Chandler sits across a chair and couch while Phoebe sits on the couch next to monica lounging across the couch and joey sitting on the bar and Rachel standing in the background

102: TOW The Sonogram At The End: This Is Still Ruined, Right?

Plot Summary

A storyline – Ross finds out he’s going to be a father with his ex-wife and her new partner.
B storyline – Rachel returns her engagement ring to her former fiance.
C storyline – Monica has her overly critical parents over for dinner.

The episode begins in the coffee shop with the boys separated from the girls talking about what’s more important, the “kissing” or the “sex” using a concert metaphor that gets away from them.

We then cut to Ross’ work, wherein he’s setting up a new exhibit at the museum when his ex-wife arrives to tell him she’s pregnant.

We return to the purple apartment wherein Monica is anal retentiveness prompts her friends to ask why she’s so uptight. Monica claims it’s due to her parents which even Phoebe is incredulous about.

Rachel pops into the apartment from her room, having lost her engagement ring which — as she explains — she’ll need to return to her former fiance. Rachel figures out she lost her ring in the lasagna Monica, ruining Monica’s lasagna — something Joey, Phoebe and Chandler can appreciate.

Ross enters and delivers the news that he has a baby on the way and is allowed to be as involved as he wants to be — something all the friends recognize with gravity, except Joey who eats the ruined lasagna.

Cut to later that evening in the purple apartment wherein we meet Ross and Monica’s parents for the first time (played by the ever delightful Christina Pickles (Judy) and Elliott Gould (Jack)). Surprisingly, Monica’s assessment of her parents is right on the money wherein Judy lovingly tells Ross that all the girls had a crush on him whereas with Monica, well, she refluffs the pillows.

Fortunately, Ross makes an effort to promote his sister:

Judy: (Eating a snack) What’s that curry taste?
Monica: (matter-of-factly) Curry.
Judy: (obviously faking) Mmmm!
Ross: I think they’re great! (Chomping one down) I really do.

More time passes in which it appears as though Monica endures a supper wherein her father tells her how much he adores how perfectly average she is. Monica begs Ross to break the news of the pregnancy to take the heat off her, so Ross reveals that Carol is a lesbian and also that his parents are about to become grandparents. Which, hilariously, puts more heat on Monica for knowing and not saying anything.

Starting the next Act, Monica and the gang are in the coffee house where she informs the rest on her evening and small details about the other friends’ families are revealed. Phoebe — it turns out — is a twin and believes a “waitress” is a high-powered, esteemed career thereby informing us what kind of job Phoebe must have. Chandler reveals he was an only child.

Rachel, it turns out, is a waitress at the coffee house — which is news to me only in that, I always thought there was a scene with her “getting the job” but apparently not — and she needs to close up. Ross exits the bathroom to see all the friends have left leaving him and Rachel wherein they discuss their problems and Ross offers some vicarious advice. Then they have a tender moment before we cut between the next two scenes:

  • Ross at the OBG/YN (with Carol and Susan).
  • Rachel at the Orthodontist (with Barry and a patient).

During Ross’ time with his ex and her partner, he finds out that they’ve already started speculating about the baby’s name (without him in the process). During Rachel’s time with Barry, she finds out he’s more “moved on” than she is, having rebuilt himself and seemingly fallen in love with Rachel’s former best friend and maid of honor, Mindy.

During a heated moment, Ross moves to excuse himself from the appointment until he hears the baby’s heartbeat which unites all three parents to be.

The episode closes back at the purple apartment where Ross shares the sonogram with his friends (note: not sure any doctor’s office ever allowed/allows this — mine certainly didn’t, I couldn’t even take a picture of the screen in the office). Rachel ends the episode telling Mindy off in one of those “insult you with a smile” comments — kinda like what Judy did to Monica earlier.

Analysis – Where Do I Fit In?

At its core, this is an episode about figuring out where these characters “fit in”. For Ross, it’s where he fits in his new family. For Monica, she struggles with how she can fit into her existing family. For Rachel, it’s discovering neither she nor Barry were fit for each other.

Ross – Preserving the Past

Ross, we learn, is a paleontologist as this episode visits his office (the museum). Of course, a paleontologist can be read as being synonymous with digging into the past or “preserving the past.” Sure enough, in this episode, we see Ross preserving two elements from his past: his ex wife and his feelings for his crush from high school.

