Previously: There was angst. Boy howdy, was there ever. So much angst. Ian likes Amber. Will likes Ian. Amber likes George. George likes Amber, but doesn’t want to get fired. Or go to jail.
In the woods, we come back to the place where we left off, and also where we began, with Will digging for her contraband food at Amber’s request. It’s nighttime, and Amber’s holding the flashlight while Will works, because Amber’s totally a pillow princess like that. When Amber halfheartedly apologizes for dragging Will out here in the middle of the night in flagrant violation of the rules, Will says it’s not a problem, she’s glad to do it: “I am so sick and being told what and when to eat.” Amber argues that Will cannot possibly hate Camp Victory as much as she says, and Will admits, “I don’t hate everything about it. I like the people.” Amber, coyly: “Like Ian?” Whoa. Will shrugs this off, but Amber presses, saying she won’t tell, arguing that Will knows who Amber likes — though in fairness this is because she saw y’all humping in the woods and not because you opened up to her, Miss A. Will deftly sidesteps the issue by proclaiming her crush on Salty Dad. Amber giggles. Why is Amber trying to be so chummy all of a sudden?
Will thinks they’re digging in the wrong place, and Amber says they should forget it. But then Will has an idea. Last week, when she was helping Salty Dad in the kitchen, she learned the secret hiding place of the key to the pantry. At the dark mess hall, Will uses a knife to unlock a window and opens it wide, saying to Amber: “Ladies first.” They enter the kitchen and Will fetches the key, while Amber worries about “security cameras”. Inside the pantry, Will goes straight to the low-fat brownies. They carry the tray out to the prep table and Will tells Amber that when she was “a kid”, during sleepovers and stuff, she’d raid the fridges at other kids’ houses, because her parents never kept junk food in the house. Amber, grabbing a handful of napkins, sadly remembers how “when you were a kid, you could could eat a brownie without feeling bad about it.” Dude, I know. Hence my screaming about the cookies last week.
Amber asks Will why her parentals didn’t show up, and Will says “they probably got caught up in work”. She then tells Amber about the far-too-small tracksuit they sent. “I’ll probably burn it.” Amber asks if she’s joking. Will: ”Well, velour doesn’t burn great.” She has burned other stuff they’ve given her. Amber: “That’s horrible. I bet it was really expensive too.” Will observes that they’re rich, so it doesn’t matter to them. Will figures they may have guessed that she didn’t want to see them, while Amber says she could never tell her mom she didn’t want to see her. Will carefully tries to ask what the deal with Teal is, but Amber’s kneejerk defensiveness makes her back down. Meanwhile, all this time Amber has been doing something odd with her stack of napkins, taking a bite of brownie, bringing the napkin to her mouth, and then setting it down in a neat pile. I used to try this, but it never really worked for me — I’d always get distracted and wind up swallowing the food, which is, after all, one’s natural inclination. Will finally asks what Amber is doing. “This way I taste it, without swallowing the calories. It’s gross, I know, “ says Amber. Will snatches up the napkins and throws them away, “No, it’s sick. That’s like eating disorder crap.” Will brings up Caitlin (the first-episode camper who was sent home for being bulimic) and Amber insists chewing food and then spitting it into napkins is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from eating food and then purging it. Riiiight. It is easier on your tooth enamel, at least.
Having each eaten about four brownies — hardly an epic binge — they head back. George is sitting in his cabin reading by flashlight when he sees Amber’s golden head float by outside, followed by Will.
In the girls’ cabin the next morning, Amber’s mom is shrieking and demanding to know where the towels are. When digging through her daughter’s chest provides no luck, she inexplicably starts ripping the covers and sheets off Will’s bed, uncovering the pink Core track suit. Both Teal and Carter’s sister ooh and aah over it, asking who it belongs to. “It’s Amber’s,” blurts Will. Teal immediately looks suspicious. Chloe wants to know why Amber hasn’t worn it. Well she’s going to wear it now! As everyone turns back to their morning tasks, Amber mouths a grateful “thank you” to Will. Oh well, velour really doesn’t burn great.
