So did you enjoy the very slight Ross-reprieve on the last disc (which didn't even last the entire disc)? I hope so because now it's back to really-horrible-Ross-ville, population: YOU. And also probably lots of eyerolls and maybe some judicious rage, lol.
(Also, I'm sorry this one is coming after such a long delay--I've been sick this week, ugh.)
An Annotated Index of Ross Geller: Disc 4
Episode 119: The One Where the Monkey Gets Away
Synopsis: Rachel babysits Marcel, but he escapes the apartment.
Analysis: Hooboy, this is a bad one. Let's start with the fact that this episode sets the scene for the upcoming Barry arc (the next episode will be "The One With the Evil Orthodontist"). Rachel opens the episode by finding out that her ex-fiance is engaged again (this time to her bridesmaid), and immediately proves that she is better than Ross at all the things because instead of being angry at her friend and ex-fiance, she acknowledges that (a) she should be happy for them and (b) any issues she has over the wedding are her issues that she needs to sort out. She doesn't blame her feelings on others as Ross so often does.
Of course, Ross is constantly on the lookout for ways to introduce a mega-list of All The Reasons Why You Should Be Dating Me, so instead of talking to her about her feelings, or commiserating with her about how it can be hard to see old lovers move on, or even just honestly saying "hey, would you like to go out sometime", he instead wants to dredge up her post-Paolo vent about not wanting to date anymore (because it's very important that she admit she was wrong to say so!) and so he quizzes her about "the whole penis embargo". (UGH.) And then he immediately gets pissy when she talks about Paolo, and shuts her down. Women: You give them an inch, and they'll start thinking you wanna hear about their feelings, amiright.
Anyway, Ross mentions that he wants Rachel to babysit the monkey in Monica's apartment, and when Monica objects because the monkey is dirty, he defecates and urinates on her clothes and furniture, and he touches all the cooking utensils, Ross tells her cuttingly to "unclench" because she's "not even gonna be [here]". Haha, definitely a great brother and potential life mate! And because Rachel isn't used to caretaking small animals, Marcel slips out the door and gets lost.
Now, I want to say a thing: This is very easy to do. I'm a very careful cat owner, and I've still had one of mine slip out a couple times without my knowledge. (Always immediately rescued because they were more curious than wanting-to-run-away, in my case.) But Ross pretty much explodes when he gets home and accuses Rachel of being stupid and criminally careless, saying that he "should've started you off with like a pen or a pencil". Rachel starts crying and reveals that she's called Animal Control, at which point Ross literally starts stalking her around the dinner table (while Rachel backs away from him) and telling her that Marcel is illegally owned but that he never felt the need to tell anyone that.
So let's recap: He left, in the apartment of his Sister and the Woman He Loves, an animal which, if found, could get them up to two years in prison (according to this episode) and didn't warn them, presumably because he felt they wouldn't consent to Marcel's visits otherwise. And so it is very definitely Rachel's fault for calling for help in this situation. From there the episode just gets worse and worse, culminating in Ross heaping verbal abuse on Rachel for not magically intuiting that he has pants-feels for her:
Rachel: Ross, I said I'm sorry like a million times. What do you want me to do? You want me to break my foot too? Okay, I'm gonna break my foot, right here. (Kicks the sign) Ow!! Oh! Oh my God, oh my God! There, are you happy now?!
Ross: Yeah, yeah. You know, now that you kicked the sign, hey! I don't miss Marcel any more!
Rachel: You know, it is not like I did this on purpose.
Ross: Oh, no no no. Nono, this is just vintage Rachel. I mean, things just sort of happen around you. I mean, you're off in Rachel-land, doing your Rachel-thing, totally oblivious to people's monkeys, or to people's feelings...
Ross: I don't even wanna hear it, you're just...
Ross: Oh, forget it, okay?
Yeah. Oh, and also this: when the Animal Control person (who knew them in high school) refuses to help Rachel (after Rachel profusely apologizes for failing to be friends with the woman in school), Ross snaps at Rachel, "You had to be a bitch in high school, you couldn't have been fat." Wow. Just wow. And then after all that, Ross still tries to get into her pants by referencing "how mad we got at each other" and suggesting that was all because of mutual love. Except that Rachel was at no point "mad" at Ross, so he's redefining the entire evening to suit his needs, which is classic gaslighting.
