Season Two: Exploring MIDDLE OF NOWHERE



    The basic plot of this episode has Jem and the Holograms going to tour in Alaska, conveniently where BaNee has a penpal called Utu (? spelling unsure) who has a close bond with a local seal. The Holograms decide to take BaNee with them on the tour to see Utu. At the same time, Eric Raymond has a plan to turn the seal's island into a multi-billion dollar factory site to produce cheap records, and seeks Harvey Gabor's backing. Of course, this leads to the inevitable clash of interests between money and nature, which, also predictably (if not altogether realistically), nature ultimately wins.

    At first glance, this seems to be a fairly cliche episode about a conflict of corporate greed and saving the environment. It also has some of the poorest animation - not quite as amusing as ShangriLa, but on the same lines. I can understand why a cursitory eye might dismiss it on those rather predictable grounds, but I think that it's an episode worth exploring anyway. The reason for that is that, in spite of the overriding theme, there are some particularly vital character expositions provided by this episode, and I don't think it's a waste to hone in and examine them in more detail.

    Without a doubt I think that BaNee is the most disaster-prone of all of the Starlight Girls. This episode is no exception, as the key turning points of this episode's plot centres on BaNee's ignoring Jem's instructions that travelling in the kayak on her own is not a wise idea, and the subsequent trouble that it causes. Because of BaNee's naivety and wilful disobedience, Jem ends up unconscious and she and the two girls are stranded on the seal's beach with nothing but a fire to keep them warm through the night. Of course, this is also the opening for the seals to save the girls, leading to the family realising their true value, and so we might say that BaNee ultimately saved the seals in the same way they saved her and her companions. Still, as fond as I am of BaNee, you would think that, given the number of scrapes she's already been through (her eye operation, her running away with Dierdre and ending at Haven House to name but two) she'd have learned to listen to Jem's instructions. But then again, by the time of A Father Should Be, she is still not great at listening to what people around her tell them. Because the series finales on BaNee and her finding her father, I always think it's important to take into consideration her frequent involvement in the episodes. She generally plays a pivotal role in episodes that relate to bigger issues - sometimes with others, but often on her own. In Roxy Rumbles we saw her as the poster-child to stamp out illiteracy. We saw her as the key cause of the Holograms participation in Starbright, and of course, here, we have a major environmental issue where BaNee is right at the heart of it. I don't think that this is coincidental. BaNee is a child of her time and in a sense, a politically sensitive individual within the Jem cartoon. We find out in Father Should Be that her father and mother were separated after an affair in Vietnam, and that BaNee is irrevocably tied to that event in American history, which in the 1980s was still in recent enough memory for BaNee to have been born as a result. I do sometimes wonder whether her prominent involvement in several Jem episodes has a deeper underlying message about children born from American and Vietnamese parentage during this time, almost to underscore their "identity" in American society. Oddly, BaNee's ethnicity and history gets very little overall attention from Jem fans as a subject in its own right, nor have I ever seen any other discourse connecting her frequent use and even the doll production to America's mixed feelings over the Vietnam conflict during the 1980s. I may be reading too much into it, but it strikes me that, as in this episode, BaNee is possibly the most pivotal Starlight Girl in the things she becomes involved in. Other girls play key roles, but when big issues are at stake, the key focus is often around BaNee.


    I have already discussed Father's Day, and the breakdown of relationship that we see there regarding Pizzazz and her father. In that episode we see Harvey as a slightly regretful older man, who admits he's spoiled his only daughter, and who owns to the reason Pizzazz has gone somewhat off the rails. But, if you put Father's Day in conjunction with this episode, I think that Harvey has got his judgement completely wrong where his daughter is concerned. He hasn't spoiled her. He's neglected her.

    The episode opens at Harvey's office, presumably in Los Angeles. He's surrounded by employees and barking orders, and Pizzazz is being told by his secretary that she can't schedule an appointment for that day, Harvey is just too busy. The people round the desk are almost a physical barrier between Pizzazz and her father at this point, broken up only by Pizzazz resorting to what I can only assume is the sole effective way of getting her father's attention away from his work. People often comment on Pizzazz being loud, but in this scene, you really understand why that is. Only by yelling can Pizzazz break through the work haze and get through to her father that she's even there. Even then, he's not interested in seeing her - not until she mentions business and wanting to discuss it with him. At that point he dismisses his companions and pays her full attention. Pizzazz brings forth Eric, with a business proposal, and Harvey is wary, but tells Pizzazz to go with him and make sure it all works out. He tells Pizzazz to make him proud, and Pizzazz assures him that she will. It's a very sad exchange, really. Harvey has made his entire world business, to the point where he can't even let down his shield to his only daughter for a few moments. In Father's Day, we saw a more human side to him - albeit directed only at Kimber, not towards Pizzazz herself, which fact alone was criminal. In this episode, Harvey only wants to talk to Pizzazz if she is being the kind of person he wants her to be. He isn't interested in being proud of her for the things she is good at being.