Breakfast in the mess hall. Dr. Gina encourages, in her halting and insecure way, any parents with questions or concerns to come talk to her about them. Will, in line for food, exchanges glances with Salty Dad, his suspicious, hers guilty.
Trent and his parentals sit and eat, while Trent is talking about zombies. His dad interrupts to ask stepmom what happened to her necklace, the one he bought her last week? Oh damn, the clasp must have broken. Stepmom tries to get Trent to go back to his story but he just wants to forget it. His dad says, “Don’t give her a hard time,” and stepmom says he isn’t. Ugh. Stepmom and Trent look like they could be the same age, seriously.
Elsewhere in the mess, Will is telling Becca and Alistair about a dream she had, in which she was making out with a guy only to have his head morph into that of her 8th grade Spanish teacher. “So I’m trying to decide if it’s still worth it if I forget his head exists.” Becca asks, apropos of nothing, whether Will and Amber are “friends again.” Uh, were they ever friends in the first place? Am I forgetting the episode where they skipped hand-in-hand through a verdant meadow? Will’s all, no, not at all. Becca says it seems like they’re talking more. Will awkwardly (DRINK!) says they had something to discuss. Something… personal. Oh, that’ll make Becca feel better, considering all she wants is for you to open up to her.
Dr. Gina finds Jillian Michaels 2: The Road Warrior outside and tells her she’s asked Poppy to set up another crafts table on the field, because those crafts are going like hotcakes. Why Shay needed to be informed, I have no idea. Shay then tells Dr. Gina “the new guy” will be here tonight, so everything’s peachy. What new guy? The new chef? What new chef? Salty Dad is leaving. Wait, what? Shay rambles on as Salty Dad comes out of the kitchen and begins walking away. Dr. Gina tries to extract herself to go talk to him and find out what’s going on, but is thwarted when George appears, a pack of pinched-face parents in tow, all of whom want to talk to Dr. Gina urgently.
Three-legged races on the field. Ian and Will watch as Ian’s parents laugh and try to get the rhythm down. Will remarks on how happy they look. Ian agrees, “They are happy. I’m happy too. Supposedly.” Will rubs his arm above the elbow in a tender and almost intimate way. Ian asks if she can stick with him: “I don’t want to be alone with them.” Of course she will, because, in spite of everything, she doesn’t yet realize what a fool you are. Ian is absorbed in his familial pain; Will is absorbed in her all-encompassing crush on Ian. They are together, on the field, but also brutally alone.
Inside the girls’ cabin, Becca is reading The Rules, that hateful book about ensaring a husband, when Chloe comes in. She says, out of nowhere, that her aunt has that book. Becca says she found it in the rec room, and it seems pretty stupid. Chloe sits down and says, “What?” to Becca’s questioning look. “Why did we stop being friends?” Becca asks. “I don’t know,” says Chloe. I’ve told the story already, of when I was in Chloe’s shoes here. The ex-friend in my story was angry, though, and Becca is not; she just wants to know why. Chloe says she wanted to hang out with Caitlin, with the popular group. “Which makes me a bitch. I know that. It’s not like I don’t know that. I wanted to be different. Like, a different person.” Becca says she gets it, and goes back to her book. Chloe begins, “So…” Becca looks up, blankly: “What?” Chloe: “Nothing.” She climbs up to her bunk and is silent. For all of Becca’s protestations that she isn’t mad, she sure seems to want to punish Chloe. Which is fine, but let’s be up-front about that.
On the field, kids and parentals are doing that thing where you race whilst carrying an egg on a spoon. Such a waste of eggs. George is supervising. Ian’s parents, followed by Ian, followed by Will walk by, and George puts his egg-basket down and chases after her. She stops and faces him. Oh, this should be interesting. George: “I know you were out after lights-out last night. I’ve decided not to tell Dr. Rand.” Will’s face is totally unimpressed. “Is that so?” George, being the big man here, tells her he’s hoping that another chance will inspire Will to follow the rules henceforth. Will: “Like the way you follow the rules?” George blinks, looks away, and you can almost see the sinking feeling in his chest. He changes tactics, and suggests that while Will may not care about getting thrown out, Amber would. Will’s gaze is unbreakable. She knows she has George dead to rights, and now he knows it too. “You’re worried that I might get Amber thrown out?” she smiles, not a little ironically. “Don’t tell me what to do again. Ever.” Oh, snap. Will turns and walks away, leaving George with the look of a man who’s been hit with a fish. Will is outstanding.
