Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

1.12.04

Why Desperate Housewives isn't an amoral show, and those people who think it is need to shut up

Yes, there's sex. Yes, there's adultery. Yes, there's murder. Yes, there's lying and drug use. Yes, I am a man and I watch the show. So what? You think Americans invented all that stuff? You think baby boomers invented all that stuff? Perhaps you should read Homer.

Anyway, that's not the point. It's not even the point whether Desperate Housewives (and I can see I'm going to get tired of typing that, so from now on it shall be DH) is a good show. It's not as good as some people think, and it's not as bad as others think. The point is that, with last Sunday's episode, this became an even more MORAL show than it already was. Moral, you say? But-but-but- the sex! The adultery! The murder! How can it be moral? Well, let's take a look.

Susan (Teri Hatcher, who appears to be channeling Lucy Ricardo in this role) finally gets into Mike's house. She accidentally finds stacks of cash and a gun. Through ridiculous circumstances, she falls through a floor and is hanging between one storey and the next while Mike is not home. All with the money and gun in his sink, which is where she placed it, briefly. Mike comes home and rescues her, sees the money and gun, and orders her out of the house. Susan, who has been pursuing a relationship with Mike and had finally received an invitation to spend some time "in wine country" with Mike, is devastated. She sputtered about finding the stash being an accident, but Mike didn't want to hear. She left, but not before pointing out that Mike never tells her anything. Later, Mike shows up at her house, saying he'll tell her anything she wants to know, but Susan doesn't want to hear it. She just drags Mike inside and the two bump uglies (with some nice camera work to juxtapose their hot 'n' steamy sex with the murder taking place, presumably at the same time). All is well in Susan's land. (Yes, I'm aware of the tense changes in that paragraph, but I'll ignore it if you will.)

The goofiness of Susan's pursuit of Mike does not obscure the realistic aspects of it. She may act wacky, but we understand, because of her obvious issues with her ex-husband and her protective instincts when it comes to her teenaged daughter. This is a woman who has been hurt by the husband going through the mid-life crisis and buying a sports car and hooking up with a younger woman (who, interestingly enough, is far less attractive than Teri Hatcher), and she is nervous about being so overtly interested in Mike. This is the kind of behavior, I would argue, that women are forced into. Edie, played ridiculously over-the-top by Nicollette Sheridan (of Monday Night Football fame), aggressively goes after Mike, and she is an object of scorn and derision by the main foursome of the show. She is also an object of scorn and derision by the viewing audience, who sees her as a slut. It remains a stupid dichotomy in our society that men who act like Edie in pursuing a woman are seen as "knowing what they want," but Edie is seen as a shameless mattress-back. The fear that Susan feels is also evident in her desire to know more about Mike. She really doesn't have a leg to stand on -- he just moved in, he's asked her out but they haven't even been on a date yet!, and she should have just left his stuff alone -- last time I checked, having stacks of cash and a gun around the house wasn't illegal. But her desire to be with Mike is clashing with her desire to feel safe -- passion and comfort struggling with each other. It's an age-old question -- which do we want? Do we want the newness of a fledgling relationship, where we can't keep our hands off each other, or do we want security, where we know the other person will be there no matter what? Susan, who has been damaged before, wants to skip the passion and go straight to the security. Her hormones won't let her, though, and she ends up making the beast with two backs even though Mike hasn't made her feel any safer.

