the campers are to choose between soccer and basketball with Jillian Michaels The Musical, or circuit training with George. Nobody seems to know what circuit training is, but they all gravitate in that direction because they don’t want to spend the next two days being “motivated” by Shay. Chloe teases Amber about her crush on George, and when George appears, he is still calling Amber “Sandra”. “You haven’t told him yet?” Chloe asks, both amused and surprised. “It’s too late now!” asserts Amber.
Oh dear, there are too many people in circuit training! Replica Jillian Michaels appears and randomly plucks a bunch of people out of George’s group and redistributes them between soccer and basketball. Will, Becca, and Alistair wind up in the basketball group. FOILED! The trio walks off in search of their doom whilst comparing excuses they’ve used to get out of playing. Alistair used to be able to will himself into getting a nosebleed! That’s handy! One of the things I dig about this show is that even in scenes like this, we are not laughing at the characters, but with them.
There is a brief cutaway shot of some fatties playing volleyball. Longtime readers will recall that volleyball is my sporting nemesis, so it should not come as a surprise that I both recoiled from the TV in horror and thrilled at the prospect of seeing volleyball revealed as the hateful evil torment that it is. No luck, though. Instead, we are circuit training. Adorable jailbait Ian thinks Amber is smiling and waving at him, but she is actually smiling and waving at Dani, behind him. Oooh burn. Ian, please hurry up and turn eighteen so I can stop censoring my thoughts here, okay? Dani’s parents turn up to “observe”, and sit watching Dani circuit-train, all smiles.
At basketball, Shay is setting up the teams (by randomly handing out jerseys — no picked-last here). She pauses when she sees Trent wearing a knee brace, and cautions him to stop playing if he feels any pain at all. I am aghast. Shay! What would Jillian do? I’m very disappointed. Once Shay is gone, whooping ridiculously all the way, Trent, who evidently knows his way around a basketball court, takes charge. Off to the side, Will asks Becca if she seems gay to her, “like on a scale of one to Ellen.” Will insists it’s not a big deal, but “hypothetically, what if I want to hook up with a guy, while I’m here?” Trent starts yelling at Will to throw him the ball, but she ignores him. Becca asks, “…like a specific guy?” and Will counters, with great restraint, “Hypothetically.” Trent is now shouting at Will to give him the ball, and so she kicks it. Trent says, in what is possibly the most hilarious line of the episode, “You can’t kick the ball! It’s a foul!”
The game begins, with approximately 50% of each team seriously into it, and 50% either apathetic or outright terrified of the ball. Alistair catches the ball entirely by accident, and at Trent’s shouting instructions, makes a fey attempt at dribbling it before losing control of the ball, which rolls past Will, who makes no effort to stop it. Trent is enraged that so few players are taking the game as seriously as he does. And here we have recreated pretty much every team-sports experience of my youth, in which the kids who care deeply are angry at the kids who don’t. I actually sort of love this scene because it brazenly demonstrates that some fats dig sports, which is apparently a radical idea.
Post-commercial, we join Trent and Chloe walking along a pond. Trent is still upset and evidently feels like Will thought he was a “dumbass” for caring about sports. This evolves into a monologue about why sports are awesome, while Chloe tries and fails to hold Trent’s hand. Aww. Too bad you’re not shaped more like a basketball, Chloe.
Later, Dani hugs her parents goodbye… except it isn’t goodbye because they’re not leaving! They got themselves a motel room and will be back in the morning. Dr. Gina tries to insist but Dani’s parents again bring up her anxiety, saying they don’t want to get halfway home and then have to turn around and come back. They’ll just stop by in the morning! It’ll be fine!
Elsewhere that evening, Amber stands in line to use the camp payphone, and George happens by, obviously looking for her but trying not to look like he’s looking for her. George, you are like the anti-smooth. He asks if they can talk and tells her he’s just learned that he’s been calling her by the wrong name all this time. Then George apologizes for making her lose her place in the line for the phone, and asks if she’d like to use his cell phone instead, which technically isn’t allowed. George and Amber, sittin’ in a tree…
Dr. Gina happens upon her father in the kitchen, where he’s making tiny blueberry-banana muffins. Dr. Gina observes that they smell “amazing”, and he tells her he used oat bran and flaxseed, and applesauce instead of butter. He offers her one, but she shakes her head, and says, with an odd finality: “Actually, I never eat after dinner. Ever.” She flutters her hand around awkwardly when she says it, tacit acknowledgement that this may seem strange. “One measly muffin?” asks Dad. “I can’t,” replies Dr. Gina, seeming honestly regretful. “I’m sorry.” He tells her to take it with her, to eat tomorrow.
And now we get our first window into Amber’s home life, as she calls her mom using George’s cell phone. She is cheerful at the start, but apparently mom is quick with a bucket of ice water, and within seconds Amber is on the verge of tears.
Amber returns the phone to George, who tells her it’s okay not to miss anybody. But Amber does miss someone! George assumes it’s her boyfriend, but before she can answer, the campers are called in for lights out. D’oh.
