1×21 Vanity, Thy Name Is Human

….. by TeeJay

The episode starts out with Kevin, Joan and Luke doing some grocery shopping for the family. They unexpectedly run into Beth, Kevin’s old girlfriend from when he had his accident. Major awkward moment because they haven’t been in touch ever since Kevin’s back was injured. Beth tells Kevin she now goes to college nearby and works in Arcadia to finance her studies.

Helen rediscovers her love for painting. Will is oblivious and very inept at trying to hide that he doesn’t know the first thing about the painting she created. “It’s nice.” Helen was obviously hoping for more detailed feedback. “Forget it.” Will tries to redeem himself. “No, I love it.” Helen shoots him a look. “What, it’s great,” he underlines.

In AP Physics Joan is showing Adam the air balloon giraffe God handed her when he gave her the assignment to join make-up class. “I’m not seeing a giraffe,” Adam says. Joan’s already past the giraffe and wants to go to the mall to have smoothies. Adam doesn’t do the mall. Grace has Hebrew class. Friedman wants to go, though. Yeah, right. Joan looks at Adam again. “You’re really not gonna go with me?” He frowns at her. “The mall gives me a rash, Jane. The aesthetic is rude.”

Mrs. Lischak hands out information sheets for “The Ancient Ritual of Cosmetology”. Joan doesn’t get it. Adam explains it to her: “It’s make-up.” A-ha! So Joan has no choice but to join, much to the dismay of her subdefective friends.

Make-up class is a freakshow. And the biggest freak among them is Friedman.

Helen shows her painting to an old friend who runs a gallery. He is very impressed with it. He asks Helen if he can make a series of three or four of them, he’s pretty sure he can sell them.

After make-up class, Joan and Glynis are walking down the school hallway, showing off their new looks. Glynis, now without glasses and with make-up, gets a lot of attention from the boys, and clearly enjoys it. Luke looks on. Is that jealousy we detect? Joan walks up to Adam, wanting so desperately for him to notice her make-over. Her very apparent make-over. She bats her eyelashes like she never has before. He’s so totally Adam-y clueless, his eyes are glued to the paper he’s holding. “Oh, they’re showing Night Of The Hunter at the Rialto . Classic film night with Robert Mitchum. Wanna go?” He looks at her.

She does a lot of showing off, fumbling with her hair. She couldn’t be more obvious. “I don’t know, is it in black and white?” He glances at her. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s Noir.” “I don’t know. I have a lot of homework,” she stalls. He looks at her with confusion written all over his face. “Are you mad at me ’cause I wouldn’t go to the mall?” At least he realizes something’s not quite right. “No,” she replies, smiling, shaking her hair once again. “What?” Adam asks. Joan’s fed up. “Notice anything?” she finally asks. He gives her a once-over. “Uh, yeah… Jane.” She’s done. “Okay. Just wondering.” Sarcastically she adds as she walks away, “Enjoy your Noir.” Adam’s eyes follow her, clearly taken aback.

In their garage, Helen tries to come up with more paintings for her series, but it doesn’t look like she’s very happy with her work. Beth comes by for an unexpected visit to talk to Helen. Kevin surprises them when he comes home and they are sitting down at the kitchen table, talking. Oh, he’s angry! He throws Beth out, mainly because he feels humiliated by her sudden intrusion into his home, his safe zone.

In make-up class, Joan is told that the trick is to redirect the eye to your best features. “What if I don’t have any best features?” Joan asks herself. Goth-God tells her, “Everyone has a best feature, Joan. I saw to that.” Joan’s annoyed that Adam doesn’t seem to really notice her, notice the drastic visual changes in her. God asks her to look in the mirror and tell Him what she sees. And she realizes that the girl with tons of make-up on her face is not who she is.

At home, Joan is cleaning out her closet, throwing away a lot of items of clothing, wearing some old, baggy jeans and a very low-key brown top. Her hair does not look very groomed. When Kevin asks her what she’s doing, she explains she’s spring cleaning.

In the garage Joan and Helen end up shouting at each other over Helen’s inability to get back to that burst of paining frenzy that produced the painting everyone’s so fascinated with. Then she realizes Joan stinks. She obviously hasn’t showered in a while. Joan explains, “Mom, I’m freeing myself from the media’s ideals of feminine beauty.” Helen is confused. “And you’re doing this by stinking and looking like hell?”

Kevin gets over his pride and asks Beth to meet him at a coffee shop. They talk about old times and his accident. It feels like something’s being mended.

In school, Joan’s wearing this really old flannel shirt. She looks like she hasn’t seen a shower or hair brush for days. She and Grace talk about beauty and the importance of it. Grace asks her, “So, Rove liked your new look?” She pretends she doesn’t care as she explains, “He hasn’t said anything. Yet. But I’m sure he will.” Grace tells her he won’t notice, hasn’t noticed before. “Look, we’re both about more than just superficial appearances,” Joan says. Are you really, Joan?

Over a conversation about fakeness and make-up, Luke and Glynis break up in the school hallway. Luke thinks Glynis should be able to enjoy all the new attention, the freedom.

