Jenna Faith Hope thought her life was perfect.
She was kind and smart. She had good friends, she had a great dad.
Jenna Faith Hope doesn’t think she’s perfect.
She misses her mom. She starts failing out of school. She doesn’t know how to help her new sister. She doesn’t know if she wants to. And she’s starting to figure out that she’s gay.
Jenna Faith Hope is perfect.
And I mean that in every sense of the word — both the 16-year-old living in the small town of Reston, and the fictional character on the YouTube series Impulse.
Of course, when I say “perfect” I just mean I wouldn’t change a thing about her; there’s perfection in the imperfection. I already wrote about how Season One laid the quiet breadcrumbs of Jenna starting to realize she’s just a bit different from all of her friends. And Season Two has more of the same, but it also has payoff that was worth the wait.
But before I jump to the end, let me go back to the beginning. I got the chance to chat a bit with Sarah Desjardins, who plays Jenna, and she told me something about the original concept that I find very interesting.
“Maddie [Hasson] came in and her interpretation of Henry was very different than anything else that [the producers] had seen,” Sarah told me. “Maddie’s insanely talented and they decided they wanted to shift the part a little bit to fit what she brought to it, which I think is amazing. And what’s cool about that, because of that and tailoring the part more to Maddie, Jenna became a lot of what the original idea for Henry had been.”
“Henry was originally going to be a girl who kept being teleported away from her town but she loved it and wanted to stay here, but that changed into someone who is stuck in this town and can’t escape,” Desjardins said. “And Jenna became the person who is loyal to her town and her home and where she’s been brought up. And fortunately for me, they still loved what I brought to the character and I got to be involved as Jenna.”
I think this story would have been extremely different if the personalities of Jenna and Henry were sort of flip-flopped, and frankly I can’t imagine it. As it stands, Henry and Jenna are both so different, and Sarah describes their relationship and whether or not they’ll be friends as “the will they/won’t they of the show,” and I agree.
She went on to say, “Jenna is powering through, knowing how Henry is and that she has a hard time opening up to people, and Henry’s response when people try to get close is to push them away. And I think it’s powerful that Jenna tries to fight against that, but I also think that Henry and Jenna both have things about themselves that the other sees and wishes that they had. I think Henry is sometimes envious of the way Jenna can love so openly, where I think Jenna is very envious of Henry’s ability to not care what other people think and truly be herself.”
Which is sort of where we left the reluctant sisters in Season One, with Jenna wishing she knew how to be more like Henry and give less of a fuck.
[Warning, I’m going to get into major spoilers for the entirety of Season Two now.]
When we pick up in Season Two, we are exactly where we left off in the timeline, and almost immediately we can tell that Jenna’s still where we left her, emotionally, too. At the beginning of Season Two, her best friend Patty comes over and gives her a hug and offers to stay over and Jenna makes this almost imperceptible reaction face that I felt in my soul.
There’s another moment that was all too familiar, when she’s having a sweet moment with her father, and they’re talking about how they both miss Jenna’s mother when he catches her watching their old wedding video. Jenna is smiling sweetly at the memories when her dad says, “Whoever marries you is going to be the luckiest man in the world.” And you can see it hit Jenna like a bucket of ice water.
Because the thing is, as it stands, this world isn’t built for those of us who find a door and realize we’ve been in a closet. And coming out of that closet is rarely as easy as it is when you’re playing hide and seek. Sometimes it’s more like slowwwwly creaking open the door and carefully peering out. You dart back into the shadows now and then, but leave the door open, until you feel safe enough to open it just a little bit more. But then, sometimes, someone walks by and closes the door on you. The door you’d been working so hard to get open. Sometimes they slam it in your face, sometimes they just bump into it, having no idea how much darkness they shrouded you in.
And that’s more like what happens with Jenna’s dad, Thomas. He isn’t trying to hurt or even pass judgement on his daughter; he’s just a victim of the heteronormative society we live in. He makes an assumption and it hurts the person he cares about the most.
To try to meet this assumption, to try to get back to her old ideas of what it meant to be perfect, Jenna invites her “sort of boyfriend” over for dinner. But that doesn’t go as she’d hoped either. The meal goes perfectly, her boyfriend and her father get along perfectly. And her perfect boyfriend keeps telling her how much he likes her. On paper, everything is perfect. But she still doesn’t feel perfect.
But then she goes to a queer college party with Townes’ queer sister, Megan (who you’ll absolutely recognize as Lauren Collins, who played Degrassi‘s Paige Michaelchuk!). She meets a girl named Kate during a spoken word poetry performance.
After the performance, Jenna and Kate hang out and talk about science and the Magic School Bus and then Kate kisses Jenna and suddenly everything feels… perfect.
After a moment Jenna gets a bit overwhelmed and excuses herself. She does the alarmingly relatable thing of looking longingly of photos of Kate on Instagram, but can’t quite bring herself to reach out. Not yet.
