Red Band Society is never subtle about its themes and is often eager to let Voice-Over Coma Boy announce What the Episode Is About right at the top, in case anyone out there has a hard time following along. At the start of this episode, we learn from Coma Boy (who is now able to play video games even though he’s not all-the-way-conscious, which is impressive/unnerving) that, “Faith, other than the ending of The Sopranos and why the Clash broke up, it’s the greatest mystery of them all.” (Okay, real quick, the ending of The Sopranos symbolized that the main character’s punishment for his misdeeds was that he had to continue to be himself and that real life rarely follows a neat narrative. The Clash broke up because of the normal rock-and-roll reasons: dueling egos between the main songwriters and substance-abuse issues. Neither of these is all that mysterious, Coma Boy, but I digress.)
Faith is often the third rail of mainstream television. While the majority of Americans believe in at least something, it’s rare, outside of Friday Night Lights, to see characters grapple with ideas about the afterlife or the existence of a higher power, however it may be defined, in the universe. As is the Red Band Society’s way, this episode didn’t go as far into the idea of faith as it should have, but it still raised some interesting ideas about the difficulty of believing in something better when there’s no shortage of evidence that things will only continue to get worse.
This show has largely dialed back the metaphysical trappings of its first few episodes, so I was surprised to see Kara hanging out in the Coma White Room with Hunter. (“I’m dead, we can say it.”) Apparently dead people can also hang out there for a little while as well (eh, why not?), and Hunter makes it clear that he’s not going to leave Kara alone until he knows that she accepts his donated heart. Though a person would have no conscious choice as to whether their body accepted an organ donation or not, it’s implied that Kara’s body will reject his heart unless her spirit decides she wants to keep going. (Sure.) So to prevent that from happening, they first watch her surgery in ghost form, and then once the bone-saw-through-the-sternum-stuff gets a bit much they go on a “this is your life” inner journey to a (what appears to be computer-animated) Paris, where they have cocoa and macaroons, and she talks about the Truffaut-like vacation she had there when she was a kid (“Spoiler alert: I’m spoiled”), right before her parents split up.
Kara seems to be suffering from survivor’s guilt, and regular old guilt guilt, even though Hunter knows she slept with Leo (one of the perks of being dead is you get to know everything) and wants her to have his heart anyway. She struggles with this, not wanting to take his heart like “some kind of zombie girlfriend, as badass as that sounds,” and not able to believe that life without Hunter would mean much of anything, or that she could ever find someone as great as him again. (Though for most of his appearances he was a standard-issue teen rebel mope, he’s a lot more charming as a ghost.) After she starts running to the light during a tough moment in her surgery, Hunter stops her and mansplains that she has to take his heart for him and live a full life and have kids and go back to Paris and laugh a million more times and all that stuff for him and blah blah blah and she’s all, “Okay, I guess since you asked nicely,” and then wakes up.
This episode is filled with women believing The Wrong Thing and then getting their feelings explained away by Someone Who Knows Better, thus (way too) neatly resolving the story line’s main tension. For example, Nurse Jackson is obviously upset about Hunter’s death and the return of Leo’s cancer, but Dr. Naday is on her case about the fun things they should do on their first date. He keeps pushing, she keeps ignoring him; he gets mad. She keeps telling him to back off, and they can “have our first date when all this is over, and it’s gone back to normal.” Dr. Naday, sounding like a robot who once read a Wikipedia entry on “Feelings” replies: “Are we fighting? Anger isn’t my favorite human emotion, but I’ll take it. It’s the first time you’ve been real with me today.”
And yeah, he has a point that no one’s life is ever normal, and being a doctor means that you will be around upheaval all the time and you can’t let that be an excuse for putting off the things that you want, but jeez, he didn’t need to be so condescending about it: “I don’t want to wait until all this is over and it goes back to normal to have our first date. Because in my experience, that never happens. Instead, life happens, and it passes you by.” But because this is a TV show and the plot has to resolve and we need to get this cute couple together, Octavia Spencer gives a better reaction shot than the script deserves, and the two go to Hunter’s funeral as their first date.
Then there’s Dash, given his own story line for once. It turns out that he has a girlfriend named Mae that he met at a cystic fibrosis online support group (the existence of which, for some reason, confuses Emma), and she is visiting Ocean Park Hospital for a week for a tune-up. Dash is nervous, which is totally adorable, even pulling a “Nightcrawler” (otherwise known as ducking) to avoid Mae when she first appears. Emma meets Mae, played by Ming from Awkward, who then overhears Emma get on Dash’s case for hooking up with that pop star from a few episodes ago. Mae is pissed, obviously, but Dash is more concerned with the fact that two people with cystic fibrosis can’t date and shouldn’t even be in the same room together, as “it creates a bad bacteria situation, and anti-bacteria can’t fix it.” That’s some Rogue and Gambit shit right there. Or to use Dash’s lesser pop-culture comparison: “Me and Mae are Twilight, but we can actually kill each other.” But then Dash is able to fix everything in one minute with Mae by telling her nothing happened with the pop star and that he was avoiding her because he knew that “the second you laid eyes on me, you’d slay me.” And, of course, that’s all it takes to make this all better. What a smoothie! And then they make out, even though it could totally kill them both, because teenagers.
At the end of the last episode, Jordi’s grandmother finally showed up, and here she gets in Dr. McAndrew’s face for not contacting her about Jordi’s surgery and generally ignoring her beliefs about Western medicine. (Jordi: “She basically hates you.” Dr. McAndrew: “Thank you for clarifying.”) After Hunter’s death, Jordi is understandably wary of more surgery, and after hanging out with grandmother for a while he decides that he wants to go home and just do more chemo, even though the Doc, eager to vent to anyone, is all, “Erin, aren’t you getting this! Surgery is about the best option!”
But Mandy Moore will have none of this mansplaining shit and sets him straight, empathizing with him that as much as it hurts to lose Hunter and for Leo’s cancer to come back, he can’t fix everything just by curing Jordi. “You’re not in control, Adam. As much as you want to be, you’re not. It’s the worst part about being a doctor.” And then, because talking down to people gets doctors hot, they start making out.
At the end of the episode, Jordi decides he’ll go through with the surgery (the grandmother decides to wave her deeply held religious views about this one because the plot needs her to), and then has a heart-to-heart with Leo, who hasn’t spoken or eaten since getting the bad news about his cancer coming back. Which is good news for us, because mawkish pep talks that hit the feelings button are this show’s specialty. (I’m only being somewhat sarcastic about this.)
“This time I don’t need you to help me get through it; this time I’m going to help you,” Jordi says, and then he takes it home with a story about his first surgery. “I closed my eyes and asked for a sign. I saw you. You gave me faith that day. Now, you get this depression stuff out of your system, and tomorrow we get up and start again, because what other choice do we have?”
And because there’s nothing on this show that can’t be fixed by one person telling the other person what to feel, Leo says, “Okay,” and all is well.