I had been looking forward to the inevitable Wayne-centric episode, eager to see what the writers would do with a character who has been entertaining but largely a source of comic relief. While I really liked a few of the ways the this episode fleshed out Wayne and his relationship to Kevin, I still thought Hiroshima, Mon Frere was a disappointing outing.
The episode spent most of its time trying to get us to dislike Wayne, and it mostly worked. I would’ve felt a bit more sympathy for him if he had been provoked a bit more. Aside from a few teasing comments in the kitchen when Kevin listens to Angela Chompsky reluctantly agree to come over. The beginning of the episode suggests that Wayne feels a bit unloved as the middle child, particularly one who isn’t as bright or popular as either of his siblings.
Still, I was hoping we’d get a little bit more perspective as to why Wayne is such a “butthead” to use his favorite term. I didn’t blame Angela for standing Wayne up; he was acting pig-headed and manipulative to her all episode long. The episode didn’t push to hard to help us understand what makes Wayne tick, other than reminding us he’s an obnoxious teenager.
The episode told us exactly where it was going from the beginning: An incident between the two would blow up and somehow alter Kevin’s and Wayne’s relationship. It reduced the intensity of the conflict knowing more or less where it was heading. Foreshadowing isn’t a bad thing; contrast this episode’s intro to the Coda’s intro, which hinted Kevin would give up piano but didn’t suggest the circumstances, then ended contrary to the formula.
Other Wonder Years episode endings have been able to tie together otherwise ragged episodes (see Angel, Our Miss White, and Between Me and You…) and give me a more positive take on the episode. This time around, the “things would never be the same” monologue didn’t quite click.
Even the Paul subplot, something I can almost always fall back on, didn’t work for me here. Paul’s obsession with the hamster was too many parts neurotic to too few parts endearing.
The biggest highlight of the episode for me was Ben Stein as the gloomy science teacher (I want to read the textbook Our Dying Earth). His dry presentation of bleak, ghastly material is a well I hope they visit a few more times.
But even with Stein’s charm, Hiroshima, Mon Frere is a bit of a misstep in a season that otherwise has shaped up pretty well.
A couple other thoughts:
- This episode’s edition of Wow, Awesome Editing: the chipmunky speed-up of “Wild Thing” as the clock jumps ahead a few hours to a stood-up Wayne.
- One brilliant bit of music selection this episode: Carole King’s “Brother Brother” as Wayne and Kevin wrestle in the grass at the very end of the episode.
- The highlight of Paul’s attachment to the hamsters was his eulogy: “He died that men might learn.” Hilarious.
- The atomic bomb seemed to strong a symbol to parallel Wayne’s and Kevin’s fight. The contrast in scope didn’t really work for me here.