PEN15’s “Vendy Wiccany” Teeters Between Womanhood and Childhood
Today is International Day of the Girl, which got me thinking about my childhood and how certain parts about being a young girl impacted my life as an adult.
Then my mind gravitated to a particular television show that perfectly captures what it’s like growing up girl.
I know, I know — another coming-of-age show. But this one’s different. It’s honest, it’s funny, it’s witty, it’s real. And it’s called PEN15.
PEN15: One of Hulu’s Best Kept Secrets
If you don’t know PEN15, then you should. It’s a cringe comedy show that “depicts middle school as it really happened.” What sets this show apart from other shows like this is that the showrunners Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play fictional versions of themselves.
In real life, Maya and Anna are in their thirties, but they’re pushing fourteen in the show. Taking real-life experiences and playing alongside actual thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds, Maya and Anna bring the hardships of being a middle school girl in hilarious and heartbreaking half-hour episodes.
Carefully tying in adult themes and holding onto childhood innocence, Maya and Anna find themselves in various awkward and embarrassing — and sometimes exhilarating — moments. They’re obsessed with going to second base with the cutest boy in school, but they’ve also not outgrown playing with their Barbies at home.
One thing seems too old for them, while the other looks too young. Honestly, there’s a special skill for this kind of depiction.
Nostalgia Is Why It Works
The show is nostalgic. There are many parts that will have you giggling and nodding along with things you might’ve forgotten about, like petty AIM away messages, or hoping your friend’s parent won’t answer the phone when you call.
Like many, Anna and Maya’s innocence brings me back to simpler days. I’d spend my summers playing in the woods imagining and pretending, catching Pokemon to help me fight against the bad guys. But there were blinding reminders that I wasn’t a kid anymore: Although I played like one, I was wearing bras and had cramps. Like Maya in “Sleepover,” my period was an embarrassing, painful secret I couldn’t stand to have.
I know there are tons of criteria for how Anna and Maya cope with growing up, but I want to talk about Wendy Viccany. Her business card sparked an unforgettable few days of childlike distraction in Maya’s and Anna’s lives.
Unraveling the Episode “Vendy Wiccany”
“Vendy Wiccany” is the third episode of the second season. It starts with a pretty average scene: It’s probably the weekend and Maya and Anna are watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? It’s the perfect way to spend a Saturday with your best friend.
Unfortunately, they quickly witness a pretty nasty fight between Anna’s parents, who are in the midst of a messy separation. At the sound of a cup being smashed in the kitchen, Maya takes Anna’s hand.
Together, Anna and Maya escape the warring home and run. They keep going until they can’t anymore. They begin laughing, hand-in-hand, going at the speed of light. Eventually wiping out, still cracking up, Anna and Maya lay on the ground, realizing they’re somewhere deep in the woods.
“Wait,” Maya says, breaking the silence. “There were five leaves here before, and now there are only three.” This quickly takes them through a wormhole of explanations, until they know it must have been magic. Not long after, the pair comes across a business card wedged in a tree.
It belongs to a real estate agent named Wendy Rochelle Viccany.
Maya: “Why is there fricking paper in the tree?”
Anna: “Paper comes from trees, you nut.”
Maya: “Or what if it’s…”
Anna: “Yeah! What if it’s…”
Maya: “It’s Wendy Rochelle Viccany.”
Anna: “Wiccany! It’s Mother Witch.”
Maya: “No, Anna, I know, but that’s a V, not a W.”
Anna: “Are you serious? Come on! In Germany, they pronounce Vs as Ws. Viccany is an alias for Wiccany.”
Their imaginations spark, and they’re convinced this real estate agent is a witch who is closely watching their amateur spellcasting.
To Anna and Maya, this power is nothing but good news. It means they can do whatever they want. So, the two new witches begin casting spells: Maya wishes for her dad to come home, and he actually comes home the very next day. Anna casts a spell that she wouldn’t love Alex anymore, and she decides she loves him less the next day.
Ultimately, these powers give them a confidence they never had.
Despite the obsessive love spellcasting (which required a piece of popular boy Brandt’s hair…), I think Maya and Anna knew that they didn’t have any powers. Becoming witches and practicing their witchcraft was their way of coping with the rejection they were facing.
Think about it: Anna’s parents weren’t together anymore, and she was convinced it was her fault. The boy she liked wouldn’t give her a second glance. And Maya’s obsession with Brandt was becoming out of control. The more he ignored her, the more clingy she got.
Having powers allowed for a justifiable distraction from the world around them. They were making sense of why things happened in a way that they could digest. This is what young children do, and it makes sense that the mechanism would follow into Maya and Anna’s teenage years. After all, these two girls are the epitome of innocence and naivety.
At the end of the episode, we see that the girls are heartbroken. Maya was humiliated at school and by her family for stealing Brandt’s hair for her love spell. Anna just learned her parents are officially getting a divorce.
Anna asks her best friend to meet up in the middle of the woods so she can cast a spell to disappear forever.
When Maya arrives, it’s nighttime. Anna is clearly distraught and begins chanting a spell. But Maya isn’t convinced of this idea. She’s crying and pleading for Anna to stop. But it’s too late — the spell is working.
Anna: “It’s happening. Do you see my fingers? They’re, like, leaving me. But the pain’s going away too, actually.”
Maya: “No, Anna, stop! Stop it, Anna.”
Anna: “Where am I?”
Maya: “Anna, you’re right here. Look at me, okay? You’re not disappearing. You’re staying here. I love you.”
This dialogue was absolutely beautiful, but it was also a challenging moment for me. Anna’s desire to discard her life, even with a fictional spell, is like suicide.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been there before. Growing up is no walk in the park. But sometimes all you need is someone to talk to, somebody who understands you. That’s what Maya is for Anna, and they’re both lucky for it.
Quietly you see that the mysterious, dark woodland slowly transforms into Anna’s backyard. Yes, they were at Anna’s house this whole time, but the emotional weight of the moment transported them to a lonely place.
Watching “Vendy Wiccany” brought me such joy. Even at twenty-six, it felt validating to reexperience dancing between the fine line of womanhood and childhood.
But, as I said before, all episodes are like this in some way. We follow Maya and Anna’s journey to acceptance and popularity, even if it means hiding parts of them from the rest of the world.
I suppose that’s the thing about PEN15 that stood out to me the most: Girls don’t have to give up their fun, childlike essence. But many choose to let it go. Whether it’s so that they can fit into certain crowds, to look smarter, to make boys like them, this must be part of the reason why the stereotype says girls mature faster than boys.
Do they really? Maybe not. Maybe it’s because they feel like they have to grow up, even if they’re not ready to.
As an adult, I’m doing a lot of unweaving of the behaviors and complexes I learned as a little girl. More and more, I’m working on listening to my inner child. I often wonder what I would say if I could meet my younger self. Would I give her advice? Help her prepare for certain events? Hug her? Listen to her problems? The universe knows she needs it, and the least I could do is be there for her. But after watching Vendy Wiccany, I felt more confident with what I would say to thirteen-year-old me.
I would tell her that she could teeter on that line between womanhood and childhood for as long as she’d like.