Ross’ initial issues “fitting in” arise at his office. He struggles with his co-worker to arrange the exhibit correctly. Ross wants to preserve the past while the co-worker seeks a more “modern” take on motivation of the mannequins.

Marsha: [S]he has issues… He’s out banging other women over the head with a club, while she sits at home trying to get the mastodon smell out of the carpet!
Ross: Marsha, these are cave people. Okay? They have issues like ‘Gee, that glacier’s getting kinda close.’

Ross tries to ignore the obvious affiliation with modern life his co-worker is making. Of course, it’s his co-worker that then points out that his ex-wife is visiting.

Marsha: Speaking of issues, isn’t that your ex-wife?
Ross: (trying to ignore her) Uh, no. No.
Marsha: Yes, it is. Carol! Hi!

Despite trying to preserve the past, the co-worker is wont to point out modern life will invade the past. They hammer this home with the display sign that reads “Prehistoric Life” outside of Ross’ exhibit that Carol looks into.

When Carol enters Ross’ exhibit, she reveals his previous life is not a memory yet but there are more memories to come.

Ross being unable to fit in continues at the OBG/YN office wherein he fumbles with the speculum and the baby model on the doctor’s shelf. He’s given the option of being as involved as he wants to be and he doesn’t know what that looks like.

This comes to a head with the naming of the baby when Ross tries to squeeze himself “Geller” into the baby’s name and he continues to be rebuffed and vetoed. He doesn’t know how he fits in and almost gives up.

There are two moments in this episode wherein Ross finds where he “fits” in. The first is the ending where Ross considers backing out of the doctor’s visit, but then hears the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. He rushes to join the two mothers, his hand fitting snugly between Susan and Carol’s.

The second is when he winds up sweeping (for Rachel) and she rests her head on his hand. Ross, rather than pull away, winds up pulling a chair forward so he can better fit with Rachel.

Rachel – Confronting the Future

Rachel was terrified of how she would fit into Barry’s life and this is what generates much of her apprehension. She doesn’t want to confront her past, because Barry “gave her a ring” indicating he saw how Rachel fit into his life going forward. She has no desire to confront the man she knew because she believes she knows what part she plays:

Rachel: Hi Barry! Remember me? I’m the girl in the veil who stomped on your heart in front of your entire family!

Much like how in the previous episode, there’s an inverse between Ross and Rachel, e.g. one having been dumped (Ross) and one doing the dumping (Rachel); in this episode, we see a similar inverse. Ross believes his ex has moved on, leaving him in the past, only to find out she’s far from done with Ross and Rachel believes she’s moved on from her ex only to find out that her ex has moved on from her.

Rachel believes she’ll visit Barry and have to console him — based on Ross’ advice. She purposely dresses down, puts her hair up and leaves her makeup off so she can “fit in” with Ross’ ideal.

Ross: (to Carol) You look great. I, uh… I hate that.

Ross: (to Rachel) [Y]ou should try not to look too terrific, I know it’ll be hard.

However, while Rachel dressed down for Barry’s benefit, Barry dressed up — and to Rachel’s surprise, not intentionally. Unlike meeting Barry in a public place. Rachel meets Barry at his place of work. He’s not dressed to impressed, he’s moving on with his day-to-day routine. Of course, Rachel immediately notices:

Rachel: Why are you so tan?

and

Rachel: You’ve got plugs.

and

Rachel: You’ve got lenses!

Barry isn’t the person she was expecting, neither in mood or physicality. Barry of course reveals he’s moved on with Mindy, Rachel’s maid of honor, and admits, “I thought we were happy. We weren’t happy. But with Mindy, now I’m happy.”

Rachel spent all her time thinking of how she didn’t fit with Barry, not realizing Barry felt the same way. This does a few things for Rachel. For one, it solidifies that she will no longer fit in with her usual crowd as corresponding with her maid of honor (and presumably best friend) is awkward since she’s dating Rachel’s ex-fiance. Moreover, this is yet another moment of Prince and the Pauper. Rachel, once in the 1%, now works as a waitress in the city. It’s not just that Barry has moved on from Rachel already that hurts her self-esteem, but that Barry has fundamentally changed himself for someone else.