In the boys’ cabin, Alistair is sweeping. It must be his job on the chore wheel! He finds a necklace, ostensibly the one belogning to Trent’s stepmom, at the same time as Dante comes in and calls him “Athena”. Alistair, not turning around, grasping the necklace to his chest: “Yeah, don’t call me that.” Dante wants to know if Alistair got his note. He did. Well, he didn’t say anything, so Dante was just wondering. Yeah, he got it. Dante wants Alistair not to hate him, and Alistair says he doesn’t: “To be honest, I’m not really dwelling on it.” Oh, then we’re cool? Yeah. Dante needs absolution, closure, something — don’t we all — but Alistair is not going to give it to him.
On the field, Trent and his parentals are sitting together in the shade when Trent’s dad spots Amber sitting at the newly-added craft table. See, I knew that would figure heavily in the plot! Dad refers to her as Trent’s “girlfriend” and asks if he’ll introduce them. Trent wants to leave. For anywhere. Instead, his stepmom says she’s tired and should go lie down, which is probably just a flimsy excuse for giving Trent and his dad some alone time together.
At the craft table, Amber’s mom continues to defy the upward limits of annoyingness. She says, coyly, of their Parents Weekend photograph, that they should take another picture and get George to be in it. When Amber bristles and says he’s busy, Teal says she’s “no fun”, grabbing Amber’s craft project — a frame for their photograph — and looking it over. “Ugh, I look like my mother,” says Teal, and Amber says she doesn’t, like she’s probably said it a thousand times before. Then Teal brings up the track suit, and asks where she got it. The truth. “Will gave it to me,” Amber says. “The girl you hate,” says her mom. Amber tries to explain that it wasn’t really a gift, so much as Will didn’t want it. Teal doesn’t believe it, and in a creepily sing-songy cadence, observes: “You’re not friends with her. That’s what you said.” She accuses her daughter of lying, and Amber asks why she’d lie about that. Teal: “How should I know what you lie about?” She then asks, maintaining her inappropriately chirpy-yet-accusatory tone, whether Amber is stealing again. Amber says no, and Teal raises her voice, causing the rest of the table to turn and look. “Do you mind? We’re having a private conversation.” Ugh, how humiliating. Teal stalks off in search of a cigarette and Amber sits alone, looking not so much mortified as sad and small, as though this has happened to her before.
Chloe finds Trent’s stepmom alone in the boys’ cabin, crawling around on the floor, and asks if she’s lost something. She’s looking for her necklace. Chloe is sympathetic: “I hate when I lose jewelry. The worst is one earring.” Once they’ve given up, Chloe gets a little awkward (DRINK!) and asks stepmom if she’ll give Trent the note she’s brought; Chloe was going to leave it on his bed. Stepmom says sure. After another strained silence, Chloe asks how long stepmom has been with Trent’s dad. Stepmom realizes that Trent hasn’t mentioned her at all to anyone, and she starts crying. Is it the pregnancy making her nuts? Who knows. She knows she can’t expect Trent to just open up to her: “I’m not his mother.” Chloe says it’s good that he has her anyway, and tenatively hugs the sobbing stepmom. See, I knew Chloe would redeem herself to me in the last episode.
