Welcome back! Sorry again about last week. I switched channels at the end of “The Ring” and forgot to switch back to ABC. I ended up writing a whole review of an episode of “Ferris Bueller” before I realized my mistake. No, you may not read it.
We open on a dizzyingly high shot of the Chronicle, falling quickly to the ground.
Inside we find Larry, already in progress, leafing through a bound folio of a past edition of the Chicago Chronicle.
Just look at him, turning the page from the bottom of the book rather than the top, running his oily fingers over the sole archival copy of the newspaper of record for the city of Chicago.
Balki invites Cousin Larry to dinner at a Chinese-Italian deli, which serves “moo shu fettuccine”. Attaboy, Balki! Replace your proteins with starches!
Cousin Larry declines, as he’s trying to reproduce his success reporting on Marco Madison by researching mass murderers for a series of articles. In the course of his research, he’s discovered that “average” people can be murderers.
Balki contemplates this, having never considered this profession before.
Philosophically, though this is very interesting. What was Larry’s belief beforehand? Did he think that “murderer” is an immutable state of being untethered to physical action and that–according to no less an authority than Jesus himself–whoever wishes someone dead has committed murder in their heart? Perhaps Larry pondered, per the proof provided by his prepubescent neighbor, that butchers burst forth from their bearers’ loins bound for boundless bloodshed?
Or perhaps the question is one of the so-oft-on-this-blog-invoked concept of humanity’s internal/external divide. Can one’s nature truly be hidden via the daily practice of interacting with that most formalized and accepted of social interaction: working in a service industry? And the bigger question, perhaps, is whether this makes Larry that much more of a failure; we’ve seen him carry out violence on the trust others give him as he strives to appear other than he really is. Is such a divide itself a crime of the soul?
Or, if I may reverse Socrates and look to the man to understand the city, it’s clear that Larry’s thoughts are scalable. He mentions the murder hiding in the bank teller and the barber and one feels as though we’ve caught a glimpse into the eyeholes of the mask called Capitalism.
Anyway, TGIF: die Tiefe des Geistes ist Furchtbar. The Pandora’s Maalox bottle* of philosophical inquiry into the nature of the self has been opened, and those with eyes to see, and with other sense organs that work correctly, no doubt already understand what this means for season 6’s larger subtext.
Actually, on second thought, Larry’s probably just surprised that middle-class white people with normal-shaped heads are mass murderers.
Balki answers Larry’s philosophical musings in kind, saying that mass murderers are more obvious than all that via oblique reference to Charles Whitman**, a Texan and former Marine. At this point, I rabbit-holed into research on mass shootings, because I was honestly surprised that Balki did not mention postal workers. The beginning of the main grouping of postal worker shootings were still about a year away as of this episode’s airing. It’s interesting to have a timeline applied to the referential melting pot of my youth, but god damn is it depressing to look back on a time where decades passed between iconic mass shootings.
The audience yuks it up over the memory of the 17 people Whitman murdered, and then further when Balki says “fortune cannoli”. So glad we’re getting such dedicated character-driven humor this late in the game.
Larry uses a magnifying glass–and then the camera zooms in hard–on a photograph that takes up about a fourth of a newspaper page.
*gasp* It’s the Country Music Singer Wig Lady from episode 2!
Since this mass murderess was high-profile enough to rate newspaper articles, Larry knows that this would not be the only piece on her. He flips quickly through the bound folio to find other articles and photographs, as well as cross-checking it with the microfilm copies of other Chicago-area newspapers.
Oh, no, wait, Larry brings this archival copy back to the place where books are constantly being ripped apart and animals shit on any surface lower than their anuses.
Larry shows the article to Jennifer, who reminds Larry that she and Mary Anne have been friends since the age of 9.
Jennifer: Larry, you’ve got to stop watching America’s Most Wanted. In fact, I think everyone should stop watching it, as it comes on at the same time as both Full House and Family Matters. Next week, an anonymous love letter sends the Tanner household into romantic confusion!
