Season Three: Exploring A FATHER SHOULD BE
Britrock website copyright EA Woolley
A FATHER SHOULD BE
The very last episode from the Jem series (yes, shedding a tear or two at this juncture is allowed.) Written by the highly talented Christy Marx, this episode is something of an odd choice of concluding plot, being that it settles very few of the series' big issues in a satisfactory manner. The main key issue of Jem and her friends is left entirely alone - the fact Rio does not know she is both Jem and Jerrica. He is fated never to know this, it would seem!
Instead, the plot focuses in on one of the lesser ongoing series plots -BaNee and her father.
MARTIN O'CAROLYN and THE GHOST OF 'NAM
Though from the outset this episode appears to be about a little girl hunting for her father, there is a far deeper, more sinister message going on in the background. After the hints of military connections in Riot's Hope, this episode actually plunges us back into the Vietnam war in bits and pieces, through the hazy recollections of tormented soldier Martin O'Carolyn. If it isn't clear to Jem and the Holograms from the off that this is their man, it's fairly clear to the viewer that there is more to Martin than simply a war veteran with a history of amnesia. He suffers from recurring flashbacks to the war situation, and to the image of a Vietnamese girl whose image he cannot place in his mind. The sobering truth is that Martin's experiences are only a brief cartoonised depiction of something many soldiers who fought in wars like the Vietnam and Gulf wars went on to suffer. Through this conflict Martin lost his identity, and his family...though without it, he would never have met BaNee's mother, nor had BaNee. We know from the beginning that BaNee's mother came to America alone, and that she is now dead. It makes it all the more a tragedy, then, to see the ill-fated love story between Martin and his bride dragged apart even minutes after they had exchanged vows. I don't know if using Vietman in this way was deliberately meant to conjure up so many conflicting things, but either way, it does make you think. Firstly, the segregation and suspicion of wartime, and secondly, how far-reaching an impact war can have on families. BaNee is an orphan who has never really known her father, and who has lost her mother. And yet she has grown up in America, among the same people as those who, at the time of her conception, were enemies of her mother's people. Maybe that is the ultimate message in this - that peace can bring hope and that even after so many years and so much suffering, families can be reunited in the end.
I don't know. Either way, the use of Vietnam is hauntingly effective.
WHICH DAD IS DAD??
On to BaNee, and her unhealthy obsession with her father. And by this point it is indeed an unhealthy obsession. All her pictures on the classroom walls show redhaired men - whether they be Robin Hood or King Arthur - and she declares to the other Starlight Girls that without her father she doesn't want to go on living. (This invites into the plot another dark issue - something not foreign to the Jem series, but yet again an issue to make you stop and really think about BaNee's situation.) It has to be remembered that, despite how perky and cheerful the Starlight Girls usually are, they are children who have lost their homes and families for whatever reason, and to see BaNee so torn up over her missing father is actually more believable than the unquestioning happiness that we tend to see in a lot of other episodes. It's understandable that the girl should resent the fact that she's missing something most of her school peers have, and though she has Jerrica to fill the maternal void, she doesn't really have a father figure. (This brings us momentarily to another thing - the Starlight Girls clearly do not see Rio as a father figure, even though he is and has always been in and around the Starlight Mansion and is Jerrica's boyfriend.)
However, BaNee is a child with a trusting, accepting nature and it often gets her into trouble - this episode is not an exception. After the debacle of the Jem Jam, you would think she'd have stopped and asked a few more questions this time - but no, that just isn't BaNee's way. Her heart-rending song "A Father Should Be" (Which presumably titled the episode), though a repeat from the Jem Jam outlines very clearly exactly what she sees a Dad as being - a hero, someone who's strong, someone who'll defend her and stick up for her and always be there for her. And that's what she's looking for - some hero beyond human nature and fallibility. We've already seen her fly after one redhaired man believing him to be her father. This time she has some help, because Jem and the Holograms are equally convinced that BaNee's dad is a conman they meet in Las Vegas, and who can't even get the kid's name right (calling her Bonnie instead of BaNee). Despite the mistake over the name, and the offhand way in which he greets her, BaNee is convinced he must be her father and therefore he must be perfect.
Why the Holograms let BaNee take off with this dude is still a mystery. It seems preposterously irresponsible for a group well used to the ins and outs of foster caring, and even if he was BaNee's real father, if they felt he was unsuitable to have her in his care, they could easily have insisted on chaperoning her. I have only one explanation for this behaviour and it's rooted somewhere well away from either BaNee or her hunt for her father. It's rooted back down in the confusion that is Jerrica herself. As Jerrica, she loves BaNee dearly - as Jerrica, she initiates the hunt for BaNee's dad and manipulates her Jem personality to assist her in what she's doing (procuring Riot's help, among other things.) But because it's only too clear that poor Jerrica has suffered many confusing moments in recent episodes, you can only assume that her judgement is not always on the ball by this time. And this is certainly an example of it.
As a result, BaNee has another nasty escapade in a zoo (yes, she's probably been put off them for life), although it does give her real father, Martin a chance to not only regain his missing memories but to rescue his daughter and be properly reunited with her once and for all.
