TV Review, Ugly Betty

TV Review: Ugly Betty, Season 4, Episode 3: Blue on Blue

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Ugly Betty used to be at the very top of the TV game, consistently delivering amazing episodes week after week. But, although it’s episodes do display a certain level of quality that is lacking in many other shows, it’s last season delivered too many lackluster episodes for it to be able to surpass the high bar it had itself set the seasons before last (which by the way makes me admire the Supernatural team even more for being able to keep up the same level of awesomeness throughout the last four and a half years).

In any case, despite this, Ugly Betty still remains one of the great quality shows on TV that not only doesn’t have to do with cops, but that is uplifting and can bring about some pretty deep reflections – as demonstrated in the reviews you can find on this blog.

I wasn’t too surprised with how well this episode was written and produced, since, as mentioned previously, Season 4 has been slowly working its way back up to the level of awesomeness of Season 1. However, it also has to do with the characters’ evolution, as each of them is growing and changing while at the same time staying true to their own selves. Still adapting to her new role as Assistant Features Editor, Betty is catching up on the previous episode’s disastrous photoshoot, while Matt is still being his obnoxious and childish self; Marc – whose character has started evolving from superficial and uncaring to one with a little more depth (even Ugly Betty isn’t going into the miracles department, apparently) – is still smarting from playing second fiddle to Betty while Amanda is starting to take action to advance in her life. Daniel is starting to work on his grief issues (albeit unwillingly) and Wilhelmina has finally located Connor (or so she thinks). Finally, Hilda is working with her family on resolving the issue of Justin’s attendance at a high school in which he sticks out like a sore thumb.

Well then, there goes the synopsis of this episode. For those of you who want more, stay tuned for the review, because as usual, I have a lot more to say.

Let’s start with the girl of the hour. As mentioned above, Betty is still trying to make up for the disastrous photoshoot of last episode. Unfortunately, nothing she has attempted has worked up to now, the main reason being Matt’s lack of cooperation.  But thanks to one of Hilda’s clients, Sammy, Betty is able to scoop a story with Evan York, a designer with Dolce & Gabbana who is moving to Gucci – a move about which no one in the fashion industry knows about (yet). Unfortunately, Matt ends up at the same restaurant with Amanda (more on this not so coincidental occurrence later). Both Betty and Matt think the other is on a real date, and so start flirting with their respective dinner partners. And so Matt leads Amanda on and Betty freaks Evan out, the former raising false hopes and the latter losing the chance at landing an interview that would have impressed even Wilhelmina.

Well, ‘impressed’. We are, after all, talking about Wilhelmina.

I found this to be a rather interesting social commentary – even if it was a rather obvious one. Betty let a life-altering opportunity slip through her fingers because she couldn’t tune out her day to day problems. It seems to be a reality observable in many of us (yours truly included); I have witnessed far too many occasions in which we let opportunities to make a significant difference in our lives pass because we are too preoccupied with day to day affairs that end up being things that, while seemingly important, don’t seem so much so in the long run.

In other related observations, Betty’s assumption that Amanda was there knowingly sabotaging her was also very revealing, in that Betty’s prejudices and insecurities flash through. Matt’s rather callous use of Amanda to make Betty jealous was also interesting; he really is sinking to quite a low level, isn’t he. And most interesting of all was Mark’s disregard for Amanda; playing on her dream to land herself a rich, handsome man as well as her dream of not being a receptionist forever in order to get back to Betty definitely isn’t something a friend would do. It also seems to have demonstrated to Mark himself that however much he desires it, he doesn’t have the heart to be a person like Wilhelmina. Or rather, that he has too much heart to be like Wilhelmina.

The following exchange between Betty and Matt was also extremely interesting, especially in a society confused about the meaning of love:

Betty: You know how hard I have worked for this promotion, and you are ruining it for me!
Matt: I know I am, but I can’t help it!
Betty: What?
Matt: You’re right. I am awful to you. But I can’t stop myself, because I can’t stand seeing you so happy when I’m in so much pain. I know you probably can’t understand that, because you are so good. You’re not some spoiled rich kid who can’t handle it when he doesn’t get his way but apparently, that’s who I am. The worse thing is that I know that with every word I say, I am ruining whatever hope we had of fixing this relationship.
(Matt walks off, Ignacio approaches Betty.)
Betty: I don’t know what just happened.
Ignacio: He told you who he is.

