I’m conflicted. You see, I am very much a Liz Lemon — an alarmist cynic, predisposed to think all social norms are backwards and detrimental, filled with a constantly regenerating contempt for our sluggish propagation of traditional gender roles. In less obnoxious terms: I hate things. Lots of ‘em. Mostly just because they’re there. I employ a Mallorian attitude when it comes to my derision. And Liz, bless her wonderful rule-loving, snack-scarfing, workaholic heart, is of the same variety. She’s diametrically opposed to everything that surrounds her, especially on the theme of women — Liz, since we met her in 30 Rock’s pilot oh so many years ago, has represented a voice against the ongoing subjugation of women in our society.
Highlighted with irony by the That Girl send-up playing behind her very first onscreen taking-a-stand moment (“Don’t buy all the hotdogs,” pleaded the good-hearted coward Pete), Tina Fey’s heroine was a stalwart contrast from the television leading ladies of past. She was uncouth, unpleasant, unbalanced — she wasn’t out to win anybody over. Liz would much rather be feared than loved, right than happy. And most of all — an endeavor with which many women in mainstream fiction still struggle — she wasn’t defined by anybody but herself. Throughout the years, we’ve seen embark upon many different styles of love: unrequited, toxic, almost-perfect-but-just-not-quite-because-Floyd-missed-Cleveland, and now with Criss, healthy… or at least that’s what we’re led to understand.
See, I’ve always had difficulty engaging with Liz and Criss as a couple, mainly because their story has barely been told. We met Criss when he was already Liz’s boyfriend. We’ve seen them enjoy a pleasant, functional relationship. There haven’t been any dark dips or grand peaks. And as far as I’m concerned, the sort of gap-filling role that Criss is playing seems itself to be a little bit of a veer from 30 Rock’s Lemonistic plight. It should be just any good-looking nice guy worthy of Liz Lemon’s love. We should know that he has earned it — that he is truly the sort of interesting, unique, one-of-a-kind man that she deserves. And that, had it been striven for from the time the character was introduced, would make me happy.
No, actually, it wouldn’t. Because no matter what sort of man you give to Liz Lemon, I’d take issue with the suggestion that she needs a man to be happy. That the traditional romance society has always threatened to enforce upon her was any more a valid way to live than her standing lifestyle as a single workaholic kook. That becoming a wife and mother would be the conclusion Liz needed — she doesn’t need to be those things, and she shouldn’t need to want them.
But there is something that this week’s episode of 30 Rock aims to teach us: it’s okay if she does. For, we Lemonists, those who scowl at the mention of any social institute, have to admit the simple truth that propagating aversion to constructs like “traditional” marriage and family is just as bad as propagating favor of them. The only real victory is individuality. The idea that whatever you truly want — whether it is to work, raise a child, or both — is what you should feel free to pursue. On this week’s episode, Liz and Criss opt to get married in order to have a baby. They rush the whole thing, as Liz insists the idea of marriage, of a special wedding, of feeling like “a princess” as she puts it, is not important to her. She whisks Criss down to City Hall, nary of witnesses or fancy attire, only to endure a systematic breakdown at the idea that (here’s the kicker) a real wedding is important to her. She does want to feel special on her special day. It’s a sentiment she resents and suppresses until Criss explains to her that she has no reason to feel shame over it. It’s a simple human desire to which she is entitled.
Therein lies the conflict. On the one hand, the sentiment is true: a woman who values a nice, special wedding should not be made to feel a traitor to her sex. Everyone should be free to care about the things they care about. But an iota of me felt as though the revelation of Liz’s “secret wedding desires” might themselves have been a little traitorous to her character (a figurehead in the message that women should not be defined by ideals like these). All in all, it’s a matter of how you’re willing to look at the conclusion: as a step back, admitting that Liz does need to lapse into gender constructs to feel whole, or as two steps forward, explaining that Liz is defined in neither direction by her gender, and is empowered by everything she loves, cares about, and wants, because they are elements of her individuality alone. I have to admit, I was leaning toward the former for a while there.
But then, it overtook me: the final scene. Liz Lemon’s wedding. Still in City Hall, yes, and still a far leap of traditional. But it was special — the sort Liz realized she truly wanted. She had her best pal Jack by her side, tux and all, having made the 30-minute trip in ten (what a fine Mr. Wolf he’d be). She had Dennis Duffy, his intoxicated wife, and their newly adopted son Black Dennis there as witnesses (as an avid Dennis fan, this made me happy). She had hit Tracy with her taxicab while en route home to change. All of these details were fine and dandy, laughs and smiles, but nothing yet had warmed by lemony heart to completely welcoming the idea of Liz’s special day. Until… the dress.
It would have to be the dress. An icon whose social-construct-gender-roles-blah-blah-nonsense stands unparalleled. The perfect wedding dress is an idea so potentially limiting that it could have, with the sensitive point of view detailed above, set Liz Lemon back to the days of I Dream of Jeannie.
But nobody gets married like Liz Lemon. For there in the City Hall-equivalent-of-a-matrimonial-aisle would stand Liz Lemon, draped in the only white thing she owns: her cherished Princess Leia costume, hair in buns and all. As she admitted giddily to Jack, “I’m finally a princess.” Yes, if you want to believe it undercuts a lot of what she has aimed to teach us over the years, you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to prove it. But if you’re like me — bitter and needlessly defiant… but begrudgingly softhearted when it comes down to it — then you can also just let yourself well up and smile here. She’s happy. And say what you will about what society has done to her: she’s still very much herself in this moment. She is wholly, faithfully, unabashedly, adorably, and admirably Elizabeth Miervaldis Lemon. Our only hope.
And although she never needed any man, could never be defined by anything but her own remarkable flavor, she has her Han Solo.
Also in this episode, John Hodgman attempts to enslave Jenna (accepting $2000 from Jack in return for her safety), and Tracy brushes his teeth when he realizes he’s not necessarily going to die in the immediate future. After that, he decides to produce Twofer’s screenplay about Harriet Tubman. And Kenneth says something about Hitler. Did that take away from the heartrendingly dramatic ending I wrote for the Liz Lemon story? I think it might have… do me a favor, go back and just read the whole Princess Leia/Han Solo part again, and stop after that. I want to go out on a moving note.
[Photo Credit: NBC (2)]