A storyline – Ross plans to ask Rachel out in the blackout, but someone intervenes.
B storyline – Chandler gets locked in an ATM vestibule with a beautiful celebrity.
C Storyline – Phoebe hates being the last to know about everything.
This episode begins with Phoebe getting the spotlight (first of many blackout puns) in the coffee house. As she strums her first cord, the blackout occurs. We cut over to Chandler to show him being locked inside an ATM vestibule — which, this must be that I’m a West Coast person, but this is easily the largest ATM vestibule I’ve ever seen. Also, as an aside, I love whenever a show adds a word to our lexicon. At least in my world, no one used the term “vestibule” before this episode.
Anyway, the bulk of our gang retreat to Monica’s apartment and light some candles while Monica calls her parents. And, for anyone younger than The Simpsons, Monica can call her parents because the land line is plugged into a separate system, not an electrical socket. When Joey walks in with a menorah, we get a little bit of backstory on Chandler as we find out his previous roommate (i.e. before Joey) was Jewish.
Around the coffee table, the 5 friends play a game of “strangest places they’ve had sex” and I gotta say, this is yet another scene where they manage to clearly talk about sex without ever really “talking” about sex. I haven’t gone through the fine print on this, so forgive me if this is wrong, but I know TV has weird rules. You can say “ass” but not “asshole”; for awhile you couldn’t show a toilet or even a married couple as having the same “bed”; you can say “masturbate” but only a certain number of times — this is based on a Mission Hill commentary track. The point being, TV has weird rules and they’ve obviously changed with time, but I like how this scene doesn’t “start” with them saying, “where’s the weirdest place you had sex?” We just catch Monica’s response, “Senior year of college… on a pool table” and we know what the game is.
They did this in Tow The Thumb as well when the scene starts with Monica saying, “No-no-no, they say it’s the same as the distance from the tip of a guy’s thumb to the tip of his index finger.” I only bring this up because there’s an inherent genius in this. It leads me to imagine that the people who “review” these scripts are hard-wired robots who literally speed read using “CTRL + F”. Does the script use the word “sex”? Scanning… No, approved!
Anywho, during this game, we learn fun facts about all our friends characters, but the most interesting comes from the most mundane. For Rachel, the strangest place she had sex was at the foot of the bed. This reaffirms that she’s made the right decision to leave Barry, but more importantly, she feels like she’s been missing out. She’s never been in a relationship where the sex was passionate; she’s never been in a relationship that screamed “adventure.” For her, everything was safe. This leads to a dialogue between Ross and Rachel that is so honest and sincere.
Ross: Passion is way overrated… eventually, it kind of burns out. But hopefully, what you’re left with is trust and security.
First off, what I love about this is the low-key pun of “burns out” while surrounded by candles in a blackout and the irony of Rachel’s passion kickstarting from the burning out of the candle. But anyway, the thing I love about Ross’ sentiment in this scene is he’s the only one who’s been married (that we know of), so he sees Rachel craving this idea of passion, but genuinely wants her to know there’s much more to it. Realistically, Rachel didn’t just miss out on passionate sex, but the trust, security and intimacy that comes from genuinely loving the other person. In other words, there’s more that she missed out on than sex in the women’s bathroom on the second floor of the public library and she shouldn’t feel envious of this passion when there’s so much more to finding a healthy relationship… of course, this is then offset with Ross making a vague come on, telling Rachel that he sees a big passion in her future as though he is a horoscope incarnate.
Rachel appreciates the chat, but once she walks away, Joey calls Ross out on the exchange. Joey points out that Ross is no closer to Rachel’s heart, he’s been friend-zoned. After some coaxing, Ross agrees to ask Rachel out. Of course, when Ross attempts to do so, he’s attacked by a cat, leading the gang to find the cat’s owner, which causes Rachel to find Paolo — this hunky, Italian male model.
Of course, Rachel sees this as an opportunity for that passion she never got and Ross sees this as yet another obstacle.
Once the power returns, Ross is crestfallen to find Rachel and Paolo lip-locked, ending their story on an inoffensive cliffhanger.
Throughout this episode, the C storyline appears to be how Phoebe feels as though she’s constantly left in the dark about the ensemble’s news. It’s as much an addendum to the overarching stories as Monica’s cleanliness of the previous episode, however it comes up enough that it warrants pointing out.
Then of course, the B storyline is a bold choice of being 90% voiceover as we listen to Chandler’s quips and awkward insecurities as he attempts to act casual with Victoria Secret model, Jill Goodacre. Given that we now have at least two episodes wherein Chandler has difficulty getting words out around women, living in his head is humorous and humbling.
Plus, we see (as we saw with Aurora) that Chandler is much more comfortable and confident once his prospective partner has made the first move. He still can’t figure out how to swing the pen around his head, but he’s no longer the silent, creepy smile guy in the vestibule. Also, it’s fun that Chandler and Joey basically have their own language.
