“How Betty Got Her Grieve Back”
Ugly Betty had the best season finale of all last year. It was full of action, drama, and a final bit of synaesthesia so powerful that it made me all teary eyed. This episode had to calm down on the solution to the best part of the finale to keep hope alive and, as such, I was stuck in a dread for the majority of the episode. Thank God for Marc and Amanda! (and ooh-ee! Did she get fat!)
And standard boiler plate: only commenting on this show intermittently.
Three weeks after the thrilling conclusion of the first season of Ugly Betty (and I mean that entirely unsarcastically; there were about six cliffhangers there, most ramped up to maximum drama), the series picks up with Hilda camping out in her room, Betty trying to prevent Mode from being eaten by Wilhelmina while pointedly ignoring her own problems, Daniel feeling wracked by guilt over Alexis’ comatose state, Amanda panicking about her paternity, Claire going crazy over her loss of Bradford and Justin feeling smothered by Summer Camp.
Because Ugly Betty is sometimes deliberately over-the-top in its soapishness, it begins with a parody of the telenovella form simply so that it can ease the audience into the story by saying “this is more ridiculous and unbelievable than anything that has actually happened in the show – relative credibility, sirs!”.
The majority of this episode is just fine, and an excellent example of the seamless nature of the mood shifts that the program is capable of. There is an undercurrent of uncertainty and dread, though; the biggest and most dramatic conclusion of the last series to my mind was the shooting of Santos, which looked pretty definite. In wish fulfilment town, the start of this episode presents him as alive. I knew that he couldn’t be alive, so every time he was on screen I was waiting for the reveal that Hilda’s idyll was a fantasy. Naturally, it doesn’t come until episode’s end, but it’s for the best that the series doesn’t have a phantom Santos running through it.
You may recall how effectively the planning of Santos and Hilda’s genuine low-budget wedding was juxtaposed against the loveless spectacle of Wilhelmina’s efforts; their story was one of the best of last series, entirely removed from Mode. It’s legitimately sad to see this couple rent asunder, because it was the most “proper” relationship on the show.
When I began to watch Ugly Betty last year, I had “issues” with it. I thought it was “The Gayest Show on Television”, which I still believe but I think that now that is a good thing. The characters of Justin and Marc pressed buttons that I didn’t like, but now I revel in them. I’ve known people with affectations before, and these two don’t seem affected at all (and they’re actors, so that’s a double surprise). For all of Marc’s hilarious cruelty, for instance, he treats Justin just right. Marc, in my memory, hasn’t actually had his own story – always serving as a back up for Amanda and Wilhelmina – but that’s because he’s a sort of Bender character: the type that is allowed to have dialogue designed almost exclusively for hilarity.
(Having just typed that, I can’t believe that I forgot the episode where his mother visited, he outed himself to her, and she utterly rejected him. My own mother was in the room while I was watching that scene, and this was before July 15th so I felt very uncomfortable).
Justin, not allowed to feel anything about the death of his father some three weeks ago because it would break the Hilda fantasy being preserved for the viewers, is able to receive some great material here. Escaping Summer Camp because he felt that the Indian Dreamcatcher he was supposed to make was “tacky and culturally insensitive”, he winds up at Mode. This adventure provides the best line in the episode, from the Camp Coordinator: “He took a bottle of glitter, and we need that back. Or a cheque for $1.99.”
It cannot be denied that the shuffling of Justin is a way for the family to not cope with Santos’ death; it’s nice and subtle in that way, and I suppose that one can’t have a show with every character weeping openly all the time.
Claire Meade’s descent into a wildwoman has also been a lot of fun to watch (“I’ll be dressed as a nun. Or a cat. I haven’t decided yet.”), but it does severely compromise her chances of exacting revenge on Wilhelmina. It’s cool calculation versus fiery heat – but calculation doesn’t have a knock out punch going for it. Plus this part of the episode featured Marc as a drag Wilhelmina, which was an act of joy and genius.
Amanda, too, was funny, particularly when visiting her parents. Her father is Karl Rove! While it makes sense for Amanda and Marc to have done this together, it would be nice if the series gave Christina more to do than simply tell Betty that she needs to stop being so inactive. The fat suit that Becki Newton has to wear after her three week binge is quite effective, although I’ve never understood how people think that Betty has anything like a weight problem; of course, the irony of the show is that “Ugly” Betty looks like a healthy and normal person, save for her unfortunate braces. The Bradford stalking and the possibility of incest presented here are going to be worth pursuing.
If you’re an actual Betty watcher, you may have realised that I’ve avoided talking about Daniel. The problem with Daniel is that, despite his centrality to the series, he is incredibly inconsistently written. Last year, the Daniel and Alexis storyline had some very high points but was dashed down by the fact that the writers could never quite decide what the two felt for each other. They would frequently reconcile and understand one another again, and then suddenly in the next episode, or the one after that, it was as if nothing had advanced between them. It was petty writing at its pettiest.
The shock development at the end of this episode, that Alexis has forgotten that she had the operation, and thinks that she’s still Alex, is a point of some confusion. I would think, but obviously have no way of knowing, that Alexis would be able to feel that she had the body of Rebecca Romijn rather than that of a man. I can imagine that gender dysphoria is such a torture because people are always physically conscious of their gender. An operation is never a matter of spur of the moment decisions, so the car crash has made Alexis forget her issues that existed since adolescence. Obviously she’s going to have to come around – perhaps through another whack on the head – but it’s a dangerous message to have out there. Maybe now Daniel can be strong again.
I also haven’t mentioned the Betty and Henry romance, because the couple is incredibly boring to me. I’ve read that Henry is too “perfect”, and therefore the relationship will have to be laboured across a million seasons before it actually comes to fruition. While he’s a million times better than Walter, the problem is not that either of these people are “perfect”; it’s that they are milquetoasts of the highest order. Bland romance? Give me dysfunctional compulsive eaters and paradoxically fashion blind homosexual PAs any day of the week, thank you very much.