Psychology sidebar: now that the truth is coming out about their dark past, Jennifer uses a little bit of distancing language to obscure the fact that she’s not negating Larry’s accusation. “I think I would know….”
Larry thinks that Mary Anne Spencer and Mabel Alice Stallings (the killer) having the same initials is somehow proof. He keeps slapping his hands together and shouting “fact” at Jennifer.
Balki busts in with a television strapped to his back and starts doing step exercises with the coffee table. This is perhaps the most immediate and arresting symbol Perfect Strangers has used since last season’s men’s room key. Balki–having been cast onto the path of questioning the self by Larry–recognizes his reality as a projection of the television, and accepts his role as carrying the burden of repeating the same steps over and over, up-down-up-down-up-down
Nah, just kidding, Balki’s going hiking with Mary Anne on Mt. Whitefish and needs to build up his legs, and since he doesn’t own any sort of backpack, and never has, he’s practicing with the television.
And since there hasn’t been any organic way into physical comedy yet, Larry starts doing it too.
Hey, by the way! It’s Mrs. Schlaegelmilch’s TV! Somebody finally found the show bible!
Larry tells Balki that that was the allotted time they had for the bit, and Balki leaves. After that, there’s a good moment where the“fact!” bit pays off when Jennifer does it. She, uh, really does enjoy her fiance’s neuroses, huh?
When Larry realizes that Balki’s death means he can’t drag the guy along to his honeymoon suite, he says he has to stop Mary Anne. Jennifer pleads with him, saying that she and Mary Anne are so close they’ve been popping the pimples on each other’s asses for years.
But Larry drags out of her that the two of them were out of touch for the years 1984 and 1985, the same time period as the Stallings murders. What’s more is that Mary Anne refers to those as her “dark years”. There’s no mention of the fact that Mary Anne was in London for a few weeks in 1989, or even the basic fact that they are sometimes assigned to different flights. They’re only stewardesses when the plot needs their absence to have some impact on the cousins. There’s only two of them when Balki needs to kiss someone.
Larry explains that Mabel Alice Stallings didn’t go to jail because none of the bodies were ever found. Oh no! The justice system is so well-constructed that it refuses to prosecute citizens without substantial evidence! What will Larry do?
Jennifer says she’ll bring Mary Anne by later to look at the photograph. Jennifer, before you leave, is it worth mentioning that Mary Anne is too dumb to pull off multiple murders and escape justice? That’s she’s so dumb she thinks that only people in El Paso get borderline personality disorder?
…Jennifer? No? All right.
Later that evening…
…he still has his fucking backpack? Oh fuck you!
Larry comes out of his bedroom, trying to use his newfound knowledge as a physical shield. Balki, on the other hand, knows he must carry this thing through to its grisly conclusion for entertainment’s sake.
Dimitri quietly eyefucks a woman in the third row.
There’s a slight disconnect between this episode’s title and the real-world “Black Widows”, who tend to murder their spouses in order to cash out insurance plans or inherit their wealth. We know that Balki barely earns any money as a mailboy; in fact, he bought Mary Anne a hatchet at her request, even though he’s still paying off a $140,000 house. Larry doesn’t try to posit why Mary Anne might be the kind of person who kills her mates. I mean, after all, the opening psychological volley of the episode was just that “average people turn out to be mass murderers”, as though the acts were some isolated aspect of their personality, some unpredictable computer error. And isn’t that scarier than the simple act of murder alone? That no amount of knowledge of another person can protect you from them having agency over your life?
I probably look like I’m signalling the beginning of some argument that underlying Larry’s fear is some deeper, primal terror regarding women, and of the trustworthiness of their motivations. You’re probably mocking me right now! “Hurr durr durr,” you say, “I’m Casey durr hurr I’m an academic an’ I like to be smart.”
