Paul Young's old nemesis returns, while Bree has her first hot-flash, and Gaby fears Carlos might get 'flipped'

By Christian Blauvelt
November 08, 2010 at 08:06 AM EST
Ron Tom/ABC
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“Humiliation—it’s not always something we can avoid,” Mary Alice, full of the wisdom only a disembodied narrator can impart, announced last night. Certainly our beloved women of Wisteria Lane have had more than a few brushes with public embarrassment (um, Susan’s Big Comfy Couch costume, anybody?), a fate I hope doesn’t befall me in writing this recap. Your peerless chronicler of all the happenings in Fairview, Tanner Stransky, ran the New York Marathon today, so I, Christian Blauvelt, like a new neighbor bringing a basketful of muffins in greeting, have subbed in for this week’s episode, “A Humiliating Business.” And what an episode it was!

Let’s start with that gasp-worthy cliffhanger, shall we? At last, Felicia Tillman (my beloved Harriet Sansom Harris) made her return to Housewives and revealed herself to be none other than Beth’s eight-fingered jailbird mother! And just like that, Beth’s presence on this show means something!

I don’t know about you, but up until tonight’s telecast, I really hadn’t been feeling this story arc about Paul Young’s prison wife. First of all, she’s the kind of woman who would meet and marry a man who’s behind bars. That alone made her completely unrelatable. Second, Paul Young’s season-long campaign to have a “conjugal visit” with Beth—to use the parlance of the penal system—had been a little too creepy, even for a guy who once killed his neighbor with a blender. Third, watching Emily Bergl every week makes me sad all over again that Men in Trees was canceled. Tonight didn’t bode much better, what with Paul saying to his blushing bride after their night of passion, “I must say, for a virgin you were surprisingly open-minded.” (Thankfully, I watch my primetime soaps with the toilet seat up, lest I should vent the contents of my stomach.) That said, Beth was totally right about how guys like sex in the morning.

When her hubby’s old cellmate Derek took up residence in the house Paul once shared with Mary Alice, Beth was determined to find out the nature of his assuredly diabolical plan. When Paul wouldn’t tell her, she asked Derek. When Derek wouldn’t tell her, she ripped her dress, rubbed a little sawdust on her gams, and said she would tell the cops he jumped her, ending his parole and earning himself a lifetime trip back to the slammer. Beth could have learned that kind of manipulative tactic from only one person. That’s right, ol’ Felicia Tillman, the woman so committed to framing Paul Young, she severed two of her own fingers, Peter Pettigrew-style, to put him away. Yes, Paul, the man with the evil plan to ruin his neighbors, has married a woman with an equally sinister, but hopefully more Housewife-friendly, counter-plan. When we saw Felicia grinning at her overwhelmed offspring through the Plexiglas like a Cheshire Cat in prison stripes, didn’t you feel this season had finally kicked off?

Though with perhaps not quite as Machiavellian an agenda as Beth, Gaby nonetheless put her own plan in motion tonight to reunite Bob and Lee—and keep Bob far away from her husband. At first, everything seemed fine. Gaby invited Bob over to Casa Solis for dinner. They shared a little wine, some idle chitchat.

NEXT: Susan finds a day job that makes her more unhappy than her soft-core porn gig.

But then Bob made the mistake of—God forbid!—not conforming to Gaby’s stereotypical notion of what a gay man should be. She expected him to be overjoyed by orchestra-level tickets she’d procured to Cats (although, gay or straight, who would be?), but he really just wanted to watch some college basketball. Bob revealed that it was really just his estranged partner Lee who would have gone in for the T.S. Eliot-derived showtunes, and served up the snarkiest line of the night: “When I found out Lee had seen Annie six times, even I wanted to gay-bash him.” So Bob and Carlos ended up taking in a game instead.

But, perhaps in a ploy to get his old flame back, Lee warned Gaby that “Bob’s college nickname was ‘flipper’, and it wasn’t because of that dolphin tattoo.” Concerned that Bob was the most serious rival for Carlos’s affections since Edie, or at least that crazy nun from season two, she forbade her husband from going out with him anymore. Bob was offended. After all, Lee was the one who spent a summer stalking Ryan Seacrest, who I’m sure was dating Teri Hatcher at the time. Gaby realized that she shouldn’t consider Bob to be a threat—or did she?—so she supposedly agreed to let Bob and Carlos, the man who beat up not one, but two gay guys in season one (though not because they were gay), spend a Saturday together. But the next thing you know, she arranged it for Bob and Lee to spend the day together instead, even though they had been separated for four months.

