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Wonderfalls: Barrel Bear

Objects: Barrel Bear, Mounted Fish
Missions: “Give it back to her” and “It’s never too late”

‘Barrel Bear’ puts the spotlight on Niagara Falls with a very enjoyable episode about the first American woman to go over the falls in a barrel --- and live. When the adventures begin, Jaye believes she’s been tasked with returning former local star, Millie Marcus, to life in the public eye. After several failed attempts, Jaye learns that Millie’s claim to fame is a big fat lie, and that Vivien Caldwell was actually the first American woman to survive a barrel ride over the falls. After reaching the bottom of the falls, a dazed and bruised Vivien was pulled from the barrel and replaced by Millie, because their manager believed that the beautiful and vivacious Millie would be a better attraction on the worldwide press tour than Plain Jane Vivien. Jaye’s real mission is to give Vivien back the life that Millie stole from her.

The only problem is that a crazed and drunken Mahandra is hell bent on preserving history as she knows it and sticking it to Jaye. She and a befuddled Eric help Millie steal the barrel Vivien rode in, and then attempt to protect Niagara’s legacy by having Millie actually go over the falls. But once Millie gets an eyeful of the “hundred and seventy feet straight down over razor sharp rock,” she realizes that she never could have done what Vivien did, and tries to make things right with her. Unfortunately, Millie dies while telling Vivien it’s never too late; but in a final ironic twist Vivien ends up going on a “Back in the Barrel” tour posing as Millie --- now effectively living the life that was stolen from her, but only by continuing Millie’s lies.

‘Barrel Bear’ was a highly amusing episode. I thought it was awesome that they built such a convoluted story around the history of the show’s setting. What really made the episode sing were the brilliant turns by Rue McClanahan and Louise Fletcher as Millie and Vivien. Who wouldn’t want to watch Blanche Devereaux and Nurse Ratched throw down in all their bitter, bitchy glory? Every scene those two had together lit up the screen. I particularly loved their first confrontation at the Barrel, which featured Millie’s transformation from smiling, harmless publicity hound to vile, evil bitch, and was chock full of delightfully nasty zingers.

Vivien: “You’ve got some ovum coming back here.”

Vivien: “You probably thought I was dead. Hell, I prayed you were.”

Vivien: “You made a career out of what I did!”
Millie: “Just exactly what did you do? You fell down. That took gravity, not skill.”

Millie: “Don’t worry about Vivien. She rants and she raves. Everybody thinks she’s crazy.”
Jaye: “But she’s not crazy!”
Millie: “Well she is if she thinks people want the version of the story with the chunky girl going over the falls.”

Millie: “Oh, face it, Vivien. Nobody’s gonna pay to see you. Not outside of a barrel anyway.”

I also really liked how the tale of Millie and Vivien brought several ongoing issues with our main characters to the fore. Jaye was forced to own up to the fact that she’s a bit stuck in life, and was also faced with the effect her missions are having on her friendship with Mahandra. Neither issue was really resolved, but at least both were acknowledged out loud. Jaye now understands that her uncharacteristic “random acts of kindness” are making Mahandra feel sad and crazy because Jaye won’t share what she’s going through with her best friend. It was good to see her finally open up about the “animals with faces that aren’t really alive [that] talk to me and tell me to do things,” even if Mahandra didn’t believe her. Maybe the next time she will.

Meanwhile, Eric got to struggle some more with the dissolution of his marriage and his old life. He starts the episode claiming to be New Eric, not “some guy named Eric who came to Niagara Falls on his honeymoon and caught his wife with the bellman.” He says he’s ready to move on, and gets all flirty with Jaye, but then can’t bring himself to delete a message left by his cheating wife. However, after being caught up in Millie’s deranged efforts to preserve her image, Eric finally concludes that “what’s most important in life is to be yourself. Even if you have to be somebody else to do it.” So with a dramatic slow-motion toss, Now Eric bids “goodbye to the old life” and Then Eric. I don’t think he’s really unloaded all his baggage --- he won’t be able to do that until he confronts Heidi about her betrayal --- but, in the meantime, it is nice to see him take baby steps towards a possible future relationship with Jaye.

