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

Sports Night: “Dana And The Deep Blue Sea”/“Sally”

Illustration for article titled Sports Night: “Dana And The Deep Blue Sea”/“Sally”

In relationship terms, the past is what one has to live with. The future is what one worries about. And the present is where those regrets and anxieties can be spun like plates in a virtuoso vaudeville act, turning into gold through sheer bravado, or where they collide with the crashing gravity of the moment. This week Dana frets, Dan spins, and Casey and Gordon collide.

“Dana And The Deep Blue Sea” (season 1 episode 15, original airdate 2/9/99)

We talked at length last week about whether Dana’s obsession with remaining Gordon’s girlfriend in good standing makes her into a character whose unattractive qualities shade into sexism. I defended Sorkin last week, but this week he sorely tests my patience as Dana almost completely abandons doing her job in order to concentrate full time on breakup panic. In “Deep Blue Sea,” the impetus is Gordon’s invitation to join him on a snorkeling trip. Upside: Yay, he still likes me, he wants to share one of the great loves of his life (snorkeling) with me! Downside: I really don’t want to do it because (ostensibly) I’m scared of fish but (secretly) I have mixed feelings about Gordon and the relationship. Not knowing what you want is one thing; we’ve all experienced that, and can accept it as part of the human condition. Loudly advertising your convenient delusions and associated coping strategies to everyone within earshot makes steam come out of people’s ears.

Dan starts the episode equally in fantasyland, at least as far as those around him can tell. His schemes to win a date with Rebecca have devolved to asking his coworkers to go upstairs and talk him up. “You just need to mention some impressive things about me. I’ve prepared a short list,” he tells Jeremy after Casey turns him down cold, and Jeremy gets guilted into it. His casual Dan-boosting gambits in Rebecca’s office are wonderfully awkward. First he welcomes her to the building; then, when she points out she’s been here for three years, he backpedals smoothly: “I misspoke. I’m new here!” When she cuts through his cover (“You’re from Sports Night.” “Yes!” “Dan sent you.” “Yes!” “To say nice things about him.” “I have a list!”), we find out that she thinks sportscasters are “self-absorbed, narrow minded, immature people of limited intelligence and limitless ego.”

Aha! This tells Dan that Rebecca’s rejection isn’t just indifference but outright animus. And that’s just the hook he needs to climb back in the game. He realizes that she’s the ex-wife of Steve Sisko, and assures her that her experience with that well-known jerk in no way can be generalized to Dan (who, by the way, is a sports anchor, not a sportscaster). “The fact that you think that that man’s low-grade brand of manhood is in any way indicative of my profession is beneath your obvious intelligence and class,” he asserts, before confidently telling her what a date with Dan would be like: “When I took you home at like 3 a.m., I’d try to kiss you goodnight, and I think I’d be successful … and it’s a shame that’ll never happen because you once married an idiot.” Turns out she has been watching “Sports Night,” and she saw Dan flub a line (“The sophomore sensation credits her quick first step and agility to her father, who used to take her to a neighborhood park all covered with cheese”), and is utterly charmed when Dan admits that the “hideous cheese blunder” occurred because he was distracted by thoughts of her.

But unlike Dan, who is sure of what he wants and waltzes confidently into the fray when he sees an opening to get it, Casey lets himself be dragged into the same mire of indecision as Dana. Natalie pushes him to comfort Dana after Gordon cancels the snorkeling trip, and while Casey’s pretty sure he has the situation read right (she’s not afraid of fish; she is afraid of “holding out for what she deserves”), he balks at acting on it. “Go to her,” Natalie directs. “What should I do once I get to her?” he asks. “Be a man,” Natalie intones inspirationally. “I’ve got that wired, right?” he responds with uncertainty. Before he can make his move, though, Dana has been rescued by the rescheduling of the trip as a skiing holiday, and she professes to be on-top-of-the-world.

“Plenty of sunshine! Plenty of hay!” Dan sings lustily and incorrectly after returning from snagging a date with Rebecca. “Sometimes it’s worth it, all the pies in the face,” he tells Casey. “And how was your day?” “Sometimes,” Casey confesses, “you just stand there hip-deep in pie.” Two men who want to change women’s minds. Two approaches. Two different results. Is the reason in the men, in the approaches, in the women, or in the randomness of the universe vis-à-vis pie?

“Sally” (season 1 episode 16, original airdate 2/23/99)

When these episodes originally aired, two solid weeks intervened between them. Given how well “Sally” plays as a forceful yet complexly layered response to “Deep Blue Sea,” I can’t believe the network made those 1999 audiences wait. But then again, the whole episode is about waiting. Something is scheduled to happen, and once it does there will be news. Or perhaps something has already happened, but it is not yet known; once it it is known there will be news. A messenger might already exist, needing only to be prompted—which Kim seeks to do by adopting the interchangeable roles of Salanio and Solerio, the well-known exposition machines from The Merchant Of Venice: “Jeremy, what ho? What news, Jeremy?”