    Pizzazz occasionally shows some acumen and nouse for wheeler-dealing, but I wouldn't call her a natural businesswoman. However, she is a successful musician. We see in Father's Day that Harvey trivialises that fact or pretty much ignores it, assuming Pizzazz only needs his money and has none of her own. Here again there is no sign of him being interested in Pizzazz's musical career - he's only interested in the billions Eric is promising to produce from this factory deal in Alaska. Harvey doesn't need more money, but he uses it as a shield to fill the gap presumably left by his wife when she walked out (providing he didn't drive her out with his over-zealous business attitude). Pizzazz, on the other hand, doesn't want or need money. She wants her father's pride and affection, and yet every time she is foiled.

    Throughout the episode, there are a few occasions where this desperation for Harvey's approval shows itself again. When Harvey makes first contact with them in Alaska, he's calling for his daughter, but Eric grabs the radio and starts talking. Pizzazz is angry about this, because Harvey had asked for her - and then when Harvey is ready to abandon the deal, she has to snatch up the radio and think quickly to try and keep her father interested. Her reaction when she signs off the radio is to tell Eric "I could kill you!", showing that she really doesn't want to appear a failure in her father's eyes. It has to be said that, even though this is a record factory, there's no obvious benefit to Pizzazz in it happening. She's getting no money and the Misfits have had no promise made to them about it being used to produce their albums or anything like that. It's as though she's taken it upon herself to take Eric's business idea to Harvey in the hope of getting a tiny bit of his approval and attention put her way - which in itself is heartbreaking.

    Later on in the episode, when Pizzazz has to tell Harvey the deal is off, he's disappointed and he doesn't bother to even land, abandoning his daughter in the ice and snow. Pizzazz takes it out on Eric by abandoning him there and leaving on dogsled, but the reality of this situation is that between the two times Pizzazz and Harvey spoke, Pizzazz almost lost her life in the rapids and on the ice rocks. The reason for Pizzazz's near accident also ties in to her wanting to get this deal working to get her father's attention - yet Harvey neither knows nor cares that his daughter's life was ever in peril; nor does Pizzazz seek any sympathy or attempt to explain. In a resigned voice, she simply tells him "no, Daddy", when he asks if everything is ready. It's as if she already knows that, no matter what she says, she's already fallen in his eyes once again, and it's just not worth fighting.

    I want to like Harvey, and Father's Day makes me feel bad for him. But this episode makes me feel so much worse for Pizzazz. We can see that it wasn't just her mother who left when she was small, but also her father. Growing up in that kind of cold, empty, material world - what chance did she ever have of growing up stable or properly adjusted?

    Though whilst I think this episode gives some clues to how alone Pizzazz is and has been, there's another interesting twist that isn't ever explained fully. We see Pizzazz and Eric travelling in in the first instance. Only Pizzazz was told by Harvey to travel with Eric to keep an eye on him. Yet, halfway through the episode and when Eric first hijacks the radio, we see the other Misfits for the first time. Pizzazz has brought them along too. There's no real reason for them to be there, they just are. Moral support for Pizzazz? Company? Her friends? We could speculate for ages, but the fact is, they are the only people who really listen to Pizzazz or pay her the attention she's never had from her family. It's a dysfunctional bond, but probably the most meaningful one Pizzazz has ever had, not to mention the most long-lasting.


    This has to come up here as well, because although it's a very long time into the episode before any Misfit other than Pizzazz gets dialogue, there's still a lot of stuff to be talked about where Misfit interaction is concerned. Chiefly, this is one of Jetta's more prominent episodes, and that's largely because she's singled out by Pizzazz as her partner in the ill-fated rescue scheme that sends them into the rapids.