Dr. Gina finds Salty Dad in the office, writing something, which he hands to her. She rips it in half and hands it back. “I don’t hate you. I just want you to go.” Dr. Gina’s rage, simmering, comes to a rapid boil as Salty Dad tries to explain. He was married to Joyce, the name on his arm, and they had a daughter. Dr. Gina has a fifteen-year-old sister. Her response to being hit with this emotional two-by-four is to whisper, “I don’t care.” Apparently this kid has been getting in trouble, and unless Salty Dad comes to fetch her, Joyce is going to put her in juvenile detention. Oh hey, bring her back to Camp Victory! She can be friends and co-hooligans with Will. Dr. Gina does not give a fuck about his other family’s problems. “Where were you when I was fifteen?” Salty, resigned: “You’re right, I should have been there.” The doc, yelling: “I don’t want to be right!” There does come a point, with our anger at our families, our friends, anyone who’s let us down, that we are no longer satisfied to be right, or justified, or correct. We want to be fixed. We want to eat brownies and take our parents for granted. We want to lay down the burden we’ve been carrying, the rage and the loss, to be put back together and to be whole again. She tells her dad she hates him, but then asks her sister’s name. Saying it aloud brings Salty to the edge, and he tears up, and they hug each other, which is as close to wholeness as any of us can get.
Fatty tug-of-war on the playing field: Carter’s team beats Trent’s, as Carter’s tiny sister cheers them on. Tiny sister chats up George, asking him how Carter is doing.
Ian finds his mom, and asks where his dad is. Everyone turns to see him carrying on with Amber’s mom, eventually picking her up playfully, at which Ian’s head almost explodes and he calls, “Dad!” Dad has the grace to realize he’s making a bit of a spectacle and comes scampering over to Ian and his mom, after setting Teal down to be dragged away by Amber. Will, trying to change the subject, asks if Ian has played any of his songs for them.
In the rec room, Will sings to Ian’s guitar for Ian’s parentals, drawing the attention of Trent and his dad, who were playing ping pong, and Chloe and Trent’s stepmom, who just came in. Stepmom tells Trent he should go play drums with them — Chloe told her he played — which results in some tension with his dad, who asks in astonishment, “You play drums?” Trent says he’s no good, but Chloe has said otherwise. Eventually Trent barks at them to drop it, and the song can’t survive the interruption and stops.
Trent, even more embarrassed, apologizes and says they’ll go. But Will stops him, saying to Ian: “Maybe he can give us a beat.” Ian: “We have a beat.” Actually, dear heart, I don’t think you and Will are quite in sync. Will tells Trent to join them, giving him the chance to demonstrate that his dad may not know him as well as he thinks. Trent, almost angry, does so. And they play the song. The whole thing. And it’s great. And lest there be any lingering doubt, Will is absolutely the hottest thing at this whole fucking camp, and when these fictional kids look back ten fictional years down the line, they’ll marvel at how they could have overlooked her.
They finish to applause from the room, and Trent’s stepmom asks what their band is called. Trent starts to brush it off, but Ian says, “We don’t have one… yet.” Chloe steps forward, breathless and beaming, “That was so good,” and Trent envelops her in his arms and kisses her, right there, in front of his parents, and everyone. All together now: Awwww.
The last of the parents are leaving. Ian’s dad demonstrates the convertible top on his new Porsche to Ian. Oh dude, you think the divorce will suck, you just wait until you see who your dad chooses to date in the early post-divorce era. It will be horrifying. Speaking of horrifying, here comes Amber and her mom, who is feigning indignance that Ian’s dad might leave without saying goodbye. She blabbers on how his Porsche and her car which is not actually her car but just kidding, no not really. Amber, oblivious to everything, watches George flirting with Carter’s tiny sister. Her whole face trembles with the impending tears, and she runs off to cry in private. Again, followed by Ian.
Amber sits on a rock and cries while Ian approaches and says, “It’s no big deal,” I guess referring to the fact that Amber’s mom is cuckoobananas, except Amber could not give less of a shit about her gooneybird of a mom right now. Ian presumes she’s upset because Teal’s behavior was inappropriate, and tells her it’s not like his parents are “together… anymore.” Finally, Amber gives us her patented “…what?”, the one that says I’m trying to wallow in my self-centered angst here, which I note without judgement, as that is the longing of most teenagers much of the time. Ian continues, and Amber begins, “It’s not..” before realizing she can’t explain, so she gives up and just says “thanks.” Amber says she needs a tissue and Ian leaps into action, offering the sleeve of the button-down shirt he’s wearing over his t-shirt. Amber is slightly repulsed and says no, to which Ian asserts he doesn’t mind. “Anyone would mind. I mind,” says Amber. Ian takes off the button-down and proffers it again, arguing that “snot receptacle” is one of the made-up “five uses of clothing”. Eventually Amber takes it and delicately blows her nose on it. She then tells Ian, “You’re like the nicest person I’ve ever met.”
