‘Looking for Alaska’ episode 7: Trying to cope with unanswered questions

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Looking for Alaska episode 7 is the hardest episode of the show, but also the best, as Alaska’s friends grapple with grief and questions.

Looking for Alaska episode 7 is easily the most difficult episode to watch, and to be honest, I put it off — grief is hard to witness once, and it’s even harder a second time, especially when the actors are this good. ‘After’ is a much harder show to watch than ‘Before.’

As with all the other episodes, Looking for Alaska episode 7 spends half the time firmly rooted in the Looking for Alaska novel, and the other half following up on the secondary plot points borne of the show.

looking for alaska auditorium

We all find out what happened

In episode 6, Alaska Young disappeared into the night, crying as she drove away. She had just made out with Miles, and so — even with a hangover — Miles practically bounces awake, eager for the “to be continued.” (Umm, Miles, you still technically have a girlfriend, remember?)

But the Eagle is at their door, and instructs them to go to the auditorium. The Colonel (like in the book) hypothesizes that Dr. Hyde has passed away. But when they arrive at the auditorium, hungover and confused, Miles’ instincts kick in. He immediately recognizes that Alaska isn’t there, and some part of him knows. It alarms him so much that he even shouts at the Eagle in a very much not-Miles-like fashion.

That’s when the Eagle reveals the terrible news: Alaska died in a car crash last night.

I wonder how viewers who never read the book perceive this scene (if you’re one of these viewers, please leave a comment!). As readers of the novel, we knew what was coming from the very first scene of the show, and now that we’ve arrived at the inevitable moment, there’s nothing we can do but brace ourselves.

But for someone new to this story, this is just as much of a punch in the gut as the novel was for us — and I wonder if having it play out visually gives it a different effect. Maybe that’s why I’m so glad they kept so much of the original dialogue in the scene at the auditorium. It’s painful, it’s honest, and it’s absolutely gut-wrenching.

looking for alaska pudge

Miles’ grieving process

On some instinctual level, Miles already knew what the Eagle was going to say before he said it, but as the entire school body collapses around him, he goes into denial. This is one of Alaska’s pranks, he says (which, to his credit, is totally a prank Alaska would carry out). But then he sees Takumi, Lara and the Colonel — it’s so difficult to watch them cry — and learns that the Eagle saw her (more on the Eagle and his heartbreaking performance later).

Miles goes to the smoking hole and has visions of Alaska, until Takumi and the Colonel find him. Takumi is upset with them and further reinforces their feeling that they’re to blame for Alaska’s death. “And you just let her go?”

The Colonel disappears, and locked up in his dorm, Miles busies himself with mindless video games. His parents call, and people leave a bunch of post-it notes on his door (this is actually super sweet). Lara shows up to take care of him, but he ignores her completely; and if Alaska’s death is the one thing that could make cheating less horrible, his attitude quickly puts an end to any illusion of a future together.

It’s mean, but I guess it’s for the best in the long-run, especially for poor Lara.

Takumi also comes around eventually, bringing a tray of food with him. And that’s when Miles recites some of the best lines of the novel:

“We did not say: Don’t drive. You’re drunk.
We did not say: We aren’t letting you in that car when you are upset.
We did not say: We insist on going with you.
We did not say: This can wait until tomorrow. Anything — everything — can wait.

Takumi apologizes, confirming that he’s still The Best and that I definitely have a crush on him (I’m an instant fan of wholesome, emotionally-mature men).

looking for alaska funeral

The Colonel grapples with his actions

Out of the entire group of friends, it’s the Colonel who takes Alaska’s death the hardest, even if he wasn’t the one in love with her. He was the one who knew her the longest, and the one with the most to regret. His behavior toward her, both in the months leading up to her death and directly before, was cruel and unfriendly, and he never had a chance to apologize.

Unlike Miles, the Colonel accepts the truth immediately. He runs to his dorm and packs up all his things. Then he runs to the Eagle, and proceeds to a) demand to be expelled, b) blame the Eagle for Alaska’s death and c) confess all the ways he is guilty for Alaska’s death.

The Eagle knows exactly what to do: He steps forward and hugs him tightly. The Colonel collapses into tears. I watched this scene again and it made me cry AGAIN. Denny Love should win an Oscar someday.

The Colonel says he’s going for a walk, and does just that — for, like, 12 hours, on the highway, in the rain, and in the dark. When Miles, Takumi and Lara realize that he’s missing, they nearly run him over trying to rescue him. But it seems like the walk helps the Colonel process his feelings, because he comes back with a kind of quietness that can only come from excessive self-flagellation. Miles tucks the Colonel in and they hold hands (Looking for Alaska episode 7 may be sad, but it is w h o l e s o m e, oh my God) and life carries on.

At lunch, Sara comes up to the Colonel and informs him that all charges against him are being dropped, and that he can ride with them to the funeral. They’re going to leave flowers where the accident took place, and Sara is very sweet about it. But the Colonel and Miles don’t want to get anywhere near the site of the accident, so they ask Lara to drive them (and Takumi, of course). And in class, the Colonel absolutely destroys a random girl who didn’t even know Alaska who claims to have gotten a sign from beyond. Maybe it gives him some closure.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hyde proposes a question for everyone, one that Alaska herself asked in her final essay: How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?

looking for alaska the eagle

The Eagle

Okay, let’s talk about the Eagle. He’s one of this adaptation’s greatest victories — a perfect combination of antagonist and lovably awkward side-character. But it’s in these scenes of grief that he really shines.