THE MISFIT TRUCE
We could say a lot of things about the Misfits' role in this episode - or their lack of one. In essence this is another bit-part outing for the once-supreme rivals of the Jem series, but for once it's probably because this episode does not need a rival group, and even Riot only has a brief (if important) part to play in it. Because it's the last episode, however, the Misfits are pulled into it at the end with a rather strange "truce" offering, and gifts for BaNee.
Yeah. Definite doubletake moment, you have to admit. In the Music Awards, Pizzazz is dismissive of the Starlight Girls (BaNee being one of them) and uses them for her own ends. In Starbright she and Roxy have no interest in the fact BaNee is blind, except for how they can use it to their advantage. And in Treasure Hunt Pizzazz says she hates kids. Yet they've come all the way to enemy territory to offer presents to a little girl they don't really know?
Let's look deeper at this. If we forget just for a moment the easy explanation of "its the last episode and we have to have some closure somewhere", there are a few possible explanations for this bizarre act.
Firstly, Stormer. She's darn cheeky in this ending scene - when Pizzazz asks Jem "Why do you always think the worst of me?", Stormer cuts in with a "Don't answer that, Jem!". And we have to track back in the series to remember that at more than one interval Stormer *does* care about the Starlight Girls. She befriends Ashley at the beginning. She wants to know which little girl is sick in Starbright, and she takes some sort of care over the runaway Starlight Girls and the street urchins in later episodes, too. The Now! video hints that Stormer maybe has more influence over Pizzazz and the Misfits after the events in The Stingers Hit Town, albeit an implication rather than solid fact. This truce would seem to back that up.
Another potential explanation could lie with Roxy. It was, after all, BaNee who was the only one who was willing to help her to learn to read after the mess of Roxy Rumbles, and it's more than possible this had a deeper impact on Roxy than she - or any of them -really realised until this point.
Whatever the reason for the Misfits being there, it makes for a cute (if improbable) ending to the series. BaNee giving Pizzazz a big hug and a kiss shows a surprisingly soft and gentle side to the Misfit singer which maybe proves there's hope for her yet - and that maybe the business of Riot and being humiliated has had a positive effect on her character as well as a negative one - ie, BaNee is no longer afraid of her. And, shocked as she is by the gesture, she gets no teasing from the others - Roxy just grins at it, as if it's perfectly natural.
Christy Marx herself has said that the truce was not intended to be forever, only for the sake of BaNee's leaving. This I can accept more readily than I could a permanent truce being cemented so conveniently. My personal preference is that it was down to Stormer's influence that the Misfits showed up at all - though of course it seems likely it was written in simply to tie off a loose end in the story.
It brings us to two other points, however. Firstly - as has been pointed out to me by another Misfit fan - the Misfits need not have even been in the final episode. They'd been so sidelined by the Stinger episodes that they had almost become redundant characters - yet the fact they were brought back, even for a token truce scene proves that they were still seen as significant rival characters. There is no truce (spoken or otherwise) between the Stingers and the Holograms. Jem has Riot's help in tracking down BaNee's father, but this is really repayment for the events in Riot's Hope, and Rapture and Minx's feelings are not brought into the equation at all. This being the case, perhaps we can see that even at the death, and even after so much neglect, the Misfits were always the true rivals of the series after all.
The other point it raises is simply this - that if the roles had been reversed, would Jem and the Holograms have shown up on the doorstep of the Gabor Estate, willing to call a truce and shake hands for the sake of someone's farewell party? My personal inclination says not - even from the moment they arrive, Jem demands to know if they're here to cause trouble, and it is Pizzazz who initiates the gesture of truce, not Jem. As a Misfit fan, this speaks volumes to me. At the end of the day, it's the Misfits who are big enough to come and raise the white flag, and not the heroines of the series at all. Food for thought, that.
THIS IS FAREWELL...
"This is farewell, farewell but not forever, this is farewell until we're back together".
For a lot of Jem fans, this song holds a haunting truth to it. Children who grew up with the series and the dolls are now adults returning to their old fancy as nostalgia kicks in, making Jem's words ring eerily true. But yet, at the time this episode aired, the words of This is Farewell probably rang more true as a goodbye to BaNee, not a goodbye to the whole show. Now, of course, it's impossible to see it as anything else. Jem gathers together as many of the Starlight Girls into the picture as she can, Riot, Pizzazz, Rapture, even Rio and Stormer have their own words/lines in this song, which is unheard of for any Jem track across the series (Only "Now!" even comes anywhere close to this, and this too marked a cataclysmic change in Jem's universe.) The song is bittersweet with hindsight, and the show closes for the last time on a scene of Jem waving goofily at the camera as it goes to fade. The end of an era.
At the moment, noone really knows if it is or isn't "forever" as far as an animated Jem series goes. Myself, I'd like to think that they'll leave her at that - preserved in her eighties cocoon as one of the most introspective cartoon shows of it's time.
What else can be said? Honestly and truthfully, I find it hard to comprehend why this episode focused on BaNee and her reuniting with her Dad, instead of Jem and Jerrica and Rio, or even better, a proper truce story between the Misfits and the Holograms. But there you have it. The show ends how it ends...and at least one of the plotlines was tied up by the time the tape stopped rolling!
Episode rating: 6/10.
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Britrock website copyright EA Woolley