I don’t know about you, but I found this rather unsettling. In interfering with their love lives, Gaby didn’t come across like a Cupid (or in her case, a Venus) reuniting squabbling lovers out of a place of affection, but like a still-jealous wife who wanted to make certain that her husband wouldn’t be seduced. And that seemed to reinforce the idiotic idea that a gay man and a straight man can’t be friends. Plus, the fact that Bob and Lee would instantly start making out upon seeing one another was the condescending cherry on top.

On the other hand, Susan’s story tonight genuinely made me sad. In fact, I think her current predicament may be even more upsetting than her brush with internet porn. Now that Mike’s up in Alaska and she’s out of her teaching assistant job, Susan had some free time on her hands. Her financial predicament, dire as ever—in fact, so much so that she and MJ “have had to mark down [their] swears” from a quarter to a nickel—demanded that she find new employment, and when she heard of an opening with Lynette and Renee’s new interior design company, she pounced. Sadly, though, Lynette was really just looking for a nanny, “some poor schlub who’s trustworthy and desperate for money” as Renee put it, to take care of her kids, since Little Miss Perfect, Penny, can’t be expected to raise Paige all by herself.

Needless to say, Susan was disappointed, especially by how it seemed her role as nanny had changed her friendship with Lynette. When she mentioned that kids love it when their rooms are decorated with their favorite characters, Renee shot her down with a coldness that would have sent a shiver even up Wilhelmina Slater’s spine. (Is this really the best way to use Vanessa “L. to the Yeah!” Williams on this show?) When Susan confronted Lynette with her disappointment, Lynette felt badly, but realized that Susan’s feelings of betrayal would be cured, as everything is, by the sweet taste of liquor.

NEXT: Bree can’t take the heat, tries to exit the overheated relationship.

I, for one, hope that Susan and Mike get themselves out of their financial morass as quickly as possible. It was a noble idea for Desperate Housewives’ writers to try to reflect the way everyone’s hurting for money nowadays in a show that’s largely a fantasy of prosperity and privilege, but sometimes it’s more important to offer an escape from reality rather than try to hold a mirror up to it.

Finally, Desperate Housewives decided to go there at last. Yes, a menopause story, and in all honesty you have to applaud the writers for their restraint in not opening up this can of hot-flashing worms long before now. Actually, I thought Bree’s first steps into the great midlife change were handled with humanity and humor. Her first hot-flash occurred while she was out rollerblading with Keith, trying to appear all young and active—which she is. (Honestly, I would have thought Bree to be more the roller skate type.) It was severe enough, though, that she fainted!

When Bree asked the paramedic “Am I having a stroke?” it reminded me of when she experienced her very first orgasm (courtesy of Orson Hodge) and feared the same. The menopause diagnosis was confirmed by her new gynecologist, who all but high-fived her when she learned Bree was dating a younger man. The good doctor’s older girl-power pride turned to horror, however, when she learned that the younger man in question was in fact her own son, Keith!

Mr. 90210 had wanted Bree to meet his parents over dinner, and there she was, the woman who had diagnosed her journey into the “Silent Passage.” Keith’s mater, like a character in the Stephen Sondheim musicals referenced in every episode title, had more than a few drinks in her and threatened to spill the beans to her son that Bree could never bear her a grandchild, Hippocratic Oath, doctor/patient confidentiality be damned. Bree couldn’t take it any longer, came clean about her hot flashes, and before making a hasty exit, declared, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to the kitchen to ask if I can stand in their walk-in freezer.”

Later, Bree and Keith had a really heartfelt talk during which she gave him permission to leave the relationship, so he could be with someone who could give him kids. For Bree, menopause didn’t mean men-on-pause, but she decided that her child-raising days were over, even when Keith suggested adoption. It was the standout moment of the episode—two adults having a mature conversation—proving again that Desperate Housewives is about more than just the zingy one-liners.

Speaking of one-liners though, my nominee for the best of the night came from—who else?—Mrs. McCluskey, Desperate Housewives’ Pez dispenser of joke pellets. When confronted with the idea that women try to flatter their men by pretending to like football, act like the Three Stooges are funny, and fake their orgasms “to get them to stop,” Mrs. McCluskey retorted, “Just for the record, I love football. The Stooges are damn funny. And I’ve never asked a man to stop.” That Roy is a lucky guy.

So Wisteria-philes, what did you think of “A Humiliating Business”? Are you liking the new direction for the Paul and Beth Young storyline? Are you worried about Susan and Lynette’s friendship? And do you think Bree and Keith really have a future together?

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Eva Longoria Parker, Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, and Felicity Huffman star in the soap set on the dangerous Wisteria Lane
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