19 Kids and Counting RECAP: Going to the Chapel... If Jessa Doesn't Get Lost and Starve to Death First (S14:E14)
Just when I thought Tuesday night television couldn’t get any more painful than 19 Kids And Counting, the horrible truth gets crammed down my throat by the American public… those bastards. Election night proved far more crushing to my poor little liberal soul than the Duggar Clan could ever hope to be. And the icing on the cake is to know how delighted Momma and Daddy Duggar must be with the results. At last, maybe Washington will finally start thinking of the rich, white, heterosexual Christians for a change.
This week, we get another very special hour-long episode of The Only Reason Anyone Should Have 19 Kids Is If They Lose 17 of Them to the Plague, the sixth out of 14 episodes so far this season. And why the hell not. Nothing on the cutting room floor could be any more insipid or pointless than what makes it into the show, so why not just shove it all in?
We start with Daddy Duggar telling us there might not be much down time between weddings because 21-year-old Jessa (now 22, her birthday was same day this aired) and her suitor Ben are contractually obligated to get engaged by the end of the season. After a quick flashback of their relationship—they met at church, they only got to see each other every other week because he lives out of town, then he moved into a spare room on the Duggar compound at the beginning of this season to work for the family—we jump right into the action.
The heavily staged action.
Daddy Duggar shows up to give Ben his assignments for the day, but Ben preempts him with a stiff, mumbly “thank you” for the opportunity to live on the family grounds. He’s gotten to know Jessa very well over the past 13 episodes, he says, and he’s convinced that they both share the same passions and goals in life—although what those might be remains unsaid. I’m gonna guess babies. Lots and lots of babies. And maybe a little fear-mongering about the queers thrown in just for spice.
Anyway, says Ben, “I was just wondering if I had your permission to ask Jessa’s permission to marry her.”
This is not a cute, silly formality. Daddy Duggar really does have the authority to bestow his daughter upon this fellow or withhold her as he sees fit. As Momma Duggar explains, “He’s the one who’s going to give away her heart to her husband.”
No, he fucking isn’t.
Daddy Duggar launches into a speech about marriage only being the right path forward when “two people can do more for the Lord together than apart,” which, with this family, I can only interpret as procreative fucking. But even as Daddy drags it out, there’s no suspense about his answer. Ben is free to pop the question.
In the interview booth, Joy-Anna dead pans, “I think she’ll say no.” Who knew any of the Duggars were capable of dry wit?
Ben heads inside to ask Jinger to be their chaperone for the big proposal. Which is tomorrow. And will take all day. So we know right away that this scene and the previous “asking permission” scene are total bullshit because nothing about the elaborate scavenger hunt proposal the producers Ben concocted is being arranged at the last minute. This has been on everyone’s schedule for weeks.
(Also, the real reason Jinger has to accompany Jessa is because Jessa has the brains of a rutabaga and would starve to death before completing a scavenger hunt on her own. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
First, Ben goes to a coffee shop to skype with eldest Duggar son Josh and his wife Anna, who live in DC. I have no idea why he goes to a coffee shop for this, other than the lingering shot of the coffee shop logo on the door was mandated by the product placement contract. Anyone who goes to a public coffee shop to loudly hold a personal conversation over video chat is an absolute asshole.
Ben says he’s going to propose, and Anna says she’s not completely surprised. Gosh, what gave it away, the fact that there’s a full camera crew in your house to film your side of the conversation?
Anna asks Ben what he’ll do if she says no. “I’ll tell the producer to make her try that line again,” he should say but doesn’t. Instead he blows off the question. Anna asks her hubby if he was that cock-sure of a yes when he popped the question, and of course he was.
“If I’d known that, I’d have said no just to prove you wrong,” Anna says. Ah, spite. The cornerstone of a healthy marriage.
Back home in Ben’s room, he’s trying—and failing—to wrap a present. The idea that scissors might be required seems beyond him, which at first makes me wonder if he might have been dropped on his head as a child and shouldn’t be handling sharp objects at all, but once the scavenger hunt arrives, it makes me think he’s the perfect match for Jessa. But we’ll get to that soon enough.
Up in the girls’ room (all eight unmarried/spinster daughters share a single bedroom), Jessa is getting ready for a double date with Ben and her parents. She comes downstairs to find Ben’s parents waiting as well, which sets off alarm/wedding bells in her head. Then again, blinking, breathing, and days that end in “Why does the First Amendment apply to any other religions than Christianity?” also set off wedding bells in Jessa’s head.
They all head out for the Marketplace, which appears to be what we Southerners call a “meat & three,” which is a restaurant where you pick one meat entrée (say, meatloaf) and three vegetable sides (say, macaroni & cheese, deviled eggs, and jello). It’s as healthy as we get down here.
