‘Swingtown’ recap: Sexual appetizers
”Pigs in a pickle.” No, that’s not a description of the Swingtown characters — rutting, wallowing in excess, and finding themselves in some existential, moral quandary. Actually, it’s one of Janet’s hors d’oeuvre recipes, a canapé made from pickles, cold cuts, and cream cheese. Good Housekeeping says they’re all the rage, Janet claims, but they sound to me like something out of James Lileks’ Gallery of Regrettable Food, his anthology of horrifying recipes from midcentury cookbooks. So does Janet’s Rosy Perfection salad, which contains mini-marshmallows and something red. (Memo to Janet: It’s 1976. Shouldn’t you be making rumaki or something?) Looks like Bruce isn’t the only one who needs to update his stash of magazines.
Oh yeah, remember that collection of Playboys and Penthouses B.J. stole from Bruce and gave to Rick in episode 1? B.J. and Rick try to auction them off to their little friends — B.J. wants to raise the $20 that Samantha needs to get her bicycle fixed. (Ah, the smitten B.J., bonding with Samantha over bike repair. How adorable.) Too bad they get busted — B.J. gets grounded, Rick has to clean the basement, and both boys get a lecture from Bruce and Roger about the perils of smut (”You could be scarred for life!”) that was ‘this episode’s funniest scene. So, does that mean Bruce has been scarred as well, that he has unrealistic expectations about sex from all the porn rags he’s been holding onto for his entire adult life? Is Roger a less-scarred man than Bruce, or is he just better at hiding his collection from his snooping wife? These are questions the lads might have asked their dads, but so far no one is willing to recognize that the men in this show, for all their pretense of sophistication, are still pretty much little boys. B.J. and Rick may have decided they’re not too old to keep building forts out of sofa cushions, but it’s Bruce, Roger, and probably even Tom who are still living sheltered lives, unaware of the huge changes that loom in their paths.
As I’ve said before, the women are the mature ones on this show; at least, they’re the ones who behave like adults, with layers of motivations and conflicts and insights. Even young Samantha, whose approach-me-stay-away dance with B.J. is already tiresome, is insightful enough to have uttered the episode’s wisest line: ”It sucks when you’re the one who’s left behind.”
Once again, the one feeling most left behind is Janet. It was smart of Susan to try to mend fences with her by asking for her help when Susan throws herself a housewarming party. It might have worked, too, if Trina — the queen of ”Have I come at a bad time?” — hadn’t barged in. Every week, Janet and Trina seem to be battling for Susan’s soul, but who imagined their battleground would be an appetizer platter of Swedish meatballs? Janet’s cold canapés proved no match for Trina’s hot, bubbling fondue; of course, Trina stacked the deck by bringing in a bunch of her own swingin’ guests to liven up the crowd of mannequins Janet had invited. Suddenly no one wanted to play Janet’s ”Who Am I?” game (try to figure out, via yes or no questions, the celebrity name taped to your back), and everyone wanted to play ”Forfeit,” Trina’s game that required wives who dropped their bread cubes in the fondue pot to kiss someone else’s husband. How literally cheesy. I still think that what really bothers Janet about the Deckers isn’t their licentious behavior but their money — they have it, now the Millers have it, but the Thompsons are still church mice. Janet’s class envy was apparent from the celebrity name tag she picked for Susan: Grace Kelly, a woman who was already a movie star before she abandoned the little people back home in America to become royalty in a faraway resort playground for jet-setters.
I’m still not sure whether Trina’s really trying to nudge Susan back over to the Dark Side of the Force (as she and Tom suggested earlier, when they speculated that Susan was the only holdout standing in the way of more Decker-Miller fourplay), or if she’s encouraging Susan to be herself, even if that means she and Bruce would stick to their no-more-swinging pact. Trina seemed to suggest as much to Bruce, but that peck on his cheek didn’t seem so platonic — at least to Roger, who seemed surprisingly shocked by the smooch, as well as by Bruce’s inept revelation of the Decker-Miller July Four(th)some. Surely Roger must have known that was how the night ended for the two couples after the Thompsons left that pool party, given what Janet had already seen going on in the rumpus room. Also, I thought Roger would be cooler about such things than Janet (so he suggested back in the pilot when his only admonishment to Rick over the porn stash was not to let Janet catch him with it), but when push comes to shove, he may actually prove more prudish than his wife. We’ll see, especially if Susan’s longing looks toward him ever develop into anything more concrete.
NEXT: Hot for teacher
Was Susan’s guilt at the beginning of the episode (I loved Bruce’s Homer Simpsonesque reaction when she forced the Millers to say grace before breakfast and go to church for the first time in ages) a lingering aftershock of their frolic with Tom and Trina, or was it provoked by her thoughts about Roger? Something was clearly bugging her, and it wasn’t just her anxiety over new pals Sylvia and Brad. (I believed Bruce when he denied any flirtation going on between himself and Sylvia, and she seemed to confirm that when she casually mentioned to Susan that she’d slipped Bruce her phone number.) Nor was it just the peeling wallpaper, though Susan’s increasingly traumatized reaction to it was right out of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Ripping shreds of it off the wall during the party proved a liberating gesture. (And not just for Susan; it liberated the guests to scribble whatever they wanted to on the bare walls, most of it fun musings and doodles, though there was one mean-spirited caricature of Janet with a ”Killjoy” sign taped to it.) By the end of the evening, Susan’s inhibitions — including her misgivings about Sylvia and Brad, whom she decided might make good dinner-but-no-dessert companions for herself and Bruce — had also been peeled away, as she hinted to Bruce that she might be up for further sexual adventures. Maybe not swinging again — at least not yet — but she did allow Bruce to use his new home-movie camera to film the two of them making love. (Of course, the camera, like the fondue pot, was a gift from the Deckers; see, their insidious plan is working!)
Oh, and where was Laurie all this time? The script contrived a far-fetched way to get her and her teacher alone together: pulling an all-nighter that involved going through the library stacks, collecting books no one had checked out in at least five years to donate to a prison-literacy program. What could be more romantic? (Well, okay, the evening also involved them quoting James Joyce and Bob Dylan to each other; that probably would be pretty romantic to a brainy, literary wonk like Laurie.) I thought that when she kissed him, he’d put up at least a little resistance out of professional ethics, but no. Laurie may be well-read, but she’s still too young and naïve to recognize what a bad idea this romance is; I’d recommend that she head over to the self-help section and check out Smart Women, Foolish Choices, but it won’t be written for another nine years.
Questions: How long before someone (probably B.J.) finds Bruce and Susan’s amateur sex film? How long before Bruce and Susan break their swinging moratorium? How long before Samantha trusts B.J. enough to become his girlfriend? Whose façade of sexual propriety will crack first, Roger’s or Janet’s? And did anyone notice that the soundtrack compilers really shot their wad on the big guns this week (Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones)? Where are the goofy, bell-bottomed, one-hit wonders we love, the Norman Greenbaums and Blue Swedes? And is it too early for folks in Winnetka, Illinois, to discover the Ramones? Hey ho, let’s go!