Recap: Blair smugly tells Mrs. Garrett that - thanks to her - Jo is the latest recipient of the Best New Student award. Mrs. Garrett's all, "Wha-a?!" and gushes to Jo about how proud of her she is for winning the bogus sounding award. A few seconds later, Natalie and Tootie arrive, and for some reason Tootie is carrying a package that's addressed to Natalie and is reluctant to hand it over. Natalie grabs it from her and excitedly opens it, then shows Mrs. Garrett what was inside: a book entitled Films of the Three Stooges. That's totally random...but, whatever. The girls scamper upstairs - except Tootie, who stays behind to sort through the rest of the mail. She somehow "accidentally" opens a letter addressed to Jo and starts reading it...then 'fesses up to Mrs. Garrett, who assures her that Jo will understand. Considering Tootie's track record as a nosy meddler, I highly doubt she will. Tootie tells Mrs. Garrett that the letter was from Jo's father - who's currently a prison inmate - and it's awkward 'cause Jo's been telling everyone he lives in Miami. Mrs. Garrett's all, "Wha-a?!" then clucks sympathetically and says, "Poor kid. Trying to keep a secret like that." Tootie wants to throw the letter away, but Mrs. Garrett won't let her 'cause that would be an even shittier thing to do than reading her mail - which, technically, is a federal crime. Tootie doesn't want Jo to think she snooped through her mail on purpose, even though it's pretty clear that that's exactly what she was doing. Mrs. Garrett says she'll talk to Jo about it...then sternly warns Tootie to keep her trap shut about Mr. Polniaczek being a felon.
Tootie heads upstairs and finds Natalie and Blair experimenting with various hairstyles on Jo to determine the kind of 'do she should wear when she receives her Best New Student award. Jo grumps about all the fussing and says she's far more concerned about her speech. Blair tells her she took the liberty of jotting down a few words for her to say...and it's mostly a thank you speech to her (Blair) for being such an awesome mentor. Jo says she wants to write her own speech and plans to thank her mother and Mrs. Garrett...and speaking of Mrs. Garrett, she suddenly appears in the doorway and tells Jo she needs to speak with her in private.
Mrs. Garrett hands her the letter from her father and says it got opened by mistake. Jo looks pissed off that somebody violated her privacy, and Mrs. Garrett raises her right hand and swears it was a mistake...and refrains from ratting out Tootie. Jo says she's embarrassed that her father's in prison and assumes he wants her to visit him there on his fortieth birthday. Apparently, he writes to her a lot, but she refuses to answer his letters. She's still bitter that he walked out on her and her mother, and then got mixed up in a life of crime and got sent to prison. She insists she doesn't miss him at all, but Mrs. Garrett says, "Sounds like your dad made a lot of mistakes. But it also sounds like he loves you" and Jo snorts and says she refuses to write phony letters to the criminal. Mrs. Garrett urges her to pay him a visit so she can face up to him and "have it out". Jo says she has no way of getting to the prison, which is in Albany, so Mrs. Garrett says it just so happens she needs to go to Albany this weekend to buy some vanilla. Jo mulls that over for a few seconds and decides she'll visit him, if only to get the deadbeat out of her life for once and for all. Based on that declaration, I think we can safely guess that the two are headed toward a tearful reconciliation [spoiler alert].
Jo visits her dad in prison [hey - it's Moe Greene from The Godfather!], and they have to talk on opposite sides of a plexiglass divider via telephone. He thanks her for coming, and she sourly tells him how grey he's looking. He ignores her bitchy tone and tells her she looks beautiful, like her mother, but she just snarks at him for walking out on them all those years ago. He acknowledges what a lousy father he's been and says he doesn't blame her for being mad or ashamed of him. He concedes that he "struck out with fatherhood" but insists that that's all in the past now. He asks how her life is going, and she tells him that things at Eastland are pretty good and that she's made a few friends. He says he's heard all about it (I'll assume he stays in touch with his ex) and he seems to be up on all the names of her roommates. He proudly tells her he got his high school equivalency diploma during his incarceration and says he wants to re-enter the work force and do something stock market related. He realizes that with his prison record he can't ever be a broker, but thinks he could maybe become an analyst. He tells her he heard about her winning the Best New Student award and asks for her forgiveness, but she just rolls her eyes and bitchily snarks, "It's the same old song." He looks exasperated and goes, "Gimme a break" and begs her to give him another chance. She stares at him mutely for a few seconds, then acknowledges that he does appear to have done a turnaround, and that his crimes are ancient history. He announces that he wants to be at Eastland to see her receive her award, and Jo gets alarmed and thinks he's talking about breaking out...but he explains that he'll be getting paroled, like pronto. She's all, "Wha-a?!" and stares at him in mute shock.