Episode 120: The One With the Evil Orthodontist
Synopsis: Rachel briefly gets back together with her ex-fiance Barry.
Analysis: Ross spends the majority of this episode sulking in his man-cave or wherever, which I think we can all agree is a positive thing because it means we see very little of him. He surfaces very briefly in order to very aggressively shame Rachel for getting back together with Barry, whereupon she points out (quite reasonably) that he would get back together with Carol given the chance.
This is an interesting comparison for her to make, because it seems as though she's unaware that Ross has actually made this exact proposal to Carol over the last Valentine's Day, despite he and Carol being apart longer, and Carol and Susan being together longer, than the current Rachel-Barry-Mindy love triangle situation. But it's okay when Ross does it, obviously, because he's Ross. Rachel on the other hand should "stop calling, stop sending you flowers and to generally leave you alone".
And this is particularly interesting given that Rachel got back together with Barry when there was no one else in her life she wanted to date, whereas Ross tried to break up Susan and Carol when there was someone right there in his life who he very badly wanted to date. (Except, of course, that he would have to ask her out and obviously he can't be expected to do that.) Once again the writers are trying to draw a false equivalence where Ross' actions are concerned.
Anyway, in response to Rachel's point about him and Carol, Ross decides to semi-shout at everyone before storming out of the apartment. Total line count for Ross for this the episode: 22.
Episode 121: The One With The Fake Monica
Synopsis: Monica has her identity stolen; Marcel needs to go to a zoo.
Analysis: The title arc of this episode has Monica getting to know the woman who stole her identity, because she feels like she's been emotionally damaged by her parents (the Gellers) and she wants to learn how to be more carefree and impetuous like "Monica" is. Ross' contribution to this arc is to berate Monica harshly: "What?! Are you insane? This woman stole from you. She stole. She's a stealer." I'm just going to leave that there.
The secondary arc is that Marcel has grown up to be an adult monkey and he will become aggressive and dangerous if he's not placed in a situation that is suited for him. (Which is, I'm guessing, why keeping him as a pet is illegal.) The episode then has Ross trying to place him in a zoo as though it's a metaphor for colleges. I think this is supposed to be sad, but all I can think is that (a) Ross is a patently unsuitable guardian for Marcel, (b) Ross has never shown anything like what I would call love for the monkey, instead regularly referring to him as a "thing" that doesn't appreciate him enough, and (c) Ross is still inflicting his pet on the group despite their requests that he not do so.
By the time he goes off to the zoo, I'm just relieved to see the end of a recurring plot device designed to dehumanize Rachel into a metaphorical pet monkey.
Episode 122: The One With the Ick Factor
Synopsis: Monica dates a guy who lies about his age; Ross gets a pager for when Carol goes into labor; Rachel has sexual dreams about the guys in the group.
Analysis: Alas, the "ick factor" in the episode title isn't a reference to Ross' behavior in this episode, but rather a reference to why Monica can't continue to date a boy once she realizes he is too young to legally consent to sex--there's a lot of really terrible rape culture saturation in this episode along the lines of "it's okay when it's a teenage boy getting sex". Predictably, Ross finds all this hilarious and teases Monica mercilessly while she is miserable over the situation, because that's the kind of supportive brother he is.
Meanwhile, Rachel has started having sexual dreams about Chandler and Joey, and Ross freaks out and berates Chandler: "I can't believe you two had sex in her dream!" This is already pretty creepy at this point, since it suggests that Ross thinks he should have ownership over Rachel's subconscious and her fantasies, but also would seem in indicate that he believes he should have dibs on Rachel in real life: I'm guessing if she were to become interested in Joey or Chandler outside of her dreams, Ross would pitch a serious fit.
The episode closes with Rachel 'finally' (ugh!) having a dream about Ross and Ross being so excited about this that he dances on the coffee table with joy (double-ugh!) before losing balance and falling over onto Rachel. Because of course he does! But before Rachel can tell him that she was having a dream about him--which he clearly hopes will segue into actual sex right then and there because sex with a semi-conscious friend you've been trying to manipulate into a romantic relationship with you is definitely not rapey at all (hint: it totally is rapey)--his pager beeps and Ross is all disappointed that "Great, now I'm having a baby."
Because Carol going into labor is definitely the thing keeping him from telling Rachel how he feels, and not the fact that he refuses to simply own his feelings and talk to her. It must be said: Ross is the ickiest.
