“Stick in the Mud” is a duplicitous episode of television, in that a lot of what would’ve been awesome for SelfieÂ long-term, doesn’t quite work as well in the short term, operating as the penultimate episode of the series. It’s very much an episode of two halves; one that does a stunning job establishing a core conflict in Eliza’s formative days (bringing in her sister Bethany as a catalyst), and another, lesser story between Freddy and Henry that acts as a somewhat-limp parallel to the powerful story sitting with the two females of the episode.
All in all, it makes for a very confusing watch: Henry’s behavior around Eliza is the definition of a swinging pendulum right now; this week, his affection for her seems completely innocent, absent of the awkward, “I have feelings for you but can’t express them” overtones of the last few episodes. And again, it’s a tale of two worlds: while the inconsistency makes for an initially jarring watch, the absence of his pursuit of Eliza gives much-needed room to breathe, allowing for voice overs where Eliza explains how her relationship with her older sister became a defining factor of who she was.
However, the episode isn’t all cheap dramatics and quick, unearned emotional finishes; Eliza’s journey to enlightenment in this episode ends in such a powerful place, with such a meaningful reconciliation between the two sisters, whatever material lacking in the foundation of their relationship (like the fact this is the first time Bethany’s been seen or mentioned) is quickly forgotten. It all clicks into place when Bethany mentions their parents’ divorce. Instead of true hatred for her sister, Eliza’s lack of confidence and self-centered approach to life stemmed from feeling like she ruined her family with her birth – bringing us back full circle to the present, when a self-obsessed adult Eliza thinks her pregnant sister is going to ruin whatever forward progress she’s made in her life, casting her back in the shadows again.
Unfortunately, Henry and Freddy’s passive-aggressive frenemies story line doesn’t quite connect as well, even though I really enjoyed the parallels drawn between Eliza and Bethany arguing and Henry and Freddy’s training sessions and mud run together. The problem is Freddy’s not that interesting a character, and Henry’s competitive nature doesn’t quite come with enough heat, kind of alongside the same wishy-washy lines his romantic pursuit of Eliza has been. Cho’s performance remains terrific, but the writing around Henry hasn’t remained as strong, with his emotions seemingly playing to whatever the rest of the script needs – except when it’s diving headfirst into easy Henry jokes, whichÂ SelfieÂ still pulls off flawlessly (the whole “literally” debate between him and Freddy is terrific).
As much as Henry and Freddy’s story provides an easy avenue for humor, it just doesn’t click into place as neatly as Bethany and Eliza’s does, even given the sudden nature how their relationship is brought to light (those short flashback sequences are wonderful, though, an evocative visual representation of Eliza’s statement about immediately “reverting” back to her five-year-old self). And although it definitely doesn’t work as a penultimate episode of a series, Eliza’s moments of truth at the end of the episode represent another major shift in perspective for the character, a point of growth I only wish the show could build on in the future.
Photo via ABC