Looking For Alaska
Let’s start crying right away, shall we? Okay, what do we need — some minor-key guitar strumming to “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”? Check. A flashback scene of Alaska and her mom on her best day at the zoo when she was 8 years old? Got it. How about her mom saying little ones need their mamas even when they’re grown? Yeah, okay, sure. A title card informing us we’re one day before? Red alert, the floodgates of tears are now open! Buckle up, friends.
Five days post-prank, with no retaliation in sight, Alaska, the Colonel, and Takumi are relishing the feeling of a prank well pulled, though they all agree that the prank will have to be its own reward, since nothing’s ever going to ruin Kevin and Longwell’s chances of admission to Duke.
Sara tells the Colonel there’s been no prank-based retaliation because Longwell and Kevin have involved their litigious parents in the aftermath of the essay prank, and indeed, he is well and truly busted. The Eagle points out that he used the school’s internet connection to commit fraud and says that if he takes full responsibility for the essay prank by accepting expulsion, his co-pranksters won’t face any consequences for helping. The Colonel points out that it really sucks that he, the lone Black kid, is going to have to take the fall, especially when Kevin and Longwell were given the opportunity to revise and resubmit their applications. The Eagle isn’t interested in critiques of oppressive structures that uphold the racial and class status quo, instead reminding the Colonel that he has 24 hours to decide how to handle the repercussions of having been caught.
Meanwhile, Pudge and Lara are kissing everywhere: against a tree in the quad, on Pudge’s couch, in Lara’s room. They’re kissing so much that their lips are going numb! Young consent king Pudge checks in with Lara to make sure his moves are okay by her. They are. Thank you for modeling making-out best practices, kiddos! Normalizing enthusiastic consent is a great thing for a TV show aimed at teens to do!
The most controversial scene in the novel, which has led to it being challenged in libraries and schools across the country, is dramatized perfectly here as the most awkward and unsatisfying oral sex scene in the history of filmed entertainment. I’m not going to undertake an exhaustive survey of such scenes, I just know in my bones that this is the winner (loser?). After a brief and awkward follow-up conversation, Pudge and Lara return to watching a show on her laptop. Through Lara’s tinny laptop speakers, we can hear the strains of the theme song to The O.C., the first show Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage executive produced way back when! I do so love an Easter egg.
To learn more about How to Do Blow Jobs Good, Pudge has queued up Bitches of Madison County, the porno he and Alaska found in a classmate’s room over Thanksgiving break. Lara assures Pudge she won’t be scandalized. She, a European, knows from porn. Seconds later, horrified, they hit pause and opt to consult Alaska, their social circle’s leading unabashed expert in the finer points of sex.
Let’s pause for a shoutout to this episode’s writers, Warren Hsu Leonard and Ashley Wigfield, for embracing the subject matter without so much as a hint of vulgarity, and for recognizing the humor and pathos of the situation. Bodies are weird and kind of silly, and we don’t always instinctively know what to do with another person’s body to make them feel pleasure. Sometimes you need to call in an expert! Alaska’s pedagogy is very sound: She’s forthright and specific, builds gender equity into her approach, and uses appropriate visual aids (a tube of toothpaste and a peach, respectively. Everyone is going to have a satisfying experience, by God, or her name is not Alaska Young).
Alaska’s tutorial yields immediate results, as Pudge and Lara finally get down to business in the privacy of her green limo. As “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” reaches its sonic climax, Pudge achieves his own corporeal one. Good for you, buddy, you better have reciprocated! He returns to his room, triumphant, only to find the mood brought all the way down with the news that the Colonel is leaving Culver Creek.
As a stubborn fellow determined to adhere to his moral code, the Colonel refuses to let anyone else take responsibility or face consequences for the prank, which is noble, stupid, and understandable. Takumi, Pudge, Alaska, and Lara all attempt to talk him out of it, but his gloomy resolve is unshakeable, as is his belief that he’ll never amount to anything, and that his friendship with Alaska is over. “I’ll always be the guy who got kicked out because of you. And you’ll always feel guilty, and I’ll always feel resentful. And that’s no recipe for a friendship, now, is it?” Alaska protests that she never asked for a prank on her behalf, and she’ll march right over to the Eagle to confess. More in sorrow than in anger, the Colonel points out that if Alaska were sincere, she’d have done it already.
