S6E6/7: 30 Rock always celebrates Valentines Day interestingly—as a quick flashback montage in this week’s episode reminds us, we’ve seen the show kill Don Draper’s mother, drug up Liz and have her make out with a houseplant, and drive Matt Damon to pull a gun on his girlfriend…all on Valentine’s Day episodes. A hard lot to top, this year gives us an hour-long Valentine’s episode in the form of “Hey, Baby, What’s Wrong?”
And, in the tradition of Valentine’s Day, the episode celebrates love, hate, psychosis, and sleazy guys doing anything they can to get girls.
“I find that you catch more flies with honey.” – Diana
“First of all, why do you want flies?” – Jack
Let’s start with the love. Jack has been hell-bent on getting Avery back from her North Korean captors—and, in the meantime, has been adopting new hobbies—i.e., the driving range—to distract from his pent up sexual desires. He has approached every delegate at the United Nations to beg for help, but to no avail. This week, he gets help from the last place he expected: Avery’s mother, Diana (Mary Steenbergen). Hailing from a long line of repressed WASP stereotypes, Diana has, up until this moment, refused to admit outright that there is a problem at bay. But unwilling to let her daughter stay in captivity any longer, Diana releases her inner “Italian”-ness (her words) and lashes out at the ambassador of Transylvania (C. Cjokula), who promises that he’s not a vampire.
Jack backs Diana up by threatening Cjokula—okay, that’s just too ridiculous to write in an actual sentence—and rendering him shaking and completely emasculated. The in-laws, formerly at odds with one another, have allowed this scene to open their minds a bit. Jack realizes that he is enamored by Diana’s strength, as is she by his. And although it’s nice that they’re finally getting along, and working together to get Avery back, it opens the doors for some uncomfortable feelings of sexual tension. Jack has the hots for his wife’s mother, and she feels the same way.
“I can see to it that Transylvania never sees another episode of Friends.” – Jack
“No! Monica and Chandler just slept together in London!” – Cjokula
The majority of their time on the show together has the two fighting off urges to act on their feelings, knowing full well how wrong it would be. Even when prompted by a romantic Italian fellow spouting lyrical descriptions of their palpable love, Jack and Diana stay strong and resist their temptations. But Diana is only human—she takes up with a lowly jackass she finds loitering outside of a liquor store. Jack begs her to reconsider, convincing her that she is far too good for Herb (“You are what you smoke”…this show is so good at jerks). In a softer moment, Diana admits how lonely she is, and reveals that she needs some way to release her tension. In somewhat of an unsatisfying conclusion, both story-wise and humor-wise, we cut to Jack and Diana hitting golf balls on the driving range to combat their urges. But unless they wanted Jack to cheat on his wife with her own mother, I guess this was the most sensible way out.
“What race am I supposed to check? We all come from Africa!” – CrissNow, for the hate. Liz is awakened by a half-song, half-written by the half-man she is dating: Criss—James Marsden, still feeling a bit wasted in a role that really only calls for him to just be easygoing. Criss decides that he will cook for Liz to give her the first good Valentine’s Day she has ever had—unfortunately, they need to buy a dinner table first.
But oh, the horror of this. For there is only one place in the known universe where Liz and Criss might venture on this day to purchase such a piece of furniture. And it is no ordinary place. It is a store so entrenched in the spirit of evil that it turns happy couples into bitter, cloying, contempt-filled enemies upon entry: IKEA. Seriously, IKEA takes one hell of a beating in this episode. There are more IKEA jokes in this episode than in Aaron Karo’s Ruminations books. But knowing full well the dangers of the store, Liz brings Criss along, convinced that they can overcome the curse.
