Rachel Recaps X-Men: Evolution

S1E4: Mutant Crush

Let me get this out of the way fast: “Mutant Crush” is my least favorite episode of X-Men: Evolution. Yes, even more than “The Cauldron,” which I’m pretty sure is objectively the worst episode of the series.1

But while “The Cauldron” is terrible, it’s hilariously terrible. “Mutant Crush” is. Well. It’s a decently written episode, I guess. And it’s got a lot of moments I dig. It’s just also really fucked up and disturbing, and not in hilarious and pedantic ways.

Seriously: Shit gets dark in this episode. If you don’t want to read a humorous write-up of a story that is essentially about stalking and kidnapping, you may want to skip this one. I recognize that this is essentially a humor column, and I tried to find okay ways to be funny about this episode, but I mostly ended up with a lot of tonal whiplash, and a pretty high volume of commentary on the ways women are socialized to appease violent men, and some really inappropriate references to John Fowles’ The Collector.2

And on that note: Here is a link to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s help page. NDVH is a pretty solid organization, and in addition to the actual hotlines–which include a phone line and web-based chat, both confidential and anonymous–they’ve got a very good list of resources, including LGBTQI and teen-specific stuff. (NDVH is, however, mostly U.S.-specific. If you know of international resources or have other specific recommendations, please stick ‘em in the comments, and maybe we can get something useful out of this clusterfuck of an episode.)

Right. So. LET’S TALK ABOUT SOME X-MEN!

I guess this could also be a dude with painted nails and jewelry, which would also be awesome.

I guess this could also be a dude with painted nails and jewelry, which would also be pretty great.

We open at a monster truck show, which is awesome. A lot about this episode is awesome, actually. Honestly, I dig pretty much everything but the A-plot. In particular, there are a lot of great incidental details, including the fact that the (mostly unseen) driver of the car-crushing monster-truck that opens the episode is a lady.

Why can’t this episode be about lady monster-truck drivers having lady monster-truck-driving adventures? I would be so into that! They could hang out with Wolverine in his biker western, and Jean could become a monster-truck driver, and oh my god I want monster-truck-driving Jean Grey so badly.

If this is not how you dress for work, maybe it's time to rethink your professional choices.

If this is not how you dress for work, maybe it’s time to rethink your professional choices.

As it turns out, though, the monster trucks are just the opening act–the main attraction of the evening is Fred “The Blob” Clegg Dukes, billed as the World’s Strongest Teenager™, and notable as the only teen member of the Brotherhood to keep his original name thus far. Fred may not be a monster-truck-driving lady, but otherwise, I’m still pretty much on board at this point: he’s got an adorable fauxhawk, the setup is a good nod to Blob’s original sideshow origin story,3 and I really appreciate that he’s billed for something that’s based on strength rather than size,4 even if his nickname is still “the Blob.”

I have pretty mixed feelings about how this episode handles Blob as a character. Over the years, he’s been the epicenter of a lot of terrible body politics and fatphobia, and it’s interesting and a little depressing watching Evolution try to navigate that. On one hand: the show does a pretty good job of building Blob up as a three-dimensional character and making him sympathetic. On the other hand: something like every third line about him, and every gag, is a fat joke; and while sometimes they’re there to highlight what assholes his peers are, there are a lot of performance and sight gags that play as the show making fun of a fat kid, which is particularly uncool in a show that’s supposed to be all about positively navigating differences.

But back to the monster-trucks! While I can’t speak to whether he is in fact the world’s strongest teenager, Fred is in fact hella strong, and pretty damn acrobatic to boot. He’s also wearing a cape, which he throws off professional-wrestler style, and I am 100% down with that choice.5

You can have her shoulder pads when you pry them from her cold, dead... shoulders, I guess.

You can have her shoulder pads when you pry them from her cold, dead… shoulders, I guess.

The audience is also pretty into it. So is Principal Mystique, whose impeccable powerbutch principal suit and fancy binoculars make her stick out like a sore thumb in the middle of a very county-fair crowd. I love that the character with the power to blend in literally anywhere does not give a damn about subtlety.

Fred soaks up the crowd’s adulation, and takes a deep bow–which, unfortunately, costs him his balance on the bumpers of the two trucks he’s just wrangled. He wipes out in the sand, and the crowd bursts out laughing in a way that makes me think they think it’s part of the show.

"Goddamnit," thinks Jean, "Why don't I get to drive monster trucks for a living? High school sucks."

“Goddamnit,” thinks Jean, “Why don’t I get to drive monster trucks for a living? High school sucks.”

Know who aren’t amused? Wolverine and Jean Grey, the latter of whom appears to be on vacation in Wolverine’s biker western, based on her hat and fringed jacket. Like Mystique, they’re technically here to recruit Fred, but how awesome would it have been if they’d just all shown up independently because they’re super into monster trucks? So awesome. Why aren’t there more monster-truck-based superhero stories?

Fred isn’t amused, either–in fact, the next time we see him, he’s wrecking his dressing room, punching holes in the wall.

That’s because Fred is really not fond of being laughed at. “I’m getting out of here for good,” he tells Principal Mystique, who’s swung by for a visit.

“That could be arranged,” she tells him. “In fact, I know somewhere where your talents would be truly appreciated.”

I AM NOT COMFORTABLE WITH THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS SHOT.

I AM NOT COMFORTABLE WITH THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS SHOT.

Can we talk about the recruitment scenes? Mystique is generally played as walking the line between sinister and sultry–she talks in vague innuendo a lot, in a tone that seems to tack an implied if you know what I mean to every sentence; and those characteristics give her recruitment of first Avalanche and now Blob some pretty serious casting-couch vibes. The Blob scene even closes with an incredibly creepy shot of Mystique smirking as Fred closes the dressing-room door in Jean and Logan’s faces. Of course, nothing’s explcit, and I suppose it could all be accidental; but the combination of the character, the power differential, and the staging bugs me.

Apparently the “more interesting” possibility Principal Mystique has lined up for Fred is… high school. Because she’s evil, I guess. She also assures him that he will have no trouble fitting in, because Mystique’s method of gaining her kids’ loyalty is all about setting them up for falls. Mystique is a jerk.

"It says here that your first period class is, um... Basic Supervillainy?"

“It says here that your first period class is, um… Basic Supervillainy?”

Fred is not the brightest crayon in the box, so he takes Mystique at her word, and finds himself in the halls of Bayville trying to make sense of his class schedule. This gives us our first hint–beyond the wrecked dressing room–that something may not be quite right with Mr. Dukes: instead of enlisting the help of a passer-by, he reaches out and collars one.

