“The Slicer” (season 9, episode 7, originally aired 11/13/1997)
My big problem with this episode is that a lot of it relies on Jerry acting like George. I don’t know why they didn’t just have George act like George, but I guess he’s busy enough here trying to crop himself out of his new boss’ photo in a complicated ruse that involves a skin-cancer screening and Kramer appearing as Dr. Van Nostrand and trying to do a biopsy with his meat slicer.
Still, Jerry blows everything wide open at the end when he accuses his dermatologist girlfriend of the week (Marcia Cross, coming off of Melrose Place) of infecting him with some sort of hives virus because he made fun of her profession. His original outrage over her claiming to save lives made sense for Jerry, but every subsequent escalation is encouraged by George or Kramer, and for some reason Jerry actually listens to them, and I just didn’t buy it—you can’t upset the delicate balance like that! Aside from that, “The Slicer” is a good time. George’s travails with his newest job at Kruger Industrial Smoothing are on the right side of ridiculous, and Daniel Von Bargen’s oblivious Mr. Kruger is immediately more of a fun character than, say, Mr. Wilhelm.
It’s kind of strange to have Seinfeld deal with George trying to alter a picture—these things went on in the 1990s, of course, and while Photoshopping feels like it would be a tired sitcom plot now, it wouldn’t then. The final twist of the Kodak guy just drawing in a cartoon Kruger after accidentally erasing him is perhaps the dumbest, and yet also the funniest, twist in the episode. I’m also fond of how when George’s ruse is revealed, Kruger doesn’t give a shit. It doesn’t feel like a lame way to wrap up the story because it’s been well-established over the last 22 minutes that Kruger doesn’t give a shit about anything.
Kramer’s slicer is the latest in a series of dumb gadgets (he even notes that he traded in his sausage press for it) and you have to admire the story use writers Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin find for it. Kramer feeds a cat (and later Elaine) thin meats under the door; Elaine develops a slicing addiction for some reason… well, that’s about it, but that’s more than I would have thought up. In terms of a wacky Kramer plot, it’s subpar, but there are enough silly moments like Elaine dancing to Foghat, or Kramer’s butcher coat being mistaken for a doctor’s, to forgive it.
“The Betrayal” (season 9, episode 8, originally aired 11/20/1997)
“The Betrayal” is a memorable episode of Seinfeld and a fun half-hour to watch. It’s one of those episodes that can be summed succinctly like “The Chinese Restaurant,” “The Parking Garage,” or “The Contest,” even if it’s not up to the standard of those gems. There’s something about how formal it is—sure, in “The Chinese Restaurant,” you quickly get the idea that they’re never going to get a seat or leave the restaurant, but you’re not constantly thinking about it.
“The Betrayal”—which is played backward (down to cute meta jokes like having the Castle Rock logo be the first thing on screen)—is very much about its gimmick, and it wrings a lot of fun jokes from it, like Kramer’s gigantic lollipop going from eaten to full, or Jerry saying “bless you” to Elaine and a cut to “three seconds earlier,” when she sneezes. The best meta joke of all comes right near the end, when we flash to two years prior and see a guest appearance by Susan, who implants the irritating catchphrase “You can stuff your sorries in a sack, mister!” into George’s head. (I was less thrilled with the flash to 10 years earlier, to the first meeting of Jerry and Kramer, wherein Kramer is told to treat Jerry’s apartment like his own. Some long-running jokes don’t need that kind of explanation.)
I remember that the first time I watched “The Betrayal,” I thought it was absolute genius, down to its Harold Pinter-referencing title. Most of the fun is watching the plot unfold from the dramatic confrontation at the end, learning along the way why George is wearing spray-painted Timberlands, why Elaine would go to Sue Ellen Mischke’s wedding in India, or why Kramer is so afraid of “dropping dead.”
Once you know the plot, everything feels a little less exciting. There are plenty of good jokes—George’s refusal to go to the bathroom, Elaine’s easily cracked “vault,” Newman’s birthday-wish streak—but presented in chronological order, this episode is bizarre—and not in a good way. Now, I don’t know that that’s a criticism, since the episode isn’t supposed to be viewed in the proper, chronological order (though the season-nine DVD set allows you to do so), but it might explain why the wacky, twist-laden plot gets less interesting on repeat viewings.
Still, one of Seinfeld’s great strengths is its story craft, and “The Betrayal” is the ultimate example of that, since it’s all about the craft. There’s no way you don’t chuckle once things fall into place—there’s Elaine on a date with Peter (Shaun Toub) years before he meets Sue Ellen, there’s Jerry saying Nina (Justine Miceli) might be the one because they have no awkwardness in their conversation, which we know doomed their relationship and later led to a brief flare-up right before she went on a date with George (because it prompted their first awkward moment).
Am I way off on “The Betrayal”? I might be—but weirdly, I could be persuaded in either direction. I am appreciative of how daring and strange it was for the show to put on an episode like this in 1997, but it also seems to rely a little too much on the gimmick where it doesn’t need to. I probably should have written this review backwards, then no one would notice how torn I am about my opinion.
- And yes, of course, I have to acknowledge that Daniel Von Bargen was in the news recently because he attempted suicide. I hope he’s on the road to wellness, since I’m fond of him from both Seinfeld and Malcolm In The Middle.
- Elaine’s opening-scene sex dream in “The Slicer” is a throwaway gag, but I like it—she really is overwhelmed by those three idiots at this point in her life.
- Ah, I love Kruger. “You won’t regret this, sir!” “I don’t care.”
- “The apartment that always smells like potatoes?” “Your whole building smells like potatoes.”
- Maybe George will be in the Coast Guard, he muses. “Seems like a lot of pride there, a lot of tradition.” But he has seasickness, Jerry points out. “Maybe I could be a land guy… someone’s got to unhook the boat before it leaves the place!”
- Kruger coins a good insult for George: “pear-shaped loser.”
- George wants to sleep with Elaine to punish Jerry. “It doesn’t punish me. That punishes Elaine. And cruelly, I might add!” “FUNNY GUY!”
- One of the best backward gags is Jerry’s drawer full of Fruit Loops and milk. I just wish the explanation didn’t come up so quickly.