There are two interesting things about this exchange. First is Matt’s cruelty. However unintentional it might be, it doesn’t change the fact that Matt it acting so horridly towards Betty.

It makes me question if he loved her in the first place. If he really loved her, out a selfless love, wouldn’t he be happy that she is happy and this, despite the fact that she hurt him when she kissed Henry? It’s not an easy to discuss, and it isn’t right nor fair for anyone who isn’t matt to judge him. After all, the depth of love we feel for others as well as the way we deal with being hurt are so deeply influenced by the way we were raised that the only thing we can do is try to change for the better.

What if Matt hadn’t had this unintentional, heat of the moment realization? How could have Betty changed the course of events? Do you confront the person? Do you avoid them? Do you send positive waves in the hopes that they will wake up one morning from a dream in which they have had a miraculous change of heart?

Don’t we all wish that could happen.

The second half of the abovementioned exchange seems to answer in part these questions. Nothing much could have changed without Betty seeing who Matt really is, and Matt couldn’t change without identifying what the problem was and being able to verbalize it. Truthfulness is after all the foundation of all human virtues; if you can’t be honest with yourself, then you cannot work on developing your virtues. And since we have to bring ourselves into account every day so as to let deeds, not words, be our adorning, no one but us can make a deep and significant change. Perhaps we have all been underestimating Matt, since, by the end of the episode, it seems that he has just about enough humility to so fully accept what he has done wrong that he is starting to atone for it by having an extra chair brought into his office so that Betty could sit normally beside the other assistant editors.

And now Betty knows not only the good side, but the bad side of Matt. It seems to somewhat perturb her; however, I would feel more comfortable knowing both the good side and the bad side of a guy I’m dating. For it’s easy to show one’s good side on dates; the bad side tends to come out under duress, and, had one not seen it before, it might come as quite the destabilizing shock. As opposed to what has been posted on many fan sites after this episode first aired, I don’t think the question should be ‘who is the real Matt’. We all have a lower, animal-like nature that we can learn to control with our higher, spiritual nature. Matt is both the sweetheart of last season and the horrid man from this season; and now that Betty knows him so much better, she can make a much better informed decision about if she wants to pursue a romantic relationship with him.

Unfortunately for Matt-Betty shippers, Mark’s meddling has put Matt straight in the sights of Amanda. And this is where Amanda stops being the victim; she tells a trusting Betty that she should forget about Matt and move on. This scheming of Amanda’s might not be at the same scale of Mark’s scheming, but the result is the same: it will eventually cause a rift between the two girls.

Wilhelmina: Well Mark, Scheming is a lonely business.

And it seems that Mark might head towards scheming-inspired loneliness, as his scheming has deeply hurt Amanda, his closest friend. Marc’s jealousy over Betty’s promotion is still eating at him, and he comes to realize – with Wilhelmina’s help – that working with her has given him all the know-how on destroying someone.

Wilhelmina: Would I let someone take my dream from me? Or would I take it back?

As mentioned above, Mark sets out to ruin Betty’s supper with Evan, the designer who, unbesknowned to the fashion world, is about to make a huge transition that will affect the fashion world.

The fact that this is the first time Mark schemed for his own benefit rather than for Wilhelminas’ led to many different thoughts. First, it was funny watching him realize he could actually do it for himself. Second, it’s interesting to note that the nice Mark that we know is under all that Mode-iness has been so shaped by Wilhelmina and Mode that he actually stooped so low as to use Amanda. One really must be careful not to follow in such paths of deception.

It also made me wonder if, morally, it mattered that Mark previously schemed at Wilhelmina’s request whereas this time, he did it for his own benefit. One could argue that previously, Mark didn’t have a choice; if a career in fashion is his objective, he had to do whatever Wilhelmina wanted of him, if not more. Then again, it could also be argued that by adhering to Wilhelmina’s code of ethics (or lack thereof), Mark is perpetuating the problems the fashion industry is being crippled with, therefore making it even worse for himself to achieve success.

