Fan. Freaking. Tastic.
The Wonder Years is most fundamentally about loss, and Coda explores the bittersweet nature of losing those childhood activities. Here, the piano isn’t just an afterschool activity for Kevin, but a symbol of youthful passion and potential, something largely shed by grown-ups. Norma has her pottery and Jack has his stargazing, but both are so bogged down by their responsibilities that they can’t fully immerse themselves in a challenging pursuit just for the sake of enrichment; grown-up hobbies are part-time pursuits.
Coda considers the inherent human drive to be the best at something. Kevin’s afraid of being anything other than the best, of caving under pressure, of not meeting the expectations of his talent and hard work. So he admits defeat before the battle even begins. He’d rather let “machines” like Ronald Hirschmuller suck the pleasure out of the art with their pathological obsession and competitiveness than face them down.
“That’s not what music is about,” says Mrs. Carples, who definitely emerges from this episode as my favorite guest star yet. While most guest stars have been only fairly acted, Maxine Stuart has me wishing Kevin would pick up piano again just so we could see more of her.
Though it’s not strictly about sports, Coda also serves as a condemnation of over-competitive child stars. Mrs. Carples reminds Kevin that playing piano is all about feeling the music, about the fun and joy of a leisurely or artistic pursuit. But what do Kevin, Paul, and Doug fantasize about? Winning the Super Bowl as Joe Namath and the Jets. A neat ending would have had Kevin realizing the folly of his fear of “losing” is destructive and rushing in to the recital at the last moment. Instead, he makes one of those “retreats” cited back in Swingers and makes a decision he’d ultimately regret.
Lastly, Coda gave us some really nice moments on the fringes of the episode. I enjoy every scene that scene that shows our characters just hanging out, like the made-up football game here (poor Doug is always blocking). The Arnold family all perk up and find some joy in listening to Kevin nail Pachelbel’s canon. Ronald’s increasingly douchey antics.
Great, great episode and change of pace for the show.
A few other thoughts:
- I’m really glad Mrs. Carples is a smoker. The show doesn’t show much smoking (yet Norma makes that ridiculous ash tray) even though it was fairly prominent at the time.
- This week’s edition Wow, Awesome Editing: the back and forth between Kevin and the other recital students, progressively more zoomed in on each as Kevin’s canon gets worse and worse.
- If I’m not mistaken, the entire soundtrack of this episode is piano music. Even the sound effect when Kevin learns that Ronald is also playing Pachelbel is a piano crash.
- Wayne’s taunting of piano as feminine and then playing darts as Kevin practices were my two favorite moments of Kevin’s practice montage.