The gang was just ever so happy to be back in New Jersey. They ran up the stairs. The girls jumped on their beds. The guys humped their beds. The guys humped on their beds. “Vinny immediately jumps on my bed to dry-hump me, just like old times,” said Pauly D rhapsodically, like an old Middle European monarch recalling his days at the academy. Ronnie said, “I feel like I was at boarding school, and America’s my mother, and I’m coming home to my mother right now.” (Quick mental image: Young Ronnie, a hairy child-gorilla dressed in a prep-school coat-and-tie uniform, carrying a lunchbox in one hand and a sign that says “Potty Trained” in his other hand, crying on the front steps of his boarding school while his mother drives away in a Dodge Caravan, and his mother is America.) The duck phone Quack-Quack-Quacked. Deena burped. Snooki exclaimed that no one could take her bed, because she peed in it last year. As if Snookified egesta would stop anyone! “Egesta” means “excrement,” and speaking of which, The Situation said, “I’m the happiest I’ve been in awhile. I can breathe. I can smell the smog. I love it.” You might laugh, but that’s exactly what Thomas Jefferson said when he returned to America from his Ambassadorship.
This is almost certainly going to be the last essential season of Jersey Shore. It’s almost certainly not the last season, period. Even if the series continues to bleed viewers, even if everything remains pretty boring, even if Pauly D jumps ship for his spin-off and Snooki kickstarts her acting career and Uncle Situation retires to a lifetime of litigation, MTV can almost certainly draw a couple more seasons out of Ronnie and Sammi and Deena hanging out with a young gaggle of juiceheads, New Mutants-style. That’s to be expected. In the modern world, all media franchises last at least three cycles too long. But for those of us who are interested in the real, primal Jersey Shore saga — the story of a group of young people and one 45-year-old man who sought success, achieved success, and then found themselves utterly incapable of dealing with their success — I’m pretty sure this fifth season is the closest thing to genuine conclusion that we’re likely to get. This is The Return of the King; all that follows will just be mere Silmarillion.
Certainly, the stage feels set for a final reckoning. Boss Danny invited the gang out for drinks, which is strange, because usually Boss Danny drinks alone to counteract the pain of having to interact with the cast of Jersey Shore. But it turned out it was a surprise party, featuring guest appearances from all our favorite supporting players. J-Woww’s knight-in-shining-armor Roger! Snooki’s douche-in-douching-douchery Jionni! Vinny’s handsy Uncle Nino! Snooki’s friend with low self-esteem, Ryder! And, to top it all off, we witnessed the first onscreen appearance of a character who has become a central mysterious figure in the show’s universe: The Unit.*
*Note: I’m aware that The Unit might have appeared randomly in an earlier season as one of the various Shore friends who tend to cluster around the corner of the screen. But I think it’s fair to say that — after all the build-up he received in season 4 — his appearance on last night’s episode had all the dramatic weight of Orson Welles standing in the doorway in The Third Man. Which, by the way, “The Dramatic Weight of Orson Welles” would be a great name for a failed punk-rock band.
NEXT: Unit and the Special Victims. (Which, by the way, is a great name for a failed neo-Motown soul quartet.)Fellow viewers, how will we describe The Unit to our children, or to our children’s children? When Mike used to talk about hanging out with “My Boy Unit,” I used to imagine The Situation ambling around Seaside Heights with a robot that was basically R2-D2, except with sunglasses. But it turns out that The Unit looks sort of like a 45-year-old version of Pauly D, which if you think about it only adds further heft to my long-in-the-works theory that The Situation is actually a time-tossed older version of Vinny. Anyhow, Mike was really excited that The Unit and Ryder were in the same room, because they were both witnesses to his off-season hook-up with Shnookums. “The witnesses are here,” said District Attorney Situation, “It’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out.”
Snooki did not think very much of The Unit. “You’re so annoying, Unit,” she said, “Who are you?” Here is what the ensuing conversation looked like:
Snooki: Unit, you’re stupid.
Unit: No, you’re stupid.
Snooki: Well, you’re a Unit.
Unit: No, you’re a Unit.
Snooki: Your name’s Unit! Okay, Unit! Get real, bitch! If you didn’t have Mike, you’d be a f—ing loser.
Unit: No, you’re a Unit!
Snooki: Unit, you’re the worst character ever.
Unit: I know.
(Start the debate, fellow viewers: Is The Unit Jersey Shore‘s Poochie, Jersey Shore‘s Towelie, or Jersey Shore‘s Radzinsky?)
