"The Empty Chair"

A review by Jenni:

I will seriously spend a lot of this review talking about Andrew in Omaha.  Fair warning.

What I love about this episode:

The very title of this episode is so sad and poignant and evocative.  The idea of an empty chair just brings up so many emotions.  So I think this is definitely one of the better titled episodes.

I like what Tess says about how marriages end because of all the unspoken words.  But I think that's true of all relationships, not just marriages.

I also like how Tess tells Monica that sometimes people need to hear the truth from angels but other times they need to speak the truth to them.  I find myself really drawn to the latter trope in my stuff for JABB where Andrew often simply listens as a human character unloads the truth... or at least their version of it. 

Ha!!!  I totally forgot this was set in Omaha!  Andrew's been to my hometown!  Why didn't I throw myself at him when I had the chance?!?!  Oh right... I was 18 and probly in class.  ;-)

OMG!  They even reference Children's Hospital!  I've been there!  And, apparently, so has Tess!

Yay, comfort food!  I don't much care for meatloaf but bring on grilled cheese and tomato soup, macaroni, and... children's cereal.

"Basements are marvelous inventions."  Bud says it sarcastically but it's so true.  It's also true, IMO and his, that everyone needs one.  Especially in... Omaha!  Cause ya never know when a tornado might hit and that basement becomes the most awesome place ever.  I love mine.  Just spent the morning there crafting and rewatching "Finger of God."  So yay basements!  Unfortunately, he is kinda right about how you find yourself stashing stuff there just cause you want to hang onto it but really there's no point.

"Grieving is a very necessary process."  Sometimes Andrew says the most obvious things that, really, shouldn't need to be said.  But him saying them makes it seem somehow... more permissible?  I dunno exactly how to say what I mean.  But sometimes I just wish I knew how to grieve better or fully or something.  Cause it is necessary.

One thing I've always liked about this episode is that it's something of a bottle episode.  With the very limited set, you could almost imagine it as being performed live on a stage.  The overlapping dialogue also makes it seem theatrical.

Yay.  Whitman!  I like it when TBAA gets literary.  And "When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom'd" and its Lincoln-centric theme becomes especially meaningful given Andrew's history.

Additionally, the Carl Sandburg excerpt is cool, too.  I mean not just because of the moving words but because he spent some time working in Omaha.  Occasionally you'll find references to him around here.

I like that this episode doesn't take any easy route with abortion.  I'm sure some people would have liked the angels to be angry and really let the couple have it.  Others might have wanted them to tell Betsy it was her choice to make and she shouldn't feel at all bad about that.  But the show doesn't do either.  Monica and Andrew are still nice to them but there are no pats on the back.  There is a need for forgiveness all around.  I especially like that Monica makes clear the difference between punishment and consequence because anyone who believes that PAS is a punishment sent from God does not share my beliefs.  I may not agree with the decisions Betsy and Bud made but I do not believe God punished them.

All that being said...  Betsy's dialogue about being in the clinic room, putting her clothes back on, and leaving a piece of her soul behind hits me way harder than any picketer's bloody sign.  So, for me at least, this episode is anti-abortion but I don't know that everyone would see it that way.  Which is what makes it kinda genius.  It's comforting, too, for those of us who probably wouldn't be eagerly claimed by either the pro-lifers or the pro-choicers.

Ooh.  And then Betsy talks about the origins of "Valse Triste."  I'm not sure if they're true but I like that A. TBAA is so cultural and B. They're making it clear that Omaha isn't just a buncha hicks who don't know opera, classical music, theatre, art, etc.

Betsy breaks my heart at the piano.  It's so well-acted but the lines would be beautifully sad even on paper, I think.  How many of us have had days when we wish we could just live in dreams?

I appreciate how the episode brings to light something especially awful that I've noticed about life: one loss often brings back to mind and into your heart a prior loss.  If not several.  And it can just become crushing.

I also like that when Betsy and Monica are talking, they hit upon the "good girls don't cry" crud of a philosophy.  I think, so often, we talk about how men are taught to hide their emotions.  And I've no doubt that's true.  But anyone who doesn't think it happens to women, too, is living in a dream world.  The reasoning may be different but the message is the same.

I think this episode will be a lot more powerful for me if/when I'm married.  But as it is, it's definitely powerful.

I like how Monica assures Betsy that she's not tired of listening to her.

Kudos to the writers for bringing up post-abortion syndrome.  It doesn't often get talked about.