The Marketplace is where Jessa and Ben went on their first date 11 months ago. Ever since then, Ben says, they’ve “gotten along like ice cream and a cone.” Because one’s frigid and one’s flaky? Because put them together and they’re sure get devoured by the outside world? Because neither knows the difference between “get along like” and “go together like” analogies? Good thing no one on this show is destined to take the SATs.
At the dinner table, everyone joins hands to say grace, and Ben and Jessa are sitting next to each other so OMG THEY TOTALLY HOLD HANDS!! Will they succumb to passion and bone in the middle of the mashed potatoes? Somehow they manage to keep their clothes on and complete the meal. Whew. That was a close one. (For the record, Daddy Duggar has that shit-eating “I’m going to smile now in front of people but just wait until we get home, little lady” grin that parents get when they’re trying to look amused by their children but are actually embarrassed and angry.)
When everyone’s done eating, Jessa figures there’ll be no ring tonight because he wouldn’t have waited this long. However, when the check comes, it’s already been paid by Josh and Anna from DC, so Jessa is befuddled why so many weird surprises are happening. Then the waitress brings Ben’s crappily wrapped gift. But Jessa isn’t allowed to open it until tomorrow morning. Damn, this whole night has been one giant cocktease for Jessa.
The gift “is the first clue to the rest of your life,” Ben says, so obviously it’s a proposal in the making. Jessa is a good girl, of course, and doesn’t open the gift until the next morning when several of her sisters and the entire camera crew are watching. Inside is a tablet computing device or whatever the hell the generic name for an iPad is. Jessa plays a video on the tablet of Ben telling her to follow Jinger to the hanger where second eldest son John David keeps his plane because our true adventure for the episode is about to begin.
John-David flies Jinger and Jessa… somewhere. No one’s telling Jessa what’s going on yet. When they land the puddlejumper at Podunk BFE Airport, Jinger finally hands Jessa a letter from her soon-to-be-affianced. It’s a scavenger hunt! “Love springs eternal. Eureka! Your chariot awaits,” says the clue.
To her credit, Jessa immediately gets that she’s supposed to get in a car and ride to the town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which is admittedly an awesome little town filled with old hippies and artisans, although that’s probably not what the Duggars like about it.
To her discredit, Jessa is absolutely stumped and stands around helplessly because she doesn’t see a car immediately in front of her. Eventually, John David takes pity on the viewers and points Jessa to the parking lot.
You, my dear readers, have undoubtedly picked up on my not-so-subtle hints that Jessa isn’t going to prove herself to be the next Sherlock Holmes during this scavenger hunt, but for actual viewers of the show, this is our first hint how painfully hapless and dimwitted our protogonist is going to be. If you thought Bella from Twilight was a little too quick-witted and self-reliant, have we got the girl for you.
Elsewhere, Joy-Anna is helping Ben with his hair and clothes. She admits that she didn’t like Ben at first because it already looked like Derick was going to take Jill away from the family and she didn’t want Jessa to follow so quickly. Hey, why not explore that subplot as part of the show over the past season?! Maybe show some character development! Sadly, nothing like that ever makes the air. Emotional complexities don’t exist in this saccharine “reality” world. The closest we ever get to genuine emotion is detached, after-the-fact interviews and voiceover.
Next, Jessa and Jinger arrive at a mini-golf course. The new clue reads, “You’ve filled a hole in my heart, but you’ve never hit a hole in one.” Fortunately, Jinger is there to explain that that they’re going to play 18 holes and Jessa only get the next clue if she hits a hole in one.
In the interview booth, Ben explains that mini-golf is his favorite pastime, which is strange because in all the other interviews, everyone rags on Ben for sucking at mini-golf. Jessa apparently whipped his ass at it the one time they played, even without a hole-in-one. Maybe it’s time for Ben to find another hobby. Stamp collecting, maybe, or cutting himself.
Somewhere in the back nine, Jessa gets lucky and earns her clue. “Board the waiting trolley to complete the monumental feat,” it says.
Sure enough, there’s a trolley waiting for them (in Jessa’s line of sight, thank goodness), and on board is a collection of giant photos of Washington, DC, landmarks. Jessa has to correctly label each one in order to receive her next clue. Washington Monument, check. U.S. Capitol misspelled, check. The Muslim Atheist Marxist Kenyan Nazi Dictator’s House, check.
While Jessa completes her fifth grade social studies pop quiz, the rest of the Duggars show up at Thorncrown Chapel, which is a fucking marvel of American architecture, like, for realz.
