Monday, July 17, 2006

Freaks and Geeks: 'Discos and Dragons' (1x18)

It's always an odd feeling watching the end of a longform series. In a great show, particularly one cut down before its time, it's difficult to watch knowing that the end of the series world is approaching. I would have loved to seen a second season, but as a finale, this episode is essentially perfect, capturing everything that's great about the series and providing a nice feeling of closure. This is easily the best episode of the series and one of the best series finales ever made.

The episode is all about confronting the characters with their potential futures. Sam, coming off his breakup with Cindy, feels he has the social capital to transcend geek status, he's just about ready to abandon his friends. The episode revisits the strong sense of discontent with high school life present in the first few episodes. The geek storylines frequently drift into comedy and it's nice to see a more serious undercurrent return here.

The real triumph of the episode is in the way the different storylines weave together, with events in one story setting the direction of the others. Daniel's feeling of intellectual inferiority has been a running theme of the series, most notably in "Tests and Breasts," where he gives a speech about the three sections. Lindsay comes to believe that this is just a stock excuse, but the events of later episodes show that Daniel really does have this insecurity, even if he's not quite motivated enough to do anything about it. Now, having failed at everything he tried, he decides to commit himself to actually doing something. One of the best moments in the episode is Sam looking at Daniel learning how to work the projector.

Daniel's interest in AV stuff and Dungeons and Dragons makes Sam reconsider his move away from them. In some respects it's a bit shallow that Sam would change his opinion just because a cool guy showed interest in D&D, but it makes sense. Coming off the experience with Cindy Sanders, he saw that it's no fun moving from the geek world to the popular world, so Daniel moving into the geek world is the ideal for him. It provides him with the social validation he needs to pursue what he really wants.

And it's a great moment when Daniel wins the D&D game. This is the first time we've seen him actually succeed at something and it's also notably the first time that he drops the cool facade he's had throughout the series. Through the role playing game, he's opened up and found his real self. The last time we see Daniel he's going off to get chips and soda, leaving the geeks to ponder if they've become cool or he's become a geek. I wouldn't say they're quite to cool, but what has happened is they've for the first time found someone in another social circle who they actually like hanging out with and he's accepted them for who they are. That's ultimately what they were seeking the whole series, social validation, and now they have it, so it's a bit easier going forward.

This episode is so good that a storyline that great is actually the weakest of the three stories. The Nick disco storyline finds an incredible mix of hilarity and total sadness. Joel Hodgson goes way over the top as the disco manager, but it works, his facial expression in the first shot of the episode is totally unreal, going so far you just have to laugh. This story looks a low rent Boogie Nights and made me want to see a film starring Jason Segal and John C. Reilly as 70s disco dancers.

And like Boogie Nights, the 70s clothes and music is surface fun on top of a heavy, sad core. Nick is clearly still in love with Lindsay, but has chosen to fully embrace a relationship with Sara, taking up disco dancing to make her happy. With her, he's making all the changes he should have done for Lindsay, stop smoking pot, do what she's interested in. I love the scene where they're dancing in Nick's basement and his not quite convincing claim that he's over Lindsay, and Sara always calling Ken "Kenny" is great.

However, the genius of this story lies in the final conversation between Nick and Lindsay. On the commentary for this episode, Paul Feig talks about the fact that the best writing is all about characters not saying what they mean. Nick and Lindsay have a lot of issues between them, but they don't actually talk about any of it. But, because we know what's between them, we're aware of everything that's going on and when Lindsay walks away, it's clear the Nick may still want her, but he'll never have her. The best shot in the entire series is the tracking shot following Nick into the dance contest. It's a perfect blend of image, music and emotion. The way the light turns blue on him, the slight slow motion and Sara out of focus behind him tells us everything we need to know. Brilliant.

Nick's anger in the dance contest is what makes the scene so effective. It's certainly hilarious, but it also shows us just how mad this guy is. And the subsequent bit with Eugene is one of the funniest things they've ever done. For Nick, the series ends with him looking out, overwhelmed. He's with Sara, but he's also aware that the person he really loved just walked out on him. Of all the characters, he's got the bleakest ending.

The other storyline in the episode forces Lindsay to finally confront her identity. The whole series has dealt with the idea that she's just posing as a freak when in reality, she's still just like Millie. She may claim to be the same as Daniel or Kim, but everyone still holds her to the standards of an A student. The Academic Summit forces her to confront this, the event is something that she "should" be going to, it's an event for smart people to put on their resume to help get into college, and the idea that she wouldn't want to go is alien to a culture that's wholly built around getting into college and excelling academically.

