Wednesday, September 12, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 7, Episode 1 - The Engagement

“The Engagement”

Filmed: Wednesday, August 16, 1995
Aired: September 21, 1995
Nielsen rating: 24.6
Audience share: 37
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writers: Larry David

There is no standup scene to start season seven, which will mostly go without the nightclub monologue. The titular star of the show isn't even shown, which is noteworthy only because, at this point, it isn't noteworthy. Seinfeld is truly an ensemble show. The overarching story for season seven, the quintessential season of the show and Larry David's final year as show runner, will revolve around the character based on David. And so Seinfeld launches its season premiere with a scene featuring George playing chess with his girlfriend in his apartment. George puts the woman, Alice, in check, he brags about it for a while, she checkmates him, and he breaks up with her. After an interlude that introduces a B-story about Elaine's problem with a neighbor's barking dog, the episode cuts to Monk's diner, where George and Jerry, discussing their low tolerance for their girlfriend's faults, launch into self-reflective conversation that is one of the most pivotal of their lives...well, at least for George.

JERRY: Ahhh.
JERRY: What is this? What are we doing? What in god's name are we doing?
JERRY: OUR LIVES!! What kind of lives are these? We're like children. We're not men.
GEORGE: No, we're not. We're not men.
JERRY: We come up with all these stupid reasons to break up with these women.
GEORGE: I know. I know. That's what I do. That's what I do.
JERRY: Are we going to be sitting here when we're sixty like two idiots?
GEORGE: We should be having dinner with our sons when we're sixty.
JERRY: We're pathetic…you know that?
GEORGE: Yeah, like I don't know that I'm pathetic.
JERRY: Why can't I be normal?
GEORGE: Yes. Me, too. I wanna be normal. Normal.
JERRY: It would be nice to care about someone.
GEORGE: Yes. Yes. Care.

The two friends are on the right track, though notice Jerry aspires not for fulfillment or happiness; he wants to be "normal." Normal, apparently, means married. It means finding a woman he can commit to and start a family with. This normal is the opposite of pathetic. This normal is not infantile; it is manly. It is the fulfillment of their gender roles as men.

Both men vow to change. For George, the passion sparked by the conversation leads him to rush to Susan's apartment, a woman he hasn't seen since the end of season four when she was in a lesbian relationship. Without another word he asks her to marry him. After "a couple hours of convincing" (not shown in the episode), she says yes. By the end of this episode George will be having second thoughts. He'll spend much of the rest of the season, especially in the final episodes, looking for a way to get out of this mistake.

Jerry, too, takes a step to change his ways. He gets back together with his girlfriend, Melanie, who he had broken up with because she shushed him. However, a subsequent conversation with Kramer changes Jerry's mind:

JERRY: I had a very interesting lunch with George Costanza today.
KRAMER: Really?
JERRY: We were talking about our lives, and we both kind of realized we're kids. We're not men.
KRAMER: So, then you asked yourselves, “Isn't there something more to life?”
JERRY: Yes. We did.
KRAMER: Yeah, well, let me clue you in on something. There isn't.
JERRY: There isn't?
KRAMER: Absolutely not. I mean, what are you thinking about, Jerry? Marriage? Family?
JERRY: Well...
KRAMER: They're prisons! Man made prisons…you're doing time! You get up in the morning. She's there. You go to sleep at night. She's there. It's like you gotta ask permission to use the bathroom. “Is it all right if I use the bathroom now?”
JERRY: Really?
KRAMER: Yeah, and you can forget about watching TV while you're eating.
JERRY: I can?
KRAMER: Oh, yeah. You know why? Because it's dinner time. And you know what you do at dinner?
JERRY: What?
KRAMER: You talk about your day. “How was your day today? Did you have a good day today or a bad day today? Well, what kind of day was it?” “Well, I don't know. How about you? How was your day?”
KRAMER: It's sad, Jerry. It's a sad state of affairs.
JERRY: I'm glad we had this talk.
KRAMER: Oh, you have no idea.

Kramer's argument appeals to Jerry's essential nature. He is an independent man who likes to manage his own life. Kramer describes marriage as a surrender of independence. The husband can do nothing without the wife's knowledge or approval. Marriage is, by Kramer's description, a panopticon - the perfect prison in which the prisoner always feels he is under surveillance and thus loses the freedom not only of his body but, essentially, of his mind.

The sad irony, for those of us who do believe in the institution of marriage despite Kramer's critique, is George's engagement plays out just as Kramer predicted. He is bound to Susan in body and mind, and thus he is miserable. It's also hilarious - the perfect arc for one of the great television characters of all time.

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