It seems like the writers of The Wonder Years wanted to have two season finales. Last episode, Whose Woods Are These?, served as a thematic capper of the series thus far, stretching the show to its literary and symbolic limits. How I’m Spending My Summer Vacation, on the other hand, is a more traditional finale. It follows the template of a normal episode, but throws in some higher stakes and, of course, a cliffhanger to close the episode.
The episode starts by framing the situation: It’s the last day of school and a glorious summer vacation is on its way. The teachers all get their farewells (including Ben Stein!), and the show takes some time to honor some previous plots of the season.
But just as everything is looking up for Kevin, things start going wrong. Paul reveals that he’s spending his entire summer away from home. Kevin spills his guts in Winnie’s yearbook, even writing those all-powerful three words: “I love you.” When Kevin gets his yearbook back from Winnie, she’s written nothing more than “Have a neat summer,” words Kevin used in a complete rando’s yearbook. Obviously, Kevin had been hoping for something more personal.
And just when the prospect of summer seems miserable — cleaning the garage, humiliated in front of his dream girl, completely alone — things get strange. Winnie surprises him with a kiss.
The episode has made it clear at this point that Winnie’s life is pretty complicated. She’s about to have her first family barbecue since her brother was killed in Vietnam. And, little did we know at the time, but her parents weren’t taking the stress of that year particularly well. Kevin anticipates a personal “summer of love” with Winnie, but she’s about to head to Maine.
At the annual summer barbecue, Kevin makes a few awkward passes at Winnie, who more or less shuts him down, spending the whole night running from parent to parent, looking gloomily at the summer moonscape.
When Kevin finally deduces the truth of the Coopers’ crumbling family, he feels guilty pressuring Winnie the way he had. Maybe he finally remembers what Winnie told him that one night in front of her house: That she doesn’t really know how she feels about him. She doesn’t know what she wants.
The Wonder Years has pushed the idea that Winnie, more than any of the characters around her, wants to preserve her innocence. Yet she’s the one who keeps having her world shaken up (or perhaps her resistance to growing up is precisely because of this). And, after half an episode moping about how miserable his summer will be, Kevin finally grasps that things could be a lot worse than having nothing to do. The feeling of abandonment and crisis that Winnie is going through puts his worries into perspective.
I hope the third season explores this theme in a little bit more detail: That growing up means putting your problems in perspective. If Kevin and Winnie are to grow closer, he’s going to have to make proper sense of her complicated personal life — or at least acknowledge that they’re bigger than any junior high romance, even if he’s infinitely supportive.
A few of these scenes were difficult to watch; anyone with any TV experience knew that there was something deeper going on with Winnie well before Kevin had figured it out, making it all that more painful when he put her on the spot.
Still, the season finale was by and large pretty solid. I’m excited to see where the show takes the characters for season three.
Some other notes:
- I wonder if the eighth grade teachers will be the same as the seventh grade ones. If it means the return of Ben Stein, I definitely hope so.
- Winnie’s not staying permanently in Maine, right? I hope not.
- Not enough Josh Saviano.
- It’s interesting to see characters having to “change records” for the party. Nice era-appropriate touch.
- Another nice touch: mention of the moon landing. I’m glad the writers remembered their history lessons.
- Parts of this episode reminded me of the excellent animated movie “Recess: School’s Out” which was one of my favorite movies when I was growing up.