Episode Summary: After inadvertently setting fire to the General Store, Sara believes it is best for her to finally return to Montreal. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving, Sara’s father passes away suddenly after an accident at his factory, making her an ophan. With Hetty and Nanny Louisa fighting over who gets custody of Sara, Sara feels especially alone and alienated. After being duped by a fake fortune teller, she finds herself kidnapped by the fortune teller (Elizabeth Shepherd) and her crony. Fortunately, Uncle Alec comes to her rescue, giving Sara the stable father figure she needs. In the end, Nanny Louisa decides to allow Sara to stay in Avonlea (because we can’t have Road to Avonlea without Sara…at least for another three years).
Directed by Rene Bonniere, Written by Heather Conkie, Music by Hagood Hardy
My Grade: This is, overall, a really nice premiere. When I first watched this episode a few years ago, I hadn’t read any summary or anything before watching it, so I was genuinely surprised when the dad died. It came so suddenly. A part of me sort of thinks it’s “nice” that the moment was so abrupt, because in many cases, death doesn’t warn us when it’s coming. However, I wish more time had been spent in Montreal, and less on the traveling circus adventure that took up the second half of the episode. This episode sort of marks a shift in tone for the show. While the first season is more pastoral, the second season experiments with more action-oriented story lines. Personally, I find those episodes/storylines hit or miss. The kidnapping storyline in this episode has its benefits: it allows Alec to save Sara, thus giving them a stronger bond (after he, almost uncharacteristically, yells at Sara in the beginning of the episode). But again, the funeral, the aftermath, the fight for custody, the implications of Sara being an orphan were the more interesting aspects of this episode. (A-)
Spotlight Performance: Like with the pilot, Frances Hyland, totally steals the show here as Nanny Louisa. I really like the character. Yes, she’s sort of a snooty, overbearing lady (although, nearly half the women in this show are). But she obviously cares deeply for Sara. I think she makes the right decision by letting Sara stay in Avonlea because in Montreal,it seemed like Sara was friendless and sheltered (she never once mentions any friends her own age in Montreal). Also, because they couldn’t do the show without Canada’s sweetheart, let’s be real here.
Favorite Scene: OK, I have to admit, even though the carnival scenes are “meh,” I really like the scene where Peter Craig invites Sara to go to the carnival with him, just because it mirrors the scene in the very first episode when Peter first meets Sara at her mother’s grave. Oh, Peter! You’re the only who can make Sara do stuff when she’s mourning over a dead parent!
Final Thoughts: First…new opening credits, right? This time they actually put the names under shots of the actors. Sarah Polley, Jackie Burroughs, and Mag Ruffman are given their own screen shots, while Gema Zamprogna and Zachary Bennett share a credit, as Lally Cadeau and Cedric Smith.The music, by John Welsman, is the same as the last season’s.
Second…I sort of really hate how the likes of Mrs. Potts is at the funeral, yapping her big mouth. Like, I get it. Blair Stanley wanted to buried next to his wife, so I suppose the funeral just HAD to be in Avonlea. But did the King family really have to invite everyone in town? Seeing Mrs. Potts look at Blair’s dead body always makes me…so mad. Like, a second before he died, she probably still thought he was a lying embezzler. Now, she’s at his funeral. The show occasionally calls out the townsfolk hypocrisy,,,but this was one of those cases that was needed.
Lastly…so, a few days after Road to Avonlea premiered (“The Journey Begins”), Sarah Polley’s mother passed away. Polley, who had just turned eleven two days earlier, most likely cried. A few months later, the show was preempted from its timeslot so CBC could make room for hockey, figure skating, and other special programs, causing many “little girls” to cry, at least according to the condescending TV critic Antonia Zerbisias. And then a few months after that, the show began filming season two. In more present interviews, Sarah Polley doesn’t have too many nice things to say about her experience in Avonlea. One of the major reasons had to do with the fact that, as a result of her mother’s death, she felt like the writers and producers and directors were exploiting her grief, by having her do a lot of scenes where her character had to cry over her deceased mother.
Right now, off the top of my head, I can think of three strong instances where Sara (the character) is crying over her dead mother: season 2’s “A Mother’s Love,” season 3’s “When She Was Bad…,” and season 4’s “Home Movie.” It’ll be interesting to watch this show again with that in mind, and see if I can spot other moments, even brief, where Sara crying over her mother can be mirrored with Polley’s real life tragedy. I thought of this because in this episode, Sara is sort of grieving the fact that she is an orphan. She mainly cries over her father (“I never got to say goodbye!”), but I think the overall situation she’s in also touches her.
It’s interesting that Polley would criticize that part of her Avonlea experience. It’s a valid statement. Imagine being eleven and having a camera close up on you as you cry over a deceased family member. I’m sure it was difficult for her. But…I actually wish there had more scenes like that. If Sullivan wanted to make Sara an orphan (so her staying in Avonlea would be more plausible), then I feel like Sara got over these deaths fairly quickly. Again, she doesn’t really have any overt sadness over her losses until much later in the season. But, until then (like the very next episode) it just seems like it’s business as usual. Which is understandable, because part of the reason this show was so insanely popular was because the show was nice, comfortable escapism. But, as someone who prefers when it’s at it’s darkest and most dramatic, seeing Sara grieve more would have really given this “storyline” (if there even is one) more weight. I wish there had been another episode after this one where Sara could really make sense of her tragedies.
Well…anyway…thanks for reading!