Her parents feel it's ridiculous for her to even consider not going to the summit, but they're ignorant of the fact that Lindsay's discontent with the system is more than adolescent posturing. She is forced to choose between two weeks of academic competition or a week and a half of seeing shows, and she chooses to embrace her freak side, doing what she wants rather than what others expect of her.

The scene with Lindsay at the bus stop is powerful, primarily because we know that we're leaving these characters forever. Lindsay might be back in two weeks, but we never will and that's what lingers. As she leaves on the bus, so do we. And the final scene is a great moment because for the first time we see Lindsay totally happy. She takes off the nice jacket, puts on the army jacket and fully embraces the identity she has chosen.

To some degree, the last episode of Six Feet Under has made every other series finale a bit unsatisfying. That episode gave you everything you want to know allowing for a smooth break from the universe. While not so sweeping, this episode does give you a similar smooth journey out of the universe. I'd have loved to seen more, but I don't really need it. Part of that is because the show isn't concerned with huge plot and character arcs, we've just taken a look in on these people at this moment in their lives, and they will continue after the show is over. There's no loose ends, it's just a world that will continue, but going out on the series' best episode makes it a lot easier to move on.

The show has some flaws, but on the whole, it's one of the most uniquely realistic series ever made. It's easy to see yourself in the characters, and more than any other piece of fiction, this captures a lot of the reality of high school life. And, though it was cut down early, these eighteen episodes are a perfect snapshot of this world. They told the story they set out to tell and it resulted in one of the great TV series of all time.

Related Posts
Freaks and Geeks: 'Pilot' (1x01) (6/26/2006)
Freaks and Geeks: 'Smooching and Mooching' (1x16) (7/15/2006)

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm a romantic...but I like to imagine Nick and Lindsay will end up together...in that last conversation, Lindsay seems genuinely upset when Nick admits he's cleaned up his act for Sara...And he obviously loves her and won't stop for Sara. I think he will clean up his act, and Lindsay will have more respect for him. I like to imagine that given another season or two, they might have dated. Their chemistry was too good...

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon, given a few more seasons I think Nick and Lindsay would have ended up together. Wasn't the episodes all shot (maybe not completely finished ready for tv, but the shooting was finished) before they found out they were being canceled? I'd like to think that given more time (at least one more season) the writers would have had Nick and Lindsay find their way back together. I mean, it wasn't just Nick who looked like he lost something. Lindsay looked just as sad while walking away. I think part of her wanted to still be with Nick.

Or maybe this is just me wanting one of my favorite tv couples together. I'd like to believe that if it continued they would be together somehow and if there ever was a reunion show they'd be married with a couple of freaks (so to speak) of their own.

And let's give credit to the show. N & L dated for basically one episode and a lot of people like the coupling. That's skillz.

Anonymous said...

Also, great summing up of the last episode. I'm reading this four years after you wrote it and shaking my head to every word. Highly enjoyed reading it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with my friend above. Great writing.
At the end I knew that she would make the freak choice, but I was actually hoping that she would find some sort of balance between thinking about her future and thinking about her friends.
Now that I think of it; that would have made the bus ride quite similar with Claire driving away in SFU.. :)
And you're right: that was the BEST. FINALE. EVER. Oh the tears..

Anonymous said...

:o

Maggie said...

It's interesting you make the comparison to Six Feet Under. In the last year, I've watched both series for the first time, and there is no other comparison to make. I thought it was just me though...

Nice blog.

turndisfukkaround said...

so did daniel and kim break up? isaw the episode once, and i dnt really remember wat hapnd between them

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Silvergirl said...

So I was looking for a discussion of F&G, and I found your blog. I don't agree with the people who thought Nick and Lindsay had good chemistry. I thought she was very uncomfortable, and for good reason. Nick was not really into her, and she was only sympathetic towards him. She did not love him. He was only interested in her because she is a good looking girl. He was also very immature emotionally.

Love the show, and I would love it if they brought it back for more episodes, but I know that won't happen. For now I am rewatching it on YouTube.

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Anonymous said...

