Saturday, May 15, 2021

Julie and the Phantoms 1x08 Review: “Unsaid Emily” (Bring Me a Whole Box of Tissues) [Contributor: Jenn]

“Unsaid Emily”
Original Airdate: September 10, 2020

We all have regrets — we often regret the things we’ve said or done. But there’s another kind of regret and it’s the regret that comes from the things we don’t say or do. We regret the choices we didn’t make, the words we didn’t say, or the last hug we didn’t give to the person we love. You can live in regret until it weighs you down, but that’s no way to live at all. The musical Rent reminds us: “Forget regret or life is yours to miss.”

But regrets can be painful, and nothing is worse than regretting the things we can’t physically ever take back. Like Luke, who regrets that he never reconciled with his parents, especially his mom, before he died. And that is why “Unsaid Emily” is arguably one of the most emotional episodes of Julie and the Phantoms, focusing on Luke’s relationship with his parents and Julie’s growing connection to Luke.


First thing’s first (this joke was on purpose): Charlie Gillespie does incredible work in this episode. He’s a comedic talent and a musical one for sure. But as I rewatched in preparation for this review, I was struck by just how subtle and powerful his facial reactions were, especially in his scenes with Julie. There’s nuance that Charlie brings — the frustration especially with Julie crossing boundaries is so subtle because there’s not just disappointment but also this slight emotional exhaustion with the grief he’s carrying — in this episode is unmatched. Madison Reyes shines too, but we’ll talk about how “Stand Tall” proves that this girl deserves to be the star of her own show and we shouldn’t forget that. Ever.

Charlie’s performance is heartbreaking, especially during the song “Unsaid Emily.” Vocally, he incorporates such a range of talent — from the soft, gentle way that he begins the song to the distraught and desperate final chorus — but I need to give a special shout-out to the actors who play Luke’s parents. Their performance often gets overlooked but they’re the ones who ultimately break me in this episode. More on that in a moment. First, let’s talk about what this episode is even about.

“Edge of Great” demonstrated that Luke and Julie’s chemistry is undeniable. And now Julie recognizes it. So when Nick asks her out, she turns him down gently and admits to Flynn that she’s aware that her relationship with Luke can go nowhere. But as she tells Flynn, it’s not just about their chemistry when they’re on stage. Luke and Julie are connected because they’ve both experienced profound loss; specifically, they both know what it feels like to grieve a mother. Luke, of course, died before he could reconcile with his while Julie wishes she could spend more time with hers.

It’s the theme of a motherly bond that drives “Unsaid Emily,” and it’s what drives Julie to remember that Luke wrote a song for his mother. She shows up at their front door and decides to give closure to Luke and his parents by presenting them with the song he wrote.

Honestly, I know that “Edge of Great” is the great episode for Luke and Julie because of their duet and prolonged eye contact, but I think the depth of their personalities both individually and as a ship are best explored in “Unsaid Emily.” You truly get the understanding of just how deeply the two connect, and the way that Julie shows Luke how much she cares by sitting in those really hard emotions with him? It’s beautiful. Julie is the person he needed in that moment of simultaneous catharsis and grief, just like Luke’s parents needed Julie for their own personal healing. They lost their only child, and as we saw in the previous episode, that never goes away. They celebrate his birthday, and I’m sure they’re plagued by the constant regrets of, “What if?”

The moment in “Unsaid Emily” that really breaks me is when Julie’s parents are sitting and we don’t see the car but we see the police lights flash in their eyes. At that moment, they know that their son is really gone. All hope of reconciliation has died with him, and the sheer magnitude of grief expressed by those actors is both gut-wrenching and also beautifully acted. It’s a wordless monologue and it’s made even more heartbreaking when Luke enters with his gravelly and emotional: “I’d never let you go.” (Even thinking about the scene brings tears to my eyes.)


The truth is that at its core, Julie and the Phantoms isn’t about music or shipping or cute ghosts. It’s about love — the love that we have for each other and the pain of losing a person we love. Familial love ties this whole show together. Julie’s love for her mom spurs her on. Her dad’s love for her gives her courage. Luke’s parents never stopped loving him, even though it’s been 25 years since he’s been alive.

Love is what binds us and because of that, it’s the thing that can bring us pain and set us free. Julie’s gift to Luke is freedom. She can’t free him from the curse that Caleb put on the boys (not yet anyway), nor can she free him from the in-between world he’s currently occupying. But she can free him from his regrets by reminding his family of his love, and that’s a priceless gift.

I can’t overstate how much I love “Unsaid Emily,” not just as a character study in Luke and his relationship with his parents, but also as a character study in Julie and the depth of her love for Luke. The thing she does in this episode is incredibly hard — she forces herself to re-enter grief, relive her own pain of losing her mother, and sit in the pain that Luke’s parents feel. Julie is a high-school girl who’s more emotionally present in this episode than most adults are in real life. She knows that love means choosing the hard path, and she’ll choose it again next episode too. Because that’s who she is; she’s the person who cannot ignore pain, who allows herself to feel the depth of her emotions, and who steps into the grief of others even when she knows it will hurt her.

When she apologizes to Luke for potentially overstepping, he stops her apology and tells her that what she did was perfect. He now has no more regrets about how he lived his life; his family will have the freedom of knowing their son loved them deeply and that he was happy in his pursuit of the thing he loved most — making music. That’s an incredible gift, and it’s something that bonds Luke and Julie on a depth that no amount of puppy eyes can manifest.

“Unsaid Emily” may be a heartbreaking episode of Julie and the Phantoms but it’s also a really important one, especially because this show is geared toward a younger audience. It reminds us that we need to feel our pain instead of run from it, and that catharsis and healing are possible no matter how rough things seem — as long as you’re open to it.

Hitting the right notes:

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Unsaid Emily” is the best song in Julie and the Phantoms. Is it my favorite song? No. That title belongs to “Bright.” But the lyricism and emotion of “Unsaid Emily” are entirely unmatched in the show. While other songs are fun bops or anthems, this one is pure heart and soul. Charlie Gillespie acts the crap out of the song’s scene and sings the crap out of it. He makes me cry and makes my heart break. MVP status, y’all.
  • “I would’ve still followed you.” I didn’t really talk about them much above, but I love this soft, quiet scene between Alex and Willie where Willie apologizes again for dragging Alex, Luke, and Reggie to the Hollywood Ghost Club. Alex, however, has no regrets because even though he’s upset by the reality and gravity of the situation, he knows he would have done anything to know Willie. And vice versa.
  • “You are the most watchable dueters I’ve ever seen.”
  • “He said ‘ghost butts’!” 
  • “This is an interesting little relationship you and I have.” I’ll never be over this line reading.
  • “You can’t get rid of me. I’m like the crazy glue of best friends.”
  • “You’re gonna lose them no matter what. And it sucks. But they helped bring you back to life; now it’s your time to help them.” We don’t talk enough about this moment and line. Flynn is incredibly emotionally aware as Julie self-destructs. When Luke tells Julie that there’s no world in which the guys get to stay with her, Julie spirals because it seems all the people she loves leave her. Flynn, however, reminds Julie that the reality is she’d never be able to stay with the boys forever; she’d lose them at some point. And instead of wallowing in that pain, she has the chance to help them heal the way they’ve helped her heal. It’s a beautiful little moment and I love Jadah Marie for her touching, subtle delivery.

Is everyone ready for “Stand Tall”? That review will be coming to you in a few weeks — and here’s hoping it’s not the last review of the show I ever write! Until then, hit up the comments and let me know how hard YOU cried during “Unsaid Emily”!


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