Episode 123: The One With the Birth
Synopsis: Carol has baby Ben; Ross and Susan spend much of the birth locked in a utility closet.
Analysis: This is a particularly gross Ross episode, made grosser by the fact that I think the writers want us to play a "Both Sides Are Bad" game. When Carol and Susan show up to the hospital, Ross berates them for stopping at the gift shop because "we're having a baby, ok!" This is, I think, supposed to be seen as equal parts new-dad jitters and Ross being engaged in the childbirth; I don't think it's supposed to be seen as him being creepy and controlling about his ex-wife's body while she's giving birth.
Then Ross ratchets up the controlling creepiness as part of his ongoing competition with Susan, and Carol ends up throwing them both out because they're making an already stressful process way worse. Phoebe then drags Susan and Ross into a closet and yells at them before realizing that she's accidentally locked them in. Several scenes later, Ross decides to take out his frustrations on Susan:
Ross: This is all your fault. This is supposed to be, like, the greatest day of my life, you know? My son is being born, and I should be in there, you know, instead of stuck in a closet with you.
Susan: The woman I love is having a baby today. I've been waiting for this just as much as you have.
Ross: No no no, believe me. No one has been waiting for this as much as I have, ok? And you know what the funny thing is? When this day is over, you get to go home with the baby, ok? Where does that leave me?
Susan: You get to be the baby's father. Everyone knows who you are. Who am I? There's Mother's Day, there's Father's Day, there's no... Lesbian Lover Day.
Ross: Every day is Lesbian Lover Day.
I just want to point out how creepy that line is: "No one has been waiting for this as much as I have." I think Ross is trying to compare himself to Susan in a one-upmanship competition, but he has entirely erased Carol from existence because I'm pretty sure she's got the best claim on waiting-rilly-hard for the baby to be born.
Then we get to the actual concerns. Susan has a really legitimate concern (which we've talked about in previous posts), she has dubious legal right to visitation of the baby (much less so than Ross) and she exists in a society where she will probably always be viewed as superfluous to Carol ('just one more mom') and inferior to Ross ('not as good as a father'). She won't have any real holidays, as she points out, but she also has to carve out her place in the child's life without any social guidelines to slip into, unlike Ross.
Ross' comeback is telling there: "Every day is Lesbian Lover Day." Earlier in the episode, while fighting over who would get to massage Carol's leg cramps, he'd snapped at Susan, "Hey! You get to sleep with her, I get the leg cramps." It would seem that Ross' biggest complaint here remains the fact that Susan has sexual access to Carol and he does not. To the point where--and I just want to repeat this--his biggest frustration during the delivery of his son is that he doesn't have some kind of 'daily right' to stick his dick in the mother. That's really rape culturey and a huge disregard for Carol's ownership of her own body.
Interesting side-note: When Monica is being abused by her mother over the phone and subsequently breaks down in tears, Chandler does something we have literally never seen Ross do for his sister, in that he runs interference for her. He gently takes the phone from her, makes a static sound with his mouth to simulate a disconnect, hangs up the phone, and hugs Monica. That is more love and affection than we've seen in 20 episodes with Ross interacting with either Monica or Rachel.
Episode 124: The One Where Rachel Finds Out
Synopsis: After Ross leaves town for a work trip, Chandler lets slip to Rachel that Ross is in love with her.
Analysis: Do ya'll remember a post or two back when I recommended that Why I Hate Anthony link by Shaenon Garrity? I want to quote that for a second here:
5. Everyone’s constantly talking him up. It’s like the strip has become a FBOFW fanfic written by Anthony. In every storyline in which he appears, at least one Patterson is sure to launch into a speech about how great Anthony is. Maybe it’ll be Elly, commenting wistfully that she’s sorry Liz broke up with him (you know, ten years ago, when they were in high school). Maybe it’ll be John, pontificating on the many virtues of Anthony, most of which are visible only to John. Maybe it’ll be Liz herself, reflecting wide-eyed on how much Anthony has accomplished. Which makes sense, since Anthony, an accountant with a small suburban ranch house and a failed starter marriage, has clearly achieved much, much more in life than Liz, who went straight from university to teaching underprivileged Native American children in the remote north. I mean, there’s no comparison.