He is overwhelmed. Amber can’t believe she’s “freaked out” like this, and says: “You know how you could let yourself believe something, and then you realize what a total fool you were to even hope for it.” Ian’s all SHHHYEAH, totally. He says he can’t believe they’re having this conversation. Amber asks what he means. Oh, here it comes. Ian tells her about his crush on her. “I mean, obviously, I didn’t think anything could happen.” Amber: “Why not?” Ian: “‘Cause, look at me.” Amber stands up and strokes his face, and then she kisses him, quickly. No sooner does she pull away than Ian kisses her. There is an uncertainty in Amber’s face, as though she’s asking herself, “Why did I do that?” So what if she knows Will likes Ian. He’s there, he’s convenient, he likes her. He’s not going to cast her aside or push her away. What she wants… almost ceases to matter.
There have been a lot of strong feelings about Amber as a character, from love to loathing. But I’d hazard a guess that the Amber hate isn’t really hate, so much as it is the weariness of having known girls like Amber — girls who were pretty without believing they were pretty and yet who managed to levy their allegedly-nonexistent beauty to get ahead, and to get attention. It’s the lingering anger from those of us who spent our youth having to remind ourselves every day that sure, we’ll never be a pretty girl, but we can be the interesting girl and that’s enough. It has to be enough, for us. Beauty is currency amongst teenagers, and adults, and what Amber lacks in socioeconomic status she makes up in manipulation. Who can blame her? She uses what she’s got to get ahead, and there’s nothing shameful about that — but she shouldn’t pretend things are any different than they are, and that if she were an ugly girl from a low-income background her life and her opportunities would be very, very different. Still, Amber wants to be validated, to be told how pretty she is every single day (even as she refuses to believe it), and to have the attention of all the boys, even the boys she doesn’t want. Nothing we have seen over the past ten weeks has indicated that Amber is especially smart, or particularly talented, or invested in anything other than social climbing. The power to draw male attention is the only power she’s got. Who can blame her for using it?
And really, we can’t blame Ian either. Amber is the dream girl, the one who’ll make all your buddies jealous, even if they’re only marveling “how’d she wind up with him?” Of course, the difference is that we can follow the story where the quirky, nontraditionally handsome guy gets the pretty girl, but the unpretty girl never gets the hot guy. Not without a makeover, a conversion to bring her up to his level, in which eyeglasses and frizzy hair and a lack of fashion sense are cast aside, repaired, and rebuilt to create a girl who is now as pretty on the outside as we always knew she was on the inside, except the inside kind of pretty doesn’t really count for us, does it? Not for the girls. The inside pretty can’t make up for an external failure. In no concieveable turn of events would Will wind up with George, for example. It’s too unbelievable, unfathomable, more than can be asked of us, the audience. Even those of us who’d want it to happen wouldn’t believe it. Because it never does. So we get Ian and Amber, sure, why not — Ian’s got charm and magnetism. Will’s charm and magnetism gets her nothing — in fact, it’s almost a liability. Boys have charm and magnetism. Women have looks.
Back at the parking lot, Carter’s tiny sister is telling George that they should “stay in touch… unless you’re seeing anyone.” Oh! George is all, well, sort of. “Well, nothing serious? Like, you’re not in looooove, or anything?” George is silent. “Damn, “ says tiny sister, getting the message.
Will wanders into the kitchen and is brusquely informed that Salty Dad has left the camp. She gets The Look, that dull-eyed expression Will has when she’s upset but can’t bring herself to show it, and leaves.
