The final two episodes of Seinfeld season five are so good, they should really be a show onto themselves. Barring that, they’re fine examples of what the show has become: Every character is honed to perfection at this point, the deft plotting rarely teeters, and, especially in the case of “The Opposite,” there’s the perfect amount of self-awareness about the show’s rules and inner universe that you just never saw on a sitcom before this one. I’m willing to be proven wrong on that, but was there ever a show that did so much self-referencing and got away with it before Seinfeld?
These episodes also mark the end of an era. No, not the departure of Rachel (Melanie Smith), Jerry’s LONGEST-RUNNING GIRLFRIEND on the series, who is greeted with a shrug by the man she dumps after four beautiful episodes (if you count "The Raincoats" as two, which I certainly do). No, I mean that “The Opposite” is the last episode ever directed by Tom Cherones, the man who a great deal of credit must go to for the show’s tone, look, and feel. Cherones would go on to be the regular director for one great sitcom (NewsRadio) and two OK ones (Caroline in the City and Ellen). He was replaced by Andy Ackerman, who some people credit for a wackier tone in the years to come (Larry David’s departure after season seven was obviously the biggest factor). This is also the last season to feature the writing of the estimable Larry Charles (his last credited script is “The Fire”) who helped set the series' mix of dark and silly humor. How much of a difference will we notice in season six? Stay tuned.
Let’s get to "The Hamptons"! Not an episode people know by that title, I feel. It’s either the “shrinkage” episode or the “ugly baby” episode, depending which plot struck you better, I guess. The ugly baby and the gang’s annoying Hamptons friends are very memorable (Elaine’s impression of “you gotta see the BAY-BEE!” is spot-on), especially for everyone’s physical revulsion at the sight of the child. Now, this is the Seinfeld gang, a typically baby-averse crowd, but still, the images you conjure in your head after watching everyone gasp in horror are pretty funny.
Elaine and Kramer’s side-plots are good too: Elaine’s flirtation with the nice doctor (Richard Burgi, professional handsomeface) is wonderfully perplexing, as her every attempt to parse his signals fails miserably. We all know, of course, that even in a big sunhat, Elaine is the textbook definition of breathtaking, and we wouldn’t just say that to be nice to her. Kramer’s lobster poaching is one of those gags that seems entirely devoted to the amusing sight of him yanking a cage out of the ocean. But it actually leads to two great gags: his honorable intervention to stop Rachel from breaking kosher and his drawing the ire of his host, the son of a lobsterman. The first is out-of-character, since Kramer usually encourages hedonism, but still somehow makes sense as he’s a great admirer of keeping one’s word, too. The lobsterman thing is just funny. There’s no way “my father was a lobsterman!” isn’t going to sound funny.
The main event, though, is the penis shrinkage. Had it happened to anyone but George on the show, I would have written a letter to NBC in confusion at their error. Because this is absolutely and utterly a storyline for George. One imagines that no matter what the size of his penis, as long as it’s around average, he’s automatically proud of it, given his shortcomings in so many other areas. So for Jerry’s girlfriend to see it hiding “like a frightened turtle” after he was in the pool must be both humiliating and infuriating. Add that to the insult that Jerry (and Kramer and Elaine) saw his girlfriend (Melora Walters, later of Magnolia and Big Love) swimming topless before George has gotten anything done with her, and, well, put it this way: I completely forgive him for putting lobsters in the scrambled eggs.
Hell, it seems like even Jerry does, who in the episode’s best moment, rolls his eyes and sighs, “I guess I have to go, too,” when Rachel storms out in fury because George made her break kosher for the first time in her life. Obviously, he’s on George’s side here, and he’s just so annoyed that he can’t eat those delicious lobster eggs. I appreciate that George gets a vague comeuppance at the end of the episode (the Hampton tomato to the face), but victory is obviously his in this case. Victory, tainted by the fact that he had no sex, the impression that he has a tiny penis spread amongst the women at the house, and a tomato to the face. That’s the Costanza way!
I have other favorite episodes of Seinfeld (“The Parking Garage,” “The Chinese Restaurant,” “The Limo”) and more from later seasons, but I’m still gonna say “The Opposite” is just one of my faaaaaaavorite episodes. As I said before, it’s something to do with how it acknowledges there’s something going on beneath the gang’s typical hijinks. After five seasons of general decline and one season of near-total misery, the joke on George is over (for now). He becomes successful, gets a job, a woman, a life, all that. He does it in a wonderfully metaphysical way too, deciding that everything in his life has led up to this point, so to escape it, he must behave in the opposite way.
That’d be funny enough on its own, but what makes it so perfect is that the show can’t allow George to just be a hit; there must be a karmic repercussion. Elaine, on top of the world with a promotion, a raise, and a hot boyfriend, must take the fall. And because this is Seinfeld, no one really cares. George is just happy to be successful again. Jerry, the “even Steven” of the group, doesn’t really care what happens to his friends, knowing that he is just in the middle of their see-saw lives. Kramer, excluded from the equation, is the usual force of chaos. So not only is there a karmic effect, but it’s karma that doesn’t even bother George. There’s something so beautiful about that to me.
