The Baby-Sitters Club
One major through-line of this season of The Baby-Sitters Club has been the girls putting pressure on themselves to be perceived a certain way, whether because they want to or think the world wants them to. Kristy wants to fit in with her neighbors and family; Claudia desperately wants to be seen as a leader; Stacey wants to be practically perfect in every way; Jessi has to be the very best dancer; Mary Anne thinks she needs to act like a person ready for a full-blown relationship. In every episode, we watch as this pressure builds until it’s simply not sustainable anymore, and after some sort of blowup or meltdown or a “No thank you, Amanda Delaney, I will not engage in this tomfoolery,” the girls each come to some realization that it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s interesting, then, to apply this formula to Dawn Schafer, a California girl through and through, whose outward persona is very much that she is absolutely chill with everything (except injustice) and doesn’t let things get to her ever (except injustice). Things on the inside, however, are much more complicated than that.
The Spiers have moved into the Schafer house while theirs gets fumigated, and lord knows that even one overnight with your best friend can make deeply buried issues rise to the top, so Dawn and Mary Anne — as much as they so badly want to be stepsisters — are really asking for it with a whole week. Those issues begin to make themselves known almost immediately. If we’re honest, we’ve already been given clues that Dawn’s whole “all good” act wasn’t the most truthful — we’ve seen her get frustrated with her mom’s disorganization, and for such a supposedly relaxed vibe, Dawn prefers to have things kept neat and tidy. She’s a clean freak, we all know it. It’s no wonder, then, that once Mary Anne arrives and starts moving stuff around in Dawn’s closet to make room for her own things, Dawn’s whole “what’s mine is yours” attitude already seems less than believable.
As Mary Anne moves things around, she notices a small door panel in the bottom of the closet. Mary Anne spirals about the tunnel people that could be living there even as Sharon explains it’s an old passageway built during Prohibition. Richard, dear sweet Richard, helps the least by noting that while it is unlikely to be haunted, it is a way for an intruder to get access into the house. What a dinner conversation! But mostly, the Spiers and Schafers get along, noting how bringing two families together helps them both learn new things.
Upstairs, however, the tension is brewing. The girls have very different nighttime routines. Dawn likes her relaxing incense, but that bothers Mary Anne’s “sensitive lungs.” Mary Anne likes to keep her doll Mr. Clowny nearby, but that thing is deeply terrifying and Dawn is unsettled by the fact that some people find clowns not haunting (we’re all Team Dawn on this, right?). Things continue to get worse: One night, Mary Anne can’t sleep because she’s scared; the next, Dawn can’t because she’s annoyed. Dawn is just barely holding it together when she walks into THE RECENTLY CLEANED KITCHEN being destroyed by Mary Anne and Sharon working on a birthday cake together for the Pike birthday party the BSC is throwing. It’s the first time her “all good” and “it’s fine, but” are really showing cracks. She might be talking about how ticked off she is about the mess, but it’s quite clear it’s the fact that Mary Anne and her mom seem so close — close enough to tease Dawn for her neat-freak stuff and that “all good” might really mean “please go jump off a cliff” — that is actually bothering her. So no, Richard, she would not like to see your “super-cool coloring books for adults” right now. Read the room!
Now all bets are off. At the next BSC meeting, Dawn can’t hide the tension anymore. Mary Anne calls her passive-aggressive; Dawn denies it and calls Mary Anne “sensitive and paranoid” and tells her she’s scared of everything. Out loud! At a meeting! Mary Anne is so bothered by it that the next day, just as she and Dawn are supposed to head over to the Pike party, she decides she’s going to prove Dawn wrong. “I am afraid of your closet and the dark, sometimes. And criticism! And even healthy conflict. But today, I face my fears,” she declares before heading into the secret passageway. Dawn has no choice but to follow. Not surprisingly, they end up locked in there together, forced to work out their issues. There’s nowhere to run now, girls!
Mary Anne tries to remind Dawn of her “what’s mine is yours” policy, and Dawn just erupts because suddenly, in just one week, all of what was hers has become Mary Anne’s. That includes her house, but most tellingly, it includes her mother. This! Moment! This is one of those moments where you just want to reach in the screen and give these kids a reassuring hug. Kyndra Sanchez really nails that panic she’s having over having to share her mother with someone else after just being the two of them together for so long, especially after seeing how well they get along. Of course, this is an emotional subject for Mary Anne, who was clearly excited to have a mother figure around. Once Dawn thinks about Mary Anne’s perspective, it’s hard for her to be upset for much longer. It’s not a feeling that Dawn can magically make disappear, but at least now she knows she needs to work on it instead of letting it fester inside. The one-day-maybe-stepsisters are now actually and for real all good.
But they are still trapped inside of a secret passageway. Back at the birthday party, Kristy, now dressed in a full-out clown costume for the carnival theme, decides to check on the only club members who haven’t arrived yet. She gets into the Schafer house by way of the other end of the tunnel, which means all Mary Anne and Dawn see is the figure of a giant clown walking toward them. Hey, speaking of seeing someone else’s perspective, now Mary Anne gets where Dawn is coming from with the whole “clowns are hellish creatures” outlook. See? Everybody’s growing!
The best sign that Dawn will grow from this experience comes not from her fight with Mary Anne but from that lovely little moment with Richard at the end of the episode. While Sharon and Mary Anne have hit it off, Richard isn’t done trying to connect with Dawn, especially because he recognizes a few things, crazy as it may seem, that the two of them have in common. He tries one more time with the adult coloring book, this time explaining himself a little bit better. He uses this book to help him work through things when he’s feeling anxious or fearful or unable to vocalize what exactly he’s feeling. He also explains that although sometimes talking about the worst that could happen in a situation isn’t always comforting and can be dramatic, for him, saying “the scariest thought” out loud helps him work through his fears. “It takes away its power.” Dawn, of course, knows this is true because she just experienced it by opening up to Mary Anne about what she had been worried about all this time. Richard also wants Dawn to know that it’s okay for her to ask for help sometimes. He doesn’t push it, but he does leave the coloring book with her. It doesn’t take long for Dawn to ask if he has any colored pencils. “So many,” he responds, because Richard Spier is a king. What a lovely choice to include this scene in this episode. Rather than have Dawn have a heart-to-heart with her mother, we get to see her open up to someone who understands a part of who she is that perhaps has gone unnoticed by everyone else. Anyway, I’m not, like, tearing up about it or whatever.
• While the Dawn/Mary Anne story line might be the headliner, the Mallory B-story is so special, and to steal a phrase from Miss Pike herself (WHO AM I?), “I’m obsessed” that The Baby-Sitters Club decided to tackle a financial situation that probably resonates with a lot of tiny people in the audience. The Pikes have like 300 kids, so money is tight. When one of the Pike kids needs stitches, it means there’s no longer enough money (“The American health-care system strikes again,” declares Dawn) to throw Claire Pike the big carnival party she was promised. The BSC comes to the rescue — but this makes Mallory really uncomfortable. She’s especially upset by Stacey’s declaration that the club can just skip its monthly charity donation and use it to throw the Pike party. She doesn’t want to be anyone’s charity case. You can see the embarrassment and panic growing until finally, she tells them how she’s feeling. The girls apologize for using that kind of terminology because this isn’t charity; this is just friends supporting and showing up for one another.
• The Pike sister reading Nietzsche for Dummies and getting goth makeup done as her party face paint is just the best vibe.
• The Spiers aren’t ready for habanero sauce, guys. But they are trying.
• “Who taught you to dust?”