‘Looking for Alaska’ episode 2: The Colonel makes this adaptation great

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We analyze Hulu’s Looking for Alaska episode 2 while we fall in love with both Denny Love’s Colonel and the changes made to his story.

Hulu’s Looking for Alaska adaptation really finds its footing on episode 2. Now that we’re used to the overall feel of the miniseries, the great acting and characterization kick in — to the point that it made me question: Did I just forget that John Green wrote about a Debutante Ball prank?

Well, I didn’t. Said ball does not exist in the novel. But this plotline serves to further elevate the Colonel’s story in what has to be one of the best performances of the year. (Give Denny Love an award, please!)

Let’s break down the differences between episode 2 and the book:

looking for alaska gang

Miles chooses a side

In episode 2, Miles has been accepted into the Colonel, Alaska and Takumi’s group — but he still has to prove himself. With the Weekday Warriors suspecting the Colonel of being the rat, the team plans to retaliate hardcore. But they need to know that Miles won’t tell.

This entire episode is different people confronting Miles about his commitment — how loyal is he, really? Loyal enough to potentially harm others with a prank? Loyal enough to stay silent and therefore harm himself? And more importantly, are his new friends loyal to him?

The miniseries has the advantage of time here, allowing us to really absorb the small decisions that create the group’s dynamic, especially Miles’ dynamic with the Colonel and with Alaska. It feels a lot more prominent in the show than in the book, but it never drags on… perhaps because the first third of the episode is pretty much word-for-word John Green: Bufriedos, last words that avoid truces, Miles getting kicked out of the Old Man’s class, etc.

No Miles staring down Alaska’s shirt as she crouches over clovers, though, which I think is a service to their characters and to all of us.

The Colonel’s fight for respect

Let’s talk about the Colonel.

The miniseries’ Colonel has the same humor, wit and passion that novel!Colonel does, but with a great deal more depth — even though he was already far from two-dimensional in the novel. The screenwriters took every aspect of the Colonel’s character and unpacked it, making this show, in many ways, just as much about him as it is about Alaska.

Miles’ group of friends have many issues, but no one faces more obstacles than the Colonel. While Alaska self-sabotages with alcohol and bad behavior, the Colonel — for the most part — is just trying be respected in a space where others routinely undermine him for being short, being poor, and being Black.

In no part of the novel does it say that the Colonel is Black, and being Black doesn’t particularly change his character… but when the Weekday Warriors pick Chip Martin to bully out of the crowd, instead of anyone else, or when Sara’s father keeps him from joining her on stage, his race brings a lot more meaning to every interaction. It also makes the Colonel’s rage a lot more understandable, even if his actions aren’t always justified.

In this episode, the Colonel is determined to look just as elegant as the Weekday Warriors when he escorts Sara at the Debutante Ball. He writes essays for other students to save up for a suit, risking punishment for academic dishonesty, and works so hard that Sara confronts him. That’s when he learns that he can’t escort her to the Ball at all: That’s something only other (rich, white) members of the club can do.

The Colonel actually takes this added form of exclusion with grace, even when it undermines his money-saving efforts. He knows this is important to Sara, and so he respects the tradition — even if it means joining an audience that doesn’t want him there. He buys his extremely expensive suit, a suit that represents his ambition to one day be valued and respected in society the way he deserves to be.

That’s why, when the Weekday Warriors respond to the Colonel’s many pranks by destroying his suit — not understanding, we hope, the gravity of what they’ve done — it’s a particularly painful injustice. An injustice that warrants revenge, even when the Colonel doesn’t want it.

looking for alaska prank

The Debutante Ball

After the damage to the Colonel’s suit, Alaska orchestrates an attack with laxatives on the Weekday Warriors when they’re at their most exposed: the Debutante Ball.

This episode is probably one of the most exciting ones of the series because it relies on pranks, a staple of YA cinema, reminiscent of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or a million other teenage school adventures. It works gloriously, even though the prank is both cheesy and not book canon. And it serves to show us two important aspects of who Alaska is:

One: Alaska’s stubborn selfishness, which leads her to openly go against her best friend’s wishes just because she wants to prove a point.

Two: Alaska and the Colonel’s profound friendship, which shines through both in the quiet moments and in the wild prank.

It’s this friendship that gives Looking for Alaska depth in the miniseries — perhaps even more so than Alaska’s relationship with Miles. It’s also what sets us up for heartbreak, knowing what is to come, and knowing how Alaska and the Colonel will never be the same again.

One of the most memorable moments in this episode, however, belongs to Sara and the Colonel as a couple. Sara is far from charming, but your heart aches when you realize that she’s been embarrassed at the Ball by not having someone to escort her (thanks to all the laxatives).

It aches even more when you realize that her father won’t let the Colonel escort her, even when he’s come so far to support her.

That’s when Miles, Alaska and Takumi try to make their exit, and even though he’s explicitly told them not to come, the Colonel’s anger at the entire event puts him on the side of his friends. He sets off the sprinklers.

But even after the Colonel has ruined what was supposed to be one of the most important events in her life, Sara just sits next to him and smiles. And that’s when you realize that Sara really loves him, and that she knows how hard he’s fighting for her, and how unfairly he’s being treated. She doesn’t get angry — just smiles and kisses him. I confess that I never meant to ship these two, and they definitely have an unhealthy relationship, but this was a great moment.

looking for alaska chip takumi

Miles’ crime

The pranks are fun and all, but something’s got to give. In this case, it’s Miles’ ugly Florida keychain, which gets stuck in the hilariously effective brick wall he and his friends build in front of the Weekday Warriors’ door.

All I could think about when I saw this keychain was how it’s something that only someone who isn’t from Florida would ever have. But then again, it’s Miles, and Miles makes lazy fashion choices.

In the novel Looking for Alaska, it’s the entire group that gets caught smoking and therefore has to go to jury. But this prank, invented by the miniseries, is a lot funnier. It also gives Miles the chance to fully develop his sense of commitment when cornered by the Eagle (who also — rather pathetically — shares the woeful tale of his divorce). Will Miles rat out his friends, or will he take all the blame himself?

His decision to protect his friends is very self-sacrificing, as we’re made to believe that he could be expelled over something like this. But it turns out that Miles’ friends have his back: They bribe the Jury, and Miles gets away with only cafeteria cleaning duty as a punishment. (Also, Lara likes him, which probably contributes to his salvation.)

A few more things of note

  1. We meet Lara! If you feel a mild sense of recognition, it’s because she’s Sofia Vassilieva, from My Sister’s Keeper! She’s so sweet that you can’t help but be happy every time she’s on screen. But the show has helped make her a more complex character, too, as we’ll see in later episodes.
  2. We get our first glimpse into the Eagle’s personal life. His house is empty, his wife has recently left him, and he’s clearly struggling. The novel never fleshed out his personality the way the miniseries does, but the on-screen Eagle never feels like a different character from the novel’s Eagle — it just feels like we get more insight into who he’s been all along.
  3. Takumi is channeling some intense boy band energy with his outfits and I am 100% here for it!

This episode of Looking for Alaska is a great example of how you can make major additions to an adaptation without ruining the heart of the story. Every change seems carefully premeditated, and enough was kept exactly the same so we know that through it all, we’re still just admiring John Green’s excellent novel.

All episodes of Looking for Alaska are currently streaming on Hulu.

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