Rachel: But you hate sticking your finger in your eye…
Barry: Not for her.

Monica – Between a Ross and a Hard Place

Monica, in this episode, still functions much like the protagonist. While all three stories are about families, soon-to-be families, and almost-were families, Monica never finds where she fits in — caught between friends and family. It’s a helpful character growth episode in that, it’s clear why Monica pursues romance, she hasn’t found her place among her friends or her family.

The irony is, from the beginning of the episode, Monica is creating a model home so she can “fit in” with her parents. In doing so, she ostracizes her friends.

Monica: (grabbing the drink out of Joey’s hands) Are you through with that?
Joey: Yeah, sorry, the swallowing slowed me down.
Monica: Whose little ball of paper is this?!
Chandler: Oh, uh, that would be mine. See, I wrote a note to myself, and then I realized I didn’t need it, so I balled it up and– (Monica glares) –now I wish I was dead.

Phoebe: Monica- Hi! Um, Monica, you’re scaring me. I mean, you’re like all chaotic and twirly. And not in a good way.

Despite her best efforts, her mother still criticizes Monica’s choices (going so far as to fluff her pillows which Chandler and Phoebe had previously mocked her for.

Judy goes out of her way to demonstrate how difficult it is to share stories of Monica, shoehorning her daughter into rosier lenses to better fit the mold.

Judy: Anyway, I told her you had a restaurant–
Monica: No Mom, I don’t have a restaurant, I work in a restaurant.
Judy: Well, they don’t have to know that… 

Monica simply can’t win with her family, even when Ross breaks jarring, nigh absurd news, her parents turn to her. It becomes increasingly telling why Monica and the gang hang out at Central Perk when they could just hang out at Monica’s apartment. Central Perk is the only time we see Monica relaxed, sprawled on a sofa, not cleaning. She may be complaining, but she’s at ease, not playing hostess, not trying to fit in, just being present.

(Note, Monica’s story this time around also serves as a reason why the siblings, Monica and Ross, are so close despite Ross getting such preferential treatment. Throughout the family dinner, Ross comes to Monica’s defense in attempts to rescue her.)

Ensemble – Three’s Company

I don’t have much to say on Phoebe, Joey, and Chandler as they were not featured prominently once again, which makes sense, but something worth mentioning is how they serve as a sort of audience surrogate. All the other friends have “events” happening, and these three get to sit back and watch. They make this evident by the fact that they first watch a sitcom, Three’s Company, then when that gets turned off, spend their time watching Ugly Naked Guy, then at the end they’re watching a sonogram of Ross’ to-be baby. They watch a show with beautiful people (actors), but also watch ugly people (typical NYC apartment), and then watch not even born yet people — with opinions on all of them. As everyone else struggles with sincere issues, they’re able to offer levity.

Closing Thoughts

Something I like about this episode (that I feel they lost in that middle quarter… like Seasons 5-7), is sentimentality. This episode plays out much more like a dramedy than a sitcom and I wonder if that’s the reason for the light-hearted dig at Three’s Company — to set itself apart. This episode’s conflict doesn’t arise from miscommunication but crystal clear communication:

  • Carol is pregnant and she’s having the baby, and Ross can be as involved as he wants.
  • Monica’s fearful not having fluffed enough pillows will lead to additional criticism from her parents who are hyper critical and, in fact, they are exactly that level of critical.
  • Rachel and Barry aren’t getting married, they weren’t happy, and they’re both moving on.

For instance, Ross backing out of the doctor’s office until he hears the baby’s heartbeat takes a lot of time. It’s a lot of dead space without jokes and it works. This is something I think the series moves away from as it goes on (until the later two seasons), but here it’s perfectly timed. It’s not cheesey or boring, instead it has a genuine sense of wonder.

That said, the caveat is it’s too much. I love these softer, somber moments. I like watching them play out… but there’s a balance that should occur with the B or C storyline. The three main stories, while they have a moderate amount of jokes, ultimately are dry affairs. The only humor that comes out of the Barry / Rachel series of scenes comes from the fact that there’s a little boy in Barry’s office.

