The quality of a given episode of Red Band Society inevitably rests with the amount of Dash we get onscreen. Brian "Astro" Bradley isn't the best actor on the show. (Octavia Spencer, duh.) He's not even the best of the child actors. (Ciara Bravo, obviously.) But he is the most charismatic and fun-to-watch actor, and this show has such a maudlin streak that you need as much pop onscreen as possible, so the tendency to sideline Dash is always frustrating. (For one thing, I'm pretty sure we've never seen his parents, and we know very little about his life before he went to the hospital.)
So just when I thought this episode was shaping up to be another one where Dash just hung around and backed up Leo, we got both his expression of joy when Hunter's new kidney pager goes off, and then the follow-up scene. "No one goes under the knife without a pep talk. Not on my watch.” Of course Hunter turns this around, and it becomes another exercise in Red Band Society explaining what is already obvious: "You underestimate yourself. You're not chief of staff to President Leo, you’re the one holding things together around here." Normally, I find this thematic underlining irksome, but I just hope it's the writers admitting they know they need to give Dash more to do. As the scene ends, Hunter gives Dash a letter to give to Kara in case he doesn't make it through surgery. At first Dash refuses, and then the camera lingered so heavily on the note that I half-expected voice-over coma boy to chime in with, "Oh man, he's totally going to die soon!"
Kara wasn't around to get the note directly because as soon as Hunter decided to go back with his parents, she left, unwilling to hear him talk about how much his mom needed him, and thus she wasn't around when his kidney came through, and she probably won't be around when he dies. (I'm assuming.) Instead she's having a ditch day, and Leo is along for the ride. (Being from Beverly Hills, she makes sure that he knows she has two cars.) Leo threatened to turn her in if she didn't take him to go see Emma, but she immediately ignores their deal as soon as they're in the car together ("Dear God, man, have you no shame!"). After unfavorably comparing Leo and Emma's courtship to a made-for-TV movie called Mother, May I Sleep With Cancer?, she instead takes him to her old school.
So then the characters have the What I've Learned and Who I Am Now Speeches, and they're both handled really well, which is kind of surprising. Kara is heartbroken over Hunter leaving, and she's been through so much shit that, even if she gets better, she knows she'll never be content to hide away in cheerleading and cliques. ("I don’t have it in me anymore. I'm not interested in anything anymore.") She then threats to bash Leo's squishy skull in with his Transformers leg if he doesn't play some soccer for her, and of course we got some triumphant pop music as soon as he hits a goal, and of course after some small talk about how much it sucks when someone you care about leaves the hospital before you, the two are making out in the hospital parking lot. I don't know if the plan was to get these two together all along, or if this is just the result of the relationship pairing-off rotation that shows like this go through, but Charlie Rowe and Zoe Levin have way more chemistry with each other than they've had with any of their previous love interests, so it was a good call. (Kara assuring Leo that she didn't care what his amputated leg looked like was the most humane this character has ever been allowed to be.) And I'm sure their inevitable breakup will be fun as well.
I complained a few weeks ago that it was getting close to problematic that Nurse Jackson hadn't had a love interest yet, but thankfully, that was addressed this week. With his Proclaimers cover band on hiatus, Dr. Neday has taken to playing chess with Charlie (who uses an impressive/unnerving eye-scanning device to indicate his moves) and pitching woo via tortured metaphor: "It takes time for the brain to find alternate pathways. It's like getting back into a relationship if you’ve been single for a while, as I have.” (Even obvious voice-over Charlie is appalled: “He may be a genius, but the dude is not subtle.”) At first Nurse Jackson is offering to make him dinner, but then she has second thoughts when she learns why Nurse Brittany has been in a huff all episode. ("Have you lost your damn mind?”) (Wilson Cruz shit-talking the fantasy of Jim and Pam probably didn't help.) She tries to back away, but eventually Dr. Neday pulls her in for a kiss, which is one of those things that in the real world would constitute harassment, but, you know, let's not think about this too hard. Let Octavia Spencer have a cute moment!
Nurse Brittany continues to passive-aggressively huff around Dr. Adam McAndrew until he dickishly/correctly tells her that, oh yeah, she works in a hospital and she needs to get her damn head in the game: “Children are sick. This seems pretty ridiculous by comparison. So either get over it, or get out.” After getting a chance to stretch out last episode, Dave Annable is starting to settle into this role nicely, projecting more intelligence and authority than he has before, especially in the scene when he has to break it to Jordi that California Children’s Services won't let him perform the risky surgery on his tumors that he needs, which means that if Jordi wants to get better, he's going to have to become a young, vaguely Latino Walter White in order to pay for his emancipation. Hopefully Delaney Shaw's friend will be too high to realize that she'll mostly be buying aspirin from him. Ah, at least he's not ripping off old ladies again.
This episode felt overstuffed with plotlines, as it was clear the writers were trying to set things up for when we come back from the mid-season break. But the only thing that could have gotten trimmed would have been the Nurse Jackson plot, and no one wants that. As such, Emma's return home probably could have used some more breathing time, but as always, Ciara Bravo made it feel more natural than it was.
Though she knew she wasn't ready, Emma came home anyway, and we learn that her grandmother was also an anorexic, and that her well-meaning but distant mother is clueless about what to do to help her. Emma is already mad that she didn't visit her in the hospital, and she really doesn't take well to being forced to eat something. By the end of the episode she's passed out by the toilet from making herself vomit. (Why would the parents remove the locks to her bedroom but not her bathroom?) The only thing that seemed to make her happy was Leo's voice-mail, wherein he finally apologized and seemed to get it, and him not picking up when she called was the last straw. So ... she will probably not be happy when she's back in the hospital and Kara and Leo are an item. So that'll be fun. I'm not sure when this show is coming back (and I'm really not sure if this show will come back beyond the remaining three episodes that were ordered), but I'll see you guys there.