Alas, the passer-by he’s just snagged is none other than Bayville High’s resident douchebag QB, Duncan Matthews; so instead of advice, Fred gets taunts.

To which Fred responds by throwing Duncan down the hall and then ripping a pod of lockers off the wall to throw at him.

Until this point, Fred was pretty unambiguously sympathetic. Sure, he had bad personal boundaries and some anger management issues, but mostly he gave the same rough impression Toad did: a basically decent if poorly socialized kid who’d been treated pretty terribly by the world at large. He’s still sympathetic here, but it’s starting to become clear that there’s something else going as well: unlike Toad, who’s mostly just really easily manipulated; or Avalanche, who’s generally and indiscriminately mad at the world; Blob is both a victim and a bully.

Fortunately for Duncan and the dozen or so kids who had their stuff stored in those lockers, Jean Grey picks that moment to intervene. And this is where I want to stop watching.

"What, this book? Oh, it's The Gift of Fear. I'm gonna return it after school."

“What, this book? Oh, it’s The Gift of Fear. I’m gonna return it after school.”

Because–and you may not catch this if you are a dude–what Jean does here is play-by-play the way girls are taught to defuse dangerous situations with violent or potentially violent men. She’s not making friends with Fred, she’s appeasing him: focusing on him, even apologizing for Duncan, whose behavior she had absolutely nothing to do with. This is a guy she first saw when he was about to throw a locker pod at another student–a raging jerk, mind, but still.

And that’s when Fred starts to feel really scary. It’s not just what he does–sure, it’s extreme and violent, but Duncan is also the goddamn worst; and the violence in X-Men: Evolution falls within the superhero-cartoon bell curve, which means that even baseline humans can usually survive things like getting smashed under locker pods only a little worst for the wear. It’s how Jean reacts: that textbook mix of socialized niceness layered over fear. It’s that Jean is the one reacting to him that way, because even if she doesn’t use her powers as much this season as she will later, Jean is a telepath.

So: the urgency with which she intervenes, how cautious she is of Fred’s temper–those things mean something different coming from Jean than they would from most other characters, because it’s reasonable to assume that Jean can see something we can’t–yet.

First, though, it’s time for the b-plot! Thank god.

This episode, the b-plot is all about Cyclops and Rogue and their awkward nascent semi-friendship, and it is legitimately charming! (It’s worth noting that as a rule, the nominal b-plots tend to have more ongoing story ripples than the A-plots–this is above all a show about teenagers coming of age, and the social dynamics surrounding that–which I dig. Evolution took some major structural cues from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, and this is one of the places where that plays best.)

I can't decide whether teaching at Bayville High would be better or worse than teaching at Greendale Community College. They get destroyed at roughly the same rate.

I can’t decide whether teaching at Bayville High would be better or worse than teaching at Greendale Community College. They get destroyed at roughly the same rate, anyway.

Anyway, Cyclops and Rogue are in English class together, and I’m going to digress for a moment here to tell you how very much I love their English teacher. He’s like Professor Garrity from Community if Professor Garrity gave absolutely zero fucks. You can taste this man’s ennui. Also, he’s making the students in his class learn love scenes from famous plays with assigned partners which is some epic trolling when your class is full of hormone-sodden teenagers.

It’s pretty much always funny watching Evolution skirt around Rogue’s lack of name. In this case, everyone else gets paired, leaving her and Scott–who, because they’re the last ones, just get an indifferent “you, and you.”

Surrogate Alex Paul6 thinks it’s hilarious that Scott is partnered with “small, dark, and sullen,” and the rest of the class concurs. Professor Not-Garrity has assigned them a love scene from Henry V, and it is obviously going to be painfully awkward.

Have I mentioned how much I like Evolution Cyclops? I really like Evolution Cyclops, in large part because he is just straight-up a really good person. While everyone else is laughing because he’s stuck working with the grouchy goth chick, the first thing he does is turn around and quietly ask her if she’s okay working with him. At this point, the X-Men and Rogue have kind of a tense ceasefire: they know each other’s secret identities, but they really don’t trust each other; and she’s got even less reason to trust them than they do, her.

This episode also does a pretty good job of playing Cyclops and Blob as contrasting counterparts. Cyclops is all about reinforcing other people’s agency in this episode, and he’s super careful of boundaries and consent with Rogue; while Blob, well. We’ll get there. Unfortunately.

Oh, for fuck's sake.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

In fact, we’re on the way there right now, because it’s time for lunch, and that means some gratuitous and stereotypical fat-kid-in-the-cafeteria bullshit, as if they couldn’t find any other way to demonstrate how pushy and menacing Fred is. Also, the lunch ladies at Bayville are kind of pushovers. Also also, the Bayville cafeteria is weirdly well stocked.

It also has amazing signs. “Judgement Day,” one of them announces. “It’s Trva–It’s True.” reads another. “Oh Did You Know?” demands a third. All of them appear to be written in crayon. Does Bayville High import its cafeteria posters from Silent Hill?

So, anyway, Fred–towering tray in hand–walks past Scott and Kurt. The X-kids are talking about the English assignment–Scott’s defending Rogue, and Kurt thinks the whole situation is the best joke ever–but Fred assumes that they’re laughing at him. He storms past them, sits down too hard, and upends a table, launching his tray across the cafeteria at–of course–Duncan. Jean jumps up to intervene–again–but before she can reach him, Fred slips in unidentifiable cafeteria-food goo7 and wipes out spectacularly. The other students find this hilarious, because teenagers are assholes; and Fred loses it and starts throwing the remains of his lunch.8

And then, he starts throwing furniture.

The show goes from coding Blob as sympathetic and humorous to coding him as really scary very fast and very smoothly. That’s going to continue to happen, and it’s both really unsettling and a really good object lesson in the fact that this series has very few unambiguous villains, especially when they’re teenagers. Even when Blob crosses a major moral event horizon–which he will (oh, god, will he ever)–he’s still kind of sad, and that’s uncomfortable in ways that are probably good for people to have to navigate now and then.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Well, that escalated quickly.

As Fred escalates from throwing chairs to throwing tables, Jean desperately tries to talk him down, and he ends up knocking her down and almost throwing a table after her, until it’s stopped by a mysterious blast of red energy that no one seems to notice in the general chaos. Table disposed of, Scott swoops in to back Jean up–which is a good instinct, because this dude is seriously fucking terrifying–which of course makes Fred even angrier, until Jean exiles Scott back to the b-plot.

