[Review by Jeremy Grayson]
[Writer: Paul Feig | Director: Bryan Gordon | Aired: 10/30/1999]
The first time I sat down with this episode, something struck me as odd about it… but I couldn’t figure out what it was. The second time I saw it, I was struck by that same odd feeling, yet I still couldn’t place my finger on it. Finally, on my third go-round, I realized what made this episode so unusual: “Tricks and Treats” takes place almost entirely in the daytime.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t make such a big deal over this point. But “Tricks and Treats” is a Halloween-themed episode, and when most people think of Halloween, they think of nighttime settings – dark visages perfect for ghosts and ghouls and jack-o-lanterns. Why, then, does Freaks and Geeks opt to shine a bright light onto their Halloween-based story?
It’s easy to pass off this point as mere coincidence, but I choose to look at it as a distinct directorial choice. Nighttime is perceived as a time of danger, and the night of October 31st is viewed as one of the most dangerous of all. It would be perfectly relevant to frame Lindsay and the freaks against a midnight backdrop as they drive through suburban Detroit, leaving broken pumpkins and mailboxes in their wake. Yet daylight – which is usually associated with peace and tranquility – provides a much more effective setting for these occurrences, as it showcases the damage they cause in a much less disgraceful light. Lindsay is still adjusting to the lifestyle of a freak, and it’s easier to accept her joining her new friends on a wild ride when she’s doing so in what’s perceived as a more amicable environment.
Of course, daylight is not the only thing which prompts Lindsay to go on a vandalizing spree with Nick, Daniel, Kim, and Ken. Her initial Halloween plans are to stay at home with her mom and give out candy to costumed youngsters. But there’s an old expression about the best-laid plans, and it comes into play here. Most other high schoolers, as Lindsay soon realizes, are spending their Halloween away from home, typically at dances and parties. At first, Lindsay feels the tantalizing tug of rebelliousness at her sleeve, urging her to join them. But she still remembers a certain party she threw herself which turned out disastrously (“Beers and Weirs” [1×02]), and decides to stick with her arrangements.
It’s ironic that Millie, of all people, is the one who ends up convincing her to abandon her mother and spend Halloween with the freaks. Millie, it turns out, has a secret boyfriend, and decided not to tell Lindsay, since she doesn’t have a boyfriend of her own. Upon learning of this, Lindsay is crestfallen – if even Millie, the school’s most righteous, most Christian girl, has romance in her life, where does that leave Lindsay? Now stirred by the need to enforce her rebellious nature, Lindsay accepts Daniel’s proposal to join the freaks on their joyride.
Now I think this would be a good time to point out the one thing that “Tricks and Treats” does not handle very well – episode-to-episode consistency. Last episode saw Nick and Lindsay’s relationship taking a particularly sour turn, as he took advantage of her vulnerable state and made an indecent pass at her. However, not only are Lindsay and Nick back as casual friends again in this episode, neither of them even brings up that occurrence! I suppose a case could be made that this episode takes place a month after the previous one (which is apparent since John Bonham died in late September), and so the events of “Beers and Weirs” [1×02] were brought up and eventually forgotten. But I’m still disappointed, as we didn’t get to witness any of that follow-up. This is sadly not a one-time issue – Freaks and Geeks has several instances where seemingly prominent events from one episode are not brought over into the next. This will become more apparent during the middle of the season. It’s a shame, really, given how well-crafted the episodes individually are.
Nick, for the most part, spends the episode readily agreeing to everything Lindsay says and wants. By this point, he’s obviously infatuated with her, although Lindsay doesn’t acknowledge this. She still has romantic feelings toward Daniel, and will continue to carry a torch for him up till “Tests and Breasts” [1×05]. Her feelings for Daniel are much more reserved, though, now that she recognizes that he and Kim are a constant “break-up-and-make-up” couple. It’s nice to see that some things have carried over from “Beers and Weirs” [1×02].
Returning to the joyride, I must say that it’s pretty fun watching the freaks cruising through the town and causing wanton destruction. The experience also works well from a story perspective, as it provides Lindsay, still a relative newcomer to the group, with more of an inside view of the freaks’ lifestyle. I love watching her attempt to be “dangerous” by kicking a jack-o-lantern’s face in, only to get her shoe caught inside the pumpkin, while the freaks watch with a mixture of shock and amusement. The scene perfectly captures her urge to fit in with the group, as well as her awkwardness in attempting to do so.
