Ugly Betty

TV Review: Ugly Betty, Season 4, Episodes 1 & 2

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I finally caved. After months and months of being harassed (lovingly, thankfully) by some of you guys, I decided I’d start reviewing Ugly Betty episodes again. I did take notes while watching the first half of the season, but I never quite got around to typing them out. And since nine episodes have already aired, I was thinking of reviewing two episodes a week for the next couple of weeks: one old one, and one new one.

We’ll see how that holds up.

Season 4 opened up on a rather interesting note, with Betty dreaming (literally) about the day her braces would come off. Perhaps it heralded what was to come, i.e. Betty’s change in looks – but then again, perhaps it’s only such a normal part of the life of a person with braces to daydream about having them taken off that we couldn’t go another minute in the show without having one.

For a moment though, I really thought that the braces were coming off for good, and it made me very happy – until I realised that it really only was a dream. Actually, it was a nightmare – according to Hiilda, a stress-related nightmare about her promotion to Assistant Features Editor at Mode.

Finally! Betty is moving forward in her career!  Unfortunately, it does mean that Marc, the other contender, is not going to advance (yet) in his career, placing Amanda in the awkward position of being friends with two people who are now enemies. At least, for now; hopefully, the softer and kinder side of Marc, of which we have seen glimpses of throughout the last season, is going to shine through once again, and the three can be friends again.

It would have been nice for Betty to have them as friend, as this latest career move of Betty’s is yet again providing Mode employees with great opportunities to make her the butt of many jokes. Of course things are a little bit easier this time, since Betty has worked at Mode for three years now, but it still came as a shock to our eternally optimistic Betty. It’s sweet, really, and also reassuring to see that although Betty was hoping for the best, her last three years have prepared her to deal with the worse head on. Some viewers might still argue that this is just a cheap way to bring back old anti-Betty jokes rather than write new ones. However, I think it’s a great reflection of a reality we are all bathed in: when we think we are on top, we get dragged right back down.

One simple example: school. You enter elementary school and are the youngest there. When you finally have made your way to the top and are reigning the playground as a 6th grader, you are yanked out and taken to high school, where once again, you are nothing but the little newcomer. And the same cycle repeats for college and then for your first post-undergrad job, then for your graduate degree, then for your first post-graduate job (although admittedly it is a lot easier at this point in time to deal with the transitions).

It’s also a reminder that while going forward is a normal part of evolution, it does however mean leaving everything behind. This means not only the bad things, but also (unfortunately) the good things. Betty might finally be working as an editor and advancing in her career, but it does mean that some major changes have happened. From her deteriorating relationship with Mark, whom she was chosen over, and the fact that Amanda has to now hide their friendship from him, to the tension with Matt, whom has yet forgiven her for her indiscretion, to the simple fact that she isn’t working with Daniel, now her closest friend, not everything about her promotion is roses.

It must be especially hard for Betty to go forward and let go of the good things she had before her promotion when it becomes clear that the other associate editors are not going to make it easier on her. One in particular is Meegan, who lost her old position to Matt – which gives yet another person a legitimate reason to dislike Betty. And unfortunately, this is also the time when Betty finds out about ‘Betty Daily Distasters’, a blog chronicling every outfit she has ever worn at Mode, which of course doesn’t make her feel any better about anything.

Which makes me wonder: is it possible for Betty to win easily, just once?

In any case, she is given some advice by a surprising and unwilling source:  Wilhelmina, who doesn’t mince with words. In her opinion, if Betty is to survive as Assistant Features Editor, she needs to find herself some allies and know her enemies (does that sound like a novel strategy, coming from Wilhelmina? Nope, didn’t think so). But while she tries as hard as she can, Betty (unsurprisingly) has a hard time winning her coworkers over, even with (or because of?) her low fat, low sugar, low carb. High in antioxidant muffins.

