The Bhagavad Gita opens on the battlefield. Two armies face off against one another when Prince Arjuna, the commander of one side, realizes that he’s about to fight and possibly kill relatives and friends on the other side. He quite reasonably has an attack of conscience and casts his bow aside, refusing to fight. Krishna isn’t about to take this bullshit. First he calls Arjuna a pussy, then tells him to do his duty, then explains that the soul can’t really die so he’s not really killing anything. The second point made a serious impact upon me when I read it. Performing one’s purpose to the utmost of one’s ability, no matter what that purpose may be, is the essence of meaning. As long as we divorce the purpose from any form of caste system, and disallow the obviously immoral (murder, rape, slavery, writing vampire books), we’re on some pretty solid ground for a solid population of steadily increasing happiness. You know, until you remember that no one wants to be the guy who scrubs the toilets.
This passage is what initially spawned in me the firm conviction that laziness is permissible in every area of one’s life except one: whatever it is that you supposedly do. Days off? Lie in a pool of Cheetos and your own (probably orange) filth. Days on? You accept nothing less than the closest you can possibly get to perfection. It’s probably worth noting that I don’t think perfection is possible, but much like getting lost on the way home from the sack of Troy, it’s the journey that’s the important thing. And getting home before all your neighbors run a train on your wife.
“The Gold Test,” also known as “Heartbreak Winner,” is all about this idea of the relentless pursuit of perfection. Our heroine Maggie MacDonald is a dedicated figure skater whose all-consuming obsession is making the Olympics. She’s up at the crack of dawn, tirelessly working on whatever it is that figure skaters do, and is generally the kind of tightly-wound overachiever… well, that I eventually married. Although I would have begged Maggie to cut the atrocious Dorothy Hamill ‘do that makes her look like she should be assaulting people with a stunbolt gun. Maggie stands in direct contrast to her friend Cindy, who looks almost exactly like a parallel universe version of Rachel Miner that was never married to Macaulay Culkin and thus never learned what cocaine tastes like once it’s been in the large colon of a poor Colombian. Cindy really doesn’t seem to care too much about figure skating. She’s not serious about practice, doing just enough to place third in the Regionals. Which begs the question of why she’s getting up in the mornings at all. Wouldn’t she rather sleep in another hour or two than go to figure skating practice? Because of other After School Specials, I’m left to assume that this is because figure skating used to be a much bigger thing than it is now. If this were made today, the girls would be into mixed martial arts, and the whole thing would be about a thousand percent more awesome.
Maggie wants Cindy to work harder, something that initially baffled me. But then I hit on it: to achieve greatness, a person needs a rival whose accomplishments serve to drive one to greater heights, which in turn fuel the rival, steadily increasing in a loop of escalating awesomeness. Magic needed Bird. The Beatles needed the Stones. Freddy needed Jason. So Maggie needs someone and Cindy is handy. Unfortunately, Cindy could not give less of a fuck about whatever is going on in Maggie’s head.
But this is an After School Special, so tragedy has to strike in some form or another. I had a brief hope that “The Gold Test” would be about a young girl’s harrowing aspirin addiction. As it turns out, Maggie’s aspirin use is to treat some chronic pain that she is hiding from her parents, which becomes impossible after fall during Sectionals sends Maggie to the hospital. Though she’s suffered a mild concussion, the doctor is way more concerned about Maggie’s knee. Probably because knee injuries are known to cause early onset Alzheimer’s. Eventually, the doctor figures out that Maggie suffers from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, which effectively ends Maggie’s Olympic dreams.
And then things get weird. While confined to the hospital for lengthy rehab, Maggie makes a friend in Joey, a fellow patient on her floor. I don’t quite know what to make of Joey. Both legs encased in casts, I initially thought we had another Harvey situation on our hands. Of course, this would require parents, and Joey does not appear to have those. The broken legs are the result of a car hitting him when he was five, which confined him to a wheelchair. Joey appears to be about seven years old and has the dream of playing for the New York Knicks. Remember, this special aired in 1980, long before Isiah killed that franchise, so Joey’s not totally insane. Although the colossal afro/headband combo he sports does point to some sort of chemical imbalance. Anyway, Joey wants to play professional basketball, but he’s too afraid to walk after this most recent operation for fear that he can’t.
Joey becomes something of a Magical Negro In Reverse. He has an inner life, but it is a stereotyped one. He helps Maggie accept her lot, though not on purpose. She encourages him to walk by telling him a story about how many times she had to fall before she learned to jump. Unfortunately, Joey is not a supervillain, because it would have been amazing to see him rise up from his wheelchair, vow vengeance against the tyranny of gravity, and then fall flat on his face.
Maggie has trouble coming to grips with a life in which she will not win a gold medal. It’s funny, because most people deal with this reality every day. A dream like this one is a dream of exclusion, because only one person can win a specific gold medal at any one time. Of course, this is the only reason that gold medals have any meaning at all. It’s an odd thought, since this devaluation isn’t assumed with other dreams. For example, having a hit movie does not preclude someone else having one, nor would having a family. Granted, if every time someone had a kid, another kid was shot, that might give the endeavor more meaning. Not that I’m advocating child murder here. I’m just saying.
Cindy gives Maggie’s life meaning, and if you think I’m going to read lesbian overtones into this, you know me too well. In all seriousness, Cindy admires Maggie’s drive and needs that to win. Of course, Maggie doesn’t accept immediately, only agreeing after she inspires Joey to walk. She successfully coached him, so she can turn her attention to the underachieving Cindy. And Cindy will win that gold medal, or God help her.
It’s nice when you agree with the painfully earnest message of an After School Special. Work hard, practice, and you too can be brought low by an incurable disease and rest your hopes on the narrow shoulders of an inferior. Maggie’s words to Joey are inspirational: “Dreams don’t come true unless you make them.” Damn right. The problem is, sometimes they don’t come true at all.
Next up: “What Are Friends For?” Two girls pledge to stay friends even as their parents divorce. If you thought the implied lesbian overtones were bad this week, hoo boy.
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