It seems like everything in this episode was neither black or white but rather one of the many, many shades of gray. Another example of this is yet two more scheming characters: Wilhelmina and Connor. These two are dancing quite the scheming tango; for if Wilhelmina thought she was the only one scheming to get back to Connor, she discovers, soon after her arrival in Bermuda (where her private investigator told her Connor was), that he had led her to him using the very same person – i.e. the previously mentioned private investigator. It’s rather unsettling for Wilhelmina, who is used to having the upper hand, to outsmarted by Connor. Then again, that is probably the main reason for the attraction between these two, knowing that the other is never far behind.

Which makes me again wonder about the definition of love.

After all, if Connor really loved Wilhelmina, would he have taken all the money from Meade in the first place? He says that he did it for her, but all that matters to her is Mode – which he put in danger  by the very action he did for her sake. It might take him a little while to understand that loving someone doesn’t mean doing what he thinks is best for her, but rather, doing what she wants best.

It really makes me wonder how much we truly understand about the concept of love. All the songs, stories, essays and poems dedicated to the concept don’t seem to lead us anywhere close to understanding it. Even more alarming is how our current notions are so unhealthy in the first place. A recent study out of Boston evaluating the how healthy pop songs are in shaping our view of romance established that most songs are akin to junk food. Which begs the metaphor: why take vitamins when on a diet of fast-food (supersized fries and soft drinks)?

The only people who seem not to be stooping to the level of scheming to get things their own way are Hilda, Justin & Ignacio (there is a social commentary if I ever saw one). The three are working hard at Hilda’s beauty salon, double end even triple booking to make enough money to send Justin to private school. Unsurprisingly, Justin would love to just stay home all day helping at his mother’s salon, but as Hilda so eloquently puts it: “I’m not double-booking haircuts to make money to get you into private school just so you can get rejected because you’re too stupid because you skipped public school”.
It’s rather sweet that the whole family is coming together to help: Betty is shampooing one client, Justin is giving a manicure, while Ignacio is adding a je ne sais quoi to the customers’ experience by serving them homemade café au lait’s. It makes me wonder how many families are still like that, i.e. not too affected by the culture of individualism that permeates our society so as to see themselves as an integral part of the family unit rather than as an individual who has a family, and sticking together so closely.

Betty’s quest to help others obviously extends to helping Daniel with his anger over Molly’s death by signing him up to a grief support group. Of course it’s not easy, and Daniel (quite unsurprisingly) skips out of the first meeting.  It’s kind of fun to see Claire Meade join forces with Betty in convincing Daniel to go to the group. And when Daniel tries to bail out of the meeting, a newcomer forces him to stick to his promise: Nathalie, who is grieving the passing of her boyfriend. In the couple of hours after Daniel meets Nathalie, he makes more progress than he has in the last couple of weeks since Molly passed away. And so it seems like a great friendship is born.

Then again, this is Daniel, and it seems that he has been cursed with the evil eye ever since we have known him. So this is probably yet another thing that is bound to turn around and bite him when he least expects it.

This has got to be the one powerful thing that Daniel and Betty have in common: it never seems like much smooth sailing for either of them. They each have one important element that is strong in their lives; Daniel has his family fortune to get him out of trouble, and Betty has her family. But apart from that, both are always struggling to make things happen for them, in every area in their lives.

One struggle Betty doesn’t seem to be making at all anyone is finding a way to be uniquely Bettilicious while still being fashionable. It seems that the change in Betty’s fashion choices is sticking, as once again she is wearing an outfit that, while more colourful than those of her coworkers, is quite tame compared to her old self. I was worried Betty was selling herself, but I think this is not going to be the case; rather, it might just be that Betty is growing up and these are natural consequences of that growth. I love her outfit; the pale pink business suit with a bright red patent leather belt cinched tightly at the waist above the coat, matching little briefcase (love it!) and pale pink heels – lovely, lovely, lovely! I can’t wait to see what other awesome outfits she is going to come up with.

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