Anyways, I could talk about the Unit all night, and in fact, The Situation did talk about Unit all night. Jionni — who more than ever resembles a clone of Tyrone Power, if Tyrone Power were a munchkin carved out of adobe — was circling around, and Sitch could sense shenanigans on the horizon. When it turned out that Ryder and The Unit were both going to be spending the night, Sitch continued doing his best Sam Waterston impression: “All two witnesses are gonna be in the same house at the same time! It’s ironic! Poetic! insane!” Sitch declared that Hurricane Situation was bearing down on Snooki Island. Unfortunately, Snooki Island took shelter in the Smush Atoll alongside the U.S.S. Jionni, which meant that the night quickly fizzled out into a weird homoerotic bonding session between Hurricane Situation and the Unit Maelstrom. Basically, the two dudes were duding out upstairs, spraying each other with moisturizer and adjusting each other’s neck microphones. You laugh, but I just described the entire second half of J. Edgar.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Ryder was throwing a whole year of therapy sessions down the drain by agreeing to sleep with Pauly D. Pauly noted that there was some minor strangeness with hooking up with Ryder, since “she’s already had sex with Vinny.” He seemed to genuinely consider his options. He was in bed with Ryder, and I swear to god in one shot he was wielding a gigantic blow-up hammer. But we have to remember that Pauly D is a man from space, and in the words of the great Gene Roddenberry, “In space, they do sex weird.” Pauly concluded: “Whether you’re the first man in or the last man in: Ryder!” This led to a whole galaxy of name puns, including “She’s like a bus line. Ryder!” Ryder once, shame on you. Ryder twice, shame on Ryder. Ryder? I don’t even know her! Anyways, the lesson here is that names with unnecessary uses of the letter “Y” are probably going to be fodder for namecalling, and I say that as someone who has about five nieces and nephews with unnecessary-“Y” names.
NEXT: Sad VinnyThe next day, Snooki apologized to the Unit for treating him like a man named the Unit. By way of apology, Snooki said, “That’s not me: Apologizing and admitting I’m wrong. I have a little bit of anger issues.” The Unit said, “Unit.” And just like that, the ball was back in Snooki’s court. “Now, if we do something, it’s gonna make us look bad,” said The Situation. So basically, this is going to be the second straight season in which the defining plot point is The Situation’s maybe-smush with Snooki. I miss Angelina.
It was interesting to see just how much time the show spent on the supporting cast last night. Half the cast had friends or significant others crashing at the house — Snooki had Ryder, J-Woww had Roger, Snooki had Jionni, and The Situation had his boy Unit. Maybe the comparison point here isn’t The Return of the King; maybe Jersey Shore season 5 is actually going to be more like X-Men 3, the terrible Brett Ratner threequel which focused vaguely on a younger and stupider cast of mutants out of the vain hope that someone would scream for an Iceman spin-off. (Actually, “terrible Brett Ratner threequel” is basically a subgenre unto itself, between X-Men 3, Rush Hour 3, and Red Dragon. Hey, you know what’d be a great idea? Getting Brett Ratner to produce an awards show dedicated to great cinema.) In one of the previews for this season, there was the implication that Boss Danny would be bringing some new roommates into the Shore house — could this be MTV’s attempt to create a backdoor pilot for Jersey Shore: The Next Generation? Is Patrick Stewart available?
Now, Vinny has always been the most neutral, and by extension the least interesting, person on Jersey Shore. In the first two seasons, he was the show’s everyman; somewhere in the middle of season 3, he seemed to become corrupted. Even so, I’ve always felt a strong affinity for Vin-Vin, if only because he’s the only person on the show who seems capable of holding down a career that doesn’t involve swimming through a vomit hurricane orgy every weekend. So it was striking to see how, apparently, the last season appears to have really taken a toll on humble Vinny. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t dance. He went to Aztec, and all he could see was grenades. Pauly tried to cheer him up, but Vinny would not be cheered. He was stricken with anxiety. He wanted to see his family. “My brain just doesn’t work anymore, dude. I can’t sleep. I can’t think. I’m exhausted.”
Ronnie said, “You’re making it worse, overthinking everything.” Ronnie advised Vinny use the Ronnie Method to counteract overthinking, which involves hitting your head with a hilariously oversized anvil until your all those bothersome thoughts bleed out of your nose. But Vinny would not listen. He wanted to leave. Who could blame him?
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