After reading the notebook left at the Strand, Dash was sure the author, who thanks to Santa’s hat he now knows her name is Lily, was a kindred spirit. “Sarcastic, sophisticated, sadistic,” he says, listing all the S words possible to describe his dream girl. But I’ve got news for Dash: He’s completely wrong about Lily.
Episode two of our holiday rom-com takes the premiere and flips it — now we get to watch everything, including the origin of the notebook, play out from Lily’s perspective. This means we get to know the girl from the notebook much better than Dash currently does.
Meet Lily. She’s bright and bubbly and a bookworm and a little weird (I refuse to call her quirky. YA genre, please don’t make me!), and she loves Christmas. Like, really, truly adores it. Christmas is a big deal in Lily’s family: Her grandparents met over Christmas, her parents met over Christmas, and the family does it up every year. Except this year. Full of Christmas spirit, Lily comes home one day to find that her parents have packed their bags and are headed to Fiji for an impromptu trip, the honeymoon they never got. Seems suspect that they’d just bolt out of town without their kids on such a big family holiday, but this is the story they tell us. Lily’s grandfather, who lives with them, also has his bags packed; he’s headed to Florida to be with totally not-his-girlfriend Mabel. That leaves Lily and her older brother, Langston, by themselves for the holiday season. It would be fun, and Lily could make the best of it, except Langston immediately matches with someone on Grindr and from their first hookup he and Benny are inseparable. So, Lily is feeling more alone than ever.
In between afternoon boning sessions with Benny (which is honestly what holiday break is probably best for), Langston finds his sister writing in the red notebook that he remembers getting as a gift from their great aunt whom they call Mrs. Basil E. Based on that nickname alone — a reference to From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler — this woman must be very cool and fingers crossed we get to meet her. Anyway, Lily explains she’s been writing in the notebook for a long time because it’s hard for her to talk to people and writing her feelings down is just easier. Since she daydreams about meeting her perfect guy near the Franny and Zooey shelf at the Strand but laments that she only scares boys away with her enthusiasm and intensity, Langston gets an idea.
The idea, really. So now we know it was Langston who came up with the idea for the Strand scavenger hunt — or, I’m sorry, he calls it “devising a quest to help my sister find her soul mate” — and he even writes most of the clues. Except for the Joni Mitchell part. That was all Lily.
On December 18, as Lily is hauling in her own Christmas tree because she refuses to give up on this holiday, she gets a message from our favorite Strand book clerk, who in her phone is listed as Cousin Mark. Mark describes the teenage boy who picked up the book as “snarly” and “annoyingly pedantic” but has to admit he was impressed with how much “he committed to the Joni.” So there is hope for Lily! She may have found her guy! Christmas is saved! Her heart is light once more!
And then she reads his response about how much Christmas sucks and she is devastated. She busts in on Langston and Benny, once again burning off holiday cookies in the afternoon, to tell her brother that this is all his fault. He “made [her] sound snarky and jaded,” and now her dreams of finding love through a notebook are, well, dashed (consider that my early Christmas present to you). Langston is very chill about it — if she doesn’t feel any spark, she should just start the game over.
She buries the notebook away in a drawer, but the one thing Dash wrote to her, “You intrigue me” — which to a senior in high school is a cool, mysterious compliment and not a veiled insult about you being kind of weird — plays over and over in her head. By the time Lily’s caroling group, which consists of adults in her neighborhood she’s befriended, since her peers find her strange, tell her the harsh but honest truth — you need to expand your world, child — she already knows what she wants to do next. She’s going to reply to Dash.
This, of course, leads her to Two Boots Pizza. In the previous episode, we saw that Boomer missed Lily by a few seconds, annoying Dash, who wanted some assurance as to who his mystery girl was. In this episode, however, we learn that we only got part of the story. Boomer, actually very good at his surveillance job, runs after Lily and the two have a nice chat. She’s concerned about Dash being “snarly,” but Boomer tells her that Dash (without using his name, of course) is one of the best people he knows. This is enough to convince Lily that it’s worth it to get to know Dash better. Boomer promises to keep up the ruse for Lily. When she asks why, he says it’s because Lily isn’t Sofia. You know, just what every girl wants to hear.
And so Lily gets back into the game — and decides that if Dash wants to know her name, he has to earn it. And with that, we’re back at Macy’s. Here, we get to see a little more of what went down in Santaland: It involves an elf who takes his job a little too seriously but is amenable to flattery for his roles in prime-time procedurals (he played a corpse in an episode of SVU), a Santa Claus who is very weary of his friend Lily dating an asshole, and Dash knocking over all those Christmas trees I mentioned in the previous episode as he tried to make his escapee with the hat.
Here’s the thing about that Macy’s adventure: Dash actually has fun. He’s smiling again. One day of “knowing” Lily and things are changing. I mean, of course they are, what else are “cool-guy loner meets fun, lovable nerd” love stories for if not to show us how people who challenge us can make us better?
Lily gets a visit from Santa, who is her grandpa’s friend Uncle Sal, and although he’s not a fan of Dash, he gives Lily the notebook back. Dash has written to her — he’s in. They’ll play by her rules, no last names, no social media, and any time someone wants a personal question answered, they have to do a dare. Let the games begin.
• Dash’s first instructions for Lily were to leave the notebook in the movie shelves of Two Boots next to the most depressing holiday movie there. Here’s why Lily picked Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer: “Reindeer are herbivores who wouldn’t hurt anyone, but that wouldn’t stop the wildlife service from hunting the poor guy down, even though it was probably grandma’s fault for getting in the way.” Lily could easily be annoying or cliché, but in the hands of Midori Francis, she feels so authentic, doesn’t she? I know it could be a while, but I’m already looking forward to Lily and Dash sharing the same space.
• The episode ends with both Dash and Lily at home in their beds singing along to “Fairytale of New York,” by the Pogues. Yes, even Dash. I’m sorry, this show is just too cute and we’re only two episodes in. I fear for my health, to be honest.
• I love how excited Boomer is to get a signed head shot from the elf — excuse me, the corpse from SVU. He hangs it on the wall of fame at Two Boots.
• Lily feels worlds apart from her peers, one, because they all have boyfriends and how they procured them is a mystery to her, and two, because while other teens are glued to their phones on the subway, Lily would rather be reading a big ol’ novel. Be more like Lily, teens.
• The wallpaper in Lily’s apartment is bringing me joy. Heaps and heaps of joy.
• Please, please tell me more about this fake Pixar movie called Collation in which a piece of paper and a stapler fall in love. We get an ad for it in a subway car, but I need more. So much more.