‘Looking For Alaska’ Season One, Episode One Recap: “Famous Last Words”
After fourteen years and many different incarnations, John Green’s novel Looking For Alaska finally has its adaptation on Hulu. The eight episode series created by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage dropped on October 18. Based on the first episode, we are in for some heavy The O.C. style nostalgia for the early 2000s with a perfect mix of humor and heart. The soundtrack by Alexandra Patsavas is ON POINT and I’ve included all the music used in the episode at the end so you can go ahead and make your “2005 Rewind” playlist. Read on for a recap of the premiere “Famous Last Words”, in which Miles makes new friends and alienates people.
We open on a rainy accident scene as Miles narrates his favorite “last words” of famous people, some of which featured in the original novel. He mentions that his favorite quote was by Francois Rabelais (who said “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”) because he was also searching for his own Great Perhaps . Just then, a car slams into the police officer’s vehicle, seemingly out of nowhere. We see daisies on the windshield before the title page “Before” is shown.
We flash to Miles’ goodbye party, where his parents are getting ready to send him off to boarding school. There are no friends there, despite being invited, and his mother seems bothered by this. Miles, barely looking up from his book, shrugs this off with a sarcastic retort about keeping his popularity a secret from her. When night falls and no one has shown up, his mother asks him if this is why he decided to leave. While his father thinks that Miles wants to go to Culver Creek because of his own exploits there as a teen, Miles stops them both. He brings up the Great Perhaps quote and tells them that he wants to discover his Great Perhaps before it’s too late. Culver Creek is his ticket to discovering himself.
Miles continues packing (with the excellent 2005 detail of printing directions off MapQuest). Alaska is shown saying goodbye to her cat before pulling out of her driveway, alone. Both drive towards their destination and eventual meeting. She is smoking while staring out the window, and he is listening to music with his parents. When Alaska arrives, she is greeted by Marya and her boyfriend Paul. Marya and Alaska make plans to buy alcohol from a store nearby while Paul unpacks. He seems put out at first, but when Alaska unleashes a feminist rant about the patriarchy, he has no choice but to comply. It is apparent that Alaska is a force of nature. She and Marya head to Coose’s Liquors, where Marya confides that she and Paul are planning on having sex that night since they’ve been apart all summer. Alaska, after making sure that Marya really wants to, is excited for her. She leaves to buy the wine while Marya waits in the car. The clerk seems suspicious, but Alaska is persistent, wise beyond her years. She is successful, and leaves to return to school with Marya.
Meanwhile, Miles’ parents are giving him the most awkward sex talk in history as they approach Culver Creek. The contrast with Alaska’s effortlessly cool experience is jarring as they pop in another audio-book. He sees Alaska putting the alcohol in her trunk as they drive by, and he is instantly entranced. When they arrive, his parents give him one last chance to back out, but he’s ready if a little hesitant. Miles unpacks his huge trunk of books by himself. He attempts to shower, but there is no water pressure. His search for a Great Perhaps is off to an inauspicious start.
Just then, Miles’ roommate Chip arrives. He informs Miles that everyone calls him “The Colonel” before christening Miles as “Pudge.” The Colonel tells Miles he has ten seconds to impress him before he writes him off as ordinary. Miles, nervous and desperate to make a friend, blurts that he knows a lot of last words. The Colonel seems impressed by this, telling Miles to follow him because “we’ve got shit to do.”
As they rush along, with Miles barely keeping up with The Colonel’s breakneck pace, they are stopped by a group of guys (led by Longwell) who harass The Colonel about his height. He defends himself verbally, obviously used to their antics. They trade barbs, with a visibly uncomfortable Miles listening in. The Colonel tells them to sleep with one eye open before running off with Miles in tow. The Colonel explains that the group was the Weekday Warriors, rich kids who go home to their air conditioned mansions on the weekend. He says that if Miles was hoping to be cool, he should stop hanging out with him. We see Miles hesitate, but he continues to follow The Colonel.
They meet Takumi, one of The Colonel’s friends. He seems to know a lot about Miles and is used to The Colonel’s antics. Miles starts to help The Colonel move in when the principal, Mr. Starnes, known as The Eagle, walks in. He is there to warn Miles that if he plans on living up to his father’s reputation as a prankster, he should tread carefully. The Colonel tells Miles that the next time The Eagle looks at him like that, he’s busted.
The Colonel takes Miles to meet Alaska, who has their cigarettes. Alaska’s room is covered in fairy lights and books, making Miles’ trunk pale in comparison. She is overjoyed to see The Colonel. She launches into a story about how a boy “honked” her boob while they were watching TV, using Miles’ hand as an example. Stunned, Miles doesn’t remove his hand right away, and Alaska fully notices him. She takes him in and wonders aloud why he didn’t laugh at her story. The Colonel introduces Miles, mentioning that he memorizes last words. Alaska asks what JFK’s last words were, and when Miles tells her, she replies, “God, that’s awful.” She shakes Miles’ hand as she leaves and Miles stares after her, transfixed.
The Colonel takes the opportunity to point out the swan on the lake, whom he calls the Spawn of Satan. Miles asks about Alaska, particularly about Jake, the boyfriend that she mentioned earlier. The Colonel explains that Jake is in college and is the only boyfriend Alaska hasn’t cheated on yet. He takes Miles to The Smoking Hole, which is under a bridge and covered in quotations. Miles is concerned about getting in trouble, and The Colonel takes the opportunity to tell Miles the one rule he can’t break: never rat. The Colonel says he wouldn’t even rat out the Weekday Warriors despite his hatred for them. The Colonel then mentions that he is dating a Weekday Warrior, which surprises Miles. The Colonel leaves to meet his girlfriend.
