Okay, wow, a funny one! The back nine of PEN15 has been heavy on the drama and low on the comedy when it comes to the dramedy equation. It makes sense for a show that knows it’s ending. Gather ye cry reacts while ye may. But thanks to Anna and Maya for giving us a moment to catch our breaths before the finale (presumably) destroys us.
Anna got her braces off! Do you remember getting your braces off? I remember how weird it felt for your teeth to move individually in your mouth once again. Anna is spotted by a modeling scammer, a common pest in many a midsize city. This modeling grift is particularly galling, demanding $3,000 to start one’s career on the catwalk. Maya is hugely supportive of her friend, but Kathy knows it’s a scam (or possibly scamola). Anna doesn’t want to hear it, though. She wants to become an example and go to far-flung fashion capitals like Tuscon.
Anna and her mom have a hugely unproductive and very realistic fight. Kathy makes good points, but Anna is yelling too much to hear them. Finally, Kathy gives up and asserts she is the adult and will be heeded. Anna complains to Maya that her parents treat her like an adult except when it’s convenient to treat her like a child. And she’s right. Her parents foist adulthood onto her too often except when they want to pull rank.
Meanwhile, Maya is over her family because Shuji got a cellphone. Shuji says he plans to use the phone’s timer function to measure how long it takes Maya to do something annoying. “Where’s my cell phone?” Maya demands obnoxiously. For a character I love and would protect with my life, Maya can be such a materialistic brat with her family. We contain multitudes.
But surely Yuki and Fred should have known what discord this would sow in their family. Maya is such an unfavorite — at school, with boys, with peers — she needs equity in her home or the unfairness of it all will drown her.
After an ugly cry that will live on in the annals of all ugly cries, Maya decides she and Anna need to run away. They pack everything they’ll need for a new life as a model and a model’s mother. Maya spends a lot of their prep time gassing up Anna, giving her the confidence she needs to conquer the modeling world. But when Anna tries to reciprocate, Maya shuts her down. Maya says she’s that made peace with being ugly and that it’s honestly freeing. Now, we know that’s not true. There’s no way Maya is fine with what she looks like or who she is as a person, but it’s a nice thought. Adults always love to tell young people they’ll look back on their teen selves and realize they were gorgeous all along, but I’m not sure that’s the most useful thing to say to a kid. “You know how you feel bad right now? Well, in the future, you’ll feel bad about feeling bad!”
Maya Erskine is a beautiful person, but Maya Ishii-Peters could find peace in being ugly. When you abandon looks as a metric for your worth, you can focus on other things — like how much you can lift or how many states you can name in 30 seconds. The human body does so many cool things besides being “hot.” Teen girls shouldn’t be told how retrospectively gorgeous they’ll feel; they should be taught how to throw axes.
Anyway, while packing for a life on the open road, Maya opens Kathy’s “forbidden drawer.” It is so telling that Anna has never looked in the drawer her mom told her not to and that Maya immediately goes for it once she knows of its existence. Maya finds a vibrator, a hefty fucker with a white pearlescent sheen. Erskine really does some prop work with that vibe: massaging her jaw and smelling it so closely it looks like she’s trying to snort it. She uses the personal massager as, well, a massager, getting a knot out from between Anna’s shoulders before they head out on their grand adventure. Do they bring the vibrator? Unclear. They do bring Daddy, the hamster Curtis burdened Anna with at the conclusion of their Daddy-daughter weekend.
With Daddy in tow, the girls go to the modeling scam, where the creep photographer doesn’t blink twice at Maya’s claim of being Anna’s mother. (Sidenote: Maya’s adulthood drag looks like the fits that the girl with the keyboards in her bathroom constructs. Would cop.) Creepy guys loom at the edges of this otherwise relatively lighthearted episode. There’s the guy on the bus, the photographer who goads Anna into a bikini pic, and the other guy on the other bus.
I said this episode is relatively lighthearted, yet there is an animal death in it. Sorry to “Does the Dog Die?,” but Daddy’s death is funny. From the moment I saw that dog, I knew Daddy’s time on Earth could only be counted in minutes. But that Golden Butt goes in for the double mauling is incredible. It echoes one of my favorite Simpsons moments, when Homer gets his hand stuck in the toaster, frees himself, only for it to get stuck again. I could watch Daddy’s cartoonish death every dang day, the anticipation of what’s coming making it that much funnier.
Dejected from their time on the road, and feeling guilty for letting Daddy beef it but still not ready to go home, the girls call Steve and Derrick. Derrick has borrowed his brother’s license, and the boys drive over to pick the girls up. Even Derrick is more respectful of Daddy’s death than me because he suggests taking a drive and playing some jams to lighten the mood. The last thing we see in the penultimate episode of PEN15 is a “Perot ’92” bumper sticker. The only sketchy men Anna and Maya can’t run away from are the ones they’ve chosen to date. Oops.