Even the scene between Ross and Rachel in the coffee shop is almost completely devoid of any jokes and more of a sad yearning for things to have worked out differently. And while the scene where Ross, Carol, and Susan argue over a name has some humor to it, ultimately (and they make the right call here) it becomes heated. It has to to justify Ross wanting to walk out of his unborn child’s life… but to support this seriousness with Monica being belittled with no end and Rachel feeling rejected from someone she rejected, makes the episode a dour experience.

I was surprised to find out this episode was written by David Crane and Marta Kauffman whereas the first episode was credited solely to Marta Kauffman. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled if it’s Crane who added the “heaviness” to the stories in future episodes.

Additionally, I think Susan (Jessica Hecht) continues to age well as a Friends character. Whether or not you do, you’re supposed to not like her, you’re supposed to side with Ross, but Susan is great! If anything, Carol (as a character) ages poorly with time, but Susan is a standout. She fights for what she believes in, she’s supportive, courageous and compassionate — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Also, the introduction of Jack and Judy — especially Jack — are magnetic. Again, getting ahead of myself, but unlike some shows where a recurring character appears and I roll my eyes and think, “Great… another episode with this person.” (ex. Nick Tortelli on Cheers or DeDe on Modern Family), every episode with Jack and/or Judy has me pumped. And I like that they almost always come together. Part of the reason they seem to work so well is I understand where Monica is coming from, but I love that Jack is so sincere in his brutal honesty. He doesn’t believe he’s belittling his “harmonica,” he’s thrilled that she lives a mediocre life where he doesn’t need to worry about her being too stressed about her looks or her job or her love life. He means it! Whereas Judy… she says similar things — and there’s an argument to be made that Jack’s commentary is what allows her to do so — but her comments are 100% critical.

Full Sidebar: Cut vs Uncut

I didn’t know where to add this… and frankly, it might warrant doing specific reviews of “cut and uncut” episodes, but I want to make sure I say it on this one. The edited version of this episode is the superior version. Again, bear in mind, I grew up with the uncut episodes — not really owning cable and only owning box sets. The Rachel/Barry sequence is so remarkably different “edited” vs “unedited” — by one line of dialogue no less.

In the edited episode (which you can watch on HBO Max), Barry is an incredibly sympathetic character. He’s got the charm (and slight resemblance) to Patrick Dempsey, but more than that, he comes across as genuine. When he thanks Rachel, it feels like he says it to let her know, he thinks she had the courage to make the right decision for both of them. When Rachel man-handles his scalp to comment on the plugs, he doesn’t tell her to back off or try to save his image, instead he’s openly vulnerable in a way that reminds us these two were once intimate but also that he’s not afraid of her… juxtapose his sincerity with unedited dialogue:

Rachel: Anyway, (she pulls the engagement ring out of her purse) I guess this belongs to you. Or hey! Maybe someday, Mindy.
Barry: Yeah, like she’d settle for that.

This single line of dialogue made me hate Barry when I first watched the series. This seemed bitter, implying Rachel is cheap and has no taste; braggy, implying he’s got more money to afford a higher quality ring; insensitive, as Rachel took time out of her day to return it and she might as well have kept it; and shallow, implying that Mindy, his girlfriend needs more expensive things. It turned a sweet moment between two exes into a visceral feud.

Now granted, with Barry’s reappearances, I know they’ll assassinate his character for a few laughs. But if this was all we ever learned about Barry and Mindy, it’d leave you feeling like he’s a sweet guy and they’re both better off now.

Rank

I like this episode, but not as much as the first. A big part of this has to do with the absence of Joey, Chandler, and Phoebe. Each of them have a standout line or two in the episode, but they’re barely featured. Granted, it’s difficult to balance considering we’re getting introductions to Carol and Susan, Barry, Jack and Judy. And the introduction of those characters is welcome, but it is more world-building and less Friends-ian.

Furthermore, going back-to-back with the pilot, again the focus is on Monica, Ross, and Rachel, and if I didn’t know better, I’d wager Joey, Chandler, and Phoebe were the intended ensemble, meant to be the quirky neighbors and little more.

It’s still a great episode, but there’s fewer jokes, less screentime with all the friends, and a bit top-heavy on the sentiment, making it weaker in my book. Current rankings:

  1. 101: TOW Monica Gets a Roommate
  2. 102: TOW the Sonogram at the End

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