friends s2 ep3.4

‘The One Where Heckles Dies’ (aired 10/5/95)

‘The One Where Heckles Dies’ isn’t what I’d consider a great episode of Friends – but it is a memorable one, thanks to yet another strong Chandler arc, executed to perfection from beginning to end. The other two plots of the episode aren’t quite as entertaining (or even that interesting), but Chandler’s introspective moments at the end outshine any of its shortcomings.

Often, Friends would use a simple formula for character ‘growth’: character makes mistake numerous times, learns from mistake, episode over. What’s so refreshing about ‘Heckles Dies’ is how it frames Chandler’s emotional maturity, with him realizing how easy it would be for him to turn out like Mr. Heckles, a cranky old man who didn’t like anyone, had a messy apartment – and most of all, died alone, despite being a good-looking funny guy in high school.

That’s the weird thing about life. Some people get married, some people don’t. Some succeed, and many, many other fails. But you only turn out like Mr. Heckles if you don’t try, alienating yourself from the world over time, until you’re just that cranky, decrepit person living down the hallway. As long as Chandler keeps finding reasons not to continue dating certain women, he’s going to continue to wake up alone every day – something he realizes when he accidentally imitates Mr. Heckles’s dying motion.

So Chandler reaches out to the one women he’s connected with in his adult life – the frustrating, somehow charming Janice. Except she’s knocked up and married, reinforcing the notion that Chandler already missed a great chance. We’re never going to find the perfect person in the world – no matter how much bullshit we tell ourselves that someone is ‘perfect’ – and despite it being somewhat of an obvious truth, seeing Chandler embrace it was a nice touch, adding a bit of emotion to the final farewell when Chandler tells Heckles’s empty apartment that they’ll always try to “keep it down”.

I could take or leave the rest of the episode; Monica and Rachel’s argument over the apartment was merely an act of Monica’s domination meeting up with Rachel’s passive-aggressive tendencies to mildly amusing results. Ross and Phoebe’s argument over evolution on the other hand, is grating material. Why? Because they’re both acting like assholes and idiots: Ross is unwilling to accept that someone thinks differently about something than him (no matter how ridiculous they tried to make Phoebe, with her not believing in gravity and all), and Phoebe’s playing the idiot just to rile Ross up, with no point really except “I’m Phoebe… I do weird shit, so I’m different than you!”. It’s really just a lot of whiny Ross, which readers of my columns from first season will remember I’m not a fan of.

But the strong Chandler material combines well with the somber mood of the episode that dampens some of the broader humor, and it makes up for its numerous ancillary flaws with yet another great story about Chandler growing. There’s a distinct reasons audiences are cheering for Chandler in later seasons to succeed, reasons that become much clearer thanks to the handful of episodes like ‘Heckles Dies’ that spends a lot of time with him.

Other thoughts/observations:

– …. Joey dated a guy once. Multiple times. And had no idea it was a dude.

– Phoebe dismisses the idea of evolution because “it’s too easy.”

– Ross needed everyone to agree with him does fit his character, but when it comes to something evolution vs. creationism, there’s no pointing in arguing and trying to prove who’s right.

– “Go into the light, Mr. Heckles!!!”

– “Janice likes to have her fun.”

– Chandler tries to think of five nice things about his date: good smile, nice dresser… big head, big head, big head.

 

‘The One with Phoebe’s Husband’ (originally aired 10/12/95)

It isn’t until season four that Friends finally figures out Phoebe; episodes like ‘The One with Phoebe’s Husband’ are clear examples they haven’t quite gotten there yet. ‘Phoebe’s Husband’ is purely a filler episode, one that feels like a dumping ground for silly character jokes, and another really off-putting Rachel and Ross story line.

The Phoebe material is really odd: turns out Phoebe married a gay guy for his green card years ago, a man she was secretly in love with (despite knowing he was gay). He’s in town for a figure skating show, and Phoebe gets dolled up to go visit him, clearly still interested to see if they have a connection. Is there a reason? Not really. Does the plot go anywhere? Definitely not: turns out her gay husband wants a divorce because he’s straight, a revelation that’s followed by a line of stereotypical gay jokes reversed (“my parents are ok with it… my brother’s straight after all,” he tells her).