Many of Anthony’s supposed good qualities are informed attributes: they come from what other people say about the character, not from the actions of the character himself. On more than one occasion, for instance, John has commented on how smart and funny Anthony is. Despite his stereotypically nerdy appearance, Anthony has never come off as especially smart, and I can’t recall him ever exhibiting a sense of humor. Not as a teenager, not as an adult. And this is in a strip where most of the characters are constantly cracking jokes and making groan-worthy puns.
TV Tropes has a name for this kind of character, Creator's Pet, and of course we're all familiar with other terms (some of which are more misogynistic in origin than others). But, in a nutshell, constantly shilling a character as the best thing ever tends to backfire and cause an audience to both hate the talked-up character and to lower their opinion of the characters who keep talking him up.
This is relevant because, when the 'secret' is finally out that Ross Loves Rachel, all three of the women will spend the rest of the episode waxing rhapsodic about how amazingly amazing this is for Rachel. You get the impression that Ross is some godlike combination of Sting, President Obama, and George Clooney. Rather than, well, to riff on Shaenon's words up there, a moderately-successful paleontologist with a small city apartment and a failed starter marriage.
(NB: Not all ended marriages are "failed" marriages, but considering that Ross is regularly unprovokedly hostile to his ex-wife and her lover, I'm personally okay with calling Ross' behavior in his relationship with Carol a "failure" on his part. Your mileage may vary.)
Anyway. Ross shows up to find the Friends (minus one Rachel) having a barbeque. Rachel is out on a first date with someone she met at the coffee shop, so of course Ross is at DEFCON 2 because clearly this is serious. Joey gets a nice crack in edgewise (below), but the real point of this conversation is so that the guys can urge Ross to move on. This will, the writers believe, take the responsibility off of Ross for moving on (just as it will take the responsibility off him for writing The List later), because he was just following the advice of the guys. Ross is not, you see, responsible for his actions because Chandler holds his power of attorney or whatever the moral equivalent is.
Ross: Do you guys know who Carl is?
Chandler: Uh, let's see... Alvin... Simon... Theodore.... no.
Ross: Well, Rachel's having drinks with him tonight.
Joey: Oh no! How can she do that when she's never shown any interest in you?!?
Once Ross leaves for his China expedition--where there will apparently be no phones whatsoever, but um, okay?--the Friends have their barbeque and give Rachel birthday presents. The presents from Chandler and Joey are 'typical' last-minute gifts (Chandler gets her Travel Scrabble) and gifts that don't reflect Rachel's interests (Joey gets her a Dr. Seuss book, and incidentally here is an interesting analysis on gender imbalance in Dr. Seuss books), but Ross has gotten her a meaningful and very expensive present that is intended to show he listens to her and cares about her, but which might come off as unsettling, depending on your personal boundaries around Social Debt.
Rachel: Oh... (opens it)... (sees it is a pin) Oh my God. He remembered.
Phoebe: Remembered what?
Rachel: It was like months ago. We were walking by this antique store, and I saw this pin in the window, and I told him it was just like one my grandmother had when I was a little girl. Oh! I can't believe he remembered!
Chandler: Well, sure, but can you play it on a plane? (pats his Travel Scrabble game)
Phoebe: Oh, it's so pretty. This must have cost him a fortune.
Monica: I can't believe he did this.
Chandler: Come on, Ross? Remember back in college, when he fell in love with Carol and bought her that ridiculously expensive crystal duck?
Once the secret is out, the Ross shilling begins in earnest. I'm just going to collect some golden oldies right here:
Rachel: This is unbelievable. I mean, this is unbelievable.
Phoebe: I know. This is really, really huge.
Phoebe: Nuh-uh. I don't think any of our lives are ever gonna be the same ever again.
Monica: I think this is so great! I mean, you and Ross! D-did you have any idea?
Rachel: Ross? All this time? Well, I've got to talk to him!
Rachel: [...] I cannot wait a week until I see him. I mean, this is just too big.
Rachel: I don't know, I mean, this is just my initial gut feeling... but I'm thinking... oh, I'm thinking it'd be really great.
Monica: Is he not cute enough for you?
Monica: Does he not make enough money?
[Dream] Ross: I can't believe you'd rather go out with him than me.
Rachel: [to Dream Ross] Ross, you're like my best friend.
Monica: Oh my god! This is so exciting!
