Going into this series I always thought A Song of Purple Summer would be the perfect song to end the season. It’s a song that represents growing out of the youth of spring and appreciating the the maturity of summer. In the context of Rise, it should have symbolised the feats that these school kids have overcome. They have pushed through with this controversial musical and have emerged on the other side, battered and bruised, but it would be a new dawn on their lives, and on the community that is against the show being staged.
It was unexpected for it to be used at the end of the second hour of this ten hour season. And for all intents and purposes, it works. Gwen is under a lot of pressure – her family is falling apart, her father is routinely cheating on her mother with her rivals mother, she lost the lead in the musical, and is working with an amateur director who is confusing with their directions.
Lou has big and bold ideas, but he lacks the experience to back it all up. Gwen was going big to compensate for her small role (though, arguably, while Ilsa isn’t seen in the show much, her part is far from small) and beneath all of this is an internal conflict. At the end of the hour, and a frank discussion with Lou, she begins her rendition of A Song of Purple Summer and it is mesmerising and absolutely gorgeous.
Amy Forsyth digs deep into Gwen’s current trauma and dilemma. She reaches into the deep recesses of her heart and uses the pain that she feels every day to sing so truthfully and so painfully. For Gwen, the song can be seen as her step from the pain and frustration she feels from her family and move into a more mature place in the world. She is stepping out of her adolescent spring and into her mature summer.
As Steven Sater wrote in A Purple Summer: Notes on the Lyrics of Spring Awakening, the term “purple summon” serves as a metaphor of “a time of hope throughout the land”. The musical uses this closing number to have the cast come out on stage and address the audience, not as the characters but as themselves, and tell us of the promise ahead in our lives. Gwen singing to Lou is the shows way of promising us that the show will be successful and in the end he will succeed. They will all succeed.
But before the final four minutes of the episode is a plethora of plot lines that are heavily convoluted and brings the whole show down. Rise is taking on way too much and there’s a lot to unpack on just the second episode. There is this struggle within Robbie as he is torn between football and committing to the musical. He is also blossoming to his relationship with Lillette (though he was all over some other girl at the end of the episode). Robbie’s pull between football and the musical is unfocused and a bit messy. It is unoriginal and serves purely as a hurdle for the underdog of the show to overcome instead of being a proper conflict for the characters to rise above.
A lot of the episode also focuses on Gordy’s struggle with alcohol dependency. Lou and Gail are concerned that Gordy is drinking because he is not acting like his normal self and Lou finds alcohol in his locker at school. Instead of sending Gordy away to rehab, Coach Sam Strickland, Gwen’s father, takes Gordy under his wing. Gordy already struck a nerve with Lou by saying that Maashous, who is homeless and was taken in by Lou in the pilot, was his replacement.
Simon is also dealing with repressing who he truly is inside. Afraid that he has given Jeremy the wrong impression, he asks Annabelle on a date. His religious parents also protest the musical and have gotten his Pastor involved. They are also now pulling him out of school because of it. I really hope that when he is finally ready to come out, he isn’t kicked out of home or abused in any way. It would be groundbreaking to watch a gay religious character be treated with love and respect instead of being kicked out of home. Unfortunately he is still a while away from being true to himself.
With how predictable a lot of the show is, I wouldn’t be surprised if the opening night of the show is threatened by a football game and/or Gordy being in a major drink driving accident. I really hope I am surprised by whatever challenges the writers have put into the final episodes, but right now Rise is not offering anything new and retreads familiar plot work provided by other television series in the past.
It is also baffling how Tracey is constantly fighting for her position as assistant director. She is talked down to by the Principal in the pilot and in this episode she has to try and prove to Lou that she is a valuable asset to the show. She is dedicated to the craft and to the theatre. For her to need to prove that is asinine as she is the one with years of experience working in this environment, even if her ideas are stale because she works with the confines of what is ethically allowed in a high school production. Tracey as a character needs to be treated a lot better by the male characters in this show. She is passionate and a hard worker. She should not be villainised for this.
The show works great when it uses Spring Awakening as a tool for these characters and for it to reflect who they are, their aspirations and what they have to overcome. The show fails because it is bloating with white noise nonsense outside of the musical and the problems these characters face don’t feel like something we should care about.
More Spring Awakening would be greatly appreciated. Cutting down on the bloated plot lines would also be greatly appreciated.
Rise is available to stream on Stan. every Wednesday at 5 P.M. AEST.