The Big Door Prize S1E3: Jacob

Last week’s episode, “Cass,” was still largely about Dusty, and his discomfort at the gap between his wife’s potential (Royalty) and his own (Teacher/Whistler). But while we get a few moments of their passive/aggressive marriage drama, this episode is squarely about Jacob.

After rescuing the school principal after a motorcycle accident last week, it’s revealed that his card reads “Hero.” And that doesn’t sit well with him, as someone who’s not comfortable being the center of attention.

We already know his brother Kolton recently died in a car accident. We now learn Kolton was his twin, and their mother also died some years previously. Their father largely shut down, and while Kolton was the popular, outgoing basketball star, Jacob was the one quietly holding things together for the family.

But Jacob doesn’t even have that unhappy status quo to hold onto. His dad was inspired to quit his job, not by Morpho, but by Jacob’s newfound heroism. (Which Jacob himself downplays as simply knowing how to use a phone to call 911.) Dad is now frantically trying to overcompensate for his lack of parenting, and Jacob’s more embarrassed than encouraged by his newly engaged paterfamilias.

Jacob also gets railroaded into being the star of the pep rally before the school’s basketball game. Principal Pat traditionally did a pre-game slam dunk off of a trampoline, and with her injured, Jacob gets nominated to take her place, despite having no particular interest or skill.

Now, plotwise, this is all typical sitcom stuff, and it goes exactly as you’d expect. But like any good story, this episode is about more than just the plot. The real throughline here is that, as much as Jacob has suddenly become the center of attention, no one actually sees him. He’s adrift without his brother and his mom, and with his dad checked out and unreliable, he has no one to turn to.

He even goes to a doctor about stress and shortness of breath, and ends up spilling out his whole story. But instead of diagnosing or reassuring, she opens up about her own impostor syndrome… sparked by a Morpho card that says “undertaker.” Everyone else is too wrapped up in their own issues to care about what Jacob’s going through.

In fact, the only person who gives Jacob any actual comfort is Trina, who was dating Jacob’s brother when he died. If anyone has reason to want to avoid him, it’s her, but at the same time, they understand Kolton’s loss better than anyone around them. 

But to everyone else, he’s the town’s newly minted hero. And when he gets to the pep rally, we realize that he’s not really there to replace the principal. He’s there to stand in for his brother. It’s too much to put on him; as a mere mortal awkward teenager, he can’t possibly live up to the memory of his now-sainted brother.

So we go through the cycle that we only now realize we’ve been going through since the series began. People unfairly project onto Jacob what they want to, and when he fails to live up to that, he hides from the unwanted attention. And how he breaks out of that cycle isn’t clear so far.

And in the meantime, there’s someone else whose problems are being ignored. The adults get together for a drink before the basketball game, oblivious to Father Reuben’s sour mood. Something’s eating at him, and unsurprisingly, it’s Morpho. He still hasn’t used the machine, and at this point might be the last holdout in the cast, if not in the whole town. When everyone else goes off to watch the game, he agonizes for a bit, and then tries the machine. The effect his card has on him is no less profound than it was on Dusty, but while Dusty has had a slow unraveling, Father Reuben’s reaction is immediate. We’ll deal with the fallout in the next episode, which focuses on him.

Stray potential:
• The episode opens on Jacob being the first one to discover Morpho, skipping quickly past the user agreement to get to his card. There’s a small chance that might become important later, but it’s more likely acknowledging the universal experience that we all skip past the user agreement.

• Dusty can’t seem to steer his lesson plans away from Morpho. For someone whose potential is “teacher,” he’s not actually a very good one, although that seems to be a post-Morpho development.

• “Principal Pat said she’d give $1,000 to the library if she missed. And she’s never missed. Which is why our library is just terrible.”