’30 Rock’ Recap: Today You Are a Man

30 RockS6E5: If there is one principal criticism I have had of 30 Rock’s recent years, it is a lack of real story development. Sure, Jack got married and had a kid. Kabletown purchased NBC. But this week’s episode seems to have the future of 30 Rock in mind. Waves are being made.

“Sorry Jack I need to take this. Yes, may I please speak to pizza?” – Liz

When it is time for Liz to update her contract, she is offended that Jack has forwarded her the same contract that she signed six years ago, without even discussing it with her. Thus, she takes it upon herself—after ridding herself of the nuisance that is her young agent Simon—to become an expert negotiator so that she can really stick it to Jack. Of course, in order to do so, she’ll have to learn all of the tricks of the trade from the best negotiator in the business…Jack himself. Liz happens upon a set of instructional videos that Jack created some time ago, and memorizes all of his tips on how to beat any opponent in a negotiation.

Once Jack picks up on what Liz is doing, he is thrilled to finally have an opponent he deems worthy: himself. See, the beginning of the episode shows us a depressed Jack—one who feels that the all-smiles, no-progress company of Kabletown is no place for a shark like him. He misses working for GE, where he was responsible for headlining innovations and engaging in heated corporate agenda. So this faceoff with “him-Liz” is a nice little break from his uncomfortably easy routine.

“Whatever you do, don’t speak first. Ninety percent of negotiations are lost by the person who speaks first. Because what is speaking a sign of?” – Jack

“………Weakness?” – Audience member

“You. Out. Fired.” – Jack

The climactic point of the battle takes place in an ice cream store (Liz’s idea—her home turf: power-play) that Jack has apparently rearranged to replicate the layout of his office (power-play). The power-plays continue, taking the form of chairs with divergent heights, intimidating whispering, pirate holidays…eventually, Liz falters, but Jack decides to just play both sides of the argument. This culminates in a scene of Jack negotiating with his reflection, which, given the 30 Rock’s history with wacky comedy of this nature (such as the absolutely brilliant psychotherapy scene from the Season 2 episode “Rosemary’s Baby,” wherein Jack takes the role of every member of Tracy’s family), this endeavor seems like a long swing beneath the show’s real potential. Nonetheless, it has some laughs. And it winds up with “Liz-Jack” beating “Jack-Jack.”

But Jack realizes later on that he let his emotions get the better of him. So what does he do? What any healthy, mature adult would: he uses those same emotions to manipulate Liz into guiltily forfeiting her contractual demands. Of course, Jack is a decent fellow who does genuinely love Liz, so he gives her everything she wants anyway. He just likes knowing that he has complete psychological control over everyone he knows.

“My son Adam is a huge, huge fan!” – Tracy’s and Jenna’s accountant

“Yes many of our viewers are obsese.” – Tracy

Although the Jack and Liz story does keep things pretty much same-ol’, same-ol’ between the series’ central duo, there is another pair who seems to be, dare I say, growing. And it’s the least likely pair, too: Tracy and Jenna learn the importance of maturity in a storyline that is, appropriately, set at a Bar Mitzvah.

The stars are invited to their accountant’s son’s Bar Mitzvah—but the son, Adam, is displeased with the caliber of star that his father has managed to wrangle. Adam acts out by throwing a tantrum and hiding in the bathroom…things we’ve seen both Tracy and Jenna do time and time again. In other words, the lunatic actors are experts on the subject, and they realize that Adam is acting out to hide what is really bothering him.

“Don’t you represent Gina Gershon?” – Adam

“My nemesis?!” – Tracy and Jenna

Tracy and Jenna connect with Adam, and manage to get him to admit that he’s simply afraid of dancing with girls. After a few encouraging (albeit horrible) words—Jenna convinces pudgy Adam that being rich and fat are what girls look for in a man—Adam musters his confidence, heads back out to the party, and dances happily with a girl.

This experience teaches Tracy and Jenna that perhaps being mature, responsible and honest are better approaches to dealing with their emotions. Now, one would think that by the end of the episode, the two would be back to their old ways. But surprisingly enough, they stick to their guns and actually do the right thing right up until the credits, which makes a pretty big impact on one other major character…

“I’ve learned from having children that when your kid throws a tantrum and holds his breath, you hold your breath too. And when you regain consciousness, believe me, hes ready to leave the toy store.” – Pete

Kenneth returns to work after his brief unemployment that we witnessed in last week’s episode, “The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell.” But Kenneth is shocked to realize that nobody even noticed he was gone. This makes Kenneth question his friendship with his coworkers, especially Pete and the writers. To teach them all a lesson, he switches positions with another page, Hazel Wassername—played very Kristen Schaaly by Kristen Schaal—who works on The Suze Orman Show.

While in his new section, Kenneth gets some harsh but wise words from Ms. Orman herself: he realizes that his coworkers do not truly consider him a friend, and in order to get their friendship, he must quit his job and find new, more satisfying and profitable work. Meanwhile, back at TGS, Hazel is proving to be a shoddy replacement for Kenneth. She makes more than a couple of racist insinuations toward Twofer, and almost kills Frank by sneaking peanuts into his sandwich. Nightmarish.

“How old are you?” – Suze Orman

“Don’t worry about it.” – Kenneth

Pete tries to convince Kenneth to come back to work at TGS, but can’t. So, he passes the task on to the neediest members of the crew, Tracy and Jenna—knowing full well how much Kenneth loves waiting on them. But the enlightened Tracy, in a rare moment of sincerity, insists that Kenneth quit and find more satisfying work that would suit him better. It’s actually a pretty sweet moment between these two very close friends…and it’s topped off with a hilarious bit of Tracy “transforming” into a monster that tries to stop Kenneth from leaving.

The end of the show has Kenneth approaching Jack about opportunities at NBC. Jack, having spotted Kenneth as a viable candidate for more glamorous employ since Season 1, is delighted to help him out, pledging that for a white male with hair like Kenneth, “the sky is the limit.”

“No one has ever won a land war in Russia. Not Napoleon. Not Hitler. Not even Balky in the unaired ninth season of Perfect Strangers.” – Jack

Kenneth leaving TGS and moving on to bigger and better things has been teased before, so I’m glad to see that it is actually coming true—even if I will miss him in his old position. And Tracy and Jenna growing up, although perhaps detrimental to what many people think makes their characters funny, is a route I’m excited to see being taken. Things still seem the same for Liz and Jack…but I guess if any part of the show is perfect, it’s these two.

What did you think of this week’s 30 Rock? Will Tracy and Jenna maintain their new maturity, or will it go out the window by next week? Where might Kenneth go from here? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter (@MichaelArbeiter).