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Throwback Thursday - Looking For Alaska - I've Never Felt Better...

Throwback Thursday is a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from the past.

This week's choice is a little unusual, in that Looking For Alaska aired only two years ago, and only has one season. But, hear me out! It's a great little show, which I feel didn't get quite enough attention when it aired, and since it's a limited series, for all intents and purposes, it is over and done. My only qualm was picking which episode to cover, since they're pretty much all fantastic. However, I'm choosing to be magnanimous and finally settled on the one that is kind of a turning point, and will make you want to see the whole show (in case you haven't tried it yet) without spoiling too much of anything. And if, like me, you were wary of diving into it because it's based on a John Green book, and we all know what they're like...Fear not, it's the best adaptation out of any of his books, and minus a very (straight from the book) cringe-worthy quote in the last episode, works very well on screen.

To give you some context: Miles Halter is a lonely, thoughtful, teenager who grew up as an only child in sunny Florida, and who has felt woefully out of place for his entire life. Friendless and with an endearing penchant for knowing an indecent number of famous last words from famous people (albeit without having read the actual biographies in their entirety), Miles has finally decided to join his father (Walter Halter, this family, I swear)'s alpha mater: Culver Creek Academy. A sort of boarding school, perched in the Alabama wilderness (well, wooded area), with no AC and unsatisfying water pressure. But what the school lacks in amenities, it more than makes up for in company. Miles is in search of his "Great Perhaps", but along the way, what he actually finds, at least at first, is his people.
It could've gone horribly wrong, to be fair, but the Colonel: a whip-smart fast talker who is the heart and soul of Culver Creek, almost immediately adopts Miles, nicknames him Pudge, and the rest is history. Along with the Colonel, comes a merry little band of fast friends: the more aloof and sometimes scathing Takumi, and of course: the one and only Alaska. The Colonel's girlfriend Sara is much more of a peripheral presence, as is new girl from Romania: Lara, but they're still somewhat a part of the group, if not in a core-four way like the others. Because fancy lessons about world religions, and very approximatively-taught French (I would know, and whoever coached Madame O'Malley with her accent should be fired) aren't enough, they also wage quasi constant prank wars with their main ennemies: the Weekday Warriors, making for usually funny, but often humiliating predicaments. They also, smoke, A LOT, but not entirely for the same reasons. It seems like a throaway line at the time, but Alaska's brutal response that she "smokes to die" is eerie, in retrospect. Even in the early episodes, there's something about her that seems ephemeral, and it's no wonder Miles is immediately drawn to her.

This specific episode takes place on Halloween (I'll admit, this factored into my episode choice, I'm one of those chai tea loving, Ugg wearing, Fall as a favorite season, basic white girls, and Halloween is my cryptonite, holiday-wise), and Pudge is about to go on his first date. He and Alaska have a strange rapport, in that she's constantly trying to set him up with other girls, and yet can't possibly ignore he's following her around with puppy dog eyes, and even plays on it. When Pudge stumbles through to her room with a panicked look and a rumpled shirt he's changed three times, she starts to undress him. And I do mean undress him, button by button, with delicate fingers and a soft look on her face. It's no wonder Pudge almost falls forward when she ends up tugging the shirt off him in order to iron it, Alaska was definitely playing with fire (and his feelings) there.
The gang all goes to the game, where (upon Alaska's misguided, and one wonders, on purpose, advice), Pudge does not sit next to Lara, playing hard to get. One could almost say it worked, since at the end of the night Lara does offer for him to sleep in her bed (purely for medical reasons, obviously!) but I doubt it's a direct result of that strategy, on the contrary. As per tradition, the Colonel finds a way (in increasingly original fashion) to get kicked out of the game, much to the Eagle (the school's dean)'s quiet amusement, despite his severe, and mustachioed, exterior. Unfortunately, this results in Pudge getting a direct hit to the head, and the ensuing concussion. Unsurprisingly, concussions don't make for the most romantic dates, and Pudge and Lara's is no exception. She does drive him to the hospital in a lime green limo though, so there's a certain prom feeling to the night after all.

