Wonderfalls: Totem Mole

Objects: Totem Pole, Bear Skull, Barrel Bear
Missions: “Go on in,” “Show him who’s special,” “Pick me,” and “Comfort her”

‘Totem Mole’ takes a break from the relationship drama of recent episodes by going to the reservation. Jaye tags along on a road trip to the Satsuma Indian Reservation, where Sharon plans to stock up on tax-free cigarettes and Mahandra plans to apply for tribal citizenship to help pay off her student loans (apparently she’s one-eighth Satsuman on her grandmother’s side). After a directive from a totem pole results in Jaye unknowingly conversing with the tribe’s deceased spiritual leader, she ends up on a quest to get said leader’s grandson, Bill, to take on the mantle in the hopes that he can help her silence the animal voices. Meanwhile, Sharon’s and Mahandra’s plans are stymied by a run-in with Deanna Littlefoot, Sharon’s former law school rival and the new tribal lawyer. Humiliation and hilarity ensues. By the end, Littlefoot is called as the tribe’s new spiritual leader; Bill learns that, even though he lacks “the gift,” the skills he does possess can help his people; and Jaye develops a new appreciation for her “great purpose,” deciding that it may not be a burden after all. Oh, and Sharon gets her cigarettes.

I wasn’t crazy about this episode. It felt very disconnected from the flow of the previous episodes. Yes, it continued the theme of Jaye wanting to rid herself of the voices in the wake of her heartbreak (“I couldn’t stand the thought of another day looking at those faces with their stupid little mouths, constantly running and making all sorts of unreasonable demands on me”); however, it strayed pretty far from our core group dynamic, instead focusing largely on Jaye’s and Sharon’s interactions with new characters, and quite frankly I didn’t find the newbies all that compelling. Bill was kind of sad and pathetic, and it was fairly painful to watch Jaye pressuring him to believe he had a special destiny. And Deanna Littlefoot was a total bitch. (She was an even bigger, smugger bitch than Heidi over these last few episodes. And that’s saying something!) I suppose it makes sense that Jaye (and the writers) would want a respite from the emotional chaos of the last several weeks, but it still felt like a jarring shift away from the meat of the story.

What’s more, the two subplots within the episode --- the search for the new spiritual leader and the old law school rivalry between Sharon and Littlefoot --- felt very disconnected. Only the thinnest and seemingly inconsequential of threads connects them in the end: the turquoise bracelet Jaye lifts at Wonderfalls. Jaye uses it while trying to test whether Bill is special, accidentally passes it on to Sharon, who uses it in a foolish attempt to show Littlefoot they have a lot in common, subsequently trapping Littlefoot in the sauna and leading her to her revelatory vision. A tenuous little plan the Universe set in motion this time, and not nearly as fun and twisty as some of Jaye’s past adventures.

I did actually enjoy some of Jaye’s moments with Bill and Aaron, and I liked the overall conclusion in which Jaye kind of comes to terms with being special and decides she might not be ready to give up the voices yet. “You know, I’m not so sure if my burden’s a burden or not. I mean, other people seem to want it. And that should make you pause before you give something up.” I particularly enjoyed Jaye trying to convince Bill he was on the wrong path, first in the gift shop and then in the teepee. Old Jaye was pretty insensitive to others’ feelings, but once she realized what she had done to Bill, she owned up to her mistake and really tried to let him down gently. “Bill, you’re not the guy. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I know you wanted to be the guy. And I wanted you to be the guy. And you look great in the outfit, but you’re not the guy.” Jaye might just be irrevocably changed for the better.

Other Thoughts

The Satsuma Indian Nation appears to be a completely fictional tribe. On the other hand, Tonawanda (as in, “Well, if it isn’t Mahandra Tonawanda”) is a recognized Indian tribe located in western New York. It is also a town located north of Buffalo and southeast of Niagara Falls.

Was that supposed to be a mole on the non-authentic totem pole? I’m confused because the episode is called ‘Totem Mole,’ but that thing looked nothing like a mole. It looked more like an eagle or some other kind of bird. Whatever it was, it was exceptionally chatty.

Nice callback to the Surrender to Destiny video from ‘Wax Lion.’

I love the subtle irony that both “whitey” and the Satsuma Indians were exploiting native traditions to attract tourists: Whitey with the Maid of the Mist myth, and the Satsumans with their fake totem pole.

Are we to assume that Eric is still slinging drinks at the Barrel and hasn’t left town yet?

The moment when Bill was shot by mall security was pretty intense. I actually wondered for a few minutes if he’d been seriously hurt or killed. I guess that would’ve been too dark for this show.

