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TV Review: Ugly Betty – Season 1, Episode 19

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Ugly Betty is a miracle in so many ways. The first network TV series with a Latina lead, it has taken a popular Colombian telenovela, Betty La Fea, and moved beyond this traditional genre, arriving at an incredible cast, neverending plot twists, a Golden Globe and a Peabody. Co-produced by Salma Hayek and Ben Silverman, this dramedy has an important message: beauty can be found where you least expect it.

Summarizing the first 18 episodes of the season would take forever and be oh so confusing, so I’m just going to share mis cosas favoritas, my favorite things from the show before I talk about tonight's episode.

I love that everyone who comes in contact with Betty is changed by her unwavering morals, fierce loyalty, and giving heart. Her friendship with her boss, Daniel Meade, and the way it has grown as the season progresses is so powerful.

I love the power of Betty’s family. They manage to capture all the wonderful things about a tight-knit Latino family, complete with dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinners, warm and wonderful holiday traditions, sibling rivalry, and unconditional support and love. Betty’s sister Hilda is a piece of work with her tight clothes, outgoing personality, and fierce maternal instincts. Their father is empathetic, kind, and giving, and I love that he is always cooking for them, nurturing his family. And my favorite, Betty’s nephew Justin. The fact that they chose to portray an effeminate young boy whose family accepts him for who he is and wants to be is nothing short of extraordinary. The episode where he put the athletic cup over his eye and ran across the room shouting, “Look! I’m the Phantom of the Opera!” I almost died with laughter.

I love that Justin’s father, who started with a stereotypical macho response to his son, learns to love and appreciate him as he is. (And it doesn’t hurt that he is played by Kevin Alejandro, a total papi chulo and star of the new show Drive).

I love the world of Mode that they have created with all its colorful characters and outrageous scandals, making it a ripe breeding ground for telenovela plots.

Okay, enough of my gushing, on to tonight’s episode, the 19th of the season entitled “Punch Out.” Okay, deep breath, and here we go:

Distraught that his mother is in jail for murdering Fay Summers (his father’s mistress), and that his transgender sister, Alexis, is taking over Mode, Daniel regresses to his party boy ways, sleeping with every attractive woman who crosses his path (and given his job that is a helluva lot). Trouble is brewing when a sleazy, celebrity tell-all book author named Quincy Combs (who seems to belong to the Truman Capote school of fashion) starts sniffing around Mode for a book on the Meade family.

Alexis meets with Quincy, anxious to trash her father. Quincy tells Alexis about a secret room which probably contains Fay’s final diaries which might help with her mother’s defense case. In her search she learns from an earlier diary that her father regretted his cruelty to her, and Alexis realizes that her rage for her father is misplaced.

Wilhelmina is going ahead with her increasingly sleazy plans to take over Mode, having reduced herself to seducing publishing mogul Bradford Meade. After quizzing Quincy, he tips her off that Bradford has a thing for feet, and she goes as far as to have Japanese fish nibble the dry skin off her feet. She finally succeeds in seducing him, keeping him from answering Alexis’ phone call and attempt at reconciliation.

Betty’s father Ignacio is finally free of his house arrest ankle monitor, and wanting to believe that caseworker Constance is trying to help him, he is lured to her apartment on the pretense of meeting his lawyer. When the lawyer is nowhere to be find, Constance finally reveals her plan to take Ignacio to Atlantic City so they can get married and he can have his citizenship. But his real caseworker shows up at his house, revealing that Constance had been fired two months earlier, and before Constance can trick Ignacio into marrying her, Helga calls and tells him the truth. In the end Ignacio sees that she is just a lonely, damaged person and he doesn’t press charges.

Betty is more and more concerned about Daniel’s descent into debauchery, and is trying to run interference and salvage his career. Betty’s BFF, Mode designer/seamstress Christina, expresses concern about how Betty’s entire life revolves around Daniel, and convinces her to go with her to a hot new club, Prague. There Betty makes a half-hearted attempt to let go and party — complete with Jello shots — and tries to forget the trials of her boss. She doesn’t stand a chance when who walks in but Daniel with two models and his party buddy. The evening disintegrates when, mistakenly thinking that Quincy is in the club, Betty grabs the microphone to warn Daniel, humiliating them both. Daniel confronts Betty, telling her he doesn’t need a babysitter, and that when they are out of the office, he doesn’t want her to try to run his life. Betty is hurt and leaves with Christina.

Outside the club, Christina finally comes clean with Betty about her soul-selling deal with Wilhelmina, and Betty is hurt by the realization that her friend has been using information from their conversations to damage Daniel. She goes home, devastated by both betrayals.

Later, Daniel finds out that the model he just slept with is 16 and her mother is blackmailing her daughter’s way onto the August cover. In desperation he calls Betty, and still hurt, she refuses to speak to him.

Phew! All in all it was an exciting and scandalous episode, and I am astounded (and so grateful) that they are able to keep up this dramedy’s grand prix pace. The thing about this show is that every week the characters grow and change and regress, they love and hurt and reconcile, just like life, but in an over-dramatic, oh so flashy package. And really, does television get any better than that?

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal