Damn it, Wonder Years! How could you do that to me? You pulled the fleece over my eyes and hit me in the gut at the last possible moment.
I loved that ending. Loved loved loved it. I had wondered why Winnie was absent and had never been brought up as a potential date for Kevin. I assumed the show simply wanted to tell a different story from the previous school-dance episode (Dance With Me).
Turns out I was both right and wrong: On the one hand, by using two characters who have no history with Kevin, the episode could dissect some broad points about romance and relationships without worrying about how their histories with Kevin would affect the discussion. On the other, the writers were simply distracting us for that one final reveal of Winnie wandering the dance floor, she and Kevin missing each other by mere moments.
And what a reveal it was: Future Kevin’s concludes his narration about how we all hope that “somewhere, somehow there’s someone perfect who might be searching for us,” the Righteous Brothers reach the emotional climax of “Unchained Melody,” and — BAM! — Winnie Cooper. Freaking brilliant.
I’m trying to remember exactly when I realized that the episode was leading us towards the Winnie reveal. It must have been at some point during that final narration. Everything — Kevin’s words and the music and the shots back and forth between Kevin and the crowd of dancers — was building towards something significant. It finally hit me that the show was using its big guns to remind us about Winnie Cooper. Even the lyrics were perfect: “Time goes by so slowly / And time can do so much / Are you still mine / I need your love”.
Anyways, there was also an entire episode leading up to those final moments, and I thought it was a pretty good episode. I was occasionally worried the episode would spin out of control into an one of those uncomfortable farce episodes where Kevin makes one bad decision after another. Instead, the episode was primarily focused on analyzing different types of romance: There’s the “comfortable” friend who has nothing wrong with him/her, but lacks spark and attraction. Then there’s the “dream” who ignites you but who has nothing substantial for you to connect with.
The episode points out the flaws of both types of romance. You can connect with the comfortable friend, but you can’t build a romantic chemistry. But the dream boy or girl, even if you can develop some chemistry with them, can never provide a satisfying relationship.
I must admit that I was rooting for Kevin to hit it off with Linda Sloan. Not only do Fred Savage and Maia Brewton as Linda have excellent chemistry from the outset, but Linda provides a fresh type of character for the show: A girl who is down-to-earth and undramatic and gets along great with guys, particularly Kevin.
Kevin has spent so much of this show pursuing drama queens and the complicated Winnie Cooper and girls with strings otherwise attached. Here was a chance at a girl he already had a good rapport with, who surprised him with how good of a date she could be, and who was clearly into him. “Don’t do it!” I said aloud as Kevin agreed to dance with Susan, who is no different from a half dozen other romantic interests Kevin has encountered so far.
But even as Kevin let his vanilla pudding slip away, the ending suggests that the perfect romantic match is someone who is equal parts comfortable friend and dream boy/girl: Or, in Kevin’s case, Winnie Cooper. The hard part is finding that person at the right place and right time. Kevin and Winnie miss each other by moments, just as it’s so easy for anyone to miss out on someone special because of bad timing or bad luck.
A few other thoughts:
- The Wonder Years has a way with ending episodes strongly, but I have to say that this episode takes the cake for my favorite ending yet.
- I spent so much of the recap talking about romance and Winnie that I failed to mention Paul. This was as funny an episode for Paul as we’ve had in awhile. His rant about mini-golfing was so good. It’s hard not to be happy for him when he lights up after Carla calls him back at the dance. Josh Saviano, always the man.
- But seriously, Kevin, why let Linda go? Yeah, I want Kevin and Winnie to eventually end up together, but why not give dating Linda a chance? She’s such a sweetheart and an enjoyable presence on the show. (The correct answer is that it’d probably end up just like Becky Slater, with Kevin eventually breaking up with her after remembering Winnie is the one he really wants.)
- The icing on the cake is another appearance by Ben Stein, who apparently teaches chemistry along with natural disasters. The parallel between romantic chemistry and scientific chemistry is a pretty obvious one, but it worked well here.
- I can only think of a handful of television episode endings that hit me with as much impact as this one. I’ll have to watch it again after I have the whole series for context, but Don’t You Know Anything About Women? definitely has potential as a pantheon entry in my TV episode endings hall of fame.