Season Three: Exploring THE STINGERS HIT TOWN 1&2


    (Parts 1 and 2)

    Oh boy. This has to be seen as one of the most world-changing episodes of the Jem series. Like the effects of Talent Search, only in stereo, this two parter introduces the Stingers onto the scene, and effectively after this episode relegates the Misfits to bit players in the remaining few episodes that were written. Not that this is a weak Misfit episode - quite the contrary. With usual Jem/Misfit irony, in their near destruction can be found the most solid and comforting evidence of Misfit solidarity that the series EVER produced. Yes, you guessed it. A big, friendly hug. :D

    It's maybe significant to say that this episode effectively starts with the Misfits, and more or less ends with them, at the end of Now. The episode opens at Misfits Music, with Eric blowing a gasket over the fact that the Misfits are using up most of the company profits paying for damages after they, to quote Roxy, "have some fun". Of course, this isn't just about Eric's concern over the money. Eric's control over the Misfits in a manipulative sense has always been a big deal thing for him and for them as well. He has spent two seasons already coercing them into doing things that they wouldn't normally do, if not for his gentle persuasion. But the outset of this episode gives us the impression that Eric is no longer in the driving seat. Pizzazz's father owns the company, and her reminding him of it is the last straw. Things have finally snapped in Eric's head - to the point where he marches on down to Harvey Gabor and demands to be allowed to buy out the music company. More on that later.

    For the Misfis, this determination and yes, this power struggle is the beginning of the end for the group. Aside from a couple of episodes aired out of sequence from when they must have been written (pre-Stingers), the only significant appearance they make after this is in The Day The Music Died. But there is so much in the Stingers Hit Town which relates so closely and personally to the Misfits that it's difficult to know where to begin.
    Pizzazz is probably the best place, since she is a key figure in everything that happens - not just to her band in this episode, but in their entire future. Pizzazz's words to Eric spark him off to Harvey. Pizzazz underestimates her father's business attitude (it's heartbreaking to see that she assumes her father won't sell her out, when in fact that is precisely what he does.) And of course, there is Pizzazz and Riot. The picture we get of Pizzazz in the other forty or so episodes she's dominated is that she is a brash, strong, and determined individual with a foul temper, a spoilt and petulant temperament and an obsession for the material in life. What we also see, though, is an unloved and neglected little girl crying out for her father's attention, and desperate to get that attention from whatever corner provides it. Her attitude to men throughout the series is all based on a wary level of her terms or not at all. She has no way of understanding how to deal with a guy who comes on to her, except to manipulate him (Mardi Gras) or prevaricate (Scandal). She chases men who are promised to others, because they won't try and tie her down to something she doesn't understand how to control. Control is such a big thing in her life, and yet, from the moment she claps eyes on Riot, that control just seeps away. Giggly and lovesick like a schoolgirl is highly out of character for Pizzazz, under any circumstances. Explaining it has always caused debate among fans - is Riot charismatic enough to cause such a breakdown in Pizzazz's shell? Is Pizzazz so desperate to be loved that it all gets too much for her and she falls for him big style? It's interesting to note that in the scripting (though not the episode), Pizzazz tells the other Misfits that she is in love with Riot, and pretty much asks them what they're gonna do about it. It seems strange that someone who has spent so long being such a lone character should suddenly develop such an emotional dependance on a character, particularly one who shows no sign of reciprocating, and even goes so far as to manipulate her to his own ends.

    It is Pizzazz, though, and not Riot who does the most damage to the Misfits in the end. It is Pizzazz who trots off to shows without the others, who flirts and fawns over Riot and makes a fool of herself in public. It's Pizzazz who, when faced with an ultimatum from her bandmates, chooses Riot over them and their music. And, saddest of all, Pizzazz's apology at the end of the episode is Riot driven - she is no longer her own woman, but has been broken by his influence. Since Pizzazz is the Misfits, the weakening of her character can be seen as metaphorical for the weakening of the band itself. No Pizzazz, no Misfits.
    The others seem to understand this. For a group who are not always perceptive to the more sensitive side of each other's characters, there is a definite understanding between Roxy, Jetta and Stormer that Pizzazz is somehow essential to the group and that there is no way to go on without her. Interesting is the fact that, while in Roxy Rumbles and The Bands Break Up there are attempts to continue without certain members, there is no attempt to do this in Stingers Hit Town. They level up the ultimatum, and when Pizzazz chooses Riot, Roxy says bitterly "Its goodbye to the Misfits."

