Episode Reviewed: How to Sink a Sub (700)
Writer: Kathy Buchanan
Director: Bob Hoose
Sound Designer: Nathan Jones
Music: John Campbell
Love always trusts
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:7
Original Airdate: 12/03/11

Review Written by: Ben Warren, Staff Writer

Rating (out of 5):


Episode Summary

When Katrina becomes their substitute teacher, Jay and Valerie rouse the class to revolt, even persuading Olivia to help with a plan to get Katrina fired.


The Review

A few months ago I watched Warrior, a mixed-martial arts film featuring two protagonists destined to fight each other at the end of the film. And when that moment finally arrives, as they stand on opposite ends of the ring, you aren't sure whose side you're on. Today's show, How to Sink a Sub reminded me that film; the episode's two main characters, Katrina Meltsner and Olivia Parker, are both sympathetic characters and, in their own ways, both in the right, but must face each other on opposite ends of the classroom.

At first, I found myself on Olivia Parker's side. All students have experienced "bad" substitutes or teachers. Just a year ago, my new literature professor gave me grades I didn't think I deserved. All my other professors, in all my other classes, consistently gave me the same grade in every literature essay I handed in to them. Not this one, however. Like Olivia, I approached him and showed him how his grades were so different from the other professors, but he wouldn't budge. It was frustrating.

Not only was Olivia's situation easy to identify with because I had a similar experience, but because the students themselves were given legitimate frustrations. Although Jay and Valerie complained simply because they seemed to enjoy it, I rarely felt like the episode automatically made the complaints of the students invalid simply because they were children and Katrina was an adult. When writing this episode, it would have been easy to have made the student's complaints unreasonable; however, Buchanan ensures we notice how detached and unfair Katrina is on her first day to help us empathize with Olivia and the other students.

After all, how dare she, as a substitute, extend the length of Mrs. Gomez's papers! How dare she make them submit "properly formatted reference page"! How dare she give Olivia a lower grade on an assignment already graded by Ms. Gomez. Five minutes into the episode, the listener is quickly on the student's side, plotting with them, and yelling "this is unjust!".

And then the listener's perspective changes. Halfway through the episode, we slowly begin to sympathize with Katrina. As she wins Olivia over, she wins us over, too. Helping this transition are the quieter, domestic exchanges between Eugene and Katrina interspersed throughout the classroom scenes. Hearing them discuss the problem at school humanized her. What is also unique about How to Sink a Sub is the fact that Katrina usually plays second fiddle to Eugene Meltsner's character...but not today. The roles have reversed. The less Eugene hides Katrina away in his home like Mr. Rochester's hid his mad wife, the better.

Including the strong addition of Principal Vogler and a significant improvement on Olivia's personality, careful attention to character helped to carry the episode just as much as the story did. Those who listened to this episode on CD or Digital Download probably noticed a bonus feature in which Bob Hoose directs Rochelle Greenwood on how to capture the right attitude and personality of Valerie. While I don't know whether this episode was recorded before
Anger Mismanagement or You're Two Kind, she certainly seems to have settled more comfortably into her role, staying away from the cruel, "mean girl" stereotype. Jay, too, was noticeably at the top of his game. The recurring joke that he really did know everything Katrina taught despite his complaints was hysterical. He and Valerie make a strong, antagonistic pair. However, this begs the question: what happened to Vance King?

Some of my favorite episodes have taken place inside a classroom or school-yard, such as Faster Than a Speeding Ticket and Another Man's Shoes. Episodes such as these work so well because they focus on the injustices of the student, exploring them without trivializing and diminishing the seriousness of their situation. For this reason, I was amazed how involved I was in How to Sink a Sub. Its characters are well-utilized and fully realized, the story is well-plotted and nicely paced. This may not be the show's 700th good episode, but it is invariably a good 700th episode. This also is one of my personal favorites since the hiatus and one of Kathy Buchanan's best episodes to date, too.





PS: There were several references made to famous works of literature throughout this episode: Robert Frost's poems, Moby Dick, Uncle Tom's Cabin, A Tale of Two Cities. Just how many works of literature are these kids studying?



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