Meanwhile, Lynette (Felicity Huffman) is still having problems with her kids. For people like me, with only one child, her situation allows me to feel morally superior, just like I do whenever I read about people having problems in the newspapers. Why? Because she chose to have four children! Now, apparently, there's one older child, although he's rarely seen. He, I guess, is not a problem. Then there are the twin boys, who are pure evil. Then there's the baby. Now, you could argue that she had one, saw that it was good, and wanted another. And twins just happen. But why have another? Just because you want a girl? Okay, it's fiction, but I feel the same way when I read about people in the paper having financial difficulties because they can't feed their eight children. Good God, people, did you ever think of stopping? Anyway, back to Lynette. She has been taking ADD medication to keep up with her kids (a nice if somewhat obvious ironic twist after she decided not to medicate her kids with the same medicine). Apparently, ADD medicine acts as speed if you don't have ADD. She's not sleeping at night and crashing during the day. In a nice scene, the previous week her husband (who will forever be Gay Matt from Melrose Place) almost got her to admit her problem, but was saved by the hit-and-run outside). Now, she's strung out. She contemplates suicide, in a weird scene with Mary Alice, the show's MacGuffin who killed herself to kickstart the whole series, appearing outside her window and handing her a gun. It's a strange scene, because it's played almost comically, but it gets across Lynette's disassociation from reality. She doesn't kill herself, however, instead giving her kids to Susan and driving off in her mini-van. Later on, when Susan and Bree find her, she's sitting on a soccer field weeping. She whines about how hard being a mother is and that no one else ever has any problems, and Susan and Bree both tell her about their troubles when their kids were young. Considering how Gay Matt compared Lynette unfavorably to Bree the previous week, it's a nice touch that she admits to problems. Lynette asks why they never told her, and they say it's not something anyone likes to talk about, to which Lynette replies that it's something they should talk about. It's a heartfelt cri de couer that sums up the show's message -- people who live near each other and consider each other friends can be just as shut off from each other as strangers, maybe even moreso. DH shows us people who share an intimate secret -- the mystery of Mary Alice -- but no one knows that Lynette's abusing drugs or that Gabrielle is having an affair. People in our world have secret lives, and that's okay, but it's also important to make sure people don't feel isolated. Lynette, because of her success in business, cannot make that leap of faith and confide in her closest friends, because she doesn't want to feel like a failure. Similarly, despite having the most healthy relationship with her husband of the four, she can't get across to Gay Matt what she's thinking and feeling. Yes, Lynette whines a lot, and next week gets a nanny (if she was such a success and Gay Matt obviously has a decent job, why didn't she do it earlier, many people will say -- including me), but a real-life solution isn't the point here. The kids are just a metaphor for the image we show to the world and the image we show ourselves. This is an honest portrayal of the isolation we as Americans feel because of our loss of community and our perceptions about weakness in the face of adversity.

Bree, meanwhile, has been having marital problems with Rex, perhaps the dumbest character in television history (not dumb as in bad, but dumb as in mentally deficient). Rex has sexual problems, but won't admit what they are, even though Bree (Marcia Cross, another Melrose Place alum, as well as another of Jerry Seinfeld's girlfriends, although not as famous as Teri Hatcher) is trying to get him to talk. Another case of not trusting those we love. However, their marital problems take a back seat this episode to deal with the hit-and-run of Gabrielle's mother-in-law, a crime perpetrated by Andrew, Bree's son. Bree and Rex decide to cover the crime up by taking Andrew's car (bought for him by Rex when he and Bree announced their divorce in a all-too-real ploy to buy his son's love) into the "bad" part of town (since Wisteria Lane seems to exist in some weird sort of Never-Never Land, this is quite laughable) and leave it so it will be stolen. This, amazingly enough, works. The real problem they face is that Andrew seems not to care that he almost killed a person (and still might; Mama Solis is in a coma). Bree wrestles with her conscience over whether to turn Andrew in or not. He says that if he doesn't care about Mama Solis, he learned his values from Bree, so what does that say about her? This story had the potential, last week, of being farcical -- look how Rex and Bree try to circumvent the law! -- but Marcia Cross, who is excellent in this role, invests her struggle with such emotional intensity that we're drawn into her Hobson's choice. This is something parents may have to face -- what do you do when your children do something wrong and don't feel any remorse for it? Do you turn them in originally, or turn them in after it's apparent they feel they've gotten away with something? Andrew comes off as a punk here, and I'm not sure it's totally consistent with the character, but this part of the episode is brutal when you examine it as a parent, because it's one of those things that you can imagine happening.