Other Thoughts

I really loved the flashbacks. The visual style was very nifty, and the girls they got to play the young versions of Vivien and Millie bore a striking resemblance to Rue and Louise. The morphs from young to old were quite effective.

Karen firmly nixing the Niagara Falls book idea with an icy smile was a hoot. “We’re not talking about that anymore. There is no book. Thank you.”

I was also really entertained by Darrin and Sharon’s public service organization, Concerned Ladies of America West. “We’ve been promoting achievement and morality in family life and public policy since --- what --- since you were 16?” The “claw” hand gesture they both made when talking about it was hilarious.

Vivien’s emotional distress at the funeral for “Vivien” was really funny. “Gone too soon. Too soon!”

I loved that they put Millie’s ashes in one of those toy barrels so that she could finally go over the falls in a barrel for real. “And so history is preserved.” “And a legend continues.” Clever. (And Jaye getting a fine for it was icing on the cake.)


Jaye: “How does going over Niagara Falls in a barrel make anyone famous?”
Mahandra: “Because it’s Niagara Falls. Where is your hometown pride? You really are like a hobbit that hates the Shire.”

Mahandra: “My dad’s been telling me about you all my life. He’s the guy who fishes corpses out of the river.”

Mahandra: “This is so sad. This is sadder than that hooker we saw getting beat up by that other hooker.”
Alec: “At least a hooker fight would draw a crowd.”

Eric (to Millie): “Wow. That’s impressive. You made ruining that poor woman’s life actually sound kind of noble.”

Eric: “It is sort of the quintessential American tale.”
Mahandra: “Yes exactly. It teaches us there’s nothing a person can’t do.”
Eric: “Or nothing a person actually has to do. I mean, look at her. She’s one hundred percent fabrication. She decided what she wanted to be and damn the facts. You don’t get much more American than that.”

Jaye (to Vivien): “But just because she biddy-slapped you, doesn’t mean you have to quit.”

Mahandra: “Oh you’d love that wouldn’t you? You’d love it if I just stepped aside and allowed you to destroy one life after another with your truth-covered lies!”

Eric: “Do you have to video tape this? You could be recording evidence.”
Mahandra: “Recording history.”
Eric: “History that’s admissible in court.”

Jaye: “I have a worthless philosophy degree that’s gotten me no further than a dead end retail job working for a mouth breather, so I can continue to support my trailer park lifestyle. You think I sit around feeling sorry for myself?”
Vivien: “God, I would if I were you.”

Millie: “[to herself] I am a bitch. My god, I’m such a bitch. Oh, am I ever a bitch. [to Jaye and Vivien] I’m a bitch.”

Vivien: “So now I know what it’s like to be Millie.”
Eric: “Because you’re wearing her clothes?”
Vivien: “Because I feel like fraud.”
Jaye: “Yeah. One of life’s little ironies is that you have to continue Millie’s lies so you can finally tell the truth.”

Final Analysis: ‘Barrel Bear’ is an exceedingly enjoyable episode that focuses on Niagara Falls and gives us a twisty and riotous “geriatric war” between two fabulous actresses. As an added bonus, the episode delivers some solid character development for Jaye, Mahandra, and Eric. An all-around good time!

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.


  1. This show just doesn't quit. Every episode is full of great acting and great writing. I loved the first face-off in the bar between Vivien and Millie. As you say, watching two such powerhouse actresses play against each other is a joy.

    The final scene was just lovely. It could have been the ultimate in schmaltz and very nearly was. But, the final line of the show when the cop asks Jaye for her autograph had me howling. What a wonderful way to bring the whole hour together.

  2. Chris

    I've seen the series twice, and now, you're giving me the envy to plunge into for a 3rd time. Cult TV.

  3. Kai Winn!! No wonder I felt weird about thinking she was cool


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