I’ve missed writing about The Wonder Years. I haven’t recapped The Wonder Years since February. One of the reasons I took a short hiatus was writer’s block. I couldn’t find the correct words to capture the episode’s meaning. I’ve run into this issue several times now over the course of my watching this show (hence my long gaps between recaps). I suspect that the writer’s block seems to have a purpose. I noticed that whenever I have to do a second re-watch of the show, my experiences at the time match with the show’s message. The episode always teach me something new on my situation. It’s as if I wasn’t fated to watch the episode the first time around.
That’s exactly what happened with this episode, “The Unnatural.” The episode focuses on dreams and our belief in our potential to achieve these goals. I’ve been contemplating these themes recently because I started a new job. I’ve had to re-build both my confidence and my optimism that I can succeed in the role. Kevin faces similar struggles, though his internal debate is on his potential in baseball.
The episode opens on young (pre-Wonder Years) Kevin playing baseball. Adult Kevin narrates the scenes, describing how every kid grows up to dream of being a hero. At five, Kevin dreamt of being a baseball hero. Two lines in this narration particularly stood out for me: “Of course, when you’re five, the dream doesn’t seem out of reach… You’ve got the one things that matters most – potential.”
These words took me back to my own childhood. As a child, I convinced myself that my visions of being a famous singer would come true. Kevin’s words reminded me how magical and joyful those feelings and thoughts were. I loved that the episode opening briefly re-kindled those forgotten feelings within me. Reminding me of these feelings helped me better relate to Kevin’s mindset and experiences within the storyline.
From this powerful opening on Kevin’s childhood, the next scene then shows teenage Kevin in the junior high school hallway. He is trying to convince Paul not to sign-up for baseball tryouts. He himself also refuses to try-out after Paul asks him. Since those early days of playing baseball to junior high, Kevin has given up on his dream of being a baseball hero. He knows that he and Paul don’t have the right skill set and talent to make the team. Paul, in contrast, ignores facts and holds onto those childhood dreams that anything is possible with baseball
Kevin reluctantly goes to watch Paul try-out. When Paul attempts to hit the ball (and fails), Kevin coaches him from the sidelines. Despite Kevin’s help, Paul strikes out. However, the baseball coach overhears Kevin helping Paul and invites him to try hitting. Given his cynicism, Kevin is not too keen. However, when he hits the ball really far on the first hit, Kevin is stunned and proud of himself.
Later in the evening, Jack Arnold overhears Kevin talking about his baseball feat. Jack shows interest, surprising Kevin. Jack doesn’t always pay attention to Kevin’s activities. Thus, Kevin is eager to impress his dad. Kevin tells Jack that the baseball coach invited him to continue trying out. Adult Kevin’s commentary – in response to his dad’s reaction is sweet and hilarious: “There’s nothin’ quite like the feeling you get when your father “Hmms” at you with pride..Yup, when your dad looked at you like that, you felt like you could do anything.”
Kevin slowly starts to believe in his old dream again and his potential. The episode opening helped me conjure up the excitement and positivity Kevin felt at that moment.
Unfortunately, Kevin’s belief in his baseball potential lasts only so long. He makes a lot of mistakes during the next few days of tryouts. Yet, he continues to make the cut for subsequent tryouts. Kevin grows suspicious to the reasons when he learns that his dad- who has been visiting him during tryouts- and baseball coach were in the army together. Through the remainder of his tryouts, Kevin doesn’t think he made it on merit. He envisions his dad and baseball coach made a deal to keep Kevin on the team.
In many ways, Kevin’s cynicism about his skill set is an accurate reflection how life unwinds. As a child, we have no concept of barriers for ourselves and the world at large. Our limited understanding of how things function lets us see the world with more innocent and optimistic eyes. As we get older, our additional knowledge taints that innocent viewpoint/hope from childhood. We don’t realize this change on our confidence until we get a reminder about our past feelings and compare it to who we are today.
This episode did that for me. I contrasted the dreamy feelings the episode opening re-ignited in me to my recent day-to-day feelings. I’ve felt unsure and negative about my capabilities. I felt a loss and sadness for losing the belief in my potential. I wondered how much more I could have accomplished or how much easier job transitions would be if I had retained that hopeful attitude.
The episode ending however, leaves both the audience and Kevin on a positive note. Kevin ultimately realizes – after he does get cut from the team- his coach and his dad truly did see promise in him. He had made it through tryouts without his dad’s help. He regains a portion of his imaginative and hopeful nature when he takes his last hit. The concluding message is that while it sometimes takes others’ for us to see our potential, all is not lost in re-gaining our belief in our unlimited potential. The closing scene to emphasize is the perfect, bookending, contrasting shot to the first scene.