Thursday, April 5, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 2, Episode 9 - The Deal


“The Deal”

First Script Read:  Monday, February 25, 1991
Filmed: Friday, March 1, 1991
Aired: May 2, 1991 (NBC’s Warren Littlefield agreed to pick it up 2 weeks later)
Nielsen rating: 15.5
Audience share: 25 (22.6 million)
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry David
Awards: Larry David received an Emmy nomination for writing this episode

Larry David's writing in this episode is superb, from George's "I want details" speech to the negotiation between Jerry and Elaine over how they can have sex without a dating relationship. David also deserves some directing credit for coaching Julia Louis-Dreyfus to be more matter-of-fact than sexual in her performance in the negotiation scene.

Two seasons later David would write an even more famous episode, "The Contest," in which the word "masturbation" is never uttered despite the fact that the entire story revolves around it. Similarly, in this episode, the words "sex" or "sleep together" are never used during Jerry and Elaine's lengthy conversation. Instead, sex is referred to only as "that," sometimes accompanied by a gesture in the direction of the bedroom.

The rules Jerry and Elaine come up with are revealing of early 1990s American dating norms:

Rule #1
JERRY: For example, now, I call you whenever I'm inclined and vice versa.
ELAINE: Right.
JERRY: But if we did that, we might feel a certain obligation to call.
ELAINE: Well why should that be? Oh, I have an idea. I have an idea. No call the day after that.

When Jerry tells George about the rules the next day, George is particularly fond of this one:

GEORGE: So you're havin' the sex, next day you don't have to call. That's pretty good!

Actually, the line itself doesn't do Jason Alexander's delivery justice. He has just ranted and raved to Jerry that it is impossible to have regular sex without a dating relationship. He hears the first rule and mutters this line to himself as he recognizes its brilliance. "That's pretty good."

For Jerry and George, this rule liberates them from relationship obligations for a 24-hour period following the sex act. It underscores their independence from the woman, allowing them to do whatever they want in the woman's absence the next day.

Rule #2
JERRY: Now here's another little rule. When we see each other now, we retire to our separate quarters. But sometimes, when people get involved with that, they feel pressure to sleep over, when that is not really sleep. Sleep is separate from that. And I don't see why sleep got all tied up and connected with that.
ELAINE: Okay, okay. Spending the night is optional!

And, again, here is George's commentary:

GEORGE: I know less about women than anyone in the world. But one thing I do know is they're not happy if you don't spend the night. It could be a hot, sweaty room with no air conditioning and all they have is a little army cot this wide [holds up a French fry]. You're not going anywhere.

George is proven right. This is the first rule that raises tension between Jerry and Elaine. At Elaine's apartment, Jerry announces he is going to leave even as he is still buttoning up his shirt. Immediately, Elaine is upset. Jerry reminds her of the rule, but Elaine has a different interpretation: "It's my house. It's my option."

Male independence is at the heart of this rule, too. Alone in his own home, the male is liberated to his own routines and behavior without having any responsibilities to care for the female. Elaine's displeasure reveals the emotional attachment formed (to no one's surprise) by the female after repeated physical intimacy. She apparently cannot help herself.

Rule #3
ELAINE: What about the kiss goodnight?
JERRY: Tough one. You're call.
ELAINE: It's bourgeois.

George is so certain of the flaws in rule #2 that Jerry doesn't get around to telling him rule #3. It does come up as Jerry is leaving Elaine's apartment after their disagreement over whether he should spend the night. He leans in for a kiss but Elaine leans away, reminding him of the rule. For Jerry it seems to have been an act of habit, empty and fleeting. Elaine is probably still upset that Jerry isn't spending the night. Jerry's departure is a blow to her emotional needs, so she is suddenly hesitant to engage in even the smallest physical gesture of love. Indeed, as far as the audience can tell, Jerry and Elaine don't have sex again until Jerry agrees to a full-fledged dating relationship with Elaine.

There is nothing terribly surprising in the assumptions Seinfeld makes about gender roles in relationships. In fact, as usual, it relies on gender stereotypes. The fact that the characters would consider a relationship-less sex arrangement is not so reflective of the show's moment in time as it is of changing sexual norms in America after World War II.

Interestingly, though NBC had pushed David to write more romance for the Jerry and Elaine characters, the audience response, at least from the audiences polled by Jerry Seinfeld during his comedy tour that summer, was that they did not want to see them together. (This is according to David on the DVD's "Inside Look" at this episode.) It's hard to know exactly why the audience was not interested in Jerry getting together with Elaine. In part, it may have been Louis-Dreyfus's performance, playing Elaine as one who was strong-willed, independent, and desirable, yet at the same time a woman who got along well with the guys. Perhaps the audience also sensed, even at the early stages of the series, that the characters' relationships were inherently doomed. It was better for the future of the show and it met audience expectations when the Jerry-Elaine relationship was dropped without mention between seasons. The two were now free to find short-lived misery with other dating relationships, and endless consolation and friendship with each other.

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