….. by TeeJay & SisterDebMac
Deb: This is the first, best really important Adam/Joan episode. It stands alone. Just great all around. You cannot fail to be moved. This will be a loooooong recap.
TeeJay: If I had to name one outstanding Adam/Joan episode from season one, it would be this one. Without a doubt. This episode had a lot of amazing moments, all of them beautifully acted. So let’s look at them.
Joan’s day starts on a troublesome note when she dreams about Rocky, the death-obsessed boy from 1×07 that she babysat. Rocky tells her he’s going to have to leave and when she turns around, she sees Adam in a mirror, saying “So long, Jane.” And she just doesn’t know what to make of this dream.
The next morning she finds out that Rocky died. This really sets her thinking. What could it mean that she dreamed of Rocky and he died and then she dreamed of Adam…?
After Rocky’s funeral, Joan and Helen run right smack into Adam and Mr. Rove, on their way to visit Elizabeth’s grave. Adam still can’t look at Joan. But when Helen explains that they were at the funeral of a little boy Joan used to babysit, Adam is immediately sympathetic, “Rocky?” he asks Joan with a pained expression on his face. “Rocky died? Wow, life sincerely sucks.” Still not ready for much more than barely polite conversation with Joan, he tells his dad that he’ll meet him “over by mom”. He leaves without anything further passing between him and Joan. Mr. Rove tries to ease her mind a bit over Adam’s continuing refusal to forgive her for smashing his sculpture by telling her that he once ran over one of Adam’s pieces in the driveway and that Adam wouldn’t look at him for weeks, but he does admit that that was an accident. Nice going, I’m sure that went a long way toward giving Joan hope.
The next time we actually see Adam, he enters the Girardis’ garage with Grace (I always wondered why he would go there, considering what comes next. See trivia for the answer to that) as Kevin works on the boat and Luke yammers on about science geek stuff. Joan soon walks in and Adam shoots an angry glare at Grace. “You said she wouldn’t be here.” Clearly, forgiveness is still not anywhere on the horizon.
They try to tell Adam that he will have to speak to Joan some time, but he’s not interested. When he tries to leave, Kevin stops him by catching hold of his arm. Adam tells him to not do that and tries to wriggle free—maybe a bit too forcefully because he pulls Kevin’s chair over, dumping Kevin onto the floor. Everyone stares at Adam, completely shocked. He tells them, “I said don’t grab my arm!” and storms out. (And may I just quickly mention that Adam is wearing a really cool lion shirt in this scene. If I could choose one item of Adam’s clothing to keep, it would probably be either this one or the burgundy hoodie from season two.)
Grace leaves too. Joan just can’t stand it anymore. She sees how Adam retreats into his shell more and more and she’s getting really worried. She goes after Grace, and forces her to admit that Adam is really freaking out. Grace finally tells Joan that she’s never seen Adam this bad, not since his mother died. Before that, she explains, Adam was different. “He was funny and aware of his surroundings.” When Joan voices her worries, Grace tells her, “Do you know how Rove’s mother died? She killed herself with pills.” Joan is staggered by that. “She left him a note. Hello? Adam’s mother left him a note.” Joan asks what was in it but Grace doesn’t know because Adam has never read it. Wow. Talk about emotional baggage.
Later, Kevin has a minor accident playing wheelchair basketball and ends up in the hospital, with a big bruise. The family is all there with him and Joan wanders off to a vending machine where she has a conversation with Intern-God. In this conversation, God tells Joan about ripples. She explains that Rocky’s ripples—meaning the memories he left behind, the way he affected people—were good. And that Adam’s mother’s were bad. She tells Joan that she’s right to worry about Adam. In his world, suicide is a very real thing that he has had to live with for three years. This shakes Joan up. Could he really be that miserable?
Obviously, Joan knows she has to do something. We don’t get to see the wheels turning, but she and her mother leave the Girardi men at the hospital and go to Adam’s house. Helen approaches him in his inner sanctum. “Mrs. Girardi, you’re in my shed,” he says incredulously, but not displeased to see her. She asks him to do her a favor. He says sure, anything. The favor she asks is for him to talk to Joan. It’s very affecting, the way he says “I don’t want to,” so firmly, but still smiling at Helen, or trying to. She says she knows he doesn’t want to, that’s why it’s called a favor. He gives her what will become a trademark of the new, much deeper Adam we’re seeing these day—a barely perceptible nod. Helen says thank you and leaves.
And there she is, without warning; Joan is suddenly standing in front of Adam in his shed. “What did your mom mean like this exact second?” he snarks. “You need more time to hide?” “Look, I’m doing a really nice woman a favor, okay? So what do you want to talk about?” he asks. And Joan is sick of beating about the bush and bluntly asks, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Stunned, he replies, “I thought you were going to apologize to me, yo.” Joan’s right when she says that she’s apologized a hundred times, they’re both bored with that. “Why did you think I was going to kill myself?” he then asks.
