Recap: Natalie urges Geri to hightail it over to the party supplies store to buy decorations for Blair's surprise birthday party, but Geri's like, "Meh" and tells her there's no point 'cause Blair hates celebrating her birthday. [Is it a normal thing for a grown ass woman to hang out at a private girl's school all the damn time - even if her cousin is one of the students there?] Mrs. Garrett agrees and says that Blair has always been sensitive about getting older, but is sure she'll enjoy the cake and balloons. A few seconds later, Blair staggers into the room, sighs heavily, and mutters, "Another year, another wrinkle." She says that time has never been kind to Warner women, and that many have metamorphosed from being stunningly gorgeous to merely attractive. Egads!
Jo and her English teacher, Gail Gallagher, enter the room, excitedly gabbling about the book sale they just went to, along with all the fascinating literature they were able to pick up at a discount. Gail tells Jo she needs to read The Grapes of Wrath, like yesterday, and then goes on and on about its awesomeness. Natalie says she's weirded out by the overly chummy relationship Jo and Gail have forged...and Blair snootily explains that the two share a common bond, which Jo and Gail readily admit is their shared experience of growing up in poverty. After Gail and Mrs. Garrett scamper off to the kitchen to get some coffee, Jo says she idolizes Gail so much that she now wants to become a teacher and attend the very same college Gail attended (located only sixty miles from Peekskill). Blair advises her to do it fast 'cause Gail is leaving Eastland soon, and Jo scrunches her face in confusion and is all, "Wha-a-a-a?" so Blair explains that she overheard Mr. Parker blabbing about it in the hall. Way to be discreet about your faculty, dickwad. When Gail emerges from the kitchen, Blair asks her if the rumors of her impending departure are true...and a sheepish looking Gail admits that, yep, she'll be leaving Eastland at the end of next week. Jo's all, "You're leaving?! WTF?" and Gail meekly says that she, uh, never got around to telling her. Natalie gives off a celebratory woot and applauds Gail for having the courage to make such an impulsive life decision.
During English class, Gail is discussing Brave New World while Jo slouches in her chair with her arms folded and makes bitchy remarks about people who pretend to be your friend, but then abandon you. Subtle, Jo. When the bell rings, Gail asks Jo to stay behind for a few minutes and apologizes for keeping her in the dark about her plans to leave, and acknowledges that she has every right to be angry. Jo pretends to not give a rat's ass about her leaving and snarls that she must not like it very much at Eastland. Gail says on the contrary she does like it here, but that sometimes shit happens. Jo's like, "Sure it does, but friends talk about it" and Gail cryptically tells her that some things are hard to talk about with a friend. Jo whines about what a big jerk she made her look like to the other Facts gals when it was obvious that she knew nothing of her plans to leave (this matters, why?), then storms out of the classroom.
A group of Eastland girl extras who hardly ever get airtime are bustling around the festively decorated cafeteria as they wait for Blair, the birthday girl, to arrive. After a few seconds, Natalie shouts, "They're coming!" and shuts off the lights. When Blair and Geri enter the darkened cafeteria, Geri turns the lights on, and everyone yells surprise! Mrs. Garrett rushes over to give Blair a happy birthday cheek kiss...and when Blair just stares sullenly into space, Natalie orders her to cheer up 'cause a lot of people went through a lot of trouble to decorate the cafeteria for her party. Blair cries, "I can't help it!" and Geri tells her to shut it and just enjoy the damn balloons and cake. Blair perks up at the mention of cake - but when one of the girls asks her how old she is, she scrunches her face miserably and starts fake crying...even though she's a twenty year old actress who's not doing too bad of a job passing herself off as a schoolgirl.
Mrs. Garrett tells Jo that Gail won't be able to make the party, and Jo snarkishly pretends she couldn't care less. Mrs. Garrett tells her she's being prickly and unfair, but Jo just snarls about how duped she now feels whenever she recalls how Gail used to talk about being around for the entire school year. She assumes that Gail got a job at another school for a lot more money and bitterly mutters, "Home is where the dollars are." Mrs. Garrett shakes her head and says, "You're soooo wrong" and violates whatever privacy Gail would reasonably expect to be afforded in the workplace and tells Jo that Gail is leaving 'cause she's sick. Jo's all, "Wha-a-a-a?" just as Natalie brings out the cake and the partygoers sing Happy Birthday to Blair. As everyone cheers merrily in the background, Mrs. Garrett tells Jo that Gail has a terminal illness (malaria? heart disease? leprosy? cancer? ...she doesn't specify), and Jo stares sadly into space as her brain processes the devastating news.
The Facts gals (minus Jo) are playing cards in their dorm room, remarking on how mystified they are by Jo's moodiness and elusiveness lately. I'll take this to mean that Mrs. Garrett didn't blab to them about Gail dying. Mrs. Garrett enters their room and tells the girls she has an important message for Jo...and a few seconds later, Jo breezes in and says she spent the day volunteering in the biology lab. Mrs. Garrett passes along a message from Gail: an invitation to attend a Beethoven concert with her tonight. Jo mumbles something incoherent, then rushes back out to start setting up the cafeteria tables for dinner.
Jo returns home at 3:00am and is ambling around the cafeteria when Tootie storms in and demands (!) to know where she's been. Jo tells her she went to the movies and then drove around for awhile, and Tootie gives her shit for breaking curfew as if she's in any kind of authoritative position to be giving shit to another student...and Jo snarls at her to lay off. A grim faced Mrs. Garrett enters the room and asks Tootie to skedaddle so that she can speak privately to Jo, but Tootie refuses 'cause she's making it her bidness to find out what is blazes has been going on with Jo this episode. Mrs. Garrett admonishes Jo for not calling Gail back about the Beethoven concert, and that the poor woman waited for her at the theatre for over an hour. Tootie tells Jo she gets how upsetting Gail leaving is for her, but points out that they can still keep in touch by writing letters. Jo snaps back that Gail isn't leaving Eastland for a different job - she's checking herself into a hospital and is never checking back out. Tootie scrunches her face in confusion, then (as she finally gets a clue) sad disbelief. As Jo tears up, Mrs. Garrett soothingly tells her how difficult it is to lose someone you care about, but that it's important to face up to it...and, if possible, avoid treating the sick person like a bag of shit before they exit your life altogether. Jo rails about the unfairness of Gail working so hard to escape the shithole neighborhood she grew up in - only to get struck down by a deadly disease a few years later. She miserably asks what the point of it all is if she soon dies from whatever disease is ravaging her at the age of twenty-six, and Mrs. Garrett solemnly retorts, "You are" ... along with every girl who's ever benefited from being in her English class. Jo wails, "She should have more time!" then bursts into tears and collapses against Mrs. Garrett in a hug.
Gail is enjoying one last cup of coffee with Mrs. Garrett and says she's pretty much all packed up and ready to go gentle into that good night. Jo enters the room and gives Gail a sheepish hello and apologizes for being such a hostile turd lately, and Gail graciously forgives her rudeness and tells her she's going to miss her. When Jo tells her she's learned so much in her English class, Gail thanks her for her kind words, then earnestly assures her she's going to be OK (afterlife-wise, I guess). Natalie and Blair suddenly bound into the room to ask Gail to sign their yearbooks, then give her an official Eastland send-off with loud party blowers and confetti.
The next day, a crisp looking teacher named Miss Barnett takes over the English class and says she's totes down with following the rest of Gail's lesson plan. She tells the class they'll be embarking on a study of The Grapes of Wrath...and at the mention of Gail's favorite novel, Jo puts her sad face on and stares wistfully into space.
Thanks for that thoroughly depressing half hour of glumness, writers.