    The music video "Lovesick" paints a clear picture of what has become of the Misfits and their lead singer. Pizzazz is made to dress up as a little girl by Rapture (a strange little girl, too!) but in the video she is depicted as a puppet or a theatre patient, over which Rapture has complete power. The other Misfits are there too, but they are helpless bystanders and unable to reach in and pull her out of her delusions. Lovesick is the only Misfit song which really dwells on love in any kind of serious way, and it's clear from the lyrics that Pizzazz is not entirely sure herself what is going on. I don't tend to think of Lovesick as a proper musical performance, but a montage of what is happening inside Pizzazz's own head. She's out of her own control and she knows it, but she can't do anything about it, because Riot keeps pulling her strings and Rapture keeps getting the better of her.

    Although Pizzazz is the main thrust of the Misfit part of the episode, the others play vital parts too. Jetta calls Pizzazz their "fearless leader", emphasising how they see her, and she and Roxy, though sworn foes are able to get together to "have a long talk" with Stormer about the band before coming to Pizzazz with the ultimatum. Pizzazz's stranglehold on the band is effectively broken in this episode because her leadership skills desert her, and as a consequence it allows the other Misfits to take decisions for themselves about the future of the group. In this it seems to be Stormer who emerges the strongest. I don't think that Stormer is really ever going to lead the Misfits in a world without Pizzazz, but in terms of getting Roxy and Jetta to put aside differences and discuss the problem at hand, I think she must have played an important role. It is, after all, Stormer who stands in the middle of the Misfits, arms folded as she declares the ultimatum. It is Stormer's house which they gather at after Pizzazz chooses Riot, to commiserate with each other on the loss of their band. Stormer has become something of a quiet force by this point, holding them together and keeping their focus on what's important.

    In the case of Roxy and Jetta, both are strong and defiant characters but neither one really acts out against Pizzazz very often in the run of the show. Jetta is generally Pizzazz's sidekick anyhow, and Roxy does not often speak up to complain. Yet in this episode, without Pizzazz's driving force over them, both girls speak up and make their own feelings very clear. It's Roxy who interrupts and informs Pizzazz in no uncertain terms that she wants nothing to do with Eric's plan to get Riot and the Stingers back to the Gabor place. Jetta too is defiant on this point, and it's Jetta who observes that Pizzazz is not simply sick from eating Rapture's raw liver, but 'lovesick'.

    Of course, although the final Misfit scene in the episode is dictated largely by Riot's influence over Pizzazz, it has to be also seen as the most positive Misfit scene there is. As has been mentioned to me a few times, the group could have been split up at the end of the Stingers Hit Town, since they were no longer to be mainstream villains for the show. Yet that wasn't the case. I have to take my hat off to Christy for the final Misfit scene of this episode - the hug. Hugging is not a characteristic Misfit behaviour, but, down and out as Jetta, Stormer and Roxy are, they still wish that Pizzazz was with them. When she comes in and makes her halting apology, the hope and excitement among the other Misfits proves beyond all doubt the loyalty and band feeling there is between the group. I like to think that, if Pizzazz hadn't wanted to make up the quarrel, she would not have let Riot make her, but honestly, that's just my Misfit bias coming through. What cannot be doubted, however, is the genuine enthusiasm of Roxy, Jetta and Stormer to have their leader back again.

    And yet, in so many ways she is no longer their leader. It's open season on Misfit democracy now, and we see again in the Now video how in particular Stormer has developed. When Pizzazz seems to be reaching out for Riot in the video, it's Stormer who comes to her, leading her away from his teasing ghost and back to the Misfits, whereupon her wistful expression becomes a smile (see capture for very sweet wistful expression.) Then Roxy and Jetta join them, hand in hand they run down the beach and hug on the shore once again, as a truly reunited group. The ending is bittersweet for my favourite bad girls, but in a lot of ways, it's worth it to have that ending for them. My regret is that we saw little of Misfit behaviour after this episode. It's my strong feeling that after Pizzazz's weakness in Stingers Hit Town, her grasp on the Misfits is no longer all-encompassing, and that the others find more and more avenues to speak up and go their own ways. Not that I think that they are on the verge of a split at the end of this episode - not after Pizzazz's return - but just that the balance of power has shifted, and the Misfits are not quite the same band again.

