30 Rock is sometimes considerate enough to put the theme of an episode right in the title. That was certainly the case with “Double-Edged Sword,” a show that made things easy for us scribes by being about the dual nature of relationships and fame.
Tina Fey’s brainchild is elegantly plotted for a sitcom in general but tonight’s episode had the precision and purity of a mathematical equation. The subplots echoed and paralleled one another, and themes and key lines reappeared at crucial moments. 30 Rock got a little sloppy last year, but tonight was a masterpiece of comic craftsmanship.
There seems to be an inverse relationship between the attractiveness of Liz Lemon’s boyfriends and their eligibility, sanity, and feasibility as a long term partner. Despite apparently being borderline repulsive within the show’s sci-fi universe (sometimes the Liz-is-gross gags are so over the top they remind me of the episode of The Twilight Zone where a group of unseen doctors perform cosmetic surgery on a patient to make her less repulsive when the big reveal shows that they’re the ones who are repulsive by our standards while the "ugly" patient is hideous by ours; eye of the beholder, indeed), Lemon has dated a string of very eligible bachelors so of course they’ve been a motley crew of weirdoes, freaks and losers.
So when Liz hooks up with a man who is far too good to be true, say a figure with the comic-strip-pilot-handsomeness of Jon Hamm or Matt Damon, it’s only a matter of time until warning signs become stop signs and the giddy rush of fresh infatuation gives way to something approximating dread. In the case of handsome pilot Damon, for example, early indications that he was overly emotional, wound-up, and stubborn bloomed into full-on type-A irritability tonight, as Liz learned when the daydream of being the handsome, dashing pilot’s girlfriend morphed slowly but surely into the nightmare of being the asshole pilot’s girlfriend while her fellow passengers devolved into a state of hopelessness as the plane lingered on the ground interminably.
Tonight’s episode finessed into comedy gold the sense of desperation that grips a flight that has been taxiing on the ground for too long, that irrational but understandable fear that a flight might never actually leave the runway, that the passengers will be forced to live out their days and nights inside the stuffy confines of a grounded airplane.
Tensions arose as Liz found herself split between two masters, torn between her affection for her pilot boyfriend and the self-righteous super-consumer’s equally strong belief that it is up to them to right the wrongs of obnoxious corporations, snippy clerks and condescending customer service representatives the world over.
We got to see Damon’s flyboy at his worst tonight. He was snippy, he was unpleasant, and he did the world’s most effete fist-bump with a male stewardess who most assuredly did not study the art of dance just so he could clean toilets on a fucking plane. He was, in other words, a giant aggregation of character flaws or deal-breakers, to borrow a Liz Lemonism. He’s the kind of guy whose fussy personality works against his clean-cut good looks and glamorous job.
Damon and Liz weren’t the only couple too close for comfort. As has been established extensively, Elizabeth Banks’ hard-driving newsreader is essentially the female Jack Donaghy. She’s Jack with tits and twenty five years younger, a potent combination indeed. They’re also true blue All-Americans who worship at the altar of Ronald Reagan, so they were appropriately mortified by the prospect of their daughter being born Canadian.
They decide to flee the menace up north and high-tail it down over the border by any means necessary. Like Liz and her fellow “plane people,” they were reduced by unfortunate circumstances to the condition of refugees, tired, world-weary souls yearning to breathe free and get away from all that infernal politeness and national health care. But they looked great doing it and learned more about making meth from Harold from Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle.
In the C-story, Tracy Jordan discovers that fame, like dating someone too much like yourself is (wait for it…) a double-edged sword when his recent Oscar win catapults him to the level where people actually pay attention to what he says and hold him accountable for his actions. This is a nightmare to Tracy, who has never been one for self-censorship or self-restraint in any capacity, and it fucks up his moral compass. Sure, it’s exciting that people like Kate Capshaw’s husband want him to star in his next movie but A-list super stardom also has a way of making people accountable for their actions, and that is something Tracy has avoided like the plague.
"Double-Edged Sword" was just about perfect; the gags were rooted in sharp characterizations and the cast played everything to perfection. I will miss Jack when Baldwin departs, but I suppose being that talented is a bit of a double edged sword as well, and it looks like 30 Rock will have to share Baldwin with the rest of the world before too long, for better but mostly for worse.