Up on the school roof, Adam is sitting down, reading the cinematic section of the newspaper again. Joan joins him on the roof, still wearing the dingy clothes from before. “Hey,” she greets him. “Hey,” he greets back, asking, “You ever seen Touch Of Evil, it’s playing at the Rialto tonight.” Joan has to ask again, “In black and white?” Adam explains, “Yeah, it’s Orson Welles.”

Joan lets her hands drop to her sides, she’s had enough. “I want color,” she tells him. “But the way he shot it in black and white, you know, it gives the images this rich texture, and—” Joan interrupts him. “Adam, it’s the 21st century, okay? I want color and THX and stadium seating and cup holders. The Rialto smells like a nursing home!”

Adam still thinks it’s about the movies. “Yeah, but you have to learn the visual language of film if you wanna—” That settles it, Joan goes into rant mode. “How can you be so observant when it comes to some movie made during the Civil War, but when it comes to me, I could grow a mustache and you wouldn’t notice!” Okay, something’s clearly amiss here, Adam finally notices it. He puts the paper away and gets up to face Joan. “Did I miss something?” Oh, Adam! You have no clue, do you? Joan spells it out for him. “I’ve been wearing the same clothes for two days. I haven’t washed my hair. My face is so unadorned, I could be killed by the Aztecs.”

Adam just shrugs. “It’s cool with me.” Really? You dig a smelly girlfriend? Joan wonders the same thing. “So the rank, stinky slob thing, that’s a turn-on for you?” He shrugs again. “If it’s who you are.” Joan tells him that the last few days she was wearing a ton of much make-up, asks if that turns him on too. “Appearances are superficial, Jane,” he says. Joan can’t believe he’s saying it’s all about inner beauty. “How about going to the mall? That matters to you. And that’s all about appearances!” she says, her voice raised. He tries to explain, “That’s different,” but Joan says it’s not. “No, you are so vain,” she tells him.

Adam, vain? Where? She explains it to him, “You try so hard to look like you don’t care, just like I was trying to do, but you do. You do care. You wanna be that arty guy, who thinks he’s so above the mall,” she yells at him, “Well, I like the mall, okay?!” “Okay, you like the mall,” he yells back. She’s not done. “You know what I like too? I like watching Laverne & Shirley on TV Land. That’s right!”

He looks at her, confused, “Laverne & Shirley?” he asks.

“Yeah! Lenny and Squiggy! ‘Hello?!’ I loved it, and I was afraid to tell you that because I thought you would think I was some bubblehead and you wouldn’t wanna hang out with me anymore, and you know what? Maybe you don’t!” She starts crying while she’s still yelling at him. Turning away to catch her breath, he watches her, silently. She turns back around, sobbing. “I can’t stand… us pretending like this. Both of us trying to live up to some image of what we think we should be! Well, if that’s what we are… then I don’t like us!” She runs out on him, leaving him standing there, lost.

Late at night at the Girardi house, Helen is outside in the garden, spraying charcoal lighter over her latest paintings, lighting them up with a match to watch them burn. She explains to Will that this one painting became so important that it started to run her life, and she realized that’s not what she wanted.

Inside the house, Joan is coming down the stairs in a red top and pajama pants, rubbing her wet hair, obviously just having taken a shower. She answers a knock at the door. When she opens it, it’s Adam standing there. She is speechless for a second, surprised. “Hey,” she quietly says. He just looks at her, waiting for an explosion or an apology of whatever she has in store for him. Quietly, she says, “Guess I kinda flipped out.” “Yeah,” he says just above a whisper. He looks almost angelic, standing there with his eyes all rapt on her. Then he says, “The mall really does freak me out. You know, it’s like all the stores are yelling at me.”

She shrugs and says with a smile, “So I guess that makes us both crazy.” “So we got that going for us,” he tells her, and a small smile plays at his lips. Then he adds, “I really liked that pink shirt you were wearing the other day.” It dawns on her that he did notice. She realizes something. “I think I threw that out.” His, “Oh,” in response is barely audible.

She finally invites him into the house, and even though he’s been there before, he acts as if it’s the first time. It’s so cute. She asks him what’s in the paper bag he brought. He just hands it to her wordlessly. Joan reads the titles of the videos he has in the bag. “Dude, Where’s My Car?, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Dumb And Dumber? Tommy Boy.” He does his pointy thing he sometimes does when she takes out the video tape of Tommy Boy. “Did you rent these?” she asks. He just smiles and shakes his head.

She can’t believe it. “They’re yours?” He explains, “There’s an anarchic absurdity in Dude that speaks to teenage alienation.” She raises her eyebrows, clearly not getting it. By way of explanation, he adds, “It’s funny as hell.” He puts the video tape into the VCR and they plop on the sofa, ready to watch the movie, starting to quote lines from it in unison. She snuggles up to his shoulder and they are having a great couply moment on the couch as the camera pans away to end the episode on Will and Helen smiling and watching their daughter laugh and have fun with her boyfriend.