Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 9, Episode 8 - "The Betrayal"

“The Betrayal” aka The Backwards Episode

First Script Read: October 31, 1997
Filmed: November 5, 1997
Aired: November 20, 1997
Nielsen rating: 22.9
Audience share: 34
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writers: David Mandel and Peter Mehlman
Award: Andy Ackerman – Director’s Guild of America

It's hard to trace the plot of an episode that runs chronologically in reverse, but here goes. "The Betrayal" traces back from the gang's disruption of Sue Ellen Mischke's wedding to their initial decision to go to India. It also moves from George's anger towards Jerry after finding out Jerry slept with his girlfriend, Nina, to Jerry setting up George and Nina in the first place. Back in New York City, Kramer arranges for his friend FDR to not want him to drop dead anymore, and the story moves back to the initial reason, years before, that FDR wanted him to drop dead. The final scene is perhaps the most delightful for the audience. Jerry is moving into his apartment and meets Kramer, inviting him to share his pizza with the neighborly promise, "What's mine is yours."

The name of the episode is taken from a 1979 play written by Harold Pinter that runs in reverse chronological order. In another homage, Sue Ellen's fiancee who once slept with Elaine is named Pinter. That play tells the story of a man who carries on a long affair with his close friend's wife. In the Seinfeld episode there are two cases of betrayal; Elaine slept with Pinter, although that happened long before he met Sue Ellen, and Jerry sleeps with Nina after setting her up with George who she just met but before their first date. Since Elaine had no idea Pinter would end up marrying her frenemy, Sue Ellen, Jerry is on much thinner ice in terms of the degrees of betrayal, though George and Nina's relationship hasn't really started. Either way, both Sue Ellen and George are upset when they discover what happened.

The real fun of the episode are the jokes that show the effect before the cause, such as when George complains about a stomach ache and then the episode cuts backwards to him ordering clams casino at the coffee shop. Another fun example is when, after Jerry tells Elaine, "God bless you," the show cuts to Elaine sneezing. But the deeper effect of the reverse chronology is not too far from the reason Harold Pinter employed it, at least as I understand it from reading a description of the play on wikipedia. In this episode George, Jerry, and Elaine are particularly nasty. They all lie, cheat, and deceive throughout the story. Both Jerry and George get Elaine drunk to get information from her. Elaine goes to India to spite Sue Ellen. And the three end up (or start out, in the order of the episode) furious with each other. Behind the clever gimmick of The Betrayal is a particularly nasty story about fairly nasty characters, so perhaps its greatest triumph is the clever way it reveals the true nature of the show's characters.

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