The Odyssey Retirement Home is what you make it to be. It can be a great place to visit or it can be a miserable place. Mr. Whittaker jokes that it isn’t the Odyssey Mortuary, a not entirely appropriate remark, but then quickly moves on to telling the kids to treat the elderly like people. It’s important to remember that everyone desires to be cared for and understood at some level. But, then again, Whit’s comment about some people viewing the retirement home as the mortuary isn’t too far off when you consider that it houses Mr. Morton, a man who apparently fought in both world wars. Since it’s common knowledge that now there are no longer any surviving World War I veterans, this dates the show and unfortunately adds credence to Whit’s little joke. But I think Mr. Whittaker was trying to make a good point with his humor. Most people try not to visit mortuaries on a regular basis. But a mortuary is not the same as a nursing home. It’s wrong to think spending time with older people is a waste of time. We can’t neglect people, no matter what age. From the unborn to the elderly, life is precious at every stage. Every person has their faults, which is only human, and so compassion is appropriate for all such encounters.
Donna mentions that she has never gone along to visit the retirement home and doesn’t know what to expect. People warn her about Mrs. Hooper, but it’s too bad no one remembered to warn her about Richard Maxwell, who apparently works part-time as an orderly there. Why he would do that, considering his negative character traits, I don’t know. He’s not even a very professional orderly because he badmouths Mrs. Hooper, one of the residents. And Richard is also kind of creepy, especially around young girls. He corners Donna and asks for “a kiss goodnight” and she rightly tells him to “get lost.” This of course is just the beginning of Richard’s inappropriate escapades. He later goes after Donna’s friend Lucy during his time working for Dr. Blackgaard. I’m not sure what purpose Richard serves in this episode, other than to add another character to warn Donna about the notoriously nasty Mrs. Hooper. That, and maybe to remind her of how she ditched her friend Rachel in the episode Bad Company. Maybe that’s part of the reason Donna isn’t so quick to give up on Mrs. Hooper. While she might not be the best company, Donna is determined to start up a friendship.
Speaking of Mrs. Mary Hooper, she seems a little familiar, doesn’t she? She’s voiced by the same actor as Mrs. Rossini from the episode The Day After Christmas. And she’s virtually the same character in both roles, except Mary Hooper cares for plants instead of cats. They’re both grumpy old ladies who say they like to be left alone and don’t take kindly to intruders. But when you try to compare Annie McNeal with Donna Barclay, there are clear differences. In short, Annie is a forgettable, annoying character, while Donna is a likeable character who we’ve already had time to get to know. That makes the contrast between Donna and Mrs. Hooper much more evident. They are two people who both have a reason to be bitter, but only one of them is. But we soon see that Mrs. Hooper is being intentionally irritable. When Donna runs out after Mrs. Hooper threatens to show her all her bruises, Mrs. Hooper laughs and tells Whit that young people just aren’t dependable. She is trying to prove a point and it works. She believes no one could possibly care about her and so she puts Donna through a test, causing Donna to fail the first time. But it’s a good thing Mr. Whittaker is there to see what’s going on.
Whit is wise to Mary Hooper’s tactics. He can tell she is lonely, heartbroken and trying her best to cover up her feelings. That’s something that’s great about Whit’s character. He’s not reactionary, but introspective and perceptive. Another aspect of his character that shows up in this episode is his sneakiness. His plan is to use Donna as a way to help Mrs. Hooper open up and talk about how she’s really feeling. The scheme Whit develops is very similar to his plan in the episode No Stupid Questions, in which Meg Stevens has an unfortunate accident when she bumps into a grumpy man in a wheelchair. Whit arranges for them to meet again so they can become friends, so he sends Meg off to bring a gift to someone without telling her that she will be giving it to the same man she bumped into and knocked to the floor. In An Encounter with Mrs. Hooper, however, Whit is slightly less secretive because this time because Donna at least knows she’s heading into the lion’s den.
Donna is the star of this episode and she’s almost perfect for the role. Mrs. Hooper opens up to her about her husband dying a few years ago but is convinced that a young person like Donna couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to witness the death of a loved one. As soon as Mary Hooper utters that line it should become very clear to the audience why this role is just right for Donna’s character. Donna, of course, has seen death. She lost her best friend Karen Crosby to cancer recently. When she explains this, Mary Hooper’s coldness melts away. Donna is able to relate to her in a very personal way most other kids wouldn’t be able to. Donna talks about how it’s hard for her because none of her other friends can fully understand what it’s like to lose your best friend at such a young age. Donna gains more credibility with Mrs. Hooper and is able to stand up to her. I was especially proud of her when she says, “You want to be stubborn? I can be stubborn! You want to be a big baby? I can be a big baby too.” No one else could have said that to Mrs. Hooper, but it was exactly what was necessary.
This episode has some similarities to The Day After Christmas and No Stupid Questions, both of which I rated with 1 out of 5 stars. But I think it’s clear that An Encounter with Mrs. Hooper succeeded where those previous episodes failed. The Day After Christmas was ruined by Annie McNeal, who was too snobby and self-centered to root for, and No Stupid Questions unfortunately had its young, innocent kid character played by someone who sounded like a grown adult, which wasn’t believable at all. Donna Barclay redeems this type of storyline and saves this episode from a low rating. It gets 4 out of 5 stars.