Undeclared Season 1 Episode 16 Review: “Hal and Hillary”


While the title of Undeclared‘s penultimate episode refers to the show’s single most ridiculous plot, “Hal and Hillary” takes its absurd premise and grounds it in some real cathartic stories. For all the negativity Hal and Hillary hooking up breeds, “Hal and Hillary” is a decidedly upbeat episode of Undeclared, pushing new relationships forward and giving some of its most damaged characters room to heal – as funny as it can be, “Hal and Hillary” is really the most positive-thinking episode in the show’s history, a series of important character moments wrapped in the juvenile trappings of college hijinks (and inappropriate sexual relationships, of course).

Where “Hal and Hillary” begins is a familiar place for the show: Steve’s trying to avoid his father, lamenting the fact that he’s being harassed by his now-single dad while he’s supposed to be away at college, living a new life. Yet this proves to be a mistake: while looking for his son, Hal runs into Hillary, who begins to therapize him in her slightly off-kilter way. Hillary hasn’t been around since she tried to seduce Lloyd very early in the season, but “Hal and Hillary” make her feel as lived-in as any of the other minor characters in the dorm, including Lucien, whose pathetic ways reach new heights when he lets his jealousy of Hal seep over to Steve, constantly threatening to throw him out of the dorm for ridiculous reasons (Lloyd playing quiet music, Steve shaving in the bathroom).

“Hal and Hillary” slowly morphs itself into this weird little Freudian play taking place strictly in Steve’s hall. The budgetary restrictions for the episode are obvious, as it isolates Steve, Lizzie, Hal, and Lloyd from the rest of the crew (there’s no meaningful scene where Ron, Marshall, or Rachel appear with the four aforementioned characters). But it works, because it turns Steven’s floor into this montage-laden avenue for father and son to work out their emotional issues – Hal’s are a little more disgusting than Steven’s, but his unspoken loneliness speaks volumes next to Hillary’s desperation and Steve’s budding relationship, expressing just how much the hole his wife left in his life has affected him, leading him to Hillary, and whatever uncomfortable, inappropriate things they end up doing in her dorm room.

Yes, a lot of “Hal and Hillary” is childish actions from Steve, representing his regression into childish, “you’re not my mother” behavior, but connected to Marshall’s B-story about trying to bond with Rachel (or by the same token, not being able to communicate with Kiouki), “Hal and Hillary” becomes a story about loneliness and the silly things it drives adults (young or otherwise) to do. We all seek out the company of another in some form, particularly during the most stressful times in our lives, and it leads us to find unhealthy releases of these stresses – or in the case of Lucien, let these things manifest into something much more desperate and disturbing. But “Hal and Hillary” doesn’t try to judge but instead simply reflect and poke fun at, adding to the light-hearted tone that ultimately drives home the episode’s third act.

I say “Hal and Hillary” is the show’s most positive episode because it ends without consequence: the natural order is restored with Lucien at the bottom, and Hillary probably going back on her medication for the time being, even though it kills her sex drive (“We don’t have any judgment, just pizza!”). Steve and Lizzie go through the entire episode without any drama – and Marshall and Rachel have a cute moment, bringing to close a story that Undeclared seemed interested in telling at times, but never really felt like committing to. Clearly, the creative team saw the writing on the wall at this point, and they end “Hal and Hillary” with some heartwarming moments, even if it comes with a mental breakdown, a pathetic declaration of love, and a wildly unsuccessful attempt at team slip ‘n slide. Undeclared‘s greatness came from its ability to depict the most cringe-worthy moments of life with a certain sense of hope and relentless optimism; “Hal and Hillary” embodies that, even as it sees the writing on the wall for itself, adding another shade of genius to this rewarding (and hilarious) episode of television.

[Photo via FOX]

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