After Cary’s liberation last week, Brooke was due for a redemption of her own. Unfortunately for Heléne York, it comes within the show’s weakest episode to date, but it at least offers her character a lifeline and finally sees her gain some semblance of direction, motivation, and morality.
The setup this week is Brooke’s attempt at making amends to ninth-grader Rachel Klein (the overeager, visibly Jewish girl from New Jersey thing is just a little too close to home for me to fully laugh at it) after she crashed the girl’s grandmother’s funeral, accusing her of being a pervert. So here they are, at Madison High in Maplewood, New Jersey, where Rachel and an extremely bundled-up Chase walk the red carpet laid out for the high school dance.
This is where Streeter’s inexplicable shenanigans begin. As much as I stan Ken Marino and appreciate the man’s capacity to pull off that all-white Kangol look, Streeter is distractingly illogical this week. Even though he needs to descend to such depths in order to provide a foil to Brooke’s traditionally self-serving nature (and eventually push her to realize the responsibility she bears for the battle over Chase’s soul), the choices that he makes to get there just missed the mark.
The first signs of trouble are the inane limits he immediately imposes on Chase, putting him on vocal rest and limiting him to a total of 45 minutes at the dance. Streeter is insistent on running off to the launch of Lil Wayne’s new tequila line — Chase’s decidedly under-21 (under 18!) status notwithstanding: “Ages are for regular people, he’s a singer.” The vocal rest undermines the promised live performance, but Streeter assures Brooke that he’ll “take care of it” in a bit of ominous foreshadowing. Brooke, settling into her new role, finds herself reading the itinerary and suddenly responsible for Streeter’s accomplice and Chase’s stand-in, Lorraine (iconic character actress Jackie Hoffman). Brooke spends much of the episode putting out Lorraine’s progressively larger fires: refusing to leave the war room before the dance, smoking with some high schoolers in the bathroom, finding her way to the dance and forcing the DJ to announce her presence.
The show has done a great job thus far of following the chaos surrounding Chase with little insight into Chase himself — we get no time with him as a person and rarely see him at work, only in the context of Streeter’s schemes or crawling into bed with his family after a long night. This would have been the perfect opportunity for the show to flesh him out a little in the context of his supposed peers and in an event specifically about him. Instead, he’s silent for virtually the entire episode; his only moment of glory comes when he is forced to lip-sync over Streeter’s live vocals and subsequent fit of excitement about the party. We get more of Lorraine than we do of Chase, to the show’s detriment.
The subplot of Streeter attempting to concoct a boy band from a group of uninterested random high school boys at the dance while eschewing a young Lea Michele also sounds a bum note. Is he trying to exploit these children to live out his own fantasies of fame and grandeur, or is he hyperbolic Scooter Braun, the Nostradamus of child stars and acting CEO of music’s youth-industrial-complex? This episode refuses to firmly define him, and thus renders his decisions more idiot than savant.
Meanwhile, Brooke is managing these crises with progressively increasing competency. After Chase expresses a desire to stay at the dance rather than escort Streeter to his alcohol launch, she finally hits her breaking point when he reveals that he’s already graduated high school via the app on Streeter’s phone. Tapping into her rarely-seen maternal side, Brooke shouts Streeter into submission in a truly cathartic scene. Switching from the executor of the schedule to the arbiter of it, she takes on the parent role abdicated by Pat (who is nowhere to be found in this episode).
Cary also has an eventful episode, with a legitimate love interest in dance chaperone and drama teacher Jeremy (a very cute Daniel K. Isaac, of Billions). They have a lovely evening, giving Cary the true high-school romance that evaded him when he was playing straight in high school. Walking through the dimly-lit, empty hallways, standing onstage in the empty theater, looking out over the football field, Cary finally gets genuine connection and another dose of reality. Through Jeremy’s recounting of his own path, Cary finally begins to come to terms with his clichéd existence as a struggling actor waiting tables and hoping for a big break. Brooke, suddenly the show’s singular dispenser of sage advice, points out that Chase’s fame is the wave he can ride to get to where he wants to be. Cary also spends much of the episode evading a crush-obsessed student, Elijah (the enchanting Josie Totah — RIP Champions, your marketing failed you, but I will always love you), which is what sends him into Jeremy’s arms in the first place.
Brooke’s self-centered attitude finally comes in handy this episode, not only because of the stark contrast she’s forced to provide to Streeter’s malice. In realizing Chase has been all but robbed of his agency, and seeing Cary’s wincing reactions to the ways society has told him to live, she gives them both permission to be themselves, albeit abrasively. This lovely bit of character development not only redeems the episode, but also sets the stage for Cary and Brooke to enter the latter half of the season with wider potential and higher stakes.
The Other Two Cents
• Seriously you guys, why hasn’t Netflix brought back Champions for me specifically?
• Brooke and Streeter go head-to-head on everything, including the official hashtag for the event: #DreamDance vs #Chom (that’s “Chase” and “Prom” mashed together).
• Speaking of which, Streeter does end up making it to Lil Wayne’s party, with Lorraine as his ticket. Turns out she was good for something: Wayne’s Instagram posing with Streeter and Lorraine captioned “this lil dude wrinkly as hell. #chom.”
• Streeter’s choice for Chase’s merch: surge protectors. Again, funny in concept, pretty grating to watch.
• Love the cutaway to Rachel and Chase dancing in the roped-off section smack in the center of the dance floor.
• Lorraine got paid $10 for the gig, but it’s $5 after taxes, $4 after her agent, and $3 after her manager.
• Elijah’s list of men (presumably who have scorned them): Matt Bomer, Gus Kenworthy, and Antoni Porowski.
• The archetypes in Streeter’s boy band: the bad boy, the hot one, the pirate, the gay guy, the dud.
• The dance is “Old Hollywood”-themed, with posters for Love Actually, Knocked Up, and Anchorman. Only the classics!