In the A.V Club conference room recently I picked randomly through a book containing the complete wit and wisdom of Roger Sterling, the ad-man played by John Slattery on Mad Men. It’s the kind of random impulse buy people absent-mindedly pick up for Secret Santas they don’t know or particularly like and fairly pointless.
I would, on the other hand, totally buy a similar cheapie impulse buy compiling the aphorisms and counsel of Jack Donaghy, the sage and guru of 30 Rock and a man who seems to have figured everything out. There’s a reason he serves as the Obi-Wan to Liz Lemon’s clueless Luke Skywalker.
I’m not alone. In tonight’s episode of 30 Rock, Jack opted out of providing counsel and uncompensated therapy to protégé Liz Lemon and encouraged her to seek professional help. But authority and responsibility clings to Jack Donaghy like cheap perfume; no matter where he goes, he finds himself surrounded by underlings in desperate need of his advice.
Kenneth is pressed into service as Liz’s bootleg quasi-therapist due to his cheerful nature, preternatural ability to endure all manner of dispiriting jobs without complaint, and willingness to accept Liz’s insurance. If Liz’s insurance is anything like mine, Kenneth is probably the only vaguely therapist-like entity it will cover.
Ah, but Liz’s neuroses infect Kenneth, who is forced to come to term with a seminal Oedipal trauma: the horrifying moment when he was forced by circumstances and financial necessity to devour the pig that had served as a loving father figure throughout his unsteady adolescence. I soured on Kenneth a little last year but, like the show itself, he’s enjoyed a real comeback this year. I particularly enjoyed the moment when Jack found himself hoping against hope that Kenneth's father figure was human.
Kenneth isn’t the only 30 Rock employee in need of guidance. Tracy’s "son," who inexplicably is roughly the same age as his "dad," opens a wonderfully misguided theme restaurant in Times Square featuring fights by off-brand versions of famous Japanese monsters like Godzilla and MechaGodzilla.
Things were tough all over; Jenna reached that awkward stage in her relationship with her doppelganger/soulmate when she realizes that he’s never going to pop the question and ask her to make a homemade sex tape they can “leak” to a morbidly curious public and takes the initiative, only to discover that her cross-dressing beau actually wants to take her home and introduce her to his family.
“Chain Reaction of Mental Anguish” was an all-around winner, an elegantly constructed episode that delivered a steady stream of laughs and managed to somehow make the ridiculous moment when Jack recites his spiel from an elementary school play about science both funny and strangely moving.
There have been rumblings throughout 30 Rock’s entire run that Baldwin might leave at some point. I’m not sure the show could succeed without him. He’s the loving patriarch of the 30 Rock clan. Without his gravity and dignity, the show would lapse into free-form wackiness and zaniness for the sake of zaniness. Hopefully, that’s something we won’t have to worry about for a long, long time. 30 Rock needs Baldwin but Baldwin needs 30 Rock just as desperately. Not unlike Jack and his minions, they enjoy a symbiotic, fruitful relationship that benefits them both.