Alistair is in the bathroom of the boys’ cabin, with a pair of scissors. He methodically, meditatively cuts the neckline out of his t-shirt, and puts on the found necklace, and studies himself in the mirror, half-smiling, measuring how he controls his representation, how he wants to be seen. It’s a sweet and deliciously ambiguous scene, and Harvey Guillen acts his ass off in it.*
The campers are assembling for a post-parentals campfire. Alistair strides up confidently, comfortable in his altered shirt, and his sister stares. Dr. Gina has them gather around, and acknowledges, “It may have been hard to have your parents here… and then to have to say goodbye.” It’s hard for her, certainly. Dr. Gina hesitates, clears her throat, and seems lost, until Poppy begins singing the camp song, and Dr. Gina joins right in. The other campers pick it up — even Will, until she sees Ian and Amber approach. Holding hands. Ian can’t stop smiling. Will’s face freezes as though she’s been stabbed from behind, as though she never saw it coming. George sees it too, sadly. Will starts breathing deeply and has to get up and walk away.
Will is still walking, furiously, panting, through the woods, when Becca runs after her. “I don’t feel well, okay? Go back to the fire,” Will says, her voice uneven. Becca tries to grab her arm and says she can talk to her, but Will doesn’t want to talk. “I didn’t ask you to follow me.” As rough as Will is here, I am sympathetic — there are lots of us who need solitude to sort our shit out, to get our feelings under control. Will is breathing hard, trying to keep it together, when Becca says, “Screw you, Will. I am so damn sick of trying to be your friend when you obviously couldn’t care less about me.” Of course. Of course Becca chooses now, this very moment, to finally snap. She expects Will to talk to her, to admit what just happened. “Do you think I’m stupid?” she asks, rhetorically. “Do you think I don’t know?” To be clear, the primary reason Becca is so sure of what’s going on is because she betrayed Will’s trust and read her fucking journal, even knowing how terrified Will was of anyone finding it and reading it. It’s a little ridiculous for Becca to try to take the high road. And I like Becca. But I think she’s in the wrong here. Will is a cynical, sarcastic introvert who plays things close to her chest. If she were a guy, no one would think twice about this. But it’s unfair of Becca to expect Will to be something she’s not — to be Chloe, like Chloe was last year.
Dr. Gina is covering the fire alone, when Jillian Michaels: Judgement Day approaches and demands she be allowed to help. She blathers on about Dr. Gina’s dad, saying he’s a good guy: “The way he cares about you? See, I never had that.” Well, neither did Dr. Gina, until recently. Dr. Gina seriously does not like talking to Shay for any longer than absolutely necessary, and thanks her for finding “the perfect chef” to replace Salty Dad.
As she walks away, Dr. Gina sees Will sitting on a bench across the pond. She goes over to her, asking if she hadn’t heard the evening bell. Will, matter-of-factly: “I broke the rules. Last night I took some brownies from the kitchen.” Dr. Gina knows already. Salty Dad told her. Will: “So that’s it, right? You have to throw me out.” Will wants to go home. As much as she hates her parents, as horrible at the tennis-douchebag bullies from school may be, home is better than the cold, empty certainty that things never could have turned out any differently. Dr. Gina says it’s not so simple, and she’s giving Will yet another chance, a chance Will doesn’t want.
“What were you like, when you were fat?”
“I hated myself.”
“And now you don’t?”
“And that’s it? That’s the big improvement? You hate yourself less?”
This is why the doctor cannot understand Will, cannot understand that fatness isn’t always a literal weight dragging everyone down, that Will might hate herself for lots of reasons — her inability to open up, to trust people with her feelings, to be honest with Ian — but being fat may not be one of them. And this is where we leave things, with Will and Dr. Gina looking at the stars over Camp Victory, both of them having fought and survived another day. Until tomorrow.
* I spoke to Marianne on the phone after this episode, mostly to spoil her on the big moments. When I was describing this scene I said that it ended when Ian, fresh from his kiss with Amber, bursts into the bathroom yelling, at which Marianne said, “Because he needed to get behind a locked door and take care of business.” I thought this was very funny. This then evolved into a brief discussion of the masturbation habits of boys at camp. Marianne suggested there might be a mutual understanding about bathroom use for this purpose, and I wondered if maybe they’d just wander out into the woods to handle things in the beauty of nature. Because it is a natural act and nothing to be ashamed of, am I right?
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