Joan knows about the note. Bitterly, Adam asks, “Grace told you, huh?” Yes, Grace knows, and Helen knows and everyone knows. And in her naïveté, Joan asks him if he hasn’t read it because it was written backwards or smudged from tears… In a shaky voice, he says he’s afraid. Afraid that it’ll say it was his fault that his mother killed herself. And Joan finally understands what a big deal this is for Adam. And because she’s Joan, she tells him that she thinks it’s worse wondering what it might say than knowing for sure. Before she leaves, she turns around and addresses Adam one more time: “I am sorry for smashing your art. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know about your mother. I hope we can still be friends. I really, really want for you to have… good ripples.”
The next morning, the Girardi family gets a surprise. Adam turns up at their house and Joan can barely contain her delight at seeing him. Does it mean Adam has finally forgiven her? The graveness of his visit soon becomes clear to her when he pulls a white envelope from his jacket. In a very low voice, he says, “I tried all night, Jane. I can’t. I can’t go into it cold. I need some kind of warning… you know, of how to prepare myself.” He hands the letter to Joan.
Unsure, she opens it, knowing full well how much responsibility is suddenly on her, how much this simple gesture means. She tries to read the first few words, but she just can’t do it either. Wordlessly, she holds the letter out to Helen, who is leaning against the kitchen table. Helen walks over and stands before Adam and he turns fully to face her. I love that. Slowly, she starts to read as Joan stands next to Adam. The words that come from Helen’s lips touch everyone deeply: “Dearest boy, my Adam. I dreamed a dream, you and I facing each other in a tiny yellow boat on green water under blue sky. Me and my son and the yellow boat. And we laugh and the boat rocks and the ripples spread from boat to pond to sea to sky. And nothing can stop them, nothing ever will. When you think of me, Adam, know that in a world of pain you were and always will be my joy. Love, Mom.” As they listen, Joan lifts her hand to touch Adam’s shoulder very lightly. And the amazing thing is not that she touches him, it’s the fact that he lets her that makes our hearts leap with hope.
When Helen finishes reading the letter, Adam looks at her with tears shimmering in his eyes. Helen shares a very genuinely affectionate hug with him and wipes the tears from his cheeks. She really feels for this boy, and those feelings will only grow deeper and more complex over time. He whispers, “Thanks,” and leaves. His mother’s words were beautiful and hopeful. The relief is almost tangible in the air. Joan smiles through her own tears as she says to her mother, “The ripples were good.” Helen agrees.
At the big science fair in school, the students are proudly presenting their works. Joan and Adam goof around and then she takes his hand and they walk together through the exhibits, laughing and smiling and looking very comfortable together. Helen watches them with her own smile. Luke and Grace’s exhibit goes wonky when their rail gun develops more acceleration force than expected and plows through several other projects in a very funny Rube Goldberg set-up that results in feathers spilling into the blower in the middle of the room. Feathers fly through the air like snowflakes. And in the bizarreness of the moment, Adam and Joan laugh together, looking into each other’s eyes and they melt into the sweetest, most innocent first kiss, feathers raining down on them. Everything is just perfect here, the music, the slow fade as their lips meet. What a moment. And what a beautiful way to reunite the two of them.
Click here to watch selected scenes from this episode.
Trivia (by Deb):
I said you’d learn why Adam went to the Girardi house when he didn’t want to see Joan. In the original shooting script there is dialog from Grace about how she wants to build the rail gun with Luke and she brought Adam along because he’s the only one among them who knows how to weld. Does make me wonder who did finally weld the rail gun though. Hmmm.
Also, in the script, Joan reads the salutation of the letter out loud to Adam before handing it off to Helen. I, for one, am so glad they cut that. It would’ve been really weird.
In the Adam/Joan talk in the shed, Joan explains about the three kinds of suicides that Intern-God tells her about. It’s a little too much. Another smart cut.
In the script, Joan does drag her mom out of the hospital, telling her, “I have to go see Adam, right now. It’s important… right now.” I love that. Wish it had stayed in. My guess is they wanted the audience to enjoy the surprise of Helen walking into Adam’s shed.
In the kitchen scene as Adam listens to Helen reading his mother’s suicide note and begins to cry, when Joan touches his shoulder and he lets her, that is NOT scripted. We don’t know if it was directed that way, or if Amber and Chris’s instincts were that good. But it is my belief that by this episode, in fact probably because of this episode, they really knew their characters. And the looks and the touches became second nature. Some of these things cannot be directed, folks. They’re more like magic.
Dorquette Milestone (by Deb):
Anyone who’d ever seen Chris before this episode already knew he was an amazing actor. This is the episode where most of us sat up and took notice. Many a Dorquette was born this day. Certainly true in my case. We got to see those famous tear ducts in action. And we got to see this character that we all love fully click into place and become himself.
Thank You, Mary Steenburgen Moment (by Deb):
This show probably would not exist for me and therefore we wouldn’t be here with this website if not for the fact that I gave it a chance merely because Mary was in it. I’ve been a fan of her work ever since Time After Time (1979). Sometimes, I will just have to stop and fall at her feet with a bit of well-earned praise. And she is just wonderful in this episode. Like the rest of this fantastic cast, she is equally adept at comedy and tragedy. She gives us a little of both here and you just love her in the scene she shares with Chris as she reads the letter. You will also see me sing the praises of the chemistry they had together, Chris and Mary. Bonding Adam and Helen was a terrific choice by the writers, and in the hands of these two artists, it’s palpably real and achingly beautiful.