Season five doesn’t have the kind of arc season four had, but when you take this last episode into account (and that great opening shot of George staring out onto the beach), it’s obvious what the throughline has been: Mr. Costanza’s very pathetic decline. It’s been much remarked-upon and very noticeable throughout the year but you only realize there’s something a bit larger at work when he turns it around so successfully in this episode. The challenge being set here by the writers is just how funny George can be when he’s gainfully employed in a dream job. Of course, the answer, as we will learn, is just as funny as ever. And we also get our first glimpse of his new boss George Steinbrenner (RIP), voiced by Larry David, one of the show’s most memorable supporting characters, whom we’ll have lots of fun with in the future.
I love all of the little details in “The Opposite” too. George is always doing great, except for that one dumb crack he makes about sad-sack Elaine moving in with his parents. She immediately grabs his cheeks, reduces him to the fool we know him to be, and asks him whether that was his instinct or the opposite. “Instinct,” he gurgles. It’s the only time we see the Elaine we usually know, because George slipped up—a great little scene. Plus, you have all the stuff with Jerry, like the $20 he finds in his coat pocket, or the poker game, or, as I mentioned before, his wonderfully blasé reaction to Rachel dumping him. It really explains his interactions with women throughout the series, even if he hadn’t figured it out until now. He knows someone else is coming round the mountain, so why worry about the gal he’s with too much?
I vaguely remembered that Kramer’s freakout on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee was the reason for Elaine’s firing. I’m glad I remembered that wrongly, because it would have distracted from the purity of the story. Indeed, Kramer makes such an ass of himself on TV you’d think his coffee table book would be history, but obviously, Mr. Lippman loves it enough to keep it alive (and just keep Kramer off of TV). What’s the message here? Don’t put Kramer in front of a camera, but also, the forces of the universe don’t work on that man. He’s a universe to himself.
On the Elaine side of things, it’s nice to watch her largely sabotage herself, rather than just be damned by the forces of nature. Or is that what the Jujyfruits represent? We know that Elaine has a bit of a weakness for such snacks, but the way they intervene, both to sabotage her love life and her professional life, is almost eerie. However, her getting kicked out of her apartment appears to be for simpler reasons, i.e. her buzzing in a jewel thief and some Jehovah’s Witnesses (nice to see the return of Siobhan Fallon there). For Elaine, there’s a very clear divide between seasons one through five, where her job is quite ordinary and boring, and seasons six through nine, where her jobs are extremely bizarre, and honestly, I’m glad to see the Pendant era ended. It’s not the most interesting aspect of her character. I imagine the writers decided to shed it as they decided to shed George’s real estate job when they realized that their four characters could just generate amusing plots all on their own with no outside impetus for 20-something episodes a year.
Elaine’s physical transformation is something to see. She really makes that denim jacket work a lot better than George ever did. But still, as George enters in his fancy suit, the message is clear: Elaine’s down, George is up, Jerry’s doing fine, and Kramer’s off in his own little world. It’s both the status quo and utterly not the status quo, and it’s a genius way to end a season of a sitcom where not much ever happens.
- “I WAS IN THE POOL! I WAS IN THE POOL!”
- "Hey Jerry, you ever wear silk underwear?" "No." "Well, put that at the top of your list."
- Jerry’s reaction to Jane going topless is both super-excited and very casual. Nicely done, Jerry.
- "Yo-Yo Ma!" Kramer says. "Boutros Boutros Ghali!" Jerry concurs. "Nice rack!" Elaine interjects.
- George says the tomato "never took off as a hand fruit."
- George wants to know if Jerry could describe Jane’s breasts to a police sketch artist. "They'd pick her up in about 10 minutes."
- "It shrinks?" "Like a frightened turtle!" "Why does it shrink?" "It just does." "I don't know how you guys walk around with those things."
- "I had so much promise. I was personable, I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but I was perceptive. I always know when someone's uncomfortable at a party."
- George’s freakout at the movies is legendary. Let’s reprint it in full: “Shut your traps and stop kicking the seats! We're trying to watch the movie! And if I have to tell you again, we're gonna take it outside and I'm gonna show you what it's like! You understand me? Now, shut your mouths or I'll shut 'em for ya, and if you think I'm kidding, just try me. Try me. Because I would LOVE IT!”
- Nice callback by Jerry to Kramer: “I’ll loan you my puffy shirt.”
- French Stewart, later of Third Rock from the Sun (also starring Wayne Knight), is the non-scrunchfaced movie usher who talks to Elaine.
- "Get yourself some vitamin C with rosehips and flavenoids."
- Jerry tells Rachel the big advantage of being gay is if you date someone your size, "right there, you double your wardrobe.”
- I love Estelle screaming at Kramer when George moves out. "KRAMER, IS THIS TRUE? IS IT REALLY HAPPENING? IT'S LIKE A DREAM!"
- “HIRE THIS MAN!”
- I’m gonna take another week off between seasons. See you guys in two weeks for season six!