Right at the beginning of the episode, he knows that in order to process grief, Miles needs to know all the facts — things that the rest of the student body may not be ready to hear right now, and things he himself may not be ready to say out loud yet. But because he’s a great teacher, the Eagle tells Miles everything… and in doing so, helps Miles move past denial into acceptance.

You can see the emotion in his eyes, and how traumatizing of an experience it must have been to go to the scene of the crash and see Alaska’s dead body. How difficult it is for him to hold it all together, both as a human and as a teacher, haunted by the “what-ifs.”

Longwell plays an unlikely role here, showing up to support the Eagle when he inevitably collapses:

“I just wanted you all to listen to me. Trust me, respect me, and even fear me, if that’s what it took. So that I could protect all of you and keep you safe. God, I tried so hard for this job. It cost me my marriage. I even grew this stupid mustache hoping it would give me some authority. But I was the one that needed to listen. She was in pain, and I made it worse.”

“We all made it worse.”

“Yeah, but you’re just kids. You’re supposed to make mistakes. I’m the adult, and I failed all of you.”

“It’s not too late. We could all really use an adult right now.”

While there’s something to be said about the Weekday Warriors’ willingness to admit that they were too harsh with Alaska, the Eagle’s emotions totally steal the show. Never have I rooted for a teacher as much as I did in this moment. Does Looking for Alaska episode 7 have all the best moments of the show?

“Oh, and sir — the mustache didn’t work.”

“Yeah, I know.”

looking for alaska jake

The funeral

In search of advice on how to dress for a funeral, Miles goes to Dr. Hyde, who unfortunately has experience in this matter. It’s one of the sweetest, most powerful scenes of this adaptation — Dr. Hyde tying his own tie around Miles’ neck, and reminiscing the funeral he attended from afar, because he was not allowed to go near the ceremony. I can’t stop crying.

It is a little bit strange that the show contrasts Dr. Hyde and Diego’s relationship — a mature, fulfilling relationship — with Miles and Alaska’s, which was objectively a train wreck. I could never imagine Miles and Alaska ending up married, even if nothing had happened to her, while I can imagine Dr. Hyde and Diego raising a family. But maybe that’s the point: After death, everything that came before seems to take on profound meaning, even when it was frivolous at the time.

At the funeral, we meet Alaska’s father: a man who lost his wife and daughter… although he readily admits that he lost Alaska a long time ago. He’s devastated, and it’s a strange experience for Alaska’s friends, who have only ever heard of him as a villain. The Colonel, still grappling with where to direct his anger at the senselessness of Alaska’s death, begins to brutally berate him. It’s horrible and embarrassing, and all the more so because Alaska’s father just takes it.

Trying to calm the Colonel down, Miles and Takumi smoke with him outside and meet Jake there. Miles gets into an argument of his own, demanding that Jake explain the phone call and what he said to make Alaska drive off into the night. Jake is (understandably) bewildered and hurt by the implication that he somehow caused the accident. But Miles fixates on the issue. Why did Alaska die?

looking for alaska grief

An unsettling realization

As the initial shock of grief wears off, more and more questions begin to appear. Miles can’t let go of the belief that there must be an explanation — after all, he and Alaska made out shortly before the accident, and everything had been fine then. Something must have happened!

Takumi and the Colonel are convinced that Alaska drove off because she wanted to get back with Jake after the phone call. But Miles refuses to believe this — why would she have said “to be continued” if she didn’t mean it? Accepting that Alaska might have had feelings for Jake invalidates their last moments together.

But Takumi (ever the profiler) confronts him with the hard facts: Miles is biased, and the reality is that Alaska wasn’t madly in love with him.

“You’d be a terrible profiler. You’re making it all about you.”

“Yeah, because it is all about me!”

Yikes. Didn’t have to be quite that transparent, buddy.

Meanwhile, the Eagle has shaved off his mustache (he looks very nice without it) and solidified his relationship with the French teacher. He lets the Colonel know that Alaska’s dad is coming to clear out her room — a tacit invitation to clear out any suspect material.

The Colonel and Miles start to clean things up. And it’s an entirely different type of grief to know that Alaska’s life’s library will likely be reduced to a garage sale. Among Alaska’s possessions is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book, of course, and Miles seeks it out immediately, still thinking of the big question: How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?

Well, Alaska left a note next to the question:

”Straight and fast.”

And now, right at the end of Looking for Alaska episode 7, the boys are wondering: What if it wasn’t an accident?

That’s a question we’ll have to deal with in episode 8, which is also the last episode of this amazing show.

(Oh, and clad in a T-shirt with donuts, Takumi finds Lara crying and comforts her. And just like that, Hulu gives Looking for Alaska a happy ending we didn’t even know we wanted, for two of the coolest characters of the book. It’s a bright light in an otherwise profoundly dark episode.)

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

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