“Hey Arnold” – Helga on the Couch (EPISODE REVIEW)
In this episode of “Hey Arnold”, Helga is caught punching Brainy in the face, so she ends up being psychologically analysed by professional therapist Dr. Bliss. Therapy seems like a chore to Helga, but she’s also terrified that these sessions will result in confessing her Arnold to crush.
Many “Hey Arnold” fans consider this to be the best ever episode of the whole series. Helga has always been a fascinating character, because she’s complexly passive aggressive. Psychologically understanding such a character’s psyche was always going to make for a deep episode.
One of the major strengths of “Hey Arnold” is it’s courage to show the diversity of children. That they’re not all typical nuclear family households. Some kids watching this show are not privileged or loved, and this show gives them archetypes to connect to.
Dr. Bliss is a fantastic therapist! She professionally keeps herself calm while this angry little girl rants aggressively, knowing exactly what she can do to help, but also respecting that Helga is very smart for her age.
It’s amazing how this kids’ cartoon is 20 minutes of character therapy, with a majority of the episode being set in an office. Creator Craig Bartlett actually believes that kids will have the patience and understanding to enjoy something so minimalist. Although, it helps that Helga is a very charismatic character, so its no surprise that Craig had faith in the setup.
The episode isn’t ALL set in a therapy office though, as we do get flashbacks to keep things visually engaging. These sequences help us to see how hard Helga’s life really is, by exposing what shaped Helga into the girl she is today. Her father is a bad tempered loud mouth who sees Helga as a liability, her mom is an air-headed woman who is possibly an alcoholic, and her older sister Olga gets all the attention that Helga craves.
Like I said, Helga’s main concern is to not expose her crush on Arnold in session, but that’s very hard when Arnold is such a big part of who she is. We even get to finally see what made Helga first fall in love with the football head! In a flashback demonstrating Arnold’s natural compassion to a down-on-her-luck Helga on first sight.
When someone is living in an toxic environment, the slightest kind gesture can mean the world to them. It’s a really cute flashback that gives us an eye into where everything started; filling in gaps that the show never explored before.
Of course, Helga doesn’t have a full grip on what it means to be loved or love someone, because her family neglects her, so she doesn’t know how to healthily address her feelings towards Arnold. This is why she turned this love into aggressive hate instead. Sadly, this defensive attitude stuck with her and ended up turning her into a school bully – even though she’s good at heart.
Now, Helga does finally confess her feelings for Arnold to her therapist, but what is she so afraid of? Well, it seems that she was under the assumption that Dr. Bliss would share her secret with others, but really, she HAS to keep sessions confidential. It’s clear that Helga either doesn’t understand therapy policy (she may be smart, but she’s still a child) OR her trust issues made her assume the worst.
Watching Helga scream her lungs out about how much she adores Arnold, is so damn perfect – relieving even. We’re really happy for her, because we know she’s had to keep these feelings bottled up, but who could she ever tell? This is why therapy was always the best route for the poor girl.
Dr. Bliss assures Helga that her feelings are normal, and that she’s free to express them – as long as she’s not hurting anyone. It’s so beautiful seeing Helga having her deep complex emotions validated, every kid deserves that. I couldn’t help but smile seeing Helga leave her therapy session with a newfound sense of self acceptance, even hugging Dr. Bliss with loving gratitude (a BIG deal for Helga, who very rarely shows affection).
To Conclude, Helga on the Couch isn’t just one of the best “Hey Arnold” episodes, it’s one of the best cartoon episodes EVER. A story that gives a voice to neglected kids everywhere and normalizes child therapy. I actually grew up taking therapy as a child, but I never saw this episode as a kid, and I really wish that I did though.
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