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

Suburgatory: “The Witch of East Chatswin”

Illustration for article titled Suburgatory: “The Witch of East Chatswin”

Suburgatory is officially two for two on Halloween episodes. “The Witch Of East Chatswin” is ostensibly about feminism, but really it’s about a spooky atmosphere and funny costumes and people acting weirder than usual because it’s the Devil’s Sabbath. Mostly that just means Sheila Shay, the woman who once chased off a mountain lion with nothing but an arched eyebrow, freaks out about a witch’s text and Lisa figures out how to get around the perennial Ouija accusation of pushing the planchette: “The spirits work through me. Deal with it.” But Tessa is feeling unusually bold lately, trying to prove to herself that the fearless city girl who used to ride the subway isn’t soft. She even convinces herself that she’s flattered by the idea that a witch is stalking her and agrees to meet her. Alone. On Halloween.

As soon as Lisa and Malik show up to the Halloween party as Velma and Fred, it’s clear what inspired the plotting. Except for parody purposes, it makes no sense that the witch is just a feminist, what with using the school’s restroom and writing creepy messages in ketchup on the school bathroom mirror and sneaking a book in Tessa's bag at the library before scampering off undetected. If Sheila’s memory is to be believed, the witch, er, Paula Weingelb even hanged a doll in front of Sheila’s locker when they were kids, beckoning Sheila to join her. It adds up about as well as the average Scooby Doo mystery. There’s even an early shot of an eyeball watching Tessa. It’s through a bathroom stall door rather than an eyeless painting, but it works. Tessa, rocking the Daphne, does everything but scream, “Zoinks!” when she runs away from the witch’s coven huddled around a cauldron.

But of course, there’s a “logical” explanation. The witch is a feminist, and her nonconformity has made her an outcast in Chatswin. Paula just thought Tessa might appreciate her book on feminist values. No explanation for why it’s called No One Can Hear You or why the cover is festooned with Celtic runes that Lisa thinks she can translate thanks to a Lord Of The Dance phase. But it makes perfect sense why consummate homemaker Sheila Shay would not only ostracize the weirdo but find her values heretical. And for the second time—after the hilarious business involving the Scooby gang, including Malik and Ryan wearing the same costume because Fred is so much more Chatswin than Shaggy—the costumes reveals a brilliant double purpose as Sheila leads a Frankenstein-style pitchfork mob dressed as the woman from “American Gothic.” She’s even flanked by torch-bearers, Mr. Wolfe and Chef Alan as runners in the Olympics.

Meanwhile Dallas and George finally decide to stop being polite and start getting real. It’s impressive how upfront they are about their relationship after a year of standoffishness. Dallas even sums up last year—for the benefit of her designer Marcheeza—by saying she was circling George Altman and finally wants to ask him out beneath the crystal bust of her mentor, Joy Behar. But, George being George, he doesn’t get it when she asks him to be her Ken. He absolutely gets it when Noah shows up dressed as him, though. So George has a Noahfication montage that involves a lot of shaving, bronzer, and a wig that looks nothing like Alan Tudyk and everything like a Ken doll. This time the costume's double-purpose is pretty obvious.

Which brings me to the suburban parody, the one part that sticks out like a nail in need of hammering. For starters, there’s no way suburban girls are any more scantily clad on Halloween than city girls, right? Of course, Tessa isn’t as worldly as she imagines, so maybe that’s the point, that this isn’t an actual point of difference between the city and the suburbs so much as a romantic notion of Tessa’s that the city is cooler and more feminist. The real clunker is the way George and Noah get different treatment at the country club based on the way they’re dressed. On Halloween! It’s so overdetermined that every character involved has to comment on it including the bartender just in case we might miss it.

Still, “The Witch Of East Chatswin” generally keeps the spirit of “The Homecoming” alive, especially with regards to a more low-key Chatswin. The witch is just a feminist. The pitchfork mob is defused by turning out the lights. Dalia very plainly explains to George how oblivious he is. I repeat: Dalia calls someone else on being oblivious. So George and Dallas have a plain conversation of their own and agree to go out. And at the very end, Tessa ties the episode to the long-term story of her mother. She realizes (or imagines) how brave it was (or might have been) for her mother to sidestep the role society expects of her. Based on George’s befuddled reaction, there’s more to that story. Can’t wait to find out.


Stray observations:

  • The KKK are back, discussing a slutty skunk costume involving a belly piercing chain that connects to the tail to spray drugstore perfume on people. Ingenious.
  • Tessa’s venting to Lisa: “I just don’t understand why girls here are so determined to degrade themselves.” Lisa agrees: “Dance like nobody’s watching, am I right?”
  • Noah’s failing to nail the George impersonation: “Your voice, it’s like Kathleen Turner after drinking a milkshake.” This less manic Noah is so much more credible as a family friend. He’s a big part of why this season feels more easy-going. Terrible though his impression of George may be, it convinces Sheila when she asks him to bring his cans in. “I have a willful daughter!” “I know.”
  • Tessa gets to shut Lisa down for a change when Lisa asks, “Did you know that the pygmys have their own macramé tradition? Or micromé if you will.” “I will not.” And again when Lisa says the only explanation for the witch-stalking is that Tessa has been marked for death. “It’s the only explanation, huh?”
  • Fred's intrigued when Sheila burns the feminist text. “Mrs. Shay you haven’t burned a book since Belly Laughs, by Jenny McCarthy.”
  • I loved Tessa’s trying-to-be-cool-but-still-run-away reaction when the witch invites her to the coven:  “Oh my gosh, yes. Yes. I’ll totally join you. I can’t wait to join you. I gotta go get my cloak out of my car.”
  • Noah hasn't had it easy. “Dental school was no picnic, although we did take a lot of meals out-of-doors, but that’s only because the weather was so mild in that part of the Caribbean.”
  • Right after Dallas tells her to get a virgin drink, Dalia says, “Vodka cranberry, please. Just do it, I have a bladder infection.” And then to George, “Service people, right?” I’m thrilled that Dallas and George are finally going to go out, but the scene between Dalia and George is the one that had the most electricity. She even puts a scarf on him to complete the look. It almost reminds me of Dalia’s scene with Uncle Noah.
  • Mr. Wolfe isn’t just in the mob because he has a torch: “I’ve never been on this side of a hate mob before. I kind of get it now. It’s exhilarating.”
  • R.I.P. George’s clean-shaven face. I briefly got my hopes up that he’d be goatee-less for the foreseeable future, but alas, it’s itching as he grows it back out. I don’t want to say that’s why this hilarious episode didn’t get an A, but the facts speak for themselves.