While Jean talks Fred down, Scott runs into Rogue, who’s been watching the whole scene play out. “Wow,” she says, “y’all really look after each other, don’t you?” They almost get to have a real conversation, but are cut short by the arrival of Principal Mystique, who, in her continuing quest for the Mother of the Year crown, is doing her best to keep Rogue as socially isolated as possible. That won’t backfire spectacularly a couple episodes from now.

Meanwhile in the cafeteria, Jean tells Fred that he has to learn some self-control. “I learned to control my–gifts–at the Institute, where I live,” she tells him, and shows off her carefully honed control by telekinetically smashing a chair against the wall, because telekinesis is exactly the same as uncontrolled violent rage.

Signage courtesy of Midwich Elementary.

Signage courtesy of Midwich Elementary.

Jean’s strength with and control over her telekinesis vary wildly between episodes. In S1E2, we saw her both casually exercise fairly fine control and hold up a collapsing building. Here, it seems to take heroic effort for her to fling a cafeteria chair. It’s not a resounding case for the quality of the training she’s selling;9 but then, Blob probably hasn’t seen the rest of the season.

It’s also interesting watching the gradual shifts in the ways Jean interacts with Fred. She’s overly conciliatory, but mostly when they’re around other people: for a long time, it doesn’t really seem to occur to Jean that Fred could be a danger to her. Alone with him, she’s more direct and assertive, more willing to set boundaries. That’s a quality that defines Jean in contrast to most of the rest of the X-kids: she’s very socially capable, but, as such, she’s also more heavily defined by her social context, and the wants and needs of the people around her.10

"Yeah, I'm just gonna go grab some of my backup heads. Catch ya later!"

“Yeah, I’m just gonna go grab some of my backup heads. Catch ya later!”

Right now, her Xavier Institute recruitment spiel is somewhat undermined by the fact that her head keeps shrinking and growing in proportion to the rest of her body, which is a running problem in this episode. The quality of the facial animation in Evolution is kind of a grab bag at this point, and Jean rarely comes out ahead in the consistent-jawline lottery. Also, the animation switches styles pretty noticeably a couple times in this episode, as if it’s getting shuffled between multiple studios without a lot of communication.

She’s also apparently not too keen on the observational-skills front, because she skips off to class without her backpack. How do you even do that? You’re at school, Jean! Fred notices, and starts to call after her, but when she turns around to ask what he wants, he changes his mind and tells her, “nothing,” as if the backpack is not clearly visible in his hands.

On one hand: At least he doesn't then creepily stroke Jean's half of the photo. On the other hand: WHAT HE DOES IS SO MUCH WORSE.

On one hand: At least he doesn’t then creepily stroke Jean’s half of the photo. On the other hand: WHAT HE DOES IS SO MUCH WORSE.

The trouble, see, is that Jean is standing there with Scott, and Fred is an extremely jealous dude. (It’s worth noting that at this point, Scott and Jean are pretty firmly in friend territory, which significantly amps up the creep factor on Fred’s possessiveness–especially when he starts rifling through Jean’s backpack, finds a photo of the two of them, and engages in a little original-cartoon Wolverine homage.)

Remember those Collector allusions I promised? Yeaaaah. Fred’s about to go full-on Clegg. In fact, the next time we see him, he’s lurking in the bushes outside Bayside High, waiting for Jean to emerge. She does–having inexplicably changed into a business-casual outfit that makes her look even less like a teenager than usual. She’s walking with her friend Taryn, who’s basically Paul’s female counterpart, and roughly as interesting.11

"Seriously, Jean, is this some kind of 21 Jump Street thing? Because you're clearly thirty."

“Seriously, Jean, is this some kind of 21 Jump Street thing? Because you’re clearly thirty.”

And we’ve got another set of animators. Again. Take a drink!

Fred waylays Jean to ask her out for a soda. Jean is busy–her outfits don’t randomly change themselves, after all–and suggests they catch up the next day.

Which is when we see the other side of Fred’s anger: he’s intensely possessive and jealous, and when he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it, his first instinct is aggression. Taryn, like Scott, picks up on the fact that something is seriously not okay here; but once again, Jean sends off her backup and tries to talk Fred down on her own (although this time, she seems a little less confident about it).

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how much of how Jean responds to Fred in this episode reflects the way women are socialized to deal with dangerous men. She’s nice–so nice, and so willing to give him another chance and see the good and the hurt behind the violent behavior that she doesn’t recognize just how dangerous he is until he crosses a clear and physical line. The accuracy of this episode is, honestly, part of why it makes me so uncomfortable: Jean makes an uncannily good viewer stand-in.

Here, she’s avoiding confronting Fred in front of people, trying to justify her “no” without damaging his pride. It’s not until he physically grabs her that she raises her voice, and even then, she stays carefully calm, reassuring him that they’re friends.

NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE

NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE

He responds by dragging her away to “talk… in private.” I am not using the term dragging figuratively: he literally drags her, while she digs in her heels and tries to pull away while yelling at Fred to let her go. You can almost see the lightbulb click on as she realizes what’s up.

Fortunately for Jean, they’re near a construction site, giving her a whole lot of cinderblocks to use as ammo. Unfortunately for Jean, Fred’s power set is strength, immobility, and invulnerability. He stands there and mocks her while she throws cement at his head, until she accidentally brings the whole scaffolding down, knocking herself out with an errant cinderblock in the process.

Which leaves her at Fred’s mercy.

So, yeah. I feel… weird about this. Uncomfortable. Because I do get the point of this story–it covers ground that matters, all about agency and consent, and ultimately about teamwork and solidarity–but it’s also about taking the woman with the strongest power set and casting her as an unambiguous victim in the first episode that really focuses on her. And I hate that. I hate it so much. I hate it when it happens in the comics, and I really hate it when it happens in this show, because Evolution gets Jean right in ways that X-series rarely do.

Know what else is focusing on Jean? Fred, whose responds to his crush’s apparently fairly serious head injury by carrying her off to an abandoned ironworks, tying her to a chair with what appears to be a brass railing, and completely filling the room with candles. Jesus. Fucking. Christ. Had he been planning this out ahead of time? Because it can’t have been more than an hour since he grabbed her at school, and that’s a whole fucking lot of candles.

Jean's expression here pretty well sums up my feelings on this episode.

Jean’s expression here pretty well sums up my feelings on this episode.

