Road to Avonlea Review: Tug of War

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Episode Summary: Olivia and Jasper are expecting their first baby. However, things get complicated when Jasper’s very worldly, bohemian family comes for an extended visit. On top of that, Hetty still seems to have a difficult time accepting Jasper’s flighty ways. Conflicts and differences between the Dales and the Kings are put on hold when Olivia goes into labor two weeks ahead of the scheduled date. Jasper and Hetty aide Olivia in the impromptu delivery. Although the newborn initially appears to be a stillborn, using prior knowledge, Jasper realizes that the baby might have a blocked lung, and is able to get the baby breathing and crying. Montgomery Dale is born.

Directed by Don McBrearty, Written by Leila Basen, Music by John Welsman

My Grade: Once again, Sullivan and co. do a great job of opening a season. This is a great premiere, and definitely one of my favorite “Jasper/Olivia” episodes. One of the things I love about this episode is meeting Jasper’s extended family, and sort of seeing where he gets his “flightiness” from. Jasper’s family is certainly more progressive and free spirited than the townspeople of Avonlea, and certainly the King family. I absolutely love the scene where the two families (drinking cordial a well-intentioned Sara spiked with alcohol) try to one up each other in their toasts (In a nutshell: “Here’s to tradition.” “Here’s to life, love and the sky!”). It’s a nice change of pace for the show. (A)

Spotlight Performance: Usually, when there’s an episode that centers around Jasper and Olivia, Mag Ruffman’s performance touches me most. This time around, however, it’s RH Thomson who steals the show. Jasper’s stress over trying to appease his wife, her family, and his family are felt throughout the episode, particularly during the scene when the families are bickering over what they should name the baby. Unless I’m forgetting something, this is probably Thomson’s strongest performance of the series.

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Favorite Scene: There are very few moments in Avonlea that contain more intensity than Olivia’s birth. I remember when I first watched this episode, my jaw literally dropped when the possibility of the baby being a stillborn was presented. It’s a truly horrifying, depressing scene. Of course, because this is Avonlea, all is well in the end. But, still, this episode certainly represents a dramatic shift in the show. It’s almost the complete opposite of Aunt Janet’s birth during the season 2 finale, which was more comedic. Although, certainly, the show never shies away from how difficult giving birth was during that period…not that it’s not difficult now!

Final Thoughts: This is screenwriter Leila Basen’s only episode. Since this episode, she has produced and written for Ready or Not (for which she was nominated for a Gemini), Emily of New Moon, Tales from the Neverending Story, Mental Block, Heartland (with Heather Conkie), and currently Strange Empire. 

This is also the first appearance of Jasper’s cousin Selena Dale, played by Catherine Fitch. She’s one of those Canadian performers whose face we recognize, but we don’t exactly know her name (at least from an American POV). But, yes, I recognize her from Slings and Arrows. She has four Gemini/CSA nominations, winning one in 1996 for her role in the Kevin Sullivan produced Butterbox Babies.

Last thought: With every passing season, Harmony Cramp’s Cecily becomes less and less relevant. She literally has no lines in this episode. She’s just a cute extra. Obviously, we’ll discuss this further and more in depth when I review a certain episode from the next season. But, just saying…the age of Cecily doing nothing begins now.

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