And that's just a sampling of all the no-holds barred enthusiasm that the three woman have about how this is just the biggest, most exciting, most important news of Rachel's life. You watch this episode and you expect a musical number to break out over how lucky Rachel is to have landed the attention of a guy who, while he may be a nice guy, seems hopelessly inadequate to live up to all this over-the-top lavish praise.
Probably the least-believable conceit of Season 1 is that none of the women ever gathered that Ross was crushing hard on Rachel. He is in no way subtle about his intentions, and Rachel even notes in the very first episode that she was aware of his crush all through high school. (Since they are not the same age, we presume Ross meant that while he was a junior/senior, he had a crush on freshman/sophomore Rachel, but later we'll note that this crush of his continued while he was in college. This age difference isn't necessarily bad/creepy, but the way it plays out in flashback episodes always strikes me as concernfully icky.)
Since Rachel knew then, but doesn't know now, this would suggest that either the writers are asserting that Ross has gotten better at hiding his desires, or that Rachel has ignored all evidence to the contrary, possibly because their current relationship made her assume that anything more would be weird at this point (i.e., the "Friend Zone" idea that the writers push on us). But either way, the fact remains that Rachel did know, at some point in her life, that Ross wanted a relationship with her.
So this "revelation" that he again/still wants a relationship with her doesn't seem like it should be accompanied by such a strong emotional explosion of feels. "This is just too big," she exclaims, and it's up to the viewers to tack on the obvious context: "Ross, who liked me once before, likes me again now that he's single again! Also he asked me out that one time!" The enthusiasm may ring true, but the surprise doesn't. Then there's the enthusiastic shock-and-awe from the rest of the female Greek chorus in this scene: Monica's and Phoebe's litany of Ross' amazing amazingness. He's cute! He's employed! Nothing will never be the same again! Everything has changed!
I have a sneaking suspicion that this isn't just the writers talking up their favorite character Ross. Nor do I think it's entirely a function of building Rachel up from zero to sixty in a short timespan so that she can be extra crushed (for maximum angst!, to quote my friend Kristy) when Ross steps off the plane with his new girlfriend. (Who we will discuss in later episodes.)
Instead, or I should say in addition, I think there's a defensive quality to all this praise. We've spent several episodes already seeing Ross emotionally abuse Rachel in the name of his "love" for her: he's belittled her at poker, policed her love life, threatened to deport (and joked about killing) her lovers, berated her for failing to take care of an exotic animal the way he wanted her to, and regularly criticized her for failing to see that he loves her even while his own sister failed to see that exact same thing.
I suspect that the writers arrived at this point and realized, looking back with some discomfort, that maybe--just maybe--some viewers might be less than thrilled with a woman who is demonstrably kind and brave and loyal and smart and personable ending up with a guy who is rude and cowardly and hurtful to her while being in all other respects an arguably poor match for her. (Indeed, there are times where it seems that Ross is attracted to Rachel only because of her looks and not because of her personality, intellect, kindness, bravery, etc.)
"So, okay, maybe we failed to portray Ross as someone worth dating, and maybe hooking these two up at this point would seem like a disastrous mismatch and a rotten deal for Jennifer Aniston's character," I like to imagine them saying around a conference room table. "But we can fix this by injecting into this episode here the fact that Ross is the best thing since sliced bread and that any, nay all, the girls would kill to date him." (Someone surely inevitably pointed out that would be a strange desire indeed coming from Monica, but they were no doubt shushed.)
That is, I think, how we ended up here: Ross doesn't just want to date Rachel; instead, Ross wants to date Rachel and this is the best news she has ever received. And so when Ross steps off the plane with Julie in his arms a few days later, it will be the worst news she has ever received. It's as simple as that, really. And the viewer is left with a bit of an awkward choice: do we believe the women as they gush over a character they are not usually wont to gush over (and who doesn't seem to deserve the uncharacteristic gushing) or do we judge the merits of Ross based on our own observations of his behavior?
But no matter what we choose, it's interesting that the writers seem to view this as, in itself, a way to redeem Ross without all that overrated "apology" business or even "self-awareness and change" stuff that one might hope for in this case. Ross is great because other characters assert Ross is great, but despite the writers apparently being at least dimly aware that Ross isn't coming off to all the viewers as great, they don't feel the need to, you know, change his character over the next seven seasons. Why should they? If he racks up too many crimes, we can just write one of the girls gushing over him again.
I find that attitude very worrisome, that Ross is defined not by his deeds, but by what sympathetic women say about him.