Two things have undeniably happened. Yet they cannot be considered news until more information is known. Item the first: Casey has lost a shirt, but insists that he hasn’t lost his favorite shirt (Dan: “What shirt are you missing?” Casey: “The white J. Press.” Dan: “Your favorite!”), leading to the admission that the previous week he slept over at a woman’s place, and that moreover this was the first woman he’s slept with since separating from Lisa. “Plus I had to confront some unresolved feelings for Dana,” he confesses to Isaac, who is the only person not looking for news, at least the kind that involves the personal crises of the staff. Dan spends this slow-news day digging to find out who Casey’s bedmate was (“I have from time to time had trouble pronouncing the name Moira,” he opines when the possibility that Casey doesn’t know the name or how to pronounce it is raised), only to have the question answered for him when Sally awkwardly drops by to tell Casey that she can’t find “the thing” and “maybe it got mixed up with somebody else’s laundry.”

Item the second: Gordon cancelled his date with Dana the night before with the excuse that he had to work late. Dana can’t help upsetting the apple cart of her relationship—in which “everything’s good, better than good!” as she repeatedly brackets her remarks—by calling to confess to Gordon her discomfort with being stood up and getting some reassurance that the cause was innocent. “My instinct is to call him,” she tells Natalie in an interminable exchange while Natalie is trying to edit video illustrating North Carolina’s box-and-one defense. “Repel that instinct!” Natalie urges, on the grounds that Dana doesn’t want to be that woman who, needy and insecure, demands an explanation for her man’s every movement. But Dana can’t stop herself, and even though her journey to picking up the phone and making that inadvisable call is more talked-through than most, it’s crushingly realistic. Beset with both crippling self-doubt and a carefully rehearsed certainty about what we think we want, we’ve all been in places where we couldn’t stop ourselves.

And then the games start, there is finally work to be done, and the news breaks—but only to Casey. In possibly the single most electric moment of the series, Casey realizes just how dangerous Gordon is for Dana. “You’re wearing my shirt, Gordon,” he says, and what he’s really saying is “I know what you did. Your secret is out.” But you know who else’s secret is out? Casey. Gordon knows what Casey did, too, and even though Casey wasn’t indulging in an explicit betrayal by doing so, he fell short of what he really wanted. Casey’s crime is settling for less—not coincidentally, the same as Dana’s. Gordon’s crime is trying to have it all. What’s beautiful about that scene is that it is a clarifying moment for Casey, but not for Gordon. Gordon knew what he was doing, and undeniably he’ll try to get away with it again down the road with another girlfriend. Casey now sees what he did, and if he can keep it in front of his eyes and not lose it to justifications and excuses, that clarity can show him where he needs to go.

“There are certain lengths I’d go to to avoid seeing her hurt in any way,” he tells Gordon. But we’re still seven episodes away from the end of the season. The lengths could be a long time in the traversing.

Grades: “Dana And The Deep Blue Sea,” B+; “Sally,” A

Stray observations:

  • The “Sally” subplot of Jeremy trying to understand eggnog in preparation for going to Natalie’s house for the Easter holiday (Isaac: “Does he know that no one drinks eggnog for Easter?” Natalie: “He thinks we do”) might not have much to do with anything, but it elicits one of the biggest laughs of the series. Natalie compliments him on his reasonableness as a boyfriend after enduring Dana’s craziness in the video editing room, and he nods and smiles. “Jeremy, swallow the eggnog,” Natalie sighs, and as eggnog pours out of his mouth and runs down his shirt, Jeremy confesses, “I just can’t.”
  • I’m not sure what even a neighborhood park all covered with trees has to do with a quick first step and agility; it’s a weird observation all around. But I do love Casey’s bemused note that “We’ve got all kinds of sentence construction here. I think he’s going to have to explain that it’s the park that’s covered with cheese and not the father.”
  • Dan and Dana are like two sides of a coin in “Deep Blue Sea,” in that Dana is insufferable and Dan is awesome. Luckily, Dan’s awesomeness overwhelms almost everything else in that episode; e.g., “That’s a little joke I wrapped up and gave you for free,” he notes right after he’s pretended to burn Rebecca on getting together for dinner.
  • I know women that are Dana’s putative age (33) do worry about their chances for finding life partners passing them by. But when she comes out and says it, all I can think is “33?! Sweetie, calm down, you’re a decade away from needing to panic.”
  • Even “Sally” wouldn’t be as shockingly perfect as it is without Dan’s awesomeness. “No trouble at all!” he enthusiastically mocks Casey when the latter mentions that his unnamed sexual partner said she’d throw his shirt in the laundry. “Sally was right there with the score!” he notes when she shows up to tell Casey about not being able to find the thing.
  • Jeremy is over-prepping for Easter by “doing a search on the word resurrection” in the Bible, because “After all, there are those who think I killed their Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • Dana gets one thing right: “That woman’s body is over the line.”