“This can’t be happening,” says Jean, who has clearly read the BS&P notes from the first animated series. Sorry, Jean! It’s a new century, and cartoons aren’t just for kids anymore! Take some time to enjoy the expansion of the medium, because you won’t be going anywhere for a while.

Unable to break free on her own–she’s got a nigh-invulnerable opponent and probably a pretty bad concussion based on how long she was out–Jean sends out a psychic call for help to the Professor, who–along with Wolverine–is busy supervising a game of all-powers-allowed football on the grounds of the school. It’s like the Danger Room, but with 100% fewer killer robots!

Does Xavier get custom gi printed? Did Wolverine paint it himself? LEAVE NO STONE UNTURNED!

This raises some questions. Does Xavier get custom gi printed? If so, why do we never see anyone else wearing one? Or did Wolverine paint it himself?

Wolverine is also wearing a karate gi with a stylized version of the X-Men logo on the back, for no apparent reason. OKAY, THEN.

I really want to put together a supercut of Evolution Kitty running into things. It just never stops being satisfying–unlike her laugh, which I imagine is sampled from the literal soundtrack to literal Hell.12

Fortunately for me, Kitty’s nightmarish cackle is interrupted by Jean’s psychic distress call. Wolverine sends Nightcrawler off to get Cyclops, then growls, “I gotta ride.” NEVER CHANGE, WOLVERINE.

There’s no time for a magical-girl transformation this round, but we do at least get a moment of Wolverine revving his bike and a close-up on the exhaust pipes. The Wolverine Show is the best show, y’all.

"I know we just met, but wanna start up an awkward love semi-triangle where literally no one gets what they want for at least two more seasons?"

“I know we just met, but wanna start up an awkward love semi-triangle where literally no one gets what they want for at least two more seasons? It’ll end with you losing control of your powers and me left for dead in Mexico, but the fanfic crowd’ll love it.”

Back by Bayside, Scott and Rogue are practicing their Henry V scene. It’s adorable and awkward, and Rogue even tries flirting briefly (with absolutely no success, because it’s Scott).

This Scott-and-Rogue subplot is going to last for several seasons, and it never stops being both heartwarming and kind of sad. On one hand, they’re awesome friends; on the other hand, she has this awful crush on him, and I’m pretty sure it’s because, for her first few weeks at Bayville, he is literally the only person who is remotely decent to her. Anyway, they’re about to bond over their mutual alienation and broken superpowers when Nightcrawler ruins everything by ‘porting in with the news that Jean has been kidnapped.

“I swear, he’s like an annoying little brother,” says Rogue. OHO–I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, SHOW!

Scott immediately figures out that it must have been Blob who took Jean, and demands to know if Rogue knew anything about it, which is kind of gauche but also kind of a reasonable question, considering that she runs around with the bad guys.

And then comes my favorite moment of this entire season,13 in which, on the way out to find a kidnapped teammate, Scott and Kurt find time to make a Star Trek joke before teleporting away.14 Not only that, but it’s so smooth and so fast-patter that it is clearly evident that they do this all the time. I love these goofy nerds so much, you guys.

THESE NERDS

THESE NERDS

Meanwhile, Wolverine is tracking Jean on his motorcycle, to the strains of a truly amazing electric guitar solo; because in addition to being roughly 30% more awesome than surrounding series, the Wolverine Show comes with its own Hardcore Cool Guy Action Soundtrack. Of course it does.

Professor X can’t pinpoint Jean’s location, since she has no idea where she is, but he’s narrowed it down to a general area. You’d think Cerebro might be helpful here? But, no. Also, why do the X-Men always refer to Fred as Blob? He’s not even a supervillain yet, and it was only ever his stage name. Not cool, X-Men.

This is an ordinary napkin, but they really play it like he's about to chloroform her, because obviously this scenario wasn't creepy enough already.

This is an ordinary napkin, but they really play it like he’s about to chloroform her, because obviously this scenario wasn’t creepy enough already.

Back at the killing jar abandoned factory, Fred tells Jean that this is gonna be the best night she ever had, which comes out every bit as creepy as you’d expect. He’s proposing dinner and dancing, and I’m really curious as to how he’s planning to execute the latter with Jean tied to a chair.

Jean tries to explain to Fred that you can’t force someone to like you, to which Fred responds, “Why not? I’m stronger than everyone!” There’s something really childlike about Fred’s understanding of basic social dynamics and consent; and if anything, it makes him even scarier.

Fortunately for Jean, Wolverine and his wailin’ guitar riffs have just pulled up outside. How can Wolverine follow scents on a motorcycle? At like 60 MPH? Whatever, he’s here now!

I shouldn't tease. He had to save up a lot of box tops for that.

I shouldn’t tease. He had to save up a lot of box tops for that.

Because he lives in his own magical universe, Wolverine calls Professor Xavier on an honest-to-god signal watch, then–ignoring the prof’s caution to wait for backup–pops his claws and cuts an X through the door, because this is literally the only way Wolverine knows to enter rooms. He surprises Fred, who’s ducked out to grab a turntable–presumably pre-loaded with “Every Breath You Take”–and they yell inarticulately at each other, then square off.

Remember how Blob used to perform as the World’s Strongest Teenager™? Spoiler: He is still definitely hella strong–enough to casually toss a several-ton boiler at Wolverine. There’s more yelling, and Jean tries to use the opportunity to pry away the railing that’s holding her to the chair, but it’s a no-go. She does, however, manage to pick up a filing cabinet, conveniently blowing out the candles on top in the process. I guess the network was cool with kidnapping, but drew a line at arson?

Given the staging, I seriously suspect this was originally supposed to end with a fire, but got changed at the last minute.

Given the staging, I seriously suspect this was originally supposed to end with a fire, but got changed at the last minute.

In the next room, Blob and Wolverine are still at it, and if you are wondering if they are still yelling like champs, the answer is yes. Yes, they are. “She’s my friend,” Blob insists, midway through crushing Wolverine. “You can’t take her!”

Luckily for Wolverine, backup arrives just in time to deliver a snappy comeback: “We’re just giving her a way out–through you, if necessary!” Remember how I said that Cyclops was all about agency in this episode? Cyclops is all about agency in this episode. Also, his banter has improved considerably since the fight with Sabretooth, which is unsurprising, since it’s not like it could have gotten any worse.

NOTE: Scott drove his own car here, and I kept expecting it to get destroyed, but it didn't, and it was honestly kind of a letdown.

Scott drove his own car here, and I kept expecting it to get destroyed, but it didn’t, and it was honestly kind of a letdown.