As Miles waits under the bridge for Alaska, she crosses above him. She seems on the verge of tears, but when she hears Miles coughing while trying a cigarette, she goes down to The Smoking Hole and perks up a bit. She pulls out a book about Simon Bolivar to share his last words with Miles, who seems thrilled that Alaska is talking to him. The words are “how will I ever get out of this labyrinth,” and Alaska isn’t sure if they mean escaping life or escaping death. She seems sadder than before, and Miles is concerned, but she immediately makes light of the situation and the tension is eased.
Miles asks her if she’s actually read all the books in her room. Alaska explains that they are her Life’s Library, and she wants to read them all before she dies. She pivots to explaining how The Colonel got his nickname: Alaska dreams up ideas for pranks, and The Colonel executes them. They are both on scholarship and became friends quickly. Alaska calls Miles cute, then backpedals, saying that she loves her boyfriend. Miles jokes that he loves his girlfriend, even though he doesn’t have one. This genuinely makes Alaska laugh, and she tells Miles that if there’s one thing she can get him it’s a girlfriend. She makes Miles a deal: if he can figure out what the labyrinth is and how to escape it, Alaska will find him a “sexually liberated intellectual equal” girlfriend.
They walk as it turns dark, and Alaska tells Miles that walking at night makes her want to run home, even though it’s silly. Miles says he sometimes feels that way too, and Alaska takes off running into the night.
Paul and Marya are getting drunk in the dorm. They start to have sex, but then they hear three knocks at the door: it’s The Eagle. We cut to Miles, who hears a commotion outside his room. When he opens the door, he sees an angry Paul and sobbing Marya being escorted out of the dorm by The Eagle. Paul is convinced someone ratted them out. Alaska suddenly reappears as Marya collapses into her arms. The Eagle tells Alaska to help Marya pack; she and Paul have been expelled. As Paul storms back to his room, he approaches Miles, asking if he ratted them out. Miles can only look at him, stunned, as Paul stomps away.
The next day, Takumi fills them in on the details. Both Takumi and The Colonel agree that there’s no way The Eagle could have known without someone ratting them out. Miles goes to sit down at the same time as Lara, another new student. She’s Russian and seems smitten with Miles. Their teacher Dr. Hyde enters. He’s an older man, walking slowly, as The Colonel whispers that he only has one lung. Dr. Hyde will be teaching religion, which he argues is important whether you believe in it or not. He’s clearly wise and Miles is affected by his words.
He and The Colonel go get lunch, which is a fried burrito nicknamed a “bufriedo” by Alaska. Takumi arrives with more information that he refuses to divulge in front of Miles. He and The Colonel leave, and Miles is alone. The Weekday Warriors are watching him from across the cafeteria. They approach Miles and try to flatter him, saying that he’s cooler than the “losers” he was just sitting with. They are pompous jerks, and they ask Miles to inform on The Colonel’s actions to them. Miles, so desperate to fit in, doesn’t want to make trouble and asks to stay neutral. Longwell tells Miles that at this school, everyone chooses a side and neutrality is not an option. They leave and Miles is alone once again.
Back at the dorm, The Colonel is panicking as he gets ready to have dinner with his girlfriend Sara’s parents. She arrives and they instantly start fighting. It’s hard to believe they even like each other. Sara storms out, and The Colonel sits back on the couch, drinking from a milk carton filled with what he calls “ambrosia”. It’s five parts milk and one part vodka so The Eagle won’t catch him. Sara calls back on the pay phone, and The Colonel leaves for dinner, telling Miles not to wait up.
That night, the Weekday Warriors attack Miles in retaliation, believing that The Colonel had something to do with ratting out Paul and Marya. They wrap him in shrink wrap and throw him in the lake. The swan from earlier attacks him as Miles struggles to get away. He finally gets unwrapped and makes his way back to the dorm. Alaska is alone in her room, putting daisies on her windowsill and rereading her book about the labyrinth. She’s deep in thought and looks much sadder than we’ve seen her previously. Miles opens her door, startling her. She is not in the mood to deal with him. He looks for sympathy and starts to tell her about the Weekday Warriors, but she shuts him down, telling him that he has to be tough. She slams the door in his face.
When Miles gets back to his room, he wakes The Colonel. At first, he brushes off Miles’ experience because all the new students get tossed in the lake, but when he learns that it was the Weekday Warriors and they specifically mentioned The Colonel, he’s perturbed. Miles gets angry, wanting to know why The Colonel and Takumi won’t tell him what’s going on. He halfheartedly threatens to go to The Eagle, but The Colonel shuts that down. Miles complains that Alaska was mean to him, but The Colonel explains that Alaska is moody; it’s just the way she is. They both go to bed, but Miles is still hurt.
The next day, The Colonel discovers that one of the Weekday Warriors urinated in his shoes. They meet up with Takumi and Alaska, who explain the larger significance of the prank war between them and the Weekday Warriors. After last night, it’s serious. The Colonel calls Miles their friend, which Miles is surprised by.
Alaska pulls Miles aside and apologizes. She didn’t realize how bad it was when Miles came to see her the night before. She asks if their deal is still on, and he agrees that it is. She walks away, and Miles seems happy to be back in her good graces.
As a montage of the new friends hanging out in The Smoking Hole plays, Miles calls his parents to thank them for letting him go to Culver Creek.
The title card says it’s “102 Days Before”…but before what? We see the shot of daisies on the windshield again as the scene fades out.
“Famous Last Words” Mixtape:
“Crosses” by Jose Gonzalez
“All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers
“Fortress” by Pinback
“With Arms Outstretched” by Rilo Kiley
“Milkshake” by Buddy
“The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” by The Postal Service
“Blue Orchid” by The White Stripes
“So Here We Are” by Bloc Party
All eight episodes of Looking For Alaska are now available to stream on Hulu.