    There is a heck of a lot that can be said about the Stingers, and most of it I've said in their character biographies, so I won't repeat myself here. We are first introduced to the concept of the new band via an old favourite - LinZ Pearce, who calls Jerrica up with her hot tip for this new group. Unfortunately, of course, Eric Raymond is also interested in the new group, so this allows the Stingers to play Starlight Music and Misfits Music off against each other. It is unusual for the bad guys to win in an episode over the heroines, but in this two parter this is precisely what happens. Riot tempers it with the fact that he won't consider himself to have won until Jem is his, but in essence, they do get what they wanted. They have a recording contract, they have control of a big stake in a powerful music company, and all of America awaits their music. My feeling about that is ambivalent. As a staunch supporter in general of the underdog group, it's refreshing to have one such group triumph. And yet, the Stingers are dangerous in so many more ways than the Misfits ever were. Winning to the Misfits meant simply to get one over on Jem. Winning for the Stingers is not simply to be better, but to be overwhelmingly the best. Riot considers himself to be perfection, and will not tolerate anything less than that for himself or for his group (yeah, slight ego complex going down there, I think.) The Misfits do not play the game, and cheat, lie and pull pranks, but the Stingers are a different class of villain. Their badness is strongly psychological and on many more levels than those of the Misfits. Rapture is a dangerous conartist, who convinces a woman that a worthless piece of rock is a priceless spiritual heirloom, but she also goes to the lengths of making Pizzazz drink a concoction including raw liver, simply for her own amusement. Pizzazz is sick as a result, and this is the first real glimpse of how manipulative Rapture can be. She is not just smart, not just manipulative, but smart and manipulative in a dangerous, clinical way. I don't want to name any character evil, but Rapture is not averse to dropping as low as possible to score a hit. If it's for her own amusement - scaring the heck out of Terri with the vampire teeth on the teddy bear, for example - or if it's for the Stingers, she will go to whatever lengths it takes.

    Riot and Minx are less dangerous than Rapture in many ways, though Riot is a blatant chauvenist and that never really changes. The Stingers are a much more centred group than the Misfits are in that they are self-confident, even arrogant about what they can do and how well they can do it. The Misfits, though they boast and cry that they are the best are all deeply insecure characters trying to make themselves big for the camera. The Stingers really are what the Misfits want to be, and that too makes them a force to be reckoned with. It is this which makes them victorious in The Stingers Hit Town. Riot says that he can control Eric, and despite Eric's skill in that department, I believe he is telling the truth.
    To summarize, winning one moment of glory will never be good enough for the Stingers. They will always want more.

    Riot's obsession with Jem seems hardly a real obsession at all, to be honest. We are led to believe that she 'seduces' (I use the word in an innocent sense) his mind with her beauty and her performance of Like a Dream. Like A Dream is the most hackneyed old Holo-song by this point (the only song to make three episode plays), so it can't possibly be the song that sends him into raptures. Perhaps it is indeed her appearance. There is a very real irony here. Riot looks for absolute perfection, in himself as much as in those around him. In Jem he believes he's found the perfect woman, based entirely on how she looks. But Jem is not real, and maybe there is a subtle message here to people watching that no real person is perfect, and that Riot is chasing a dream. Maybe that makes Like A Dream a more logical choice of song after all, for it is indeed an illusion that he begins pursuing in Stingers Hit Town, still pursuing it by the end of A Father Should Be.

    What should be no surprise by now is that Jem is attracted to Riot for his charisma (and hopefully not for his hair). Well, she's already in love with Rio as two women, we know that her sense of romance is seriously cockeyed as it is. It's almost, though, as if Riot's pursuit of Jem gives Jem yet another freedom away from the confines of being Jerrica. For ages she has fought two personalities against each other for Rio's affections, because she has forgotten which she is around Rio and given  him such mixed vibes neither of them really know where they stand. Yet Riot has no interest in Jem's real identity. He does not care who she really is, only that she is, in his eyes, perfect. I am still of the opinion that Jerrica is approaching critical mass in the sanity department by this point in the series, because Jem has become a personality in her own right who is competing for the right to the body in which they both live. On that premise, the fact Jem can begin an entirely new relationship with a total other guy is completely natural. Jerrica even speaks of the divide she feels herself - that as Jerrica, she feels none of Riot's magnetic charisma, but as Jem, she can't seem to refuse him. Whether Riot can switch charm on and off like a lightbulb remains to be seen - it is a theory that has some support and grounding - but to me this is far more indicative of Jerrica having personality issues with herself. Riot behaves exactly the same towards Raya, Kimber, Aja and Shana - but Kimber falls for him, Raya and Shana seem quiet and undecided, and Aja is vehemently against him. If he could turn charm on and off, then he would be charming either all of them, or none of them. The same goes for the Misfits. On their first meeting, Pizzazz goes doolally and can barely talk. But at this point Riot has no idea that the house is necessarily Pizzazz's or that he is speaking to one of the richest girls in America. Yet only Pizzazz falls for his charm. Even Stormer, the romantic, sees Riot as nothing but trouble.