What Cyclops is not is invulnerable, which is a problem, since Blob–unfazed by optic blasts–pitches Wolverine at him, taking them both out of the fight and knocking off Cyclops’s visor for the third time in four episodes. Seriously, does this thing have no failsafe of any sort? What is wrong with these people? (It’s not an issue here, because Cyclops is unconscious and thus has his eyes closed, but still.)

Cyclops and Wolverine may be out for the count, but there’s someone else on the scene, someone in super kickass industrial goth boots. Hi, Rogue! I’m not sure why Rogue’s arrival is treated as super mysterious, since those boots are super recognizable and the first thing she does is go up to the unconscious Scott and touch him to steal his powers.

Meanwhile, inside the ironworks, Jean pitches the filing cabinet at Blob, which goes about as well as you’d expect, given that this is a guy who laughed off the same optic blasts that leveled a stadium. He picks up a large piece of industrial equipment that someone who is not me might be able to identify, but before he can throw it at Jean, he’s hit with–more optic blasts?

“Leave her alone, you yahoo!” yells Rogue, because Rogue is the absolute goddamn best. She can also control Cyclops’s powers, which is a bit of continuity I genuinely appreciate–it’s usually a toss-up whether writers remember that his lack of control is brain damage, not an intrinsic part of the power set.

The last thing you will see before you die.

The last thing you will see before you die.

“Whatch’a gonna do to me?” Blob taunts, “Make me wear bad make-up?” Blob, shut the fuck up. Rogue is a delicate cemetery flower, and she’s going to steal your powers and use them to kick your ass while Jean watches in open-mouthed awe.15

“You can’t hurt me!” Blob insists. “I’m the Blob!”

“Nah,” says Rogue, “You’re just garbage that wanted a date.” I’m not too happy that Jean doesn’t get to rescue herself here, but if someone else was going to have to, I am pretty goddamn glad it was Rogue, whose commitment to a gag is such that, after calling Blob “garbage,” she ends the fight by throwing and then blasting him all the way to the city dump–which is pretty damn impressive precision, given that she’s never used either his or Cyclops’s powers before.

Probably this is a poignant metaphor for the human condition, but I am too desensitized to care at this point.

Probably this is a poignant metaphor for the human condition, but I am too desensitized to care at this point.

And the last we see of Blob this episode, he’s sitting in the city dump, covered in garbage, yelling at seagulls to stop laughing at him. It sounds funny, but it’s actually sad and fucked up and unsettling, just like every single other thing he does in this episode.

Back at the ironworks, Rogue is sheepish and apologetic and awkward; and Cyclops totally leads her on by way of Henry V. Not cool, dude.

Jean wants to know why Rogue helped them. “I don’t know,” she says, and runs. Jean tries to go after her–remember, Jean’s the one who almost got through to Rogue in the first place, by way of the magic tire gauge–but Wolverine stops her, claiming that Rogue “ain’t ready,” although the X-Men now totally owe her one.

And that’s that.

If I remember correctly, this story is never revisited. Never. Fred gets to keep going to Bayville. In a few episodes, the X-Men and the Brotherhood will team up; in fact, Professor Xavier will team them up, presumably knowing full well what’s gone down today.

That lack of acknowledgement freaks me out almost as much as the story itself. I mean: This wasn’t a heroes-versus-villains scuffle. It wasn’t the Brotherhood messing with the X-Men because they’re the bad guys and the X-Men are the good guys. It was a dude kidnapping and assaulting a peer, both in their civilian identities, and that is a very different kind of thing.

Again, “Mutant Crush” isn’t exactly a bad episode–it’s deftly written, and it’s definitely effective; and I genuinely enjoy both the B-plot and a lot of the incidental moments and details. That said: the hands-down best part of finish this write-up–for me, at least–is that I never have to watch it again.


NEXT WEEK ON X-MEN: EVOLUTION: That one Dwayne McDuffie pitch, but played completely straight.


NOTES:

1. Actually, “The Cauldron” is a two-parter, so it might technically be the two worst episodes of the series.

2. …I write, as if there is such a thing as an appropriate and tasteful way to make jokes about a novel that is literally about a man who kidnaps a lady and keeps her locked in a basement until she dies. (Side note: in addition to being a delightful pastoral romp, The Collector manages to be even more aggressively classist than Season One of X-Men: Evolution. I KNOW, RIGHT?!)

3. Agency, politics, and portrayal of sideshows in superhero media is a subject that definitely bears further discussion, but today is not the day for that. Today is a day for teenagers fighting monster trucks.

4. In the comics, the Blob’s size is an expression of his mutation. In Evolution, it’s not: we know this because Rogue stays the same size when she absorbs his powers, (but–for instance–physically alters when she absorbs Sabretooth’s).

5. I wish he had kept wearing capes. They’re not practical for a grappler, but he could have thrown them off dramatically before every fight. Are there any superheroes who do that? There should be.

6. I’m pretty sure Paul Surrogate Alex has a couple different voice actors over the course of the series, and whoever’s voicing him here seems to be doing their best Don Adams. It is somewhat jarring.

7. I honestly can’t figure out what else to call this stuff. I have no idea what it’s supposed to be. It looks like the unidentifiable piles of mush Calvin’s family always has for dinner in Calvin & Hobbes.

8. Are large-scale food fights a real thing that happen in schools, like, ever? I have never encountered one, nor do I know anyone who has.

9. “That’s what the Xavier institute is all about,” Jean tells Blob, “Control.” Which, well–that’s certainly one way to look at it.

10. Somewhere in all of this, there’s probably a long and involved essay about how gender inflects Jean and Professor X’s relative roles in the team and interaction with their respective telepathy, but I’ll probably save it for S2E2.

11. Taryn and Scott will briefly date during Season 2, and it will be super awkward, and no one will ever speak of it again.

12. English lacks adequate words to explain how obnoxious Kitty’s laugh is. It’s just spectacularly awful, and I kind of want it as a ringtone, because I am a goddamn monster.

13. Not counting the time Cyclops finally tells off Professor X, but that’s a given.

14. Oh, like you wouldn’t.

15. “Someday, I’m gonna be in a girl gang with her,” Jean thinks, wistfully. “Maybe next season.”

40 comments

  1. David says:

    Woot!!! Recaps are back! Thanks for getting to this, Rachel. I know life has been hectic, but we love to read these, so thanks for posting!