Finally, there's Gabrielle (Eva Longoria). Eva Longoria is superb in this role, unless she's a bitch in real life and is just playing herself (my wife and I have always suspected Ben Affleck is an asshole, which is why he plays them so well). It's tough to have any sympathy for Gabrielle, who's carrying on an affair with her landscaper, an underage teenager, making her a statutory rapist at least in Arizona, and I suspect in a bunch of other states as well. Her mother-in-law found out about the affair last week, took a picture, and ran into the street, where she was plowed over by Andrew. At the beginning of this episode, Gabrielle does the logical thing: takes the camera before calling 911. So she's off the hook there. Mama Solis is in a coma, however, and this gets Gabrielle's loverboy thinking that maybe their affair isn't such a great idea. He tells her he went to confession, told the priest everything, and never wants to see her again. We'll see if his raging teenage hormones can keep that promise. Gabrielle talks to the priest, and finds out she can confess on her deathbed and still be forgiven. Ah, the great out for Catholics! Meanwhile, her husband, Carlos, is fretting about his mother. Wouldn't you be?

This is the story that perhaps has garnered the most attention on the show, simply because it is, after all, statutory rape (I'm sorry for harping on it, but where I used to teach, there were plenty of 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds getting pregnant with their 18 or older boyfriends, and it made me sad). The interesting thing about it is that Carlos isn't a bad guy. Yes, he makes up for not being around more by buying Gabrielle stuff, even though she's told him that doesn't work. And he did beat up the gay guy that he thought was schtupping his wife (which was pretty funny, after all). But he loves her desperately, and she doesn't communicate with him. She's not necessarily a bad person either, just lonely. She obviously loves her husband, but does not get the attention she needs. Gabrielle's high-maintenance, but at some point, the gifts stopped doing it for her. These are two people who don't communicate on anything but a superficial level, because the indication is that when they were married they were happy with superficiality. Now, Gabrielle wants more, but so does Carlos, as we find out when he announces rather suddenly in front of the van de Kamps (Bree's family) that he and Gabrielle are going to start a family. This is news to Gabrielle, and the whole scene degenerates quickly. Carlos is a mama's boy, but he's also a man who has never been taught how to treat a woman like anything other than a saint or a whore. That's thanks to Mama Solis, who killed her husband when he starting fooling around on her. Carlos obviously has sex with Gabrielle, but he also doesn't realize that she has needs beyond being put on a pedestal. It's interesting that in this little triangle, John (Gabrielle's sex toy) is trying to do the right thing, even though, technically, he's not doing anything wrong (he's not committing adultery, even though, as he's Catholic, he shouldn't be fooling around period, and anyway, he should be a hero around school for nailing an older hottie like Gabrielle). It's got "Lumumba moment" (a situation from which no good can come) written all over it, but we'll see how it turns out.

I haven't even gotten into the central mystery of the show, Mary Alice's suicide. Yes, we learn a little more about what's going on. No, Shaft doesn't kill Edie, because she didn't send the note to Mary Alice. Yes, Paul is creepy and he's kind of out of control. Yes, Mrs. Kravitz probably had it coming. Mary Alice, although annoying as a narrator, remains a fascinating puzzle, and another reason this show is a moral show. She was obviously an unhappy person with a sinister secret, a husband prone to violence, and an obsessive and disturbed son. This is another facet of the theme of DH, namely, keeping secrets from those closest to us.

All of these plotlines serve to remind us that America today is a deeply disturbed country. We no longer have a sense of community within our neighborhoods, and even though the women on DH know each other (unlike most of us and our neighbors), they don't really know each other. Desperate Housewives reflects American society, it doesn't create it. We still have not come to terms with successful career women, whether they remain in their careers or leave their careers to raise children. We have not come to terms with children who do vile things and appear to have no remorse whatsoever. I refuse to blame my former students for everything they do, although they do have to take some responsibility. We have failed them, and they are simply reflecting our morals. Andrew is right when he asks his mother who the monster is, and Bree has no answer for him. People who look simply at the surface of the show are, like the women on Wisteria Lane, missing the point. Desperate Housewives is sensationalistic and salacious. What television show isn't? On Seinfeld, the four leads had sex with the entire population of New York, but no one said it was destroying the moral fabric of America, probably because it was a comedy and there were no consequences. On Desperate Housewives, there are consequences, which makes this an interesting show and a show that makes us more uncomfortable than we'd like to admit.