I thought you were different.
After watching Square Dance, I looked up the writer of the episode. I was not surprised to find that the only other episode Todd W. Langen had written in the run so far was Coda.
While Coda is a better episode than Square Dance, the two have a lot in common: Both are full of melancholy and regret; both have downbeat endings; both focus on Kevin’s determination to follow his conscience; and both lament the competitive, judgmental landscape of junior high.
At its core, Square Dance is about being different in a system that praises conformity (in this case, middle school kids). Kevin initially fears the “different.” By the end, he’s learned that the “different” can have a lot to offer. But at that point, he’s afraid of being seen as different himself.
Where Square Dance succeeds are the moments that focus on Kevin’s struggle between his intrinsic goodness and the destructive social scene. “In seventh grade, who you are is what other seventh graders say you are,” says Future Kevin. That’s a pretty dark notion for such a sentimental show to postulate.
I really loved the way the episode was framed. When Future Kevin observed that he’d love to forget Margaret Farquar, but he can’t, the implication seems to be that Margaret would do something cruel to Kevin. But at the end of the episode, it’s Kevin that’s done the cruelty. When he plays Pontius Pilate to Margaret, refusing to defend her from the mob of teasing students, it sinks in that “different” is sometimes synonymous with “brave enough to be yourself.”
As effective as the big picture of the episode was, there were some aspects of Square Dance that I didn’t like. I thought Margaret wasn’t written a bit too broadly and inconsistently. She somehow went to completely oblivious that Kevin was trying to blow her off to immediately perceptive that Kevin was pushing her aside with his “secret friendship” ploy.
I also thought Margaret should have been a bit more imaginatively written. She struck me more as socially oblivious than “different.” Perhaps the Langen wanted to emphasize how unlikable Margaret was, but the third act also seemed to emphasize that she had some redeeming value. I liked the three pigtails and her fascination with repulsive animals, and her brief moments of hurt (like when she noted that dogs aren’t good travelers and she has to move around a lot). But she could have used more of these idiosyncracies.
Still, Square Dance was a largely a compelling, thoughtful affair. I’ll look forward to future episodes written by Todd W. Langen.
A few other thoughts:
- The editing at the end — sentimental music with semi-faded shots of the gym — felt a bit overdramatic to me.
- This week’s Great Josh Saviano moment: His delivery of “not on your life” when Kevin asks if they can switch dance partners for a day.
- Great callback: The gym chalkboard still had the basketball notes from Loosiers.
- Coach Cutlip still stands out as a bit too cartoonish, but if we get him in doses this small then I’m fine with it.
- Why do the boys and girls have different gym uniforms?