    “Why aren’t there more monster-truck-based superhero stories?” I think the answer is that they tried motorcycle-based superhero stories with Team America, and we all know how THAT went…

    Duncan’s treatment of Fred is pretty inexplicable; wouldn’t the QB be interested in the GIANT NEW KID for the football team? As someone who PLAYED football, I promise he would have been.

    Also, I agree with pretty much everything you said. I LOVE the Rogue-Scott B-plot, and wish it could’ve been explored even more than it was in this series. But, like you say, this episode’s A-plot is good in that it EXAMINES a lot of troubling things, but the IMPLICATIONS of those examinations never really play out, either in the episode itself, nor in the ones following. I officially just struck the A-plot of this one from my headcanon.

    • Cecilia says:

      It may not be SUPERheroes but I guess there’s always “Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines”–which was a cartoon in the 80’s about MONSTER TRUCK ADVENTURES. I don’t know if anyone here watched it–apparently it aired alongside Jem.

      There need to be more monster trucks.

    • Rachel says:

      Ah, but you’re forgetting: Duncan’s entire personality and motivation boil down to “being a dick.”

      I really wish they’d done more with Scott and Rogue’s friendship before going full-steam into unrequited-crush territory. They have a lot in common, they’re both characters who are clearly pretty hungry for someone to talk/relate to, and I will never, never stop beating my drum for more platonic dude-and-lady friendships in mass media.

      • Mary says:

        ” I will never, never stop beating my drum for more platonic dude-and-lady friendships in mass media.”

        Yes, yeeees!

      • David says:

        Ah; touche about Duncan’s personality. Now, WHY Jean would be with someone like that, I’m not sure.

        As for more platonic dude-and-lady friendships in mass media: yes, yes, 1000 times yes!

  2. Cecilia says:

    This episode…it’s the worst. It has always made me super uncomfortable. I always skip it in reruns. And it really bothers me that Blob never faces consequences for his actions. It does sorta match the real world issue of rapists not getting in trouble, but that doesn’t mean I want to see it on a cartoon? At least I’d like a follow-up episode that deals with the aftermath.

    On a lighter note, clearly Cyclops needs a sunglasses-retainer. Or a freaking padlock.

  3. Fruitso says:

    I can definitely see where you’re coming from in regards to the content of this episode. But at least the creepy stuff is portrayed as such, unlike what happens with Scarlet Witch in a couple seasons (brain washing is totally O.K for getting past childhood trauma!)

    Also I just noticed both Blob and Duncan have blonde hair yet their eyebrows are black?? Like did they both dye their hair, or did they paint their eyebrows?

    • Rachel says:

      I thought the Scarlet Witch thing was supposed to play as super creepy and not okay? But that might just have been my read. Either way: Ughhhhhhhh.

      I think the eyebrows are just a house-style thing. Pretty common in both animation and comics.

  4. Doug says:

    Oh man, I watched this before reading your recap and thought it was a vaguely creepy but ultimately mediocre episode. After reading this, I am thoroughly creeped out by this episode. 1) I’m a guy and didn’t know that is how women are taught to deal with potentially violent males. 2) I never really considered that Jean might be reading Blob’s mind, and has an idea of exactly how dangerous he is/ how infatuated and violent he could become. It seems like if Blob was the first mutant people were exposed to, you would believe that people are afraid of mutants.

    • Mary says:

      Woman here seconding/confirming that, yeah, that’s how I handle that myself and generally how we’re socialized.

      • Rachel says:

        Yeah, very much so. Be hyper-aware that every dude you meet has the potential to rape and murder you; but it’s also never, ever okay to hurt anyone’s feelings. Fun times.

  5. anachronistique says:

    I can remember at least two food fights when I was in high school! I did not participate – in fact, I ran for the door when they started, because I did not want spaghetti sauce in my hair – but they did happen.

    And that’s about all I have to say on this episode aside from PROFOUND SHUDDERING. Ugh, so gross.

  6. Mary says:

    My thing with Blob is I always had more sympathy for him than I otherwise might have (I probably wouldn’t have had any otherwise, actually) because we have no idea where his parents are or how he was raised or what, and all implications are bad. I mean, we don’t have any idea with Toad either, but at least he’s in school; Fred doesn’t seem to be. Maaaybe he was enrolled somewhere else while working as a monster truck attraction but I didn’t get that impression. How does a teenager wind up there, with no guardians apparently in the picture? Which isn’t to overlook any of the creepiness and not-okayness with Jean, it is what it is and damn is that scary and messed-up, but it’s actually the creepiness and not-okayness that further made me think there’s probably been something really fucked-up going with his home/family situation, especially since we never ever learn or hear anything of it in the future (Toad at least mentions a mother, it’s stated Lance is in foster care, and duh with Pietro) And yeah, the fat jokes are terrible.

    Again, not saying it excuses him so much as I just wish that his situation had been re-visited and explored; he always seemed to me to get the least development of the Brotherhood and just stay The Fat Joke after this, without even the additional creepy maladjusted manchild stalker side (which, while awful, is at least three-dimensional) I mean, every other member of the Brotherhood got some growth :/

    Re Rogue not changing physically from absorbing his powers: I always assumed that’s a “can’t have the hot girl getting fat” thing more than an indication about whether his size was part of his abilities, myself.

    BTW, I am so thrilled you’re doing these recaps and can’t wait for more!

  7. Gary says:

    “Also, the lunch ladies at Bayville are kind of pushovers. Also also, the Bayville cafeteria is weirdly well stocked.”
    But of course. Recall, the principal recruited Fred to the school. She had the lunchladies prepared for him.

    RE: Rogue doesn’t change size when she absorbs Blob.
    I don’t know if she ever absorbs Nightcrawler on the show, but in the comics, she never grows a tail when she does. Perhaps that’s part of it. She never absorbs Blob in the Claremont run, nor Sabretooth. She does absorb Juggernaut, and her size remains unchanged with that, as well. The only big size changes I can remember her having are against She-Hulk in Uncanny Annual #7 and Thing in FF v. X-Men. She grows when she absorbs Colossus, but Colossus grows when he Colossusses out, so I’d discount that one.

    tl;dr: Rogue gets the changes she gets when she absorbs somebody. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

    • Jen Wolff says:

      What if V.2 issue 98 features Rogue absorbing Nightcrawler and there’s definite tail. Its one of her rare cases of permanent absorption though, a la Carol Danvers, which may explain why she gets the tail in this case but not others. (What if Mystique had Raised Nightcrawler?–brilliant look into Mystique’s family dynamics.)

