This episode is a remake of Missed It By That Much, which helps explain why it doesn’t quite fit Robyn’s character. Obviously the part wasn’t originally written for her. Robyn wasn’t always late for things in the past, but now in Better Late than Never she is suddenly known as the girl who’s late for absolutely everything. It seems her slightly absentminded friend Jessie would have fit this role far better, but unfortunately she’s kept as a side character. This episode tries to convince us that Jessie is somehow more punctual than Robyn, and Jessie even joins in on the criticism of Robyn always being late. And Connie, who’s frequently late for things herself, goes so far as to say she might kick Robyn off the volleyball team if she keeps coming late to the practices and the games. But since when is Robyn late for sports events? This completely contradicts The Winning Edge, in which Robyn is a devoted baseball player and certainly doesn’t show up late. Granted, The Winning Edge technically aired after Better Late than Never, but Robyn does mention that she played for the Coyotes the previous year as well. You don’t become the star hitter of the top team in Odyssey’s eastern division by never being on time. Someone else should have taken Robyn’s role in this remake.
Robyn and Dale Jacobs have another one of their classic father-daughter talks in this show. But unlike the episodes Good Business, But, You Promised, and Bad Luck, Dale doesn’t wait until the end to give Robyn a stern lesson. Right up front he tells her being late is rude. Similarly, near the beginning of the show Whit tells her being late isn’t responsible or caring. As a consequence, Robyn takes these lessons to heart early on and doesn’t get herself into very much trouble in this story. We only hear her being late for something once. For an episode whose whole premise was supposed to convince the audience that Robyn is the girl who is always late, that’s an odd choice. To make up for that lack of conflict, we get to hear Robyn imagining herself being late during a lengthy nightmare scene. Her dream scene is interesting because it’s an odd combination of horror and comedy. For instance, Robyn hears her father repeat the word “funeral” three times, which is pretty creepy, but then a joke is made out of it when Robyn asks why everything has to echo in dreams, a line which also ends up echoing. No matter what terrible things happen during her nightmare, it’s clear from the beginning that Robyn knows she’s dreaming, so it can’t be that frightening for her.
Robyn’s Twilife Zone nightmare, just like her nightmare in Bad Luck in the previous album, is excessively creepy and goes on for too long, taking away time for the actual story. In the dream Robyn’s teacher is evil and laughs in the face of her despair, similarly to the exaggerated story Leslie tells about her teacher in the episode Back to School. But at least this time every scary moment in lessened somewhat by an amusing reference to the fact that Robyn is wearing pajamas, each time serving as a reminder that none of this is actually taking place and that Robyn is safe asleep. And yet, there are still some questionable moments that go too far. At one point Robyn calls out to her parents for help but they reply in unison, “We can’t! It’s too late!” That sounds morbid. And then at another point Robyn encounters her father as an old man, weak and possibly near death. Dale tells her he was waiting for Robyn to get ready for church. Robyn asks where her mom is, and with a heavy heart Dale responds, “She’s gone, Robyn. She got tired of waiting.” The meaning here is ambiguous. Does that mean she died? Or did she just go to church on her own? The rapid aging of Dale seems to suggest the former.
When the nightmare is finally over, this episode turns around and gives us a reasonably solid scene in which Robyn makes a mad dash to the school for her volleyball game. It brings much-needed action out of the unrealistic dream world and into the real world, and it turns out to be the highlight of this show. It even makes it onto the cover of the album and no doubt influenced Album 9’s title, Just in Time. One of the important aspects of this scene is that it makes you want to root for Robyn’s success for perhaps the first time. Before she thinks being late is fashionable, which doesn’t make her very likable, but now she’s trying her hardest to be on time. She encounters plenty of obstacles, including her own parents. Her mom doesn’t seem to care about her being late at all and her dad can’t get the car to start because he didn’t take it into the shop weeks ago when he should have. And so Robyn is left on her own with only the audience to support her and cheer her on as she makes her courageous journey over fences, past angry neighborhood dogs and through creeks to finally reach her destination.
Will Robyn make it on time or won’t she? It’s the question on everybody’s lips and this episode expertly leaves it to the last possible moment to make the big reveal. It delivers as intense a climax as it can come up with and does well to keep the audience in suspense. If this episode’s strong ending had been accompanied by a stronger set-up, then it would deserve a higher rating. But the faulty premise that Robyn is the girl who is always late and the tedious nightmare sequence both drag down the story. As a result, this show can be added to the growing list of average Robyn episodes. It’s neither terrible nor excellent, simply middle-of-the-road. But to be fair, with a theme like punctuality it was unlikely that this was ever going to be a standout episode. It gets three out of five stars.