How wrong she is. They are doomed from the start. The controlling, argumentative malcontent that Liz is takes issue with everything that Criss says and does inside the store. And Criss, being a person, gets frustrated by this. By the time they reach the end of the forest maze that is IKEA, Liz and Criss are screaming at one another and part ways, leaving poor Elizabeth sobbing alone on a parking lot bench, until she is approached by…
“Guys like us have to pick low-hanging fruit. We look like Far Side drawings.” – Frank Lutz is feeling lonely on his forty-eighth failure of a Valentine’s Day, so Tracy and Frank decide to do him the “favor” of guiding him in the art of sleazily picking up women. Tracy and Frank both have a leviathan of experience in this particular walk of life, so they let Lutz in on all their tricks, dragging him to every venue where desperate, unhappy women can be found and taken advantage of. It’s lovely. Lutz strikes out every time, offending the women in question or embarrassing himself. But eventually, Tracy and Frank take Lutz to a can’t-miss spot: the parking lot of IKEA. See, even they know about the IKEA curse, and they know that all women who leave the store are lonely, unhappy and vulnerable. And the loneliest, unhappiest and most vulnerable looking woman in the lot? A brunette sobbing alone on a park bench. Of course, by the time Lutz realizes that she is Liz, it’s too late: he has already approached her and gives the patented “Hey, Baby…What’s wrong?” move. But it’s actually a blessing in disguise. Liz and Lutz both realize how pathetic they are, and they realize that they themselves are to blame for this. And this marks the best and most honest thing the show has done in quite some time: even though Liz realizes that she is to blame for her own unhappiness, and that she owes Criss an apology, and that finding him and making up with him would be the best way to earn happiness—even after this groundbreaking personal epiphany, she still doesn’t want to do any of that. Why? Because it’s hard. And annoying. And she’s a cranky, selfish, and accustomed to her unhappiness. It’s not your standard TV magic—it’s real. People are really like that. They might come to realizations here and there about their own flaws, but a lot of times, they continue right on with those flaws. Why? Well…who the hell knows? But it happens. Thank you, 30 Rock, for being honest. “Mom-boss!” – Lutz …but not too honest. Criss has already shown up at Liz’s place and made her dinner, admitting that he has forgiven her and gotten over their fight. The two share a nice dinner together in celebration of Valentine’s Day, and their uptight-girl-and-laid-back-guy formula that seems to be working. At least, for now. He does only have three months, lest you forget. Side note: Lutz realizes that he has spent the entire day with two friends supporting him and trying to make him happy. And there really isn’t even much of a punchline here—it’s a genuinely sweet ending to a story surrounding a character who is almost entirely used as a joke. Call me a pushover, but that works for me. “If those teeth were in your vagina, you’d be considered a monster.” — Dr. Spaceman The rest of the show is where things start to get weird. Jenna has to perform a live song in front of her largest audience yet on the America’s Kids Got Singing results show…and she keeps freezing up and singing poorly in rehearsals. I would like to give thanks for a great Dr. Spaceman scene resultant of Jenna’s seeking of medical counsel for the problem. Pete, who is producing the episode, wracks his brain to figure out why Jenna can’t sing properly. Could it be nerves? The guilt of tormenting young kids all season? Pete admits that he has had experience with this kind of thing before—right before the ‘88 (presumably) Olympics, Pete froze up in trying to qualify for America’s archery team—nice callback to a one-off joke from way back when in the series of Pete being an Olympic-level archer in the ‘80s. No. At the last moment, Pete realizes what Jenna’s problem is: from childhood to adulthood, whenever she has performed live, Jenna was always in pain. The tight shoes her mother made her wear. The flames from the burning boat she sang on. The sword a Middle Eastern dictator stabbed her with during a performance. Thus, Pete saves the day—grabbing a Cupid’s Arrow from a Valentine’s Day decoration and piercing Jenna’s arm onstage, resulting in her beautiful singing voice. Like I said, the show gets weird. “As you know, the haunted house industry is a real boys club.” — Hazel But here’s the icing on the cake of the psychosis: Hazel Wassername, under Kenneth’s tutelage, realizes she hates TGS and everyone involved, and that she feels uninspired there. Kenneth reprimands her and explains how wonderful a job it is to work with these people, but Hazel maintains her attitude. That is, until she meets Liz. Hazel delivers a package to Liz’s apartment just as she and Criss are sitting down to dinner, and the new page makes a strange discovery: in her eyes, Liz does have it all. But this isn’t just innocent hero worship. Hazel is nuts. She whispers wickedly that she WILL have Liz Lemon’s life…and does some creepy lipstick application to Liz’s lips while she is asleep in her bedroom. But all that is sweetened by Kenneth’s kissing of the NBC sign—the truest expression of love on this year’s Valentine’s episode. To sum up, there remains some tension between Jack and Diana, but I think that plot is put to rest. Liz and Criss are good, for now, but I can’t see this relationship lasting past the season. At least, I hope it doesn’t. There isn’t enough meat to it, and Liz deserves a more substantial story than “This easygoing guy is exactly what uptight Liz needs!” Hazel is nuts (ha) and will do something terrifying involving her new boss. And, most excitingly, Kenneth is on the rise…finally. Episode highlight: Dennis flashback wherein he and Liz spent the holiday in a batting cage, where he had to hit just one before they could go to Chili’s.
Where does this rank in terms of 30 Rock’s Valentine’s Day episodes in your opinion? When do you think Avery will come back to the states? How long would you like to see Liz and Criss last? And what will happen with Hazel? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter (@MichaelArbeiter).