      • Gary says:

        Boy, that’s a real good case of she gets what she gets. Rogue straight up comments that she hasn’t grown a tail when she absorbs Kurt in Uncanny #195. Nice No-Prize justification, though.

  8. Alicia says:

    I like to imagine Wolverine cutting X’s through doors to enter at inappropriate times while Xavier just glares at him. Like say when all the New Mutants’ parents are visiting the institute or something.

    Though when I was a youngish child watching these for the first time, Wolverine’s door-slicing entrances were the only thing that kept me from realizing Wolverine couldn’t actually use his claws in a fight.

  9. Britt says:

    I don’t think I’d have watched that episode again (even with awesome recap commentary) if it wasn’t for the b-plot.

    Mostly removed the a-plot from my memory. Relates to how we’re expected to deal with these sorts of situations in the real world. Just move on, pretend it never happened. You’re probably exaggerating anyway, right?

  10. Donny says:

    I love reading these reviews. The thoughts and insight you provide are fascinating, and they kind of give voice to things that make me uncomfortable but that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The implicit fat-shaming, the woman-as-helpless-victim, and especially the fact as you pointed out that no consequences come of this event.

    It never quite clicked until you put it that way.. this wasn’t a superhero fight, where both sides go back to their bases and plan for next time.. this was an unstable, abusive male abducting a teenage girl with definite plans of romantic, if not explicitly sexual, actions. That kind of thing is inexcusable, and it should be something that came back to haunt him over and over. It could’ve been a defining event in his origin, in this universe anyway.

    I suppose the problem with that would be that this format isn’t appropriate for that level of maturity; having a recurring villain who is pointed out to be an attempted rapist wouldn’t be allowed in a kids’ cartoon time slot. But then they shouldn’t have gone down that road if they weren’t going to explore it fully.. I don’t know, I kind of go back and forth on it. At some point you have to concede to the limits of the format, I guess?

    Anyway, rambling now. Love your reviews.

    p.s. Ditto what David said about. The football coach would be DROOLING to have someone like Fred on the team, and Duncan would clearly know the value of having someone like that blocking for him. Either that or he’s an idiot.

    • Rachel says:

      I think you’ve just nailed what creeps me out the most about the way the show handles this: That it’s okay to have a dude who kidnap and assault a woman on-screen, and it’s okay to keep bringing him back as a recurring, semi-sympathetic villain; but what crosses the line is talking about it like it matters.

      • Mary says:

        Ugh this this THIIIIS this is an episode that should have frankly been the start of an arc-long conversation.

        First, Jean. I just want to much to know how Jean felt about this after, if she got any counseling, if she needed any, who she talked to about this, etc. There just needs to be all the focus on her and what affects were had, but she doesn’t even seem to REMEMBER this the next time she sees Fred (and not in a ‘deliberately trying not to bring it up way’ either)

        Next, Fred. I normally would just want him off the show forever, because this kind of thing is normally my BIG NO when I stop having any empathy for a character ever, but he just rings to me as so maladjusted and quite likely neuroatypical that I really wanted his mind and mentality explored further, especially since MAYBE he could have the capacity to learn that THIS WAS WRONG. I think I might actually sympathize with him/want this more than he deserves, because he reminds me of myself when I was a child with an undiagnosed mental illness—the tantrums, the uncontrollable rage, the absolute inability to so much as ask for directions in a ‘normal’ way from another student, everything but the sexist stalker stuff (because I was a little girl, not a giant teen boy) I just feel like there really could have been something done with “ok, you don’t get what you did and maybe you even lacked control to a degree, but the EFFECTS on OTHER PEOPLE are still the SAME, so there has to be accountability for that and that’s gonna be part of your recovery” and bam, character arc in which it’s never forgotten or forgiven, but it is explored in a way that makes him 3D. Instead, he just…went back in the background as a fat joke and never even seems to think of this incident or Jean again. Which is almost even worse than if he’d continued to do so, because at least that would be TALKING ABOUT IT.

        And Rogue! She came to the rescue of someone else in trouble, which is a step in a good-guy direction in general, but specifically a fellow GIRL in a very gendered situation. What’s more, a girl who would later become her rival, and while I don’t really like that cliché dynamic, I do like what could have been done with “you can have female solidarity with another woman while not personally liking her because this is bigger than either of you” and even if Rogue may not care for Jean personally, how did *Jean* feel about Rogue for this? Because I don’t think THAT ever gets brought up either.

        And finally, the fact that this episode *was* so in your face about what this is and how AWFUL it is makes me really disappointed that the later stuff with Toad/Wanda was painted as a funny joke and also sympathetically favorable to Toad. You did good (disturbingly so) here, Evo, why you gotta go around and then do that?

        I just have a lot of feelings about this episode and everyone in it.

        • Doug says:

          I’d say Jean definitely got counseling, since she doesn’t really show that she is fucking terrified of Blob on any later encounters… but Xavier is in charge of the school, so I kinda doubt that she did. He probably just said that it was going to be good practice for fighting other mutants and that she needs to be strong or something. Maybe he even added “Blobs will be Blobs.”

          Honestly, I’d love to see an episode where Blob leaves the Brotherhood after Xavier telepathically shows him just how he makes other people feel. Not in a vindictive way, but in a “Hey, you’re basically invincible and you’ve probably never been scared of anyone in your life, but this is what fear feels like. This is how people feel when you push them around or threaten them. It feels terrible and you should endeavor to never make anyone feel this way again.”

          Maybe some people think that’s too much to expect from a kids TV show, but after Avatar and Legend of Korra, I know that kids shows can be entertaining AND ask kids difficult questions / cover difficult subject matter.

          • Mary says:

            Ugggh, I’d have really liked that. Again, I think I am kind of projecting on him a little here because of how much of my own childhood behavior I see in his, but without getting too personal, I pretty much terrorized another child too and as an adult who now understands how wrong that is, it’s a journey I’d have really liked to see. And I don’t usually give a shit about the ~growth~ of predators, I usually just go “nope, trash” and am only concerned with the victim, but this case is just special for personal reasons, as I’ve mentioned.

            “Maybe some people think that’s too much to expect from a kids TV show, but after Avatar and Legend of Korra, I know that kids shows can be entertaining AND ask kids difficult questions / cover difficult subject matter.”