I really would have liked to see the.kid who bullied sam, I cant remember his name, but the one who.apologized to.bill in his critical state and wanted to.embrace theyre lifestyle it would have been cool.to see him actually do that but I guess that's kinda what they did with daniel, that series was true brilliance though and I had a great time watching it im so sad its over tho, p.s. Closing the final episode with grateful deads ripple was a great touch

Anonymous said...

upartia I just finished watching the entire series. I have heard about it for years but never really got down to watching it. It's an incredible show. I wished it lasted at least 3-4 seasons so they could have given the characters a proper sendoff.

When it started, I felt that Lindsay had a crush on Daniel and they would eventually end up being together. Frankly, I think Lindsay doesnt really fit in well with the freaks because she's too smart for them. I think eventually she'd outgrow them when she goes to college and have friends similar to Neil's brother. Somebody who's her intellectual equal but also can have some fun.

It seems just like a phase for her. I think that Kim has outgrown Daniel already. It's just high school after all. There are many more people to meet.

But I actually would have loved Lindsay and Daniel to have gotten together. Because it was quite obvious from the start that Lindsay liked him. And I think they had chemistry. One was a smart, square girl but also had a fun side and the other one was the opposite -dangerous and fun but also wants to be smarter. I think that's what would have happened eventually.

I think Kim would have left Detroit because she was a free spirit and would probably want to see the world more. While Lindsay has inclinations of exploring, I do believe she also craves stability. She and Daniel would probably stay in Detroit.

But I think the best ending would be for all of them to have separate lives and explore the world. My bet is Daniel would still be in Detroit as a mechanic or something. Lol. That would be sad.

ajparrillo said...

The last comment at this date "10/13/2012 08:32:00 PM" misses the point of the character development when it attempts to posit what these characters would/should do considering their individual motivations. The reason why this show has such appeal is that the characters were not static and written to reflect the complexities of real human beings; they are more than being able to boil them down into overreaching individual imperatives. These characters grew as the story progressed which then augments the relationships they have with each other. For instance, Kim treated Lindsay like shit in the beginning, probably seeing her as a threat and/or an outsider transgressing on her safe(r) world. However, through emotional experiences, they are close and have a meaningful relationship, one that given the arcs of the characters, will probably be lasting even though they would lose a certain degree of contact in their lives. In the end, my motivation to critique a previous comment demonstrates the appeal of the show, that we can see ourselves in these characters and can attach to pieces and extrapolate given OUR own experiences. I was way late, but am glad I finally watched this show.

Anonymous said...

I also liked the blog and the way it was written.At 47 years,I am just starting to watch these episodes. I feel a little sad that I had missed all of this over the years. Although, maybe I appreciate it more at my age than I would have when it came out.I always thought that ours was a
lost generation with nothing to remember it for, but this show has made me realize that I was wrong. It has even given me a better appreciation of some of the music that I always felt was so much more inferior to the great music of the late 60's and 70's. What eventually happens to the characters is not important to me. It's more about nostalgia for a time period rarely featured. Even the characters, like in real life, would never have been able to go back to these moments anyway.

Anonymous said...

This was a great show, but had a horrible ending. I can’t think of any other show that has made me angry with disappointment and disbelief. After falling in love with the characters, story, time period, and soundtrack, this show basically imploded with the finale. None of the characters had a happy ending. It was so depressing. Here’s the breakdown:

Daniel = failure. Josh is a drummer turned disco dancer that lost the love of his life. Ken has a girlfriend that was born a hermaphrodite (probably the least sad, but his character was the least developed). Neal gets to see his parents go through a divorce. Bill has to live with his mom dating his despised gym teacher. Sam breaks up with the girl of his dreams. Lindsay goes on a deadhead tour where it is quite possible she ODs or contracts a VD.

I absolutely loved this show, but found myself yelling in anger at the screen during Josh’s walk to the disco floor “TURN AROUND MAN, TURN AROUND!!” But he doesn’t and you get to see what a joke he’s become.
It’s a sad, sad ending that really didn’t have to be that way.

-Ryan

Luke Newberry said...

I just finished the series and was filled with a strange unpredictable sadness. The final scenes by the bus really were powerful. Thanks for writing this: I needed some way of reflecting on it all, so googled 'freaks and geeks sad ending' - because that's how I felt - and your piece came up. Really enjoyed reading it, it articulated a lot of wanted to say about the final episode, and the series. I thought I'd add another comment, all these years on. :)

Jonesmaster2000 said...

It's Nick, not Josh.