However there is one ally Betty does have: Claire Meade, who takes the time to listen to Betty and to give her a little advice of her own. And with Daniel’s help, she does manage to help our Meegan in a big way. Unfortunately that also kind of backfires just a little bit, as a paranoid Meegan can’t seem to wrap her brain around the fact that Betty just wants to help, and doesn’t want anything back, especially not to steal her story. Fortunately Meegan comes to realise that whatever she might think of Betty’s office decoration and fashion sense, she takes the position of Assistant Features Editor very seriously, thus earning her (grudging) respect.

As if this slice of heaven could last. Remember, Betty can’t have it easy!

And the source of her problem comes, quite surprisingly, from Daniel. After an absence to go spread Molly’s ashes in Tibet, he returns to New York in time to hear about the tough time Betty’s been having at mode lately. And although Daniel is Betty’s ally and would do anything to help her, his concern for her backfires, as he sets up Betty to being accused of favouritism (kind of like the teacher’s pet in high school, remember that?). Needless to say, it causes more harm than good – which includes a setback in the grudging respect Betty had started earning.

Daniel’s unfortunate bad effect on Betty’s career is only the tip of the iceberg; the anger and resentment that has been building up since Molly’s death don’t seem to have been expunged while in Tibet. The drop that made him crack: a bus stop ad for a trip to Tahiti, the destination he and Molly would have been headed to had Molly not passed away.

Unfortunately, Daniel’s breakdown comes at the worst possible moment for Betty, whose photoshoot has to be done with only a day’s notice. And unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst, and then another turn towards even worst, as Betty doesn’t manage to separate her personal life from her professional life, and as Matt is intent on making her life miserable rather than act in a mature, professional way.

Betty’s visit to Olivia Guillemette was, of course, a thinly veiled metaphor for the very same transformation Betty has already begun going through this season and, if certain leaked pictures are any indication, is going to continue throughout the year. There is of course some actual reasons for this metaphor; as mentioned previously, both her promotion as Assistant Features Editor and the upcoming removal of her braces. It’s going to be interesting to see how much more Betty is going to be changing. Already at the end of the first two episodes, she changed her glasses and let her bangs grow out (really fast, by the way). She also wears an outfit that is quite tame, by Betty standards. I find it a little sad; is Betty changing for the better, or is Mode finally having an effect on her? And if so, how far will Mode go into changing Betty?

Another character going through a lot of changes this season – and, as you faithful readers know, one of my favourites on the show – is Betty’s nephew Justin. Having just entered High School, Justin pretty quickly finds out that things are not going to get any easier on him, as a band of bullies start picking from the get go. I don’t think any viewers were surprised that Justin didn’t immediately turn to his family for help; after all, how could they understand what he is going through? Hilda keeps talking about just how popular she was in High School, and although Betty was tormented through her years in High School, she, well, how can I put this nicely… She was a nerd, the ones that are typically bullied. Well dressed and confident kids like Justin usually aren’t. There is also the small fact that, however nice a person Hilda is, she is pretty wrapped up in her own things. Had she not been, she herself would have been able to see what was best for Justin: to talk to someone who could truly understand what he is going through.

And although Justin does know one person who has been through the same thing (Marc), Hilda catches wind of what is going on and unhappy that her son isn’t confiding in her (hello, immaturity), puts her foot down. And so,  under threats à la Hilda (which seem quite scary), Mark is forced to avoid Justin, thus cutting him off from the one source of support he does have.

That is, of course, until things get figured out. Hilda manages to start thinking about Justin, rather than thinking about how she feels about Justin, going through the same process her father and every other parent in the world has to go through: admitting that they can’t solve every problem their offspring is going through and allowing them to start figuring it out on their own. And so Justin is able to once again come hang out at Mode with Marc, which obviously makes me very happy.

We still don’t know, as of the beginning of the episode, the identity of the person who surprised Wilhelmina, costing her a glass, and whom she is now hiding in her apartment. And of course Mark can’t stand not knowing and is trying to nose his way into her business, especially when she asks him not to answer her cell phone. And so Mark does what he just has to do: he goes to Wilhelmina’s apartment without her permission – not quite breaking in, since he does have the keys, and he finally discovers what Wilhelmina has been keeping from him – or rather, who.