Actually… no, I don’t think that’s going on here. This situation doesn’t strike me as inherently sexist. I could easily see Larry acting in nearly the same way if he thought Balki was out to murder him, even though he’d have far less reason to believe it of him. Speaking of how Larry might react to given situations…
Praise is a strong word, and generally advised against in the Perfect Strangers Reviewed stylebook, but thank the Sitcom Gods that Larry isn’t offering Balki as bait to Mary Anne, subtly goading her into violence so that he can make the front page with proof of her guilt.
The sexist part of this isn’t that Mary Anne might be a murderer. No, the sexist part is that she’s not the one here swinging the hatchet around to scare Larry.
Larry sits Balki down to break the news to him in the most roundabout way possible that he might die if he tries to *ahem* scale those mountains.
But before Larry can tell him, Dizzy Borden herself show up.
Mary Anne (Sagittarius) goes straight for the piece of equipment that she and Balki discussed previously. Wow, if she doesn’t rein in her impulses, she might give herself away!
She answers Larry’s question about where Jennifer is by saying that “she’s gone”, and then quickly clarifying that she’s on a flight to Hong Kong. It’s one of only two lines of dialogue in the whole episode where something Mary Anne says could be even remotely construed as something a murderer would say.
What the shit? She leaves? At least someone had the good sense to imply a burial by putting dirt all over her clothes.
Larry tells Balki that Mary Anne is a murderer and rushes to call the police. Balki stops him***, saying that Carl’s too busy rescuing Eddie and Steve from a gang of pool hustlers.
Balki, who comes from island where 10% of the population is played by Bronson Pinchot, assumes that Mabel and Mary Anne are doppelgängers.
Jennifer calls, and Larry is so grateful to hear her voice that he puts her on hold so Balki can make a joke. She was calling to let Larry know she was on her way to Hong Kong.
Balki drags out rubbing Larry’s face in his mistake. Hey, remember how Larry was wrong to ridicule Balki for his belief that Larry would die three years ago? Nah, me neither.
Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I research mountain-climbing vocabulary in case I need to use it for the next few scenes.
Why are we at the Chronicle?
Who cares? It’s Lydia! It’s motherfucking Lydia, y’all!
Larry tells Lydia how dumb he feels for thinking that someone so sweet could be a mass murderer.
It’s a completely wasted appearance, though, as all the show wants from her is a recap of the “evidence”.
Why the fuck are we at the Chronicle?
Aw, who cares? It’s Gorpley! It’s mother issues Gorpley, y’all!
Gorpley surprises Larry by telling him that Balki has gone on a hiking trip! If only Larry had had some way–any way–of knowing this beforehand!
Before either of them is allowed to say any more, Larry hightails it the fuck up out of there.
Why the rappelling fuck were we at the Chronicle?
Here we are at downtown Chicago’s famous mountain range!
Ooh, Mary Anne’s in shorts. She can crest my ridge anyday!
In case you weren’t certain how tall a mountain was, it’s tall enough to drop something from. Balki says he is stuck.
Where’s his fucking backpack? Fuck you, show!
Larry runs up and confronts “Mabel”, and then ties her up poorly.
Make your own “Fifty Shades Larried” joke.
After having tossed instruction books, sprigs of parsley, VCRs, and rings, The Man Who Threw Too Much throws a rope down, which Balki does not catch.
He ties another to a tiny tree and Mary Anne–the dumb one–tells him not to do that because it’s too small. Cousin Larry, who–per the show’s canon–is ~370 lbs, climbs down to Balki.
When he arrives, Balki is singing Ashford & Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” which I guess is the closest we’re ever going to get to classic Perfect Strangers from here on out.
Balki: Are we going do physical comedy now, Cousin?
Larry: What the fuck do you think?
Larry tugs on the rope, uprooting the tree, stranding the cousins. Unfortunately, the outcrop they’re standing is too small for any physical comedy but having them put their crotches together.
As they say, if the mountain won’t come on the cousins…
I guess you could say Balki is… stuck between a rock and a hard place!
I guess you could say that Larry is… getting his rocks off!