The freaks’ wild ride quickly builds momentum and is soon running on pure adrenaline, before it comes to an abrupt stop with all the force of a raw egg smashing against poor Sam’s face. Suddenly, all the destruction Lindsay has helped her friends cause has turned from enjoyable to horrifying. “Tricks and Treats” bluntly displays one of life’s most bitter truths – it’s always fun until it happens to someone you know.
Lindsay’s later apology to Sam is heartfelt, but he does not forgive her. Instead, he stares at her disdainfully and states, “Nobody thinks you’re cool, you know.” Having already admitted it to herself and to Neal in “Beers and Weirs” [1×02], and becoming further convinced by it in this episode, Lindsay responds, “Trust me, I know.” Ouch.
On a side note, I love how the writers use the book Sam is expected to read – “Crime and Punishment” – as an indirect commentary on Lindsay’s arc in the series. Sam’s teacher describes Raskolnikov, the protagonist of the book, as “both a nihilist and a moralist”. Lindsay, as I mentioned in my “Pilot” [1×01] review, believes that her actions in life will ultimately have no meaning or value, yet she upholds a code of ethics with which to guide herself, even as she joins with the freaks in all their various questionable activities. Also, like Raskolnikov, she succumbs to various bouts of guilt regarding her actions throughout the series, such as in this episode when she ends up egging her little brother.
And speaking of her little brother, I think it’s time I talked about Sam’s role in this episode. The first two episodes saw a determined Sam attempting to “be a man”. However, although the idea of growing up was portrayed as a sense of achievement in the “Pilot” [1×01] and “Beers and Weirs” [1×02], “Tricks and Treats” focuses on one of its downsides. Sam’s teacher assigns the class to read the lengthy and complex “Crime and Punishment” for a book report. “It’s time to grow up, people!” she retorts to their protests. Faced with one of the complications that come with being a young adult, Sam resorts to labeling himself “just a kid”. Here we see one of the most frustrating complications of a high school freshman’s life: It’s nearly impossible to decide which age group you belong to.
In order to prove to himself that he is still a mere kid, Sam decides to go trick-or-treating. His argument is sound: Why is it perfectly normal for an eighth-grader to dress up on Halloween, but not for a ninth-grader? It takes a bit of prodding, but Sam is able to convince Neal and Bill to join him, and Harris decides to tag along as well.
And can I just say that I love their costumes? Sam shows off his inner child with a crudely made but amusing costume based on the robotic Gort. Neal provides an outlet for his wise-aleck Jewish sense of humor by dressing as Groucho Marx. Special credit must go to Harris for being completely convincing as a guy with a knife through his head, though I suspect the costume works because Harris is always convincing as a guy with a knife through his head.
But it’s Bill who hands-down steals the show with his Bionic Woman costume, which proves to be a fine example of his insecurity, as well as a testament to his independence – what other adolescent male would even consider trying on such a costume? It says a great deal about Bill that he is so willing to profess his fascination with Jaime Sommers. What makes this insight work so effectively is the fact that Bill treats his choice of costume with complete seriousness – there’s no kidding around when it comes to something as sacred as Halloween.
Bill’s serious view of the holiday is further pressed during the trick-or-treating scenes. He is allergic to nearly every candy he is given, merely watching glumly as his friends chow down on their peanut-filled bars. Yet when Alan and his cohorts confront the geeks, Bill refuses to relinquish any of his candy. “We went through a lot for this!” he states defiantly. Bill’s not going to eat the candy, so what reason does he have to defend it? Simply put, Bill chooses to focus on the principle of the thing. He worked for the candy, and by rights, he should keep it. Alan scoffs at this: “Shut your mouth, you little girl!” prompting Bill to retort, “I’m not a little girl. I’m a Bionic Woman!” You go, Jaime! Er, Bill.