By and large, I didn’t care for the Sharon and Littlefoot parts of the story, but Littlefoot’s slow-motion exit from the sauna was pretty funny.

The native version of what sounded like ‘Amazing Grace’ was interesting.

Quotes

Gentlefeather: “You have been sought out for a great purpose. For this you have been chosen.”
Jaye: “Nooo. I don’t wanna be chosen. In this instance, I’m anti-choice.”

Sharon: “Remember the time you got our 200-year-old, beloved mascot banned from campus?”
Littlefoot: “It was a sexist symbol of patriarchal oppression.”
Sharon: “Yeah. It was a beaver.”

Bill: “You’re the girl who was talking to my dead grandma.”
Aaron: “It’s inanimate people, too?”

Aaron: “Many of the great spiritual leaders didn’t even realize they had gifts until they were called on to use them. […] St. Paul was just a punk until he was blinded by the light. And Gandhi was just drinking and whoring it up with his friends until he heard the cry of his people.”
Jaye: “And Neo was just a big geek until he swallowed that little red pill.”

Sharon (re: Littlefoot): “Karma’s coming ‘round and it’s gonna knock her to the ground. Ooh! I should write that down.”

Mahandra: “Nine hundred dollars?! Why should I pay nine hundred dollars to not be a member of the tribe? I’m already not a member of the tribe!”

Aaron (re: Bill): “Look at him. The man’s an accountant, Jaye. An accountant. He can’t even get the pipe lit. They’re making a fool out of him.”
Jaye: “Oh my god, you’re right. This is very cruel. What have I done? I’m like those parents who force their uncoordinated children to play sports.”

Sharon: “You know, I was thinking, we have so much in common. We both go to the same gym. I wear turquoise. Why can’t we just bury the hatchet?”
Littlefoot: “The hatchet?”
Sharon: “That was not a racial slur!”

Bill: “Thank you for supporting this imperialist establishment. Enjoy your purchase and have a racist day.”
Customer: “I’ve changed my mind.”
Jaye: “Wait! We’ve got some stuff that’s not racist. Look, a rainbow teddy bear! He represents all people, and he’s gay friendly!”

Alec: “You brought them here. You get rid of them!”
Jaye: “What do you want me to do? Like, litter and get ‘em to chase me?”

Jaye: “Having great purpose isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve had great purpose, and I’ve had no purpose, and I have to say no purpose is a lot easier. Expectations are low. Nobody asks you for anything. Count your blessings.”

Jaye: “Most of the time, it feels like the Universe doing this --- [starts hitting Bill with his own hand] --- ‘Why are you hitting yourself, Jaye? Why are you hitting yourself?’”

Final Analysis: Not the strongest episode. It had some genuinely funny moments, and I suppose a breather from the Eric drama wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but overall ‘Totem Mole’ felt a little too disconnected from recent events to be truly enjoyable.

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

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Great review, Jess. And I had the same reaction to this one. It felt like it came out of left field and wasn't like the other episodes, even though it was still clever and it did make me laugh.

Only one more to go and you've got another complete series under your belt!

Gustavo Brunetti said...

You know, I really enjoyed this episode. I didn't care if it was disconnected, but the source of Jaye's "gift" was finally addressed, even if it wasn't solved (just like another little show, my favorite, which had its series finale back in May). And I really like episodes that are very unusual in a series.

And though I didn't care much for Littlefoot, Sharon had never been funniest.

Gustavo Brunetti said...

And since Billie brought up the subject, now that the reviews are coming to an end, would you consider reviewing Brian Fuller's other shows, like Pushing Daisies, or even better, Dead Like Me?

DLM is light compared to Six Feet Under, but it shared a lot of the same themes and is definitely worth watching. I'd punch in every time.

Jess Lynde said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Gustavo. I really liked Pushing Daisies and would definitely consider that as a future review project. I haven't watched Dead Like Me, yet, but I do own the series DVDs (they were a gift), so that one is not out of the question either.

However, once I finish up Wonderfalls and The X-Files, Season 1, I've already committed to starting on reviews for Farscape. So, reviews for other Bryan Fuller shows would be a long way down on the priority list for me.

ChrisB said...

Like Jess and Billie, this episode felt jarring. While I enjoyed it, especially around Aaron's continuing support of his sister, the rest of it felt like filler.

I think if the series had had a longer run, this episode would have fit into the mythology a lot better. But, as we only have one episode to go, I would have preferred more resolution to the Eric story.