While Pudge is out of commission, one of the school's worst scandals breaks out. It all started when in the first episode, a couple of teenagers were busted for drinking, smoking, and having sex, which is strictly verboten. The Eagle's stellar two-year-free record of no teen pregnancies was not about to be broken, thank you very much. Where the plot thickens though, is that Marya was Alaska's roommate, and the number of students who could've known about the hook up time and place is very limited. Earlier in the episode, one of the Weekday Warriors warns Takumi that they have it on good authority that the person who ratted out Paul and Marya is none other than...Alaska. Alaska, who swears by the school's unspoken codes, who'd sooner quit smoking than tell on a fellow student, who values friendship above all else. Takumi probably would've dismissed it completely, if he hadn't seen Alaska arguing with the Eagle on the first day of school, and if she'd ever brought it up afterwards. But she never did, and Takumi has to recognize the truth, Alaska did rat. Confronting her doesn't bring any more light as to why she did it, and she brushes him off, even going so far as to loudly greeting Marya at the game, as if nothing happened. Despite the evidence, the fiercely loyal Colonel rejects any possibility that Alaska could be the rat, alienating both Takumi and Sara, who finally breaks up with him. She's right though, he does always put Alaska first. They all do.
By then, Alaska's perfect image has started to shatter, as she leans into a series of self-sabotaging events in order to deal with the realization that life at Culver Creek will never be the same for her. After the game, she follows Jake back to his dorm and latches onto a college Halloween party where she drinks way too much, and proceeds to find the ideal replacement for herself as Jake's girlfriend (no, they haven't even broken up yet, but Alaska's always ahead). She leaves without saying goodbye, hitches a ride with a stranger, and ends up on a bench at the store. She's stuck, both literally since she doesn't have a ride, and figuratively, since there's an invisible barrier between her and the school now. Once a rat, always a rat.

Freshly released from the hospital, Pudge and Lara are winding their way back to Culver Creek when Pudge, of course, spots Alaska's dejected form from afar. Let me just remind you: the boy couldn't even remember his own name, or how to speak in full sentences about five minutes ago. But one glance at a forlorn girl on a badly lit street, and his Alaska radar is ON. I don't blame him, but man, does Lara suffer through playing second fiddle just about at all times.

Alaska isn't quite done isolating herself from everyone in her life, so an unaware Pudge gets the brunt of her anger, reaffirming their relationship status, or lack thereof: to him, she's still completely off limits because of Jake. It doesn't stop him from picking her over Lara's invitation to sleep in her bed though, because Pudge is still Pudge, and Alaska is still Alaska. Even when she's unraveling, the appeal is still too strong for Pudge to renounce.
As it turns out, Alaska had a valid reason for telling on Marya and Paul. On that first day, the Eagle busted her for burying some wine bottles in the forest, and threatened to expulse her unless she could give him some information in exchange. Going home wasn't an option, and while at this point in the show it isn't revealed, exactly, why, you definitely get the sense that she'd rather destroy her entire belief system rather than go back to Vine Station.
“I suggest you learn to live here. There are worse things in life than being called a rat.”
And thus, Alaska's new life begins. I haven't talked about the music yet, but please take the time to (re)listen to this "Take me out" cover, which is one of many perfectly set up musical cues over the duration of the show. It's a Josh Schwartz show, so I expected no less (and there's even a little O.C. reference along the way, along with several song overlaps from both shows), but it's still wonderfully done.

The show only gets better from here (and it was already good), but this episode is really pivotal in both storylines and character development, and the rest of the series goes from delightfully fun to overwhelmingly heartbreaking. Name an emotion, you'll live through it, it's just that good. For those of you who've seen the show, I hope this brought back fond memories, and for the others: it's definitely not just another teen show. Check it out! As usual, sound off in the comments.


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