Season 1 | Episode 6 | “Cheating” | Aired Nov 3, 1998
Felicity has learned a lesson or two during her short time in New York, but none have stung quite like this: Academic dishonesty bites.
Now, I don’t know this from experience, but as someone who has survived the rigor of higher education, universities heavily stress that cheating is something you should never ever do. And that goes for life, love, and the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.
With “Cheating,” Felicity delves deeper into what makes and easily breaks a relationship. (Hint: lies.) That’s not to say Felicity and Ben have a relationship beyond being study buddies. When she gets him pegged for plagiarism, it’s clear that their chances of stoking any type of fire is not in the cards. It’s a tough blow, too. They came this close to kissing—or so Felicity thought. He was merely picking some rogue cilantro from her teeth. Normal.
Awkward sexual tension aside, Ben gives Felicity his paper to edit on a—wait for it—floppy disk. Remember those? While editing Ben’s paper, Felicity takes some creative liberties. She doesn’t just sub in stronger words and remove unnecessary commas. She deletes full passages and composes her own, with new arguments and allusions. Has she totally lost it?
Meanwhile, Elena blames Noel for the whole dorm knowing about her evening with Blair because he is a noted chatterbox. But Noel hasn’t told a soul about Elena’s walk down the yellow brick road on Halloween. That was the Tin Man himself: Blair. Despite Elena’s aggressively headstrong personality (a direct antithesis to Felicity’s restless confusion), Blair isn’t deterred by her multiple passes. Finally, Elena agrees to have dinner with him.
Felicity is largely unconcerned with her recent foray into unsolicited ghostwriting. She chats with Julie about Ben’s odd herb extraction and Julie’s imminent date with Zack to watch a five-hour Russian film. Neither of them is as dumbfounded as Ben, who gets cold-called in class and flops. Hard. Felicity tries to bail him out, but it’s no matter. While everyone celebrates their good paper grades, Ben gets pulled aside and accused of cheating.
Ben vents to Felicity and Julie over lunch about his impending investigation by the English department. Felicity keeps quiet and dodges his questions. After lunch, she confesses to rewriting his paper, hoping it would relieve her guilt and alleviate his stress. Nope. “Get away from me!” he screams in her face. But, honestly, what response was she expecting?
Of course, Felicity consults the doomsday worrier, Noel, who isn’t as optimistic as she is about the situation. Noel meets with the dean to probe the repercussions of academic dishonesty. Turns out there’s no good escape plan, especially since Ben plans to claim authorship of the paper.
Julie rents Solaris from the video store (RIP video stores, but is $2.50 a good deal for a rental?) to prepare for her date with Zack. She watches and hates the film, and narrowly evades being caught cramming by Zack. Despite her best efforts to feign some sort of interest in the film after their date, Zack informs her that she fell fast asleep. She’s embarrassed, which is exactly what she was trying to avoid by renting the movie. But Zack doesn’t care, thus prolonging their weird pairing.
Elena, too, squares off with her own dating question marks, with admittedly less grace. She stops Felicity in the elevator (literally shutting the elevator down) to ask for advice. She thinks Blair is being too clingy for having spent a single night together. Felicity helps Elena realize that she actually likes Blair and his company. Still, Elena misses their date, but that doesn’t stop Blair from chasing her. He brings her orange chicken, annoyed but unwilling to let her push him away.
Noel warns Ben that his get-out-of-cheating-scandal strategy is dangerous. But we know how Ben operates at this point. Logic rides shotgun to pride. Felicity waits for Ben before his deliberation with the English department as a last-ditch attempt to beg him to let her take the fall. She’s unsuccessful, and Ben faces the wrath of intimidating tenured professors.
His struggle with defining irony is the first red flag. (Come on, Ben. Alanis Morissette spelled this one out for you in ’95.) Then Noel gleans from his old pal the dean that Ben’s stakes are even higher. If he’s proven guilty, his entire record will be investigated. Meaning his fictitious application essay will be uncovered. Noel says Felicity must tell the truth.
After sweating it out for much longer than anyone anticipated, Ben comes clean: He didn’t write the paper. Enter Felicity with the truth. Their professor asks why she rewrote his paper, and before she can formulate an answer, Ben blurts out that he’s dumb. I mean, where are the lies? Kidding. But when someone you trusted shows little faith in your work, that’s not a vote of confidence.
Felicity waits outside Ben’s apartment to reassure him that she never wanted to make him feel “anything less than amazing,” that he shouldn’t be intellectually insecure. But he is. And she’s insecure about her clumsy sociability. All she has to fall back on is her brains. Quite a duo, these two.
Together they meet with their professor to learn their fate. They won’t be expelled, but both will fail the paper. Without Felicity’s intervention, Ben’s original would have gotten a B. Doesn’t that make your heart sink? Ben’s does. He doesn’t accept Felicity’s latest apology.
A quote from Sally’s latest tape underscores the theme of the episode: “If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me.” W.H. Auden wrote that, and it speaks volumes about the characters’ motivations. Julie wanted to understand Solaris for Zack. Blair sensed Elena’s cold feet, but didn’t back down. Felicity offered her unrequited crush help in the best way she knew.
Equal affection could not be, so let the more loving one be Felicity.
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