Suburgatory: “Decemberfold”
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Suburgatory: “Decemberfold”

“Decemberfold” is a gender studies thesis waiting to happen. It’s an episode where a panel of women size up a man by his chest. That man chooses homosocial competition over a fulfilling relationship with his girlfriend. A gay photographer entices the man to play with the prop phallus  (“Let me see you work that sausage, George. It’s there for a reason”) and pose butt-to-butt with his competitors (“Don’t worry. These are just for me”). And that’s nothing compared to the other storyline, about four young women trafficking in so much gossip that the surprising revelation at the end only elicits deeper doubt. It can’t be what it seems, can it?

What it seems is this: Dalia sees Jenna Werner hanging out with Tessa and Lisa and suddenly wants to be Tessa’s best friend. Now, Dalia’s already a strange bird, monotone and entitled and what used to be called (and maybe still is) frenemies with Tessa. On a good day she’s not easy to parse. I mean, you can tell when she’s in hate-Tessa mode, but what’s the difference between Dalia being indifferent and Dalia being nice? Cue the glorious montage of Dalia and Tessa spending all their time together, culminating in the hilarious shot of them sitting down to lunch, both looking straight ahead, and Dalia saying, “That salad looks really good, Tessa.” And that’s just a taste of Carly Chaikin’s genius in “Decemberfold.”

Naturally Lisa gets suspicious. Neither she nor Tessa can make sense of Dalia’s semblance of friendship. So Lisa goes into stalker mode (re-stalker mode, if you’re picky). She hides in Tessa’s room just to catch Tessa ignoring her texts. She reveals (“as we all know,” another nod to the rumor mill) that she was banned from Dalia’s social networks freshman year for stalking. She also reminds us that she didn’t have human friends before Tessa came to town, possibly due in part to throwing up at Jenna’s 9th birthday party after being accidentally invited by Noah. Yes, it’s another incredible episode for weirdo Lisa details, not least the “Your funeral” eyes she gives Tessa after the big stalking scene. Anyway, Lisa discovers that Dalia is broadcasting everything she does with Tessa online. One magnificent tweet: “Watched Tessa eat her salad like a boss. LOL.” (As a sidenote, Dalia’s stone-faced use of ‘LOL’ is satire at its most trenchant. Please RT.)

When Tessa confronts Dalia, she spills: Dalia says she and Jenna used to be besties, but Jenna cut ties because her Brown friends thought Jenna was too good for Dalia. But Jenna tells Tessa that she and Dalia weren’t besties but hook-ups. Dalia walks in on their lunch, Tessa says Jenna told her everything, and everyone seems to be on the same page. Except Dalia looks like she’s about to cry, at least, as much as Dalia can look like she’s about to cry. She says, “Thanks, Tessa. You really helped clear things up for me. I really, really owe you one,” but she looks as upset as ever. And is that a promise or a threat?

At the end, while snooping in Dalia’s room, Lisa discovers a drawer of photos of Dalia and George with sticker captions such as, “Me and Daddy Altman laughing while I text. LOL.” A whole drawer full! Even Kelly Clarkson agrees this is dark. If everything is as it seems, then Jenna’s telling the truth about her fling with Dalia, and now Dalia apparently has a thing for George. But there’s too much agenda and too little resolution to buy the cover story.

I don’t know why Jenna would lie, except to save face, but we don’t know her very well, and she did just read a book about how all relationships are essentially transactional. Not to breeze past the joke here, but both Noah and Dallas plant the seed that we have no way of knowing what Jenna is really like. Lisa thinks Dalia is a sociopathic such-and-such, which experience bears out, if not in so many words. Lisa is also untrustworthy, though, given the stalking and all. Only Tessa is completely reliable, but she’s mostly a go-between, anyway, and methinks the lady doth protest too much when she tries to sell us on the same-sex fling by pointing out all the times Dalia has supposedly projected discomfort with her sexuality onto Tessa and Lisa with lesbian insults.

I can’t help but notice the correlation between Dalia’s staged tweets about Tessa and Dalia’s captions about George, which were totally not staged at all for the benefit of a known stalker. Dalia’s crush on/relationship with Evan might be a puzzle piece, too, considering she sent pictures of her tattoo to Jenna. Even that came out of nowhere, and the sociopath vibe is sticking with me, as if these are all just steps in some scheme of Dalia’s to, I don’t know, Kickstart the safe return of the KKK. It’s a deeply weird tangle of jealousy and attraction and maybe daddy issues, even if I don’t buy that Dalia actually has a crush on George. It’s an engaging take on Chatswin themes of judgment and appearances; even the audience entertains the characters’ worst suspicions about each other. Most of all, it’s proof that Carly Chaikin is one of today’s best sitcom actors, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.  

Stray observations:

  • More Dallas-George rehab: He’s the one that’s silly and annoying; she stands up for herself; they resolve in a no-fuss chat over dessert. I wouldn’t mind a conflict that’s actually funny, but baby steps.
  • In our neck of the woods, accusations of, uh, familial closeness have died down lately, but Noah’s defensive nonetheless: “Look at you and Tessa with your friendship and your repartee. It’s disgusting. You’d be surprised how many people think it is disgusting.”
  • Lisa practices after school. “ A cappella scatting is pretty much the rawest form of human expression there is.”
  • Apparently Jenna gets off on how she goes to Brown?
  • Dallas is watching an Obama speech. “Are you aware that we have a black president? I mean, I’m for it, but wow.” (She’s kidding.)

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