    Before we look at Pizzazz and Jetta's interaction in this episode, though, I want to just focus on Jetta herself for a minute. I really love her in this episode, because I think that it shows the real her more than some of the more stylised episodes that don't give her individual focus. That said, she does also call Roxy a colonist, which is a bit odd. I can't remember ever calling an American person a colonist, under any circumstances, but hey, that's Jetta and Roxy's relationship, so let's leave that alone. What I will say is that Roxy riles Jetta by teasing her about not wanting to get in the boat, joking about English royalty being allergic to water. Jetta, who is really hesitant about boarding the boat before that point is suddenly all fired up and angry, telling Roxy that she'll do it, because she's done plenty of yachting in the past. There's absolutely zero sign in this scene that Roxy believes a word she says, nor is there really much impetus from Jetta trying to impress her status on the others. It's not a battle of deception, it's a battle of pride. She doesn't want to show her weakness, and so she lies to cover her fear and gets in the boat. As I have said so many times before, Jetta's vice is pride, it's not her lies - they are generally tied up in protecting her pride, not the other way around.

    The reason I focused then for a moment on Jetta's pride and her unwillingness to admit her fear of getting in the boat is because when she and Pizzazz are out in the rapids, the behaviour of both girls is very interesting. Both are panicking and yelling at each other, but whilst Pizzazz makes no real attempt to hide her fear from Jetta, Jetta manages to deflect her fear in a series of comments, blaming the "American engine" for cutting out, yelling at Pizzazz to "paddle" and so on. Aside from the first moment she raises the alarm, we don't get a good close up shot of Jetta's fear during this scene. Pizzazz, however, we get a full facial close-up, when she screams, "Jetta, do something!", her eyes wide and panicked. It's Pizzazz who's yelling hysterically about it being too late, and though both girls scream when they go through the rocks, when they manage to get through the other side, Pizzazz's emotion is relief whilst Jetta's is cloaked once again in sarcasm.

    Pizzazz: "It's a good thing I started paddling, or we'd be dead"
    Jetta: "Oh yeah, we're in much better shape now!"

    In both cases, the immediate tension has dropped for a moment, the fear and panic subsided. But where you can see the tangible drop in Pizzazz's terror, Jetta's real feelings are once more concealed behind her sharp tongue. Still, when the two girls are finally rescued, it's that moment when you realise that, of the two of them, it's probably Jetta who was the most scared. The reason being that Pizzazz is not suitably traumatised not to notice and hesitate that she's being rescued by "Holograms", whereas Jetta only cares about getting in the plane as soon as possible, and doesn't mind who saves them so long as they're out of the boat and the situation.

    I've taken this scene down into very minute detail, but the other thing that it tells us about Pizzazz and Jetta is the true status of their friendship. Pizzazz asks for volunteers for the boat, but she actively suggests Jetta accompanies her. More, the banter in the boat is pretty much equal. Jetta may have been keeping in with Pizzazz by supporting her plan originally even before it was fully explained, but when in the boat, that "respect" element completely breaks down. Jetta yells at Pizzazz. She shoves Pizzazz. She gives Pizzazz orders. And Pizzazz essentially takes all of it. If you needed evidence that Jetta is the closest thing Pizzazz has to a friend at this point in the series, then this scene in the boat is it. Very few people can talk to Pizzazz like Jetta can. I don't think I know of any other character who can shove her around without retribution. (True, there is an episode where Roxy waves a fist in Pizzazz's face, but that's a little different).


    So, I'm assuming that everyone reading this has actually seen this episode, and therefore knows what scenes I've been discussing, but in case it's not clear how or why Pizzazz and Jetta are in such a fix, it's because of BaNee, and also, because of Jem. Yes, Jem. The big plan is to rescue Jem, BaNee and Utu after their boat gets wrecked, because Pizzazz thinks it'll help Eric's cause with buying the island. I would say that normally Jem doesn't need rescuing, but even as I began to write that sentence, I realised I would be lying. Jem often needs to be rescued. She's very good at getting herself into sticky situations. This one, however, she appears to be charmed.

    First and foremost, she goes out on the water with Utu because BaNee takes the boat out against her wishes. BaNee gets in trouble and Utu and Jem risk their lives to get her back. Just when it seems they're safe, the boat hits a rock, and begins to sink. Jem, as the only responsible adult present, promptly makes the situation about sixteen times worse by saying they need to abandon ship, getting to her feet, slipping and banging her head on the boat, falling unconscious into the water. With the help of the seals, the girls get her to land, but although Utu starts a fire, there's no sign of help and BaNee especially is very upset.

    Now, a few things need to be questioned here. In Adventure in China, Jerrica took off the earrings when entering the spa bath, because she was worried about them in water. That was how Roxy managed to steal them in the first place. Yet here Jem falls into the water and is in the water a good long time. Yes, her head is always above the water, but I can't imagine they would get less splashed in this situation than they would if Jerrica had left them on in China. Yet, suprisingly, they did not short out, and Jem did not become Jerrica in front of the two girls. I can see that this would be an awkward plot moment, especially since Pizzazz was around with binoculars, but even so, it's not great for continuity.