Betsy's poem is almost nauseatingly powerful.  Really hard to hear but very well done.

"God loves you.  He knows everything and He still loves you."  Andrew's spin on the classic.  Pretty awesome.

"God wants you to know that He is life itself.  And that He holds all the life there was and is and is to be in His hands already."  Monica's quote to the Baxters.  It's very comforting to consider for all of us who have lost someone, no matter how it happened.

What I didn't love about this episode:
I like the Baxters but their TV show is hokey...  They seem phony on it.  I'm not sure they'd have lasted as long on actual Omaha TV...

Missed opportunity... I wish instead of just doing the singleton disinterested nod and eye contact avoidance technique, Andrew would have said something negative about Bud's stance that he and Monica should get married.  Cause shippers could see that nodding as assent.  But, I'm sure, any of us who have been in Andrew's position recognize it for what it actually is.  It roughly translates to "Uh huh...  That's what you think.  Wow?  Really?  I should get married?  No one's ever told me that before!  You're so original, my friend!  Thank you SO much for assuming that I want your lifestyle."

There's something kinda ironic about Andrew and Monica helping two people who don't communicate well...  While I still like this episode and how it's written, the fact that I believe those two didn't communicate as much as they should makes them slightly difficult to fully believe here.  But only slightly.  And that's an issue with the larger show and by no means this episode specifically.

Lingering questions:

Do many cities have their own morning talk shows?  I see it often on TV but I have never known Omaha to have one.  Maybe it's not on the broadcast stations.

Parts that made me feel swoony:
When Bud comments that Monica and Andrew aren't from around "here" meaning Omaha, I want to scream "But I wish he was!"  I could easily turn TBAA into a much cleaner, nicer version of Rocky Horror.  But, seriously, he would make a *great* Omahan!

Aww, he asks for ginger ale.  Which I have... here in Omaha.  Should he wish to visit again... and stay.

Poor Andrew.  Between this episode and some Dyeland stuff, he's gonna start thinking of Omaha as the "Awkward, Heated Family Discussions Capitol of the World."  Here he has passive-aggressively bickering spouses, in Dyeland-mode he has know-it-all family members of a friend trying to pull her away from him.  Or get him to marry her (they don't know he's an angel).  No wonder I never see Andrew around here...  Bad memories.  ;-)

Andrew matters to me!!!  Tons!!!  Shut up, Bud.

"Abstaining Andrew."  :-)  Bud's nickname for him.  I know Bud meant abstaining from alcohol but... maybe we should start using that to ward off the shippers. 

Giggle.  I love that Bud quotes Andrew the statistic about single men not living as long as married ones.  I don't think Andrew will find that to be true...

Random thoughts:

Music: There's the Baxters' show's theme music.  And Betsy plays something rather haunting on the piano briefly before Andrew and Monica show.  After the abortion is revealed, she begins it again and then Monica makes it easy for me by revealing that it's Sibelius' "Valse Triste."  I wish she did that every time classical music was used...

I need to get back to writing down my dreams.  I don't think they always mean something but, apparently, when you write them down you're more likely to recall future ones.

Yeah...  So I totally know the awkward feeling of being company when company means "distraction so I don't need to deal with my spouse."  Eek.  Poor Monica and Andrew.  But they made the best of it!  I escaped...  To a different part of... Omaha!

Microwaving is no excuse not to sit at the table for dinner.  I do it a lot.  And I have no shame about my microwave, either!  Of course, I realize that this was only the cover excuse for Bud.

Scenes Hallmark cut:
-There's a tiny bit cut after Monica and Andrew arrive.  They follow Betsy into the house proper and Bud lags behind.  He pretends to hold a microphone and says something to the effect of "Tonight's guests are Monica and Andrew and we'll be discussing the dangers of letting complete strangers into your home."  Funny.  Although, of course, Monica and Andrew are not dangerous.  Well... the latter is.  In the sense that prolonged exposure to Andrew may led you to still be running a fan site about him that you co-founded at age 15... and you're now nearly 30.  So there's that.  Don't worry.  I won't formally accuse him of being a corrupter of youth.  It would just give him bad memories of poor Socrates.