            And if it *is* too much, then I don’t think this is a place they should have gone in the first place. But I don’t think it is—I think it’s something that really should be talked about in kids media more, because this is something that doesn’t always wait until you’re 18+ to happen. And not only for girls, but guys too—they should be shown this behavior as Not Okay, because there’s actually a lot of media in which the “hero” wins over the girl by stalkery behavior, not accepting her no, etc. In kids media, no less.

            • Mike Loughlin says:

              Well said. I have two kids (10 yr old boy, 8 yr old girl) and so I get stuck watching a lot of bad kids entertainment. I’m shocked by how often a boy (or man) gets a girl (or woman) to like him after behaving appallingly. I know “shoddy kids’ movie” and “low brow comedy” do not go through a ton of rewrites, but how hard is it to make two characters like each other without making portraying stalker behavior as okay?

  11. John Derrick says:

    Excellent recap, as always – hilarious, but also digging into layers I was probably aware of on some level but hadn’t fully unpacked.

    Speaking of unpacking, you said…

    “…but it’s also about taking the woman with the strongest power set and casting her as an unambiguous victim in the first episode that really focuses on her. And I hate that. I hate it so much. I hate it when it happens in the comics, and I really hate it when it happens in this show, because Evolution gets Jean right in ways that X-series rarely do.”

    I feel like Evo probably is her best series, but that’s kind of damning by faint praise. She’s not overwhelmed by her own powers, nor martyred in the first five minutes to give Scott manpain, and occasionally gets some great witty lines. But I’m also frustrated that she’s pretty much the only character who never gets a real hero episode of her own. This is one of the few focus episodes she gets at all, and the others mostly involve her being out of control or brainwashed and needing to be saved. (There’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” of course, but that’s more an ensemble gig.)

    I feel like the problem is two fold.

    1) The writers buy into the “Jean’s practically perfect in every way” myth, and can’t seem to come up with a character arc where she actually has a lesson to learn. Which is a shame, because there’s plenty of material to work from in the comics – her childhood trauma when Annie died, the overload that comes with being a telepath in a high school (something Devin Grayson’s X-Ev comics actually handled beautifully), the control issues that come with being able to shake a room with a stray thought. Not to mention all the fun you can have if you throw a time traveler into the mix and give Jean a glimpse of destiny to kick against.

    (Not you, Irene.)

    2) The writers aren’t very good at coming up with creative ways to use telekinesis to solve problems, either. As mentioned, Jean’s pretty much the most powerful character, but I feel like the writers are always afraid that telekinesis is a little too deus ex machina to be satisfying. As a result, Jean is often the penultimate hero, but never gets the big finishing move. She’s the one who holds back the bad guy/train/explosion/whatever long enough for Rogue or Kitty or Lance to apply their powers in some more clever way and snag the MVP.

  12. kirageckol says:

    This recap is amazing. I gave up the series around episode 6(?) but I think I’m going to learn to love it through these recaps.

    … Maybe. WANDA DOES NOT LIKE PIETRO FOR MOST OF SEASON 1 and I’m not sure if even your amazing commentary can save that for me. But your snarky remarks about this TERRIBLE version of Kitty is almost enough to make me enjoy her appearances, so anything is possible.

  13. Gary A. says:

    I remember this episode and thought that this was weird to sort of brush such a very uncomfortable thing underneath the rug. But I thought the subsequent episodes were a result of Xavier erasing the memory of everyone involved and doing some sort of mental surgery on Blob to make him less rape-y? This does not paint Xavier in a good light, but it might make sense so that in later episodes they aren’t freaked out by Blob.

  14. John Derrick says:

    Rachel, what do you see as the strengths of the X-Ev take on Jean, especially in relation to what other series miss?

    • Rachel says:

      Okay, so: In a lot of media, Jean is defined mostly as The Girl. She’s overly perfect; the person with all the powers, &c.

      Evolution–especially later–takes that stuff and makes it into part of a much more relatable character. Yeah, Jean’s smart, talented, hella powerful, &c; but part of that is that she’s a chronic overachiever and perfectionist, who works way too hard to conform to the expectations of the people around her. It seems like an obvious angle when it’s right in front of you, but no one else really goes there–First Class, maybe, briefly, in the Sue Storm issue; but I can’t think of another place off the top of my head.

      • John Derrick says:

        Very good points. I wish they’d taken it a little further, and let her realize these things about herself more overtly, as the focus of her own episodes.

  15. David M says:

    0808 801 0456, Somerset & Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support. If you’re living in the South West of England. My daughter volunteers there. Proud of her. One of her colleagues there has recently started reading comics and wanted recommendations of female led titles. I’ve sent a list. I also recommended this podcast and ‘Three Chicks Review Comics’. I don’t know if she listens to podcasts, but if she does, are there other comics podcasts with women hosts people would recommend?

  16. Jean Gray, Hot says:

    “Drama club, yo”
    – I bet there are, like, two people in that club. Or maybe just a couple of white kids trying to diversify so they can put on Hairspray?

    The poster that really struck me, though, was “Just Say No To” and then was followed by a bunch of small print. I really wish we could have seen the rest of that text.

  17. Tholomyes says:

    I’m so glad you mentioned the way it takes cues from Buffy, because that’s one of the things I have the hardest time trying to work out when explaining this show to people who never saw it. I’ve tried to explain it as “Buffy meets X-men” but that never feels exactly right, but your explanation is exactly right: it’s not so much that the A-plots of both shows exactly line up in tone, but the B-plots of both shows are structurally similar, which is one of the major strengths of the show.

    Also, as an aside, even as a kid, I never understood why this episode existed the way it did, and I don’t understand why the writers made it the way it is. The dichotomy of Dukes as both victim and bully never really bothered me, as it lined up with all I was told throughout my formative years of schooling about bullying (e.g. that bullying behaviour, through expressing physical or social power against others, is often a mechanism to cope with others, such as parental or other authority figures or, as in this case, the power of numbers, directing physical or social power against them), but the fact that the episode seemed to present him with this dichotomy while also using his fatness as a butt of jokes and the way that, even as a dude, and even before I ever heard the disgusting term “Friend zone”, Dukes’ possessive entitlement and refusal to accept a “no” (either implicit or explicit) chafed with the sympathetic portrayal earlier. It just was hard to watch as they made him sympathetic, and then mocked him for the same reasons, and then tried to make him completely unsympathetic, towards the end, when they had spent much of the rest of the episode trying to make him sympathetic. Not even having watched this episode since I was a kid, those were the things that stuck out at me, when I remembered it, and if they made it so clear that even as a kid, I realized those problems, I can’t imagine how it made it through to the final episode without someone saying “No, these things need to change.”

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