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The Weddings of Friends, Part II

From "The One in Vegas"

To continue our journey through the many, many weddings on the television show Friends, what better place to start than the home of the quickie wedding?

The One in Vegas (5.23-5.24): (Pictured above) The Season Five Finale had a tall order. It had to somehow top (or at least equal) the excitement, suspense, comedy, and pure fun of the Season Four finale (the event of Ross’s name-challenged nuptials in London). What better way to do that than to have a finale with not one, but two weddings? Better yet, what if both of these weddings are a surprise?

The two-parter begins where the episode before left off: Joey is out in Las Vegas to be in a movie, but the movie has been shut down, and he’s working as a gladiator at Caesar’s Palace. The rest of the gang decide to take a weekend trip out to see him…and to celebrate Monica and Chandler’s one year anniversary.

But all is not well. Chandler discovers that Monica had lunch with her ex-boyfriend Richard and kept it from him. Ross and Rachel start a prank war on the plane that ends with Ross using a permanent marker to draw a mustache and beard on Rachel’s face while she sleeps, making Rachel furious.

And so now we have the set up of the conflict. It’s the way the writers choose to resolve this conflict that makes The One in Vegas such a successful finale.

Monica convinces Chandler that she’s in love with him, and not Richard, but while their reconciliation lets us all sigh in relief (Chandler is a scaredy-cat in relationships, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to cut and run), that’s not the end of their story. Instead, the stakes are raised: while playing craps, he suggest that if she rolls a hard eight, they should get married. And the audience gasps. Of course — this is a Vegas episode! We’ve seen the fun to be had with keeping their relationship a secret from the rest of the gang (early Season Five), so imagine the potential in their keeping a marriage a secret!

In a cleverly scripted turn, the wedding decision isn’t left up to chance after all. This is clever because leaving a decision as big as a wedding between two main characters on this show up to a single roll of the dice would feel like a cop-out. We want characters to take action, and basing a decision like this on chance cheapens the emotional weight of the story. But never fear, because Monica rolls the dice off of the table, and the one that lands on the ground could be either a four or a five. Chandler chooses to think it’s a four, and we collectively melt.

Meanwhile, Ross and Rachel get plastered up in their hotel room because Rachel doesn’t want to go down to the casino with the beard and mustache on her face. This is funny — both actors have comedic chops (especially David Schwimmer, who can pratfall with the best of them), but as viewers, we want to get back to Monica and Chandler already. Will they go through with their spontaneous decision?

It seems like they will, as they collect old/new/borrowed/blue items and make their way to the wedding chapel. Then, in an incredible cliffhanger that ties the two storylines together, as Monica and Chandler wait for their turn, Rachel and Ross stumble out of the chapel, newly wed (and three sheets to the wind).

The weddings in this finale weren’t events. There was no buildup to them, and we saw none of the wedding preparation storyline we saw in Season Four. They weren’t settings for stories, because they came out of nowhere and lasted mere moments. They were plot twists, ways to change the game in an interesting and surprising way. Like good plot twists, they work because they are organic. At the end, the audience is left feeling like they should have seen one or both of these unions coming: put Vegas together with two of Friends’ power couples, and something is bound to happen. But both? Surely not.

By pulling this off, the writers managed to surprise the audience, satisfy the yearning for both of these couples to get it together, but manage to draw out the happily ever after (which would get dreadfully boring). It also sets up potential conflict for Season Six: how will Monica and Chandler handle their almost-wedding? Will Rachel and Ross stay married?

One final note about this episode: it’s interesting that Rachel and Ross, who were THE couple for so many seasons, would get married in a way that involved zero anticipation (by either the audience or the characters). Of course, it also made perfect sense…if they’re meant to be, of course they’d get married while drunk in Vegas without overthinking it…

The One With Monica & Chandler’s Wedding (7.23-7.24): Like Ross’s wedding to Emily in Season Four, Monica & Chandler’s wedding was an Event. Unlike the Ross/Emily event, this wedding had essentially two seasons of buildup. We got a taste of a union between these two at the end of Season Five in Vegas, then we watched them move in together in Season Six, and the incredible proposal episode (one of the best episodes of Friends‘ entire run) closed out the season with a bang. Then there was an entire season of wedding planning — which fit in nicely with Monica’s control-freak detail-oriented character — culminating in the two-part finale of the wedding itself.

Here, like the Ross/Emily wedding, the wedding is the story, and the conflicts are generated from the wedding itself. Some of the conflicts are classics that work only because they fit with the characters. For example, when Chandler disappears, having freaked out at the prospect of becoming “the Bings,” it’s an old tale of the groom getting cold feet and the bride having no idea that he’s gone while the rest of the characters scramble to find him. Here, that conflict rises naturally from Chandler’s character. If Monica had been the one to get cold feet and disappear, that would have felt forced and trite.

The writers used the Big Day here as an effective way to build tension through looming deadline. The viewers wonder if the gang will find Chandler in time (twice!), if they’ll find him before Monica figures out he’s missing, if Joey will make it in time from his movie shoot to be the officiant, etc.

In all, this wedding storyline was more about the season’s lead-in, and the conflicts arising from the planning, than it was about the Big Day itself. There was conflict over the cost of the wedding, getting a dream wedding dress, who gets to be the maid of honor, and so on. Once all the conflict of getting everyone to the right place at the right time is resolved, the wedding itself is mundane, simply the denouement of the story. (Which is ironic, since “denouement” comes from the an Old French word meaning “to untie” and a Latin word meaning “knot.)”

Then, of course, there’s the “who’s pregnant” cliffhanger.

The One With Phoebe’s Wedding (10.12): The final wedding of the series was Phoebe’s wedding to Mike (played by Paul Rudd) in Season Ten. This wedding, while lovely and fitting for Phoebe’s character, feels at best like an afterthought and at worst like a gimmick. It’s another Event, but the previous two event weddings were season finales and huge blowouts. Phoebe’s comes midway through the final season, and is just a regular-length episode. There isn’t anything extraordinary about the lead-in episodes (other than Danny Devito guest-starring as a stripper who cries), and few of them focus primarily on the wedding planning the way Season Seven focused on Monica and Chandler’s plans.

The episode itself is fun, but recycles some storylines. For example, Chandler and Ross fight over who gets to be the fill-in groomsman (we’ve seen the groomsman/bridesmaid competitions in advance of both Ross/Emily and Monica/Chandler). Monica goes over-the-top as the wedding planner (we’ve seen her uber-organized and control-freak planning ruin other parties and events). In addition, by this time in the series, the character’s comical flaws had grown out of proportion, such that it seems they were playing caricatures of themselves.

What makes this wedding an enjoyable installment of the series despite all of that is that it feels like Phoebe has finally gotten her due. She spent much of the series perpetually single, having one-episode dates. The closest the show had come to giving Phoebe a long term relationship was the recurrence of Hank Azaria’s character David the Scientist Guy, who was usually in Minsk on a research project. In Season Nine, when Paul Rudd’s Mike was introduced and stuck around, Phoebe fans cheered, happy to see her happy at last.

Phoebe’s wedding, in the street during a blizzard, with her friend (“she’ll shower when Tibet is free”) playing the steel drums, was a salute to the loyal viewers and a way to give Phoebe some closure at the end of the long-running series.

So that’s that, folks, eight weddings or almost-weddings during the ten seasons of Friends. Which was your favorite? Your least favorite? (My favorite dress was definitely Phoebe’s…)

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Posted on February 15, 2012, in Television and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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