“The Engagement” (Season 7, Episode 1, originally aired September 21, 1995)
The two-part (sorta) season opener to Seinfeld really feels like Larry David throwing down a marker. You know how last year was just generally a lot of fun, and had a little more broad, goofy comedy? Yeah, well, don’t get used to it. For his last season on the show (he would return for the finale and continue to voice Steinbrenner) David goes back to the model he employed in seasons prior of having a loose arc for the year, and this time it’s George getting married. The news is abrupt, shocking, and hilariously welcome.
The episode opens with a spoof of George’s dealings with women – he breaks up with someone who checkmates him in chess (as he gloats that he’s defeated her, throwing in a lot of amusing misogynist banter). "I don't see how I could perform sexually in a situation after something like that. I was completely emasculated!" he complains to Jerry. But Jerry (who just dumped a girl for shushing him) is in a surprisingly contemplative mood.
His monologue about how the two of them are children, and the whole scene in general, is just enrapturing. "Why can't I be normal? It would be nice to care about someone." I know the whole thing is a meta-commentary, but props to Seinfeld for playing the seriousness of it all very well. You really do believe that George would be spurred, on impulse, to propose to Susan (his only real long-term girlfriend on the show) as a result. As we know, he is rather suggestible. How to explain Jerry’s mood? That one’s harder. I guess I’m willing to believe that once in a while, there has to be a crack in the façade of ol’ Even Steven Jerry.
But, of course, while George quickly crumbles and makes what you could generously call a mistake (remember his pathological fear in season 4 of ascending the steps to Susan’s apartment?), Jerry has basically forgotten about the whole thing the next day. Sure, he gave Melanie another shot, but she ate her peas one by one at a restaurant, even though with corn niblets, she scoops! "She scooped the niblets?" George asks, dryly. "Yes. That's what was so VEXING!"
This plot really produces some spectacular scenes. Jerry changes his mind partially because of Kramer’s pep talk to him about marriage and how it means you can’t watch TV while eating. “Why not?” “Because it’s DINNERTIME.” Kramer always makes a convincing argument no matter what the topic, but Richards is especially good in that scene. Then, the confrontation between George and Jerry about Jerry not obeying the pact is just beautiful. George goes from overjoyed at the engagement, to angry at Jerry for not holding up his end of the “bargain” ("You stuck your hand out. So I shook it!" Jerry protests) to just completely defeated and monotone by the end of it. I found it moving how Jerry at least feigns enthusiasm for his friend, and hurriedly looks around his apartment for champagne, finding none (obviously). George is such a wreck by the end of that spectacle, it’s hard not to pity him, stupid and impulsive as he may be.
The other side of this episode is super-broad and suffers by comparison, but it makes sense for tone purposes to have something wacky to lean on when the rest of the episode has such a dark tinge. Newman smoking cigarettes and hating doggies? It’s funny! Elaine with a hoarse voice and harried, sleepless quality? Yeah! Kramer wrestling with a tiny puppy? I dig it. The best moment is right at the end, though, when the cops finally come for Newman and he says, drolly, “What took you so long?” That was a big laugh for me. Elaine’s realization at the end of the episode that she is suffering from the same arrested development as Jerry and George is maybe a little forced, but, certainly, accurate.
“The Postponement” (Season 7, Episode 2, originally aired September 28, 1995)
If Jerry was all over the place emotionally last week, here he’s back to being the utterly cool, collected sounding board for George (it rhymes) that he usually is, but in an even more laid-back manner than usual. “The Postponement,” also scripted by David, is a companion to “The Engagement” and even references the barking dog from last week but also throws Elaine into a new, silly plot to distract from the horror of George trying to push back his wedding date (and generally watching the walls close in around him).
George, of course, would probably be less horrified at how quickly he and Susan settle into couple-life if, you know, he actually wanted to be with her and had spent time with her in the intervening two-plus years. Still, the whole monotony of his routine and the fact that he has to go see a film called “The Muted Heart” (while Jerry gets to enjoy a Harrison Ford flick called “Firestorm”) is well-presented. It’s not the most stunningly original material, but I liked it. Susan’s not villainous, but you do have some slight empathy for George being severed from seeing Jerry all the time.
Of course, I dunno how much help Jerry actually IS for George. The scene where George works out his frustrations about postponing the wedding to a newspaper-reading Jerry is hysterical, especially when George lavishes praise on him for being such a good friend. Jerry is kind of a fun guy to talk to in that regard, in that George does work out his problem to an extent (he decides he has to ask for a postponement). But Jerry also seems to not bother trying to bring George over to the other side (or convince him to call the whole thing off), probably just because he knows how irritating a task that could be. But it’s a masterful performance of emoting by Alexander and minimalism by Seinfeld.
Of course, George’s real emoting comes later, after his first attempt at asking Susan to postpone ends with her in tears. Inspired by the site of a guy at Monk’s ignoring his girlfriend’s sobs (and even stealing her fries), George tries to mimic his stonewall approach but in the end goes for something much more appropriate, bursting into tears all by himself. It’s a pitiful, hilarious display, and Alexander doesn’t sell it short at all.
Elaine remains in a broader plot this week as her jealousy at George’s engagement manifests first as if she’s possessed by a stereotypically rebellious teen (crushing beer cans and the like) and then with a confession to her monotonous Rabbi neighbor (played by Bruce Mahler, who crops up a couple more times) that she wishes she was engaged. It’s a surreal plot, in that every time the Rabbi is onscreen you understand he sounds like a robot but don’t get the specific purpose of the joke. It turns out there really isn’t one – it’s just that such a boring Rabbi turning out to be a very involved gossip is a weird turn of events, and that’s funny, I suppose.
Kramer’s involvement is mostly around his new obsession with lattes, which were just starting to explode in popularity in 1995 (I remember that Starbucks began popping up around New York City just a little before then). It exploding in his pants (and his subsequent lawsuit) is a bit of topical humor, but it still works as a bit of physical comedy. But I prefer he and Jerry’s arguments about whether he’d turn him in for murder, which George swears he’d never do. I’m on Kramer’s side – if Jerry did end up killing someone, then who’s Kramer to trust him at all? It’s not like he used to do that.
- "You brought your queen out too fast. What do you think, she's one of these feminists looking to get out of the house? Nah, the queen is old-fashioned, likes to stay home, cook, take care of her man, make sure he feels good."
- George's ex liked to say "Happy, Pappy?"
- "I thought she became a lesbian." "Nah, it didn't take."
- Estelle and Frank have a great moment when George announces the engagement to them. "Get the hell out of here, to a woman?"
- Susan tells her she loves George very much. "May I ask why?"
- "She's got great skin, she has a rosy glow." "Pinkish hue?"
- Kramer can tell time by the sun. "Well, night's tougher, but it's only a couple of hours."
- Susan was very correct to tell George to shut up about toilet stalls.
- "You know, Elaine, very often we cannot see the forest for the trees." "Yeah, I don't know what that means."
- Jerry references The Chinese Restaurant when he and Kramer see Plan 9 from Outer Space.
- "The coffee was too hot!" "It's supposed to be hot!" "Not that hot."
- Love that credits tag of George and Susan watching Mad About You.