By Julie Hammerle and Emma Fraser
Season 1, Episode 19 & 20: “Docuventary” & “Connections”
Original airdates: Apr. 27 & May 4, 1999
Emma: I’m going to start with the storyline that I predicted would infuriate me and that’s Ben gambling. I let out an audible groan as the ‘previously on’ included Ben’s big win from the last episode and the one saving grace is how quick he descended into his own personal gambling hell. Ben only gets one win and then he’s sunk after he puts all his Dean & DeLuca wages on a bet that he loses. There is one interesting aspect of this story and that’s the financial struggle Ben is facing as his father has stopped paying his tuition – quick poll in a world of terrible dads on J.J. Abrams shows where does Ben’s rank? I mean he’s not John Locke’s kidney taking/pushing out of window bad, but he’s certainly no Spy Daddy. Ben doesn’t want to ask his mother for help and we find out in “Connections” she has left his father and Ben doesn’t want to be a burden now that she is free from the older Covington.
It also turns out that Ben has anger issues, reminiscent of his dad and he starts a fight with Lynn, after Lynn says he won’t lend him any money. Lynn’s doing the right thing here, though way to go with cutting Ben off after you introduced him to this bookie. Ben isn’t his dad though and while he gets into it with Lynn, he also doesn’t resort to intimidation to get himself out of his debt. This ends up with him getting the shit kicked out of him (though it’s thankfully a very brief beating) and while I don’t really buy this offer to get out of debt, I’m not exactly well versed in the gambling world and Ben was never going to get kneecapped. Ben is very sweet with Guy (who gets a substantial role over both episodes and he might be my favorite dorm recurring character) and he can’t bring himself to take the last of his money. Ben you are too good to get caught up in these kinds of shenanigans.
This is also very much part of Ben not knowing who he really is, which we’ve discussed in detail in the past. On this occasion it’s about who he fears he is and that can be just as crippling. I think it’s also worth noting that he turns to Felicity in this crisis, not for money but for refuge and I think this is in part because he isn’t afraid of letting her see him like this. With Julie and Sean he feels like he is a failure; as a boyfriend and as a roommate. With Felicity he can lay it all out and she’s also much better at dishing out advice – in my notes I have written “NEVER LISTEN TO SEAN,” apparently I feel strongly about this. Felicity points out that Ben should tell his mom what is going on and that he should stop worrying about her and let her be the parent he needs. I totally understand where Ben is coming from and I remember hitting my overdraft limit and being overdue on my credit card payments when I was at college and not wanting to tell my parents. Unlike Ben, I didn’t find it too hard to tell them as even though I’d say in my head not to mention my financial situation, it was always the first thing I would blurt out and then I’d burst into tears.
I think I find this plot really frustrating as I do think it has something very valid to say as encountering money (or lack thereof) troubles is very common when you go to college, adding the gambling plot cheapens it by going for the sensational overly dramatic option. I wonder if this will be a three episode arc and never be mentioned ever again?
What did you think of Ben’s story in these two episodes?
Julie: So, regarding Ben and his dad, Mr. Covington is certainly not in the same league with Locke’s dad or Jack’s dad or any of the dads, really. Maybe it’s because we haven’t seen him yet (I don’t recall if we ever get the chance to see him). He’s just kind of this guy who we hear is bad by proxy. I want to see his badness before I start invoking John Locke’s dad’s name. Also, Felicity’s dad is pretty bad in his own right, so maybe that’s something the two of them have in common.
I think Ben feeling like a failure in front of Julie and Sean may have something to do with his social chameleonism. With Julie, he’s always been this tough, protective guy, and now he’s floundering. He doesn’t want Julie to see him like that. As far as Sean goes, I think Ben just knows that opening up to Sean is going to bring him a lot of lectures and dumb advice, plus Ben has always played off his financial woes to Sean as if they were under control (though it’s interesting how not under control Sean’s own finances are). Felicity, however, loves Ben unconditionally. I think he knows this, and feels he can trust her. Plus, if anyone on this show were to give good advice, it would probably be Felicity, despite her probably never placing a bet on anything before.
Though I also loved Guy’s role in these episodes, I’m hoping we’re done with the gambling storyline. It was always going to be a non-starter. But, hey, it got Felicity and Ben back to talking again.
Since I can tell you want to spend more time talking about Sean, what did you think of his Docuventary idea?
Emma: First of all if someone hasn’t already done it (I’m looking at you Buzzfeed) there should be a ranking system of all the J.J. dads as there’s been so many terrible/fraught ones.
So Sean continues to have terrible ideas and the one on “Docuventary” is pretty bad because he only wants to make a documentary after reading about the one guy who made money from making a doc. His only direction is college and at first I was worried that the whole episode would be filmed as if on a video camera. I then thought how very Blair Witch of them, before realising that this episode aired 5 months prior to the Blair Witch hitting cinemas. So kudos J.J. and then he got to do that format for a whole movie with Cloverfield many moons later (measuring things in moons is way more fun than years).
