Tuesday, September 13, 2016

BSN Mini-Review: "Awhina"

If “Deme” was an exercise in translating the experience of a pleasant high into video, “Awhina” attempts the same thing for an unpleasant high. The first half of the episode is (almost) all about conveying the feeling of being lost, out of control, and not knowing how to fight your way back to sobriety. As they’ve done throughout Bright Summer Night, the Candle Wasters use light and music and editing to great effect here, but Neenah Dekkers-Reihana’s acting deserves a lot of credit as well; the episode wouldn’t be half so effective if she weren’t able to let us right into Awhina’s head.

But mimicking the experience of a bad trip isn’t the point of the episode. The point is Awhina and Bryn’s relationship. When Awhina is at her lowest and most out-of-control, she wants Bryn. She dreams of him; she asks for him; she looks for him. But Bryn is nowhere to be found. And when she finally starts to come back to her senses, she realizes that being abandoned by Bryn isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Bryn and Awhina’s break-up has been inevitable from the beginning of BSN. From their very first conversation in “Puck,” it’s been clear how dysfunctional their relationship is. Since they graduated high school, their priorities and interests have wildly diverged, with Awhina diving deeper into Kaitiaki while Bryn focuses on his academic career. Awhina desperately wants Bryn to be more present, and Bryn desperately wants Awhina to be less demanding. But Bryn wants space to focus on the things he’s really interested in, and while he’s been away, Awhina has gained too much confidence to simply concede to what he wants. Awhina is blossoming, and Bryn doesn’t support her. If there was ever a time when they were a good fit, it’s long past.

All of this has been present in Bryn and Awhina’s relationship since “Puck,” and all of it is present in “Awhina.” But the best part of “Awhina” is that it doesn’t just focus on the dysfunction; for the first time in the series, it shows us why the relationship once worked. From Awhina’s visions and her monologue, we can see why she cares about Bryn, what he’s given to her, why she’s stayed with him so long. Which means that when she breaks things off, there’s a real sense of loss. Their break-up is necessary, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

Support and loss and moving on: That’s the major story of “Awhina.” But there are a few moments in the episode that are only tangentially related to that story. Poppy and Thea introducing themselves to Nicky, for instance, or Mia introducing herself to Awhina. Those moments are glaring in their straightforwardness; after nine episodes of atmosphere and mystery, of only catching stories out of the corner of your eye, it’s almost shocking to see someone simply walk up to someone else and say, essentially, “Hi, I’m Mia. Here’s what’s up with me.”

These moments aren’t really part of Awhina’s story; they’re a set-up for the endgame of the series as a whole. In “Awhina,” all of the characters start to come together. People who’ve been brushing past each other all night, dancing in and out of each other’s stories, are finally meeting and making connections. They’re congregating in a single place for a single purpose.

It’s thematic, of course, but I suspect that it’s also strategic. With all these people in one place at one time, we could be in for a really excellent final episode.

Random Bits

Let’s go ahead and call “Awhina” the “ACCOSTED” of BSN: On-the-nose monologues, painful realizations about one’s own life, and plenty of thematic parallels. (See Fairy Bianca’s quote, below.)

Fairy Bianca, talking about her old job, I think: “I kind of want to go back though, because, like, it was good before. But when I’m there, it is so soul-sucking. I don’t feel supported, and the service just isn’t that good.”

“Oh, yup, I see him.” I love you, Nicky.

“Where’s Puck?” 

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