“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, but Helga is terrified that this will mean that she’ll end up confessing her deep secret about loving Arnold.
Many “Hey Arnold” fans consider this to be the best ever episode of the whole series, but why is that? Well, Helga has always been a fascinating character, because she’s incredibly intelligent, yet mean towards those around her, so understanding her psyche makes for a captivating 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, because some kids watching this show are sadly not as well off as most of their cartoon heroes, and that’s what I respect about this series.
Dr. Bliss is a fantastic therapist, professionally keeping herself calm while this angry little girl rants aggressively, knowing exactly what she can do to help, but she also respects that Helga is very smart for her age, so she knows that the usual psychological analysis tactics won’t work.
It’s amazing how Craig Bartlett decided to do a 20 minute special episode of “Hey Arnold”, that’s mainly set in a therapy office, he actually feels brave enough that kids will have the patience and understanding to enjoy something so minimalist. Although, it helps that Helga is a great character, with her smart wit and sassy charisma, so it’s no surprise that Craig had faith in the setup.
The episode isn’t ALL set in a therapy office though, we do get flashbacks to keep things visually engaging, these sequences help us to see how hard Helga’s life really is, exposing what shaped Helga into the girl she is. 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, but that’s a hard aim to have, when Arnold is such a big part of who she is. Brilliantly, we get to finally see what made Helga fall in love with the football head, that he was the only one who showed her compassion on her first preschool day, while her own family saw her as a nuisance.
When someone is living in an toxic environment, the slightest kind gesture can mean the world to them, so I’m not shocked that Arnold’s simple gift of sharing his umbrella can mean so much, especially he throws in a compliment about her bow too. It’s a really cute flashback, giving 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, which is why she turned this love into aggressive hate instead. It’s this attitude that stuck with her, because sadly, she continued to be an unloved child, and that’s what lead her to being in a therapy session.
Now, this does mean that Helga has to finally confess her feelings for Arnold, 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, meaning 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, we’re really happy for her, because we know she’s had to keep these feelings bottled up, but who could she ever tell? A therapist was always the best bet at this point, which is the best route for someone like Helga, who needs mental health assistance after all her years of abuse.
Dr. Bliss assures Helga that her feelings are normal, 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 while normalizing child therapy. I actually grew up taking therapy, for most of my young life even (Ages 7 – 16), but I didn’t grow up with this episode, and I really wish that I did though.
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