Dr. Gina tries to compose an email to her mom again, which we hear in voiceover as she types, Doogie-Howser-style. Also, the evil after-dinner mini-muffin is staring at her cruelly from its green plastic plate on the desk, within arm’s length. She cries and fidgets as she writes, and it’s very sad. Ultimately, she deletes this effort like she did the others, and when she reaches for the evil after-dinner mini-muffin, she’s surprised to see it’s already gone. It’s a subtle but unnerving little scene, and the “emotional eating” implication is pretty obvious. I suppose we will be exploring the adult end of food issues through Dr. Gina as the series progresses.
The following day, everyone leaves for their activities while Will hides in the bathroom. She exits to find Dani’s mom straightening up her bunk, and claims to be sick, a lie she maintains for two seconds before admitting she hates basketball. Dani’s mom is unsurprised and calls Will “the artistic type”. She points out that Will’s “Screw body fascism” sign is actually made from cut-out pictures of body parts from Chloe’s magazine. This really is very cool. Dani’s mom says Will’s parents must be so proud, but Will is all yeah, not exactly. Dani’s mom says that coming to the camp was Dani’s idea, and that she thinks her daughter is beautiful just as she is: “You want to support them, but you don’t want them to go through the same pain you went through.” This is an interesting comment, as by being supportive, mom references Dani’s choice to come to camp, but the “pain” she mentions seems not to be the Horrible Woe of Fatness, but the pain of trying and failing to lose weight. The comment makes no sense otherwise, as these two points are posed in contrast with each other. It’s quietly subversive.
Back in circuit training, Dani and Ian talk about her wacky family. Dani says she knows she’s supposed to hate them, but she’s just never felt that way. Ian tells her she’s lucky. Dani tells Ian he’s cute. AWWWW.
Meanwhile, Dani’s family has accompanied Will to the basketball court, where she attempts to slip into the game without Imitation Jillian Michaels noticing. Fail. When she claims she had cramps, psuedo-Jillian is unsympathetic and asks if she’s going to let her uterus control her. Uh, if you think Will is lying, call her on that, but I’d like to speak up on behalf of the Raging Torrents of Blood and Immobilizing Cramps brigade that yes, for some of us, the uterus will occasionally take charge of things. Believe me, I wish it weren’t so. Dani’s family shouts encouragement to Will, which, for some reason, Trent seems disgusted by. He throws the ball to Alistair and walks off the court. Alistair hastily flings the ball at Will and seems relieved to be rid of it. Will catches it, and, at the instruction of Dani’s father from the sidelines, takes a shot at the basket. It goes in! No one is more surprised than Will! She looks around for Trent, but Trent is gone.
Trent is sitting beside the pond writing a letter to his mom. Turns out jock-boy is not so happy about being a jock, and isn’t sure how or why he got involved in sports in the first place, but that he now feels locked in as this sports-playing person when he’s not sure that’s who he wants to be. It’s an interesting little effort at showing how even the people you think are most together and most satisfied in life are often not. Poor Trent.
Does foosball count as a sport? Because I can totally get down with some foosball. Ian and Dani are playing, when Becca speaks up to Ian. She tries to go into the subject gently — “You know how sometimes people will make assumptions about other people?” However, Ian is paying more attention to the game than to Becca, so she blurts out: “Will’s not gay.” Well! Now he knows.
Alistair and Chloe run into each other outside the bathroom, and exchange their 1,000th Meaningful Look of the episode. Immediately thereafter we see them secretly meeting in the woods, Chloe delivering an armful of stuff to Alistair. “Tissues,” says Alistair. “That’s so mom.” They’re SIBLINGS. Whoa, Chloe is kind of a bitch. She hasn’t spoken to him once in front of anyone else. Alistair wants to talk, since they’re alone, but Chloe hightails it out of there. Alistair looks on the verge of tears. I wish I could hug him.
In the laundry room, Will writes a heartbreaking letter to her parents, noting how candidly they demonstrate their embarrassment of her, and how judgemental they can be. But in the end, she tears the letter up and throws it away.
At the same time, Dani’s family finally leaves. Dani joins Amber in the bathroom, and they bond over having sensitive gums. No, really. Amber apologies if she’s acted coldly toward Dani, and explains that she misses Caitlin, who was kicked out last week for purging. Dani is sweet and says she understands, and the two girls hug, after which Amber apologies for getting “zit cream” on Dani’s top. I sort of love that the nighttime scenes all involve the girls putting in retainers or dabbing on pimple cream. Even Chloe sleeps in headgear! Back in the cabin, the headgeared Chloe makes the oft-lamented observation that one cannot take “chub” from one area and move it to another, and Amber reads Chloe’s horoscope aloud. When Amber asks Dani for her astrological sign, Dani can’t be found.
Oh, Dani is crying semi-inconsolably in the shower! I swear, the role of the replacement camper is going to be like Spinal Tap’s drummer. Dani’s parents come to retrieve her, and the other campers are sad and thoughtful to the strains of “Homesick” by Kings of Convenience, a really beautiful song and a personal favorite, which saved this somewhat predictable and hackneyed scene for me.
That evening, Will is practicing basketball alone, when Dr. Gina’s dad (whose name I really should learn) happens along to instruct her. They play together, and the lesson here is family’s where you find it, kid.
Next week: There is an epic battle, though I can’t tell if it’s being played with paintballs or water pistols. The teaser text mentions LARPing, and in it Will declares: “Once you’re dead, you’re out. Unless you become a zombie.” Oh shit, we’re playing Zombie Rules, then? Til next Tuesday.
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