    Of course, at the end of the day, however free she might try to make herself as Jem, Jem is really always Jerrica, and it's Jerrica who makes the ultimate romantic choice - Rio. Riot is not deterred - just determined to keep going- but Jerrica's split personality theme is one which becomes increasingly more plot-important as the series goes on (The Day The Music Died and Midsummer Nights Madness particularly involve it, as does Beauty and the Rock Promoter depending where in the sequence you put this.)

    Oh, Eric. Poor old Eric is vilifed up to his ears by fans of the Jem show. And yet he is a very powerful and important character often in the dynamics of the group(s) he works with. This episode is one of his strongest for the manipulative ability that often gets forgotten in the wake of Jetta's and Rapture's own. First of all, he convinces Harvey Gabor to sell Misfits Music to him. Then he convinces the Stingers to join him at the music company, which he agrees to part split with them in order to win them over. He knows they'll turn a profit - and he knows it's a move Jerrica won't dare make with Starlight Music. And then, there is his judgement of the Pizzazz situation. While sometimes in the show Eric has underestimated Pizzazz, this is not one of those times. Pizzazz has always been strong and the thing in the way of him having complete power over Misfits Music and the profit. They are a thorn in his side, and yet, businessman as ever, Eric does not want to be rid of the Misfits. He makes a shrewd, strategic judgement based on how well he knows Pizzazz. Not only does he take the gamble of sending the Stingers to the Gabor place (which could so easily not have worked out), he also pushes Pizzazz to chase Riot, spying in him a way of controlling the singer's wild behaviour and reckless outbursts. Pizzazz's new love for Riot means that she can be more easily manipulated, and Eric knows this. Yet he also knows, with little doubt, that without the music company that he now owns, the Misfits as a whole have nothing. All he has to do is get the Misfits back together at the end of the day, knowing they have few other options, and he has the best of both worlds. A music company, finally (after two series) to call his own, two major bands turning profits on his books, and finally, control of the Misfits.
    And to think how easily Eric gets dismissed ^_^.

    There is another aspect to all this, though. While he is a brilliant tactician and has a shrewd business brain, Eric's personal life and attempts at one are feeble. He is flirted with by Minx, then pushed aside, something which he doesn't see coming and doesn't quite comprehend. He seems quite happy to forgo most of the trappings of life outside work for that inside work, selling everything he owns to buy the music company. This seems a blatant way of compensating the part of his life he's not good at and replacing it with the part of his life he is good at. His workaholic behaviour is a theme throughout the series, but never quite so strongly as it is here. In short, Eric puts everything on the line to be in control of his business prospects - and, in the end, succeeds.

    Oh brother. I really want to say as little as possible about the Jem, Jerrica and Rio love triangle, since I've mentioned Jerrica copiously above, and I really have nothing much to say about Rio and his usual jealousy behaviour. Minx's addition to the theme does not really make that nauseating love triangle any more appealing as a love square, but at least it adds someone to the mix who isn't actually two timing one of the others. Nor does she have two identities. Though it's unclear what Minx is really like from just this episode (more in character biography), she obviously has an interest in Rio, and whether it's merely for the challenge or out of genuine affection at this point is not really for sure. Yet she has every right to pursue Rio, as a free and single girl with no prior attachments. She even makes a game of it, and uses him as best she can for her own amusement as well as to further the cause of her band. Stinger behaviour seems often to be a double-pronged attack, and is rarely the direct approach, and Minx's assault on Rio and Jerrica (or Jem's) relationship is one such thing. Though later in the series it might be surmised that she has genuine feelings for Rio, at this point she is providing the distraction, and backing up Riot's move for Jem while enjoying herself.

    For just the Now sequence, I have to give this a good rating. I have never yet forgiven Rapture for the raw liver incident, yet in many ways she is the most intriguing new character introduced in this episode. This is the last time Christy herself introduces new characters to the show through one of her own episodes, and the class shows. Despite the bittersweet nature of it, all three groups are shown in such a deep and important way as they all fight their own personal battles. Jem's world will never be the same again.

    Episode rating: 8/10.


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