Ben is directing everyone how to decorate the all-glass sanctuary for the big moment when he pops they question. They line the aisle with artificial candles and real rose petals, which is an odd blend of tacky and pretty, much like Jessa herself.
“He’s handsome,” 4-year-old Jordyn says of Ben.
“Ptthh!” answers 7-year-old Jennifer.
Back in town, Jessa gets off the trolley and gets her next clue. Something something… gave you a dozen roses that one time… something something… “this time, the roses are in a basin and are waiting for you to gather.”
Jessa is stumped. She looks left. No basin. She looks right. No basin. She looks left again. Well, fuck, she might as well set up a tent because she’s apparently just going to camp out in this spot for the rest of her life.
Jinger gives her a long time to figure it out on her own. It’s no good. Finally, Jinger points at the ginormous entry sign to the park directly across the street. “Basin Springs Park!!!” exclaims Jessa. By Jove, I think she’s got it!
They head into the park while Jinger explains that Jessa has to pick up twelve roses that Ben has left lying around for her. A Duggar Fact on the screen informs us that if every Duggar daughter collected a dozen roses, they’d have 108 flowers. Multiplication is always interesting!
Jessa picks up the final rose, which has the next clue attached. How did Ben know which rose she’d find last? Why, I’m starting to think some of this might be choreographed by the producers. Anyway, within the clue are the words “TRAIN” and “TRACKS” in all-caps about 16 times each. Is there a train within 12 feet of where Jessa is standing? No, there is not. So once again she completely shuts down and mopes helplessly.
Either Jinger or the editors have mercy on us, because it’s not nearly as long this time before little sis just plain points out to big sis where she’s supposed to go. The train station is on the other side of the park. So off they walk.
And I can’t tell you how completely over this shit Jessa is by now. There are 16-year-old girls being forced to spend prom night helping their grandmothers knit socks who have more patient and enthusiastic looks on their faces.
“I’m excited to see Ben,” Jessa assures us, then adds: “He better be on this train.” The edge in her voice is sharp enough to cut rope.
Along comes the train, and all the Duggars are leaning out the windows and waving… but no Ben. Momma Duggar tries to tell us that Jessa “cracked a pleasant little smile” to see everyone, and NO, SHE FUCKING DIDN’T. If you’re an actresses and you ever win the role of “bitchy sitcom wife,” you should make a study of Jessa’s face at this moment. It’ s a masterpiece of stony exasperation.
Once Jessa’s on board, eldest daughter Jana gives her a bag of clothes to change into. “Right now?” Jessa growls. “Holy fuck, fuckity-fuck, fuck me, fuck, fuck, fuck,” you can just hear her screaming in her head. “I’ll give him a fucking scavenger hunt for my vagina on our wedding night.”
The train arrives at the top of the mountain, and Jessa’s final clue instructs her to “come before our king who wore a CROWN of THORNS.” This one she doesn’t need any help with. Apparently Jessa loves Thorncrown Chapel and has dreamed of getting married there if only it could hold more than a hundred or so people.
Everyone marches to the chapel, but only Jessa and Jinger go inside. Ben is there, waiting in the middle of a Satanic sacrifice circle. Seriously, look at that ring of candles in the entryway and tell me it doesn’t belong in an episode of Constantine.
“Wow,” Jessa says… and finally smiles. Clearly she loves Satan.
“I trust you’ve had a wonderful journey today?” says Ben.
“I have,” she lies. Or maybe she’s so swept up in the moment she suddenly believes it.
Ben’s proposal is short and sweet, and Jessa answers with a simple yes. He places the ring on her finger, and she looks at it and cries. “I can’t wait,” she says. Say what you want about this show and this family—and I certainly do—but this is a truly beautiful moment.
Okay, moment’s over—and Jessa’s still a naïve, sheltered pseudo-adult trapped in an archaic, misogynistic, cultish lifestyle, being traded from one patriarch to another, brainwashed to breed as quickly and often as possible because it’s a woman’s only purpose.
Thank goodness Jinger is there to chaperone or else the newly engaged couple would probably succumb to passion right there on the chapel floor. (Yeah, right, who would spread a rumor like that?) Instead, they restrain themselves to only a full-frontal hug. Then they head outside to the ooohs and awwws of both families, and Momma Duggar tells us we’re all set up for our next seaso—er, wedding.
NO NO NO NO NO NO! What do you mean, “Next week on 19 Kids and Counting?!” This isn’t the season finale?
Damn it, last season was only 12 episodes. But now, any hope that this season was leading up to Jill’s wedding and/or Jessa’s engagement is shot to hell. It’ll clearly keep going on for fucking ever. And I’ll be here faithfully recapping it for you. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us.
(Sorry this recap is almost a week late. Election night really took it out of me.)