Jo tells Mrs. Garrett how upset she is that her dad's coming to Eastland, and that she doesn't want anyone to find out he's a felon. A few seconds later, Blair enters the cafeteria and informs Jo that her "handsome father" has just arrived. She gleefully adds that she just discovered a secret Jo's been hiding from them. Tootie looks alarmed and says she doesn't want to hear it, and Blair gives her a strange look and goes, "Huh?" then shakes off the weirdness of Tootie not wanting to hear a secret and says that the secret Jo's been keeping from them is that her full name is Joanna Marie. Uh, sorry writers, but that tidbit already got revealed during the Season 2 premiere...and here's the documented proof from my recap of that episode:
"Mrs. Garrett informs the girls that she just posted the dorm assignments...so they rush over to the wall to see who they'll be bunking with. Blair scrunches her face and says she can't even pronounce the name of her new roommate - Joanna Marie Polniaczek - and Jo bitchily warns her not to mock her name."
So suck on that.
Natalie escorts Mr. Polniaczek into the cafeteria, and Jo introduces him to everyone...and Tootie goes along with Jo's cover story that her dad's been living in Miami for the last several years. Jo pours her dad a cup of coffee, but spills some of it on her skirt, so she announces she's going upstairs to change. Blair giddily tells Jo she's going to use the opportunity to get to know her dad better. After Mrs. Garrett rushes off to attend to preparations for the awards ceremony, Blair starts peppering Mr. Polniaczek with questions. She asks him why Jo's been keeping him a big secret, and a nervous looking Tootie chimes in and reminds Blair that Jo has, in fact, told them all about his life in Miami. Mr. Polniaczek says he in "the transportation business", meaning he's a truck driver. Blair says her dad owns a giant warehouse in Miami - perhaps he's heard of Warner Textile Mills? Mr. Polniaczek deftly avoids having to admit that he's not familiar with the warehouse and says he's been charting her family's company on the stock market. He breaks the bad news that the company's been having a lot of financial problems lately...and Blair looks panicked that all the money she's supposed to inherit will be gone. He assures her that the situation could turn around in no time, then says he's thinking about getting into the stock market. Blair replies, "You could totally do it. You've paid your dues" just as Jo enters the room. She misinterprets Blair's meaning, then glares at her dad in her annoying glarey fashion and snarls, "You just couldn't keep your mouth shut, could you?" She then outs him as a felon to Blair and Tootie by referring to his "stretch"...and Blair scrunches her face in confusion and asks her if she's talking about exercise. Jo snarks, "Don't play games with me, Blair. I'm talking about his prison sentence." She then starts railing about her dad's crimes, blah blah...and Tootie finally interjects and makes it clear that her dad didn't tell them anything about him being an ex-con - she did. Jo looks sheepish for a few seconds, then barks, "So what?!" and says she's tired of feeling guilty about his prison record. She glares at him again and screeches, "Get out of my life! And this time stay out!" and storms upstairs. Mr. Polniaczek decides it would probably be best to get as far away from his horrible, wretched daughter as soon as humanly possible, but Mrs. Garrett doesn't think that's such a good idea and asks him whassup with him leaving. He tells her that Jo's right, and that he's leaving so he doesn't cause her any more trouble. Mrs. Garrett reminds him that he's her father and that leaving isn't the answer, then remarks that whenever the going gets tough, Jo's first reaction is to run away from the problem instead of trying to work it out - exactly the way he's doing right now. Her preachy observations seem to strike a chord with Mr. Polniaczek, and he defers to her greater wisdom and decides that, by golly, maybe it's time to stop running.
Blair tries to convince Jo to go back downstairs and talk to her dad, but Jo snaps, "We have nothing to talk about!" Blair reminds her that she's had three shitty fathers - and Jo interjects and barks, "None of them are ex-cons!" Blair concedes that, but points out that none of them ever came to see her at Eastland...plus, all her bio dad ever sends her are letters signed by his secretary. A few seconds later, Mr. Polniaczek appears in the doorway, and Blair hastily exits so they can talk alone. He tells Jo he has a few things to say and isn't leaving until he does. Jo snarls at him for making it tough for her to face anyone, and that it's hard going to a school like Eastland with a father like him. He tells her he highly doubts her friends are going to hold his past crimes against her, then says he wants to be her father again. She reminds him that he ran out on her when she needed him the most, so he promises not do that ever again, and insists that he's a much different man now. He's like, "Gimme another shot" and she goes, "Why?" and he replies, "'Cause I'm your father and I say so...and I happen to love you." This (mercifully) shuts Jo up, and she suddenly gets teary-eyed and stares back at him mutely.
Mrs. Garrett pops by to inform Jo and her dad that the awards ceremony is about to begin. She hesitantly asks Jo if she wants a good seat for her dad, and Jo smiles and says, "Yeah. The one right next to me" and reaches out to clutch her dad's arm. He grins at her happily and Mrs. Garrett smiles approvingly, and - whew! - everyone gets a happy ending just under the wire.