How Do You Talk to an Angel?

“One Wedding and a Funeral” is a terrible name for Beverly Hills 90210’s most crucial episode. It’s too glib by half, it’s spoilery, and its outdated reference further dates an already anachronistic show. More importantly, the title doesn’t do the episode justice.

90210 was never the same after “One Wedding,” as it marked the truest departure of Dylan Michael McKay. Luke Perry had left the show before, and he would return again, but this particular exit marked a flashpoint between the show at its peak, and the show in sharp decline. By the time Perry returned, the cast was bloated and unrecognizable.

Jason Priestly was also gone.

The relationship between Dylan and Brandon lay at the very heart of the show. It was a ’90s take on Richie and The Fonz. The romantic entanglements and triangles that attracted viewers were actually a smokescreen — bells and whistles disguising the fact that this was a show about male friendship.

Dylan and Brandon. Brandon and Dylan. They’ve become icons to such an extent (our generation’s Beatles or Rolling Stones), that we’ve lost track of the characters. Who they were, and what they meant to each other.

“One Wedding and a Funeral” places their relationship center-stage, as preparations are laid for Dylan’s departure. And Brandon doesn’t exactly come off well in the process.

The episode contains at least a half-season’s worth of plot (SPOILER ALERT):

  • The Walsh house hosts Dylan’s bachelor party (this should have been an episode unto itself)
  • Dylan gets married
  • Dylan’s wife gets murdered
  • The titular funeral
  • Dylan skips town

The rush of these events is exhilarating, but the emotional impact is diminished by the speed at which they happen. So much attention was paid making this episode an “event,” that character motivations were forgotten. (Note: this is not the only time character motivations were ignored in the long, glorious history of 90210.)

The centerpiece of the episode is the mob killing of Dylan’s lovely bride, Antonia:

What’s most stunning about that scene is Brandon’s reaction. He watches his best friend (I know some would argue Steve Sanders is his best friend — those people don’t understand life) pull the bloody, bullet-ridden corpse of his new wife out of a car, cradle her body, and scream, “Look what they did to her, Brandon!”

What does Brandon do? Does he call the cops? Does he rush to his friend’s side to try to help? Does he offer comfort?

No.

He stands there with his hands in his pockets, looking awkward and mildly sad.

Brandon is supposed to be The Good Guy. The righteous one. The moral center of the 90210 universe. If anyone should know what to do and how to act in such a shocking, horrific situation, it should be him.

I’m not claiming I’d know what to do in that scenario. But I’m not Brandon Walsh. At the very least, he should have looked surprised, or angry, or mortally sad. Instead, he seems to have an “I told you so” smirk, and looks like he’s in a hurry to get out of the rain.

The death scene itself isn’t the only time Brandon acts in a questionable fashion.

When Bruno, Tony Marchette’s henchman, figures out that his boss is going to try to kill Dylan, he calls the Peach Pit to warn Brandon (naturally; that’s what henchman do — call local teen hangouts looking for the BFFs of hit targets). Instead of, I don’t know, calling the cops, Brandon hops in his car and drives to Dylan’s house to warn him. When Dylan tells Brandon that Toni has already left in his car, the two of them again set out on the road instead of calling the authorities for help.

In this case, Brandon’s mistakes are born of stupidity, not emotional inertia. But that stupidity may have gotten his pal’s wife shot.

Finally, Dylan, after electing not to shoot his father-in-law out of revenge in the graveyard immediately after his wife’s funeral (a questionable decision, but we’ll leave that discussion for the next 9/02/10), readies himself to leave town.

Brandon stops by to say his goodbyes. They shake hands. Brandon wishes Dylan luck and watches him drive off. Umm…what? Let me repeat this for emphasis: DYLAN’S WIFE OF ONE DAY WAS GUNNED DOWN LIKE A DOG IN THE STREET. Maybe you should convince your best friend to go to therapy. Or at least not drive a motorcycle. Or give it the old college try to convince him to stay in town, at least until his head clears.

And a handshake? I think this occasion might call for a goddamn hug.

“One Wedding and a Funeral” exposes Brandon’s failings as a friend. He’s inherently a selfish person, and it shows here more than at any other time. Dylan deserved better in his hour of need. Despite their mutual interest in Kelly Taylor, Dylan innately trusted Brandon — he believed in the very Walsh-ness at the core of his being. But Brandon proved unable to follow in the responsible footsteps of his father.

I think that, deep down, Antonia’s death confirmed Brandon’s secret, deep-held belief that Dylan was a bad person, and that his involvement with the various nefarious characters in his life brought about the death of his wife karmically. This makes Brandon a hypocrite in addition to being a bad friend.

So, kids, as we all celebrate this historic day, and pour a little out for the Noxzema Girl, just remember that Brandon Walsh is no role model. Heroin-shooting, Byron-quoting Dylan McKay is the one you want your sons to end up like and your daughter to marry (provided your daughters have no Mob ties).

In the great Dylan/Brandon debate of the 20th century, “One Wedding and a Funeral” provides a clear answer.

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Filed under Television Has AIDS, The Dilemma

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