On ''Desperate Housewives,'' Gabrielle hires a woman who has just been rescued from involuntary servitude; meanwhile, Bree investigates the Applewhites
Eva Longoria, Desperate Housewives
Credit: Eva Longoria: DANNY FELD/ABC

”Desperate Housewives”: Gaby gets help

So you guys are never gonna believe who just stopped by my apartment for a little visit. God himself — on official business — came to stamp my one-way express ticket to Hell. It seems He was none too pleased that I’d just spent the previous hour howling with laughter watching a show in which a spoiled suburban housewife scored cheap household labor from a Chinese immigrant who’d just been freed by the FBI from a life of involuntary servitude.

Needless to say, I had to think fast. So I was like, ”C’mon, God, cut me some slack. Weren’t you watching Desperate Housewives tonight? Don’t tell me you didn’t laugh in spite of yourself!” And God was like, ”Heck no, I was watching the Olympics.” And so I was like, ”Okay, God, I’ve still got the episode on my DVR, and there’s plenty of Diet Coke in the fridge, so why don’t you cozy up on the couch and watch it for yourself? And if you really, really don’t like it, well, you can send Eva Longoria and the Housewives writing staff to their fiery fate.” That was right before I reminded him that I’d been forced to deliver this summer’s TV Watch on Britney & Kevin: Chaotic, which, in my mind, served as penance for a lifetime of past and future sins. And God was like, ”Would you mind keeping it down? I’m trying to watch the show.”

All kidding aside, though, tonight’s edition of Housewives indeed mined some very tricky terrain in the name of comedy, and I can’t blame folks who would argue that the payoff wasn’t worth the price — even if I would also respectfully disagree with them. Just like Edie, I won’t sugarcoat: I winced at Gaby’s response after being introduced to Xiao Mei (Gwendoline Yeo): ”Ohhh. The slave. Looks well fed.” But beyond that stumbling start, the story line proved to be one of the most uncomfortably inspired ever concocted by the Housewives writing staff.

It’s hard to get too offended anyway, if (like me) you’ve got a hunch (and a hope) that innocent Xiao Mei will probably end up transforming into a far less subservient gal. Sure, she agreed to double-wax Gaby’s floor in exchange for a safe haven in the Solis’ guest bedroom, but let’s keep in mind that only a few days prior, she’d been imprisoned in a locked kitchen making English plum pudding for Maxine Bennett’s luncheon guests. Give her a week or two to ogle all of Gaby’s material possessions — and to get drunk on the hundred-proof connivery that’s available in every Wisteria Lane household — and you know she’ll be delivering a comeuppance that’ll have Gaby choking on those homemade crab puffs.

Anyhow, who says we have to actually like the women of Wisteria Lane to find them amusing? In the fine tradition of comedies like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Housewives is built around characters who often behave despicably. For example, Bree is one of TV’s most beloved heroines, but in less than two full seasons, she’s covered up her son’s hit-and-run killing of her close friend’s mother-in-law, contributed to the deaths of both her husband and her lover by failing to rush them to the hospital, and been pulled over for drunk driving. Oh, and she seems to be at the very least mildly racist and homophobic to boot.

Getting millions of viewers to care about the lives of unheroic people requires writers with boundless audacity, the kind that has Gaby insist to Carlos that they can afford to hire Xiao Mei because ”with her résumé, any wage will look good.” But it also takes an actress with Eva Longoria’s breezy comic bitchiness to make you laugh even as she’s sitting in front of a mirror telling her refugee guest, ”You can brush my hair.”

In the midst of so much brazen humor, Susan and Lynette’s stories this week seemed downright milquetoast, although the former’s snap decision to remarry Karl (and inevitably provoke the wrath of Edie) for his health insurance should yield plenty of future fireworks. And if it weren’t for the gleefully sadistic antics of Mrs. Tilman (who I think is meddling with Noah and Mike just for the fun of it), I would be pretty much over the Mary Alice Mystery Hour.

The far superior mystery on the show involves Bree and Betty, who both raised the stakes in their life-and-death poker match this week. I loved the way Bree broke into the Applewhite house (of course she’s got a well-organized cabinet containing all her neighbor’s front-door keys) and used homemade cobbler to win Caleb’s trust. And better still was that terrified-tranquil look Marcia Cross conjured up as Caleb revealed his secrets to Bree.

Still, here’s a few questions I’m left with: Was Bree being genuine when she took Betty’s hand at the dining-room table, or is she planning to use her knowledge of the Chicago felony against her rival? Was Betty revealing the whole truth when she recounted Caleb’s crime? And is it possible that Matthew, not Caleb, was responsible for Melanie’s ax murder? No matter the resolution to the Applewhite-Van De Kamp showdown, I’ll be damned if I don’t get to my television every week to watch it unfold. Then again, maybe I’ll be damned if I do.

What did you think of the episode? Did the Chinese-refugee plotline make you skittish? Were you glad to see Edie back in action, tossing out her tart zingers? And were you as shocked as I was when Bree told Danielle to take care of her looks, because she had no other weapons at her disposal?

Desperate Housewives (TV Show)
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