    I am not sure how long they are on the seal's island, but I think it's for a while. All three of them have been in the water, yet none of them seem to show the slightest signs of hypothermia, which is surprising since they must have been quite wet. More, Jem is unconscious for a long time. When she comes round, they assume she's fine - but realistically, that kind of long spell out indicates at the very least concussion, at the worst, something more sinister. Yet somehow Jem manages to escape both of those dangerous conditions and is none the worse for wear for her adventure. Some heroines get all the breaks.


    I have to mention this, because Raya is a very docile and sweet-natured character for the most part. Yet when she puts her foot down and believes in something, she can have a spark about her that isn't always obvious. This episode is actually one of her stronger ones, although she's still not a central character. I think Raya has more key lines than the other Holograms do, and most of them relate to the seals. When Utu's brother is talking about being rich and never having to work, she takes a dig at him, commenting to Kimber (I think) that she doesn't see him working now. She challenges him several times about the seals, even when George mentions that the money will see to Utu going to college. And, later on, it's Raya who is convinced the seals know where the girls are - which she is right about. When George apologises for his attitude, it's Raya who accepts the apology, as though she considers it directed at her (which it probably ought to have been). I don't really think that the others (Jem aside) are really strongly swayed pro-seal so much as wanting to support BaNee and her friend, whereas you get the feeling that the environmental issue is important to Raya. Maybe part of it is because she's grown up in a nursery dealing with plants and therefore she has a keen appreciation for nature and living things. Who knows? It's another intriguing clue on the hunt for Raya's real personality.

    In George's case, he gets to play the typical part of the person blinded by greed until something makes him realise that there are more important things. Yet things he says also resonate with some logic and sense. The money would have paved the way for their future. It would've probably sent Utu to college. George isn't being selfish and greedy, he's trying to think about the future of his family. He's headstrong and sometimes he says too much - but he apologises for his attitude before any trouble begins, and so I can't dislike him for having his point of view. He can't see the value of the seals till they help save his sister's life - but in his own way, he is trying to do the same - save Utu's future by doing the only thing he sees possible.

    The seals get saved, but what of Utu, George and their parents? Jem and the Holograms continue with their tour, and leave BaNee with the family for a holiday, but there's no discussion as to how to improve the family's lot beyond that point. Raya asks George if there's another way for Utu to go to college without hurting the seals - but no solution is offered. Eric's deal is the only thing on the table, and whilst saving the seals is the right moral decision, when you look at the reality of a family and their survival, is it such a black and white issue? I wonder.

    I personally am glad they saved the seals, but I wish something had been done to imply that the family would be okay in the long run, and protected from other people like Eric looking to use the site for oil. It's another example of Jem and the Holograms getting things the way they need it to be, then leaving.

    An episode that ought to be nondescript yet throws up so many interesting discussion points. There is not much to comment on with the first two songs, either - Land of the Midnight Sun is simply setting the scene, and the Misfits repeat Makin' Mischief, which essentially does nothing other than waste about 90 seconds of animation, since it adds nothing new musically or really, animation-wise, due to the bad quality of this episode. The final song, Safe and Sound is interesting only because it involves the rescue of Jetta and Pizzazz, but the lyrics are typically narrow for a finale Jem song. Rather like the last song in Talent Search (All's Right With The World), it assumes that everyone is "Safe and Sound" because Jem and the two girls are. Pizzazz, however, is not. Her emotional battle to get her father's attention rages on, and he's left her in the snows to fend for herself. Eric is also abandoned there. To be fair to the pair of them, neither of them cheat, lie or steal in this episode. Whilst Pizzazz's desire to help Jem and the girls is selfishly motivated, it's still a plan to help, rather than hurt the opposition, and therefore it's rather sad that, in the end, Pizzazz is still abandoned by the one person who's acknowledgement she desperately seeks.

    I am not fond of sweeping generalisations in Jem songs that ignore characters (good or bad) still in some kind of turmoil for a "happy ending" type song mood. It just helps to create the aura of Jem as a superficial and shallow individual incapable of seeing beyond her own position and need in the world - as opposed to the altruistic heroine she's meant to be, reaching out to help everyone, rather than just those on her side. It's a fine line in some episodes, and in this episode, Jem and the Holograms cannot be faulted for their actions or their attitudes. But those lyrics at the end still assume too much based on their own point of view.

    Episode rating: 7.5/10



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