But, the thing is, that kiss blew the closet door open like a tornado wind to a barn. So no matter how hard Jenna tries to close it again, it just won’t shut tight anymore. Its hinges are broken. So Jenna breaks up with her boyfriend before the big school dance, because Henry’s mother reminds her that she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to. No matter how much this boy likes her, no matter how much work he put into getting ready for the dance, no matter what she promised him, if she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t have to. So Jenna ends up going to the dance with her sister instead and for the first time we get to see them laugh and dance and have regular, teenage fun, no teleportation or threats of violence or anything like that to worry about.
Henry ends up getting Jenna to go to the dance anyway, even though she broke up with her boyfriend, and they have some pure, sweet, sisterly fun. We get to see Jenna and Henry let go and be teenagers for the first time in a while. All the other shit gets pushed to the side, and maybe it’s just for the length of one song, but sometimes that’s all you need to feel like you finally got a full, deep breath after a long time of feeling like you’re under water.
When the song is over and the real world shakes them up a bit, Henry and Jenna go off to the side to have a little sisterly bonding. Jenna steels herself and blurts it out, all in one breath, “I think I’m gay I like girls.” An unsure statement, followed up with a sure one. She hasn’t spoken its name yet, so she isn’t positive she got it right, but she knows one thing for sure: she likes girls.
Henry barely reacts but for an almost amused half-smirk and a glimmer of pride in her eyes, and assures Jenna she still loves her. Jenna admits that telling her was somehow easier and harder than she thought it would be.
Sarah Desjardins said, of Jenna’s journey, “We really talked to a lot of people about their stories in this kind of situation, and most everyone said that oftentimes it was a very slow-going realization and very complicated, and very rarely a quick and easy thing for people to come to terms with, so that’s something I very much appreciate about our show. Everything stays very grounded and real and we very much take our time exploring ideas in a realistic way, I don’t think it becomes gratuitous or boring, it’s still very interesting.”
And I agree 100%. In fact, even though it felt a little like it took forever in TV time (fifteen episodes for her to kiss a girl, seventeen before she says it out loud), it’s actually not even that long for Jenna. She’s only sixteen! But she was dealing with these questions before we met her, and when you’re trying to figure this out, every day can feel like an eternity. What I liked about Jenna’s journey is that it DIDN’T start with a girl or a kiss. Because while sometimes one person can be a catalyst for these questions, often by the time we kiss a girl, it’s just confirming things we’ve been questioning for ages. (And sometimes the questioning goes on forever.)
Mine is perhaps an extreme example, compounded by years of Catholic school and Italian grandparents. I started sensing I was different when my friends all started getting boyfriends in seventh grade and I had no interest. I knew for sure I wanted to be more than friends with my best friend in eighth grade. I kissed a girl for the first time the same night I kissed a boy for the first time when I was fifteen. But it wasn’t until I was 18 that I could even start talking about wondering about if I wasn’t straight with only a select few of my closest friends, and it wasn’t until I was 22 that I knew for sure and started telling people. That was almost ten years of worrying and wondering and listening and being knocked around that closet until finally I kicked the door down. And for me it was also a girl who pushed me over that edge, made the questions into exclamation points, but my first revelations didn’t start with one.
Anyway, back to Jenna. Actually, back to Sarah talking about Jenna. I asked Sarah what she and Jenna have in common, and it her answer is a lot like what my answer would have been if someone asked me why I’m so drawn to Jenna Faith Hope.
“I think I definitely have many more things in common with her than not. Jenna’s big thing is that she just wants to make life easy for everyone around her that she loves, and she wants to do the best that she can to be there for the people that she cares about, but I think to her detriment sometimes. Because when she’s doing that, she’s not focusing on herself or really looking into herself for what she needs, and that’s something I’ve dealt with in my life for a long time. And it’s funny, as Jenna slowly comes into herself more, I feel like there have been many parallels between her and I, and even though our situations haven’t been the same, there are many things to draw from in my personal life, which is great because it makes everything else that much more real.”
Henry and Jenna end up back at odds, and in a moment of panic and self-preservation, terrified Jenna was about to spill HER secret, Henry decides to spill the secret first and outs Jenna to their parents. More than the secret being out, Jenna is upset that Henry would weaponize this secret, since Jenna has turned her whole life upside protecting Henry’s. To Henry’s credit, she immediately regrets it, and though Thomas could use a little work in the “unconditional love” department, Jenna ends up on the other side of it okay, and even calls Megan to ask for Kate’s number in the end.
I know that Season Two of Impulse doesn’t center Jenna’s story, and there were so many other things I loved about the season (I cried harder at the Season Two finale of this than I have at at finale since… okay, fine, it was since I watched the series finale of The Originals this summer but I CRIED A LOT A THIS TOO OKAY), but Jenna reflects back so much of my story that I never knew I was missing from TV before, and Sarah Desjardins gives her so much depth with her nuanced portrayal.
I don’t know if we’ll get a Season Three of Impulse (all of my fingers are crossed for it!) but until then you can catch Sarah on Riverdale as Jughead’s new classmate, Donna Sweets. Until then, you can watch all of Impulse on YouTube. Both seasons are up for YouTube premium members, and regular ol’ YouTube havers can watch a new free episode every Wednesday.