I guess you could say the cousins are… engaging in sexual congress on a cliff face!
There’s 5 minutes left, so the cousins switch places again.
Mary Anne, who is so dumb she thinks that a buttress is the female version of butter, has untied herself and throws another rope down.
Mary Anne gets the best line in the episode: “Larry couldn’t tie a knot if his life depended on it.” It’s not much, but it at least made me smile.
You would think, now that Larry’s life does depend on it, it might be worth someone intimately familiar with Mary Anne–say, oh, idunno, Balki maybe?–laying out any sort of argument as to Mary Anne’s nature. You would think that Balki would have some opinion on whether people are innocent until proven guilty, some Myposian way of handling oneself in the face of potential danger. You would think he’d at least say something like “you will know them by their Fruit of the Looms”.
That’s the difference, though. You would think. Perfect Strangers, on the other hand, is just fine having its main characters grunt and shuffle around while the episode’s focus patiently waits in the wings.
One of the central devices of the sitcom is that everyone’s true nature is always at the surface. Perfect Strangers sets up an episode that hints at a confrontation with that notion, and then proceeds to direct our attention to a blank wall. It’s not as though the show would even have to work all that hard to remind the viewer that Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks carabiner is an ethnic slur. But as we’ve seen numerous times now, it’s willing to ditch dialogue necessary to the inner logic of its plots, and it’s willing to keep the women out of their own stories. Argue if you like that a sole focus on the workings of Larry’s mind is worthwhile, but I can’t accept that it should come at the cost of others’ characterization.
Later, at the Caldwell, Mary Anne explains that the Chicago Chronicle had the captions mixed up between her photo and one of Mabel Alice Stallings. Mary Anne–who once refused to live with her best friend after being accused of using just a little too much makeup–calmly and forgivingly explains that she is not a serial killer. The photo of her was when she was with her boyfriend at the police academy graduation.****
How in the hell did Mary Anne get the original of a newspaper photograph?
As it turns out, Mary Anne’s “dark years” refer to the time period when she was fucking a guy named Tim Dark, who had previously dated Jennifer. His nightstick *ahem* was so arresting that Mary Anne was willing to cut off all contact with Jennifer for two years straight.
Balki explains the “dark years” joke, and then says “these must be the Bartokomous years” and that is not a joke THAT IS NOT A JOKE
There’s a decent cumulative bit where Larry asks how he should hand out the apologies, and Balki reminds everyone that they had previously decided that embarrassments get group apologies, and lies individual ones. Balki further reminisces about the time that Larry gave them all gift certificates, and then decides on what Larry owes them this time. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no reason that this joke needed to be a monologue from Balki. It’s explicitly about a group of people deciding how Larry should atone for his sins, yet two-thirds of them just nod their assent. Fuck this show.
Larry apologizes to Mary Anne, Balki, and Jennifer in turn. You know, I can be pretty down on the character of Jennifer. The show generally doesn’t give her much more to do than knock on the door, but I do want to compliment Melanie Wilson. I mean, look at that face: the face of a woman who spends every waking moment with the knowledge that she’s engaged to a season-6 Larry Appleton.
It’s a completely fair statement that Melanie’s doing the most she can with, um… well, “the material they write for her” isn’t exactly correct, but you know what I mean.
Larry offers to take them all to a nice, quiet dinner, but before they can leave, Mabel Alice Stallings runs into the apartment and murders them all with her bare hands. The end.
Nah, j/k, everyone laughs at Larry for giving a shit about whether his cousin lives or dies. These four sure do have fun when they get together.
Join me next week for “The Sunshine Boys”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (1)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Appearances left: Lydia (9); Gorpley (10)
Cut for syndication: Tess hits Larry in the nuts with a crampon
*Pandora originally had a jar. Look it up and get it right from now on, okay?
**The clocktower shooter in Austin, Texas, 1966
***Sadly, Larry does not break his bone for touching the phone
****The very same one where Mahoney got a blowjob, no doubt