Mitch Haddad
Tanner Stransky
October 19, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”Ugly Betty” recap: Willy reveals her plan

Ever watch an episode of TV and, at the end of the hour, feel like your head is spinning — but in a great, one-lemon-martini, I-feel-tipsy kind of way? That’s how I feel right now, as I’m writing this TV Watch. (I only wish I were sipping one of Willy’s lemon martinis.) What a fast-moving, scrumptious hour of television we had on our hands tonight. That whole sophomore-slump phenomenon? Doesn’t seem to be affecting this show one bit. In fact, I’m only further convinced that the Ugly Betty writers are one of the hardest-working and smartest teams plugging away in television right now. Why? Simply put: Betty has mastered the art of moving a story line. Admittedly, it has let some drag out in the past in true telenovela fashion (Ignacio’s Mexico stint), but that’s certainly not the case anymore.

We began the fast-paced hour seeing Betty in her lunchtime writing class with the perfectly cast Victor Garber as her snappy, unhappy professor. (I could have died when he said, ”As I always say, if you have nothing to write, try killing yourself. If you fail, you’ll have something to write about. If you succeed, your troubles will be over.”) After Daniel gave a halfhearted thumbs-up response to her essay for class, our plucky heroine naturally felt the piece wasn’t up to snuff. So, instead of reading it in front of the class and getting called Clappy — or even Crappy — by the prof again, Betty chose to read an article that a Mode freelancer had written. Bad, bad move, chica. Although the students in the class and the professor — and even an editor at the fictional New York Review — were snowed, unfortunately, the writer came calling, and so did Betty’s conscience. She was hearing herself being called ”cheater” everywhere and couldn’t live with the guilt. But after she was exposed, who bailed her out? None other than Daniel, of course, who, one could argue, had gotten her into the mess in the first place.

Having a similar background, I can totally feel Betty’s pain and frustration. As an assistant, you want nothing more than to prove your worth — and, ultimately, that you deserve to be promoted to something more than coffee gofer. At the same time, however, I can’t help being concerned about the dangerous roads Betty has headed down so far this season — striking deals with Willy (not sure we’ve seen that last of that agreement), claiming other folks’ work as her own, being a diva about sun-dried tomatoes on her hoagie. Where’s our little Queens do-gooder? Has being at Mode turned her into a monster? At the end of the day, though, I’m glad to see she’s still got her sense and will continue to be the moral compass of the show. That final scene with her admitting what she did before starting to read her real essay — about what was probably a totally classic missed high school prom — was core Betty. Kudos to her for eventually doing the right thing.

On the other end of the spectrum — in the world of all things wonderfully evil — Willy was up to her usual completely addictive wickedness. God, I love this woman and everything she does, no matter how heartless that makes me sound. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: It’s the simple things that make Willy totally genius. When a rumpled Alexis walked into an editorial meeting and whispered to Willy that she wasn’t wearing a bra, the power-hungry creative director — with a level of deftness that I’m not sure we all quite totally understand — gave a simple retort: ”Power move.” It’s the delivery that takes it to the next level — the catty, you’re-going-down attitude is brilliant.

Willy’s story lines were heightened this week because of the truly insightful backstory arc. Amanda was digging through old issues of Mode looking for pictures of Fey Sommers with someone who might be her father and turned up a photo of Willy when she was known as Wanda (a.k.a. ”Ugly Willy”), circa 1981. (Woof woof to those photos!) Thankfully, Amanda forced Wilhelmina to spill. These scenes are another example of the show hitting its mark and doing what it does best: The Studio 54 sequence was spot-on, especially with Willy’s characteristic voice-over: ”Studio 54. It was the early days of glam-rock fashion. Liza’s between gay husbands….”

Willy’s past life as an ugly duckling helps explain why she is so power-hungry now, more than 25 years down the road. It’s the timeless tale of a frump becoming beautiful and then going crazy while trying to take over whatever world she’s now a part of — a typical teen-movie plot line, really. And what better way to show your power in Willy’s world than with your own ”fashion-luxury magazine of the future”? Her plan to sink Mode and launch Slater would push Willy into the echelon of, as Marc fittingly said, ”Holy Rosie-Oprah-Martha!” It’s diabolical, but her motivations are perfectly clear in my mind.

NEXT: Butch Justin, Papa Henry

I’m at a loss, however, about other big changes that went down this episode. Justin transformed himself into a rude, girl-kissing (!), thug. Whaaa? What happened to our dutiful little Mode intern, who was bonding with Marc so well just two episodes ago? Obviously he’s dealing with his feelings of regret and sadness about his father’s death, and no doubt trying to infuse some Santos into his life, but again, what? The kid definitely deserves a break. Don’t get me wrong: I’m definitely interested in/scared of what could transpire — Justin going to jail? getting a girl pregnant? going to jail? — but I love the old Justin. The Broadway-singing, Chanel-quoting, happy one. Or maybe the story line was just there so Henry would have a surrogate child to freak out about and then reveal his big secret to Betty.

That whole business — Henry’s revelation that he is, indeed, the father of Charlie’s baby — was heartbreaking, to say the least. I thought we were finally going to see a happy Henry-Betty hookup. But the Betty producers couldn’t just go with what we were all expecting — the happy ending. It would close up shop too early, and I hope this is a show that’s got several more seasons. I’m guessing that the story line that will eventually bring Henry and Betty together will be perfectly written and timed. At least we all have to hope for that, right? Right.

One thing you don’t have to hope for: Betty bites! Here are a few of my favorite quips from the episode. They’re mostly Willy — I couldn’t resist — because she had such a killer episode.

7. Betty, about her writing professor: ”Yes, he’s mean, like Simon Cowell, but with a Pulitzer. And I can’t just be Jordin Sparks good, I have to be Kelly Clarkson, ‘Miss Independent’ good.”

6. Willy, upon realizing Mode is completely out of her reach: ”I know, all I wanted to do was run a fashion magazine. I was a simple girl with an evil plan.”

5. Amanda: ”I was conceived during Studio 54! I knew there was glamour in my genes!”

4. Willy, to Amanda about her mother: ”And just so you know, Fey quit smoking during her pregnancy…eventually. If that doesn’t say love, I don’t know what does.”

3. Marc, to Willy: ”Oh my God, it’s happened. The Botox has finally seeped into your brain.”

2. Willy, to Marc about her new magazine, Slater: ”I took lemons and made a lemon martini.”

1. Willy, to a distressed Amanda: ”Even if I wanted to express sympathy, I physically can’t.”

But now to you, TV Watchers: What was your favorite Betty bite of the show? There were lots of other good moments — which had you doubling over in laughter? Is Ignacio really here to stay, and is Betty free from Willy’s wrath? Are you buying the Alexis-Daniel lovefest? And rumor has it that a big character will die very soon — any interesting predictions?

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