Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Modern Family: "The Incident"

Illustration for article titled Modern Family: "The Incident"

Last week I wrote that Modern Family's sense of sky's-the-limit potential arises "not because it's starting from somewhere and going somewhere else — but because it's got so much territory to explore right where it's plopped itself down."  And this week it's like they've set out to prove me right.  The sliver of territory being mapped this week is a particularly interesting one both in terms of colorful scenery and strategic importance.  Our feelings about those in our family, or on its edges poised to invade or withdraw, are driven by irrational emotion.  We cannot just talk ourselves into feeling differently.  At key moments, however, the right word or action can demonstrate that a different feeling is warranted, and despite our preconceptions we are moved by something below the level of cognition. Change can occur.  A new meme can get stuck in our heads, despite our defenses.

Two major emotional roadblocks are presented to us in "The Incident."  The one after which the episode is named is Gloria's sworn enmity to Jay's first wife, Mitchell and Claire's mother DeDe (played with perfect brio by Shelly Long).  See, she got a little drunk at Jay and Gloria's wedding, gave a bitter toast ("Thirty-five years we were together, and he couldn't wait ten minutes to run off with Charo") and had to be forcibly removed by a team of groomsmen while screaming "I'm Gloria, ay yi yi yi!" and kicking over the cake.  But she's been centering herself spiritually since then at an ashram in Sedona, and she's moving to a foreign land ("French Canada") with Chas, her new boyfriend.  Before she and Chas can really be together, though, she has to apologize to Gloria and remove the blockage to her sexuality.  ("Don't get me wrong, we satisfy each other down there," she assures Mitchell; and "We do things to each other — we use our hands," she later confides to Claire and Phil.)

So DeDe approaches Mitchell to smooth the way for her to mend fences with the whole extended family at dinner.  As it turns out, Mitchell has a history of being used by his mother for these kinds of errands, which makes it impossible from the start for him to be seen as anything other than Mama's errand boy.  Jay categorically refuses to broach the subject with Gloria, and promises to express horror and revulsion if DeDe shows up for the dinner.  (A promise kept: "… Which is why this is a terrible idea by you," he emphasizes when they enter the Dunphy living home and find Mitchell hiding behind DeDe's caftan.)

The second irrational animus pits Claire against Haley in the competition to define Dylan, Haley's boyfriend.  Will Haley get to go overnight with Dylan to a concert, competently supervised by Uncle Toby?  (Whose uncle? "Spencer … the one with the arm.")  Or will Claire refuse to give Dylan a chance, just like her mom refused to give her boyfriends a chance in her day?  Phil, predictably, tries to bridge the gap between mother and daughter, practicing his "peeranting" ("act like a parent, talk like a peer") by requesting that Haley talk to him as a friend: "I'm Marcus from biology!  Hey, how are things going with Dylan?  Has he tried anything inappropriate with you … girl?"

In what is turning out to be a Modern Family tradition, the combined attempt at detente and second chances ends with a pileup on the couch, with Phil helpfully holding back the curvaceous Gloria.  Dylan shows an unexpected side, revealing his longing for the self-assurance he sees in Haley, "the kind of confidence you get from having a family like this, that's accepting of hot foreigners and gay dudes and nutty people."  And even though it turns out Claire hadn't misjudged him at all, the whole family is singing "In the Moonlight" the next morning: "I just wanna do you, do you, maybe that will heal you, heal you … on the insiiiiiide."

Stray observations:

- What is the critical age at which an actress becomes eligible for Mother Of One Of The Principals guest-star spots?

- I was under this episode's spell from the beautifully nuanced business of the cold open, when Jay hastily puts down the donut and picks up an apple upon hearing Gloria enter the house.  If you were wondering why else (other than the shaky single camera) people keep comparing this show to Arrested Development, there you go.

- Unfortunately the other kids at the slumber party with Manny were laughing at the goatee they drew on his face, not at his funny take on current events.

- If you followed Hall & Oates around the country one summer, would you feel right calling yourself a Hallraiser?  Was there also a contingent of Oatesmealers?

- "He's a logger.  He logs blood samples into a cholesterol study."

- Thank goodness for "In the Moonlight."  It's finally shoved "The Pit" out of my head.  ("I fell into the pit/You fell into the pit/We all fell into the pii-i-iiit …")