The documentary becomes all about Felicity and Noel, their recent break up and how it’s impacted all those around them. It’s the hook that Sean thinks will make him his fortune and while he tried to manipulate a happy ending, the one we get is actually pretty satisfying. Sean has zero tact and terrible timing, his camera skills are definitely not all that and yet he manages to get Felicity and Noel back to a place where they want to work on their relationship. And no they won’t smooch for the camera.
Sean gets quite a few testimonials varying in opinions about Noel and Felicity – Richard liked it when they were together because he could bribe Noel, Julie’s a romantic and thinks they will get back together, the RA from another dorm is all about backing Noel, Elena’s all about Feliciity Ben’s pretty shoulder shrug about it even when Sean claims that Eli has replaced Ben and Megan couldn’t give a shit. Megan mentioning Felicity’s infinite sweater collection rates highly on my favorite moments from this episode. It shows that one relationship can spawn many opinions and while this is far from new ground, I appreciate this examination of the impact of one relationship. Sure some people couldn’t care less, but living in a dorm with this close proximity is an experience unlike no other and “Docuventary” captures this.
Before I move onto Felicity and Noel, what did you think of Sean’s movie?
Julie: Sean drives me crazy because he reminds me of people I know who are always focused on the bottom line, like the money itself is what will make them happy. Sean keeps inventing these things and trying new business ideas, and all of them are awful, and he doesn’t seem to love any of them particularly. These are all get rich schemes, and I don’t think Sean will ever truly be happy until he finds something or someone (…cryptic…) he truly loves.
I didn’t realize that about this show and The Blair Witch Project. How forward thinking of you, Felicity show people. It probably felt all kinds of fresh back in 1999, but now it seems dated. It also feels like a bit of a deus ex machina device, used in order to get everyone to finally come to terms with their emotional baggage.
And, like you said, the baggage that needs to be dealt with is the unfinished business between Felicity and Noel. I don’t think we get a lot of new insight from the interviews. Of course Richard loves them together. Elena doesn’t seem to have much to add of substance. And Julie talking about Felicity and Noel seems kind of bizarre because (from what we saw, anyway) she didn’t seem to be around much during their courtship. The best moment was definitely Meghan, who comments on Felicity’s sweaters and on Noel constantly asking her where Felicity is.
While I didn’t love the documentary style, I do appreciate what you’re saying about the dorms and everyone getting all up in each other’s business. That’s how things go when you’re living so close to one another. You form very concrete opinions about something you have no stake in (unless you’re Richard; he totally has a stake in Felicity and Noel’s relationship).
So, how do you feel about where the pair of them are headed?
Emma: You’re spot on about Sean and he just seems to want to be this entrepreneur for the status rather than because he has an actual passion. Have they said how old Sean is? I’m glad they point out how odd this project actually is.
When Felicity went to use Noel’s photoshop, I really felt for both of them as this period of adjustment is not easy on either of them. Felicity wants to forget it ever happened and Noel can’t – yes he even tries Sean’s dumb hypnotherapy idea as a form of Eternal Sunshining himself of the Eli of it all. What it comes down to in the end is talking it through as Jake (leaving this in for Scandal whiplash hilarity) is under the impression that Felicity never felt that strongly for him – dude you were the one who went off with his ex girlfriend remember. Luckily, Sean has Felicity baring her soul on camera and he’s captured her realizing that she might be in love with Noel.
Ah yes the big declaration and one that Noel ditches a trip with Guy to see Late Night with Conan (so much Conan love in this episode) to share the sentiment with Felicity. At the end of “Docuventary” they’re not back together but making a concerted effort to rebuild, this of course takes a turn into smooching pretty quickly. So, how do I feel about this all? Well, I was pretty strong in the Noel/Felicity camp before “The Fugue” and while I’m glad to see them attempt another shot, I’m much more reticent. I mean, they’re hella cute together and the kiss moment in “Connections” is great (with bonus Richard interruption), however I know Ben must factor in soon as you can’t have a love triangle without the third person so this is niggling factor.
At the moment I’m finding the plotting of their relationship to be very entertaining and I love how awkward they both are with this kind of stuff. It’s also a pretty big deal that Felicity misses the most important seminar of all time and she’s got to the big project by herself. No matter how many times she asks Professor McGrath he isn’t going to back down. Now before we get to Felicity’s project (on the genetics of love) and the sketchy professor, what did you think about Noel and Felicity? One thing that is clear is these two episodes really do work as a two-parter, even if it isn’t explicitly laid out as such.
