Thursday, May 10, 2007

"It means the woman's nuts. A minute ago, she was eating a candle.": Ugly Betty

Of all of the things I expected Ugly Betty to resemble as it plowed toward its season finale, the episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes on a mystical journey with a spirit guide coyote after eating a hallucinatory pepper was pretty far down the list. And yet, there we were, riding through the Mexican countryside on a bus with our favorite nerdy assistant when her crush, Henry, appeared out of nowhere on a bike and she had to race after him, the bus leaving her behind. It was all well and good though because the knowledge imparted to her by a strange old woman at a family gathering led her to the home of her maternal grandmother, whom she had never seen. It was an odd storyline that managed to deliver a nicely emotional payoff (the grandmother apologized to Betty as though Betty were her mother), but it still seemed to come out of nowhere in the greater scope of the season. Vision quests are all well and good for one time things on these sorts of goofy shows, and it was nice to find out more about Betty's mom, but the way this whole side of the family was dropped on the story then quickly dropped in the same episode was whiplash-inducing.

Simply, we haven't been led to care about Betty's mother for a while now. She's mentioned every so often, and we know that Ignacio killed a man to be with her, but we haven't been given many stories about her (when it seemed that her absence would be a marked part of the plot from early episodes). It was nice to have that storyline return, but it might have been nicer to have it result in some sort of gradually earned payoff instead of the rather sudden (if affecting) one that we did get.

The Mexico scenes were the best thing about the episode, though, as the stuff back in New York was rather dreary without Betty there to play along. Amanda and Marc were the only highlights, especially as he discovered that her boyfriend wasn't gay and then the two hatched their plot. But Bradford re-emerging as Brad Meade was too silly even for this show, and the love triangle between Alexis, her ex-girlfriend and Daniel was just uninteresting. It would be fun to see a love triangle with the two former brothers as two points, but this one was executed poorly. Even Vanessa Williams' Wilhelmina seemed a little stranded.

Yessir, the Mexico stuff was the best, even if it was a little weird. I liked that scene with the family having the big party and Betty getting to meet all of her relatives (I also liked that her command of Spanish wasn't as good as it might be and that her sister had to translate for her). Ignacio trying to navigate the waters of the family he left was touching, and his arrival to rescue Betty when she stumbled upon her grandmother was also good. I'm not so sure I want to see him get in trouble with the guys seeking to get revenge on him for his killing of his wife's first husband, but it seems unlikely I won't get to see that. And Hilda met a man who convinced her that maybe marriage wasn't the right thing for her (between this and Scrubs, it was "Maybe you shouldn't get married" night on TV). Side note: I've always liked that Hilda has such a frumpy name and is clearly such an attractive woman. It's a nice visual gag that never really gets commented on.

But the episode's heart was Betty's vision quest. I don't know if this is going to become a regular thing or anything, but the out-of-nowhereness of it didn't help the show as it heads to its finale next week. Here's hoping that episode is able to tie together the season's many disparate plot threads a little better.

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