On ''Desperate Housewives,'' the Susan we knew and loved is back, thanks to her new obsession, Dr. Ron; meanwhile Gabby, Lynette, and Bree engage in power struggles

By Michael Slezak
Updated January 14, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST
Teri Hatcher: DANNY FELD/ABC

”Desperate Housewives”: Susan’s speedy recovery

Call off the search party: The Desperate Housewife whose absence has been a creative drain on the series’ sophomore season has finally returned home — and hopefully for good. No, I’m not referring to Harriet Sansom Harris’ delectably devious Mrs. Tilman (though I indeed gasped with delight when she popped up as Noah’s new nurse in this week’s final scene). Rather, I speak of Wisteria Lane’s resident lovelorn goofball, Susan Mayer.

Now before you accuse me of not having my facts in order, let me say I’m well aware that Teri Hatcher hasn’t missed a single one of season 2’s episodes. It’s just that ever since Housewives returned last September, the Susan I know and love has been MIA. Sure, the woman has always been a self-doubter and a world-class meddler (not to mention an at-large arsonist), but at heart she’s also supposed to be inherently self-respecting and likable. I guess that’s why it rang so false to me to see her sobbing in the street in a borrowed wedding gown, or putting her boyfriend’s son, upset and alone, on the next bus to Utah.

Whether or not Susan’s newly diagnosed ”wandering spleen” is the cause, I’m glad to see that this week she finally got her pluck back. Susan’s flirtation with Dr. Ron (Coupling‘s Jay Harrington) was equal parts charming, awkward, and ill advised. Coincidentally, this might be the exact emotional formula that allows us all to laugh at Susan and yet still root for her.

Seriously, how can anybody resist a character so single-minded that she’d undergo an unnecessarily naked MRI just to get a few minutes of alone time with a hot guy? Or who’d optimistically answer said guy’s forceful reprimand for reporting fraudulent medical symptoms by asking, ”You like me?” Well, Susan, as long as you don’t deviate from your chosen path — you know, the one that’s leading you toward a steamy love triangle involving the good doctor and that plumber dude you’re also totally diggin’ — then I can confidently answer your question with a yes.

Speaking of triangles, judging by next week’s previews, it looks like the one created by Sister Mary Bernard’s intrusion on Gaby and Carlos’ marriage isn’t quite finished, either, though it remains to be seen whether the two women will be competing for Carlos’ heart or his soul. Surely, the latter angle is every bit as interesting, especially now that the show’s writers essentially have Gaby perched devilishly on one of Carlos’ shoulders (advocating selfishness and violence, among other sins) and Sister Mary perched angelically on the other.

In this case, I’m siding with the devil we all know. I’m not entirely sure why’s it so fun to watch Gaby manipulate Carlos. Maybe because she’s so hot that grown men cut off each other’s fingers upon seeing her naked? Or perhaps it’s because Carlos not so secretly enjoys her torture? I mean, was there ever a doubt Carlos was going to go medieval on the photographer who’d posted Gaby’s nude photos on the Web? Especially after having his wife alternately tug at his sense of machismo (”I have the upper-body strength of a kitten; this requires a brute”) and poke gentle fun at his recent religious epiphany (”Do this today and go to an extra mass tomorrow”)? In fact, Carlos’ recent sudden attraction to Lynette makes more sense viewed in the context of how the man revels in his ongoing authority struggle with Gaby. If the dude gets aroused by power politics, there’s no more formidable match on Wisteria Lane than the head of the Scavo household.

Still, while I’d bet good money that Lynette wouldn’t have broken a sweat persuading Carlos to get a vasectomy, she appears to have pushed her own husband just a little too hard in that department. And I, for one, am glad that Tom just said no. Not because I’m some Cro-Magnon who thinks women should be forced to stay at home and care for the kids 24/7 (um, hello, I write about Desperate Housewives for a living), and not because I don’t think seeing Type A Lynette get pregnant with a fifth child would be highly amusing. Nope, I just think some turmoil between the Scavos is long overdue, considering that Tom began his stay-at-home-dad routine in a fit of anger, and that Lynette treats her husband’s opinions with all the respect one might reserve for, oh, the Lucky Charms leprechaun dropping by to wax poetic on pink hearts and yellow moons. (Her flip observation that Tom wasn’t limping after his return home from the his scheduled surgery was an insensitive new low.)

And yet with one simple admission — that he is, indeed, a little bit unhappy — Tom has restored balance to his marriage, while at the same time placing it on shaky ground. That’s not an easy scenario for two actors to play out, but if there’s any Desperate duo that has settled into a believably comfortable rhythm, it’s Felicity Huffman and the underrated Doug Savant.

As for the week’s other main event — the tense face-off between Bree and Betty — I’ll leave that to you, TV Watchers, to declare a winner. Certainly the neighborhood ”prison warden” fired a pretty deadly shot by questioning Bree’s excuse about her DUI arrest, but was it really necessary for the Widow Van De Kamp to drop the bomb that the entire neighborhood has suspicions about the weird goings-on in the Applewhite house? By using such heavy artillery so early, I worry Bree won’t have much left for a protracted battle with Betty, a woman who’s quite a bit scarier than, say, Rex’s mom or Maisy Gibbons. Then again, the way Bree drops a slug into a bucket of bleach, I’m rather disinclined to take any kind of odds against her.

What do you think? Who would be the fiercer opponent, Bree or Betty? Will Lynette and Tom’s marriage survive their current crisis? And am I the only one who wished the show’s producers hadn’t spoiled some of the shock of Mrs. Tilman’s return by putting Harriet Sansom Harris’ name in the opening credits?

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