Julie: So glad Guy found a lady to go with him to Conan. Way to be a friend, Noel, ditching your buddy for Felicity.
Ben becoming the third angle of the triangle is interesting, if not unexpected. Noel has been concerned about Felicity’s feelings for Ben all season long, and it looks like maybe, possibly his worries might not have been unfounded. I completely get Ben’s wanting to go to Felicity in his moment of despair. He can’t go to Julie or Sean or Lynn. Felicity is the one person with whom he feels he can be himself and not be judged. I want to know what Felicity’s feelings are this moment. I know she likes (possibly loves) Noel, but if the guy you moved to New York to be with stumbles into your room one night, it’s going to have an impact on you.
Oh, my goodness, Felicity’s project on the genetics of love. Way to make it all about you, girl (says the woman who once wrote a term paper on Boogie Nights because it was on constant rotation in my friend’s room). I love how Dr. (Do they really call him “Professor?” We never called anyone “Professor” unless he/she was not a “Doctor”) McGrath is not having any of her bologna. Come on, Felicity. You got into this class by the skin of your teeth, and then you miss it in order to talk to Noel? Who are you? Richard?
Speaking of Richard, I love how he never goes to class. That’s just such a college thing. He’s the guy who doesn’t go to class. In fact, I loved a lot of the guest players in these episodes, including Guy, Danny, and Ali Wentworth’s Dean & Deluca manager character, whose name I can’t recall. And I was trying to figure out why Barry looked so familiar, and it’s because he was on Hang Time, one of the greatest Saturday morning shows ever.
What did you think of the guest stars, including skeevy college professor, Prince Humperdink?
Emma: Ah you’re right on the professor/doctor thing, must have had a brain glitch. Like you I think Felicity deserves her punishment for not going to the seminar and that her sweet talking didn’t work.
I definitely knew a few Richard types who never went to class and this show has nailed the different college archetypes without leaning too heavily on stereotype. We’ve mentioned it before but they’ve done a really good job of creating a world beyond the core characters and it’s things like this that really elevates a show. Oh and imdb has just informed me that in real life Guy is Quincy’s nephew!
I spent half of “Connections” trying to figure out where I knew Danny from and then I yelled New Girl at my screen as I realized he’s the principal at Jess’ school. It’s so satisfying when you figure it out. PS I also loved Hang Time. The Dean & DeLuca story is a nice break from the college side of the story and seeing Felicity get flustered is kind of fun. At first I thought Danny was playing her, the bloody bandage would be a step too far maybe and the nun kind of made me buy that he wasn’t acting. Or if he was some aspects of his personality are exaggerated.
Oh and well done show for the gender reversal with the tie – usually it’s a woman helping a guy with his bow tie (I’m looking at you The West Wing) so I appreciated the twist on an old routine. Plus it made a change from the usual showing a woman how to play sports to get close to her thing. And it was kinda hot.
Moving on from hot to much less so and that’s the Elena/Dr McGrath liaison and as soon as she had a moment alone with him it became apparent that something is going to happen. All I want Elena to do is run. This is another of the stories that teen shows like to cover and while it’s less skeezy than if it was high school age, I also kind of view this in the same manner as Ben’s gambling. I know what’s going to happen, I just want it to be as swift as possible. If it does happen, I don’t want it to devastate Elena as she’s far more fragile than her demeanor suggests. How do you feel about all of this?
Julie: I didn’t mean to call you out with the Professor/Doctor thing. I think the girls in the episode called him “Professor McGrath.” Or not. I don’t know.
Danny is also from Better Off Dead, which is wonderful. He’s, of course, been in a lot of things. Is it weird that I’m kind of shipping him and Ali Wentworth now? It’s probably weird. But I kind of want him to help her with her tie, if you catch my drift.
This show has done a great job with the archetypes. I definitely knew both a Richard and Guy back in college, the guy who was always best friends with the RA. That was a thing. At least it was in my life.
The professor/student romance thing was certainly something the Felicity writers felt they needed to shoehorn into the show. It’s an obligatory college storyline (and I also agree that she should run, and run fast). So, they’ve had date rape and gambling and a coming out story and a cheating boyfriend. Which tropes hasn’t Felicity covered yet? Pregnancy scare? Cheating? Oh wait. They did cheating.
Emma: Professor or Doctor he still creeps me out and mentioning his ex-wife being ill kinda felt like a move for sympathy. Or maybe I’m being too cynical.
Drugs! They haven’t really done anything too much relating to ALCOHOL IS BAD, I guess Felicity did throw up in Noel’s lap. Oh and Noel did have an allergic reaction to the brain juice that Meghan gave him, but that was the beets and not amphetamines. I can definitely see a pregnancy scare occurring at some point.
Julie: Drugs and alcohol, yes! I guess they did need to save something for Season 2.