“The Wait Out” (season 7, episode 23; originally aired May 9, 1996)
Sigh. I don’t want to talk about this episode, which is fine. I want to talk about “The Invitations!” But, okay, “The Wait Out.” It has two fun guest stars, Debra Messing (in the middle of her stint on the underrated Ned And Stacey) and Cary Elwes (many years after The Princess Bride), but they don’t have much to do. It has a lot of physical comedy, all of it successful, but that’s all that’s memorable here. I guess you can think of it as Susan’s last chance to get out of her relationship with George, and for whatever reason (I guess the rules of sitcoms), she doesn’t, ’cuz that would be too easy.
It’s a nicely evil episode too, with Jerry and Elaine waiting like vultures for Beth and David (Messing and Elwes) to split up so they can swoop in and claim them on the rebound. George gets cast in the very rare role of the voice of reason and dignity, although he has selfish motives—his offhand “you coulda done better!” to Beth is what triggers the whole separation. He’s so riven with guilt, he tries (and eventually succeeds) to get them back together, and Jerry and Elaine unite to try and stop him, falling into a brawling heap in one of the series’ rare examples of broad physical comedy that doesn’t feature Kramer.
My problem with this episode is that it doesn’t occur to George to use his power on himself. All he wants is for Susan to leave him so he doesn’t have to exit the engagement himself and cause a scene (more on that in the next episode). But it doesn’t occur to him to have someone use that same line on him? When David does it, and Susan seems to take pause, he’s overjoyed, but I dunno. Maybe his guilt over breaking up the couple fried his brain or something. The usual conniving George just isn’t present here.
Perhaps knowing that next week’s episode would freak everyone out, we’re treated to a truly broad subplot in which Kramer tries to wear tight jeans. Michael Richards is really good at making this insanity vaguely believable, but nonetheless, it’s insanity that ends with a truly difficult-to-believe twist: a kid he’s babysitting thinks he’s Frankenstein, which… I don’t even know.
The episode’s fine, but I’ve complained about wheel-spinning the last couple weeks and this is the ultimate example. Elaine’s driving makes Jerry nauseous, but that’s the extent of it (it feels like a “Jerry barfing” scene was wisely cut out at some point). Mickey reappears to do an audition scene with Kramer and ends up standing in for the missing kid, prompting a scream from his mother and Jerry noting from down the hall, “it’s gotta have something to do with Kramer.”
It all feels a little disjointed and the plots don’t meld with that seamless quality of the great Seinfeld episodes. But hell, you can’t win ’em all. Now, let’s get to the main event.
“The Invitations” (season 7, episode 24; originally aired May 16, 1996)
So, here we are. Honestly? I had forgotten that you see Susan keel over in this episode. For some reason, I just remembered George’s scene where he comes into the apartment and he notices her body, which is off-screen. I guess I blocked that horror out of my mind. But obviously, it had to be concluded. One, because it’s shocking enough that you wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t see it. Two, because the whole joke is a really big, broad one when you think about it. George has waited all year to get out of his engagement with Susan, and as she’s licking the invitation envelope, she kicks the bucket, as if karma has been thrown into reverse and George is getting what he wants, served up on a plate, in the most horrible manner possible. The gag wouldn’t work if you didn’t see Susan go all sweaty and her eyes roll up in her head.
It’s hard to know how Larry David came around to the idea of killing off Susan for his final episode on the show (excluding the finale) and how quickly he came to it. It works very nicely with the season seven arc of George’s marriage as a whole, especially with the introduction of Jerry’s paramour Janie (Janeane Garofalo) to whom he quickly gets engaged. The gag of him complaining to George about their pact, as George did at the beginning of the season, feels a little labored, but makes perfect sense given David’s skill with that kind of joke structure—it’s a gag he recycles in the last scene of the show’s finale.
