Originally aired March 28, 1991. Almost everyone is worried about the SATs -- until Brenda has to deal with a more harrowing test.
Summary: It's not long before the SATs and Steve is touting a prep course to Brandon. Steve says the test could make the difference between "Princeton and Pacoima." (The latter is home to a vocational school.) Brandon doesn't believe in test prep -- and it costs $500. In the newspaper office, Brandon notes Andrea is "masticating" a pencil -- and she is convinced he has been doing SAT prep. She, too, is worried about "Princeton and Pacoima."
Meanwhile, at Kelly's house, Donna and Brenda are studying vocabulary words. Kelly is reading an article about breast cancer, including a self-exam. Brenda notes that her aunt Sheila -- Cindy's younger sister by 5 years -- died of cancer two years ago. All the girls do the self-exam; Donna and Kelly are fine but Brenda feels something. Later -- after a testy dinner with more SAT conversation -- Brenda tells Cindy about the lump. Cindy is concerned but promises to get an appointment with a doctor -- but needs help finding one. The next morning, Jim tries to console Brenda but does a bad job of it. And no one tells Brandon what is going on.
During class, Cindy shows up and takes Brenda to meet with a doctor. She promises to keep Brenda's confidences and does an examination. (We also learn that Brenda has had the lump for two months and said nothing about it.) Doctor decides to do a needle biopsy.
At school, Andrea asks Steve to share what he's learning from his SAT course. They agree to meet at Steve's that night.
The needle biopsy finds no fluid, so a surgical biopsy is called for. CIndy wants to talk privately with the doctor, but she won't talk without Brenda present. Doc says it could just be fibroadenoma or benign tumor, but given the family's cancer history she wants a full biopsy. Has an appointment Saturday -- so Brenda will miss her SATs.
Jim and Cindy fret. Brenda tells Brandon about the tumor.
Meanwhile, Steve and Andrea discuss SAT strategies. Andrea takes off her glasses. Steve kisses her. She kisses back, but then flees.
Brandon and Brenda reminisce about their aunt. At school, Brandon confides to Andrea. She is about to tell him about the Steve kiss, but holds back. "I'll always be here for you," she tells Brandon. Brenda confides to Kelly and Donna; Kelly feels guilty but Brenda says she is glad she found out about the lump.
Dylan catches Brenda in the hall. She is angry. "It's only a test," says Dylan, thinking she is fixated on the SATs. (He's waiting until senior year to take his, and plans to go surfing.) She tells him about the lump and the biopsy. He is shocked. At her house, he vows to be there for her surgery. She doesn't want him there. "You didn't even want to touch me after I told you" about the tumor, she says. He says he loves her. She snaps, "You're only saying that."
Later, she talks with Cindy. Brenda fears losing a breast, and "how could I go on a date" after that. Cindy notes that Sheila should have gotten checked sooner. Brenda calls Dylan and leaves a message that "I love you, too."
Brenda has a dream of her funeral going on simultaneously with the SATs. All the multiple-choice questions involve her; Dylan's is about why he told her he loved her, Brandon's about how long he will remember her, Kelly's about what she wants Brenda to leave her in her will. (Apparently Kelly's answer is Dylan.) Cindy calls to Brenda, waking her to get ready to go to the hospital.
SAT time. Andrea and Steve meet each other outside the test room, agree that the kiss was "just one of those things." But Kelly and Brandon overhear the test supervisor referring to Andrea and Steve as "lovebirds." Brandon can't concentrate on the test, bails, and goes to the hospital to be with Jim and Cindy. Dylan also arrives, bearing flowers; he has been to five hospitals because Brenda never told him where she was having the test.
At home, Brenda, Brandon, Dylan, Jim and Cindy are joined by Kelly and Donna. Phone rings. It's the doctor. The tumor is a fibroadenoma and Brenda is OK. Joy ensues. That night, Brandon checks on a nearly asleep Brenda, says that as awful as things were for Brenda, "it was pretty terrible for me, too ... thinking about losing you." "Don't you ever do that to me again," he says, jokingly.
Comments: As an educational tract, "It's Only a Test" works very well. It provides quite a bit of information about breast self-examination and about medical tests. It is plain-spoken about related questions, such as the relationship between Brenda's period and the lump size. And, of course, it encourages women, including the show's presumed teen audience, to check themselves and not to hide anything they find. It is so focused on providing information, I could see this being shown in classrooms during "90210's" heyday because young viewers would pay attention.
For young people obsessed with their SATs, it's also a fair reminder that there are bigger issues in life than "only a test." But it's still a bit labored as drama. Considering that it's Cindy's sister who died of cancer, I would have expected more of her emotional journey in the episode; certainly there's a strong sense of pain in the scenes Cindy does get, perhaps because Carol Potter, who plays Cindy, lost her first husband to lung cancer in 1988. You can read more about that here and here. The latter piece also includes Potter's thoughts about Cindy's role in the show.
On the subplots, the driven Andrea's SAT panic does not seem consistent with Andrea to date; she has been smart and driven, and this looks like an attempt to soften her with the audience. Steve's making a pass at her is even less plausible. She may be cute, but she's not his type -- although you could argue that Steve is attracted more because he has become a dominant figure in a power relationship with Andrea. But even there, in the West Beverly social structure, he is already above her.
Finally, there's that bizarre Brandon-Brenda dialogue at show's end. Up to this point, Brandon has been a pretty good soldier -- very caring about Brenda. After she has gone through the trauma and uncertainty of the biopsy, he still tries to make it about himself. Just another reminder of Brandon's self-absorption, even when he's trying to say something caring.
-- When lamenting that they still don't have a family doctor, Cindy notes that the Walshes have been in Beverly Hills for six months, which would indicate the show is moving in something close to real time. The same thing will apply in the next episode, "April Is the Cruelest Month," which airs in April.
-- The doctor is played by Melinda Culea, a seasoned TV performer who was part of the original cast of "The A-Team" (before it basically became a boys' club).
-- When the girls are studying vocabulary, Kelly's use of "apotheosis" is "Patrick Swayze is the apotheosis of adorable."
-- Steve's room includes a neon, partially obscured "Heartbeat of America" sign, a slogan and logo for Chevrolet.
-- Although Brandon and Brenda both miss their SATs, in the next episode -- "April Is the Cruelest Month" -- they get their scores at the same time as their friends.
-- From the credits: "The copyright of S.A.T. is a registered trademark of The College Board."