-Drat.  They cut an Andrew scene.  In the segment after Bud goes outside with Andrew, it starts with the sounds of Betsy playing.  Bud is outside tending to his roses, telling Andrew that they aren't supposed to bloom as long as they have.  He finds one, perfect bloom.  Andrew looks on and comments that he bets they're beautiful in the spring.  Bud asks Andrew what he does and Andrew says "Non-profit.  Long-term planning.  Short-term troubleshooting."  And that's a pretty excellent description, methinks.  Bud asks how that works.  Andrew responds with "It works just fine, actually."  Then he says "Speaking of long-term planning... how long were you planning on staying out here?"  Bud says until he figures it all out.  "Haven't you had fifteen years to do that?" sayeth Andrew.  Bud counters that he only just learned the truth.  Andrew isn't buying it and says that it didn't sound that way inside.  Bud doesn't really respond but says "Short-term troubleshooter, huh?"  Which leads Andrew to "Strangers on a train, right?  Ships passing in the night.  I'll be gone in a few hours."  (central tragedy of TBAA right there...)  Bud nods.  Then the camera moves indoors where Betsy is fussing over the piano and Monica is at the oven.  Monica looks over with concern and approaches Betsy.  Then THC starts the segment with the two women talking.

Further on down the road...
I feel very overdue on this!  Because of computer issues, writing, and just plain busyness; I skipped my TBAA viewing last week.  And I felt it!  So now it's Sunday afternoon a week later and I'm finally watching.  Yay! 

I just realized something...  This opening scene is supposedly at 4:50 AM in Nebraska but you can see light coming in the windows.  So... unless those windows are actually interior windows into another room that has the lights on OR someone has a crazy bright streetlight... that doesn't make sense.  As someone currently sitting in Nebraska, I can tell ya that 4:50 is not daylight for us.  Also, towards the beginning of the next scene, he queries who would be ringing the doorbell at 5:30 AM.  And then Bud opens the door to reveal Tess and it's really and truly bright outside.  The light might be coming out at that time depending on when in the year this is but based on clothing it appears to be Autumn and, thus, 5:30 would still be dark.  It scares me that I notice these things now.  But I might not if not for the fact that this is my state we're talking about.  Then again, I'm also the person who looks up sunrise and sunset times for places I'm setting stories in...  So maybe it's just a photosensitivity thing and not that I've gone over the top on the detail oriented thing.

I also missed watching this episode cause the story I'm working on vaguely references it.  I can just be downright mean to myself, really.  :-)

That piano piece really is so beautiful.

To think... this episode may never have happened if angels had cell phones.  ;-)

I have a beige version of Monica's shirt in this.  I wish I had a purple one...  It's one of those shirts that I would have bought in every color.  It works with so much!

I think, for a time, TBAA felt to me like Bud describes "Breakfast with the Baxters."  I'd started to drift from it.  I still tuned in every week physically but wasn't exactly tuned in always.  But I liked knowing it was there.  It was comfortable.  And I just felt totally off that first year or two it was gone.  Thankfully, I started to absolutely love it again in Season 9.  So it went out wholly wanted by me which is better than developing an "Oh please just end!" feeling like I did with ER.

In my hap
py little expanded world, Andrew had a basement by this point.  :-)

So it occurs to me that this was among the last handful of episodes I watched before John Dye passed away.  I don't think I've watched it since then.  I'd like to think that, in some ways, this episode prepared me.  Grief in general, grief over loss of a show, grief over the loss of something (or someone) you just figured would always be there...  Looking back, God gave me a lot of help.

I wonder if this blue fire thing is why the demons had a blue glow as opposed to the stereotypical red?

Holy cow.  The episode's already half over.  This one just flies by to me.

I'm glad Bud remarks about how the roses shouldn't still be hanging on.  Cause I was gonna say that Nebraskan roses really wouldn't be in bloom in the Autumn.  But there are always surprising exceptions.

I'm glad TBAA set a non-rural themed episode in Omaha, Nebraska.  We're proud of our farmers and agriculture.  But a lot of us don't live on farms and wouldn't have the slightest idea how to manage one.  I think some folks assume we're all country which isn't the case at all.

I love that TBAA did this episode.  Plain and simple.

Apropos.  The story I was writing last week that kept me from this has a character writing religiously themed poetry as a means of coping with her emotions.

It's interesting to me that Monica has such a stirring little speech about free will in this episode yet only a few episodes before ("Finger of God") there's a huge lapse in the show's philosophy of free will.

A Word from Travis:
I’m not sure if I’ve ever watched this episode in its entirety but someone posted the revelation scene with Monica and Betsy on youtube, “Titled “Abortion Regret”; what a powerful scene. The scene expresses Betsy’s pain and I love when Monica recites a section of Psalms 23 to her (He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.)

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