Ronnie and Sammi fight all night, and Vinny unveils his grenade whistle
Jersey Shore
Credit: MTV
Jersey Shore Family Vacation CR: MTV
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O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, consider Ronnie, who was once handsome and tall as you. If we're going purely on looks, Ronnie is the exact personification of what we talk about when we talk about Jersey Shore. To say that he is a strong man would be an understatement. To say that he could rip the head off an angry tiger while boxing Ivan Drago would be an understatement. To say that he could head-butt a blue whale into submission and make it his pet — well, that sounds about right. Ronnie resembles a Panzer tank that wished upon a star and became a real boy. Scientists of the future will spend decades trying to reverse-engineer Ronnie's shoulder muscles. Back in season 1, when the rest of the castmates were relatively normal-sized — before everyone looked like end-of-level bosses from Double Dragon — Ronnie was already a walking mass of muscle. He set the pace, and everyone else has been trying to catch up. I would guess that when the Situation sleeps, he dreams about being Ronnie.

So Ronnie has achieved that most primal male desire: He is Big. But only on the outside. Behind Ronnie's Xenadrine-fogged eyeballs, there lurks a scared little boy. (Or maybe not so little — there is circumstantial evidence that Ronnie might have been an overweight child.) The Sam-Ron slow-mo train wreck is still rather compelling because it's rare to find two attractive people who appear to have no self-confidence whatsoever. They drink and fight and rage and cry like a pair of awkward high schoolers who listen to Dashboard Confessional. Just look at last night's episode, when a minor misunderstanding snowballed into an up-all-night break-up bender.

Now, it was a busy night, viewers. J-Woww moved on from her PayPal-lurking ex-boyfriend and plotted some redemptive smushing with Roger, but her terrible puppies nearly derailed the whole thing. Vin-Vin flirted madly with a beautiful girl who traveled with a pack of anxious male relatives, including a protective uncle who looked ready to go all Liam-Neeson-in-Taken if anyone threatened his niece's questionable chastity. Speaking of scary uncles: The Situation offered sweatpants to an attractive lady. Said attractive lady had a close friend who inspired Vinnie to blow the Grenade Whistle, which you'll be pleased to know sounds exactly like a dying giraffe. Also, Ryder was visiting the house, and memories of her offscreen Vin-Vin smush sesh permeated the house. You could cut the sexual tension with a spoon.

So many romantic subplots playing out in such a short span of time! It was the kind of night you have to trademark, or else Garry Marshall might turn it into a terrible movie. (Can't you visualize the all-star cast of One Night In Jersey? Jessica Biel as "K-Poww." Taylor Lautner as "DJ Corey B." Bradley Cooper as the shirt-eschewing "Mr. Circumstance." Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as "Cookie" and "Reena.") But none of that other stuff really mattered. From the moment Ronnie asked a club girl "Let me see the krunk!" it was clear that we were about to witness a true Sam-Ron showdown. Fasten your seatbelts, viewers, it's going to be a bumpy ride. Also, there are no seatbelts, and we've already driven off a cliff. And the sun is exploding.

Ronnie tried convincing his lady love that there was nothing to worry about. He wasn't hitting on anyone. He was just talking to Mike's girlfriend. "You know! Mike, with the baby? That's his girlfriend," insisted Ronnie, "she'll show you her C-section!" A likely story, said Inspector Sam. "You never loved me," she said. "You hate me. You always hate me." They took their fight back to the house. Downstairs, the gang was plotting a pizza party. (Vinny asked for Ninja Turtle plates, which proves that Vinny is a man of rare taste and refinement.)

Things were getting tense. Sammi decided to go and get Ron a piece of pizza to calm things down. Ronnie used the opportunity to toss all of Sammi's clothes into a huge pile in the corner. (It was kind of like that scene in Citizen Kane where Orson Welles tears apart his ex-wife's bedroom.) Sammi returned bearing a slice of pepperoni pizza. Ronnie: "I don't get an apology, I get a piece of pizza? Not a protein shake, you bring me a piece of pizza?!?!" (Oh my god, people, he totally used to be fat.) Cue up my second favorite moment of the night: Ronnie pointed to the Situation's side of the room and proclaimed, "I took your s— and put it over there! Pack it! I'm on a different level!" Sammi turned her head and her eyes shot to the ceiling. "Bwwaahhhh?" The only thing that would've made the moment funnier would be if Sammi turned and suddenly noticed that Ronnie had a made a bonfire out of her clothes. He's on a different level!

Downstairs, everyone could hear the lovebirds quarrel. Sitch noted sagely, "If you're in a relationship and fighting that much, is it that fun?" The roomies didn't take much notice of the fight — at first. But then things took a serious turn. Ronnie was lying on the couch, looking dispirited. Jenni approached him. That couldn't have been easy — Ronnie has called J-Woww all of the most cowardly things a man can call a woman. But she came in peace, in the spirit of friendship. "You know I love you right?" said Jenni. "You and me are in the same boat, because we have guilt. You stayed with her out of guilt, because you want to prove you're a great guy. But at the end of the day, Ron, you are a great guy."

