SVH #92: She’s Not What She Seems

21 May

shesnotwhatsheseems

Estimated Elapsed Time: 5 weeks, tops

Summary/Overview:

Sweet Valley High’s theater is putting on a production of Macbeth, and Jessica is determined to play the lead (kind of?) of Lady Macbeth.  She sacrifices time with friends and with Sam to prepare for the auditions, and she totally knocks each round out of the park.  Even Lila, who is a very good actress as well, doesn’t stand a chance in the shadow of Jessica.  It helps that the shy, quiet new girl Paula Perrine has been helping Jessica get ready.  She helps her run lines and feeds her ego to a creepy, bizarre degree.  Jessica nabs the lead, obviously, and her opposite is Bill Chase.  Lila gets cast as one of the witches.  After Jessica encourages her to do so, Paula tries out for the role of Lady Macbeth’s gentlewoman and gets it.

From there, she starts hanging out with the gang more.  After a makeover from Jessica, she really comes out of her shell, flirting with the assistant director and generally grabbing the attention of Jessica’s friends.  Jessica starts to feel uneasy about it, but both she and Liz (and everyone else) bought her sob story about her dead mother and abusive, alcoholic father, so they mostly feel sorry for her.

As the days go by, Jessica becomes increasingly paranoid about Paula and her motivations.  She frames situations so Jessica blows up at her because Paula didn’t do something she promised and makes herself look like total victim while Jessica looks like an asshole.  This isn’t hard, as Jessica is an asshole, but Paula is also a master manipulator.  She also starts cutting out Jessica from activities with the friend group.  Then, when Jennifer Mitchell gets mono and has to drop out as Jessica’s understudy, Paula steps up and doesn’t actually tell Jessica.  She’s also taken to wearing much better clothes and makeup at school, but still dresses way down when she and Jessica rehearse privately.

Things come to a head the night of the play’s opening, when Paula calls Jessica during a thunderstorm, crying about her alcoholic father and asking if Jessica can come get her from Cold Springs.  Jessica obliges, and it doesn’t take her long to realize she’s being played in a major way.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth figures out that Paula has been lying about her parents the entire time just before the play starts, with Paula set to go on in Jessica’s absence.

At Lila’s cast party that night, Jessica confronts Paula in front of everyone, and all her friends applaud after Paula leaves, still pretty smug about her performance.  The next day, at the Wakefield’s pool party, Paula shows up, still smug and positively delusional, and when she doesn’t receive the warm welcome she expects, she turns to leave, falling into the pool.  She storms off.  The world makes sense again.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • Plot convenience: Steven is taking a Shakespeare class at college and is full of factoids about the play
  • Jessica likes strawberry milkshakes from Casey’s
  • School let out early because of the play’s opening night performance. What an institution of learning!
  • Luke Perry gets a mention.  Yikes.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘I don’t want to discourage you, Annie,’ said Jessica, ‘but you ought to be more realistic. You don’t have a chance at playing Lady Macbeth. Not with me trying out.'” (10)
  • “‘Oh yes,’ said Paula, almost in a whisper. ‘Everyone knows who all of you are.'” (32) [Blogger’s note: How is this not the creepiest thing they’ve ever seen?]
  • “It’s pouring outside, Prince Albert. That’s got to be bad luck on opening night. It never rains in Sweet Valley; it must be the Macbeth curse.” (121)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

There are a lot of things about this one that I actually really like.  For one, I was once in Macbeth, and so the play is near and dear to my heart.  But I also remember really liking this one as a kid, probably because it featured acting (my favorite thing) and crazy single white female shenanigans (another great thing).  As an adult, I actually still found this one pretty compelling, if not a little ridiculous.  There are several things that don’t work for me here:

Paula is a total creeper from page one, and I have a hard time that people wouldn’t get the heebie-jeebies from her.  She lays it on so thick that it’s impossible not to feel like something is off about her, and while the Sweet Valley kids have proven themselves to be the dumbest, densest teens around time and time again, it still feels like a little much.

Part of this has to do with the exchange Jessica has with Sam on page 104:

“Jessica, I don’t know what’s wrong with you lately…But you seem to go off the deep end whenever Paula’s involved…It’s not like you to be so paranoid.”

“Sam,” Jessica said, trying to stay calm, “I am not paranoid. But Paula is trying to sabotage me somehow. You’ve got to believe me!”

The thing is, if Sam knows her as well as we’re supposed to believe, he would know it’s not like her to be so crazy paranoid about Paula.  It’s weird to me that she’d be able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes like that.  Eh, whatever.  Sweet Valley, am I right?

The other thing that stood out to me was that when Jessica gets the call from Paula saying she needs rescuing, there’s a clap of thunder on Jessica and on Paula’s end.  If she’s in Silver Springs, you idiot, you would not hear the same clap of thunder miles and miles away.  Whatever. I’m probably overthinking it.

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