Pudge makes a run at talking frankly with the Eagle to get him to relent, but he’s not having it. The Colonel can leave alone or with his co-pranksters, but he must leave. The Eagle tries to argue that the Colonel has to meet a higher standard of behavior because he’s on scholarship, but neither Pudge nor I will buy an argument rooted in generational wealth and influence. If Culver Creek is at base only an incubation chamber for the Weekend Warriors of the world, what good do its scholarships do? By expelling the Colonel and upholding the status quo without addressing the structural problems in play, the Eagle is making another argument for prank wars as a viable alternative to codified school rules that are always focused more on punishment than on any kind of attempt to make things right between students in conflict.
Lara finds Pudge leaving the Eagle’s Nest, and though she hopes to comfort him a little bit, it’s clear that her very pragmatic view of the Colonel being expelled can’t ever jibe with his principled-nearly-to-the-point-of-self-destruction point of view. They part ways without saying aloud that this is a deal-breaker, but we can see that it is. Before he gets back to his room, Alaska waylays Pudge and asks him to come smoke with her. Following a heart-to-heart about their romantic misery and wish that everything about the Colonel’s situation were different, they agree to find him, apologize, and “just be with him until he leaves.”
The Colonel is asleep, so they wrangle him into bed and play Truth or Dare to pass the time. As they drain another bottle of bad wine, the conversation turns from Alaska’s dream of running a feminist, woman-centered bookshop called “Life’s Library” to their shared, previously thwarted desire to kiss on Thanksgiving at Dolores’s place. Alaska tries to play it off by reiterating that she’s bad for everyone and there’s no way Pudge could want her, but he finally asserts that he gets to decide what and whom he wants, and to live with the consequences. So she dares him to kiss her, and he does, and it’s very sweet. They both seem full of joy in what’s starting now, to the opening strains of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”.
As Alaska dozes on Pudge’s chest, he whispers that he loves her and then drifts off to sleep. He awakes to find her dressing to leave and asks her to stay, but she kisses him sweetly goodbye, whispering “to be continued.” This is crushingly hopeful. Some time later, Alaska bursts back into the room very upset, crying that she needs to get out of Culver Creek, and needs Pudge and the Colonel to distract the Eagle so she can drive off campus. Pudge asks if she’s okay to drive given all the shitty wine they drank and she shoots back, defiant and desperate, “I’m fucking invincible!”
The Colonel sets off fireworks to lure the Eagle out of his house and into the woods, while Pudge opens the gate for Alaska, literally letting her go into the dark as a thunderstorm begins to roll in. They both look like they regret it already.
Every episode of Looking for Alaska has hinged on turning points of varying significance, but “We Are All Going” needed to nail every last one for the final scene to merit the weight of its final, slo-mo musical cue. As a lover of narrative, I’m happy to report: mission accomplished. Humor and grief, hope and resignation all get their due, thanks to every actor turning in a just-right naturalistic performance in every scene. All of it builds to the final look between Pudge and Alaska, set to Miya Folick’s effective cover of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” By switching the arrangement from Death Cab for Cutie’s original, sprightly acoustic guitar to a propulsive, dread-laced piano, Folick drives home that this is goodbye, not “till we meet again.” If you need me, I’ll just be over here, surrounded by a pile of tear-soaked Kleenex.
Famous Last Words
• In the flashback showing us when Alaska and the Colonel first met, he’s wearing the Martin Family Reunion 2003 T-shirt that he uses for PJs in the first episode. I would very much like to acquire such a T-shirt for myself.
• Pudge, on the myriad failures of Bitches of Madison County: “And may I add, not a faithful adaptation.” Reader, I guffawed.
• Best Musical Cue: The hilarity of the climax synchrony with “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” or the crushing heartbreak of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” as Alaska drives off? Sorry, it’s an unbreakable tie this time.
• When Pudge returns to his and the Colonel’s room after his encounter in the limo, you can see that the CD sleeve of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s debut album, Doggystyle, is affixed to the mirror. If I rewatch every episode, how many more allusions to my problematic faves of the 1990s will I see?