“Things wouldn’t be the same between us. We were getting older. And whether we wanted it or not, the Lisa Berlinis and the Kirk McCrays were changing us by the minute. All we could do was close our eyes and wish that the slow song would never end.”
The pilot of The Wonder Years ended with Winnie and Kevin in each other’s arms, sharing a completely intuitive moment of intimacy. The world was pushing them together through a shared moment of deep loss.
Dance With Me, the excellent conclusion to the show’s superior first season, also ends with Winnie and Kevin sharing a moment, but this time the world is pushing them apart. Their shared loss here isn’t a death of a loved one, but of innocence.
This finale had a lot of plot to cover in 23 minutes, more than any episode since the pilot. Kevin is friend-zoned by Lisa, misses his chance with Winnie, sees even Paul embracing the complex social world by the episode’s end, and has only one dance with Winnie to show for it. When you compare this to the previous two episodes — which covered a family dinner and a single phone call — Dance With Me feels a bit busy.
In particular, the first act felt a bit rushed as Lisa gets ejected from Kevin’s life within the first few minutes. (I will say, though, the way the show paused to drag out Lisa’s enunciation of “friend” was downright brilliant.) But it allowed the show to hurry and get back to the romantic interest that we know Kevin really cares about, Winnie.
But by the time the episode got to its halfway point, it fell into a rhythm. The last ten minutes or so were a string of great scenes one after another, some hysterical and some heartwarming. Every character gets a moment to shine, whether it’s the Arnolds’ dance lessons or Paul’s gradual acceptance of dancing with Carla.
And when it started digging deeper into the Kevin-Winnie relationship, the episode cut to some of the themes that have defined this season: Fleeting moments of shared understanding, the inevitability of loss, the terrifying passage of time, and how outmatched you can feel against the world as you’re gowing up.
On a side note, how great of a character is Paul? He’s absolutely hilarious, and actor Josh Saviano makes the most of his every moment: his funny lines about how he can’t see, his allergic reactions to Carla, and eventually his dance with her.
It’s overdue, but I also want to praise Alley Mills, who consistently shines as Kevin’s mom, Norma. I especially enjoyed her scene in the kitchen where she convinces Kevin to go to the dance. I enjoy her more as a smart, perceptive character than a whiny, overbearing one.
Dance With Me was an excellent way to wrap up this first season, full of great plot and character growth, funny writing, and an undercurrent of profound melancholy.
A couple other thoughts:
- The soundtrack for this show continues to shine, and the dance (along with the lessons beforehand) gives us plenty of great tracks ranging from Otis Redding to Steppenwolf.
- Dance With Me has some impeccable direction and editing: Aside from the aforementioned pause when Lisa friend-zones Kevin, I loved the cut from Norma saying Kevin can help her with dinner to him trying on dance outfits, the moment when we think Kevin is asking Winnie to dance but is really trying to make her jealous by asking someone else, and a few others.