“Be Prepared” can only be described in one way, and that is vulnerable. The plan of the episode is pretty simple. Dean and his friends want to have the same wilderness experiences as Dean’s Caucasian counterparts at school. This causes Dean to ask his parents to allow him to go to Boy Scouts. The original scoutmaster, a scout leader for Dean’s brother, retires, so Dean’s dad Bill steps in. The school baseball coach also goes with the boys on the wilderness trip because he is 1/15th Cherokee. It’s abundantly clear Bill has no idea what it means to be a Boy Scout or even how to use a map. Bill’s incompetence upsets Dean because all he ever wanted was to be like everyone else and hates his father for making himself and his friends miserable during their outdoor adventure.
This episode is about vulnerability because it shows us that even though a parent can be capable of many things, there are still things, no matter how old you get, that you can’t master. Bill has to learn that the hard way. He goes on this trip specifically because he wants acceptance from his son rather than letting his friend be the hero. To this point, we had not seen Bill be the jealous type as a parent.
Dule Hill does an excellent job at displaying that level of vulnerability. It humanizes the character considerably, and even though he’s not saying much more than just being cool, you can tell when he is vulnerable and less competent in his outdoor skills. I love that the show is confident enough to allow Dean to see his father’s vulnerable side and fear of failure as a parent. This episode showcases significant growth for the show because you’re not just focusing on the development of the main character; you’re focusing on the growth of everyone around the main character as well. The fact that this particular show can engage in that duality shows just how strong the writing staff actually is. Children need this kind of television programming in their lives because it shows that no matter how mature we get, we’re still both capable of failure and afraid of it.
The only major negative that I have about this episode is that Dean’s entire family was not involved in the idea of Boy Scouts. We don’t get much of a storyline between Dean and his sister, and the mother is relegated to being the homemaker in this episode after being such a hero at work in the previous entry. On a personal level, I would love to see the life of the baseball coach fleshed out just a little bit as well. They use him as a side character when it’s clear that that particular actor definitely has the range to do more. I am fully aware that they made him a regular cast member for the rest of the season, so I am curious to see whether or not he gets the kind of stories that Dean’s parents have been allowed to portray.
Overall this was another strong episode for The Wonder Years and I’m continually interested in seeing what progression Dean makes in his life. After all, growing up is the hardest thing we ever do.