Sophia_kidnation_240Wednesday (Dec. 5) night’s Kid Nation began with our pint-sized pioneers up to Day 35 of their social experiment/forced labor camp. With only five days to go, the focus began to shift from general childish belligerence to the kind of crushing premature nostalgia only possible amongst those of either limited or boundless years.

[Cuteness and preternatural braininess will be spoiled.]

I have to confess that this week’s episode was a bit of a disappointment after last week’s orgy of chicken-killing, Taylor-taunting, arcade-choosing and fun-having.

They set things up at the end of the last episode for Sophia to go on the mother of all power-plays and Wednesday’s episode began with more of the same. The 30-Year-Old Trapped In the Body of a 14-Year-Old started by doing one of her usual sociological experiments. Sophia, who danced for money and hid change in a pot of goo just to see the reaction of her fellow kids, started by laying claim to a small square of land in the middle of Main Street. Her theory was that by demarcating her territory and taking personal ownership of public space, she could make everybody suddenly covet only that particular plot of previously unremarkable dirt. Beyond the most insignificant of tussles, though, no drama came of her test and the verification of her basic hypothesis probably disappointed her as well.

Fresh off that muted amusement, the Pioneer Journal offered alternative hope. The original residents of Bonanza City, it turns out, spent too much time killing and enslaving and deporting Native Americans and not enough time learning from them. The cumulative wisdom of the uprooted indigenous people would be so crucial to the last half-a-week in town that the council was sent packing for a hike through the mountains. As what can only be figured as a sick joke, the council left Sheriff Sophia in town, prompting Gold Star winner Nathan ("You’re giving Sophia a lot of power and we didn’t elect her.") and Gold Star loser Olivia ("Nobody would have voted her in.") to raise a stink and Mike to worry that Sophia might become the Great Bonanza City Dictator.

Me, I *hoped* Sophia would become the Great Bonanza City Dictator, overthrowing the status quo and shaking up the dominant paradigm. Instead, Sophia turned out to be like Mussolini only without the repression and capitulation to genocidal dictators. She mostly just made the trains run on time. She refused to open the arcade, which was initially promising, but she went around telling people that if they did their work, she’d throw open the gaming floodgates. And then, much to my chagrin, Sophia did exactly as promised. When her forceful but encouraging reinforcement had its desired effect and the saloon and store and dishes were as clean as they’d ever been, she opened up the arcade, after making a speech telling everybody how well they’d done. It was disgustingly fair-minded and genial, so genial Taylor hugged Sophia and told her that she hoped Greg got devoured by coyotes.

Instead, Greg, Blaine, DK and Michael went into the wilderness and came upon the most accurate depiction of a foreign culture since I rode the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland. At least in the Happiest Place on Earth, I was able to accompany an 15-month-old child whose clapping and amazement compensated for the stereotypical clogs-n-bonnets. The council stumbled into a Pueblo tribe consisting of two Teepees, two braves and one squaw. They were then treated to a welcome dance, a fire ceremony, several minutes of Native wisdom and a tutorial on the finer points of casino rights.

Other facets of the episode:

Jared_kidnation_240Showdown: Each district had to transplant a house, two chickens, an alpaca (Sophia observed "An alpaca is a cross between a sheep and a giraffe… I think.") and a flag up a hill in honor of the Homestead Act, a piece of legislation known only to Jared (whose knowledge was greeted with eye-rolling by Olivia, whose parents have taught her that the Earth is only 75 years-old). It was a challenge that required strength and leadership, an dicey proposition with the council off on their vision quest. During the task, we saw Leila fall into a cactus, Jared drop a roof on his foot and learned that Guylan’s parents are elephant trainers, so it was a moderate success. All four teams completed the job within an hour, with Green winning upper class.

Reward: They had a choice between a large permanent monument to their achievement in Bonanza City ("We weathered a wave of bad publicity and a child labor investigation and were able to secure a mediocre 18-49 demo rating") and a hot air balloon ride over the city. Mike summed it up nicely saying, "It’s once in a lifetime or for all-time." For reasons I can’t guess, Sophia’s unilateral choice was the balloon ride, which made the kids happy. For the reward, they got to go up in five balloons which were very closely tethered to the ground. Tricky editing made it unclear whether or not there were adults in the balloons (besides the camera people). Everybody was very happy and tears flowed like root beer.

Gold Star nominations. The episode set up three possible choices. The first two were egg-headed partners-in-crime Alex and Jared, who discovered a skeleton and identified the bones. Their candidacy jibed well thematically with the wisdom imparted to the council by the local medicine man, who taught DK to look beyond the obvious. The other option was Migle, whose incredible improvement earned the support of Olivia, Taylor and Alex. In the episode’s lone tense moment, Zach came in and tearfully nominated himself, which caused Greg to giggle and Zach to storm out in a huff. While DK rebuffed Greg for his behavior, Zach became increasingly angry and stormed back in and called the council several bad names, only to be coddled by Greg. I’d actually kind of thought that Zach had won a Gold Star at some point and wondered why he thought he deserved a second, but I looked and was reminded that in the episode he should have won, he was elected to the council instead. In deliberations, Greg argued that giving Alex the Star would be like funding cancer research.

Alex_kidnation_240 The Gold Star winner. Alex was triumphant and made a speech where he declared that $20,000 is both a lot of money and not much money at all, explaining the concept of a paradox to the town. Jared was initially ticked off, but rationalized, "It’s not that bad. Let’s just say if I get the Nobel Prize, that’s a lot more Gold Stars."

The episode ended with an emotional party at the saloon and if you thought there was blubbering this week, next week’s looks like the end of summer camp.

What’d you think of the episode? Of the Gold Star choice? Of Sheriff Sophia? Of the disappointly un-unruly alpaca?

Posted by:Daniel Fienberg