It’s not, as we and Mark suspected, Connor, but rather Nico. It was rather curious that Wilhelmina would hide Nico’s presence from Mark – or from anyone, for that matter – and it made me wonder, right from the get go, what was going on.

Nico’s presence might not seem like reason enough for Wilhelmina to hide her presence for everyone including Marc, until we find out that Nico killed her boyfriend. Granted, it was self-defence, but what she did after – dump the body in the water – makes it seem rather suspicious. Having nowhere to go, Nico heads for her mother’s place. Unsurprisingly, Wilhelmina promises to take care of everything. And things do seem to be under control, until we find out that Wilhelmina and Nico didn’t quite clean the boat where the manslaughter happened quite as thoroughly as they had thought they did.

I have to admit that I found this storyline a little on the ludicrous side. Nico had clear bruise marks on her arms that night – and rather nasty ones, too. Self-defence seemed like a clear motive for her boyfriend’s accidental murder. So why did Wilhelmina go through so much trouble to clean up after her daughter? Is her faith in our justice system that shaky, or does she simply not want to go through the hassle – and pay the money (since she doesn’t have any)?

Matt’s ongoing grudge over Betty’s kissing Henry is on the one hand interesting, but right from the beginning, I was a little worried about how far the writers are going to take it. After all, the action in Ugly Betty episodes has been going down and there were a couple of things they milked out in Season 3 – perhaps not as much as usual shows do, but uncharacteristically so for this show. Although I have to admit, it does bode well for well-placed barbs such as: “Some of you I know, some of you I don’t, some of you I thought I knew but apparently I didn’t”, “It’s all about communication, people. (Looks at Betty) Some of you are going to have to work on that”, and “So he thought he was signing up to something long term and ended up with something short term.  I can relate.”

Since Matt avoids Betty at work, she has to stalk him down at Central park during his jog, but unfortunately, that doesn’t go well either. Which is an interesting situation, as both parties are now at fault. First, of course, is Betty. Kissing Henry was wrong; she shouldn’t have done it, and Matt has every reason to be hurt. However, for him to lower himself to hurting Betty back in such a petty manner made me lose all compassion for him. That is no way for a gentleman to act, however unladylike the lady acted.

But it’s obvious that it’s only because Matt is, well, quite the immature young man who still has feelings for Betty and doesn’t know quite how to handle himself in this situation. It’s going to be interesting to watch this relationship unfold in the next couple of weeks.

Amanda makes a new friend, as Daniel’s new temp happens to be an older version of her. Kristen Johnston makes a special appearance and – big surprise – is totally awesome in the role of Helen, the replacement temp. This role was apparently supposed to go to Paula Abdul, but because of some ridiculous demands she was making, it got offered to Kristen instead. I know, how sad that these things don’t only happen on TV.

Helen is, basically, Amanda in ten years, down to the tight dresses and joy at being groped by the doorman of a hip club. She manages to do something quite impressive: Helen rings the bell of reality for Amanda, that however beautiful she is, if she is to be the fact of an industry that sells beauty, and if the idea of beauty that is sold is that of youthful beauty, her days as Mode’s receptionist are numbered. Amanda realises that this is not enough; she has always wanted more.

Who knows: perhaps Betty isn’t the only one who is going to undergo some major changes this season.

Speaking of Amanda, she was, as usual, in the midst of one of the best moments in this episode:

Mark: Mandy, you’re brilliant.
Amanda (horrified): You take that back. I’m beautiful.

But this definitely wasn’t the only great moment. There are too many to list here exhaustively, so I’ll leave you with this one:

Mark: Ah, Betty’s younger sister.
Hilda: Thank you for the part that’s complimenting me. But watch it for the part that slams my sister.

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