If you Google around, you read that David later expressed shock at how callously he offed Susan, or that he was mad at NBC for meddling and her death was a big “fuck you” for his last episode, and so on and so forth. I dunno. Like I said, the whole thing makes sense when you think about how David writes jokes. In terms of a “fuck you” to NBC, it’s believable that he was happy to give them one, but the Susan thing feels a little more structured than that. They could have gotten rid of her in a million other ways (her staying past season seven as George’s wife would not have made sense, though) but killing her is the most obvious, and basically the funniest way to go.
As I was watching that last scene in the hospital, which is played out pretty quietly with everyone offering their condolences (Kramer about “Lily”), I wondered if maybe the show should have been even more callous, to really drive the point home. That Susan’s death is treated with respect at all maybe makes it too real, which is maybe why it’s jarring for some viewers. But no: Having Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer shrug the whole thing off and go “Oh well!” would have felt amateurish, silly, and mean for the sake of being mean. David set himself an impossible challenge with this episode and while the tone isn’t completely uniform, it’s close enough to work. Plus, as the tag, you have George calling Marisa Tomei, a smart callback that gets across all the callousness you could ever want, but feels logical because George is, if nothing else, efficient when it comes to such situations.
Like a lot of big Seinfeld episodes, it’s always funny how you forget that other stuff happens in “The Invitations.” But here more than ever, there’s a lot of time to kill before Susan bites the dust. You’ve got George frantically trying to get out of the engagement every way he can: First smoking, which he can barely stomach and Susan tells him to cut out, and then asking for a pre-nup, which prompts well-deserved laughs of derision from the far wealthier Susan.
You’ve got Jerry quickly falling in and out of love with Janie, his clone in many ways (she’s into observational humor, she eats a lot of cereal, she reads comic books) which is at first very appealing to Jerry, who proposes to her after a walk on the beach similar to George’s at the beginning of the season. His later revelation of “I can’t be with someone like me! I hate myself!” is a rare statement for Jerry to be making, but as enamored of himself as he seems, I still believe him—this is an epiphany, maybe, but it’s honest. Kramer also has a subplot with a bank that’s stupid—but it does have Stephen Root, so it’s not all bad.
So, Susan. Poor Susan. Felled by George’s cheapness, of course (the envelopes he buys contain toxic glue, and as he tells us, they were expecting 200 people), but also by her own unwillingness to leave such a dud of a man. Why is that? (Beyond the sitcom convention that George cannot have what he wants—Susan leaving him without a scene being made—of course.) She seems like a very rational person in every other sense, but she has a huge blind spot when it comes to George. Is she a commentary on all of the women he manages to convince to date him over the years, with her demise the ultimate fear Larry David had over what he would do to these poor women? I may be going too deep, as I often do, but I’m not the one who wrote an episode of the #1 network show in the 1990s that killed off one of the lead characters’ main romantic interests.
Whatever the reading you have of the episode, the ultimate takeaway is whether or not it’s funny. In my opinion, “The Invitations” is very, very funny. It’s a fitting sendoff for Larry David, in that it seems to come from a very dark place and leaves you a little baffled, but it’s also really funny, silly, broad, and memorable. We won’t hear from David again till “The Finale,” which… I am not looking forward to reviewing. But before then, season eight is upon us, after I take my customary one-week break. See you guys in November!
“I’ve been waiting out two or three marriages, but this is the one I really have my eye on.”
“The city’s probably teeming with people who have been waiting out that marriage. It’s like when a tenant dies in a rent-controlled building.”
Kramer says he’s “got the body of a taut, pre-teen Swedish boy.”
Mickey reads a scene from Flesh Wounds In Ithaca.
Elaine is pretty sexy downing that Scotch. “I’ll tell ya, it’s not bad!”
George’s thinking on the cheap envelopes: “So we pick up some Elmer’s!”
George thinks of going to China to escape his marriage. “I’ll disappear in a sea of people.” Jerry thinks he’ll blend in better in Staten Island.
Jerry’s vision of a future with Kramer involves an argument about a car periscope, which, as Curb Your Enthusiasm fans know, was worked into an episode last season.
George lights up a pack of American Spirits. What a hipster!
“I’ve got the funeral tomorrow, but my weekend is pretty wide open.”