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"Beverly Hills, 90210" Flashback: "April Is the Cruelest Month"

By admin Published: September 19, 2008

MP
(From Handbag.com)

Originally aired April 11, 1991. Brandon interviews a tennis star, Donna worries that she's stupid.

Summary: Brandon watches tennis star Roger Azarian (Matthew Perry) practice. He wants an interview with the elusive Roger, and finally gets him to agree. Meanwhile, Brenda, Kelly and Donna are awaiting their SAT results -- although Donna is more interested in shopping. Brandon tells Andrea about the Roger interview; she is excited. Brandon asks Steve about Roger, learns that he's a rich kid with an up-from-nothing father; Steve's mother almost married Roger's dad when he owned a studio.

At home, Cindy is working on taxes. Brenda arrives, opens SAT scores: 1190, 630 math and 560 verbal. She wants to see if she did better than Brandon but has to wait. Donna looks uncomfortable about the SAT talk.

Brandon is at Roger's house. Big spread. Brandon admires the gun collection; Roger shows him a Walther PPK, which he says "used to belong to Dashiell Hammett." Back at the house, Cindy and Jim discuss their budget and taxes; Jim offers to help, but Cindy notes that he always offers -- then goes off to do his clients' taxes while she is stuck with the "shoebox from hell." Jim wants to bet on which kid had the better SAT; Cindy refuses.

Brandon prepares for the interview with Roger. Roger doesn't want it recorded. Roger's father shows up, mentions both Roger's attempt to get into Stanford and Roger's screenplay, which Brandon gets to borrow.

When he returns home, Brandon checks his SATs. Also 1190 -- but with the math and verbal scores the reverse of Brenda's. Brenda spots Roger's screenplay and wants to read it. She does, as does Brandon. The main character resembles Roger and talks about killing his father. Brandon is disturbed.

Kelly calls with her SAT scores: 1050, 540 verbal, 510 math. Brenda mentions Roger. Kelly says, "Not only do I know him, but I KNOW him." But she says he dumped her after Roger's father decided she wasn't good enough. More screenplay, more talk about patricide. Brandon worries more, and asks Andrea how the "rap line" helps people. She says they listen.

Kelly is thinking about college. Donna doesn't want to think about it. The girls have a test in class. Donna writes nothing, then claims there is a problem with her contact lens and she has to leave. Brandon talks to Roger about his "wild imagination" but Roger says "truth is stranger than fiction." He offers Brandon his Dodgers season tickets, since he won't be using them. Brandon asks Dylan if he ever wanted to hurt his father -- and how he kept from going over the edge. "You," Dylan says. "And your sister."

The gang spots Donna in the parking lot. Smoking!!!

We see Roger in therapy, angry and wishing his father was dead. Then we see him go home, get a gun and shoot his father. But then we see Brandon engrossed in the screenplay; it appears the two previous scenes with Roger are from the script. But real-life Roger has issues, growing angry at Steve the next day when Steve mentions Roger's father.

A school counselor congratulates Kelly and Brenda on their SAT scores, then tells them Donna has missed "a meeting." Donna in fact is not in school. Leaving school, Brandon rides with Roger so they can finish their interview; Dylan is driving Brenda. Roger offers to race Dylan, who passes. Roger speeds off, and Dylan says "what that guy's got is a death wish." Brenda sees Donna in a store; Donna is chilly at first but confesses her SAT scores -- 300 math, 330 verbal. Brenda says "it's only a test" (the title of the previous episode, which also had the SAT in it) but Donna says her mother thinks she's stupid.

At Roger's house, Brandon admires his car and Roger says "I'll leave it to you in my will." He asks if the character in Roger's script is Roger. "Get real, Walsh," Roger replies. Inside, a letter has arrived from Stanford; Roger didn't get in and his father is angry. Brandon overhears, and then finds a gun in Roger's car. Calls the rap line for help, then shows Jim the screenplay. Jim thinks Brandon should talk to Roger, that "maybe he needs a friend." Brandon goes to Roger's house, finds no one. The next day at school, he looks for Roger, who hasn't been there; he realizes Roger might be in his pool house and borrows Dylan's car.

Donna meets with a counselor. She tells Donna that she might have a learning disability. Donna thinks at first that's another way of saying she is stupid. But she calms down. Later, she will tell Kelly and Donna that her disability has "some fancy name," she gets to take an oral SAT, so she can think about college.

Brandon finds Roger at the pool house. He is drunk and has a gun. He doesn't want to kill his father. He wants to kill himself. He feels inadequate in comparison. But Brandon talks Roger out of shooting himself. Later, he sees Roger at the hospital. Roger's father has just been visiting, and is getting help, too. Brandon offers not to write about the suicide attempt, but Roger wants his story told. He has given the Dodger tickets to Steve and Dylan, and watches the game with Roger on a pocket TV.

Comments: A generally weak episode. The lack of greater alarm about Roger's behavior is tough to swallow, and from early on he's demonstrating textbook signs of suicide; he keeps giving things away. In addition, the suicide story is played too much like a murder mystery (screenplay), and that takes away even more of the dramatic potential. Nor does the Donna storyline do much -- odd that the word "dyslexia" is never used, especially since this became known as the "Donna has dyslexia" 'sode. But I suppose they thought they had to give Donna, and Tori Spelling, something to do -- although there's really no heavy lifting other than her confessional scene at the store. And I would like to say that Matthew Perry shows all the indications of his future stardom. But nope. Just a performance that wouldn't be noteworthy if he didn't go on to star in "Friends." On the plus side, Brandon's self-righteousness doesn't flare up in this episode, and Dylan's saying that Brandon and Brenda are helping him is an interesting item for future development.

Other notes:

-- The title comes from T.S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land" (with Cindy referring to Eliot's line in the episode). It's the opening of the first section, "The Burial of the Dead":
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

-- In the previous episode, Brandon and Brenda both missed their SATs, but they get their scores the same time as Kelly and Donna. (Dylan, we know, did not take the test with the rest of them. If there was a mention of Steve's scores, I missed it.)

-- Matthew Perry, 21 when this episode aired, was in fact a successful junior tennis player in Canada.

-- The reference to Dashiell Hammett, author of "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Thin Man," as a former owner of the Walther PPK puzzles me. I can't find another mention of Hammett's association with that gun. And the gun is associated with James Bond, which would have been a more obvious reference for Roger to make.

-- When he's looking for Roger at school in one late scene, Brandon refers to him as "Zane" and "Roger Zane."

-- A late added mention which I kept forgetting to include: Roger holds the gun very awkwardly when he is threatening suicide -- implausibly so. If memory serves, there were some broadcast restrictions on guns being in people's faces, which may explain the clumsy gesture.

For more "Beverly Hills 90210" flashbacks, see previous posts or the section on the right rail of the home page.

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