“Once and Again”: The Best Show You Never Watched

 
 

Jessie and Katie in school

“You’ll do anything to protect your image, won’t you? Perfect Jessie, who couldn’t possibly be in love with a girl!” This accusation by 16-year-old Grace (Julia Whelan) in one of the last episodes of the critically acclaimed (and just-canceled) television drama Once and Again finally verbalized the issue 15-year-old Jessie had been struggling with for months – and marked an historic moment in television.

Once and Again centers around the relationship between two divorcees, Rick (Bill Campbell) and Lily (Sela Ward), and their gaggle of children, including Rick’s teenage daughter Jessie (Evan Rachel Wood). Over the course of the third season, producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (who also brought us Thirtysomething, Relativity, and My So-Called Life, three other gay-friendly shows that were ahead of their time) quietly developed the friendship between Jessie and her best friend Katie (Mischa Barton) into something more.

The issue came to a head in the March episode “The Gay/Straight Alliance” in which Katie writes Jessie a letter confessing her romantic feelings for Jessie.

The letter prompts much angst on both sides as Jessie starts to avoid Katie, until even gay-friendly stepsister Grace (who is harboring a not-so-secret crush on her male English teacher) gets frustrated and asks “Why won’t you talk to [Katie]?! Just talk to her. You’re lucky you can. You don’t even realize how easy you have it. God, just go for it, no one will care!” Support from her stepsister surprises Jessie, but Jessie still denies the truth since she is not yet ready to face it herself.

Ultimately, Katie forces a confrontation with Jessie, and the following conversation ensues:

Jessie: I’ve just been really -
Katie: Confused, I know -
Jessie: And I didn’t know what to do. You’re really important to me.
Katie: I am?
Jessie: Yes! Don’t you know that?
Katie: Because you are so important to me.

In print, the dialogue doesn’t convey the passion and intensity supplied by the actresses, but on screen it comes off exactly as you would imagine it has happened thousands of times in real life between lesbian/bisexual teens. (As they first demonstrated in My So-called Life, Zwick and Herskovitz are masters of the teenage ability to say a lot while actually saying nothing.)

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