“You know the way I’m always on about that missing episode of Friends I thought I saw?”
“Yeah, the one that obviously doesn’t exist? Your white whale?”
“Yeah, white whale, entirely white cast, whatever. Anyway, I finally remembered it! It came to me in a dream.”
“Oh, like ‘Yesterday’.”
“No, not yesterday, it was earlier today!”
“Yeah, I just mean it’s like when Paul McCartney came up with the melody for…”
“Paul McCartney was never in Friends?”
“He’s a straight, white man though. Could probably find a role for him handy enough.”
“Here, I knew you wouldn’t listen so I jotted down the synopsis as soon as I woke up. Just read this and I’ll get Schwimmer on the phone. Finally get that reunion up and running.”
Right, so Ross is obviously the only remotely interesting character in the entire show and the rest are just foil for Schwimmer so the episode primarily concerns him. The appeal of Ross is multi-faceted but essentially he’s the focal point of the action due to Schwimmer’s comedic timing and the fact that Ross, the brutally oppressive patriarch of the group, forces the viewer to empathise with a domineering individualistic representation of entitled consumer capitalism. This is the Nabokovian beauty of the show. In Lolita, Nabokov lures the reader in with beautiful prose. In Friends, it’s the unadulterated banality of the sitcom format that lulls the viewer into a false sense of security, dulling their awareness of the horrors unfolding on screen.
The plot concerns Ross and his relationship with Rachel. Obviously that’s the only plot line of note in the entire series and they probably could’ve concluded it within a season or two if they weren’t schwimming in money like the corporate leeches they are. So anyway, Ross treats Rachel poorly and flies into a fit of jealous rage when she resists his demands of uncompromising subservience. Let’s just say a co-worker tells her a joke and she politely laughs or something. Obviously Ross finds out about this, having planted the male co-worker two seasons previous, off-screen, to lure Rachel into making some sort of forced mistake eventually. Thus, in his eyes, asserting his position as the morally upstanding party in their on/off relationship. Of course, they’d have “broken up” over an actual, legitimate mistake committed by Ross at this point. Despite this, the surveillance would continue, because Ross, as a sort of surrogate for the viewer, has a meta-awareness of the sitcom environment. Owing to this awareness, Ross rests easy in the knowledge that he and Rachel, as the respective male and female leads with the most screen time, will obviously end up together when the cameras stop rolling.
So anyway all the other characters are off doing their own thing, attempting to force chemistry or stumbling down narrative cul-de-sacs full of catchphrases. Ross has the surveillance network in full-swing. Every single extra on the show is part of this network. Now here’s the twist – Gunther is a plant. That’s right, he’s the mole. It’s obvious really, if Ross found himself in close proximity with someone who fancied Rachel that much he’d obviously take them off screen and quietly shoot them in the back of the head.
Outside of the rent-controlled conveniently dead Grandmother apartment, Central Perk is the main location for all the action to play out. By placing Gunther in this key area, Ross has his Snape, a man who will protect his best interests in order to protect his own love, Rachel. Utilizing a method comprised of emotional blackmail and imagined violence, Ross installs Gunther as the kingpin of his shady surveillance network.
This forced understanding serves Ross almost immediately, with Gunther’s employment of Rachel early in the series, an ostensibly sympathetic action, actually serving as the first nail in her Schwimmer shaped coffin. With Ross a core member of the supposed “friends” and Gunther keeping the workplace on lock-down, Rachel’s early character development is forcibly Ross-centric. From this tightly-controlled world inhabited by the Rachel of earlier seasons, we witness the development of a kind of forced Stockholm Syndrome. Ross, aware of the sitcom structure, positions himself as the only fitting narrative resolution for Rachel when the curtain finally comes down, after ten harrowing years.
I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour, for I control the weather. I’ll be there for you, at all times, because I’ve constructed your world as such. We were on a break, of my own design. Play upon the imagined drama my sweet, simple audience, because loutish Ross can never truly jeopardise the relationship, for jeopardy cannot exist in a sitcom world of his own construction. The other characters, locked in their linear narrative trajectories lack the awareness to save Rachel. Perhaps her only true hope was Gunther. Alas, he, like all before him, cowered in the shadow of the mighty Schwimmer.
“Are you finished reading it?”
“Eh, yeah. I mean, it’s not really an episode synopsis though. It’s just a demented, rambling analysis of…”
“Schwimmer wouldn’t pick up.”
“He didn’t answer the phone. None of them did. Well, apart from LeBlanc.”
“Matt LeBlanc actually answered the phone?”
“Not gonna bother with it then?”