(It goes without saying, but this article features heavy spoilers for Yuri!!! on ICE. If you are not caught up all the way through episode 11, for the love of all things holy, don’t click on this article, unless you don’t care about being spoiled)
*********************(point of no return)*********************
So, it happened. One of the least surprising things to occur in the Grand Prix Final has come to pass, the skating god from Canada, Jean-Jacques Leroy (aka JJ), has proven himself to be a mortal being after all. When JJ first debuted in Yuri!!! on ICE, the show went well out of its way to quickly establish two key things about him. The first is that he was a skating god the likes of which only Viktor could surpass, and the second is that he is insanely insufferable.
He had all the right ingredients to make (most) of the audience bristle at his presence. He had a signature pose, a custom theme song literally about how god damn awesome he was, an attractive fiancee, his freaking initials tattooed on his body, the largest cheering section out of all the skaters, and more talent than the rest of the competing skaters combined, as proven by him qualifying for the Grand Prix Final by perfectly executing programs with more complex jumps (both in quantity and quality) than the others. He was so dominant that the other skaters were adding in more difficult jumps to their programs just to even have the hopes of having enough points to even realistically compete with him.
Realistically speaking, from a storytelling standpoint, he needed to fail eventually. The show made it well and clear that if he successfully completed his short program, then almost no one had any hope of beating him for the gold. He needed to mess up for the show to have any possible hope for another winner, and when his turn came up to skate the short program in the Grand Prix Final, Yuri, our main freaking character, was in danger of being placed in fifth place of the standings, aka, “Oh you are done screwed now” territory, had JJ nailed it.
So needless to say, many of us were actively hoping he would mess up. Myself included, if I am being perfectly honest. However, at best I was expecting him to screw up one, maybe two jumps, and be placed third or fourth in the standings. What I was not expecting was a complete self-destruction on the same level of Yuri’s performance at the previous year’s Grand Prix Final.
Need I remind everyone, the performance Yuri is referring to left him looking like this:
To the shock of no one, JJ also takes his craptacular performance hard:
By making JJ fail so spectacularly, the show managed to do something not many people were expecting. It has turned many people into fans of JJ. So many of us wanted to see his smug, arrogant ass get knocked down a peg, but not this far down, and certainly not this brutally. JJ was never a bad guy, he was never a villain, or someone we were supposed to hate through and through. He was just a dude who was a little too into himself and thought his shit didn’t stink. Which was precisely the reason for his downfall.
Yuri failed in his first Grand Prix Final because he lacked confidence. For an ice skater, he’s actually pretty damn introverted and awkward. He crashed because he didn’t believe in himself or his abilities enough. JJ is in every possible way the opposite of Yuri. He’s extroverted to the extreme, he is more than confident enough in himself and his skills that he could donate some of his confidence to Yuri and still be many fold more confident than him, hell he’s even in a heterosexual romance while Yuri is in a homosexual one.
Above all else, though, it was his extreme overconfidence that proved to be his greatest weakness. Because JJ is so confident in himself, he piled on so much pressure without even realizing it. Wanting to capture both an event grand slam by winning gold in all the events he participated in, and by hinging his marriage to his fiancee on winning the World Championship.
Ultimately he couldn’t handle the pressure and had a flat out anxiety attack on the ice itself, as indicated from both how uncoordinated he was during the short program and how he was breathing after his performance. Now did JJ bring this upon himself? In a way, yes, because he was the one who piled the pressure onto himself, but this wasn’t entirely his fault. In fact this shouldn’t be blamed on one person or party. This whole thing was honestly a disaster waiting to happen.
JJ added all of this weight on his shoulders in part because of what was being expected of him. People were eying him to be the next superstar of skating now that Viktor seemingly hanged up his skates for good. This in turn compounded the motivations he already had to become the best skater. It’s one thing to have something be a personal goal you set for yourself, it’s an entirely different thing when that goal becomes something others expect from you.
Which brings me to another interesting wrinkle to this whole situation, the crowd watching his performance. Initially stunned at JJ’s missteps and stumbles, the crowd kicks into a tearful fever pitch as they sing along to the chorus of JJ’s aforementioned custom theme, tears literally streaming down their face as they try to cheer their hero on to victory.
To be frank, I know full well how the crowd was feeling during this. I’ve seen multiple times athletes and performers I’ve enjoyed or greatly admire have what seemed like a career low performance. It greatly sucks to see someone who might very well be an idol or a hero to you get so beaten down.
I still vividly remember watching an episode of WWE RAW back during the Attitude Era with my cousin, and The Rock, a favorite of both of ours’, was getting beaten bloody with a steel chair, and my cousin was flat out legitimately crying for The Rock to get back up. Yeah pro wrestling isn’t a “real sport”, more like athletic theatre instead, but we were kids then so, *ahem* it was still real to us damn it!
Hell I remember watching an episode in Haikyuu!!’s first season and seeing the usually boisterous and loudmouth hype machine that is Tanaka, who I should point out is my favorite character in Haikyuu!! by the way, get ground down into dejected silence was like a cannonball to the gut. The overall point I am trying to make is even when they are at their lowest, we still want to see our heroes soar.
It’s part of the reason why we cheer for them. Which, unfortunately feeds into the pressure a lot of these people end up feeling during critical performance moments, because many of them do not want to let their fans down, even if some of them try to deny that. It’s actually a rather vicious cycle when you think about it.
The saddest thing is that at least some of this pressure could have easily been avoided. After JJ’s score comes in and the whole arena is in stunned silence, the very first person to start chanting JJ’s name was none other than his fiancee. This is evidence that she genuinely cares about him and that he didn’t actually need to make that silly, and honestly rather sickeningly romantic, gesture of promising to marry her after winning it all.
The chanting from the crowd helps allow JJ to, at least on the surface, recollect himself much quicker than it took Yuri to recover (hell, I’d argue Yuri still has yet to fully recover from his performance last year, even with his newfound sense of confidence and sensuality), so JJ isn’t down and out of things yet, but he was certainly shook to his core.
The only real complaint I have with this otherwise masterfully handled sequence of events was how it flowed with the proceeding events of the show. JJ didn’t show any signs that he was under a great amount of pressure until he was already on the ice, and it wasn’t until he was already skating that we got the information needed as to what was causing his breakdown.
If they added say the marriage proposal scene and its subsequent mental warping to before he stepped on the ice, it would have flowed much better. Nevertheless the overall mission was accomplished. I’m now a fan of JJ’s, he’s become probably a better foil for Yuri than even Yurio has been, and finally I don’t know what to expect from the finale now, so here’s to hoping all the skaters, and the show itself, bring their A game.