‘Swingtown’ recap: Three-couple weekend
Let’s do some word problems, Swingtown-ers: First, how do you fit three couples into two beds? Second, describe the subjective nature of time. And third, when two people in a group of three pair off, what becomes of the third wheel?
I thought this week’s episode, ”Cabin Fever,” telegraphed a lot of its twists early. I knew, for instance, that as soon as the Thompsons weaseled out of a trip to the Millers’ cabin, the Millers would turn right around and invite the Deckers — and that the Thompsons would then show up after all, at the most embarrassing possible moment. I knew that Laurie and B.J. would take advantage of their parents’ absence to spend time with their own crush objects, and that their respective evenings wouldn’t go as planned. I knew that the woman enjoying a mile-high quickie with Tom would turn out to be his own wife. (It’s like nobody on this show has watched a single episode of TV from the last 30 years. Oh, wait…) Still, the geometry of the adult sextet recombined for some unexpected angles that should develop in interesting ways over the next few episodes. (All right, no more math metaphors.)
First, a hat tip to the sharp readers of this column, who’ve caught a few nuances I’ve missed. One is the suggestion that Rick might be gay. His jealousy over B.J.’s increasing closeness with Samantha grew more apparent when they broke into the Deckers’ home, with B.J. and Samantha splashing in the pool while Rick sulked, drank the Deckers’ liquor, and listened to his new Kiss cassette. (What, no 8-track? By the way, I like Rick’s new nickname for Samantha: ”Rapunzel.”) But is Rick jealous because he doesn’t have a romance brewing, or because he’s not getting to spend as much time as he used to with B.J.? And does his jealousy mirror that of his parents, who don’t get to spend as much time as they used to with B.J.’s parents, or is it because he has a crush on his friend? Also, his boasting about sexual experience that he doesn’t have (which earned him a beating from a girl in the pilot episode) and his crude and homophobic sexual slang (his greeting to B.J.: ”Hey, gay wad!”) suggest he’s trying awfully hard to prove to someone — maybe to himself — that he’s really as straight as the next guy.
NEXT: Roger’s secret love
Also, readers corrected my misreading last week of Roger’s shocked reaction upon learning that Bruce and Susan had dallied with Tom and Trina. Roger wasn’t being prudish; rather, he was disillusioned to learn that, after he’d spent so much time idealizing Susan and harboring an unrequited crush on her, she’d go and casually sleep with someone she’d just met. That interpretation of Roger’s behavior was borne out this week with his petulant last-minute decision to stand up the Millers, and his tacit admission to Susan later that he had feelings for her. (Susan responded graciously and gently, without hinting that she might share those feelings.)
I was happy to see Roger and the other guys get some big, dramatic moments this week, since I’d been complaining about how they’d been underused so far. Bruce was his usual doofy self, but it’s so clear he’d be lost without Susan (notice the way he looked at her for guidance after the idea of a four-way shower came up), and his ”We’re okay, aren’t we?” moment with her was sweet.
Best of all was seeing Tom blossom; he must have had more dialogue this episode than in all the previous ones combined. The writers gave him plenty of memorable lines this time — or maybe they were memorable because of Grant Show’s perfectly seedy, laid-back delivery. Some of my favorites:
”Oh yeah. Big whittler.”
”Ever seen a man split a log, Jan?”
”Wherever the party is, that’s the party I’m at.” This last could be Tom’s motto. (Or his epitaph.)
Jan’s impressed, fingertips-to-mouth reaction to watching a shirtless Tom split that log was priceless: a reminder of her kitchen fantasy about Tom a couple episodes ago, as well as a preview of how the Thompsons would finally warm to the Deckers later in the evening. Credit again belongs to Trina’s cooking skills. Last week, she got the party started with bubbling fondue; this week, she laced Janet’s brownies with an herb that Bruce recognized as ”not oregano.” Janet’s conscious insistence on eating one of the hallucinogenic treats may have been an even bolder step for her than taking that first Quaalude was for Susan back in episode 1. In a little while, she was loose enough to play Twister with Trina and Tom, to suggest that all six of them go skinny-dipping, and to follow through on that suggestion. Soon, they were all sleeping together (gals in one bed, guys in the other) — literally sleeping, nothing else. Not quite swinging, but certainly a big leap for both Janet and Roger.
NEXT: No dinner and a movie
Back at home, Laurie was trying to take the next step in her relationship with her teacher. After last week’s kiss in the library, her next move was to invite Mr. Stephens over to her house — just to talk, she reassured him. She seemed to know he’d show up, if only to tell her they shouldn’t become a couple. But she hoped to persuade him otherwise, with a homemade gourmet dinner and with the argument that their age difference shouldn’t matter (that essay assignment about the subjective nature of time was a real elbow in the ribs from Swingtown‘s writers) and that they wouldn’t be teacher and student anymore once summer school was over in a couple weeks. Mr. Stephens didn’t seem to be buying it, but he stayed anyway to watch Double Indemnity on TV. He might have been the only guy in Chicago who’d find Laurie’s feminist critique of the movie a turn-on, but still, he left without even kissing her. (By the way, Laurie was right to complain that media portrayals of sexually assertive women too often depict them as black widows enticing men into dangerous situations. Exhibit A might be her own subplot; after all, in luring Mr. Stephens to her house, she revealed to her ex, Logan, who was still hanging around, that there might be some extracurricular activity going on between teacher and student. In a future episode, that secret could earn Mr. Stephens a beating from Logan or get him fired.)
One final note, about the music: The show is still going for the obvious instead of spreading the love. True, there were no Dylan and Stones tracks that were already old in 1976 this week, but the soundtrack did feature Norman Greenbaum’s ”Spirit in the Sky” again. Now, I love that song, but they’ve already used it twice in four weeks. Aside from Eric Clapton’s ”Hello Old Friend,” this week’s soundtrack resorted too easily to well-worn chestnuts. Thumbs up on the kitsch/cheese front, however, for showing us a glimpse of B.J. watching the Saturday-morning kid-TV fave Land of the Lost. Gotta love the Sleestaks!
Questions: Will Janet’s new openness last beyond her pot-brownie hangover? Will her newfound friendship with Trina (who’ll be feeling especially lonely once Tom starts flying the Tokyo run) last as well? If it does, will Susan become the odd woman out? (Susan showed a hint of such alienation when Trina and Janet fell asleep in each other’s arms.) Will Susan and Roger ever act on their mutual feelings? Is Rick really gay? What disaster will befall Mr. Stephens and Laurie? And how come we saw the gals in bed together but not the guys? The party is below in the comments section, and wherever the party is, that’s the party I’m at.