Now, we can debate the variable accuracy of any of those statements, specifically the last one. But J-Woww's sentiment cut straight to the bone. This seemed to be the first time that anyone actually talked to Ronnie about his relationship. J-Woww tried to explain NoteGate from her perspective: "We told Sammi the truth for her to leave, for you to be yourself. We didn't know that she was going to flip the script. I thought she'd leave!" Now, this was interesting. Last season, J-Woww seemed to just go along with the whole note-writing thing because Snooki invoked girl code. I wonder: Was Jenni really plotting a roundabout way to get Sammi out of the house? Is she just creating her own motive after the fact? Does she even know why she wrote the note? Is this a total Rashomon thing?

Viewers, Ronnie was crying. He was crying on the couch. He was crying in the confessional room. He was crying outside on the porch. Watching Ronnie cry is so bittersweet. On one hand: Ha-ha, look at the crybaby cry! On the other hand: What if he's crying right when the aliens decloak and demand that humanity put forward a champion to fight their fiercest warrior in single combat? (We'll have to go with our back-up champion, and who knows if Michael Phelps can hold his own in an intergalactic bar fight?) Fortunately, Jenni was there to hug it out. Less fortunately, rotten things were afoot upstairs. Sitch asked the bed-bound Sammi if she had any condoms. "I don't know, ask Ronald!" she responded. "He's got a whole box of RonnieCo™ Brand Mind-Condoms somewhere. Say, where is Ronald, anyways?" Sitch: "Talking to, uh, Jenni." Cue Scooby-Doo sound effect: "Ruh-roh!" Sammi raced out to the porch right as J-Woww and Ronnie shared an adorable forgiveness hug. Smoke came out of her ears. Hatred seeped from her pores. The sky turned inky black, and the Nile river ran red with blood.

I've got a theory about Jersey Shore. The kids party like hobos — beer bongs and tequila shots and elevator techno, woo-hoo! — but they inhabit a carefree upper-middle-class lifestyle. Everything they desire is paid for by unseen paternal forces. They all live in a big house, bunking together in very small rooms. They nominally have work to do, but the work is really just an excuse, something to justify the nonstop party. And they will always be bailed out.

That is an obviously unreal situation. It also perfectly describes college, or at least a recognizably extreme interpretation of the modern American undergraduate experience. Certainly, last night's episode had the unmistakable scent of long weekend night in the dorm. It struck me most of all during the centerpiece of the episode. In a nifty bit of crosscutting, the show swapped between a heated Sam-Ron exchange and Ryder's birthday celebration.

-"Happy birthday!" smiled the gang.

-"Is she your friend or not?" screamed Sammi.

-"Yay for Ryder!" exclaimed the gang.

-"I don't want to talk anymore!" cried Ronnie.

It was right about then that Sammi punched Ron in the face.

Any way you cut it, that was a disturbing scene. For one thing, violence is wrong. For another thing, it was sort of like seeing Barbie punch a Muscle Man: Your first instinct is to laugh and then you feel like a bad person, and then you wonder how Barbie ever fell in love with a Muscle Man, when they're so clearly from different worlds. Sammi, for her part, felt terrible about her actions. She phoned her mom: "Come pick me up!" Her housemates begged her to say. "This is god telling me I have to go!" said Sammi. Vinny: "This isn't god. God isn't your ego." Perceptive Vinny then unleashed the nuclear code: "You're acting like Angelina."

It was a little bit surprising just how quickly everyone flocked to Sammi's side. (Sammi: "They were saying nice, consoling things, even though I just punched one of their roommates in the face.") It's an interesting thing, this Jersey Shore family. You could get sentimental about it: Awww, they forgive her! But why forgive Sammi and not, say, Angelina? Is it because Sammi has been around for longer? (Is "family" just people you've gotten used to, who you don't hate quite enough to replace?)

The house made their case to Sammi as best they could. On the seventh minute, they rested. Sitch noted, "This was the longest here at the Jersey Shore house," and then hopped on the crazy train to Smushville. Vinny joked to Snooki, "Do you and Ryder want to sleep in my bed?" and Snooki's grin was so wide that they say her heart grew three sizes that day. Meanwhile, Sam went upstairs to sit next to Ronnie on the outside couch. "One last time, can I hug you goodbye?" she asked. Ronnie said nothing. They sat together on that silly couch, those two silly people united by one long, terrible, wonderful year of crazy love. The sun rose. They went inside — tired, sad, dangerously that point where an all-night drunk turns into a miserable hangover. They lay together in bed. Sammi made one last plea: "I've given you plenty of chances to make things better, and you have. Can you give me a chance to make things better?"

