We’ve all got our junk says “Spring Awakening” and that is true, so as a result of mine I am having to combine my review of the past two episodes, Victory Party and We’ve All Got Our Junk.
The fourth and fifth episodes of Rise are keeping me as enthralled as the third episode and further explore the personal lives of the drama kids and their complicated social and familial dynamics.
Victory Party brings in that high school football fervor that Katims is such a pro at replicating from the screen to the couch. For this first time we see a Robbie Thorne’s struggle with his responsibilities as both the school’s lead and quarterback in a high stakes game. This struggle is perpetuated by his over-bearing, but well-meaning father who just wants his son to fight for his dream, but only the football dream. In his dads eyes anything can be a distraction, but Lilette is the biggest distraction of all. Robbie has been traversing the world of theatre guy and jock pretty well, but his poor performance on the field leads to resentment and confrontation at the poorly named “victory” party at his house.
That is not the only confrontation in this episode however, at the Mazzuchelli household tensions are high as Gordy sneaks off from a family gathering to attend the victory party. Vodka bottle in hand, he drunkenly defies his parents pleas, and even physical force to come home. This scene was charged with pain from all sides: Lou, Gail and Gordy are all hurting. The episode ends with Gail and Lou pacing their kitchen floor with bottomless cups of coffee as they desperately watch the front door for signs that their son is okay. That was a gripping ending to one of the best episodes thus far. Victory Party let us see deeper into the characters vulnerability –– Robbie’s struggle to lead both teams, Simon’s struggle to follow his heart or his father’s wishes, Tracey’s struggle with dating and self-esteem, and the Gordy’s struggle with alcohol and trusting his family.
The most recent episode falls back into the trend of naming episodes based on the song titles in “Spring Awakening” and is titled We’ve All Got Our Junk. This is the best, juiciest Rise episode thus far. This episode directly follows the events of Victory Party. It opens with us discovering that the Strickland family found Gordy and let him sleep it off at their house. Though Gail and Lou are relieved their son is safe, their frustration with his lack of trust and reckless behavior boils over. This outpouring of emotion is shocking to the Strickland family as their interactions are mostly passive, cutting with words and sarcasm. In a scene that is a clear contrast to the passion of the Mazzuchelli’s the Coach Strickland and his wife allow Gwen to learn of their plans for divorce from their couples counselor. This cold, distant communication upsets Gwen, and she lashes out at both her mom and dad, demanding they do what is best for “the family” not themselves.
In another tense conversation, Robbie unintentionally makes judgements about Lilette’s mother, judgements that were no doubt brought on by his father. He questions her career and lifestyle and upsets Lilette who defends her mom in a touching scene. This upset affects their chemistry in the play, and they work to maintain a professional, not personal relationship. Tracey also moves forward in her relationship with the biology teacher, Andy, and surprises herself by kissing him on school grounds. Told you this episode was juicy!
Some of the more emotional moments in this episode are centered on father’s and son’s, but in vastly different ways. Simon confronts his parents, in his own quiet manner, and simply tells them that he wants to return to Strickland. His father is not pleased, but seems resigned to this fact. When pressed by his mother (a still magnificent Stephanie J. Block) about the reason he doesn’t want Simon in the play, his silence speaks volumes. His doubts and possible suspicions about Simon are audible in their omission. His fear and denial that he does not know his son the way he thought are very obvious. Simon himself is not ready to confront his own feelings, but the decision to go back to Strickland and his role of Hanschen is a step to following his own heart, not his fathers. In another touching scene Lou confesses to Gordy that his own father was an absent, alcoholic father while he was growing up. He pleads for Gordy to get some real help before he reaches a point he can’t come back from and repeats his grandfather’s mistakes.
We’ve All Got Our Junk had one last gut-punch of a scene. After being confronted by Lilette about how she is fine with being a waitress that “think’s its funny to be felt-up” by the cook Vanessa takes that impression to heart. She confronts the grabby creep and tells him to stop harassing her, but her laughs her off and tells her she “loves the attention.” That is definitely a statement that women here in the real world all too often. Her reaction is vicious, as she stands up for herself, her daughter, and the example she makes for her family. In an era of #MeToo and heightened awareness about work-place sexual harassment (which is especially rampant in the serving industry) this scene was a powerful statement against being a victim to gross misconduct and sexual harassment. It was especially powerful that Vanessa is a woman of color working a blue-collar position. The amount of power her employer has in her circumstance is tremendous, and her decision to fight back is inspiring. Rise continues to elevate itself in terms of diversity, inclusion and awareness of social issues when it come to sexuality, foster care, and socio-economic politics. I look forward to the next episode to see how it will rise above the already high standards it has set for itself.