First Love is the second episode in a row to feature Connie’s life outside of Whit’s End. It’s a rare occurrence, and this episode takes full advantage of the opportunity to shake things up. Last time in A…is for Attitude we heard Connie at school, but now suddenly she’s attending parties, meeting baseball stars and going out on dates. It’s non-stop excitement. In the episode Connie Comes to Town she wanted so badly to leave boring old Odyssey and return to California where she never got bored. But her small-town experience in First Love is the farthest thing from being boring. It’s almost like she’s back in California. This episode reminds me of the episode in which Connie returns to California for a visit in Album 3. In that story she’s excited at first but then when she’s confronted with everything she’s been missing out on by hanging out at Whit’s End in Odyssey, such as the crazy house parties of Beverly Hills, she rejects her old life because it doesn’t satisfy anymore. That episode ends with Connie making a commitment to step out in faith and become a Christian. Similarly, First Love ends with more tear-filled eyes as Connie renews her commitment to follow God.
Connie and Cheryl appear to have repaired their friendship after that moment of embarrassment in A…is for Attitude. At the baseball game Cheryl cheers on Jeff, saying, “Come on, Jeff, you can do it!” That sounds remarkable similar to the chant Connie makes Cheryl repeat to give her a positive attitude. Perhaps Cheryl has reconsidered the importance of positivity. It definitely works this time because Jeff gets a home run right after Cheryl’s encouragement. But Jeff’s great attitude and charm isn’t enough in the end to make things work out with Connie, so it seems positivity still has its limits. After the game they plan to attend a party, which Connie surprisingly attends. If you remember Album 4, it was common knowledge at Connie’s high school that she didn’t go to those kinds of parties anymore after becoming a Christian. So her decision to attend this party is our first hint that meeting Jeff has already had an effect on her. At least she decides to call Whit to get permission. In Album 1 she was perfectly willing to sneak off to a concert without telling her mom, but now as the result of Whit’s influence she’s grown into a more responsible person.
But of course, the party ends up being too rowdy. Even Jeff thinks so, so he leads Connie, Cheryl and Dan to a hidden cabin. It must be love at first sight for Jeff too if he’s willing to leave his house to be destroyed by a bunch of intoxicated partyers while he shows Connie a cabin he’s never shown anyone else before. Jeff acts as a leader in this show. He takes action and gets what he wants. He hits the home run to win the baseball game, and now he’s taking action to win Connie’s heart. He even tells Connie not to be shy and to follow along so she doesn’t get lost in the woods. He is clearly the leader, and she is the follower, passively being led into new terrain. Jeff and Connie soon find out they have so much in common. For instance, they both collected cereal box tops. Wow. That’s definitely something to build a relationship on. Literally the first chance Jeff and Connie have alone, and they’re not really alone because Cheryl and Dan are in the background looking around the cabin, Jeff immediately asks Connie out on a date. And Connie, as the follower, decides to go along with it without asking too many questions.
In preparation for Jeff’s arrival at Whit’s End, Connie wears a nice dress. Whit is confused and remarks that she usually wears “jeans, sweatshirt and sneakers.” A sweatshirt? Since when? It seems there was in fact a time before Connie’s signature green sweater. Perhaps she started wearing it after she broke up with Jeff. And then the first album cover where she’s seen wearing a completely different outfit, Album 57, is the album where Jeff Lewis returns. Coincidence? Probably. What’s interesting to note in this scene is the difference between Whit and June’s reactions to Connie’s new boyfriend. Connie says her mom assumes she is deeply in love with Jeff, but Whit is more careful and doesn’t believe in love at first sight. Meanwhile, Connie is stuck in the middle between these two points of view. She’s annoyed at her mom’s overreaction, but she’s also surprised by Whit’s lack of enthusiasm. Connie feels, in a word, confused. She’s not quite clear on how she should feel, which is totally understandable. Her mom isn’t a Christian and doesn’t ask anything about Jeff’s faith. But Mr. Whittaker does ask, and Connie responds that she doesn’t know, as if that’s the first time she thought of it. Connie’s obviously new to this, both to dating and to being a Christian.
Jeff talks about having to put on an act for the many girls he’s dated, again showing how his experience with dating far exceeds Connie. He can compare Connie to these other girls, but Connie has no point of comparison. Similarly, Jeff says he can be himself around Connie, but it’s obvious Connie can’t act the same way around Jeff. He doesn’t want to go to church and so he doesn’t, but Connie is dragged away from what she wants to do and starts attending church less and less. After Cheryl confronts her about this, Connie has an angry blow-up which ties right back again to Connie Comes to Town. She doesn’t like people interfering with her business. In that episode she had to break up with Bobby, despite her never being interested in him. In First Love, it’s a much more difficult situation. After being comforted by Whit, who doesn’t lecture her, Connie knows what she has to do. For the first time in the episode she takes an active role and stands up for herself and her beliefs. And she does it brilliantly in what is without a doubt the best scene of the episode. Connie explains that Jeff can never experience a truly intimate relationship with her because he doesn’t know the most important person in her life, Jesus Christ. Jeff, who isn’t used to this version of Connie, doesn’t respond well to this. The dialogue is heartbreaking, raw, and emotional. And so, Connie grows once again as a Christian and deepens her personal faith. It’s a bittersweet, tear-inducing episode, but it does everything right and does so much to further Connie’s character. It gets 5 out of 5 stars.