Is this supposed to reveal something about Phoebe? If so, it does a poor job doing that. Despite being engaged, Phoebe willingly kisses him, clearly hanging onto the idea that they might be able to share something. But she’s not upset when he leaves, or even dejected when he says he was having sex with other girls in college (the time period where she apparently had feelings for him). It doesn’t feel like a tale of ‘missed destiny’, it doesn’t really deal with Phoebe’s emotional reaction to a character we’ve never heard of or seen before… it just doesn’t feel like it has a point, besides some easy gay jokes and an opportunity for brief, completely contrived romanticism between Phoebe and her old non-flame.

The rest of the episode is dedicated to pouty Rachel trying to undermine Ross’s relationship with Julie. Knowing that Ross is struggling to have sex with another woman (the only woman he slept with turned into a lesbian, after all) so Rachel sees this as an opportunity for sabotage, a wholly unappealing decision on her part. She even goes so far to try and seduce Ross outside his apartment, in a final desperate move to keep him from having sex with Julie, the one girl who’s made him happy since his divorce.

Rachel’s pissing and moaning makes for neither good drama or comedy: she’s being selfish as shit, and doing so in the most unappealing way, complaining to everyone and insulting Julie at every opportunity. For a woman who is supposed to be Ross’s ‘friend’, she’s certainly doing a terrible job at it in the beginning of this second season. Sure, I understand she has feelings for Ross now, but instead of telling him at any point, she decides to try and ruin it in the most passive-aggressive fashion possible, while we’re supposed to believe their relationship is just meant to be. As usual, the writers playing with the idea of Rachel/Ross is doing more harm than good in ‘Phoebe’s Husband’, putting Rachel’s worst traits on display (proudly, I might add).

‘Phoebe’s Husband’ does give us two fun facts: Chandler has a third nipple, and Joey was in a porno. But again, this feels mostly like filler in an episode all about two women not getting the love they desire, and acting in fairly unappealing fashions when pursuing their unrequited loves.

‘The One Where Heckles Dies’ – B

‘The One with Phoebe’s Husband’ – D

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7 thoughts on “Second Look: Friends ‘The One Where Mr. Heckles Dies’/’The One with Phoebe’s Husband’ – The Gravel Capades

  1. Whenever I watch Phoebe’s Husband, it’s for this one line: “You know that’s bad for the copy machine!” That one line has to be one of the funniest in the show’s history!

    I agree, though, that the rest of the episode is pretty lame. Phoebe would have some terrible plots during the next couple seasons (the stalker plot in TOW The Jam, the infamous cat plot in TOW The Cat, etc.).

    Is it just me, or do you seem a bit harsher on S2 so far than you were on S1? You gave TOW Phoebe’s Husband a critique that probably would’ve suggested a C in S1 but then graded it a D instead. Is it mostly because of how detrimental Rachel’s behavior is to the episode?

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    1. The beginning of season 2 really suffers for me for a couple reasons:

      – Rachel is just an awful, awful person until her and Ross finally get together. All the drama drummed up for her character stems from her being a bitch.

      – because of this, Ross and Rachel’s interactions are much less interesting. Ross comes to Rachel for relationship advice, Rachel tries to passive-aggressively undermine him, or acts out in some immature fashion.

      – there’s nothing else for the characters to do! Chandler’s mini-arc is the first plot that feels ‘real’ or serves an actual purpose outside of some cheap laughs.

      Season 2’s been an interesting watch so far: I never remembered the first half of the season being this bad. But Ross/Rachel and Dr. Burke are right around the corner, which brings a major uptick in general quality with it.

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      1. P.S. The fact that Phoebe’s husband was never mentioned again after this episode (except in passing by Monica in TOW Chandler In A Box) is pretty indicative that it was just a throwaway plot, made for no reason other than because the writers were on a strict deadline and needed to get an episode out by Thursday afternoon. Same with plots like Joey’s fridge in S6 (his broken fridge is never replaced or even mentioned again after that episode) or Chandler not being able to smile for a photo in S7 (which had one of the stupidest outcomes I’ve ever seen on Friends).

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