Overall, it’s a great episode, one that explores character relationships (Monica having a crush on Joey when she first met him / Ross & Rachel) and ends on a surprisingly upbeat note. Yes, at this point, we’re still rooting for Ross and Rachel, but Rachel kissing Paolo doesn’t feel wrong. For Rachel, this is still progress as she’s finding her footing and becoming one of the gang with a shallow passionate affair. You feel good for Rachel as — at least at this point — Paolo seems like a “treat,” something she can pursue without worrying about the long term. A healthy exploration.
Meanwhile, we don’t inherently hate Paolo as we can’t understand a word he’s saying. What we do know is he owns a cat and he seems to have an interest in spending time with Rachel — or else why wouldn’t he just invite Rachel into his bed from the onset? — and he seems like a happy guy. As Ross tries to communicate with Paolo, Paolo is happy and receptive and genuinely trying to understand, but his failure to understand isn’t malicious, it’s out of a language barrier.
Finally, we understand Ross’ frustration since he was going to make a move, but then Paolo’s cat interrupted him and now Paolo’s interrupted him. Ross has enough trouble trying to figure out what Rachel is to him, so when you throw in someone who’s ESL, it’s all the more frustrating for Ross because there is no easy way to explain it. It is petty to call Paolo a crap weasel, but it’s so obviously his own frustration manifest that it’s at least relatable.
Analysis – Mind Reading
At its core, this episode is about communication and specifically, telepathy. There’s a level of telepathy among friends that all the friends wish was present in the people they’re romantically interested in:
- Ross expects Rachel to know how he feels — she doesn’t.
- Ross expects Paolo to know how he feels — he doesn’t.
- Phoebe expected Joey to know how Monica felt — he didn’t.
- Chandler expects Jill to know how he feels — she doesn’t.
The great irony of dating is that you get to be as physically intimate as you possibly can be… and yet the emotional intimacy is kept at an arm’s length. Seldom do people lay it all out there, their fears, reservations, disappointments, etc. Their friends, however, have all those details; your friends know you banged someone on a gaming table.
And this is the beauty of this episode, all the core friends can read each other’s minds.
Ross & Joey Regarding Rachel
Shortly after Rachel gives Ross a tousle, he walks away feeling good about himself, but completely unprovoked Joey says:
“Never gonna happen.”
Joey doesn’t need to communicate anything beyond this, he knows what Ross is thinking and he (Joey) is setting him straight. Ross of course plays dumb and asks “What?” to which Joey spells it out for him, “You and Rachel,” to which Ross incredulously says “What?” and scoffs before accepting what Joey is saying and asks “Why not?”
Joey, despite not being the most intelligent character, has clear prowess in relationship intuition. He spells out the message of the episode, “I’m telling you, she has no idea what you’re thinking.”
The mind-reading between the two continues when Ross says, “I’m waiting for the right moment” and all it takes is a facial motion from Joey for Ross to telepathically know exactly what he’s thinking. Without a single line of dialogue, Ross, uninterrupted asks, “What? Now?!”
This is then juxtaposed against Ross and Rachel on the balcony when Ross attempts to ask out Rachel. He says, “For a while now, I’ve been wanting to–” and Rachel starts getting squeaky and covers her mouth and Ross clearly believes that they’re on the same page, that she’s read his mind, as he looks down with confidence and says, “Yes, yes, that’s right–” before Rachel reveals she’s noticed a “wittle kitty” just above him. This solidifies that “friends can mind read” but “romantic interests are telepathically challenged.”
Patronize Phoebe / Romance Rachel
The girls read each others’ minds all throughout the episode. It starts with the blackout when Phoebe asks to borrow the phone, then asks Monica for her phone number. Monica just stares and of course Phoebe can read her mind and immediately provides a defensive, “Well I never call me!”
In the uncut version of the episode this happens again after Phoebe says “Milwaukee” to which she reads the room and says, “What? It’s a really weird place.”
Meanwhile, the whole “strangest place you’ve had sex game” is an exercise in mind-reading. Take Ross’ story simple as text:
The ride broke down.
So Carol and I went behind a couple of those mechanical Dutch children.
Then they fixed the ride and we were asked never to return to the Magic Kingdom.
It’s on the friends — given the context — to fill in the blanks as to what happened.
Of course, even Phoebe’s complaint about being “the last to know everything” is inherently ironic since to know you’re the last to know, means you already know everything — timing is irrelevant. In complaining about this, it’s revealed that Monica had a crush on Joey when he first moved in which again goes to show that romantic interests are less dialed in to the friendship telepathy.
As the story progresses and Paolo enters the scene, Rachel gushes to her gal pals about this hunky guy and all Ross needs to do is exchange “looks” with Joey for him to feel Ross’ frustration and recognize the new plight.
