What does it mean to be a friend? This episode takes on that question by presenting the audience with three sets of friends. There’s Donna and Jessie, Whit and Duffield, and Jimmy and Oscar. It also deals with the friendship that exists between Whit and all the kids in the story, and it looks back to Donna’s previous best friend, Karen Crosby. The episode in which Karen died from cancer is included on Album 3. Now four albums later, Donna’s promise to never forget Karen is still an important part of her life. To do a follow-up on that story and allow us to see the long-lasting effects it has had on Donna is a great idea and this episode helps offer a satisfying conclusion, allowing Donna to move on in her life. It also builds on some previous episodes about friendship which Donna appeared in. In Album 4’s episode Bad Company, Donna experiences being treated badly by a girl who claims to be her friend. In the Album 5 episode An Encounter with Mrs. Hooper, Donna meets a bitter woman who desperately needs a friend but pushes everyone away. But Donna doesn’t give up and continues showing love to Mrs. Hooper as only a true friend would. Interestingly, in The Very Best of Friends Donna is now almost in the position that Mrs. Hooper was in.
One of the fundamental requirements for a good friendship is trust. This is displayed in the very first scene when Donna lets Jessie lead her blindfolded down the school hallway. You have to be good friends to trust someone in that situation. Best friends, in fact. In a sense, Jessie has now replaced Karen as Donna’s best friend. And as Donna’s friend, Jessie wants what’s best for her. She wants her to succeed in the Fall Festival. The only problem is that she doesn’t know Donna’s past. In fact, no one seems to remember Donna’s relationship with Karen. Even her own brother Jimmy can’t understand why Donna wouldn’t want to host the Fall Festival. Everyone has forgotten about Karen except Donna. At least this is Donna’s perspective—in reality no one else has really forgotten Karen. It only seems that way because Donna is simply the one kid at school who was closest to Karen. Donna’s feelings of isolation and not being understood by anyone else come across very naturally and are the perfect driving force behind the episode.
An episode about friendship is the perfect opportunity to bring back Reginald Duffield, Whit’s friend from long ago who we only just met in the previous album. I’m glad to see his presence in Odyssey does not go to waste. And of course he brings his humor with him, including more jokes about the superiority of the English over the Americans when it comes to tea brewing. He adds a more lighthearted side to episode, especially when he comes into contact with Jimmy and Oscar. The boys use some great logic when they discover Duffield is from England and therefore must be a great Shakespearean actor. It’s all fun and games until Jimmy realizes he’s playing a girl, another funny moment for the audience at least. But something interesting about this whole scenario is the fact that the particular Shakespeare play they are practicing is Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy which ends in death. In the play the lovers cannot bear to live without each other, so they despair and commit suicide. This episode, however, seems to actively work against that outcome. Not only does it turn the tragic play into a comedy, but it makes the point that life should continue to go on even in the midst of tragedy. Karen may have been Donna’s beloved friend, but that doesn’t mean Karen’s death is the end for Donna too. Instead, Donna finally learns to move on. The contrast between Shakespeare’s play and this story is a clever connection to make.
The second person to blindfold Donna is Whit, pointing to that fact that he is one of her close friends. Whit talks about how his son Jerry put off doing his math homework once, a story which is a little similar to the episode That’s Not Fair from Album 6, in which Donna gets found out for not handing in her assignments on time. Except Whit relates his story to Donna’s refusal to deal with her grief over Karen’s death, which is a great parallel. Mr. Whittaker is pretty blunt with Donna, telling her she’s still angry with Karen for leaving her and with God for letting it happen. He gets tough and even causes her to cry. He clearly wasn’t lying when he said he was heading straight into a confrontation. But that kind of direct honest is exactly the way close friends should be able to interact. And Whit is the perfect person to share this moment with Donna. I believe the last person Whit told about his son Jerry’s death was Mr. Altman in the episode The Price of Freedom. Both that interaction and his conversation with Donna are done very well and feel heartfelt and authentic.
In my description of the many different friendships in this episode, I left out the most important one: the friendship every Christian has with Jesus Christ. You can gain some comfort by confiding with your other friends, but you can only gain a true sense of lasting peace by casting all your cares on Jesus. In that sense, Jesus is the ultimate friend who can go above and beyond what any other friend could do. Whit explains this concept of surrendering your feelings to God wonderfully. This episode has the perfect ending, with Donna going up on stage and reading the words to a hymn in the same way that Karen once did. In the episode Karen, Donna’s focus is on her friend Karen, while Karen is focused on her eternal destiny with Jesus. Now in the episode The Very Best of Friends, Donna finally lets go and turns her full attention to Jesus and the love and security he offers. It is a beautiful story arc which ends on a note of hope. This episode gets 5 out of 5 stars.