These are the moments that decide a lifetime. All Ron had to do was say "No" — or, given his M.O. during this night of nights, say nothing at all — and the relationship was over. Instead, he nodded his head: Okay. And so, the band-aid went back on the festering, gangrenous wound that is Sammi and Ronnie's relationship. Let's hope these two can learn one of the most important lessons that college can teach a young person: It's much easier to make relationships work when you aren't drunk all the fricking time.

Next: To All Things, a Friending

Everything Else That Happened This Week In The World Of Waking Nightmares:

-While Snooki was away, Deena partied with Ryder.  "I'm like the substitute Nicole right now!" Deena squealed. "Am I doing good?" Good? Why, she's a regular Single White Female! I can't wait for the episode when we see Deena practicing Snooki's signature and wearing Snooki's clothes and switching her face with Snooki's, Face/Off-style.

-Deena and Dean went on a double date with J-Woww and Roger. Deena: "Tonight we should keep it classy. Just go on rides and stuff." THAT IS NOT WHAT CLASSY MEANS.

-Turns out Bizarro-Ronnie kisses and tells. Or should I say BLEEPs and BLEEPs. The boys heard from their barber that, and I quote, "Dean announced that Deena likes to BLEEP his BLEEP. 'Cause he said it was cleaned out in the Jacuzzi." Now viewers, I pride myself on having a truly disgusting mind, but I had no clue what the hell they were talking about. Sitch didn't help much when he told Deena the story: "From what I hear, you don't like to BLEEP, but you do like to BLEEP." She doesn't like to play water polo, but she does like to play horse polo? Is that prison lingo? What's happening? "I would never in my life BLEEP a BLEEP," argued Deena. I felt like I was watching a foreign movie without subtitles, and also without nudity, in which case what's the point of a foreign movie? Finally, the subtitles helped out when Deena confronted Dean: "She wants to l— my a–." Oh, I see: she wants to lend his antfarm, no doubt to an area child with a broken legs who needs to be cheered up. Well, that's nice! Good for you, Deena.

-They bought a stripper pole for the house, but the only people who actually used the stripper pole were the guys. Was heterosexuality always this confusing? I blame Jake Gyllenhaal.

-Have you guys noticed that the men in the house each exemplify a different point of the GTL pyramid? Ronnie is "Gym" — he exhibits all the intensity of the weightlifting addict, with sequoia-sized arms to match. Pauly D is "Tan" — he's the most purely hedonistic, a man with a perpetually sunny disposition. Sitch is "Laundry" — not just concerned about fashion but literally defined by fashion, to say nothing of his general attitude that even his worst actions will all be forgiven, like mud that comes off in the washer-dryer. Vinny exemplifies all three traits in perfect order — he works out, washes clothes, and tans like a normal person. That's why he's the best-liked person in the house.

-For her big night out at the club, J-Woww put on a barely-there outfit with a hilarious feathery fringe covering her chest. I instantly dictated to my assistant, "Why, that's just like Bjork's swan dress!" Lo and behold, two seconds later, Vinny introduced J-Woww at the club thusly: "That's my friend, Bjork!" Vinny clearly has a future as an Entertainment Weekly writer, if he doesn't mind low wages and a lonely existence a ridiculously high salary and an active social life.

-This episode ended on an ebullient note. The whole gang had Sunday dinner, and went off to a club. J-Woww set aside her anger, and approached Sammi with a velvet-gloved iron fist — stern, but forgiving. They made peace, both apologizing for their actions. Everyone danced joyfully, for once not fighting about anything. I'm a great believer in the theory that most successful TV shows miss the perfect endpoint, and although I certainly don't want to say "The show should've ended tonight," I do vaguely suspect that these first five episodes of Jersey Shore's third season might turn out to be the most consistently sustained narrative of the whole series. It's hard to see how the house dynamic can possibly reach such a perfect level of all-encompassing tension and chaos again, especially now that MTV has initiated the Italy protocol.

-Line of the night award goes to Vinny, who referenced the Bard when he saw his girlcrush's protective family arrive at the Shore house: "What is this, f—ing Romeo and Juliet? The Capulets and the f—ing whatever?" Hey, he got it half right. Congratulations, American education system! You scored a 50%, which is practically a B+ thanks to grade inflation!

Viewers, did you enjoy Ronnie's long dark night of the soul? Haven't you always dreamed of owning a stripper pole? Can you believe that Deena likes to BLEEP BLEEP in the BLEEP BLEEP? (Keep it clean, people, our sensors confirm that there are twelve-year-olds lurking in the comment boards.)

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

by James Hibberd

Episode Recaps

Jersey Shore Family Vacation CR: MTV
Jersey Shore

Follow Snooki, the Situation, Pauly, Ronnie, Sammi, Jwoww, Vinny, and Deena as they party, smush, and GTL

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