Of course, Phoebe continues to be the “odd one out” when she says, “I just want to bite his bottom lip” and then reading Rachel’s mind, immediately backs off, “but I won’t.” Then of course, when Rachel follows this up with a page out of her and Barry’s romance, Phoebe again, speaks before thinking, but then reads everyone’s mind and moves on.
Rachel: Those three seconds were more exciting than three weeks in Bermuda with Barry.
Phoebe: Did you ride mopeds? Cus I’ve heard… oh I see, it’s not about that right now.
Then the friends collective share another moment to patronize Phoebe when she “counts down” the final candle but nosedives deep into the negative numbers before Joey blows out the candle and the remaining collective sigh relief while Ross says “Thank you.” They were all thinking it, one of them just acted upon it.
Chandler and the audience of Friends
The final example of this is with Chandler’s entire storyline. We’re a part of the Friends ensemble because we watch them weekly (or binge if you’re a modern television viewer), but this makes us one of them. This is why we can hear Chandler’s voiceover, we can read his mind because we’re one of the friends.
We have no idea what Jill is thinking, but we know exactly what Chandler is thinking because we’re one of the gang, making us a friendly mindreader.
It’s a great episode and a cliffhanger done exceedingly well. Like I said, Paolo — at this point — isn’t a malicious obstacle, he’s still a step in the right direction for Rachel, so it’s exciting for her even if it’s a bummer for Ross.
This episode’s main writers were Jeffrey Astrof and Mike Sikowitz of TOW the Thumb acclaim and so far, I gotta say, they seem to have an affinity for Chandler. Much like Chandler’s “smoking” being separated out from the group, they’ve again taken Chandler outside the main group for the ATM atrium and I gotta say, I’m all for it. These writers understand Chandler and really utilize him effectively.
The other thing I appreciate about this episode — and Matt LeBlanc deserves credit here as well — but this. isthe first episode with a solid Joey. In the first episode, Joey has this “Eyyyy” tough guy act that feels needlessly chauvinistic. “You got married, you were what, 8? Huuh!” But in this episode, Joey has a read of the situation and wants to help, this is an area he’s an expert in, and he acts as the audience surrogate by telling Ross to stop dragging this out and ask her out. As an audience, we just saw Rachel kiss Ross on a pseudo date, so why isn’t he pursuing this?
Joey in the first episode is blunt and shallow and speaks “generally,” but this. is the first episode where we really see the camaraderie in Joey. As far as I’m aware, Ross has not communicated to Joey that he’s interested in Rachel, Joey just picks up on it in this episode. And Joey doesn’t “tease” him or put him down, he provides genuine advice to push him along.
Up until this point, Joey has had stories that are relatively independent of the ensemble with TOW the Butt being focused on Joey’s play and later movie, but not his friends so much and TOW the East German Laundry Detergent has Joey lie to Monica to hopefully score with his ex Angela. This episode nails the element of Joey that makes him a staple of the show and an empathetic character — he’s a great friend.
Plus — and again, I think this is LeBlanc in action, but — when Joey says “Never gonna happen,” he appears to be playing with the wax in the candle holder which is on brand for how Joey entertains himself as we saw in TOW George Stephanopoulos when Joey plays with the puck in the hospital and simulates it coming at his own head.
Finally, I also think Phoebe in this episode is utilized well. She frequently flitters off into her own world only to be grounded by the rest of her friends. The bulk of jokes played off her in this episode are the result of her wanting information that’s not pertinent to the situation at hand. She’s sort of the meta-comedy where, if this episode was made today (February 15, 2021), Phoebe would be the one asking Monica how her phone’s still working despite the power being out.
Overall, it’s a great episode.
All feel-good stories, all suspenseful, and we’re left with a neat cliffhanger that doesn’t leave us hanging on the edge of our seats, but still curious as to how Paolo changes the dynamic we’ve seen so far. In another life, this would’ve been the season finale cliffhanger, but instead we’re excited to see what’s to come now.
Thus far, it doesn’t quite top Georgie as that one has a unity amongst the core six with a subject matter that’s relevant no matter when it’s viewed, but this episode edges out the pilot for me.
The main reason is, in the pilot, we have Paul, who we find out is an asshole. It doesn’t feel good to see Monica get crushed even if the lesson is worth it, but in the case with Paolo, we have less time with him as a character — and the language barrier makes him more of an obstacle than a character — and it’s still positive because of the growth for Rachel. Wonderfully crafted and transitions from a show of open-and-shut stories to a larger plot mounting that leaves you anticipating what’s going to happen next.
- 105: TOW the East German Laundry Detergent
- 104: TOW George Stephanopoulos
- 107: TOW the Blackout
- 101: TOW Monica Gets a Roommate
- 106: TOW the Butt
- 103: TOW the Thumb
- 102: TOW the Sonogram at the End