Back to Sam. The egging he receives is more relevant to Lindsay’s arc than it is to his, but that’s not to say it doesn’t hurt him any. I’ll be honest – the sight of Sam slowly trudging home, egg dripping down his face, is pretty difficult to watch. John Francis Daley’s facial expression just hurts on so many levels. Sam looks like he’s about to cry, but fights to suppress his tears. This is something a “kid” probably wouldn’t do. When he arrives home, his mother coddles him with sympathy – “My little baby,” she moans – only for him to push her away with “I’m not a baby!” Sam realizes the truth: You can’t go home again. He can no longer be the child he once was.
Or… can he? As Sam lies in bed, resigned to reading “Crime and Punishment”, his father enters and tells him not to stay up too late. This final scene brings Sam’s story in this episode to an ironic close – he is old enough to read a lengthy Russian novel, but still young enough to have a bedtime implemented on him. Such is the life of a poor, conflicted teenager.
While Sam attempts to reignite the childish aspect of Halloween, and Lindsay tries to avoid it, their mother full-on embraces it, to the point that her rendition of “Monster Mash” finds its way to the dinner table. Jean’s storyline in the episode is not so much a segment of her (admittedly minor) series arc as it is a statement regarding the generation gap. Bright and beaming Jean is perhaps the show’s most optimistic character, and much of her cheerfulness is the effect of the childhood life she remembers. Her efforts to liven up the holiday with homemade cookies are dashed, however, when she learns that children are now educated by their parents against taking unwrapped candy, thanks to some unsavory rumors about razor blades.
Jean does not receive as much depth as much of the other characters in the series, but she is established as a well-intentioned and virtuous individual. Teenagers were overall better-behaved in Jean’s time, so her confusion over the concept of rebelliousness is understandable. Later in the series, when she discovers that her own daughter has become a rebel in her own right, she reacts with shock and disappointment. On the surface, that’s a typical motherly reaction, but her talk with Lindsay in this episode establishes Jean as more than just a one-dimensional motherly stereotype. She is a decent person who, unfortunately, has trouble accepting the changes that time brings.
If this Halloween experience alters Jean’s perspective of the world, it certainly has an impact on Lindsay’s. In the conversation they share at the end of the episode, Jean mentions that the world they live in seems “meaner” than the one they grew up in. Lindsay questions this, inquiring if kids ever threw eggs in her mother’s high school days. Jean replies, “I guess so… I just know I never did.” This statement gets Lindsay thinking about the different viewpoints between adolescence and adulthood. As teenagers, we may think we know what the world we live in is like. But later in life, we may look back and see that world that once was in an entirely different light. Lindsay fears that she may be shut out from the genuine adolescent life – she does not want to look back on her high school years with the same misguided view that Jean apparently does. As we’ll see later in the series, Lindsay will choose to open her mind up to the world she exists in, experiencing all the pleasures (along with the pains) that being a “freak” brings. It’s fascinating – and more than a little tragic – to watch Lindsay in this early stage of the series, as she struggles with the thought of rebellion, several episodes before it finally overtakes her.
As stated, though, this is still an early episode, and so Lindsay is still primarily staying on the path of the just. We get a nice moment at the end of the episode where she joins her mom in handing treats out to the youngsters. And I don’t care what anyone says – she looks adorable in that prince costume.
In the end, what we have is an episode that hits most of the right notes, giving substantial development to the show’s two leads while being steadily entertaining all the while. It is a bit lightweight compared to “Beers and Weirs” [1×02], and could have used some better follow-up from that episode, but when all is said and done, “Tricks and Treats” is a definite treat.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The teaser is very entertaining, especially Bill’s reaction to the drink: “It’s not bad.”
+ Daniel double-dipping into Millie’s Lik-m-aid.
+ Neal referencing his Bar Mitzvah as proof that he is now a man.
+ Bill + Costume + Mirror = Comedy Gold
+ Rosso bringing out a new pumpkin right after his old one is smashed.
– Although I find the teaser to be very funny, why would Bill agree to such a bet if he’s allergic to so many foods?
– The cigarette-smoking lady is a little over-the-top nasty. I can see what the writers were going for, but she just doesn’t work.
* Nick references that Kim doesn’t like her mother. This will prove to be something of an understatement, as we will see in “Kim Kelly Is My Friend” [1×04].