Monday, January 19, 2009

episode: desperate housewives, "best thing that ever could have happened" (5.13)

Sunday night marked Desperate Housewives's 100th episode, and instead of drowning in convoluted plots or big name guest stars, the show finally went back to its roots and reminded its viewers why they ever cared about these women in the first place. And surprisingly, "The Best Thing That Ever Could Have Happened" is probably one of my favorite flashback episodes (meaning, episodes intended specifically to fill in missing details) because it gets so much of it right. It's an episodic plot that exists outside of the season-long narrative, and it reflects on the death of handyman Eli Scruggs, a one-time character played so charmingly by Beau Bridges, and how his life touched all of the main characters, including (very smartly) the deceased narrator, Mary Alice Young. Eli Scruggs changed these women's lives in the following ways (listed in order of appearance in the episode, though definitely not chronologically):

For Gaby, when she and Carlos moved to Wisteria Lane, Eli encouraged Gaby to get over her judgement and boredom of suburbia long enough to get to know the other women on the street. At their first poker game, Gaby tells the other women that Wisteria Lane is awful enough to make her want to blow her brains out, and she playfully hits Mary Alice Young, whom viewers know ended up shooting herself in season one (as part of that season's storyline). It was a nice ironic moment, though the sadness was still present. But the other women don't enjoy the stuck-up and self-centered Gaby, and Eli shows her that it's okay not to be guarded around these women. In the next scene, easily one of the sweetest moments for Eva Longoria as an actor, Gaby appears at another poker game, uninvited and with a basket of muffins. She confesses that her husband's never home, that she's lonely, and what she really needs right now is some friends. Bree steps out from the background and softly says, "Now that is how you make an entrance." It was smart for the show to tell Gaby's story first because it explained how Gaby was integrated into the group, when she for so long stuck out like a sore thumb. Also, it reminded viewers that Mary Alice Young was very much a part of this group for some time, and it made me extremely happy that creator Marc Cherry found a way to incorporate actress Brenda Strong physically into the cast again.

For Bree, I'm not quite sure because I was in the bathroom at this moment, but it had something to do with Eli returning a book of recipes to Bree after her husband Rex died. In the typical Bree fashion, she mourned in silence and solitude in her kitchen as Eli returned the book, and Bree looked at it fondly, saying, "I can't believe you kept this." He mentioned to her that his favorite recipe was the cajun chicken, and the flashback cut to the present to show Bree holding her published cookbook and muttering, "I know exactly what I'm going to fix." Bree definitely didn't have the strongest flashback, and I thought the inclusion of Bree's desire to publish a cookbook one day seemed forced, but it didn't bother me and the scene still rang true to Bree's character.

For Edie, Eli was there when she found out that her husband was gay -- a subplot that I had completely forgotten about! (I'm not entirely sure, but I think this subplot had been mentioned but never visually expressed before.) Eli comforted Edie and told her how beautiful she was, and in true Edie fashion, she sleeps with him. The scene was not without humor, of course, with Eli saying, "Are you sure about this? I don't want to take advantage of you." The image of Nicolette Sheridan on top of Beau Bridges is enough to make anyone smile.

For Lynette, she found out she was pregnant with Penny right as she was trying to secure a job at an advertising firm (the same one she worked at in season one). Even as her water broke, she was still trying to sign at the dotted line, and a few weeks later, she ends up leaving baby Penny in the car as she walked inattentively talking on her cell phone. Eli was down a few houses and watched Lynette's carelessness, so he went to the car and retrieved the baby. When he returned the child to Lynette, her face froze in horror and awe at what she had done, and as apologetic as she was, as much as she tried to excuse her behavior, she started crying but Eli did not judge her. He just stood there, nodding in understanding, and from that moment on, Lynette decided to put her family first. Eli showed her what was most important.

For Susan, Eli was there during her divorce from Carl, her divorce from Mike, and her split with Jackson. And when Eli announced his retirement from the job, Susan told him that he was the most consistent male relationship in her life and that she would always value that about him. He agreed to fix a falling shingle for her as his last job, and while she was out buying him celebratory wine for his retirement, he suffered a heart attack on her roof. This was a particularly interesting sequence of events because, when Eli dies at the beginning of the episode and Susan comes home with a bottle of wine, you're not quite sure who that wine is for but you certainly don't assume it's for Eli. But this sequence was very well done because it showed Susan evolving as a person -- in divorcing Carl, she threw his clothes and belongings on the front lawn, and in divorcing Mike, she cried on the staircase, and with the breakup with Jackson, she accepted and chose her life as a singleton. As with all of the flashbacks, Susan's was very much a window into her as a real character.

But the show does not end with Susan's flashback but with Mary Alice's. She is the first person in Wisteria Lane to meet the town newest resident, Eli Scruggs. She says that she does not have work for him but takes his business cards to pass out to her friends. When she notices a hole in his shoe and how much he could use a job, she tells him that he can glue a broken vase back together for her. This was a great scene because it showed the heart and humility of Mary Alice, why she is the voice of the show and why she would come back as a voiceover to watch over her friends. She's a character who cares, who feels and empathizes with others. And so when Mary Alice shot herself, Eli Scruggs watched from a distance. (In this scene, the characters are all standing outside of her house, and although I'm not positive, I'm pretty sure that each of the characters are in the same positions and clothing as they were in season one when they panned over the heartbroken residents.) Eli Scruggs sat in his truck for an hour in dismay, and he vowed to always help others whenever they needed it because he wished that he had helped Mary Alice.

And thus, Mary Alice's kindness effected Eli, who in turn changed the lives of all the women on Wisteria Lane. I think the sweetest moment of the whole episode -- which is, without a doubt, the best of this season -- and this episode had a lot of sweet moments, is the wide shot of all the mourners at Eli Scrugg's funeral. He was a simple and honest man, but he had touched so many lives (a la George Bailey) just by being kind of caring. And seeing all of those people at his funeral, it reminds you as the viewer that there is a reason for being good to others, and that reason is because it makes the world a better place.

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