I’m tired, but that’s not the only reason I can’t muster much enthusiasm for Lisa and Malik. Clever how the writers put the audience in Tessa’s shoes: I want Lisa and Malik to be happy. Really, I do. I just don’t expect marriage at such a young age to be a reliable avenue to that happiness. But stranger things have happened.
My low-key reaction isn’t just about sleep deprivation. “Catch And Release” is itself quite subdued. The vibrant colors of Chatswin are softer this week, as in the sherbet walls of the doggie day care. Much of the episode takes place over a quiet evening with a lot left unspoken. Because Lisa announces that her parents are gone, and because George is off in his own subplot, it really does feel like Chatswin is down to a skeleton crew. Ryan Shay gets name-dropped so often it feels like a rip-off that he only shows up in text. And energy is down across the board. Maybe it’s editing, maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s everything, but even the Shays are too muted to sell some of their jokes, and these are the people decked out in costumes for their son’s football game.
While I’m being ornery, I don’t understand why Tessa comes to Dalia for a plane ticket. Don’t get me wrong—that scene has the first laugh of the episode. “Could you please not put that on my chair? Money is filthy, and I seriously can’t believe you still use it.” Instead Dalia has Tessa pay for her plane ticket by making a deposit in her cash hamper. Dalia playing ticket agent is a slam-dunk. “I see you in a Yaris or something comparable. You’re 25, right?” She even prints out one of those long checked luggage stickers and loops it around the handles on Tessa’s bag. The absurdism is perfect. It’s just that, for starters, why can’t Tessa book her own flight, why is she coming to Dalia of all people, whatever comes of that money she wastes on a ticket she doesn’t use (and a return flight to Beirut that she never intended to), and, I repeat, why is she talking to Dalia about this? That’s another reason “Catch And Release” feels so minimal. It’s as if Tessa would have gone to literally anyone else in town, but Dalia’s the only one working this weekend.
Still, “Catch And Release” packs a lot of perspective into an episode in which not one but two teenagers propose marriage. First George’s B-plot feels like it’s tying up a loose end, and he winds up breaking up with Nora for no reason. Easy come, easy go. There are two fantastic moments, however. The first is when George is interrogating Nora’s employees about whether or not she’s a bitch. (“That was blunter than I intended.”) The employee gestures to a security camera, which blinks knowingly, and then we cut to the feed itself like Gus Fring is keeping an eye on Walter White. The second moment ensues, as Nora discovers that George was checking up on her. She tells him, “When you fall for someone, none of that other stuff matters.” She’s confessing her love to George, but there’s an implicit flip-side. If that other stuff matters, then you haven’t fallen for someone, and they both realize that George is just not that into her. Their relationship has never meant that much to Suburgatory, but that is some cold, hard truth to throw in Nora’s face.
Tessa and Ryan don’t actually make much contact. She plans to visit but is shocked into sending him her suitcase instead when she learns the Shays have invited June to help provide some release for their son. At the end Tessa gets a text: “Am I supposed to know what this bag of clothes means?” She voice-overs that her own love story will have to wait. Instead Tessa spends the episode stewing in all kinds of anxiety. She wants to be a supportive friend, but that means both being there for Lisa and telling her when she thinks she’s making a mistake. While she’s trying to be a great friend to Lisa, she’s left to deal with this dilemma completely on her own. Lisa never even knows about Tessa’s plan to visit Ryan. And throughout the episode she can’t help but feel pangs of jealousy. “Watching Lisa carpe diem put me to shame,” she says when she first makes plans to visit Ryan. At the end, after the proposal, the first thing she goes to is that Lisa will be leaving her. Malik is her best friend now, and Tessa the third wheel. Sometimes Jane Levy looks so adult, but in “Catch And Release,” especially in the scene outside Malik’s house, Tessa looks like her age.
For all that, the only real standout moments are confined to the Lisa-Malik story. After an awkwardly healthy dinner with Malik’s family, someone tries to change the subject from the fibrous horse food they’re eating to Lisa, and she really takes the ball and runs with it. She’s winding up to the proposal, telling their story, including the time they were briefly broken up. “Prior to that my karaoke song had always been ‘I’m So Excited’ by the Pointer Sisters. But during that time I felt like I was just going through the motions, so my karaoke song became ‘Automatic’ by the Pointer Sisters.” Long story short, Lisa’s new karaoke song is “Jump,” by the Pointer Sisters, and soon enough she’s lip-syncing for her life. Malik’s uncomfortable, but first Grandpa gets into it and then Grandma starts dancing. Aunt Tracy even joins in the singing. It’s not Dalia-funny, but it’s a rich emotional ride right up to the veritable record skip at the end when Lisa gets down on one knee.
Then comes the real gut-punch. Malik’s positioned obliquely, a tense composition even if his face weren’t a picture of frustration. We don’t see exactly what happens, but we do get a sequence of three simple, splashy shots in a row. First we’re looking straight ahead at Malik’s house as Lisa pours through the doorway past the camera and Malik runs after her but stops short. Next the reverse, the camera dollying left along the white picket fence as Lisa races home. Then an overhead shot of a patterned comforter as Lisa throws herself back and just cries. It’s heart-breaking whether or not I wanted him to say yes, and it’s another highlight in Jane Levy’s stew of a performance.
Finally comes Malik’s grand romantic gesture, a Frankenstein monster assembled from other dead proposals. There’s a flash mob for Bruno Mars’ “Count On Me” with elaborate props and lights. There’s a costume change. There’s a Love, Actually cue card riff. There’s a wedding arch that made me really nervous. Even Dalia participates. (Again, why?!) I see how it could be sweet, but I’m with Tessa. “Catch And Release” just makes me uneasy.
- Seeing Lisa in a track suit is unnerving. Perhaps that’s the future in store for the Lisa that follows in her mother’s footsteps and gets married young?
- Tessa spits George’s advice to her about Lisa back at him about Nora. “A wise man told me that.” “Yeah, and a wise-ass repeated it.”
- The Shays heavily imply that June is coming with them to visit Ryan in order to have sex with him so he’ll be relaxed for the big game. She says, “They paid for my ticket,” and then looks to the floor embarrassed. Truly the Shays are pioneers of helicopter parenting.
- The break-up scene between George and Nora tells their entire story by emphasizing height disparity. They just don’t see eye to eye.
- The Proposal might be worth it just to see the return of the Medium Fan Club. The Malik-Lisa wedding definitely won’t be boring.