Oh, friends, I have been anxiously awaiting this episode ever since The Baby-Sitters Club introduced us to Mimi. Claudia dealing with her grandmother’s stroke (and what comes later) is one of the storylines from the novels that has stayed most vivid in my memory since first reading them. The novels didn’t shy away from tackling some pretty heavy issues and were able to help kids understand complicated things that may be going on in their lives. This gorgeous little episode does the same and feels just as poignant. Sometimes you just need things put in simple terms to help you understand them better, you know?
Our dear Claudia is really going through it. At one point in an extremely self-aware moment, she notes that there were two truths she was always sure about: That she was an artist and that Mimi understood her. In “Claudia and Mean Janine,” both of those truths are questioned.
Things seem to be going well at first: Claudia’s been selected to show some pieces in a big art show. Middle School Art God Trevor Sandbourne informs her that if she does well, she could get accepted into a prestigious summer art school in New Haven (that’s “what fancy people call Yale,” Claudia, the absolute best, informs us). There’s a lot riding on this, and it doesn’t help that when Janine gets a look at the three pieces Claudia’s showing — fun pop art focusing on candy, of course — she has notes. Claudia’s frustration with her sister continues to mount during a board game sesh with Mimi that night when Claudia gets an art trivia question wrong and Janine is, let’s say, “surprised.” This little girl goes off. She yells at her sister about how art is not about facts, it’s about feelings, something of which Janine knows nothing about. It gets so heated that Mimi gets upset and leaves.
And that’s when they hear their grandmother collapse. At the hospital, they learn that Mimi has suffered a stroke. Janine, of course, is very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. She doesn’t want Claudia to “delude” herself into thinking that Mimi will magically get better. This sets Claud off again — she’s the only one who really knows Mimi, and Mimi loves her more than Janine. It’s the first time we see Janine have an emotional reaction to something. That one stings.
After the BSC (and Liz and Richard!) shows up as dinner reinforcements, the call comes in: Mimi woke up. She’s going to have some speech issues, but she is recovering. There is a momentary feeling of relief. It’s completely obliterated, however, when Claudia goes to visit Mimi. Mimi can barely speak, doesn’t understand what’s going on and gets so upset that Claudia needs to leave the room. It feels like she’s lost her connection to the one person in her life who understood her.
The art show is disastrous as well. The judges love Claudia’s technical ability, but think that her art lacks a purpose and point of view. I would like to take this moment to remind those judges that Claudia IS 12 YEARS OLD.
So Claudia is feeling lost everywhere she turns. Would you be surprised if I told you that it ends up being Janine who helps Claudia feel better about things? I know, it sounds ridiculous. But it’s true! The next time the Kishi girls visit Mimi, Claudia gets upset and frustrated over not being able to understand what Mimi is trying to tell her. First, Janine encourages Claudia to try and draw something to communicate with Mimi, since images are sometimes helpful to people with aphasia. When that doesn’t work, Janine speaks to Mimi in Japanese, and Mimi is able to respond.
Out in the waiting room, Claudia asks Janine what they were talking about. Claudia never felt the need to learn Japanese — her parents don’t speak it — but it was Mimi’s first language and, as Janine explains, sometimes in patients like Mimi, oldest memories are the easiest ones to access. This explains why Mimi was talking about Manzanar, the internment camp she and her parents were kept in for three years after being pulled out of their homes by the U.S. government during World War II. Claudia knows about the camps, but she had no idea Mimi was in one. Now Claudia has to come to terms with the fact that Mimi is trapped in her worst memories. It’s a tough truth for anyone to stomach. “I don’t understand how someone could do that to a family,” Claudia says as she looks to her sister for comfort. “I don’t understand why they still do,” replies Janine. Janine gives Claudia a squeeze and it is the first genuine moment of connection between the Kishi sisters. As they try to navigate this insane world, full of tragedies both personal and much larger than them, they have each other. I mean, they aren’t like best friends or anything (could you imagine?), but it’s nice to see that they don’t have to be at odds all the time.
By the end of the episode, Mimi is back home. She’s not her old self, but she’s better than when we saw her in the hospital. Regardless, Claudia’s happy to have Mimi back. She’s also using art and images to help her process everything, and we eventually find her diving into some history books to educate herself on what happened to her grandmother. She’s struck by the photo of a young girl who was around Mimi’s age when she was in the camps. She decides to draw a portrait of that girl. “The past, the good and the bad, will always be with us,” she says. “We have to understand where we’ve been to know where we’re going.” It seems like Claudia has found her point of view.
There is more good news to be had: Mary Anne and Richard seem to work out their issues. Last we left them, Richard had flipped (in a very subdued, Richard way) about Mary Anne completely overhauling her bedroom. Stacey and Claudia feel terrible about it, so they surprise Richard with an idea to completely Queer Eye the space (that’s called synergy, folks!). Consider them the Terrific Two. Richard is into it! He’s also very into Queer Eye. (We get it, Netflix!) Claudia tackles Mary Anne’s room, and Stacey gives Richard some tips on his look. I mean, he’s practically perfect in every way, but sure.
The room looks great, but you can see something about it just isn’t sitting right with Mary Anne. At first she assumes the Humpty Dumpty painting is haunting her. A natural conclusion we’d all come to, because that thing is objectively terrifying. But thanks to some help from both of her best friends Kristy and Dawn (I just love seeing those two bonding over their love for Mary Anne, okay?), Mary Anne figures out why she can’t shake that painting: They find a photo of a little girl with it … and that little girl is Mary Anne’s mom. This painting has a lot of meaning behind it. So Mary Anne makes one more addition to her new room: She hangs the painting, the photo of her mom as a child with it, and the photo Richard has of her mom hanging the painting in Mary Anne’s room, up on her wall. Mary Anne and Richard look on with smiles. Now that new bedroom feels like home.
• I could not love the depiction of a 14-year-old boy through Sam Thomas any more. Now he’s drawing blenders because “that’s his thing,” and Stacey is 100 percent eating it up. Mostly I love that he truly can be an idiot and then he comes through with this thoughtful take on why Kristy’s being ridiculous about Watson: He points out that Kristy thinks that if their mom isn’t stressed about money and is taken care of by a “laid-back guy who totally loves her” that she won’t be a feminist anymore — which, when put as plainly as that, even gives Kristy pause. Anyway, very pro-Sam over here.
• Liz Thomas really steps in it, huh? During dinner at the Kishis, she tells Richard she’s sorry he and Sharon didn’t work out, but Richard calls her out on her comments about how tight his shirt is tucked in, et cetera. She tries to ease the tension by complementing his hair, but Richard doesn’t seem swayed. This is such a small part of the story, but I love how true to life this feels — not all of our friends’ parents are friends!
• Of course Richard Spier knows how to wash a cast-iron pan. Yes, he is uptight, but he is also a dreamboat!!!!
• That’s a Logan Bruno sighting, folks! He and Mary Anne have an awkward run-in at Claudia’s art show and chat about … a basket of eggs before Mary Anne runs away. She will never be able to play it cool, but that is part of her charm. Mary Anne and Logan forever!
• Dawn, upon seeing Claudia’s pop-art candy paintings: “These are so good they almost make me forget that refined sugar is legal poison.” Never change, Dawn Schafer!